Consumers who own homes have access to a flexible and attractive source of credit in a home equity line of credit (HELOC). But like any credit product, it...

Consumers who own homes have access to a flexible and attractive source of credit in a home equity line of credit (HELOC). But like any credit product, it must be used carefully or you can quickly land in trouble.

Experian, one of the three credit agencies that keep up with consumers' credit histories, is voicing some concern that borrowers who tapped equity 7 to 10 years ago could be facing some stress.

Experian has just issued a study showing that a large portion of HELOC loans issues between 2005 and 2008 – just before the financial crisis – are outstanding and nearing the repayment phase of the loan. With most HELOCs, the borrower can draw money for a 10-year period, then begin to repay the money – often over another 10-year period but sometimes in less time.

Here's Experian's concern: If there is a significant balance on the HELOC and the borrower must now stop drawing and start repaying, it could put him or her under a lot of financial stress.

There is added worry about borrowers who tapped their home's equity before the housing crash. While the housing market has recovered nicely in some areas, many people with HELOCs could still owe more than the home securing the loan is worth.

Experian estimates that outstanding balances on HELOCs taken out between 2005 and 2008 total $265 billion.



“This analysis is critical as we want to not only help lenders prepare and understand the payment stress of their borrowers, but also give consumers an opportunity to understand what the impact may be to their financial status and how to be better prepared for it,” said Michele Raneri, Experian’s vice president of analytics and business development.

The study concludes that consumers coming to the end of draw on their HELOC are more likely to go delinquent — not just on the HELOC loan, but also on other types of debt. It stands to reason that if you suddenly have a new debt taking funds from your monthly budget, you will have less to meet current obligations.

The Experian report highlights another trend. Since the end of the housing crash HELOCs have been steadily increasing as more homeowners take advantage of this convenient source of credit. As of the fourth quarter of last year, loan originations are up 81% over the same period of 2010.

“This could be a sign of the economy further recovering, yet there are still concerns about the pre-recession HELOCs that are now in repayment and how that could negatively impact consumers and the economy as a whole,” Raneri said.

Offsetting some of the concern is a bit of good news contained in the report. The percentage of HELOCs that are in late-stage delinquency – those 90–180 days past due – is down to 0.5% from its highest level of 1.81% in 2009.

Raneri says that can be viewed as a positive sign for both consumers and the industry, at least for now.

Getting a tattoo should require a lot of consideration. After all, a tattoo is forever. But doctors say there may be something else to think about besid...

But doctors say there may be something else to think about besides the design you want etched onto your body for the rest of your life. Researchers at the NYU Medical Center say as many as 6% of New Yorkers who get tattoos end up with some form of tattoo-related rash.

When these rashes appeared, researchers said the severe itching or swelling could last longer than four months and, in some cases, for many years.

“We were rather alarmed at the high rate of reported chronic complications tied to getting a tattoo,” said Dr. Marie Leger, a dermatologist and senior study investigator. “Given the growing popularity of tattoos, physicians, public health officials and consumers need to be aware of the risks involved.”

Tattoos are more than simply popular, they have become mainstream. Once mostly found on sailors, tattoos are now part of popular culture.

And just as very few middle-aged people take up smoking, tattoos are mostly embraced by the very young. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 have gotten tattoos. The body art is as equally popular with women as men.

Leger says some cases of “tattoo rash” are treatable with anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, but others may require laser surgery. There have even been instances of particularly strong reactions when surgery was necessary to remove tattooed areas of the skin or built-up scar tissue.

While the NYU survey, conducted in New York's Central Park, is in line with previous European studies, Leger says it's impossible to know if the problem affects more than 6% of people with tattoos. With very little regulatory oversight, she says it is hard to know the true scope of tattooing complications.

For example, she says the chemical composition of colored inks used in the designs is not well understood, nor is it even standardized among manufacturers.

“It is not yet known if the reactions being observed are due to chemicals in the ink itself or to other chemicals, such as preservatives or brighteners, added to them, or to the chemicals’ breakdown over time,” said Leger. “The lack of a national database or reporting requirements also hinders reliable monitoring.”

The study also found that as many as 10% of people getting a tattoo experienced other types of short-term complications, such as delayed healing, pain, swelling, and infection within weeks of getting tattooed. Leger isn't surprised.

“The skin is a highly immune-sensitive organ, and the long-term consequences of repeatedly testing the body’s immune system with injected dyes and colored inks are poorly understood,” she said. “Some of the reactions appear to be an immune response, yet we do not know who is most likely to have an immune reaction to a tattoo.”

While tattoos are undoubtedly popular, enough people suffer buyer's remorse that there is a thriving industry in tattoo removal. Just Google “tattoo removal” and you'll find scores of dermatologists in your area offering to remove a tattoo, most often with a laser procedure.

The Mayo Clinic points out that when you get a tattoo, the ink is placed below the skin. That makes removing it a complicated, and more expensive procedure than getting a tattoo in the first place.

If you want to remove a tattoo, the clinic says you need to see a dermatologist. Do it your self remedies, such as creams, don't work.

A bill that would prevent homeowners' associations in drought-stricken California from penalizing residents who install fake turf as a water-conservation m...

Summer is approaching and with it comes high humidity and ripe conditions for fleas.  Those pesky little fleas can really cause havoc with your cats. T...

Summer is approaching and with it comes high humidity and ripe conditions for fleas.  Those pesky little fleas can really cause havoc with your cats.

The flea's saliva can cause an allergic reaction that is extremely itchy. You may find your cat itching so much it gets a secondary infection.

It doesn’t take a lot of fleas to cause an issue. Your cat can become uncomfortable with getting bitten just a couple of times every few weeks. If your cat is allergic to fleas it will be itching like crazy all the time. Some cats are more susceptible than others.

The really awful news about fleas is they don’t just take a bite and die. They have a tendency to hang around the house for a while. They have a life span of 6-12 months and will be happy to suck out as much blood as they possibly can from your little feline.

Heat is an invitation but the teal  key is the humidity. When the humidity is 75 to 85 percent and the temps are 65 to 80, conditions are truly flea-friendly. 

You will want to look for in your cat is severe itching. Watch for it gnawing at its tail and constantly biting it. It will also be uncomfortable on the rear end and back legs. It can scratch so severely that it will develop hot spots. Keep an eye on those if you see them because your cat can start to get infections from hot spots.

How can you tell if it’s a flea allergy or another condition? One of the best ways is to get flea medication. If it works, you have found your culprit. Your cat's past history will also be a clue. If you had the same issues last year and it’s back for this summer, then you know your cat is really allergic to fleas.

Being proactive is the best way to prevent a comeback or even a startup. Use an effective safe flea control product on your cat on a regular basis beginning one month before the flea season starts and continuing up until one month after the flea season ends.

Keep the carpet clean. Be sure to frequently vacuum and clean the carpet to remove eggs and larvae from the cat's indoor environment. Use a professional carpet cleaner to make sure you clean the carpet thoroughly.

You wouldn't normally think of industrial bleach as being a miracle cure. Or any kind of cure for that matter. But...

Nearly 78,000 members of the U.S. military will be getting checks ranging from $10 to more than $100,000. The checks represent excessive interest charges i...

Nearly 78,000 members of the U.S. military will be getting checks ranging from $10 to more than $100,000. The checks represent excessive interest charges imposed by Navient Corp. when it was servicing student loans as part of Sallie Mae. 

The checks, totaling about $60 million, are scheduled to be mailed on June 12 and will average $771. Check amounts will depend on how long the interest rate exceeded 6% and by how much, and on the types of military documentation the service member provided.

“This compensation will provide much deserved financial relief to the nearly 78,000 men and women who were forced to pay more for their student loans than is required under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery.  “The Department of Justice will continue using every tool at our disposal to protect the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces from unjust actions and illegal burdens.”

The payments are required by a settlement that the Justice Department reached with Navient last year to resolve the federal government’s first-ever lawsuit filed against owners and servicers of student loans for violating the rights of service members eligible for benefits and protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). 

The United States alleged that Navient engaged in a nationwide pattern, dating as far back as 2005, of violating the SCRA by failing to provide members of the military the 6% interest rate cap to which they were entitled for loans that were incurred before the military service began. 

There are actually three defendants -- Navient Solutions Inc. (formerly known as Sallie Mae, Inc.), Navient DE Corporation (formerly known as SLM DE Corporation), and Sallie Mae Bank -- referred to collectively as Navient.

The settlement covers the entire portfolio of student loans serviced by, or on behalf of, Navient.  This includes private student loans, Direct Department of Education Loans, and student loans that originated under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. 

The department’s investigation of Navient was the result of a referral of service member complaints from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, headed by Holly Petraeus. 

The Department of Education is now using a U.S. Department of Defense database to proactively identify borrowers who may be eligible for the lower interest rate under the SCRA, rather than requiring service members to apply for the benefit.

A relatively small data-theft hacking from two years ago might prove to have huge future implications regarding the thorny legal question of just who shoul...

A relatively small data-theft hacking from two years ago might prove to have huge future implications regarding the thorny legal question of just who should be responsible for the costs when customer data is stolen from companies.

In December 2013, news broke that Cottage Health System, which operates a handful of hospitals in southern California (including Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital and Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital), suffered an obvious data-security breach. Confidential data from almost 33,000 Cottage Health patients going back to September 2009 was exposed on the Internet.

This data included patients' names, addresses and dates of birth, and sometimes their diagnoses, lab results and any procedures performed.

In February 2014, former patients filed a class-action lawsuit against Cottage Health and inSync (the company responsible for putting Cottage records in a secure online location), complaining that from Oct. 8 through Dec. 2 of the previous year, the records of people who attended any Cottage hospital from Sept. 29, 2009 through Dec. 2, 2013 were available online, and that inSync “failed to provide any encryption or other security to prevent anyone from reading the medical records.”

However the courts ruled, the data breach was bound to prove expensive for Cottage Health. Luckily, the company has insurance to cover the costs of such a data breach.

So Cottage filed a claim with its insurer, Columbia Casualty – and this month Columbia filed a counter-claim (available in .pdf form here) seeking repayment of the money it shelled out for Cottage's claim, on the grounds that the healthcare provider failed to follow “minimum required practices” as specified in the insurance policy.

17. The complaint alleges that the breach occurred because Cottage and/or its third-party vendor, INSYNC Computer Solution, Inc. (“INSYNC”), stored medical records on a system that was fully accessible to the internet but failed to install encryption or take other security measures to protect patient information from becoming available to anyone who “surfed” the internet.

18. The complaint alleges that Cottage violated its nondelegable duties under CMIA and HIPAA to maintain the security of its patients’ confidential medical records and to detect and prevent data breaches on its system that would allow such information to become available to the public through the internet.

Most insurance policies contain similar anti-stupidity clauses. For example, suppose your auto insurance includes coverage in case your car is stolen. You're still expected to take reasonable care to protect the car from thieves – which means, if your car gets stolen because you parked it with the doors unlocked, windows rolled down and keys in the ignition, your insurance company can probably refuse to pay on the grounds that they don't cover stupid.

And putting unencrypted, confidential patient data online where it can be seen in Google searches and other standard Internet activities is even stupider than that.

Remember earlier, when we referred to the Cottage Health data breach as a “hacking”? That's actually not the right word to describe what happened; during the two months that unencrypted data was available online, you wouldn't need to be a “hacker” to see it, anymore than you need be a “hacker” to read this news story, which is posted on a public website available to all major search engines.

And the non-hacking nature of the Cottage data breach, in turn, makes it extremely difficult to know just who might've seen that data while it was available. In fact, almost anyone might've seen that data, maybe without even realizing what they were looking at — perhaps it was one of the search results you saw when you searched the name of your old friend from high school, a former classmate who now lives in southern California and sought medical treatment a Cottage hospital earlier this decade.

There often seems to be little rhyme or reason to auto insurance rates. If you drive a sports car, have had a couple of claims or a speeding ticket or two,...

There often seems to be little rhyme or reason to auto insurance rates. If you drive a sports car, have had a couple of claims or a speeding ticket or two, you understand why your rate may be higher than average.

The fact is, insurance companies take many things into consideration when setting individual rates. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says some of them aren't fair to consumers and the group will lobby for reform.

CFA has seized on a new report by Bankrate.com, illustrating how living in a particular ZIP code can affect what you pay for auto insurance. The report notes you can get vastly different quotes from the same insurance company at two addresses a relatively short distance apart but in different ZIP codes.

This is not exactly new information. In fact, California bars insurance companies from using ZIP codes as a factor in setting auto rates. But CFA says the Bankrate report underscores the extent to which other states allow the practice and the extent to which it can make a difference in what consumers pay.

For example, in one extreme example a 30-year-old Chicago are man could pay 64% more for the exact coverage as another 30-year-old man who lived three-tenths of a mile away but in a different ZIP code.

CFA notes that insurance companies claim that the use of ZIP codes is related to actuarial loss data, but argues that whatever differences there might when comparing dense neighborhoods with sparsely populated communities cannot account for dramatic price differences being charged to drivers on different sides of a street.

"State laws require that every driver has to buy auto insurance, no matter where they live," said Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of CFA. "So how can it be fair that insurers charge the same person radically different rates for moving just a few blocks away?"

CFA says it has researched the cost of auto insurance and its impact on low to moderate income consumers. It concludes that in many low-income communities across the country, good drivers have access to few or no policies that cost less than $500 per year, which meets the standard of a reasonable price for basic insurance coverage.

It says it has also found 100% premiums spikes for good drivers with low credit scores, another metric insurance companies use to assess risk when they set rates. A recent CFA report found that some large insurers do not even consider mileage when setting auto premiums.

Trying to predict what your auto insurance premium will be isn't always easy. A recent study by personal finance website WalletHub.com found some factors you would expect to impact insurance costs didn't.

The price of the car, for example. The study found cars in the same price range could have a difference in premiums of up to 39%.

Price optimization is another way insurance companies set rates, and it is a practice that California is also targeting. Price optimization is a technique by which insurance companies measure the shopping habits of its customers in order to set individual premiums as high as possible regardless of a customer's risk profile.

In other words, long-time customers who do not shop other car insurance rates tend to be charged higher rates.

In February California's insurance commissioner sent notices to more than 750 insurance companies they must end that practice in the state within 6 months.

The economy petered out in the first three months of this year. According to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross...

According to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S. adjusted for price changes -- decreased at an annual rate of 0.7% in the first quarter. It was the first contraction since the first quarter of 2014 and the worst quarterly showing since the Great Recession.

In the advance estimate, released last month, real GDP increased 0.2 percent. With the second estimate, which is based on more complete source data than were available earlier, imports increased more and private inventory investment increased less than previously estimated.

The first-quarter declined primarily reflected declines in exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending. They were were partly offset by positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), private inventory investment, and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, fell 1.6% in the first quarter, a downward revision of 0.1% point from the advance estimate; this index decreased 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

Excluding food and energy prices, the price index for gross domestic purchases increased 0.2 percent, compared with an increase of 0.7 percent.

Real PCE increased 1.8% in the first quarter, compared with an increase of 4.4% in the fourth. Durable goods increased 1.1% versus 6.2%, while nondurable goods increased 0.1%, compared with an increase of 4.1%. Services increased 2.5%, compared with an increase of 4.3%.

The U.S. Department of Education has reviewed four major student loan servicers to make sure they followed the law by extending the proper interest rates t...

The U.S. Department of Education has reviewed four major student loan servicers to make sure they followed the law by extending the proper interest rates to active duty members of the U.S. armed forces.

For the most part, it found that they did. The report said Navient, Great Lakes, PHEAA and Nelnet complied in the vast majority of cases with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) as required by the Higher Education Act (HEA).

The reviews closely examined active-duty servicemembers' SCRA eligibility between 2009 and 2014. They reveal that in fewer than 1 percent of cases, borrowers were incorrectly denied the 6% interest rate cap required by the laws.

"For all of the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our country, our brave service members have the right to the benefits provided to them under federal law and should not be subjected to additional red tape to manage their student loans," said Under Secretary Ted Mitchell. "What's more, every student who has taken out a federal student loan should have the peace of mind that the Education Department's servicers are following the law and treating all borrowers fairly."

The government says the laws for those in the military have streamlined the process for those students when they are called to active duty. Their loan rates are more or less automatically adjusted when they report for duty. Before, they had to apply for the lower interest rate and then prove they were on active duty.

The just-completed reviews were triggered by last year's Justice Department settlement with Navient and its predecessor, Sallie Mae. The settlement addressed

Th report also presents the results of the review of Navient’s compliance with the SCRA for federally-held FFEL Program and Direct Loan Program loans it serviced under the TIVAS contract.

For the period under review, the government found that in Navient's case, it notified 52 borrowers of their potential eligibility. Navient eventually granted the cap to 16 borrowers, including 6 who were not eligible. It denied the lower rate to 7 borrowers, including 1 who should have received it.

The Department of Education said it is also expanding its review of compliance with the SCRA and HEA to the Department's seven non-profit servicers as well as commercial Family Federal Education Loan (FFEL) servicers. These reviews are expected to be completed later this year.

Interest rates on student loans can vary widely, depending on the type of loan and the type of student that is borrowing. You can check current interest rates here.

With the so-called “summer driving season” now upon us, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is advising operators of 15-passenger va...

With the so-called “summer driving season” now upon us, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is advising operators of 15-passenger vans to follow proper tire maintenance to avoid potentially deadly crashes.

Unlike passenger vehicles, 15-passenger vans, which are often used by summer camps, youth groups, and religious organizations, are substantially longer and taller than most light vehicles. These factors may increase the chance of a rollover crash if operators don't conduct routine safety checks and follow proper tire maintenance. The potential for multiple serious injuries or deaths in crashes involving these vehicles makes them an area of special concern.

Between 2004 and 2013, 653 people died in crashes in the U.S. while riding in 15-passenger vans -- an average of 65 occupants per year, according to NHTSA data. Nearly 60% of the deaths in these crashes were in vehicles that rolled over. Making sure the vehicles have tires that are the right size and load rating which are correctly inflated will help reduce the chance of a rollover crash

It is also important for operators to remember that tires degrade over time, even if the tread is not worn down. Therefore, older spare tires should not be used as replacement tires. Tips for proper tire maintenance can be found on NHTSA’s TireWise website.

Three companies that allegedly violated hazardous materials regulations could face civil penalties ranging from $54,000 to $81,669. In each case, the Fede...

Three companies that allegedly violated hazardous materials regulations could face civil penalties ranging from $54,000 to $81,669.

In each case, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claims the shipments were not accompanied by shipping papers to indicate the hazardous nature of their contents and were not marked, labeled or packaged in accordance with the federal regs.

The companies also allegedly failed to provide emergency response information and ensure their employees received required hazardous materials training.

The FAA contends that on Jan. 12, 2015, DGI Menard knowingly offered an undeclared hazardous material shipment to FedEx for air transport from Carnegie, Pa., to Crystal Lake, Ill. The shipment included 8 1-pint cans of Lubemaster’s Fire Up, which is a flammable liquid, and 6 bottles of Diesel Mate All Seasons, which is a flammable petroleum distillate.

FedEx employees at the company’s sort facility in Cary, Ill., discovered the package was leaking and notified the FAA.

DGI Menard which could be fined $81,669, has 30 days from receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond.

The FAA is proposing a $54,000 penalty against Aqua-Chem of Knoxville, Tenn, alleging that on April 3, 2013, the firm offered UPS an undeclared shipment containing 6 1-pint plastic containers of corrosive phosphoric acid solution. Workers at the UPS package sort facility in Louisville, Ky., discovered the shipment.

The FAA alleges that on Jan. 5, 2015, Rust-Oleum of Vernon Hills, Ill., offered 4 containers of spray paint to FedEx for shipment by air from Vernon Hills to Huntington Beach, Calif. Employees at the FedEx sort facility in Northbrook, Ill., discovered the flammable paint and notified the FAA.

Rust-Oleum has 30 days from receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency, which has proposed a civil penalty of $54,000.

Cycling Sports Group of Wilton, Conn., is recalling about 160 GT Fury downhill mountain bicycles, The front wheel hub can break and cause the disc brake s...

The front wheel hub can break and cause the disc brake system to fail, posing crash and injury hazards to the consumer.

This recall involves all 2015 model year GT Fury Elite and GT Fury Expert downhill mountain bicycles. The recalled 2015 Fury Elite model is white with blue and red accents. The recalled 2015 Fury Expert model is metallic grey with lime green accents.

The bicycles have front and rear disc brakes and come with rear shock absorbers and front suspensions. "Fury" is printed on the top tube, the GT logo is on the down tube and the chainstay. The model names are printed in small letters on the top tube of the bicycles near the word Fury.

The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized GT dealers from November 2014, to March 2015, for between $3200 and $4400.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and return them to the nearest authorized GT dealer to have the complete front wheel replaced free of charge.

Consumers may contact Cycling Sports Group at (800) 726-2453 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or by email at custserve@cyclingsportsgroup.com.

The Great States Corporation of Shelbyville, Ind., is recalling about 1,200 cordless 17-inch electric lawn mowers. The mower can start when the key is not...

The Great States Corporation of Shelbyville, Ind., is recalling about 1,200 cordless 17-inch electric lawn mowers.

The mower can start when the key is not in the starting position, posing an injury hazard to the user.

This recall involves Earthwise cordless electric push lawn mowers with a 17-inch mowing deck. The recalled mowers have a silver motor housing and deck with a side discharge chute, a black foldable handle and a bright green bail lever, height adjustment lever and handle knobs.

The mowers have a 24-volt removable, rechargeable battery. Brand name “Earthwise” and “17” appear on the front of the mowers. Model number 60517 is on the name plate on the back of the motor cover.

The mowers, manufactured in China, were sold at Menards stores, Seventh Avenue catalogs and online at PowerSales.com and SeventhAvenue.com from January 2014, to May 2014, for about $250.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled electric mowers, remove the battery and contact Great States Corporation for a replacement mower.

Consumers may contact Great States Corporation at (800) 633-1501 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or by email at sales@reelin.com.

LQNN of Garden Grove, Calif., has added additional items to the list of products it recalled earlier this month. The added products should have been part ...

LQNN of Garden Grove, Calif., has added additional items to the list of products it recalled earlier this month.

The added products should have been part of the original 213,192 pounds of chicken, beef and pork products that were recalled on May 20, 2015. The new total recalled poundage is 440,923pounds.

The products used, without approval, another facility’s mark of inspection, which has been identified as Establishment number 18995. LQNN, operating as Lee’s Sandwiches, has been processing products from federally-inspected establishments and re-packaging them without the benefit of inspection. Products produced without inspection present potential of increased human health risk.

Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets of Lakewood, Colo., is recalling two lots of Natural Grocers brand Macadamia nuts. The product may be contaminated w...

Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets of Lakewood, Colo., is recalling two lots of Natural Grocers brand Macadamia nuts.

The following product, distributed to Natural Grocers’ 96 stores located in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming is being recalled:

Consumers with questions may contact the company at (303) 986-4600, ext. 531, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (MST).

You’ve lived the American dream, starting your own business from the ground up, building it into a thriving successful enterprise...

You’ve lived the American dream, starting your own business from the ground up, building it into a thriving successful enterprise that has supported your family, provided a needed product or service and created jobs.

You have a number of options. Many business owners sell to current key employees. Others sell to a competing or complementary company.

Regardless of the type of sale, many owners of “middle market” companies hire the services of an investment bank to facilitate a sale for the best price and on the best terms. There is no precise definition of a middle market company but it’s generally considered to be a business generating between $5 million and $1 billion in revenue per year.

One of the most important things an investment bank will do is establish a value for the business. Setting the right price means selling it quickly without leaving money on the table.

When entering into an agreement with one of the investment banks serving this sector, it is important to understand how it goes about its job and how it will analyze and help you establish a fair value for your business.

Industry experts say personalities will be very important. A seller needs to be comfortable with the bank’s representatives and confident they will be able to deliver.

There are many investment banks but we’re going to review 5 that may be ideally suited to help Baby Boomer business owners transition to retirement. They are Houlihan Lokey, Harris Williams, Baird, William Blair and Lazard Middle Market.

Houlihan Lokey, Inc., based in Los Angeles and founded in 1972, is one of the largest privately owned investment banks in the world. Its wide-ranging business includes advising large public, as well as closely held companies. It also provides services to institutions and government entities.

It specializes in mergers and acquisitions (M&A;), capital markets, restructuring, fairness opinions and valuations.

Houlihan Lokey is known for assembling smart, talented teams. Its rigorous hiring practice tries to identify and employ quantitative thinkers who can devise creative solutions to clients’ problems.

Global in its reach, Houlihan Lokey has more offices than you might expect for a middle market bank – throughout the U.S. as well as Europe and Asia. Its U.S. presence is evenly spread across the country.

Most banks have specialties and Houlihan Lokey is highly experienced dealing with aerospace and defense, financial services, business services, energy, consumer food and retail, health care, media and telecommunications, real estate, hospitality, technology and transportation.

Our experts say Houlihan Lokey is a good choice for owners of privately held or publicly traded companies, owners of family businesses, executives at any middle market business and representatives at private equity firms.

Harris Williams was founded in 1991 by 2 Harvard Business School graduates and since 2005, has operated as a subsidiary of PNC Financial Services. Based in Richmond, Va., the firm has offices in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis, London and Frankfurt.

From the beginning the company built its reputation on its expertise in leveraged buyout (LBO) services. Because of this it has extensive connections to private equity sponsors.

Harris Williams takes a team approach, setting up industry groups that focus on aerospace, defense and government, building products and materials, business services, consumer, energy and power, health care and life sciences, industrials, specialty distribution, technology, media and telecom and transportation and logistics.

In one of its recent transactions, Harris Williams advised Health & Safety Institute, Inc. (HIS) on its sale to The Riverside Company. The firm deployed 2 of its teams to guide the transaction – Todd Morris, Andy Dion and Andrew Hewlett of the Healthcare & Life Sciences Group and Mike Wilkins of Harris Williams’ Technology, Media & Telecom Group.

"We are thrilled to have represented HSI’s shareholders in this transaction,” Morris said. HSI’s history of innovation and outstanding product quality, customer service and dedication to helping save lives has positioned it for strong continued growth and success in partnership with Riverside."

“HSI is well positioned to capitalize on training industry trends driving demand for its online and mobile products and services,” Wilkins said. "We expect to see additional growth and consolidation in the broader education and training markets.”

Our experts suggest Harris Williams is a good fit for owners of both privately held and public companies, owners of family businesses, executives at any type of middle market business, representatives at private equity firms and family offices, and representatives of local governments and sovereigns.

Baird is a major global middle market investment bank with a wide array of talent and a broad focus. It provides advisory, financing and restructuring services to publicly traded corporations, privately held and entrepreneur-owned companies, and private equity firms through an interconnected and highly specialized international team.

Founded in 1919 as the securities department of First Wisconsin National Bank, the Milwaukee-based financial services firm today has offices on 3 continents, providing investment banking, capital markets, private equity, wealth management and asset management services to individuals, businesses, institutional investors and governments.

Baird’s primary middle market investment banking offerings and focus are in equity raises, M&A; and public finance. One of its most recent M&A; transactions was when it advised Bad Daddy’s International LLC on its acquisition by Good Times Restaurants Inc.

In 2007, Bad Daddy’s founders’ created an upscale burger concept with “simple foods prepared to high culinary standards.” Bad Daddy’s became known for its signature burgers, salads, appetizers and sandwiches paired with local craft microbrew beers and signature cocktails and has won many awards and accolades for its culinary creations.

Bad Daddy’s, based in Charlotte, N.C., consists of seven company-owned restaurants and six franchised / licensed restaurants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado.

Good Times Restaurants Inc. operates Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard, an upscale quick-service restaurant chain focused on fresh, high quality, all natural products, making it a good fit with Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, a full service, “small box” better burger casual dining chain.

Baird also specializes in equity financing. It recently completed a $249 million refinancing of P&L; Development’s existing debt. PLD is a company that manufactures, packages and distributes over-the-counter pharmaceutical products and health care goods.

Baird is often referred to a “one-stop  shop” investment bank because of the range of services it provides. Our experts say it is a good fit for many middle market business owners who can profit from Baird’s expertise.

Founded in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, William Blair today is an employee-owned firm providing investment banking and other financial services from its Chicago base and offices in London, San Francisco, Tokyo, Liechtenstein and Zurich.

Much like Baird, William Blair is thought of as a one-stop shop, whether a company is trying to raise equity or launch an initial public offering (IPO). It benefits from a stellar reputation among its peers, a result of rigorously protecting its brand.

The company has deep ties into the private equity community which can benefit both it and sellers hoping to be acquired by a private equity firm. Its strategic investment in BDA, another international investment bank, gives Blair special access to Asia, a significant source of investment dollars.

The investment bank’s focus is on consumer and retail, energy, financial services, health care, industrials, services and technology. Its advisory services include comprehensive sell- and buy-side advice for publicly traded and privately held companies. Its strength, the company says, is being able to identify the best transaction partners anywhere in the world, structure and negotiate transactions, and deliver the best outcomes for clients.

It can facilitate financing through equity capital markets or by providing access to private equity, leveraged finance and debt capital markets.

In early 2015 William Blair acted as the exclusive financial advisor to PowerPlan, Inc., a portfolio company of JMI Equity and TPG Growth, in connection with its sale to Thoma Bravo. The transaction closed in February.

Blair said it positioned PowerPlan as the only enterprise software vendor capable of helping asset-centric businesses such as utilities and oil and gas pipelines optimize financial performance of fixed assets.

“As the undisputed leader in a market with high barriers to entry and a strong growth profile, PowerPlan commanded strong interest from both private equity investors and strategic acquirers,” the bank said in a statement.

Our experts say William Blair is an ideal fit for privately held corporations, owners of publicly traded companies,, owners of family held businesses, executives at any type of middle market business,, representatives at private equity firms and family offices.

Lazard Middle Market (Lazard MM) is the middle market arm of the elite boutique investment bank Lazard, founded in 1848. Lazard Middle Market focuses primarily on putting together deals in the U.S. It. has offices in Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Minneapolis and New York.

Lazard Middle Market is highly active in the area of M&A;, making it a good choice for middle market firms that would like to be acquired. Because the bank works closely with private equity groups it is ideally placed to put buyers together with sellers.

Like other banks, Lazard Middle Market has its areas of specialty: business services, education services and technology, financial services, food and consumer, healthcare and industrials. Senior bankers focus on specific industries, allowing them to use their insight into and understanding of the various business sector ds and key players.

The bank tailors its services to meet the unique needs of mid-sized companies. It is able to provide the sophisticated services, global perspective and broad resources of Lazard, its parent.

Our experts believe Lazard Middle Market is a good fit for owners of both privately held and publicly traded companies and executives at any type of middle market business. It could be especially advantageous for companies in the higher end of the middle market.  

Here's a bit of bad news that's guaranteed to get worse: Since the start of 2015, three major health insurance companies have discovered and admitted that ...

Here's a bit of bad news that's guaranteed to get worse: Since the start of 2015, three major health insurance companies have discovered and admitted that hackers breached their customer-information databases.

In February, Anthem admitted that hackers had compromised the records of 80 million current and former Anthem customers dating back to 2004. In March, Premera Blue Cross admitted to a breach compromising 11 million medical and financial records dating back to 2002. And earlier this month, CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield discovered a breach compromising up to 1.1 million customer records.

And remember: it's almost certain that those were not the only three American health insurance companies to have been hacked, merely the only three to have discovered and admitted such security breaches.

Of all the many types of identity theft Americans must worry about, medical identity theft is arguably the worst of all. Consider: If criminals steal your bank account or credit card numbers, it's fairly easy (albeit annoying and time-consuming) for you to cancel the contaminated accounts and switch over to new ones. Changing your Social Security number is far more difficult, but it can be done if absolutely necessary.

But you can't change your health and medical history; if that information falls into untrustworthy hands, there's nothing you can do to make it obsolete.

Most identity theft threatens your financial well-being, but medical identity theft can threaten your very life. Earlier this month, the Ponemon Institute published a study (sponsored by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, or MIFA) focusing on medical ID theft cases in the United States. Ann Patterson of MIFA defined medical I.D. theft not merely as theft of medical records and related data, but “when someone uses someone else's identity to obtain medical goods or services.”

Imagine someone steals your health insurance information and uses it to get health care for themselves: “Your medical identity is corrupted with the identity thief's health information. So their blood type, their allergies, their diseases, their health conditions that are not accurately reflecting your health.... It is most certainly a life-or-death situation,” Patterson said.

However, the available evidence suggests that the hackers who broke into Anthem, Primera and CareFirst weren't trying to score free medical care for themselves — security investigators familiar with those cases say that the available evidence suggests the hackers enjoyed backing from the Chinese government. (China's government, however, denies any role in America hacking activities, and points out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law.)

Yesterday, Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute and Rick Kam of ID Experts, writing for the Dark Reading security blog, went so far as to suggest that “escalating cyberattacks threaten U.S. healthcare systems.”

Imagine a hostile nation-state with your psychiatric records. Or an organized crime ring with your child’s medical file. Or a disgruntled employee with your medical insurance information.

(Indeed, when news of the Anthem hacking first broke, the security investigators who first suggested the possibility of Chinese-government involvement also offered an ominously plausible motivation for it: “The attack appears to follow a pattern of thefts of medical data by foreigners seeking a pathway into the personal lives and computers of a select group -- defense contractors, government workers and others.” And CareFirst primarily serves customers in Washington, D.C. and its immediate suburbs — in other words, a region where a huge proportion of the population works for either the federal government or its various contractors.)

Even for hackers interested in money rather than medical care or political power, stolen healthcare and health insurance data is far more lucrative than stolen bank account or payment-card information. Jim Trainor, from the FBI's cyber security division, talked about the black-market value of various types of stolen data bought and sold by identity thieves: “Credit cards can be say five dollars or more, where [protected health information] records can go from 20 say up to — we've even seen $60 or $70.”

And Kam and Ponemon suggest the problem of medical-record theft will only get worse, mainly because the healthcare and health insurance companies don't have the money to defend against it:

… criminal attacks are up 125 percent since 2010, according to benchmark study data. For the first time, in fact, criminal attacks are now the number one root cause of data breaches, rather than user negligence/carelessness or system glitches. … Despite these growing threats, half of all organizations have little or no confidence in their ability to detect all patient data loss or theft. In addition, only 40 percent of covered entities and 35 percent of business associates are concerned about cyber attackers. This lack of concern is reflected in a lack of appropriate budget....

And there's another potential problem Kam and Ponemon didn't mention: the possibility that the very concept of “Internet security” might be inherently impossible, even a contradiction in terms.

Remember the early days of the Internet, when it was often called the “information superhighway?” The Internet as we know it was designed with the explicit purpose of making it easier to share information, whereas “Internet security” seeks the opposite, making information harder (if not impossible) for certain people to access.

You can make it easier to share something, or you can make that something harder to steal – but if you try accomplishing both tasks at once, with the same tool, you're setting yourself up for failure.

"I keep getting calls on my line from Bridgett at cardholder services. I’ve asked them repeatedly to stop callin...

"I keep getting calls on my line from Bridgett at cardholder services. I’ve asked them repeatedly to stop calling. Can you help me?" a consumer named Roger asked us the other day.

We get this same email in one form or another every day, all day. Very simply, consumers are being driven mad by endless calls to their wireline and wireless phones. The calls come from Rachel, Bridget, charities, politicians and political fund-raisers.

There is, of course, a Do Not Call list but it is ineffective against overseas callers and anyone who thinks that laws are written for everyone else. 

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says he's heard just about enough and is proposing a new set of rules that would allow phone companies to be more aggressive in blocking unwanted calls. The proposal will be voted on at the FCC's June 18 meeting.

"Last year alone, we received more than 215,000 complaints related to unwanted and intrusive calls and texts. The filer of one complaint detailed receiving 4,700 unwanted texts over a 6-month period," Wheeler said in a blog posting. "We've also seen reports of 27,809 unsolicited text messages over 17 months to one reassigned number, despite requests to stop the texts."

Empower Consumers to Say ‘Stop’ – Consumers would have the right to revoke their consent to receive robocalls and robotexts in any reasonable way at any time. (Applies to wireless and landline home service.)

Give Green Light for ‘Do Not Disturb’ Technology – Carriers could offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers. It would give the go-ahead for carriers to implement market-based solutions that consumers could use to stop unwanted robocalls. (Applies to wireless and landline home service.)

Make Clear Reassigned Numbers Aren’t Loopholes – Consumers who inherit a phone number would not be subject to a barrage of unwanted robocalls to which a previous subscriber of the number consented. If a phone number has been reassigned, callers must stop calling the number after one call. (Applies to wireless and landline home service.)

Define an Autodialer – An “autodialer” is any technology with the capacity to dial random or sequential numbers. The rulings would ensure robocallers cannot skirt consumer consent requirements through changes in calling technology design or by calling from a list of numbers. (Applies to wireless.)

Allow Very Limited and Specific Exceptions for Urgent Circumstances – Free calls or texts to, for example, alert consumers to possible fraud on their bank accounts or remind them of important medication refills would be allowed. The proposal is very clear about what such messages can be and what they cannot be (i.e., no marketing or debt collection). In addition, consumers would have the ability to opt out of even these permitted calls and texts. (Applies to wireless.)

Wheeler has tackled a lot of issues in his brief term as FCC chair, everything from mega mergers to net neutrality. But junk phone calls may be the most contentious issue yet. It's something everyone is mad about. Even companies that make millions of calls per year have complained that existing rules are confusing and often contradictory.

Initial comments on Wheeler's blog are an early warning sign that not everyone is on board with his proposal. 

"It appears that the FCC is seeking to seize power from the FTC in this area (just as it has attempted to do with cybersecurity, via its illegal "open Internet" order) without the knowledge, funds, or experience to follow through. It has no database; it has no expertise; it has no infrastructure for this task," said a commenter identified as Brett Glass. "Perhaps it would be best, as other commenters have said, for the FCC to concentrate on eliminating Caller ID forgery while the FTC continues to work on enforcement (which is advantageous because it can also go after junk callers for fraud and deceptive advertising)."

"So, will the telcos be required to offer the robocall-blocking tools at no cost? It will be truly annoying if I must pay for blocking when the robocallers have wasted (stolen) so much of my time," said Thomas O'Brien.

Even calls that are at least semi-legitimate are often so bureaucratically automated that they do nothing but waste everyone's time, like the call Christine of Roslindale, Mass., complained about last year. 

"I received a text message on my cell phone to call FIA Card services at 816-564-8172 by 11 p.m. tonight regarding a servicing matter. This sounded urgent. I have no idea who FIA Card services is. So, I called the number and the prompt asked me if I want an account balance. Then asked me if I wanted to make a payment. Then asked me if I wanted to speak with a representative. I said representative. A gentleman answered and asked me what I was calling for. I said because your company sent me an urgent text to call.

"He said he needed the telephone number associated with the account. I said what account. He said the one I am calling about. I said I have no idea what I am calling about. I received text I had to respond to. He said he needed a phone number. I decided to give him the text number my cell number, that I received the text on. He next asked me if I was 'Joe' which is my dad and brother's name. I said no. I said this could be my dad who is elderly. He said he could not give me any more information. I asked what type of matter this was. He said he could not give me any information. I said then "why are you texting me and incurring charges for me." He said because they have my number. I said 'I never heard of FIA.' I gave up. I am just blocking them. What a cost ineffective company."

In fact, the text to Christine's phone may have been illegal under existing FCC rules. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (pdf) requires prior consent for autodialed and prerecorded calls and texts to wireless phones, whether they are telemarketing or informational calls. This includes calls related to debt collection.

The data breach at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), compromising as many as 100,000 taxpayers, is a wake-up call for government as well as businesses. D...

The data breach at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), compromising as many as 100,000 taxpayers, is a wake-up call for government as well as businesses. Department stores like Target and Neiman Marcus aren't the only lucrative targets for cyber thieves.

Security specialists have been warning us for a decade or longer. In a November 2014 interview with ConsumerAffairs, Larry Bridwell, the global security strategist at password management software provider Sticky Password, said that today's cyber thieves are focusing their efforts on big targets more than individual consumers.

“What we've seen over the last 18 months to 2 years has been the larger loss of personal and financial data hasn't come from the individual being tricked into doing things like clicking on links or providing information like we used to see,” Bridwell told ConsumerAffairs. “It's because there's been a security breach at the point-of-sale services.”

Or in this case, the IRS. Either way, consumers lose, whether their credit cards are stolen from a store or their identities are stolen from a government agency.

Dr. Bruce McMillin, professor of computer science and associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri Science and Technology University, says the way U.S. institutions defend sensitive information systems is a throwback to the Dark Ages.

“Most of our cyber defenses are modeled after medieval perimeter security – a firewall is much like a castle moat – and the idea of ‘keeping the bad guys out,’” McMillin said. “We live inside modern systems that are both physical and computational, and in such a smart living environment, attacks can come from multiple different sources, some even inside what we consider protected.”

McMillin took note earlier this year when the chief of U.S. Cyber Command testified before Congress that the federal government’s efforts to deter computer attacks are falling short. On March 19, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the command’s efforts are not working.

He pointed out that criminals attacking the U.S. cyber infrastructure want to move beyond disrupting those networks to establish “a persistent presence” on them.

McMillin says he and other researchers at the university are working to produce improvements in cyber security while passing on what they learn to the students preparing to enter the field.

“We must focus on the information that both flows into and out of every portion of our smart living environment, both hiding what we consider security and private, and disrupting the ability of our adversaries to launch information attacks,” McMillin said.

And it's not just taxpayer information that requires protection. McMillin says he and his colleagues are developing new ways to protect the electric power grid, oil, gas and water systems and transportation systems from attack.

For-profit colleges lost a round in court this week as a federal judge dismissed an industry lawsuit challening the U.S. Department of Education's "gainful...

For-profit colleges lost a round in court this week as a federal judge dismissed an industry lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Education's "gainful employment" rule.

The rule, scheduled to go into effect in July, cuts off federal aid to schools whose students graduate with high debt loads and low earnings. The schools' lawsuit said the rule violated their right to due process.

U.S.  District Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York ruled that the Education Department had the legal power to create the controversial rule in the first place and that it followed proper procedures in developing its second iteration of the regulations. The first version of the rule was thrown out in 2012 in an earlier lawsuit.

Dorie Nolt, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, said the department was pleased with the ruling.

"Every student deserves to graduate from higher education with a degree or certificate that equips them for success. These regulations will hold career colleges accountable for the programs they offer and promote improvements that protect students, benefit consumers, and honor taxpayers’ investment,” Nolt said.

The lawsuit was brought by the Association of Proprietary Colleges, which represents 20 for-profit colleges in New York.

“While we agreed with the department’s goals for this rule from the outset, we remain steadfast in our conviction that this regulation does not achieve those goals,” Stelling-Gurnett said in a statement.

In dismissing the suit, Judge Kaplan said that for-profit colleges don’t have a “vested right" to participate in federal student aid programs and they therefore don't need to be afforded due process protections.

“While for-profit colleges have become heavily reliant on federal student aid, that reliance is of their own creation, not of necessity,” he wrote.

Kaplan had sharp words for the association's argument that the rule infringed upon the states' role in overseeing colleges.

“This argument is quite surprising, but not for its merit,” Kaplan wrote. “It is surprising because it is at best ill-conceived and at worst misleading.”

One of the biggest pitfalls of gardening is your back. After all, things look great once they bloom but the process getting there can ...

One of the biggest pitfalls of gardening is your back. After all, things look great once they bloom but the process getting there can be painful. It’s a lot of bending and using your wrists. Your fingers see a lot of action as well and as you get older it can be hard to manipulate small tools or just even hold them in your hands.

The good news is there are many tools, adaptors and methods that will allow you to garden much more easily as the aging process takes over.

Ergonomic chairs have been popular in offices for a few years, since sitting on your bum for hours isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered for your spine. And now, ergonomics has moved into the gardening area as well.  

An ergonomic tool is one that allows you to keep wrists and other body parts in a neutral position. It usually will weigh under three pounds and it works off your center of gravity. An ergonomic tool can boost your productivity. It will help keep the dirt in one spot and let you plant so things look a little more organized because you won't be as tense.

The physical benefits are key. Because of the design of the specific tool it creates more flexibility for you and allows you to work longer and smarter. 

The purpose is to eliminate any discomfort you might have. It will also work to ease physical stress while you use it as the tools are usually lighter and structured for people that have trouble squeezing or working with their hands for long periods of time.

Ergonomic tools are easily identifiable. They have rubber padding on the handle with a feel of a non-slip texture and a diameter greater than or equal to 1.5 inches. Long handed tools can be hard to hold even when you are equipped with normal body strength. To get the benefits of being ergonomic, the upper part of the shaft should bend so it’s more horizontal with a second hand grip along the shaft.

If it is uncomfortable to use don’t use it because you will be positioning your body to over-compensate and defeating the purpose.

There are now a number of tools available for gardeners with physical limitations from specialty garden product makers like Fiskars, Corona, Gripworks, disABILITY Work Tools, Life with Ease and others.

Jan McNeilan, consumer horticulture agent for the Oregon State University Extension Service suggests that gardeners who have bad backs should use long-handled tools and use plastic handle extenders to help improve leverage. Try to maintain a good neutral posture while you garden and push rather than pull so you don’t pull your back along with the weeds.

If you think those identity-verification security questions actually keep your data secure, think again — a study by Google researchers shows most typical ...

If you think those identity-verification security questions actually keep your data secure, think again — a study by Google researchers shows most typical security questions fail on one of two levels: Hackers can easily guess the answers, while the actual account owners are likely to forget them.

Google anti-abuse researcher Elie Burzstein and software engineer Ilan Caron posted on Google's security blog last week a summary of a more detailed paper they'd presented at the WWW 2015 conference.

… secret questions are neither secure nor reliable enough to be used as a standalone account recovery mechanism. That’s because they suffer from a fundamental flaw: their answers are either somewhat secure or easy to remember — but rarely both.

Turns out that certain easy-to-remember security questions are also downright useless, although which specific questions prove useless vary throughout the world:

With a single guess, an attacker would have a 19.7% chance of guessing English-speaking users’ answers to the question "What is your favorite food?" (it was ‘pizza’, by the way)

With ten guesses, an attacker would have a nearly 24% chance of guessing Arabic-speaking users’ answer to the question "What’s your first teacher’s name?"

With ten guesses, an attacker would have a 21% chance of guessing Spanish-speaking users’ answers to the question, "What is your father’s middle name?"

With ten guesses, an attacker would have a 39% chance of guessing Korean-speaking users’ answers to the question "What is your city of birth?" and a 43% chance of guessing their favorite food.

Of course, companies could offset such problems by adding more, and harder, security questions, but that would lead to the exact opposite problem: Too many legitimate account holders would forget the answers, and be unable to recover their accounts.

Surprise, surprise: it’s not easy to remember where your mother went to elementary school, or what your library card number is! Difficult secret questions and answers are often hard to use. … 40% of our English-speaking US users couldn’t recall their secret question answers when they needed to.

So what can tech companies do to protect their customers from this question conundrum? Probably nothing, as Burzstein and Caron said in the abstract of their research paper: “We conclude that it appears next to impossible to find secret questions that are both secure and memorable.”

As important as STEM careers are, the notable dropout rate in STEM focused college programs and the growing segregation of students into...

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) rose 3.4%in April to 112.4 in April -- its highest level in 9 years....

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) rose 3.4%in April to 112.4 in April -- its highest level in 9 years.

The modest monthly increase put the index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, 14.0% above its year-ago level April 2014 (98.6) -- the largest annual increase since September 2012. The PHSI has now increased year-over-year for 8 consecutive months and is at its highest level since May 2006.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the steady gains in contract activity each month this year highlight the fact that buyer demand is strong. "Realtors are saying foot traffic remains elevated this spring despite limited — and in some cases severe — inventory shortages in many metro areas," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

"Homeowners looking to sell this spring appear to be in the driver's seat, as there are more buyers competing for a limited number of homes available for sale."

Following April's decline in existing-home sales, Yun expects a rebound heading into the summer, but says the likelihood of meaningful gains will depend on a much-needed boost in inventory and evidence of moderating price growth now that interest rates have started to rise.

"The housing market can handle interest rates well above 4% as long as inventory improves to slow price growth and underwriting standards ease to normal levels so that qualified buyers -- especially first-time buyers — are able to obtain a mortgage," he said

NAR projects total existing-home sales in 2015 to be around 5.24 million -- an increase of 6.1% from last year. The national median existing-home price (the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower) for all of this year is expected to increase around 6.7%.

The Labor Department (DOL) reports initial claims jumped by 7,000 in the week ending May 23 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000. At the same time, the government revised the previous week's level upward by 1,000 -- to 275,000.

The 4-week moving average, which smooths out the volatility of the weekly figure and is consider a more accurate gauge of the labor market, rose 5,000 from the previous week to 271,500.

Analysts at Briefing.com say employment conditions remain strong as the initial claims level holds at 15-year lows.

Amazon.com built its business selling all kinds of things online, making it one of the nation's largest retailers. To win even more business, it's trying t...

Amazon.com built its business selling all kinds of things online, making it one of the nation's largest retailers. To win even more business, it's trying to get those purchases to consumers faster – for a price.

When ordering from Amazon, standard delivery is 3 to 5 business days. If you select that option, chances are you won't see you purchase any sooner than that.

In 2005 Amazon launched Amazon Prime. For an annual fee of less than $100 members received free 2-day shipping on all orders. To get their money's worth consumers often felt the need to order lots of stuff, so it worked out.

Amazon has since added other benefits to Prime, including access to streaming video content, added in 2011. But pretty soon, 2-day delivery didn't seem all that fast, so Amazon has consistently focused more attention on ways to get items to consumers even faster.

Because it has massive distribution centers scattered around the country Amazon is able to offer same-day delivery in several cities, for an extra shipping fee of $5.99.

Amazon has just announced it is extending that service to Prime members in certain cities without the extra shipping charge. They will be able to get some items delivered in just one day, included in the $99 annual fee.

There are several strings attached. Not all items will qualify and purchases must total $35 or more to be eligible.

Purchases must also be made before noon to arrive the same day and the delivery must be to one of 14 metro areas.

It might be said that delivery has, itself, become a commodity in the marketplace. Other competitors like Walmart and eBay are working on their own delivery deals, perhaps prompting Amazon to push the envelope a bit.

In 2013 Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced plans to use drone aircraft to make deliveries – a plan that still must navigate some challenging regulatory turbulence from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can begin to be implemented.

Last week Amazon disclosed its Prime Now service will provide 1-hour delivery service from other local stores, along with many Amazon items, to members in select Manhattan neighborhoods.

“Our Prime Now hub in Manhattan is home to tens of thousands of products that are being delivered to customers in an hour or less. Now, we are expanding the service to include delivery from local stores,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. “So whether you’re ordering diapers and a big-screen television from Amazon, fresh produce from D’Agostino, a chef-made prepared meal from Gourmet Garage or cupcakes from Billy’s Bakery, we will get all of the items right to your door in lightning-fast speeds as well.”

Amazon says that service and will eventually spread to include other Manhattan neighborhoods and other major U.S. cities.

General Motors (GM) isn't taking sides. Whether you have an iPhone or an Android device, it will offer a way to integrate the phone with the vehicle on 14 ...

If the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), gets its way, FedEx will pay a $58,600 civil penalty for allegedly violating hazardous materials regulations....

If the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), gets its way, FedEx will pay a $58,600 civil penalty for allegedly violating hazardous materials regulations.

According to the agency, FedEx accepted a box containing 1.7 liters of flammable liquid for air transportation in June 2014 that lacked the proper shipping name of the hazardous materials. The FAA further contends that 2 months later, the company accepted a hazardous materials shipment consisting of 2 pounds of consumer commodity that had shipping papers incorrectly indicating the amount of hazardous materials inside.

The shipments were not properly classed, described, packaged, marked, labeled and in the condition for shipment required by the hazardous materials regulations, the FAA claims.

Additionally, the FAA accuses FedEx of failing to provide the pilots in command with accurate and legible written information about the amount of hazardous materials on board 3 other flights in June, July and August 2014.

The shipments according to the feds, contained radioactive material, flammable printing ink and flammable and combustible paint.

The FAA says it discovered the alleged violations during a dangerous goods inspection at the FedEx facility at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn.

Office Depot will pay a $3.4 million civil penalty to settle Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff’s charges that the company knowingly failed to...

Office Depot will pay a $3.4 million civil penalty to settle Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff’s charges that the company knowingly failed to report -- as required by federal law -- defects and an unreasonable risk of serious injury concerning the Quantum and the Gibson models of office chairs.

Federal law requires parties like Office Depot to report to CPSC immediately (within 24 hours) about a consumer product containing a defect that could create a substantial product hazard or presenting a risk of serious injury.

Office Depot received dozens of reports of seatback failures and related injuries involving both the Quantum chairs and the Gibson chairs. It never reported the Quantum chair hazard to CPSC, and reported the Gibson chair hazard only after receiving a request from staff.

By the time the Quantum and Gibson chairs were recalled, Office Depot had received 33 and 153 reports – respectively -- of seatback detachment from the chairs, and 14 and 25 reports – respectively -- of injuries, some of which required medical attention.

Office Depot sold about 150,000 Quantum chairs nationwide between May 2006, and August 2009, for about $350 each, and about 1.4 million Gibson chairs nationwide between 2003, and 2012, for about $40 each.

In addition to paying the $3.4 million civil penalty, Office Depot has agreed that the company has, and shall maintain, a compliance program designed to ensure compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Act and a related system of internal controls and procedures. The program must include written standards and policies designed to convey information obtained from sources such as complaints, parts requests, and incident reports to personnel responsible for CPSC compliance.

General Motors is recalling 126 model year 2014 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured March 22, 2013, to May 22, 2014. The electronic parking brake piston actuat...

General Motors is recalling 126 model year 2014 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured March 22, 2013, to May 22, 2014.

The electronic parking brake piston actuation arm in the recalled vehicles may not fully retract, causing the brake pads to stay partially engaged. Brake pads that remain partially engaged with the rotors may cause excessive brake heat that could result in a fire.

GM has notified owners, and dealers will reprogram the electronic parking brake control module with new software, free of charge. The recall began on May 6, 2015.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15259.  

In the first of 2 actions, Ford is recalling 423,000 Ford Taurus and Flex vehicles, Lincoln MKS and MKT vehicles, 2011-2012 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ veh...

In the first of 2 actions, Ford is recalling 423,000 Ford Taurus and Flex vehicles, Lincoln MKS and MKT vehicles, 2011-2012 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles, and 2011 Mercury Milan vehicles.

A potential intermittent electrical connection in the steering gear might result in the loss of electric power steering assist while driving. If this happens, the steering system defaults to manual steering mode, making the vehicle more difficult to steer, especially at lower speeds. This could result in the increased risk of a crash.

Dealers will perform one of 2 service fixes, depending upon whether certain diagnostic trouble codes are present in the vehicle. They will either update software for the power steering control module or replace the steering gear.

Prolonged exposure to elevated underbody temperatures might cause degradation of the fuel tank and fuel vapor lines, which could eventually result in a fuel leak. In addition, prolonged exposure to elevated underbody temperatures might cause the parking brake cable seals to degrade, potentially affecting parking brake functions.

A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire. Impaired parking brake function could result in unexpected vehicle movement, which might increase the risk of injury.

Dealers will replace the current fuel tank shield with a shield with better insulating capability, install thermal patches on the fuel tank and parking brake cable, and install thermal wraps on the fuel vapor lines.

Travelers beware: If you're planning to drive through a region of the country unfamiliar to you — especially if you'll be driving a rental rather than your...

With identity theft-related tax fraud such a lucrative enterprise for scammers, it should be no surprise that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been t...

With identity theft-related tax fraud such a lucrative enterprise for scammers, it should be no surprise that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been the target of a hack attack.

The agency has disclosed that hackers penetrated security systems and obtained access to the tax records of as many as 100,000 taxpayers. For an identity thief, it's like hitting the jackpot.

With your tax return a criminal not only has access to your Social Security number, he or she knows a lot about you. The hacker can see where your sources of income came from and next year, file a bogus return in January that is a dead ringer for the one you filed this year. If the attack went undetected the IRS wouldn't bat an eye before sending out a refund – not to you but to the scammer filing your return.

In an email to ConsumerAffairs Wednesday, Leah, a taxpayer in Georgia, reports she has been an apparent victim of identity theft-related tax fraud. When she filed her return earlier this year, expecting a $3000 refund, she learned that the IRS had already processed her return.

The part of the IRS that was compromised is a section called Get Transcript. Taxpayers who have created an account at IRS.gov may log in and obtain transcripts of their tax records for previous years. People applying for a mortgage often need to do this.

If you have not set up a Get Transcript account, you should not be at risk in this breach. Taxpayers attempting to log into the Get Transcript website Wednesday are greeted with this message:

Alert: The online Get Transcript service is currently unavailable. Transcripts may still be ordered using the Get Transcript by Mail service. We apologize for any inconvenience.

To log in normally, a taxpayer enters a user name and password. The people who hacked the system had that information.

A second tier of security then asks a security question that the account holder selected and answered when setting up the account. In about half the cases, the IRS says the hackers knew the answer. Of the 200,000 accounts targeted, about 100,000 were breached.

That suggests this breach was highly sophisticated and targeted, not random. Officials speculate, for example, that by combing social media sites hackers were able to learn information about their potential victims that would help them answer those security questions – what was your high school's mascot, for example.

In addition, to disabling the Get Transcript portion of its website, the IRS said it has taken steps to protect taxpayers. They include:

In addition, the IRS said it is flagging the underlying taxpayer accounts on its core processing system to alert for potential identity theft to protect taxpayers going forward — both right now and in 2016.

Photo credit: Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association A homeowner's association in Franklin, Tennessee has agreed to pay $156,000 to settle a lawsuit bro...

Whether people are getting any smarter is open to question but devices certainly are. Take whisky bottles. Soon they'll be keeping you company so you never...

Whether people are getting any smarter is open to question but devices certainly are. Take whisky bottles. Soon they'll be keeping you company so you never have to drink alone.

You can thank beverage company Diageo for bringing interactivity to the whisky bottle. Its Johnnie Walker Blue brand will soon come in bottles that are more inviting than ever. That's because they're being equipped with printed sensor tags that communicate with your smartphone using Near Field Communication (NFC).

So while you're standing there in the liquor store gazing at the row of Scotch bottles, Johnnie will be calling to you, or at least communicating with the mother ship to let it know you're near.

"Although these are very traditional product categories, there is a huge amount of digital interaction that is happening with our products," Diageo's Venky Balakrishnan Iyer said in a recent issue of CIO. "These are people standing in stores or bars and wondering whether they buy the single malt or the blend, highland or lowland."

Like everyone else, Diageo keeps track of how many people are searching for its products at any given time. But not many companies know whether mobile searchers are standing in front of one of their bottles, as about half of Johnnie Walker searchers are.

Could this mean that sometime soon, Johnnie or one of his Diageo kin might give you a come-hither look, or even whisper sweet nothings in your ear or onto your smartphone screen? 

We're not sure about that, but one thing the Johnnie Blue bottle will soon know about you, assuming the prototype system is finalized, is whether or not you've opened it. 

Once you do, Diageo wants to continue communicating with you but Balakrishnan says the conversation will shift gears from a sales pitch.

"We know the bottle opening event has occurred," he said. "Our communication can change from guiding the consumer on which bottle to buy to how to best enjoy this product."

Well, this may be going a bit far. I mean, really, does anyone not know how to enjoy a fifth of Johnnie Blue?

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that for-profit Ashworth College “agreed to settle” charges that Ashworth misled potential students about ...

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that for-profit Ashworth College “agreed to settle” charges that Ashworth misled potential students about the value of an Ashworth education.

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that “When schools promise students they can transfer course credits or get a better job after completing their programs, they’d better be able to back up those claims. Ashworth College didn’t tell the truth when it made those promises to prospective students.”

Ashworth's settlement with the FTC includes an $11 million judgment — which is currently “suspended” due to Ashworth's “inability to pay.” In addition to not-paying this fine, Ashworth is also expected to not-make certain misleading claims to students. Or, as the FTC said:

completing Ashworth’s program will qualify students to obtain vocational licenses without any additional training or experience;

Ashworth’s programs provide all the training and credentials required to switch careers or obtain a job in a new field;

Ashworth is the latest in a series of for-profit schools to come under legal scrutiny for similar reasons. Corinthian Colleges, which operated schools under the Heald, Everest and WyoTech brands, had to cease operations and close its remaining schools late last month (and declared bankruptcy a week later), after years of legal troubles including multimillion-dollar fines, suspensions of federal student aid, federal lawsuits charging “predatory lending,” and more.

In mid-April, shortly before Corinthian closed its remaining schools and filed for bankruptcy, it was fined $30 million for misrepresenting its job placement rates to students.

ITT Educational Services also started coming under increased scrutiny this month. A couple weeks ago, Congresswoman Jackie Speier urged the Department of Education to investigate ITT for “deceptive and predatory lending practices, pushing students into high-interest loans they know cannot be repaid.”

A few days later, California suspended GI Bill benefits for ITT Technical Institute locations in the state.

Students at ITT and Corinthian schools both paid high tuition rates (or, more likely, went deep into bankruptcy-proof student loan debt) in order to get what turned out to be useless degrees: traditional four-year colleges or universities generally wouldn't accept course credits from these schools, and neither will state professional licensing boards.

The FTC settlement with Ashworth suggests that Ashworth students have the same problem, but they do have one slight advantage (or one less disadvantage) than students of ITT, Everest and similar for-profit schools. The FTC says:

Tuition at Ashworth College ranges from hundreds to several thousand dollars. Ashworth College does not accept student loans, and students are required to pay tuition in full or make monthly payments. However, it does accept military benefits including GI Bill payments, and has directed some of its advertising to military servicemembers and their families.      

So Ashworth students may waste large amounts of money or squander their military tuition benefits on what turns out to be relatively worthless college-course credits — but at least they don't have bankruptcy-proof student-debt millstones weighing them down, too. By the sad standards of contemporary American for-profit higher-educational victims, that actually leaves Ashworth students ahead of the game.

Two troubling housing trends have appeared this spring. After months of decline, foreclosures rose in April to an 18-month high. At t...

Two troubling housing trends have appeared this spring. After months of decline, foreclosures rose in April to an 18-month high. At the same time, soaring rents outpaced home values for the first time in years. 

RealtyTrac, a company that markets foreclosures, reports foreclosure filings, which include everything from default notices to scheduled auctions to bank repossessions, increased 3% in April over March and 9% over April 2014. 

The company says the April jump occurred largely because of a 25% surge in bank repossessions (REO) over March and a staggering 50% increase over April 2014, the largest number in 27 months. Despite the jump, the number of REOs is still 56% below the September 2013 peak. 

As bad as it sounds, RealtyTrac vice-president Daren Blomquist says it's just the result of a build-up of scheduled auctions and does not suggest the start of a new crisis. 

“Many of those scheduled auctions are now taking place, and properties are going back to the foreclosing lender," Blomquist said. "Meanwhile we continue to see foreclosure starts decrease, and foreclosure starts nationwide are now running consistently below pre-crisis levels — indicating that the overall increase in foreclosure activity in April is a continuation of the clean-up phase of the last housing crisis." 

While that may be a relief for homeowners, consumers who rent are feeling anything but relief. A report by real estate website Zillow.com says rents are rising so fast it could deepen what it calls a "rental crisis." 

Zillow says its April Home Value Index rose to $178,400, a modest 3% year-over-year advance. But the Zillow Rent Index rose 4%, to $1,364. 

Zillow says the increase in rent has actually been outpacing home value growth for several months in some of the nation's hottest markets. In San Francisco, for example, rents started rising faster than home values in July 2014, and have been growing faster ever since on an annual basis. In Boston, annual rental growth has outpaced home value appreciation since August 2014. 

Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries says recent entry-level housing growth has been fed by renters taking advantage of low interest rates and buying their first home. But it's a trend that may not last. 

"It will be increasingly difficult for many renters to realize these benefits as this country's growing rental affordability crisis continues to worsen," he said. "More income going to rent means less going to savings for a down payment and other costs, keeping renters renting longer and feeding into the high demand that is contributing to rising rents in the first place." 

It's a cycle, he says, that will be difficult to break and represents another sign that there are still imbalances in the U.S. housing market. Building more houses and consumers getting better pay might help, but Humphries says there is no indication either will come quickly.

Hot dogs only take a few minutes on the grill and the four-legged kind only take a few minutes in the car. As the weather heats up, people are out and abou...

Hot dogs only take a few minutes on the grill and the four-legged kind only take a few minutes in the car. As the weather heats up, people are out and about more often and it’s fun to tote your dog along for those errands that you think are just innocent quick trips.

But nothing is quick or Ok when you decide to leave your dog in the car to patiently wait for you to come out from whatever you are doing.

It takes only minutes for your pet to face death — and it doesn't have to be that hot out. On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 160 degrees. Even with the windows cracked. 

It’s actually a form of cruelty to do this and many states have laws on the books to back it up. Under these laws, police, animal control agents, peace officers and others may be authorized to enter by whatever means necessary to remove the animal. Most likely if they see your dog sitting in the car with its tongue hanging out and panting, they will come in and grab your dog.

Overheated dogs can suffer heat exhaustion, heat stroke or sudden death from cardiac arrhythmias. You can tell your dog is overheated when you see it panting, followed by disorientation and fast, noisy breathing.

If this happens, be careful about giving the dog water because it could easily create bloat. When the dog is so heated that it is panting severely, only let it have a few laps of water. Water in the stomach does not cool the dog, you just need to keep the mouth wet so the panting is more effective.  Once the temp is going down and panting has slowed to more normal panting then allow water.

No one likes to think about dying, much less talk about it. So when a medical diagnosis is terminal, the first reaction is shock. The second is wondering w...

No one likes to think about dying, much less talk about it. So when a medical diagnosis is terminal, the first reaction is shock. The second is wondering what to do next.

Increasingly U.S. consumers are turning to hospice care, which is medical care with a different goal – maintaining or improving the quality of life for someone whose illness, disease or condition is unlikely to be cured. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization estimates (PDF) that in 2012, 1.6 million parents received hospice services.

One appeal of hospice is the dying patient often remains at home. A family member usually serves as the primary caregiver and, when appropriate, helps make decisions for the terminally ill patient.

Members of the hospice staff make regular visits to assess the patient and provide additional care or other services. Hospice staff is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Hospice care, which becomes available when the prognosis is 6 months or less, also offers practical support for the caregiver(s) during the illness and grief support after the death. It seems to help.

A new report from researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found spouses of people getting hospice for three or more days had suffered less from depression than those who did not have hospice assistance.

“We know hospice provides high quality care to patients, but now we’re also seeing a benefit for spouses,” said Katherine Ornstein, lead author of the study. “If we want to understand the impact of hospice care, we should consider the potential benefit not just to the patient, but to the caregiver, and perhaps, the entire family and social network. We need to remember that care near the end of life affects not only patients, but also their loved ones.”

But the primary emphasis is on the patient. Hospice representatives control pain and provide comfort while ensuring that medication, therapies and treatments all support a care plan that is centered on the patient’s goals.

The care isn't simply clinical in nature. Art and music therapists inspire joy. Pet therapy and massages are offered as part of many programs as well. These extras often lead to a patient focusing on living life as long as possible, since he or she is no longer has to endure difficult treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Hospice services become available to a patient when a hospice physician and a second physician, usually the individual’s family doctor or specialist, certify the patient meets specific criteria – generally, the patient’s life expectancy is 6 months or less if the illness, disease or condition runs its typical course. However, if the individual lives longer than six months and their condition continues to decline, they may be re-certified by a physician or nurse practitioner for additional time in hospice care.

Similarly, if a hospice patient's condition improves, he or she may be discharged from hospice care. The patient is eligible for hospice again if his or her condition begins to decline.

According to the Hospice Foundation of America (HFA), most hospice providers offer essentially the same services to meet Medicare guidelines. Still, there may be some extras that set some providers apart.

Photo © rfvectors.com - Fotolia As long as there have been cellphones, there have been complaints about cellphones’ short battery life. Not only do ba...

As long as there have been cellphones, there have been complaints about cellphones’ short battery life. Not only do batteries never seem to last long enough, they invariably die in the middle of an important call.

Researchers at Ohio State University are riding to the rescue. They are announcing a technology they claim will extend your battery life by 30%.

You don’t have to buy a new battery and you don’t need a special kind of cellphone. With modifications, their invention is said to work with any device.

It works like this: special circuity converts some of the radio signals produced by the device into direct current (DC) power which is routed back to the battery to recharge it. The researchers say the new technology can be built into a cell phone case, without adding more than a small amount of bulk and weight.

“When we communicate with a cell tower or Wi-Fi router, so much energy goes to waste,” said Chi-Chih Chen, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the inventors. “We recycle some of that wasted energy back into the battery.”

The inventors who came up with this system are all researchers at Ohio State. They’re now working with a spin-off company to fine-tune the technology and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in June to bring the idea to market.

This isn’t necessarily a new idea. There are already some products that capture stray radio signals to charge tiny devices like temperature sensors. But it hasn’t been tried on this scale before, and not to charge a common consumer product like a cellphone.

And there are other differences. For one, the cellphone charger is working with considerably more power.

“These other devices are trying to harvest little bits of energy from the air,” said Robert Lee, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Our technology is based on harvesting energy directly from the source. They can capture microwatts or even nanowatts, but cell phones need milliwatts or higher.”

Lee estimates that nearly 97% of cellphone signals never get to their destination and are simply lost. While not all can be recaptured, some can.

He says the objective is to reduce power consumption by retrieving some of that lost power. Rather than call the technology a battery charger, Lee prefers to think of it as a battery “extender.”

The inventors actually look at their technology as something based on a fairly simple principal, something they should have thought of a long time ago. The basic technology is almost as old as commercial electricity. It relies on the fact that radio waves are actually just a very high-frequency form of electric current.

If you are not using the phone for voice or data – instead, playing a game or listening to downloaded music – the new technology won’t be of any help. The phone needs to be transmitting through the airwaves for the technology to work.

But that’s exactly how most people, in fact, use their phones. Chen and his colleagues believe their as-yet unnamed technology will soon be an indispensable part of everyone’s cellphone, reducing the number of complaints about short battery life.

Five in a row. That's how many weeks applications for mortgages have been on the decline. According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) ...

According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications were down 1.6% during the week ending May 22.

The Refinance Index tumbled 4%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down 1 percent -- to 51% of total applications. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 6.4% of total applications.

After posting a decline in April, The Conference Board' Consumer Confidence Index increased moderately this month. It now stands at 95.4 -- up 1.1 from th...

After posting a decline in April, The Conference Board' Consumer Confidence Index increased moderately this month.

It now stands at 95.4 -- up 1.1 from the previous month's reading. The Present Situation Index rose 3 points -- to 108.1, while the Expectations Index edged down to 86.9 from 87.1.

“After a three-month slide, the Present Situation Index increased, propelled by a more positive assessment of the labor market,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “Expectations, however, were relatively flat following a steep decline in April. While current conditions in the second quarter appear to be improving, consumers still remain cautious about the short-term outlook.”

Consumers’ assessment of current-day conditions improved in May. Those saying business conditions are “good” edged down from 25.5% to 25.2 percent. However, those who think they're “bad” also decreased -- from 19.2 % to 17.4%.

The assessment of the job market was mixed. Those who see jobs as “plentiful” rose from 19.0% to 20.7%, while those saying they are “hard to get” rose from 25.9% to 27.3%.

Optimism about the short-term outlook edged lower in May. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next 6 months inched up from 15.4% to 15.6%, while those who predict business conditions will worsen also increased -- from 9.1% to 10.8%.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market, however, improved. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased from 13.8% to 14.6%, while those who look for fewer jobs declined from 16.4% to 15.5%.

The proportion of consumers expecting growth in their incomes was unchanged at 17.4%, while the proportion expecting a decline rose slightly from 10.8% to 11.1%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was May 15.

Toyota Motor Sales is recalling approximately 3,000 model year 2015 Lexus NX 200t vehicles. The recalled vehicles are equipped with an Anti-Lock Braking ...

The recalled vehicles are equipped with an Anti-Lock Braking system (ABS), Traction Control System (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control System (VSC) which are controlled by the ABS actuator. There is a possibility that a component inside the actuator could be damaged during assembly and later not operate properly. Under some driving conditions, if the ABS is activated, this could cause a loss of vehicle stability, which can increase the risk of a crash.

Toyota says it is not aware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities caused by this condition to date, .

All known owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by first class mail. Lexus dealers will inspect the ABS actuator and if necessary replace it with a new one.

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331, or Lexus customer service at 1-800-255-3987.

Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) of Canada is recalling about 12,500 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The youth ATVs fail to meet performance requiremen...

Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) of Canada is recalling about 12,500 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

The youth ATVs fail to meet performance requirements of the federal standard for maximum unrestricted speed and parking brakes, posing a crash hazard.

This recall is for model year 2008 through 2015 Can-Am Mini DS ATVs. The recalled vehicles are youth model ATVs and have engines sizes of 70 cubic centimeters and 90 cubic centimeters. They were sold in the colors black and yellow. "Can-Am DS" and the engine size is on both sides of the vehicle's fairing. "Can-Am" appears in white letters on both sides of the seat.

Model year 2008 through 2014 DS 70 ATVs fail to meet requirements pertaining to the unrestricted maximum speed of the vehicle. Model year 2008 through 2015 DS 70 and DS 90 ATVs fail to meet requirements pertaining to parking brakes.

The ATVs, manufactured in Vietnam, were sold at Can-Am dealers nationwide from July 2007, through January 2015, for between $1,800 and $2,800.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact a BRP dealer to schedule a free repair. BRP is notifying registered consumers directly.

Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at (888) 272-9222 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Gerber Legendary Blades of Portland, Ore., is recalling about 161,000 Cohort folding knives. The locking mechanism can fail to hold the blade, posing a la...

The Cohort is an open frame folding clip knife with either a black or dark gray anodized aluminum handle. The tail end of the handle includes a lanyard hole. When the knife blade is fully extended, it is held in the open position with a liner lock function. When fully extended, the overall length of the knife is about 7 inches. When closed, the knife measures about 4 inches.

The knife blade is 3 inches long, weighs less than 3 ounces and has the Gerber “sword and shield” trademark in silver on the non-clip side of the blade. The Gerber name appears on the knife clip.

Model numbers can be found underneath the UPC barcode on the lower right corner on the rear of the hanging blister packaging. For box packaging, the model number is found on the bottom of the box.

A product date code appears on the blade, beneath the thumb stud, on the clip side of the knife. The last figure in the code is a letter, and the recall applies to all Cohort knives with the letters “E” and “F.”

The knives, manufactured in China, were sold at Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Home Depot, other retailers nationwide and online at www.gerbergear.com and other online sporting goods stores from January 2013, through March 2015, for about $30.

Consumers may contact Gerber Legendary Blades toll free at (877) 314-9130 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

We are well into the spring home shopping season and in many markets, would-be buyers are having to compete for properties. Inventories of available homes ...

We are well into the spring home shopping season and in many markets, would-be buyers are having to compete for properties. Inventories of available homes remain tight in many metros.

So when you come across the cute “mid-century” rancher in a good neighborhood at an attractive price you may be ready to pounce. But before you do, there are four parts of the home you should closely examine. They can be the difference between a good deal and a money pit.

They are, in order of importance, the roof, the basement or crawlspace, the heating and cooling system (HVAC) and the electrical service.

The roof protects the integrity of the structure. If it leaks, moisture is getting inside and causing all sorts of damage.

If shingles are missing or are cracked and peeling, the roof may already be leaking. If the shingles are intact but are curling or torn, they are on their way to failing.

Discolored shingles can be a sign of mold or algae growth on the roof. That holds moisture and can cause rapid deterioration.

Inside, water spots on the ceiling can be a telltale sign of a leaky roof. That may be reason enough to walk away. The cost of replacing a roof will be several thousand dollars and that doesn’t cover the repairs to any damage that may have already occured.

If the house is going to need a roof replacement soon after you move in, that cost should be reflected in your offer. On the other hand, if the roof has recently been replaced, that’s a big checkmark in the house’s favor.

Just as moisture invading your home from above, an invasion from below is just as damaging. Water can get under the structure any number of ways. Sometimes the contour of the lot allows rain water to collect next to the foundation, but more often than not the water comes from the roof, by virtue of overflowing gutters or downspouts.

Subterranean water is easier to spot in a basement because of easier access. In addition to the musty odor you can detect water marks on walls where water has entered. If basement walls have recently been painted it may be reason enough to suspect a water problem.

Water is harder to hide in a crawlspace, but may require crawling into a dark, cramped space with a flashlight. Moisture can usually be detected by the musty smell. If water is present, there is a chance of mold and insect damage as well.

Whether it’s a basement or a crawlspace, addressing water issues is usually a costly home repair and to be avoided, if possible.

HVAC systems keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Furnaces tend to last a lot longer than air conditioners but you still want to pay attention to the furnace’s age. The same is especially true for air conditioners.

Window units that cool specific parts of the home, are relatively inexpensive and easily replaced. Not so with central air units. According to the experts at This Old House, central air conditioning units last 10 to 15 years, heat pumps about 16.

A home with a newer cooling system is a big plus. One with an older system will likely need replacing soon, at a cost of several thousand dollars.

All homes have electricity but some have more of it than others. Many older homes are still powered by 100 amp service, which was the standard when they were built. Modern homes have 200 amp service and are able to handle today’s greater electricity demands.

For example, a home may need a 200 amp service to handle a large load HVAC system or other large appliances. If a home doesn’t have it, it can cost several thousand dollars to add and should be considered before making any offer.

Home shoppers often get fixated on granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Before considering the cosmetics, better focus on structural basics like roof, foundation, HVAC and electric service.

General Motors will remain under Uncle Sam's thumb. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided to extend federal oversight of ...

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided to extend federal oversight of the automakers’ review, decision-making and communications about potential vehicle safety issues for an additional year.

That means GM will have to continue submitting reports to and meeting with NHTSA in order for the agency to monitor the progress of company's investigation of potential safety issues and other actions required by NHTSA’s May 2014 Consent Order.

“GM learned a hard lesson last year,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx. “We expect to see the improvements they’ve made continue and that their new approaches are applied to every GM safety issue and every recall.”

Last May, the company agreed in the Consent Order to pay a record $35 million civil penalty and to take part in unprecedented oversight requirements as a result of findings from NHTSA's timeliness investigation regarding the Chevrolet Cobalt and the automaker's failure to report a safety defect in the vehicle to the federal government in a timely manner.

The defect resulted in the non-deployment of airbags in certain Chevy Cobalt and other GM models. Today’s action is an extension of certain requirements of that agreement. Other requirements continue for an additional two years.

NHTSA says it extended its oversight “because the consent order has proven to be a productive and effective tool to proactively and expeditiously address potential safety-related defects.”

“Our oversight has been effective and GM’s in a better place,” according to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, adding, “We expect that our agreement will help them continue to improve their safety culture. Follow the rules, be accountable for your products, take good care of your customers and always make safety the priority.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports there's a chance federal prosecutors will bring criminal charges against the company over an ignition-switch defect that prompted GM to recall 2.6 million vehicles.

The defective switch can slip out of the run position and cut power to safety systems including air bags, power steering and power brakes. 

The Journal reports a settlement is possible, but quotes people close to the situation as saying sticking points remain, including whether GM will have to enter a guilty plea and how big a fine it it may face.

It was just a few weeks ago that Comcast bowed to opposition from consumer activists and skepticism from regulators and withdrew i...

It was just a few weeks ago that Comcast bowed to opposition from consumer activists and skepticism from regulators and withdrew its offer for Time Warner Cable.

Now Charter is buying Time Warner for about $55 billion and predicts the deal will be approved because a combined Charter/Time Warner would be a stronger competitor for Comcast.

Comcast, with 22 million subscribers, is the biggest cable and Internet provider in the country and has a knack for making enemies. Charter, by comparison, is a mere pup with about 6 million subscribers. Bright House, owned by the Newhouse interests, which would also be acquired by Charter, has about 2.5 million. The three companies combined would have about 20 million subscribers.

Charter is seen by the people who make their livings generating spin about deals like this as more consumer-friendly, perhaps because it's smaller. It's not that small, though. Its largest shareholder is billionaire John Malone who has enjoyed a lengthy career building gigantic media enterprises.

There is a certain method to this apparent madness. If you look back a few years to 2013, you'll find that Charter was then trying to acquire -- yes -- Time Warner. Time Warner said no and Charter's bid escalated into an attempted hostile takeover.

Time Warner rebuffed Charter by leaping into the waiting arms of Comcast and the invisible hand of public opinion manipulation went to work stoking up opposition to the Comcast deal.

The argument went something like this: Comcast will be oh so big that it will squash such small competitors as Netflix in the fast-congealing gob of cable and streaming video.

Activist groups like Public Knowledge and Consumers Union took to the barricades, warning that the sky would fall if Comcast's evil empire grew any larger. Charter's slightly smaller evil empire? No problem.

“It appears much less of an antitrust concern than the Comcast deal,” said Public Knowledge president Gene Kimmelman in a Washington Post report.

It seems to escape everyone's attention that Malone, 74, has spent the past several years preaching the gospel of cable consolidation as a weapon against the emerging threat that streaming video represents to cable interests. Cable operators must join forces to stamp out the newcomers, in other words. 

A combined Charter/Time Warner may have only a size 11 boot but that will likely be just about as effective as the size 12 boot Comcast/Time Warner would have brought to the party. 

Meanwhile, the largest cable provider is about to be none of the above. The AT&T/DirecTV merger appears to be smoothly moving towards completion. Anyone who thinks AT&T will deal gently with intruders on its turf should do a little research into the history of the telecommunications business.

Classmates.com and floral delivery company FTD have agreed to pay $11 million to resolve allegations the companies engaged in misleading advertising and bi...

Avian, or bird, flu, has devastated commercial chicken and turkey operations in the Midwest, resulting in the culling of millions of birds. But beyond its ...

Avian, or bird, flu, has devastated commercial chicken and turkey operations in the Midwest, resulting in the culling of millions of birds. But beyond its economic impact there are serious health concerns.

In Asia strains of the avian flu have passed from bird to humans, with health officials estimating 1 in 3 humans who contract the illness die.

Now, researchers in the U.S. have developed a vaccine for two new strains of bird flu. While providing some protection it is also expected to help researchers make additional vaccines for new strains of avian influenza more quickly.

As a result, the number and intensity of large-scale outbreaks at poultry farms could diminish and transmission to humans become less of a threat.  Jürgen Richt, Regents director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases says it could also lead to flu vaccines for pigs and other livestock.

Richt and his colleagues at Kansas State Univesity focused on H5N1, a new strain seen mostly in Indonesia, Egypt and other Southeast Asian and North African countries. H5N1 also has been found in wild birds in the U.S. but is not believed to be widespread.

"H5N1 is a zoonotic pathogen, which means that it is transmitted from chickens to humans," Richt said. "So far it has infected more than 700 people worldwide and has killed about 60% of them. Unfortunately, it has a pretty high mortality rate."

The new vaccine for H5N1 came about when scientists put 2 viruses together. Tests show that the combined virus was an effective vaccine for chickens against both Newcastle disease virus and H5N1.

Next the scientists focused their efforts on the bird flu subtype H7N9, which has been infecting birds in China since at least 2013. Since then there have been about 650 cases of H7N9 in humans and some 230 people have died. There are aspects of the new virus that make it more dangerous than previous strains.

"In Southeast Asia there are a lot of markets that sell live birds that people can buy and prepare at home," Richt said. "In contrast to the H5N1 virus that kills the majority of chickens in three to five days, chickens infected with the H7N9 virus do not show clinical signs of sickness. That means you could buy a bird that looks perfectly healthy but could be infected. If an infected bird is prepared for consumption, there is a high chance you could get sick, and about 1 in 3 infected people die."

Again, tests showed that chickens vaccinated with the new Newcastle virus-based vaccine were protected against H7N9.

A vaccine that could stop bird flu from spreading would be welcome news to the poultry and egg industries. Nearly 40 million U.S. chickens have died or been exterminated as poultry producers try to stop the spread of the disease. That’s more than double the number lost in the last outbreak back in the 1980's.

All of this is having an impact at the supermarket. Some turkey producers have warned of possible shortages of the Thanksgiving Day staple and egg prices are skyrocketing.

The Wall Street Journal has reported wholesale prices for the eggs sold at supermarkets are up about 85% at $2.20 a dozen in parts of the country. Restaurants specializing in breakfast are also feeling the pinch and will likely pass along the higher costs to consumers.

A vaccine that could limit the carnage would likely alleviate much of this economic fallout, though it isn’t known how quickly that could happen.

Federal agents have shut down a network of gambling sites and seized nearly $10 million that is being distributed to federal and local law enforcement agen...

Federal agents have shut down a network of gambling sites and seized nearly $10 million that is being distributed to federal and local law enforcement agencies.

The gambling sites allowed bettors to place thousands of wagers from New York, Florida, Indiana, California, Texas, Kansas, Nevada  and elsewhere.  Over a four-year period, at least $10 million in illegal gambling proceeds were deposited into accounts in the names of sham corporations and accounts in Panama, Andorra and the Cayman Islands, prosecutors said. 

One of the defendants, Philip Gurian, said that he was making $150,000 from the sites each day. Michele Lasso admitted helping Gurian launder the gambling proceeds, depositing at least $8 million. Alan Gould admitted involvement in $3.8 million in transactions. Jay Goldman admitted accepting nearly 9,000 bets totaling over $1.5 million using foreign websites and eighteen different routers.

“Stripping criminals of illegal profits deprives them of the fuel that sustains their illegitimate enterprises,” said U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian.  “In illegal gambling, money is both the way the crime is committed and the reason for committing it.  No money equals no crime."

"Forfeiting the proceeds and instrumentalities of crime puts the money to work for good – helping the victims of crime, funding community programs and providing resources to be used to promote public safety," he said. "Such sharing can enable a local police chief, sheriff, or district attorney to commit the necessary resources to conduct a complex, long term investigation that in the end enhances public safety.”

A total of $9,628,093.75 was distributed by the U.S. Marshal’s Service to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, the IRS, the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office as shown below:

myRedBook seized by the fedsA website operator has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for facilitating prostitution and has agreed to forfeit near...

A website operator has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for facilitating prostitution and has agreed to forfeit nearly 1.3 million in cash and property. It's thought to be the first such conviction anywhere in the U.S.

Eric Omuro, also known as Red, 53, of Mountain View, California, published a site called myRedBook.com. It hosted advertisements from prostitutes containing photos, descriptions of their services and prices.

Omuro pleaded guilty in December and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California to using a facility of interstate commerce with the intent to facilitate prostitution.  

Omuro admitted that members of his website and prostitutes typically used acronyms for sex acts, which were defined in graphic detail in the website’s “Terms and Acronyms” section.  While prostitutes could post advertisements for free, myRedBook.com offered additional options for a fee. 

For example, prostitutes could pay a fee to have their advertisement featured more prominently on the website.  Similarly, customers could access myRedBook.com for free. If a customer purchased a membership, however, the customer obtained early and enhanced access to prostitute reviews, enhanced prostitute review search options and access to additional VIP forums, among other things.

According to an affidavit submitted in connection with the sentencing hearing, the FBI identified more than 50 juveniles who were advertised on myRedBook for the purpose of prostitution.

Technology increasingly pulls consumers into new car showrooms. New cars have a lot more technology in the dash than even three-year-old models. Hyundai...

Technology increasingly pulls consumers into new car showrooms. New cars have a lot more technology in the dash than even three-year-old models.

Hyundai is trying to raise the bar, not with hardware but with software. It has introduced Android Auto, a system that integrates some Android phones with the navigation system in the 2015 Hyundai Sonota.

"Android Auto aligns with Hyundai's core interior design principles of safety, intuitiveness and simplicity," said Dave Zuchowski, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America. "We launched this highly anticipated feature on our best-selling Sonata, adding to our promise of value. With the launch of Android Auto, we provide more owners with the experience of cutting-edge technology."

Having more and more gadgets at your disposal behind the wheel doesn’t sound like such a good idea but Zuchowski says the new system will actually promote safety. He points out that just about any time of day there are thousands of people driving while trying to manipulate some type of electronic gadget.

Hyundai says the new interface will help keep drivers' eyes and attention on the road by integrating the advanced driving-related functions of the user's smartphone with the familiar centralized screen, physical controls and microphone of their car.

As an added safety feature, the company says the synced smartphone's screen becomes "locked," so drivers are not tempted to look down and interact with their phones directly while Android Auto is in use.

If you are driving a 2015 Sonata with the navigation package you can get the free software download at any Hyundai dealer. Within a few weeks the company says you’ll be able to download the software yourself if you have a MyHyudai account.

To use the new software your phone needs to run Android 5.0 Lollipop or later and the Android Auto companion app on a compatible phone. A micro USB cable is required to connect the phone to the car's USB port.

The first time you plug a phone into a parked Sonata, the phone will prompt the download of the Android Auto companion app from the Google Play. From there you download familiar Android phone applications, such as Google Maps, Google Now, messaging, phone calling and Google Play Music.

Hyundai stresses that these apps controlled by voice, as well as steering wheel controls and touchscreen. Android Auto can also launch many popular third-party audio apps that owners have on their phones, including iHeartRadio, Spotify, TuneIn, NPR, Stitcher, Skype and TextMe.

How would you use this software package? Hyundai says Google Now provides suggested locations and travel times based on the user's searches, calendar entries and home and office locations, as well as weather information and "now playing" information for music streamed over the phone.

The software is automatically updated because the apps live on the phone. Hyundai says users can easily bring their personal reminders, suggested destinations, calendar appointments and music preferences with them when they get in their car.

Rock music in the 60's and 70's was all about youth and rebellion and was the soundtrack of a generation. So it must come as a shock to Baby Boomers, and e...

Rock music in the 60's and 70's was all about youth and rebellion and was the soundtrack of a generation. So it must come as a shock to Baby Boomers, and even younger fans, to learn that the legendary rock band The Who is observing its 50th anniversary this year.

Fiftieth anniversaries are what your grandparents celebrate, not your rock idols. But the surviving members of The Who are grandparents, or at least old enough to be. Roger Daltrey is 71. Pete Townshend is 70. But many fans consider their music timeless, not to mention ageless.

Radio programmer and one of the pioneers of the “classic rock” format, Gary Guthrie, says no rock group other than The Rolling Stones has endured generational hand-offs, from older fans to younger fans, like The Who.

“I might even go as far as saying that The Who made an impact on more genres and conceptual thinking with their punk'y ‘mod’ sound and what they did with 'Tommy' and 'Quadrophenia,'” Guthrie told ConsumerAffairs.

"Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" came after the band had earned worldwide fame. But to celebrate the 50th anniversary The Who is re-releasing its early work, when it was competing with dozens of other British groups invading America.

As part of the ongoing celebrations the band is releasing a series of 7-inch singles box sets containing work it produced while hopping from one record label to another. The first collection is "The Brunswick Singles 1965-66."

The follow-up is "The Reaction Singles 1966," a 4-part set of classic Who singles by labels Brunswick, Reaction, Track and Polydor. It contains five 7-inch singles from the Reaction label pressed on heavyweight vinyl with paper sleeves  and reproducing the period graphics front and back with die-cut center holes.

The singles come in a rigid lid-and-tray outer box that features a 7-inch sized color booklet with liner notes about each release by Who biographer Mark Blake.

The period of time covered by the initial products are not without controversy. The rock music world was something of a Wild West environment during those years with performers routinely walking away from record labels in contract disputes. The Who was no exception.

During one such dispute The Who released a song called “Substitute,” which had to be recalled over a rights issue. After its second release was successfully challenged in court The Who released it a third time, eventually hitting number 5 on the British charts.

"The Reaction Singles 1966" collection includes “Substitute,” “Instant Party,” “Waltz For A Pig,” I’m A Boy,” “Ready Steady Who,” “Disguises,” “Circles,” “Batman,” Bucket T,” “Barbara Ann,” “Happy Jack” and “I’ve Been Away.”

The rise in home prices continued during March on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, b...

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, both the 10-City and 20-City Composites saw year-over-year increases. The 10-City Composite was up 4.7%, while the 20-City Composite jumped 5.0%. The National Home Price Index -- covering all 9 U.S. census divisions -- recorded a 4.1% annual gain in March versus a 4.2% increase in February.

San Francisco and Denver reported the highest year-over-year increases -- 10.3% and 10.0%, respectively, over the last 12 months. San Francisco’s annual gain is its first double-digit year-over-year increase since July 2014. Dallas reported a 9.3% year-over-year gain to round out the top 3 cities.

Ten cities reported higher price increases in the year ended March 2015 over the year ended February 2015. Tampa led the way with a reported increase of 1.4%. Ten cities also saw their prices decrease annually, led by Cleveland -- down 1.2% in the year ending March 2015.

The National index increased again in March with a 0.8%. Both the 10- and 20-City Composites increased significantly, reporting month-over-month gains of 0.8% and 0.9%, respectively. Of the 19 cities reporting increases, San Francisco led an advance of 3.0%.

Seattle followed with a reported surge of 2.3%, while Cleveland was up 0.4%, its first positive month-over-month increase since last August. New York was the only city to report a decline for March -- -0.1%.

“Home prices have enjoyed year-over-year gains for 35 consecutive months,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director & Chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The pattern of consistent gains is national and seen across all 20 cities covered by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. I would describe this as a rebound in home prices, not bubble and not a reason to be fearful.”

Separately, from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), word that its House Price Index (HPI) rose 1.3% in the first quarter of 2015 -- the fifteenth consecutive quarterly price increase in the purchase-only, seasonally adjusted index.

"The first quarter saw strong and widespread home price growth throughout most of the country," said FHFA Principal Economist Andrew Leventis. "Home prices are now, on average, roughly 20% above where they were 3 years ago. This run-up has been historically exceptional and is particularly notable in light of the limited household income growth and modest rate of overall inflation observed during that same time period."

The seasonally adjusted, purchase-only HPI, which is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, rose 5.0% from the first quarter of 2014 to the first quarter of 2015, while prices of other goods and services fell 1.5%. The inflation-adjusted price of homes thus rose approximately 6.5% over the latest year.

Sales of new single-family houses moved higher in April following a double-digit plunge a month earlier. Estimates released jointly by the Census Bureau a...

Sales of new single-family houses moved higher in April following a double-digit plunge a month earlier.

Estimates released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 517,000 up 6.8% from March's revised rate of 484,000. The previous month's sales rate had earlier been put at 481,000 . The April figure is also 26.1% above the year-ago estimate of 410,000.

The median sales price of new houses sold in April was $297,300, up $22,800 from the same time a year ago. The median is the point at which half the prices were higher and half were lower.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 205,000, representing a supply of 4.8 months at the current sales rate.

A new TargetExpress scheduled to open in October in Rosslyn, Va. We’'ve said this a thousand times, but here it is again, once more wrapped up with an...

We’'ve said this a thousand times, but here it is again, once more wrapped up with an in-market validation ribbon: Emotional aspects of a category count more to consumers than rational ones when it comes to consumer engagement and brand profitability.  That’s true in B2C and B2B categories. The only time rational category aspects primarily on their own create the kind of consumer behavior that substantively boosts the bottom line is if you’re talking about a commodity, like selling bags of sand.

Here'’s another proof positive. It’'s going to end up a marketing case history at some business school somewhere -- that'’s the only time rational category aspects on their own or primarily on their own, create the kind of consumer behavior that substantively boosts a bottom line, but here it is now.  In our Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) for the Discount Retail Category, Target has generally appeared in the #2 spot -- after Walmart and just ahead of Kmart. Those are the only three national discount retailers so the list isn’'t long. 

Target, a division of Dayton Hudson Corporation, grew and finally the company went with the name “Target” for all its’ divisions. Round about the early ’90s Target began to differentiate its stores by offering more upscale-feeling, trend-forward, merchandise at lower costs.

It created a category unto itself, even if just perceptually, called “cheap chic,” in direct opposition to the Walmart model of focusing on low, lower, lowest-priced goods. Kmart didn’'t actually have a strategy other than locations with low prices, but not quite as low as Walmart. 

Back then Target was rated #1 in our CLEI, and It worked out pretty well for them because their engagement strategy relied on the emotional value of style, rather than the rational value of price. People felt good about themselves when they shopped at Target. They saw themselves as having good taste and they were getting a good deal. Target held the cheap chic positioning for a decade or so and did pretty well, but when the recession hit, Target panicked and walked away from style and turned to a low-price strategy positioning, hoping the Target logo alone would speak to their style heritage. Alas, logos only go so far and only speak so loud, and consumers'’ memories of bygone strategies (however once-engaging) are short. Target seemed perennially to become #2.

Whether by design or happenstance Target has recently returned to its’ cheap-chic strategy. They'’ve refocused on the kind of fashion and style that resonated with consumers years ago that when asked where they had shopped, consumers would say “Tar-ghay,” with a faux-French accent, putting an ironic spin on shopping for style at a discount retailer!

So, has the return to an emotional strategy worked? Mais oui! Target has been posting better than predicted earnings, and just did that again –a day after Walmart posted their own disappointing numbers. This is the third straight quarter of sales growth for Target. They reported a 52% increase in profit, with revenues up nearly 3%.

Along with a return to a more emotional positioning is the recognition that the retail game will be won according to what share-of-wallet and frequency of visits a brand can engender, which are, of course, rational aspects of business, only in this case they’re driven by an emotional connection to the brand.  And, sure, everyone shops everywhere, but as the brand has returned to style and chic for it’s differentiating position in discount, it’'s selling more expensive items to more shoppers who have more money to spend more frequently.

In light of that, Target CFO John Mulligan has noted, “we'’re letting consumers lead us to the right answer,” which is always the smart thing to do and the kind of thing that shows up in biz school case studies where brand success is the bottom line -- –and usually the result of increased consumer emotional engagement with the brand. 

A federal court, acting on a request from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has temporarily shut down a sweepstakes operation based in Fort Lauderdale th...

A federal court, acting on a request from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has temporarily shut down a sweepstakes operation based in Fort Lauderdale that took more than $28 million from consumers throughout the U.S and other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

“This outfit promised people huge prizes and collected millions in fees but never paid out a dime,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If someone says you have to pay to claim a sweepstakes prize, assume it’s a scam.”

The FTC’s complaint and other court filings claim the defendants mailed personalized letters that falsely told consumers they had won large cash prizes -- typically more than $2 million. The prizes are “guaranteed,” the letters stated, but to collect the money, consumers had to mail the defendants a $20-$30 fee by cash, check or money order. To create a false sense of urgency, they set a deadline, typically 10 days, and warned consumers they would forfeit their winnings if they didn’t pay on time.

In reality, consumers had not won anything. The defendants have no connection to any sweepstakes and cannot award or pay anyone the promised prizes.

“Only in dense, confusing language, at the bottom or on the back of the letters,” the FTC explains, do they admit that the only service they provide is compiling “reports” about sweepstakes and contests offered by other parties that are open to the public.

By design, the defendants’ disclaimers are unclear and inconspicuous, and fail to alert consumers to the truth, and most consumers don’t even receive the “reports” and would never have agreed to pay $20-$30 for them.

The defendants are Mail Tree Inc.; Michael McKay Co.; Spin Mail Inc.; MCP Marketing Activities LLC, also doing business as Magellan Mail and Magellan Marketing; Trans National Concepts Inc.; Romeria Global LLC, also d/b/a Lowenstein Varick and Nagel; Supreme Media LLC; Vernier Holdings Inc.; Awards Research Consultant LLC; Mailpro Americas Corp.; Masterpiece Marketing LLC, also d/b/a Affiliated Opportunities Group (AOG), Corporate Accounting Authority (CAA), Dispatch Notification Services (DNS), Information Reporting Group (IRG), National Directory Center (NDC), and Priority Information Exchange (PIE); Matthew Pisoni; Marcus Pradel; John Leon; and Victor Ramirez. The court issued an order that temporarily stopped the illegal conduct, froze the defendants’ assets, and appointed a receiver to control the operation while the FTC pursues the case.

“No one is permitted to steal hard-earned money from members of our community,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer said. “This office will work with international, national and local law enforcement agencies to prevent these types of sweepstake fraud schemes, and we will bring those who commit these crimes to justice.”

Hanging from a balcony can be a good thing -- if you're a plant. This is the perfect time of year to plant in small spaces. Most balconies don't have a ton...

Hanging from a balcony can be a good thing -- if you're a plant. This is the perfect time of year to plant in small spaces. Most balconies don't have a ton of room but they do have enough to plant both cool and warm season vegetables

You probably won't be able to feed your crew the whole summer on these but herbs are a perfect choice if you are a gardener with limited space. They will add a tremendous amount of flavor to your food and they attract bugs, but the good kind of bugs -- bugs that are beneficial to your garden and that repel insects. They do a lot for the amount of space. They serve not only your family but also a purpose.

Kale is all the rage on every green menu and not just in the health food stores -- it has become mainstream and it has tremendous health benefits. It will be easy to grow and it is very nutritious.

Salad greens are just an all-around plant. They do well in the cool wet season but they also thrive in hot weather. It is probably a good idea to plant lettuce and greens from seeds; it’s much cheaper and you will be able to treat yourself to a wide variety including all the old standbys.

The staple of every garden is the little red balls that are bursting with flavor -- the juicy tomato. They are a summer treat, but it can be challenging keeping them healthy when the weather gets damp. In order to keep them healthy you need a great deal of heat and the leaves need to stay dry. You can keep them in large pots under an awning and that will allow you to control the water.

Potatoes are also a great addition to your garden, even if you're not in Idaho. There are many varieties and they do grow well. You don't need to give up tons of space, either. Special "grow bags" and tall containers designed for potatoes mean you can grow spuds on your balcony.

Jack and the beanstalk really wasn't a tale too tall except for the length of the bean stalk. Good luck getting one to grow to the sky, but Jack's grew overnight and yours can also. Push in a bean and you'll have a sprout in a few days. Small spaces will allow you to plant a variety of beans.

Nothing screams summer like fresh veggies and how wonderful to be able to toss a salad with your own homegrown vegetables from your own little garden no matter how small your space may be.

Walmart is helping change the way food animals are trated across the retail industry.  Walmart is asking meat producers, egg suppliers and others to use...

Walmart is asking meat producers, egg suppliers and others to use antibiotics only when needed for disease prevention or treatment, not to fatten their animals, a common industry practice.

It is also trying to halt pig gestation crates and any other type of housing that doesn’t give an animal enough room to move. Walmart is also requesting that dehorning and castration be done with painkillers.

Activists are applauding Walmart touting its guidelines and saying it could become the blueprint of the food industry. McDonald’s Corp., Nestlé and Starbucks Corp., have already pledged to reduce or eliminate the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows and otherwise improve animal treatment.

Much of the Walmart's motivation is no doubt simple market economics. Shoppers are more aware of their health than ever before and it’s no longer just the food pyramid. People want to know where their food comes from, what the animals are fed and how they are treated. Consumers are pushing for more transparency when it comes to how things are grown.

Walmart said its own research showed 77 percent of its shoppers said they will increase their trust and 66 percent will increase their likelihood to shop at a retailer that improves the treatment of livestock.

Activists have been loud and clear about abuses that have gone on in the farms that supply food to Walmart and other large companies.

According to Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of Walmart’s sustainability division, Walmart is now asking for suppliers to give them annual reports on antibiotic use and animal welfare and post them on their own websites.

The World Organization for Animal Health outlined Five Freedoms that it wanted to see for animal health. Walmart has adopted those and they include freedom from pain and injury, and freedom to express normal behavior.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, says he is thrilled that Walmart has taken a stand and said he feels that the impact is a “game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending.”

Old World Meats of Duluth, Minn., is recalling approximately 12 pounds of roast beef product. The product contains soy, an allergen not listed on the labe...

The recalled product bears the establishment number “EST.34448” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and was sold at a retail location in Minnesota.

Culinary Brands of Vernon, Calif., is recalling approximately 4,038 pounds of pork products. The product was mistakenly mislabeled and may contain the wr...

The product was mistakenly mislabeled and may contain the wrong product, a mushroom risotto which contains wheat, an allergen not declared on the label.

The recalled product bears the establishment number “EST. 6009” inside the USDA mark of inspection and was shipped to retail locations nationwide.

Memorial day gets summer started and that usually means the grill gets going as well. One of the key ingredients to that grill is the fire. Keep the fire b...

Memorial day gets summer started and that usually means the grill gets going as well. One of the key ingredients to that grill is the fire. Keep the fire burning and you can cook anything. Besides having a good fire in order to grill like a pro you need the right tools.

A grill is a good start but there are so many it can be overwhelming to decide what is right. That big question pops up. Do I use gas or charcoal? This statement won’t make it much easier on you but it really depends on what you like to cook with because the flavor comes from the drippings, not the fuel.

When those drippings hit the heat source below, the oils, sugars, and proteins burst into smoke and flame. That heat creates new complex molecules that rise in the smoke and warm air to coat the food you're grilling.

If you decide to go with a charcoal grill there really isn’t that much difference between them. It boils down to size, ventilation, and ease of operation.

If you are cooking for several people, size is important. You can create an ultra-hot searing zone while leaving the other side of the grill relatively cool in order to gently finish cooking chicken breasts, burgers, or steaks to your desired level of doneness.

Look for a rack that will let the coals ventilate. It is better for the coals to be above the floor. It will allow them to burn faster and more efficiently.

If you decide gas is what you want, plan on spending a little more. All of the same rules for charcoal apply to gas but you have to talk to the store salesperson on how each of the gas grills burn -- some are quicker than the others and your food will look Cajun even of that wasn't the plan. Check how the grease will drain as it can cause flare-ups.

Some required tools of the trade are a pair of tongs. Look for ones made from two separate arms connected with a spring-loaded hinge. While a locking mechanism is nice for storage, it's by no means essential. You want your tongs to be heavy so you can pick things up without dropping them or bending the tongs. You should be able to tell by feel. Stay away from heat-proof nylon-tipped tongs. Not only do they give you less grip and less control, they also aren't really that heat-proof.

A clean grill is essential and a dedicated grill brush is a tool you will use every time you use your grill.

Spatulas that are thin and flexible are important for flipping chicken and not piercing the breasts so that you let all the juices out.  It would be best to get a model with a slanted head, great flexibility, and a full tang (the metal head should continue all the way through the handle in one single piece).

Medium well done or rare. How can you tell without cutting into your meat? A thermometer is key. You want to keep your meat favorable and juicy. The best way to do that is not to have to slice it and dice it. A good thermometer will help.

World War II and Korean War vets arrived at Washington's Reagan National Airport recently on one of several weekly Honor Flights (Staff photo) It's ha...

It's hard to find anyone who doesn't pay lip service to honoring military personnel but on this Memorial Day weekend, it's worth taking time out to note that there are also plenty of unscrupulous businesses that are only too happy to take advantage of servicemembers, aided by their friends on Capitol Hill.

Congress talks a good game but, when not attending Memorial Day parades and fund-raisers, House Republicans were hard at work on behalf of the banking industry this year, trying to delay new rules that shield servicemembers from predatory loans.

In September 2014, the White House issued new rules in enforcement of the Military Lending Act to limit the interest the lenders could charge military men and women. Servicemembers often fall victim to payday loans and other predatory loans can add up to 400% or more per year.

In an executive order, President Obama authorized changes to the rules that would cap most loans to military personnel at 36%.

This set off a flurry of activity in the House Armed Service Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) threw his weight behind a measure that would have indefinitely delayed the new rule, supposedly to make time for more study. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had already conducted a study based on more than 5,000 complaints of financial abuse it had received from military members by July 2013. 

The blocking tactic was tucked into annual legislation that sets policy for the Department of Defense. But consumer adocates "outed" the measure and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraqi War veteran, introduced legislation striking the banker-backed provision.

“The American people are disappointed with the constant gridlock in Washington and the inability of Congress to act,” said Duckworth. “This is especially true when it comes to supporting our Service Members and Veterans.

"As the Department of Defense and CFPB’s own reports show, Service Members have not been fully protected since the Military Lending Act was passed, and further delay will put more service members and their families in harm’s way. ... Our troops should not have to wait any longer for these common sense protections,” Duckworth said.

11-21-2014 -- Military Allotment reforms aim to protect service members  Some types of payments will no longer be deducted from paychecks

7-18-2014 -- Military personnel often targets of financial abuse Credit counselors offer financial literacy support

7-16-2014 -- Military consumers: Steps to take before you deploy Active duty servicemembers have important legal protections

3-4-2014 -- Suicide in the military -- don't blame deployments  A new study points to risk and protective factors

1-14-2014 -- Extra headaches for underwater mortgages in the military Active-duty military status complicates financial matters -- but help is available

DOT photoFederal safety regulators want to put the hammer down and get the Takata recall into high gear. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administ...

Federal safety regulators want to put the hammer down and get the Takata recall into high gear. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is invoking powers it has never used before to to take charge of the millions of recalls now being conducted separately by 11 different automakers.

In an order prepared for publication in the Federal Register, NHTSA said the current "patch-work" process is moving too slowly to ensure motorists' safety, given that millions of people are driving around in cars whose airbags may explode and send shrapnel hurling into the passenger compartment.

“Today is a major step forward for public safety,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.” 

Roughly 17 million vehicles were already on the recall list prior to this week, when another 17 million or so were added as Takata caved in to regulators' demands that it concede the airbags are defective. Actually, the process of identifying which cars have the defective airbags is still underway so most of the additional recalls have not yet been issued.

The size and complexity of the process means it is likely to take years to complete. Many of the cars equipped with the faulty airbags may be in the junkyard before the recall reaches them. 

NHTSA wants to take charge of the flow of replacement parts to ensure that replacement airbag inflators are being manufactured and distributed to dealers in a timely manner. It is also going to try to expedite the process of finding all the cars that need repairs.

At least seven people have died as a result of Takata airbag malfunctions, according to the non-profit Center for Auto Safety and more than 100 have been injured.  

It will take time for all of the cars equipped with the defective airbags to be officially recalled so it's a good idea to check the list every week or two.At the moment, it's basically up to you to check whether your car is on the recall list. You can do so at NHTSA's site by inserting your VIN number. Carfax also offers a free app that will alert you to recalls and will track your service record and other data. You can use your VIN number or license plate number to get started. 

If your car is recalled -- for defective airbags or anything else -- contact any dealer who sells that model and get your name on the appointment list. Parts are almost never available when a recall is announced, so you may have to wait a few weeks, possibly much longer.

You can ask for a loaner car. Some dealers may oblige, but you may have to be persistent. Most consumers we've heard from have gotten very little satisfaction from dealers. Again, part of the problem is that most of the affected cars are older and dealers may not see the current owner as a likely prospect to replace their car with a newer model anytime soon.

Part of the reason NHTSA has lost patience with the Takata recall process is that, in many cases, it is taking months for cars to be repaired once the recall is issued and owners notify dealers, leaving consumers to stew and worry about their safety.

A few months ago, I received a recall notice concerning the driver and passenger side airbags of my 2003 Honda Accord. I contacted my local Honda dealer (Honda of New Rochelle located at 25 E Main St., New Rochelle, NY) on February 4, 2015 to schedule an appointment to have the airbags replaced. I also contacted the customer service department of American Honda Motor Co. that same week to see if there was any way that I could have my service expedited.

I was told by the American Honda Motor Co. customer service representative that I would hear back from the local dealer to schedule an appointment within 2-3 weeks. After such time, I contacted the America Honda Motor Co. representative handling the case, leaving her a message that I still had not received an appointment to have my airbags replaced.

After countless attempts and two months later, no one from either American Honda Motor Co. or the local dealer has returned any of calls. Currently, I am still waiting to schedule an appointment to have the airbags replaced.

"I think it’s unconscionable that the representatives from Honda whom I’ve contacted have not responded to any of my inquiries regarding this matter. I do not have an alternate vehicle to get to work or drive my six-year-old son to school so I depend on my car as the primary source of transportation," she said.

Especially annoying, she said, is the callous treatment she has received from Honda representatives at the same time the company is issuing soothing bromides via its p.r. apparatus.

On February 11, 2015, American Honda posted a message onto its website stating the following: “We want to reassure our customers that Honda has an ongoing customer service procedure that addresses each customer’s needs and concerns. For customers concerned about the issue of Takata airbags in certain Honda and Acura vehicles, our customer service will make arrangements for, as appropriate, the replacement of airbag inflators and the provision of or reimbursement for temporary alternative transportation.”

It is very disappointing to see public statements, such as these, made by Honda expressing concern for the safety of consumers who drive their vehicles yet at the same time, no one from Honda has addressed my safety concerns or offered to provide a courtesy vehicle or reimbursement for rental car charges while I wait for an appointment to have the airbags replaced.

"Honda refuses to provide rental car while recall parts are back-ordered. Honda's Recall Letter to us states - if we drive our 06 Honda Pilot, 'The defects in these vehicles could kill or injure you or other people in your vehicle.'"

If that's the case, says Carolyn, you'd expect quick action from Honda and its dealers. That's why the very day she got the letter from Honda, she called Parker Honda, Morehead City, N.C., to schedule the work.

"I was told it would be several weeks before the parts could be ordered and installed. Parker Honda said to contact Honda Customer Service (HCS) about a rental car. I called HCS to get a rental vehicle that day and got a Case #. I was told we could not immediately have a rental car for the 'several weeks' until our vehicle can be repaired."

Carolyn said she is paying for a rental car out of her own pocket while Honda refuses to help her and has stopped returning her calls and messages.

If you plan to spend the Memorial Day weekend at home, grilling some burgers or simply relaxing on the patio, you may be in the minority this year. With lo...

If you plan to spend the Memorial Day weekend at home, grilling some burgers or simply relaxing on the patio, you may be in the minority this year. With lower fuel prices and higher employment numbers, more people are packing their bags.

Despite the fact that gasoline prices have crept higher over the spring, the national average price of self-service regular is about 90 cents a gallon less than last Memorial Day weekend. According to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Survey, the highest average price is in California, at $3.78 a gallon (remember, it's an average; many prices will be higher than that). The lowest state average is South Carolina’s, at $2.42 a gallon.

According to AAA, prices at the pump “surged” ahead of the holiday weekend, despite the fact that oil prices have remained fairly stable. With the exception of Pennsylvania, where the price has moved lower by fractions of a penny, consumers in every state and Washington, D.C. are paying more at the pump week-over-week, AAA reports.

The recent trend of rising prices, however, should not deter motorists. The gasoline monitoring site GasBuddy.com has released a survey showing 73% of consumers plan to travel between this weekend and Labor Day, with 83% estimating they will take at least two trips during that time.

“People can’t get enough of the classic, summer road trip,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. “Nearly half of the people who responded claimed they love going on them and wish they could take more. Even with the current uptick in gas prices, we predict most U.S. travelers will pay the cheapest Memorial Day gas prices since at least 2009.”

The GasBuddy survey found that 85% of road trippers plan trips of more than 200 miles round trop, with half expecting to drive a total of 500 miles. The top reason for hitting the road is to visit family and friends.

The U.S. Travel Association says people taking road trips and catching flights at major airports will likely notice a need for improvements in the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

“Our roads and skies are nearly busting at the seams, and as the economy improves we’re only going to see the number of travelers increase,” said association CEO Roger Dow. “With many of our national transportation policies set to expire this year—some within just two short weeks—we encourage policy leaders to look to long-term solutions to address these capacity concerns and support legislation which provides for a sustained and robust infrastructure, keeping travelers on the move and our economy thriving.”

Even so, economists at the U.S. Travel Association predict consumers traveling over the Memorial Day weekend will spend an average of $330 per person.

Gas may be cheaper this summer but that's not the case for another staple of daily life -- the lowly egg. Thanks to a massive outbreak of bird flu in the M...

Gas may be cheaper this summer but that's not the case for another staple of daily life -- the lowly egg. Thanks to a massive outbreak of bird flu in the Midwest, there just aren't enough healthy chickens reporting for work each day to keep up with the demand.

Nearly 40 million chickens have died or been exterminated as poultry producers try to stop the spread of the disease, more than double the number lost in the last outbreak back in the 1980's.

Wholesale prices for the eggs sold at supermarkets are up about 85% at $2.20 a dozen in parts of the country, according to the Wall Street Journal. Similar increases are hitting industrial users like McDonald's, which could affect the price you pay at the drive-through window depending on how long it takes the nation's poultry flock to recover.

There's no apparent risk, other than menu disruption, to humans from the H5N2 strain of avian influenza but it is hitting the bird population very hard. Scientists say the strain is a combination of a virus that originated in Asia and later combined with North American versions. It's apparently being spread through the droppings of wild ducks and geese.

The disease is centered in the Midwest, leading Iowa state officials to announce a ban on live-bird shows for the rest of the year. Minnesota has done the same.

"We are asking producers and bird owners to increase their biosecurity measures and we feel this is a needed step to further minimize the risk of spreading the virus," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said. "The scale of this outbreak has been unprecedented, so we think it is important we take every possible step to limit the chance that this disease will spread any further."

Iowa, the nation's top egg producer, has had 63 avian flu outbreaks affecting more than 25 million birds.

Although many consumers aren't aware of it, there's something called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act that provides the basis for many of the consumer protec...

A finding that Hawaiian Airlines violated federal rules on liability for mishandled domestic baggage and full-fare advertising will cost the carrier $160,0...

A finding that Hawaiian Airlines violated federal rules on liability for mishandled domestic baggage and full-fare advertising will cost the carrier $160,000.

In addition to levying the monetary penalty, the Department of Transportation ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.

“Consumers deserve truth in advertising, and fair treatment when airlines lose or damage their property,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We will continue to make sure airlines comply with DOT’s consumer protection rules.”

DOT’s Enforcement Office, in response to a consumer complaint, investigated Hawaiian’s handling of monetary claims for mishandled checked baggage on domestic flights. The review revealed that the carrier limited reimbursement for damages associated with delayed baggage to $30 a day for a maximum of 3 days, limiting its liability to an amount far less than the $3,400 minimum level required by federal law.

In addition, the Enforcement Office investigated a promotional program associated with the Hawaiian Visa Signature credit card program. Hawaiian advertised a “one-time 50% round-trip companion travel discount” for flights between North America and Hawaii if consumers signed up for the credit card.

However, consumers who got the card and tried to use the discount on a fare advertised on the carrier's website were automatically provided a higher fare when they attempted to apply the 50% discount. By advertising a travel discount on fares that effectively was not available, Hawaiian violated the full fare advertising rule.

Warning to Android owners who want to sell or give away their old phones, or need to remotely wipe their data after their device was lost or stolen: A new ...

Warning to Android owners who want to sell or give away their old phones, or need to remotely wipe their data after their device was lost or stolen: A new study out of Cambridge University shows that the factory reset option, which is supposed to wipe away all data, doesn't.

Cambridge researchers Laurent Simon and Ross Anderson estimate that 500 million Android phones failed to completely wipe all data during a factory reset, leaving open the possibility that future owners could recover the previous owners' login credentials, passwords, contacts, e-mails and more; and 630 million phones fail to wipe clean all photos and video.

The paper's results are not entirely surprising (though the enormous scale of the problem might be); other security researchers have previously discovered problems with Android's data-wiping capability. Last July, for example, a digital forensics team at the security software company Avast performed an experiment on secondhand Android phones: they bought 20 used smartphones on eBay, all of which had been wiped clean, subject to factory reset, or otherwise treated so that their original owners figured their data was no longer on them.

Yet, from those phones, the Avast team was able to extract more than 40,000 photos (including at least 250 nude selfies), hundreds of email and text messages, a completed loan application (with all the personal financial data therein), and the identities of four of the phones' previous owners — and remember, that's four out of only 20 phones.

What's even more frightening is that Avast's team didn't have to invent some fancy new digital forensics tools to get all this information; the team only used readily available, off-the-shelf data-retrieval tools.

The Cambridge study tried a similar experiment: Simon and Anderson tested the factory reset options of 21 Android smartphones bought from five different vendors, all running Android versions v2.3.x to v4.3. (The researchers later told ArsTechnica that it is “plausible some newer devices are also affected.” Google had no comment on the matter.)

Even after the Android phones were factory reset, the researchers could retrieve the same types of confidential data as could the Avast team last summer. Worse still, the Cambridge study determined that even encryption doesn't offer full protection, as the abstract says:

We estimate that up to 500 million devices may not properly sanitise their data partition where credentials and other sensitive data are stored, and up to 630M may not properly sanitise the internal SD card where multimedia files are generally saved. We found we could recover Google credentials on all devices presenting a flawed Factory Reset. Full-disk encryption has the potential to mitigate the problem, but we found that a flawed Factory Reset leaves behind enough data for the encryption key to be recovered.

The researchers go on to discuss various technical changes Google could conceivably implement, to make the Android factory reset more effective.

But in the meanwhile, what can Android device owners do, if they want to sell or donate an old phone, but don't want to give away their personal files too? Must you abandon all hope of giving the device to someone else, and destroy it instead?

Maybe not. There is a way to truly erase all your data, but it's very time-consuming (and not guaranteed 100% effective).

If you have an erased or factory reset phone and want to hobble any future owners from retrieving your data, your best best is to overwrite the memory with new data: Save a bunch of innocuous stock photos or videos (they don't even have to be your own) onto the phone. Or just save one large file, over and over again until you run out of memory space. Override your previous personal emails and messages by filling your phone with innocuous or even meaningless messages.

To make an analogy: Imagine your phone or computer as being like an old-fashioned three-ring binder. That binder holds many sheets of loose-leaf paper, which is its memory capacity and data storage space. And all the data saved on your device – every photo and video, email and text document, password and credential and everything else – is written or drawn in pencil on that loose-leaf paper.

If you have an eraser, it's pretty easy to wipe away your pencil-marks and make the paper “blank” again — but a person willing to take the time and effort could probably look at that “blank” paper and reconstruct at least some of what you erased. But retrieving your erased writings will be much harder, hopefully impossible, if you then write or at least scribble new pencil marks all over the site of your old erased ones.

To hear defenders of "traditional" lifestyles tell it, you'd think the entire country had turned gay. And in fact, Gallup reports that the American public ...

To hear defenders of "traditional" lifestyles tell it, you'd think the entire country had turned gay. And in fact, Gallup reports that the American public estimates on average that 23% of Americans are gay or lesbian, little changed from Americans' 25% estimate in 2011.

These estimates are many times higher than the 3.8% of the adult population who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Gallup Daily tracking in the first four months of this year.

It's interesting that these wildly inaccurate estimates have remained so stable over time while attitudes about the morality and legality of gay and lesbian relations have changed so markedly in the past two decades.

Whereas 38% of Americans said gay and lesbian relations were morally acceptable in 2002, that number has risen to 63% today. And while 35% of Americans favored legalized same-sex marriage in 1999, 60% favor it today.

The U.S. Census Bureau documents the number of individuals living in same-sex households but has not historically identified individuals as gay or lesbian per se. Several other surveys, governmental and non-governmental, have over the years measured sexual orientation, but the largest such study by far has been the Gallup Daily tracking measure instituted in June 2012.

In this ongoing study, respondents are asked "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?" with 3.8% being the most recent result, obtained from more than 58,000 interviews conducted in the first four months of this year.

Of course, what people say and what they do are not always the same, as Gallup concedes. As it pointed out in its initial report of LGBT data in 2012, "Exactly who makes up the LGBT community and how this group should be measured is a subject of some debate."

Still, all available estimates of the actual gay and lesbian population in the U.S. are far lower than what the public estimates, and no measurement procedure has produced any figures suggesting that more than one out of five Americans are gay or lesbian.

The widely off-the-mark nature of Americans' estimates is underscored by the finding that in the most recent update, from May 6-10, only 9% of Americans estimate that the gay and lesbian population is less than 5% -- where Gallup's tracking figure would put it -- while at the other end of the spectrum, 33% estimate it as more than 25%.

Part of the explanation for the inaccurate estimates rests with Americans' general unfamiliarity with numbers and demography.

Previous research has shown that Americans estimate that a third of the U.S. population is black, and believe almost three in 10 are Hispanic, more than twice what the actual percentages were as measured by the census at the time of the research.

Americans with the highest levels of education make the lowest estimates of the gay and lesbian population, underscoring the assumption that part of the reason for the overestimate is a lack of exposure to demographic data. 

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 6-10, 2015, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-

Not much to see here, folks. According to the Labor Department (DOL), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inched ahead just 0.1% in April, and for the last 12 ...

According to the Labor Department (DOL), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inched ahead just 0.1% in April, and for the last 12 months is actually down 0.2%.

One of the biggest factors in the tiny increase was a rise of 0.7% in the cost of medical care -- the largest increase since 2007.

Energy costs were down 1.3% percent in April after rising in February and March, with fuel oil down 8.4%, natural gas off 2.6%, gasoline posting a 1.7% decline and electricity unchanged. For the last 12 months, energy costs are down 19.4%, with all the major components declining except electricity.

Food costs were unchanged, with food at home -- grocery prices, if you will -- down 0.2%. Dairy and related products posted the largest decline (-0.8%), followed by meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (-0.7%), and cereals and bakery products (-0.3). In contrast, the nonalcoholic beverage prices rose 0.5% while fruits and vegetables edged 0.2% higher. Food at home has increased 1.3% for the 12 months ending April -- the smallest 12-month increase since the year ending February 2014.

Prices for items less the volatile food and energy categories -- the “core rate” of inflation -- rose 0.3% last month, with costs for shelter, medical care, household furnishings and operations, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles all posting gains. Apparel prices and airline fares moved lower.

Over the last 12 months, the core rate has risen 1.8%, the same increase as for the 12 months ending March, and slightly below its 1.9% annualized increase over the past 10 years.

The Memorial Day weekend is upon us -- time to break out the grill, knock off the dust and rust and fire it up. But nothing can spoil cookouts, camping, r...

The Memorial Day weekend is upon us -- time to break out the grill, knock off the dust and rust and fire it up.

But nothing can spoil cookouts, camping, road trips and other activities than food improperly prepared or gone bad.

To keep that from happening, the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has some tips to help you get the most out of your summer.

"This Memorial Day weekend and all summer long, I encourage families to get outside and enjoy our natural resources, national parks and forests, and the variety of food America's farmers are able to provide," said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. "It's important to remember that bacteria grow faster in the same warm temperatures that people enjoy, so extra care needs to be taken to prevent food poisoning when preparing meals away from home. USDA reminds everyone to use a food thermometer, and take advantage of resources like our FoodKeeper app to help with any food handling questions."

USDA has launched the FoodKeeper mobile app, which contains specific guidance on more than 400 food and beverage items, including safe cooking recommendations for meat, poultry and seafood products. It also provides information on how to store food and beverages to maximize their freshness and quality.

It’s estimated that 70 million dogs are living with families. Not surprisingly, millions of people – most of them children – are bitten by dogs every year....

It’s estimated that 70 million dogs are living with families. Not surprisingly, millions of people – most of them children – are bitten by dogs every year. The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable.

A new study that was done by the Mayo Clinic in collaboration with Phoenix Children’s Hospital looked at these injuries a little more extensively. The study was just published last month in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.  It backed up some previous research that said most kids that were bitten were bitten by dogs that they knew.

This latest study confirmed that, finding that 50% of the dog bite injuries treated at Phoenix Children's Hospital came from dogs belonging to an immediate family member.

The retrospective study was done in the years 2007-2013 and involved 670 participants. A good portion of these kids, 270 were bitten so severely that they were seen by the trauma team. The age that seemed to get bitten the most were five-year olds but the study looked at participants as old as 17.

All kinds of dogs bite and 28 particular breeds were the culprits but the breed that appeared the most in reports was the Pit Bull. Children, elderly, and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites. The American Humane Association reports that 66% of bites among children occur to the head and neck.

"More than 60 percent of the injuries we studied required an operation. While the majority of patients were able to go home the next day, the psychological effects of being bitten by a dog also need to be taken into account," said the lead author of the study, Erin Garvey, MD, a surgical resident at the Mayo clinic.

The most important message from the study is that familiarity does not guarantee your child’s safety with the family dog.

“It creates a false sense of safety," said Ramin Jamshidi, MD, senior author on the study and a pediatric surgeon at Phoenix Children's Hospital and Medical Director of Pediatric Trauma at Maricopa Medical Center.

The Injury Prevention Center at Phoenix Children's Hospital has these suggestions to help keep your child safe.

Saturday wraps up dog bite prevention week. It’s a great opportunity to learn more and educate yourself so you don't have to deal with a disaster that can be avoided.

A chief indicator of future economic performance posted a solid gain last month. The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI) was up 0.7%...

The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI) was up 0.7% in April following a March increase of 0.4% and a 0.2% decline in February.

“April’s sharp increase in the LEI seems to have helped stabilize its slowing trend, suggesting the paltry economic growth in the first quarter may be temporary,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, economist at The Conference Board. “However, the growth of the LEI does not support a significant strengthening in the economic outlook at this time. The improvement in building permits helped to drive the index up this month, but gains in other components, in particular the financial indicators, have been somewhat more muted.”

OXO of El Paso, Texas, is recalling about 25,000 Nest booster seats in the U.S. and Canada. The stitching on the restraint straps can loosen which allows ...

The stitching on the restraint straps can loosen which allows the straps to separate from the seat, posing a fall hazard to children.

The firm has received 5 reports of the stitching coming undone releasing the straps following a child pulling on the strap or an adult tightening the straps. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves the Nest booster seat sold in green (model 6367200), pink (model 6367300), taupe (model 6367500) and orange (model 6367400) with a white base. A sticker affixed to the underside of the seat reads “Nest Booster Seat” with the model number and manufacture date. The manufacture date code represents the month and year in MMYY format and recalled units have the code: 0714, 0814, 0914, 1014, 1114 or 1214.

The formed plastic seats are about 13 inches wide, by 14 inches tall, by 12 inches deep and have a grey 3-point child restraint strap system. The OXO logo is embossed on the restraint system’s buckle.

The booster seats, manufactured in China, were sold at Buybuy Baby, Toys“R”Us/Babies“R”Us and independent specialty stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com from September 2014, through April 2015, for about $55.

Consumers should immediately stop using the Nest booster seats and contact OXO for a free repair kit with redesigned safety straps and installation instructions.

Consumers may contact OXO at (800) 545-4411 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or by email at info@oxo.com.

Ford Motor Company is recalling 21,435 model year 2015 Lincoln MKZ vehicles manufactured February 17, 2014, to March 19, 2015, and equipped with daytime ru...

Ford Motor Company is recalling 21,435 model year 2015 Lincoln MKZ vehicles manufactured February 17, 2014, to March 19, 2015, and equipped with daytime running lights (DRL).

The parking lights do not reduce their light output from a DRL level when used in conjunction with the headlights and may exceed the permissible amount allowed by federal regulations. Excessive light output could temporarily blind oncoming traffic, increasing the risk of a crash.

Ford has notified owners, and dealers will update the lighting control software, free of charge. The recall began on May 8, 2015.

Whether it is applying for a mortgage, buying a car or even applying for a job, consumers are at the mercy of their credit reports. If there is negative in...

Here's possible good news for Internet users: yesterday the Federal Communications Commission issued an Enforcement Advisory (available in .pdf form here) ...

Here's possible good news for Internet users: yesterday the Federal Communications Commission issued an Enforcement Advisory (available in .pdf form here) warning Internet service providers (ISPs) that “broadband providers should take reasonable, good faith steps to protect consumer privacy.”

Of course, the terms “reasonable” and “good-faith” are widely open to interpretation. What does the FCC mean? Basically, since ISPs are being reclassified as “common carriers” next month, similar to telephones in the pre-Internet era, they must respect similar types of privacy protections.

“The Commission has found that absent privacy protections, a broadband provider’s use of personal and proprietary information could be at odds with its customers’ interests,” as the FCC noted in an admirable example of understatement.

It's not just a hypothetical problem. In February, for example, AT&T; introduced its high-speed GigaPower home Internet service to Kansas City residents (who already had the option of buying high-speed Internet through Google Fiber for $70 per month).

AT&T;, by contrast, offered a two-tiered GigaPower price plan: $70 monthly for a standard GigaPower connection, or $99 per month to “opt out” of what AT&T; called its “Internet Preferences” program — “Internet Preferences” basically being a euphemism for “tracking and monitoring your online activities”:

When you select AT&T; Internet Preferences, we can offer you our best pricing on GigaPower because you let us use your individual Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the web pages you visit, to tailor ads and offers to your interests.

Not that AT&T; deserves to be singled out; as early as 2013, Verizon was (among other things) offering select advertisers a then-new service called Precision Marketing that allowed sports clubs and athletic venues to track their smartphone-owning fan's activities before and after a game. When Pizza King, for examples, buys ads on the in-game scoreboards, are sports fans more likely to actually visit a Pizza King afterwards? Precision Marketing could let you know!

For modern Americans, the Internet (and any devices connected to it) arguably plays a much bigger role in everyday life than old-fashioned landline telephones ever did — and as a result, the potential privacy violations that arise from monitoring people's online activities is correspondingly greater than what applied to telephones.

For now, as the FCC explains in its Enforcement Advisory, the Commission has not gone so far as to take the specific telephone-based privacy regulations currently in existence and explicitly apply them to ISPs. The FCC does have the option of setting broadband-specific standards later, if necessary — but first, it's giving ISPs the benefit of the doubt and giving them the chance to take “reasonable, good faith steps” toward doing so on its own.

For the third time since February, a Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurer admitted that hackers had breached security and compromised customer records....

For the third time since February, a Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurer admitted that hackers had breached security and compromised customer records.

In February, Anthem admitted that hackers had compromised the records of 80 million current and former Anthem customers (including customers of Amerigroup, Anthem and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, Caremore, Unicare and HealthLink) dating back to 2004. In March, Premera Blue Cross admitted to a breach compromising 11 million medical and financial records dating back to 2002.

In both instances, security experts familiar with the case saw signs indicating that the hackers might enjoy unofficial backing from the Chinese government – which, incidentally, is also suspected of having a hand in other recent high-profile hackings, including last November's discovered hacking of a U.S. Postal Service database containing the personal information of 800,000 USPS employees, and the discovery last July that hackers breached the federal Office of Personnel Management, stealing the data of up to 5 million government employees and contractors who hold security clearances. (China's government, for its part, has repeatedly denied any role in American hacking activities, and points out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law.)

And so it goes for this latest Blue Cross health-insurance hacking: CareFirst, a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan primarily serving people in the Washington, D.C. area (including parts of Maryland and Virginia), admitted that hackers had breached security and compromised customer records. This breach apparently happened last June, but was only recently discovered.

That tends to be the case in all database hackings: “breaking into” a database doesn't leave physical signs of forced entry, the way breaking into a physical building does. And stolen information doesn't disappear from the database, the way burglarized items disappear from their owners' possession. That's why hacking can go undetected for months or even years before their victims even know they've been victimized.

Investigators speaking off the record suggested the CareFirst Blue Cross hacking might be connected to the two previous Blue Cross/Blue Shield hackings, and once again suspect signs of Chinese involvement.

So far, though, this latest health-insurance hacking appears to be on a much smaller scale than the previous two: CareFirst says that up to 1.1 million customer records might be affected. Also, CareFirst says that, while the hackers gained access to customer names, birthdates and email addresses, they did not steal confidential medical or financial data: no medical claims, credit card information or Social Security numbers.

A division of food giant ConAgra Food has entered a guilty plea and agreed to pay an $11.2 million fine in connection with the 2006-2007 contamination of p...

Photo (c) GajusNew car sales continue to set records and so do the costs of a new ride. Industry sources show that the average buyer paid more than $...

New car sales continue to set records and so do the costs of a new ride. Industry sources show that the average buyer paid more than $33,000 for a new car or truck in April.

But you don’t have to spend nearly that much to get a new car that is “cool” and fun to drive. In fact, Kelley Blue Book has singled out 10 cars it says can be purchased for $18,000 or less and make you look forward to your morning commute.

“This year’s list of budget-smart cool cars includes a repeat winner, an all-new Jeep and a few cars that have been completely redesigned for 2015, said KBB market analyst Jack Nerad. “All of them are fun, stylish and versatile to varying degrees, and each and every one is enticingly affordable.”

Just making the list at number 10 is the 2015 Fiat 500. It has a thoroughly European feel and its 101-horsepower 4-cylinder engine delivers a 31/40 MPG rating.

The 2015 Subaru Impreza is in 9th place. The small sedan is the only vehicle on the list that comes with standard All Wheel Drive, making it ideal for icy conditions. It has a 148-horsepower engine with 27/36 MPG.

The 2015 Chevrolet Sonic is number 8 on the list. This subcompact is not only fun to drive, KBB says it has the lowest starting price of any car on the list. Fun and affordable is a very good combination.

Coming in at number 7 is the 2015 Honda Fit. This car has been totally redesigned for the current model year. It earned its spot on the list for that, along with its passenger and cargo versatility.

The 2015 Ford Fiesta holds down the number 6 spot. Its 1.6-liter 4-cylider engine cranks out 120 horsepower while delivering a 28/37 MPG.

The Honda Civic is a best seller, especially with younger consumers, so it is no surprise the 2015 model makes the list at number 5. KBB says Honda’s venerable subcompact is both refined and reliable and even comes in a cool coupe configuration.

Fourth on the list is the 2015 Jeep Renegade. It’s a subcompact SUV that still delivers 24/31 MPG. It also wins the highest KBB consumer rating – a perfect 10.

The 2015 KIA Soul makes the list at number 3. KBB says it earns that lofty spot for its distinctive design, general likability and “up for anything” attitude.

In second place is the 2015 Volkswagen Golf. This seventh generation model is redesigned for 2015 and offers the interior and driving feel of a more expensive European sedan.

Number 1 on the list for a second year is the Mazda3. The 2015 model reigns supreme, KBB says, because it’s “gorgeous, fun to drive and tech savvy.” Its 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine has plenty of pep while delivering 30/41 MPG.

In fact, the best part of the cars on this list may be their price, since it is clear consumers month after month are purchasing new cars they cannot afford.

A rule of auto financing that is rarely observed any longer states that you should be able to make a 20% down payment, finance for four years and have a monthly payment that doesn't exceed 10% of your gross monthly pay.

To afford the average new car or truck, you would need a monthly gross income of $6090, or $73,080 a year. The average American household income in 2012 was $51,371.

In the 1970s the hot real estate trend was planned communities. In the ‘90s it was village center developments. Now, real estate developers are eyeing the ...

In the 1970s the hot real estate trend was planned communities. In the ‘90s it was village center developments. Now, real estate developers are eyeing the older, rundown areas of urban centers for residential and commercial redevelopment.

There are already plenty of examples. Areas of Brooklyn and Detroit are now flourishing with stylish residences and exciting new businesses. When publications like USA Today feature the best up-and-coming neighborhoods in America, they almost always are made up of urban enclaves that have been transformed.

They all seem to have something else in common. Residents can easily get around on foot. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says buyers put a premium on “walkable” neighborhoods.

“Creating walkability with restaurants and stores can help transition an edgy part of town into one that is hip and hopping with pedestrians,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “This type of real estate development transforms the community for the better.”

Older, renovated homes and lofts are highly sought-after and don’t linger on the market. People seem to like the idea of walking to a nearby restaurant, movie theater or the corner market.

City governments like it too. NAR says walkable communities generate four times the tax revenue of regional and business malls, adding more value to a region.

“Walkable urban regions in the U.S. have a 41% higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over non-walkable regions,” said Christopher Leinberger, professor at George Washington University School of Business and president of Locus, a national coalition of real estate developers and investors. “That’s the difference between countries like Germany and Romania.”

Living in an urban walkable community might also be more affordable than living in the suburbs. NAR cites statistics showing urban residents spend about 43% of their incomes on housing and transportation while the typical suburbanite spends about 48%.

“If a family can get rid of one car, they can increase their mortgage capacity by as much as $150,000,” said Leinberger.

At a recent NAR-sponsored symposium, panelists suggested urban redevelopment could occur at a faster rate if more municipalities reviewed their zoning regulations and worked with developers toward a common goal.

Earlier this month researchers at the University of Chicago and University of California Berkley found tight land use regulations tended to drive up home prices in America’s most expensive cities. Rolling back some of these regulations in just 3 metros – San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., and New York would boost U.S. economic growth, the researchers said.

 “We’ve been bumping along at 2% GDP growth, and we should be at 3.5%, and obsolete zoning is what is holding us back,” said Leinberger. “Less than 10% of land would need to be rezoned, and that is where 80 percent of the development is going to go.”

American aren’t saving enough for retirement. That’s one problem. But a second problem is that Americans who have the chance to boost their retirement savi...

American aren’t saving enough for retirement. That’s one problem. But a second problem is that Americans who have the chance to boost their retirement savings by taking advantage of their employers’ match simply aren’t doing it.

In some companies, but not all, an employer will match a portion of the employee’s contribution to his or her retirement account, based on how much the employee saves. The bigger the employee’s contribution, the bigger the employer’s match.

Since it is essentially free tax-deferred money it is one of the best ways to boost your retirement savings. But a new report from Financial Engines has found a large number of Americans who have access to an employer match aren’t taking full advantage of it.

The study reached two main conclusions. First, 25% of employees did not save enough in their 401(k) accounts to achieve a full match by their employer. In 2014 the average employee left $1,336 in matching contributions on the table because they did not put enough of their own money into the savings account.

Second, lower income and younger employees were the most likely to pass up the free money. That’s likely because lower income employees don’t believe they can afford to put money aside and younger employees have not yet focused on the reality of eventual retirement.

Of the employees not taking advantage of their employer’s match, the average worker will miss out on $42,855 of retirement savings over a 20 year period.

“We estimate that nationwide, American employees are passing up approximately $24 billion in employer matching contributions by not saving enough to receive their full employer 401(k) match,” the authors write.

The study found that 42% of plan participants who earned less than $40,000 a year do not take full advantage of the employer match. On the other hand, only 10% of those earning $100,000 or more are passing up the money.

When age was considered, 30% of younger workers left money on the table while only 16% of older workers did.

If you find yourself in the situation where you are not taking full advantage of your employer’s plan, there are things you can do to turn that around. First, find out more about the plan and how the employer match works. For example, how much do you have to contribute to trigger your employer’s full match.

Talk to an unbiased financial advisor about ways to take full advantage of your employer’s retirement plan. An advisor may also propose ways to increase your savings you haven’t thought of.

Resolve to increase your retirement savings at every opportunity. If you can’t afford to increase your savings enough today to achieve the full match, make that your goal and up your savings each year.

There's a privacy battle brewing between the FBI and other federal government groups on one side, and tech companies, cryptologists, privacy advocates (and...

There's a privacy battle brewing between the FBI and other federal government groups on one side, and tech companies, cryptologists, privacy advocates (and some elected American lawmakers) on the other.

Basically, the FBI (circa-2015 edition) opposes the use of encryption to keep data secure from hackers, on the grounds that the government couldn't get at it either.

So this week, a wide variety of organizations ranging from civil-liberty groups and privacy advocates to tech companies and trade associations to security and policy experts sent President Obama an open letter (available in .pdf form here) urging him to reject any legislation that would outlaw secure encryption:

We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology. Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad.

Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security. Encryption protects billions of people every day against countless threats—be they street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets. Encryption thereby protects us from innumerable criminal and national security threats.

The FBI used to take the same view: encryption is a good way for innocent people to protect themselves and their personal data from criminals, so if encryption is available to you, you should use it.

In October 2012, the FBI's “New E-Scams and Warnings” website even published an article warning that “Smartphone Users Should be Aware of Malware Targeting Mobile Devices and Safety Measures to Help Avoid Compromise.” That article included a bullet-pointed list of “Safety tips to protect your mobile device.”

And the second tip on the list says this: “Depending on the type of phone, the operating system may have encryption available. This can be used to protect the user’s personal data in the case of loss or theft.”

But in September 2013, when current FBI director James Comey took over the bureau, he also took a very different view of encryption: he thinks it only benefits criminals.

For example, when Apple launched its iPhone 6 last September, it bragged about the phone's strong security features, including automatic data encryption. Comey then predicted that encrypted communications could lead to a “very dark place,” and criticized “companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law” (as opposed to, say, “Marketing something expressly so people know hackers can't steal photographs, financial information and other personal data off their phones”).

Comey went so far as to suggest that Congress make data encryption illegal via rewriting the 20-year-old Communications Assistance in Law Enforcement Act to make it cover apps and other technologies which didn't exist back in 1994.

And this week, in response to the tech companies' and privacy advocates' open letter to President Obama, Comey said he found the letter depressing: “I frankly found it depressing because their letter contains no [acknowledgment] that there are societal costs to universal encryption …. All of our lives, including the lives of criminals and terrorist and spies, will be in a place that is utterly unavailable to the court-ordered process. That, I think, to a democracy should be very concerning.”

Yet despite Comey's concerns, the idea that encryption would make it utterly impossible for police and courts to stop angerous criminals is not true. Even with encryption, police or the FBI can still get data off your phone; they just can't do it without your knowledge. As Jose Pagliary pointed out:

The FBI can still get your phone data. Now, they can't do it secretly by going to Apple or Google. Agents must knock on your front door with a warrant in hand -- the way it's always been.

If you don't give the FBI access to your phone, it can ask a federal judge to force you. If you refuse, the government can throw you in jail and hold you in contempt of court.

That's what FBI Director James Comey finds “depressing,” or likely to lead to a “very dark place”: the idea that if the government wants access to your personal data, it still has to get a warrant first.

German scientists say they found endocrine-disrupting chemicals in two out of ten teething rings they tested. One product contained parabens, which are...

German scientists say they found endocrine-disrupting chemicals in two out of ten teething rings they tested. 

One product contained parabens, which are normally used as preservatives in cosmetics, while the second contained six so-far unidentified endocrine disruptors.

"The good news is that most of the teethers we analyzed did not contain any endocrine-disrupting chemicals. However, the presence of parabens in one of the products is striking because these additives are normally not used in plastic toys," said Dr. Martin Wagner, of the Department Aquatic Ecotoxicology at the Goethe University. 

The substances detected -- methyl, ethyl and propyl parabens -- can act like natural estrogen in the body and, in addition, inhibit the effects of androgens such as testosterone. The EU Commission recently banned two parabens in certain baby cosmetics, because of concerns over their health effects.

"Our study shows that plastic toys are a source of undesirable chemicals. Manufacturers, regulatory agencies and scientists should investigate the chemical exposure from plastic toys more thoroughly", Wagner concluded.

He said the additives have only limited benefits for the quality of the product, but can represent a potential health issue, especially for babies and infants, whose development is orchestrated by a delicately balanced hormonal control and who are more susceptible to chemical exposures than adults.

The findings were reported by researchers at the Goethe University in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

Information: Dr. Martin Wagner, Department Aquatic Ecotoxicology, Goethe University, Phone: +49 (0) 69 798-42149, wagner@bio.uni-frankfurt.de; Elisabeth Berger, Phone: +49 (0) 60516 1954-3117, elisabeth.berger@senckenberg.de

State attorneys general from across the country have reached a settlement to protect consumers' personally identifiable information in the sale of RadioSha...

State attorneys general from across the country have reached a settlement to protect consumers' personally identifiable information in the sale of RadioShack's trademark and intellectual property. A coalition of 38 states, led by Texas, joined together to oppose the sale of consumer data.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement reached after mediation, the overwhelming bulk of RadioShack's consumer data will be destroyed, and no credit or debit card account numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth or even phone numbers will be transferred.  The bankruptcy court approved the settlement on Wednesday.

"The settlement is a victory for consumer privacy," said Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring. "I glad we could be a part of this multi-state effort to limit the types of customer information covered by the sale and to provide former customers of RadioShack with a meaningful opportunity to decide whether their personal information is transferred to the new operator."

General Wireless obtained bankruptcy court approval to purchase RadioShack's entire e-commerce business, intellectual property and remaining assets, including certain customer data limited by this settlement. In March, General Wireless, a subsidiary of RadioShack's largest shareholder, purchased 1,750 RadioShack stores out of bankruptcy.

Out of the 8.5 million customer email addresses in RadioShack's files, the new owner will be allowed to retain only a limited number of email addresses, specifically the email addresses of those who specifically requested product information within the last two years. Customers whose email address is sold to General Wireless will also be contacted by the company and given the opportunity to opt out of future communications.

General Wireless further agreed it will not sell or share any of this customer information in the future with any other entity, including its new co-branded business partner Sprint Communications.

Whether you buy a new or used car, the cost of getting it off the lot is not the only part of the price you need to consider. There are maintenance and fue...

Despite properties typically selling faster than at any time since July 2013, existing–home Sales of previously-owned homes slowed in April even though p...

Sales of previously-owned homes slowed in April even though properties are typically selling faster than at any time since July 2013.

The National Association of Realtors reports total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co–ops -- dipped 3.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million. Despite the decline, the sales rate was above 5 million for the second straight month.

"April's setback is the result of lagging supply relative to demand and the upward pressure it's putting on prices," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "However, the overall data and feedback we're hearing from Realtors continues to point to elevated levels of buying interest compared to a year ago. With low interest rates and job growth, more buyers will be encouraged to enter the market unless prices accelerate even higher in relation to incomes."

Total housing inventory at the end of April increased 10.0% to 2.21 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 0.9% below a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 5.3–month supply at the current sales pace -- up from 4.6 months in March.

The median existing–home price for all housing types in April was $219,400, which is 8.9% above a year earlier. This marks the 38th consecutive month of year–over–year price gains and is the largest since January 2014. The median is the point at which half of the prices are higher and half are lower.

From the government, word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits ticked higher last week.

The Labor department (DOL) reports initial jobless claims, which have hovered for weeks at lows not seen in more than a decade, surged by 10,000 in the week ending May 16 to a seasonally adjusted 274,000.

Even with that increase, the 4-week moving average -- which is seen as a more accurate gauge of the labor market -- was down 5,500 to 266,250. That's the lowest level for this average since April 15, 2000, when it was 266,250.

One mom can make a difference, a million can really cause a stir. Abercrombie & Fitch has made a few moms turn their heads over the scantily clad models in...

One mom can make a difference, a million can really cause a stir. Abercrombie & Fitch has made a few moms turn their heads over the scantily clad models in its stores budt may be pulling its pants up and getting a little more conservative.

Monica Cole of American Family Association's One Million Moms cites a couple of changes the new Abercrombie management is making.

“They're no longer using half-dressed models at live events or undressed models on their shopping bags,” she explains. “One Million Moms feels that consumer complaints and concerns had a lot to do with these changes.”

Cole says consumers making a purchase and receiving a bag with a lewd image on it were actually displaying soft porn as they carried it through the mall.

Former CEO Michael Jefferies has left the company and Abercrombie appears to be easing into a more family friendly environment.  "By the end of July, there will no longer be sexualized marketing used in marketing materials, including in-store photos, gift cards and shopping bags," Abercrombie said in a news release.

Abercrombie & Fitch is not unaccustomed to controversy. Not long ago a Muslim woman said A&F refused to hire her because she wore a traditional head scarf. She sued for discrimination and her lawsuit is pending before the Supreme Court.

According to brand experts this whole put-your-clothes-back-on campaign could backfire because doing away with what made the brand popular could leave Abercrombie standing for nothing unless it successfully builds a new image.

The stores will also be a bit brighter, doing away with the dimness that some shoppers complained about. 

Fran Horowitz, the president of Abercrombie’s Hollister brand, told the Wall Street Journal the company is trying to navigate the transition successfully.

“We do have very strong, iconic brands, and our intent is to make sure that we keep the spirit of those things alive while modernizing what’s happening here,” Horowitz said.

Shandong Jinyu Industrial Co. LTD, is recalling 5,068 Jinyu YS78 and Evergreen ES89 AT tires, size LT225/75R16, manufactured April 1, 2011, to August 31, 2...

Shandong Jinyu Industrial Co. LTD, is recalling 5,068 Jinyu YS78 and Evergreen ES89 AT tires, size LT225/75R16, manufactured April 1, 2011, to August 31, 2014 (DOT date codes 1611 through 4314).

The affected tires may not be able to properly dissipate heat, and as a result, the tire belts may separate. If the tire belts separate, the tire may suddenly lose air, increasing the risk of a crash.

The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

LQNN, Inc., of Garden Grove, Calif., is recalling approximately 213,192 pounds of chicken, beef and pork products. The products were produced without the ...

LQNN, Inc., of Garden Grove, Calif., is recalling approximately 213,192 pounds of chicken, beef and pork products.

The products were produced without the benefit of inspection and misused the USDA mark of inspection.

According to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the products which were moved and sold in commerce, included the unapproved use of another facility’s mark of inspection, which has been identified as Establishment number 18995.

LQNN, operating as Lee’s Sandwiches, has been processing products from federally-inspected establishments and re-packaging them without the benefit of inspection. Products produced without inspection present potential of increased human health risk.

The products, produced between May 18, 2014, May 18, 2015, were sent to various restaurant locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas to be cooked and served to consumers.

The following recalled products may contain “Est. 11041” or “P-11041” inside the USDA mark of inspection:

Ford Motor Company is recalling 8,963 model year 2015 Ford F-150 trucks manufactured March 19, 2015, to March 30, 2015. The affected vehicles may have be...

Ford Motor Company is recalling 8,963 model year 2015 Ford F-150 trucks manufactured March 19, 2015, to March 30, 2015.

The affected vehicles may have been built with a steering upper intermediate shaft that was improperly riveted. If the intermediate shaft was improperly riveted, it could separate from the intermediate shaft flex coupling, resulting in a loss of steering control and increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the intermediate shaft and replace it, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in May 2015.

Many a consumer has tried to explain to a debt collector that the debt he or she is calling about belongs to someone else. Of course, it’s often like talki...

Many a consumer has tried to explain to a debt collector that the debt he or she is calling about belongs to someone else. Of course, it’s often like talking to a brick wall because the debt collector has heard it all before.

But many times the consumer is right. A Jackson County, Mo., Circuit Court jury has delivered a not-so-subtle message to one debt collector that in situations like that, it had better do a little more thorough investigation before it hauls an alleged debtor into court.

Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC, one of the largest buyers of written-off debt in the U.S., tried to collect a $1,000 credit card debt from Maria Guadalupe Mejia, who insisted the debt wasn’t hers. She tried to explain that the person they were looking for was actually a man with a name that was similar, but not the same, as her name.

The company didn’t believe her and took her to court. In court, the debt collector could not or would not provide requested information, so the judge struck its pleadings. But the jury wasn’t finished.

After 5 days of deliberation, it returned a verdict, finding Portfolio Recovery Associates acted maliciously in its pursuit of Mejia. The defendant was awarded $250,000 in actual damages for violation of her rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The jury then added $82,990,000 in punitive damages.

In a statement to Credit.com, Portfolio Recovery Associates called the verdict “outlandish” and defying all common sense. It says it expects the judge to set aside the verdict.

Still, any consumer who has ever been on the receiving end of repeated phone calls about a non-existent debt can’t help but get a vicarious thrill.

More importantly, the case underscores of knowing your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

While the law does not protect you from people to whom you owe money, it does provide a number of protections when the creditor turns the debt over to a third-party debt collector.

A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.

Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.

If you are contacted about a debt you think you owe, then you should pay it. But if you do not owe the debt, tell the debt collector you need to receive the written statement you are entitled to under the FDCPA. Additionally, consumers who want to consolidate their debts can utilize ConsumerAffairs' debt consolidation resource. Consolidating debts may reduce exposure to debt collection agencies.

Cracking down on data theft is kind of like squeezing a balloon: press down on a bulge in one area, and it'll only swell somewhere else.So perhaps it's...

Cracking down on data theft is kind of like squeezing a balloon: press down on a bulge in one area, and it'll only swell somewhere else.

So perhaps it's no surprise that today's Wall Street Journal reports the distressing statistic that, while brick-and-mortar merchants have been cracking down on data fraud at the checkout counter, criminals responded by attacking automatic teller machines, targeting not just bank-owned ATMs but the independently owned “cash kiosks” common in shopping malls, restaurants and other businesses.

(And that's not even counting the prevalence of hidden “skimmers” used to steal data from any ATM card swiped through them.)

For a thief equipped with the right tools, it's relatively easy to steal debit card information and make counterfeit debit cards, which are then used to steal money from ATMs. The Journal said that according to FICO, the credit-scoring and analytics firm, the period spanning from January to April 9, 2015 saw more debit-card ATM attacks than any previous period in the past 20 years:

Debit-card compromises at ATMs located on bank property jumped 174% from Jan. 1 to April 9, compared with the same period last year, while successful attacks at nonbank machines soared by 317%, according to FICO. … The company declined to disclose the total number of such incidents, citing contractual restrictions with its customers.

ATM fraud has been growing overseas, too. Just last week, we reported the discovery of a new form of ATM fraud plaguing banks in Britain: thieves armed with nothing more than an iPod and a piece of plastic can spy on would-be ATM customers, steal their passcode and arrange for the machine to “eat” their cards – which are then retrieved and used to drain money from the account while the victim contacts bank personnel about their apparently faulty ATM. However, that form of fraud involves stealing and using legitimate ATM cards, not making counterfeit cards as reported by FICO.

It's important to remember that from an individual cardholder's perspective, debit card fraud is much worse than credit card fraud, because debit cards withdraw money directly from your savings accounts, whereas credit card purchases essentially borrow money from the credit card company.

This means that even if your debit-card fraudulent-charge complaint is ultimately settled in your favor, with the bank ultimately making full restitution to you – you still have to go without your money while the matter is being resolved.

If you do have a debit card, even if you're convinced that your account numbers are safe from thieves, you still need to check your account activity on a regular basis, whether you've used the card recently or not, so that if fraudulent withdrawals do occur, you can report them to your bank as soon as possible.

Five major banks – Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC, The Royal Bank of Scotland plc and UBS AG – have agreed to plead guilty to felony charges ...

Five major banks – Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC, The Royal Bank of Scotland plc and UBS AG – have agreed to plead guilty to felony charges that they conspired to fix international monetary prices.

Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, and The Royal Bank of Scotland have agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange (FX) spot market and the banks have agreed to pay criminal fines totaling more than $2.5 billion. 

A fifth bank, UBS AG, has agreed to plead guilty to manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and other benchmark interest rates and pay a $203 million criminal penalty.

“Today’s historic resolutions are the latest in our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, and they serve as a stark reminder that this Department of Justice intends to vigorously prosecute all those who tilt the economic system in their favor; who subvert our marketplaces; and who enrich themselves at the expense of American consumers,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  

“The penalty these banks will now pay is fitting considering the long-running and egregious nature of their anticompetitive conduct.  It is commensurate with the pervasive harm done.  And it should deter competitors in the future from chasing profits without regard to fairness, to the law, or to the public welfare,” she said.

According to plea agreements to be filed in the District of Connecticut, between December 2007 and January 2013, euro-dollar traders at Citicorp, JPMorgan, Barclays and RBS – self-described members of “The Cartel” – used an exclusive electronic chat room and coded language to manipulate benchmark exchange rates. 

Those rates are set through, among other ways, two major daily “fixes,” the 1:15 p.m. European Central Bank fix and the 4:00 p.m. World Markets/Reuters fix.  Third parties collect trading data at these times to calculate and publish a daily “fix rate,” which in turn is used to price orders for many large customers. 

“The Cartel” traders coordinated their trading of U.S. dollars and euros to manipulate the benchmark rates set at the 1:15 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. fixes in an effort to increase their profits. 

As detailed in the plea agreements, these traders also used their exclusive electronic chats to manipulate the euro-dollar exchange rate in other ways.  Members of “The Cartel” manipulated the euro-dollar exchange rate by agreeing to withhold bids or offers for euros or dollars to avoid moving the exchange rate in a direction adverse to open positions held by co-conspirators. 

By agreeing not to buy or sell at certain times, the traders protected each other’s trading positions by withholding supply of or demand for currency and suppressing competition in the FX market.

Citicorp, Barclays, JPMorgan, RBS and UBS have each agreed to a three-year period of corporate probation, which, if approved by the court, will be overseen by the court and require regular reporting to authorities as well as cessation of all criminal activity. 

All five banks will continue cooperating with the government’s ongoing criminal investigations, and no plea agreement prevents the department from prosecuting culpable individuals for related misconduct.  Citicorp, Barclays, JPMorgan and RBS have agreed to send disclosure notices to all of their customers and counter-parties that may have been affected by the sales and trading practices described in the plea agreements.

Today, in connection with its FX investigation, the Federal Reserve also announced that it was imposing on the five banks fines of over $1.6 billion; and Barclays settled related claims with the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for an additional combined penalty of approximately $1.3 billion. 

The expanded Takata airbag recall means that millions more cars will be getting new airbags sometime, although with an estimated total of 34 million defect...

The expanded Takata airbag recall means that millions more cars will be getting new airbags sometime, although with an estimated total of 34 million defective airbags, it is going to take years for the massive effort to be complete.

While this introduces an air of uncertainty, it also means that millions more cars will be fixed eventually, notes Jack Gillis of the Consumer Federation of America.  

“There is good news and bad news with the announcement of the Takata air bag recall:  the good news, millions more Americans are covered for a fix to this serious problem, the bad news, it could take years to get safe parts manufactured and replaced in affected vehicles,” said Gillis, CFA’s automotive expert and author of The Car Book, published with the Center for Auto Safety.

Gillis offers some tips for consumers wondering if their car is included, or will eventually be included in the recall.

“The sooner you contact a dealer, the sooner you’ll get on the list for repairs,” said Gillis.  “Traditional recall response rates are around 70%, so in the end, if consumers don’t respond to this recall, there could potentially be over 10 million vehicles with this dangerous defect on the road.”

“While the root cause of this problem is not fully understood, humid regions with high moisture in the air can exacerbate the problem.  Consumers in those areas have likely already received a recall notice and should respond immediately,” added Gillis.

Of course, there's some question whether all of the defective airbags have been identified, which isn't much comfort to consumers, especially those driving older cars in humid areas

Other than taking the bus or staying home, how can you avoid being hit in the face with flying projectiles? Good question, and one to which there's not yet a definitive answer.

“Folks shouldn’t have to drive around wondering if their airbag is going to explode in their face or if their car is going to be on another recall list,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee and a key figure in a congressional probe into the defective airbags.  “We’ve seen the recall list double now to 30 million cars.  Let’s hope Takata’s admissions today tells us the whole story.” 

“But Floridians, especially, have reason to be worried because the evidence is that these airbags explode in more humid climates.  This needs to get fixed pronto,” he added.

Last week, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier urged the Department of Education (DoE) to investigate the for-profit college operator ITT Educational Se...

Last week, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier urged the Department of Education (DoE) to investigate the for-profit college operator ITT Educational Services, Inc., which she said has allegedly “engaged in deceptive and predatory lending practices, pushing students into high-interest loans they know cannot be repaid, at vast taxpayer expense” at its ITT Technical Institute schools.

And this week, the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), which among other things oversees GI Bill tuition benefits for military veterans in the state, ordered 15 ITT locations to stop enrolling new or returning students who use the GI Bill for payment.

Military.com reports that “The suspension only stops future enrollments or reenrollments of Veterans, or their dependents, using the GI Bill,” but “does not affect current students.”

CalVet instituted the suspension because ITT apparently will not or can not produce audited financial statements, as required by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the DoE.

Speier mentioned something similar in her complaints to the DoE last week, saying in an open letter to the Secretary of Education that “The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed charges on May 12, 2015 alleging that that [sic] the CEO and CFO of ITT Educational Services covered up ballooning loan obligations stemming from the company's …. predatory lending programs.”

But ITT responded to the SEC's charges by releasing a statement saying “We vehemently disagree with the SEC’s position and we are confident that the evidence does not support the SEC’s claims …. We are eager to have the court clear our reputation that has been unnecessarily endangered by the SEC’s action.”

Whatever the courts ultimately decide about ITT's financial activities, another problem shared by ITT students and graduates involves the school's lack of worthwhile accreditation. Speier said that even ITT grads who'd earned high grade-point averages discovered their degrees were worthless: no reputable four-year college or university would accept ITT transfer credits, and potential employers aren't impressed by ITT-generated credentials, either.

Last week, when we reported Speier's complaint about ITT, we also shared the stories of several ITT grads. One woman who studied electronics at an ITT school discovered just how little employers think of ITT: “I have gone on numerous interviews just to be laughed at and questioned about why ITT.”

Another man who had to start his four-year college degree from scratch after no school would accept his two-year ITT degree advised all potential students to stay away from ITT: “Since it is not an accredited school if you ever plan to further your education and want to transfer to a real college you are much better off going to a real college from the start.”

A two-year state community college will cost you much less than a for-profit “institute” such as ITT, and the credits you earn at an accredited state community college are far more likely to either transfer to other traditional four-year schools or be accepted by potential employers.

It's sort of an open secret that the biggest airport security loophole is not the travelers and airline crews who are scanned, frisked and prodded but rath...

It's sort of an open secret that the biggest airport security loophole is not the travelers and airline crews who are scanned, frisked and prodded but rather the airport employees who come and go more or less at will.

Case in point: the 14 baggage handlers arrested at Oakland Airport in California this week and charged with using their behind-the-scenes access to smuggle drugs around the country. 

The bag handlers, who are not required to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, work in an area known as the Air Operations Area (AOA), which is off-limits to taxpayers and travelers.

According to the FBI, the baggage handlers used their security badges to open a secure door that separates the AOA from the "sterile" passenger terminal where outbound passengers, who have already passed through the TSA security and screening checkpoint, wait to board their flights. 

The baggage handlers then allegedly gave the baggage containing drugs to passengers who transported the drugs in carry-on luggage on their outbound flights.  After arriving in a destination city, the drugs were distributed and sold.

Besides the Oakland bag handlers, nine defendants were arrested elsewhere in the San Francisco area. 

According to the complaint, the conspiracy was operating as early as July 2012.  The defendants have been charged in a complaint with conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute, 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Baggage handlers Kenneth Wayne Fleming, 32, of San Leandro, California; Keith Ramon Mayfield, 34, of Oakland, California; and Michael Herb Videau, 28, of Oakland, California, are accused of using their security badges to cross security barriers while carrying unscreened baggage filled with packages of marijuana. 

They would then hand off the baggage to co-conspirators, including Major Alexander Session III, 24, of Oakland, California; Clyde Barry Jamerson, 41, of Oakland, California; Kameron Kordero Eldridge Davis, 26, of Dublin, California; Ronnell Lamar Molton, 34, of Oakland, California; Francisco Manuel Carrasco, 29, of Hayward, California; Sophia Cherise West, 44, of Castro Valley, California; and others, who then would board outbound aircraft and bring the drugs to destinations throughout the country, the FBI said.

Proceeds from the sale of the marijuana eventually were deposited into accounts controlled by defendants Ahshatae Marie Millhouse, 27, of Oakland, California; Laticia Ann Morris, 40, of Little Rock, Arkansas; Donald Ray Holland II, 42, of Discovery Bay, California; and others.  Additionally, Mayfield used his privileges as an airline employee to ship drugs as cargo and have co-conspirators such as Brandon Jarred Davillier, 27, of Slidell, Louisiana, receive them for distribution, according to the FBI.  

Nine defendants were taken into custody in arrests coordinated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Arkansas.  Eight defendants made their initial appearances before the Honorable U.S. Magistrate Judge Kandis A. Westmore, in Oakland, California.  The defendants’ next appearances are scheduled as follows: defendants Holland, Fleming, Baker, Session, Davis and West are scheduled to appear tomorrow morning for a hearing at which they may be appointed counsel.  Defendants Mayfield and Videau are scheduled to appear on May 21, 2015, for detention hearings.  Defendant Morris made her initial appearance in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was released on bond.  Defendants Jamerson and Molton are currently serving state prison sentences in Arkansas and Louisiana, respectively, for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.  Defendants Davillier, Millhouse and Carrasco are presently fugitives. 

The maximum penalty for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana is 40 years imprisonment and $5 million.  The offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment. 

With an over-abundance of invasive technology these days it's not surprising a lot of people are curtailing their online presence. While not exactly going...

With an over-abundance of invasive technology these days it's not surprising a lot of people are curtailing their online presence. While not exactly going off the grid, they resist appeals to establish LinkedIn accounts or set up other professional profiles online.

Job site CareerBuilder.com's annual social media recruitment survey found that 35% of employers said they are less likely to call a job candidate for an interview if they can't find out more about them online.

Not having a Facebook or Twitter presence might also hurt. Fifty-two percent of employers said they use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 43% last year and 39% in 2013.

“Researching candidates via social media and other online sources has transformed from an emerging trend to a staple of online recruitment,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

CareerBuilder chalks part of this trend up to an increasingly competitive job market. Recruiters want to make the right decision and are looking for anything they can find that will help them. Haefner says job candidates need to take advantage of that.

“Rather than go off the grid, job seekers should make their professional persona visible online, and ensure any information that could dissuade prospective employers is made private or removed,” she said.

Social media has been used to torpedo a candidate's chances in some well-publicized cases. Nearly everyone has heard stories of a candidate on the fast-track upended when a prospective employer found weird rants on Facebook or revealing photos from a vacation in Cancun.

But Haefner says that's not really what most recruiters are looking for when they Google a job prospect's name. Six in 10, she says, are “looking for information that supports their qualifications for the job.”

For some positions, this could include a professional portfolio. According to the survey, 57% of recruiters want to see if the candidate has a professional online persona, 37% want to see what other people are posting about the candidate, and yes, 21% admit they’re looking for reasons not to hire the candidate.

Not all business sectors rely on online screening to the same degree. Hiring mangers in the information technology sector are most likely to screen online – 76% said they do it. Retail recruiters do it the least – at 46%.

What kind of information should be in your profile? CareerBuilder suggests posting professional type information that supports the qualification you've put on your resume. First and foremost, that's what recruiters are hoping to find.

What they don't want to see are provocative or inappropriate photographs or tales of drunken escapades.

Schools churn out educated citizens (we hope) but they also churn out a lot of waste, including polystyrene fo...

Schools churn out educated citizens (we hope) but they also churn out a lot of waste, including polystyrene food containers from the cafeteria that clutter up landfills.

But now a coalition of urban school districts is taking steps to dump the polystyrene -- or Styrofoam, which is the best-known brand of polystyrene -- replacing it with disposable plates made of compostable material. 

“This news is a game changer,” said Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education. “As leaders in school meals, we’re proud to create a product that students will not only find easy to use, but one that also protects the environment for many years to come.”

The six large school districts that make up the Urban School Food Alliance say they will remove 225 million polystyrene trays a year from landfills by creating the new compostable round plate for cafeterias.

The alliance is made up of school disrticts including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando.

Technically, polystyrene can be recycled but as the American Chemical Society explains in this video, processing it is just too expensive.

Food and nutrition directors in the aliance specified the round shape to allow students to eat their food off plates like they do at home, replacing the institutional rectangular lunch tray.

The districts in the alliance collectively procure more than $550 million in food and supplies annually to serve more than 2.9 million students enrolled in their schools.

“These cities are teaching kids that sustainability and smarter choices can be integrated into every part of your daily life – even your lunch,” said Mark Izeman, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit partner of the alliance. “Shifting from polystyrene trays to compostable plates will allow these cities to dramatically slash waste sent to landfills, reduce plastics pollution in our communities and oceans, and create valuable compost that can be re-used on our farms. We are proud to work with a group of school systems dedicated to driving landmark changes in the health and sustainability of school food.”

Schools across America use polystyrene trays because they cost less than compostable ones. Polystyrene trays average about $0.04 apiece, compared to its compostable counterpart, which averages about $0.12 cents each. Given the extremely tight budgets in school meal programs, affording compostable plates seemed impossible until the Urban School Food Alliance districts used their collective purchasing power to innovate a compostable round plate for schools at an affordable cost of $0.049 each.

The American-made molded fiber compostable round plate is produced from pre-consumer recycled newsprint. It is FDA-approved and manufactured in Maine by Huhtamaki North America.

Baby boomers who are now grandparents are often amazed at changes to toy safety standards over the years. After all, they grew up playing with all manner o...

Children aren’t the only ones we should be encouraging to eat all their vegetables. As people age doctors say good nutrition becomes even more important. ...

Children aren’t the only ones we should be encouraging to eat all their vegetables. As people age doctors say good nutrition becomes even more important.

The National Institute on Aging encourages people of advancing years to maintain a healthy diet as a prevention against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and even certain types of cancer.

You might not think you need as much energy as when you were younger, but the agency, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says you definitely need the nutrients contained in a healthy diet.

Researchers at the University of Illinois say that diet should include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Their recently-published study found that older adults who consumed a diet with lots of omega-3s did better than their peers on tests measuring cognitive flexibility – the ability to efficiently switch between tasks or areas of focus.

Brain scans also revealed they had a bigger anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that contributes to cognitive flexibility.

The researchers stop short of claiming an absolute link between DHA and EPA, two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, and increased mental dexterity in older adults but say the evidence is persuasive.

"Recent research suggests that there is a critical link between nutritional deficiencies and the incidence of both cognitive impairment and degenerative neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease," said University of Illinois professor Aron Barbey, who led the study. "Our findings add to the evidence that optimal nutrition helps preserve cognitive function, slow the progression of aging and reduce the incidence of debilitating diseases in healthy aging populations."

Most discussion of cognitive impairment focuses on memory loss, especially in cases of Alzheimer’s. But Marta Zamroziewicz, co-author of the study, says cognitive flexibility and other executive functions are a better predictor of daily functioning.

"Executive function describes processes like planning, reasoning, paying attention, problem solving, impulse control and task switching,” she said. "These functions tend to decline earlier than other cognitive functions in aging."

There have been previous studies that have made the association between omega-3s and cognitive flexibility, suggesting such a link may in fact exist.

The Illinois study focused on 40 cognitively healthy older adults between the ages of 65 and 75 who are carriers of a gene variant -- APOE e4 -- that is known to contribute to the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease. It found the greater the presence of omega-3s in the blood, the better the subjects performed on tests and the larger the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain.

While fish is a rich source of omega-3s, you can also get these nutrients from some vegetables and nuts. Whereever you happen to get them, Harvard professor Dr. Frank Sacks recommends everyone should get at least one rich source of omega-3 daily.

An increase in mortgage and Treasury rates pushed mortgage applications lower again last week. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly M...

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications were down 1.5% in the week ending May 15 -- the fourth consective decline.

“Mortgage rates increased last week, and Treasury rates increased to a recent high at mid week before falling at the end of the week,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “Overall purchase activity fell for the week, along with conventional refinance volume, but government refinance volume increased. The level of purchase applications remained 11% higher than the same week last year, but the drop this week may indicate borrowers being wary of the recent run up in mortgage rates.”

The Refinance Index increased 0.3%, sending the refinance share of mortgage activity up to 52% of total applications from 51% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.4% of total applications.

One lucky cat used up only one of her nine lives thanks to a group of human cardiologists. Vanilla Bean is a one-year-old Burmese cat from Mill Valley, Cal...

One lucky cat used up only one of her nine lives thanks to a group of human cardiologists. Vanilla Bean is a one-year-old Burmese cat from Mill Valley, California. She was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect by a veterinary cardiologist, Kristin MacDonald, a former UC Davis cardiology resident.

The problem was that the blood was not flowing properly through the chambers of her heart. That would eventually clog one of the chambers making it full and creating,congestive heart failure. This same issue is also found in children.

Dr. MacDonald was familiar with a procedure to correct the defect. A special technique for correction has been reported only once before by Dr. Josh Stern, DVM, when he was practicing at North Carolina State University.

Luckily for Vanilla Bean, Dr. Stern has since joined the faculty of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) at UC Davis. Instead of being 3,000 miles away, the possible answer to Vanilla Bean’s problem was less than 100 miles away. So Dr. MacDonald contacted Dr. Stern, and started the process of referring the case to UC Davis.

Vanilla bean went to UC Davis and had an ultrasound to allow the doctors to see if she would be a good candidate for surgery.,She turned out to be a good candidate and they moved forward.

Since this is so rare in cats Dr. Stern wanted to bring in a team of human cardiologists to help him. It is also rare in children but it has been performed more frequently in children than in cats. A dream team was formed of both human and veterinary surgeons.

Because cats are so small it is extremely difficult to perform such delicate surgery. The procedure went relatively well although,Vanilla Bean lost a lot of blood and suffered an acute kidney injury. Doctors feared she would die.

Remarkably, as the weeks progressed she progressed and now the doctors say at her four-month re-check examination, Vanilla Bean has continued to improve. She is no longer in congestive heart failure, and is off all medications.,,Dr. Stern expects her to make a complete recovery.

After months of negotiations, Takata Corporation today agreed to recall 34 million airbags that can explode and spray shrap...

PayPal has agreed to pay $15 million in refunds on top of  $10 million fine for signing up consumers for its online credit plan without their permission, t...

PayPal has agreed to pay $15 million in refunds on top of  $10 million fine for signing up consumers for its online credit plan without their permission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced.

The CFPB said that PayPal deceptively advertised promotion benefits that it failed to honor, signed customers up with permission and made them use PayPal Credit or its predecessor, Bill Me Later, without consent. 

“PayPal Credit takes consumer protection very seriously. We continually improve our products and enhance our communications to ensure a superior customer experience. Our focus is on ease of use, clarity and providing high-quality products that are useful to consumers and are in compliance with applicable laws,” a PayPal spokesperson said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

“PayPal illegally signed up consumers for its online credit product without their permission and failed to address disputes when they complained,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Online shopping has become a way of life for many Americans and it’s important that they are treated fairly. The CFPB’s action should send a signal that consumers are protected whether they are opening their wallets or clicking online to make a purchase.”

"I love PayPal but I made the mistake of accepting PayPal credit and debit," said Gayle of Palm Coast, Fla., one of the many consumers who have complained about the service. "I have been trying to close the account online for months, and it wouldn't let me, even with $0 balance and waiting until the payment had processed. I finally called customer service. After four conversations (with helpful agents) and one dropped call, I finally accomplished the task. What a mess!"

Since 2008, PayPal has offered PayPal Credit to consumers across the country making purchases from thousands of online merchants, including eBay. The CFPB alleges that many consumers who were attempting to enroll in a regular PayPal account, or make an online purchase, were signed up for the credit product without realizing it.

The company also failed to post payments properly, lost payment checks, and mishandled billing disputes that consumers had with merchants or the company. Tens of thousands of consumers experienced these issues.

One of them was Chris of Elk Grove, Calif., who posted a ConsumerAffairs review about her experience.

"I ordered and paid for an item using my PayPal account. I thought I was signing in and paying for my purchase - just by following the on-screen prompts. What I didn't realize was that I was signing up for a PayPal Credit account," Chris said. "I did not find this out until I received a bill in the mail about 2 weeks later. It was only for $7.00 but I thought the transaction was complete. I then noticed the $7.00 was for a monthly reoccurring fee for the credit account I had unknowingly opened."

Chris then tried to close the account. She called PayPal and talked to a service rep, who refused to cancel the $7 payment.

"The way PayPal's payment website is designed, it makes it extremely easy for a casual user to sign up for a credit account without the user's knowledge. In my opinion it is a deceptive and misleading business practice. ... I always thought Paypal was reliable and an asset to internet merchandising but I will try to avoid PayPal in the future," Chris vowed.

Pay $15 million in redress to victims: PayPal would reimburse consumers who were mistakenly enrolled in PayPal Credit, who mistakenly paid for a purchase with PayPal Credit, or who incurred fees or deferred interest as a result of the company’s inadequate disclosures and flawed customer-service practices.

Improve disclosures: PayPal would be required to take steps to improve its consumer disclosures related to enrollment in PayPal Credit to ensure that consumers know they are enrolling or using the product for a purchase. 

Four bogus cancer charities bilked consumers out of $187 million, pocketing the money they pledged would help cancer patients, the Federal ...

Four bogus cancer charities bilked consumers out of $187 million, pocketing the money they pledged would help cancer patients, the Federal Trade Commission and all 50 states charged today.

Named in the federal court complaint are Cancer Fund of America, Inc. (CFA), Cancer Support Services Inc. (CSS), their president, James Reynolds, Sr., and their chief financial officer and CSS’s former president, Kyle Effler; Children’s Cancer Fund of America Inc. (CCFOA) and its president and executive director, Rose Perkins; and The Breast Cancer Society Inc. (BCS) and its executive director and former president, James Reynolds II.

The proposed final orders against BCS and Reynolds II impose a $65,564,360 judgment, the amount consumers donated between 2008 and 2012. The proposed final order against Effler will impose a judgment of $41,152,231, the amount consumers donated to CSS between 2008 and 2012.

“Cancer is a debilitating disease that impacts millions of Americans and their families every year. The defendants’ egregious scheme effectively deprived legitimate cancer charities and cancer patients of much-needed funds and support,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The defendants took in millions of dollars in donations meant to help cancer patients, but spent it on themselves and their fundraisers.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said, “The allegations of fundraising for personal gain in the name of children with cancer and women battling breast cancer are simply shameful. This is the first time the FTC, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia have filed a joint enforcement action alleging deceptive solicitations by charities and I hope it serves as a strong warning for anyone trying to exploit the kindness and generosity of others.”

CCFOA and Perkins, BCS, Reynolds II and Effler have agreed to settle the charges against them. Litigation will continue against CFA, CSS and James Reynolds Sr.

According to the complaint, the defendants used telemarketing calls, direct mail, websites, and materials distributed by the Combined Federal Campaign to portray themselves as legitimate charities with substantial programs that provided direct support to cancer patients in the United States, such as providing patients with pain medication, transportation to chemotherapy, and hospice care.

In fact, the complaint alleges that these claims were deceptive and that the charities “operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest, and excessive insider compensation, with none of the financial and governance controls that any bona fidecharity would have adopted.”

According to the complaint, the defendants used the organizations for lucrative employment for family members and friends, and spent consumer donations on cars, trips, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet ski outings, sporting event and concert tickets, and dating site memberships. They hired professional fundraisers who often received 85 percent or more of every donation.

The complaint alleges that, to hide their high administrative and fundraising costs from donors and regulators, the defendants falsely inflated their revenues by reporting in publicly filed financial documents more than $223 million in donated “gifts in kind” which they claimed to distribute to international recipients. I

In fact, the defendants were merely pass-through agents for such goods. By reporting the inflated “gift in kind” donations, the defendants created the illusion that they were larger and more efficient with donors’ dollars than they actually were. Thirty-five states alleged that the defendants filed false and misleading financial statements with state charities regulators.

Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today focus on the presence of plaque amyloid in the brain of adults as an early w...

Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today focus on the presence of plaque amyloid in the brain of adults as an early warning of Alzheimer's disease.

The studies analyzed adults of all ages and included those with some dementia and those who showed no signs of cognitive impairment. The results may help diagnose the progressive and fatal disease much earlier than is now possible.

The findings have added importance because Alzheimer disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. It affected about 25 million people worldwide in 2010 but that number is expected to double by 2030 because of longer life expectancy.

In one study researchers from the Netherlands measured the presence of amyloid in people with normal memory function, subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The researchers found the prevalence of amyloid pathology in all three groups of adults age 50 to 90. Those with normal memory had the least while those who already showed some mild cognitive loss had the most.

Those who carried a certain gene, called apolipoprotein E, had two to three times the presence of anyloid as those who didn't have the gene.

The researchers believe this study has several implications for understanding how Alzheimer's disease develops.

“The observation that key risk factors for AD-type dementia are also risk factors for amyloid positivity in cognitively normal persons provides further evidence for the hypothesis that amyloid positivity in these individuals reflects early AD,” the authors write.

They also maintain their findings show that AD pathology can start as early as age 30. This means there could be a 20- to 30-year interval between the first signs of amyloid positivity and dementia, suggesting that there is a large window of opportunity to start preventive treatments.

The second study, conducted by another group of Dutch researchers, looks at ways to more narrowly interpret the clinical significance of positron emission tomography (PET), used to find amyloid positivity in the brain. Specifically, the researchers focused on ways to better understand the prevalence of amyloid positivity across different types of dementia and how this is associated with demographic, genetic, and cognitive factors.

They studied people diagnosed with Alzheimer's as well as those who had other types of dementia. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer's had an average prevalence of amyloid positivity of 88%, that actually decreased with age unless they carried the apolipoprotein E gene. Those sufferings from non-AD dementia showed an increase in amyloid as they aged.

The researchers conclude that the early signs of Alzheimer's might be easier to find in younger adults, even before they start to show symptoms of cognitive impairment.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's but there are treatments that doctors say can slow the progression of the disease.

The Alzheimer's Association says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 2 types of drugs to treat the symptoms of memory loss and reasoning. There are also treatments available to address changes in behavior brought on by Alzheimer's disease.

What exactly is going on with the Starbucks mobile app? Last week, after a (relative) handful of customers complained about thieves hacking into their S...

Last week, after a (relative) handful of customers complained about thieves hacking into their Starbucks apps and stealing money from whatever bank accounts or payment cards were connected to them, Starbucks did finally acknowledge that these thefts were happening.

However, the company also suggested the problem was not with Starbucks' own network security, but with the individual customers who got hacked, presumably because they either used weak passwords or used the same password across multiple accounts – in other words, because those victimized customers failed to take certain very basic online security precautions.

And in fairness to Starbucks: the initial evidence, combined with the relatively small number of app customers who had this problem, seemed to suggest that Starbucks was correct. After all: if the company itself had suffered a security breach, you'd expect to see almost every Starbucks app user suffer as a result, right? And since it was only a handful of customers here and there, that would suggest the Starbucks app problem was similar to the Dropbox and StubHub “hackings” from last year: neither Dropbox nor StubHub had any breach of their network or database security, but millions of individual customer accounts were breached after hackers managed to steal those individual passwords from another source.

Yet Bob Sullivan, the consumer journalist who first broke word of the Starbucks hackings early last week, pointed out last night that there might be reasons to suspect there's something else going on with the Starbucks app problems.

In the first place, “A few victims I’ve spoken to say they use strong passwords.  One victim who said his card had been hit for four $50 refills said their password randomly generated 15 characters. … consumers are often mistaken about their password management skills, but corporations aren’t always transparent about their security practices, either.”

Something else to consider: last month, Starbucks suffered a temporary outage to all of its point-of-sale (POS) systems, an outage which the company said “was caused by an internal failure during a daily system refresh and was not the result of an external breach.” However, the company insists that its current app issues are in no way related to that POS outage.

Meanwhile, Starbucks.com has apparently altered the email requirements for any customer trying to change their login information. As of Monday, anyone trying to change their login credentials was asked two apparently new questions: “Can you still access email at your previous address?” and “Why are you changing your email address today? To stay organized/to avoid spam/for security reasons/other.”

Whoever stole money from these hacked Starbucks apps did so by taking advantage of the app's auto-reload function: even if you only have, for example, $10 worth of credit loaded on your Starbucks app, that does not mean any thief is limited to only stealing your $10; once in the account, the thieves adjusted the auto-reload settings so that as soon as they drained that initial $10, they'd simply arrange to re-load the money and re-drain the account.

If you are going to use the Starbucks mobile app and want to be absolutely sure no hacker can use it to drain your bank accounts or run up your credit card charges, you need to de-link all such financial accounts and cards from the app altogether, and manually re-load money into the app account (rather than arrange for these re-loads to be done automatically).

In one of the great ironies of the 21st century, millions of kids who balked at eating their vegetables at the family dinner table have grown up to be vege...

In one of the great ironies of the 21st century, millions of kids who balked at eating their vegetables at the family dinner table have grown up to be vegetarians.

A study by Vegetarian Times shows 3.2% of U.S. adults, or 7.9 million people, now follow a vegetarian diet. Nutrition Business Journal estimates as much as 26% of consumers now fall into the category of “flexitarians,” people who still eat meat but who prefer a more plant-based diet.

These growing trends are affecting the kinds of food products available on supermarket shelves and on restaurant menus. The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) predicts there will be even more meatless products in the months and years ahead.

Consumers usually become vegetarians based on health, ethical or environmental concerns. But IFT says going vegetarian is also beginning to attract consumers because vegetarian products are getting better.

Technological developments have also made an impact by offering a bigger variety of prepared vegetarian products in the form of shelf-stable, refrigerated, and frozen food.

For example, not long ago vegetarians were mostly limited to soy and wheat for protein in their meat-free products. Now, manufacturers are deploying a greater variety of plant-based protein sources such as ancient grains, nuts, and seeds.

IFT has observed a notable rise in products with ingredients such as pea protein, rice protein, almond, coconut, and quinoa as food companies offer products for consumers who avoid gluten and soy or follow paleo diet regimens.

Restaurants are also getting on board and are apparently profiting from it. The industry as a whole has been pressured to offer healthier, less fattening fare, especially for children.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) reports the rising cost of meat has prompted restaurants to push fresh produce to the top of the menu. The trade group has done surveys that found 72% of consumers are more likely to visit restaurants that offer healthy options.

NAR says this trend has been good for business. As an example, it cites Silver Diner, a suburban Washington, D.C., chain.

Kids' meals now come with sides that include salads, mixed vegetables and fresh fruit. Ype von Hengst, Silver Diner’s co-founder and executive chef, credits the menu additions in part to a 25% increase in sales.

The next wave of meatless food products may be designed to appeal to meat lovers, with the goal of reducing the current scale of meat production. Impossible Foods, a start-up profiled last week by CNBC, is working on plant-based substitutes for both meat and cheese.

It plans to introduce the Impossible Burger next year, a product that is said to look, smell and taste like a beef patty hot off the grill.

From a business standpoint, investors smell a profitable trend. CNBC reports the company, started by a Stanford University biochemistry professor, has drawn $76 million in investment capital from top shelf investors, including Bill Gates.

IFT calls it a paradigm shift in packaged foods. Currently, it says most of these meatless products are being consumed by young people while older consumers, who could perhaps reap the health benefits, tend to ignore them.

But if food manufacturers really can whip up a plant-based burger that tastes like the real thing, that could quickly change.

If you're familiar with phishing scams and how to protect yourself from them, you definitely know the scam-protection rule “Always check for bogus web or e...

Sickness and disease are something that we all deal with on a regular basis. While different groups of people feel their impact in different ways, perhaps ...

Sickness and disease are something that we all deal with on a regular basis. While different groups of people feel their impact in different ways, perhaps the group that is the most at risk are the elderly.

A recent study shows that 35% of all U.S. adults, and 50% of those who are 60 years of age or older, were estimated to have the metabolic syndrome -- a major cause of cardiovascular illness and death.

The metabolic syndrome is a loose term that is used to describe a variety of health concerns. These include obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and several others. You may think that some of these health conditions come naturally with age, but that does not make them any less worrisome.

The study, which was conducted by Dr. Robert J. Wong of the Alameda Health System at Highland Hospital, examined data from 1999 to 2012 to see how many people are affected by the metabolic syndrome in the United States. As of 2012, the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in all U.S. adults was 34.7%.

Unfortunately, this number does not completely show which groups of people are affected the most by it. In general, prevalence in women was higher when compared to men. In terms of ethnicity, the metabolic syndrome was the most pervasive in Hispanic people.

The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome increased dramatically as people aged. It grew from roughly an 18% prevalence in adults aged 20-39 to nearly 47% for those who were 60 years of age or older. These can be very dangerous numbers when you consider how the U.S. population is aging. The “baby boomer” age bracket is now entering this danger zone.

Dr. Wong and his team stress that recognizing the health consequences of the metabolic syndrome is extremely important. Their hope is that improvements can be made to preventative medicine to help minimize risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes.

Zen Magnets, of Denver, Colo., is under a federal court order to stop selling recalled and dangerous high-powered magnets. The ruling from federal judge...

Zen Magnets of Denver, Colo., is under a federal court order to stop selling recalled and dangerous high-powered magnets.

The ruling from federal judge Christine M. Arguello, which applies to the recalled magnets and magnets Zen commingled with them, stated that Zen Magnets “has essentially turned its pledge to continue to defy the CPSC into a marketing campaign” and has “openly vowed” not to stop selling the recalled magnets absent an injunction.

The court issued the injunction after finding a substantial likelihood that Zen Magnets had violated the Consumer Product Safety Act, which prohibits the sale of recalled products.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against Zen Magnets and its owner Shihan Qu on May 5, 2015, alleging that Qu bought 917,000 magnets from Star Networks shortly before Star recalled the magnets, and then sold those magnets after they were recalled.

“The Court’s order to stop the ongoing sale of these recalled high-powered magnets is a big victory for the safety of children,” said CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye. “Along with the U.S. Department of Justice, we will continue to move aggressively to enforce the law and protect consumers from the sale of recalled products, especially those that put children at risk.”

“The Justice Department will continue to work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to enforce our consumer protection laws and protect consumers from dangerous products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Efforts to evade the law and sell products that have already been recalled will not be tolerated.”

When a person ingests more than one magnet from a magnet set, there is damage to intestinal tissue, including tissue death. The magnets are attracted to each other in the digestive system, damaging the tissue that becomes trapped between the magnets. In many incidents, surgery has been required as the result of magnet ingestion.

High-powered magnet sets were found to be responsible for the death of a 19-month-old girl and, according to CPSC analysis, an estimated 2,900 emergency room-treated injuries between 2009 and 2013.  

Construction of new homes shot higher in April, building on March's modest advance. Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Ho...

Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show privately-owned housing starts jumped 20.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,135,000. The April rate is 9.2% above the rate (1,039,000) posted a year earlier.

The major contributor was the surge of 16.7% in single-family housing starts in April to a rate of 733,000. The April rate for units in buildings with 5 units or more was 389,000 -- up 102,000 from the month before.

Privately-owned housing units authorized by Building permits totaled 1,143,000 in April, up 10.1% from March and 6.4% from April 2014.

Within that, permits for single-family homes rose 3.7% to a rate of 666,000, and authorizations of buildings with 5 units or more were at a rate of 444,000 in April -- for a month-over-month gain of 66,000.

In previous generations men and women filled very defined gender roles. Men went to work every day and women stayed home to take care of their children. ...

In previous generations men and women filled very defined gender roles. Men went to work every day and women stayed home to take care of their children.

In the typical family today, both spouses go to work and divide up child care responsibility. If you ask them many educated, affluent couples might say the division of labor is equal. But researchers who did, in fact, ask found that's usually not the case.

Researchers at Ohio State University were specifically interested in how the birth of a first child changed a couple's workload. When asked directly, men and women both estimated the first child increased their daily work responsibilities an average of 4 hours.

Then the researchers asked all the participants to keep detailed diaries accounting for their time. The diaries told a different story.

First, both spouses overestimated their increased workload – but by widely varying amounts. Women only had to work an extra two hours each day, not four. But men, it turns out, only put in an extra 40 minutes a day.

“Women ended up shouldering a lot more of the work that comes with a new baby, even though both men and women thought they added the same amount of additional work,” said Claire Kamp Dush, Ohio State assistant professor and co-author of the study.

The study also uncovered the fact that, before the first baby was born, couples were sharing the work around the house pretty evenly. Study co-author Jill Yavorsky says the addition of a baby to the household dramatically altered the division of labor.

“What was once a relatively even division of household work no longer looked that way,” she said.

The findings came out of The New Parents Project, which is a long-term study trying to learn how dual-earner couples make the adjustment to becoming parents. And the couples profiled in the study weren't exactly average couples.

Participants had higher-than-average levels of education, both spouses had jobs and both said they planned to keep working after the child was born. These couples were selected for a very specific reason.

“These are the couples you would expect to have the most egalitarian relationships,” Kamp Dush said. “They have the education, the financial resources and the other factors that researchers have believed would lead to equal sharing of responsibilities. But that’s not what we found.”

What they found was that despite their professed intentions to equally divide domestic and childcare chores, men did about 10 hours a week of physical child care – the less fun work like changing diapers and bathing the baby. Meanwhile, women put in 15 hours per week.

Part of parenting is fun, like reading to the baby and playing. That's called “child engagement,” and here there's a much smaller gender gap. The diaries show men spent about 4 hours per week in child engagement while women spent about 6 hours.

At the same time, men cut back their housework by 5 hours per week but women did not reduce their housework to compensate for additional childcare work. Nor did they reduce their time at their job, the study shows.

“And the key is that this new routine seems to be that the woman is doing more of the housework and more of the child care, while not doing any less paid work,” Kamp Dush said. “The egalitarian relationship they had before the baby was born is essentially gone.”

In the wake of the financial crisis Congress passed laws and the Federal Reserve tightened regulations aimed at keeping big banks – those deemed “too big t...

In the wake of the financial crisis Congress passed laws and the Federal Reserve tightened regulations aimed at keeping big banks – those deemed “too big to fail” – in business. It worked, but at the same time hundreds of small community banks went under.

Thanks in part to a huge government bail-out, big banks passed their most recent Fed-required “stress tests” but community banks are still struggling. Community bankers say that’s largely because they are stuck with meeting much the same regulatory requirements as the big guys.

A recent Harvard study found that community banks make up a “disproportionately large amount of key segments of the U.S. commercial bank lending market,” providing money for agricultural, residential mortgage, and small business loans. In other words, they fund a lot of things the big banks don't.

But when total assets and lending markets are considered, community banks' market share has fallen from over 40% in 1994 to around 20% today.

“Interestingly, we find that community banks emerged from the financial crisis with a market share 6% lower, but since the second quarter of 2010 – around the time of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act – their share of U.S. commercial banking assets has declined at a rate almost double that between the second quarters of 2006 and 2010,” the authors write.

Community bankers are trying to convince Congress to exempt them from some of what they term “the more onerous” provisions of the new regulations.

“Regulation is suffocating nearly every aspect of community banking and changing the very nature of the industry away from community investment and community building to paperwork, compliance, and examination,” the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) declares in a position paper. “A fundamentally new approach is needed: Regulation must be calibrated to the size, lower-risk profile, and traditional business model of community banks.”

Among its proposals ICBA wants relief from certain mortgage regulations, especially for loans held in portfolio. Many of the new regulations are designed to reduce the risk in a system where major mortgage lenders bundle loans and sell them as securities – a practice that led to the financial crisis.

But most community banks hold many of their mortgages themselves, servicing the loans and collecting the interest. ICBA proposes giving “qualified mortgage” safe harbor status for loans originated and held in portfolio by banks with less than $10 billion in assets, including balloon mortgages. It would also like to exempt banks with assets below $10 billion from escrow requirements for loans held in portfolio.

Some relief may be in sight. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has released a draft of a bill to alter some banking regulations. ICBA President and CEO Camden Fine says the draft contains a number of provisions that would offer relief.

“The draft bill includes several important regulatory relief provisions from ICBA’s Plan for Prosperity platform, including less restrictive mortgage regulations, relief from excessive regulatory examinations and quarterly reporting requirements, and an exemption from the Volcker Rule,” Fine said.

He says “common sense” regulatory relief would free up resources that could be used to make loans and promote economic growth.

Consumers have a stake in this fight. Adjustments to regulatory requirements would probably make it easier, and less cumbersome, to get a mortgage from your local bank. Also, if you do your banking at one of the “too big to fail” national banks, you almost certainly pay a monthly service fee on your checking account. If you bank at a hometown community bank, you probably don't.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some good news and bad news when it comes to food safety in the U.S. Rates of infection from a ...

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some good news and bad news when it comes to food safety in the U.S.

Rates of infection from a serious strain of E. coli and one of the more common types of Salmonella declined in 2014. But other less common forms of Salmonella posted increases, when compared to 2006 through 2008.

That was a particularly bad period of time for food safety. In 2006 millions of candy bars were recalled because of tainted chocolate. In 2007 Salmonella in peanut butter sickened an undetermined number of consumers nationwide.

Data compiled by CDC's FoodNet shows the Salmonella strains Campylobacter and Vibrio rose again in 2014, continuing the increase that started during the past few years.

But infection with the very serious Shiga-toxin producing E. coli O157, which can sometimes lead to kidney failure, declined by 32% when compared with 2006-2008 and 19% when compared with the most recent three years.

E. coli 0157 is usually caused by eating undercooked ground beef or raw leafy vegetables. In 2011 a California nut producer recalled bulk and packaged hazelnuts contamined with E. coli 0157.

What is unclear to government health researchers is why 2 less common types of Salmonella, Javiana and Infantis, more than doubled since the 2006-2008 time period.

Salmonella Javiana struck mostly in the southeastern U.S. but has spread to other parts of the country as well. Campylobacter cases jumped 13% and Vibrio surged 52% compared with 2006-2008. FoodNet says Yersinia has declined enough to meet the Healthy People 2020 goal.

FoodNet tracks 9 common foodborne pathogens and monitors trends in the illness they cause in about 15 percent of the U.S. population. In 2014 FoodNet counted just over 19,000 infections, about 4,400 hospitalizations, and 71 deaths from the 9 germs it tracks.

Salmonella and Campylobacter accounted for about 14,000 of the 19,000 infections reported. Taken as a whole, the report provides a mixed picture of the current state of food safety.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that changes in food safety practice are having an impact in decreasing E.coli and we know that without all the food safety work to fight Salmonella that more people would be getting sick with Salmonella than we are seeing now,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “However, much more needs to be done to protect people from foodborne illness.”

FoodNet links the decline in E. coli 0157 to tougher scrutiny of beef production, brought on by changes in the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) regulatory practices.

Tighter controls are coming to other areas of the food chain as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to publish major new regulations in 2015 aimed at improving produce safety, implementing preventive controls on processed foods, and improving the safety of imported foods.

Nissan North America is recalling 263,692 model year 2004 Pathfinders manufactured January 6, 2004, to July 19, 2004, and 2004-2006 Sentras manufactured Ja...

Nissan North America is recalling 263,692 model year 2004 Pathfinders manufactured January 6, 2004, to July 19, 2004, and 2004-2006 Sentras manufactured January 7, 2004, to August 26, 2006.

Upon deployment of the passenger side front air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture. Metal fragments could strike and seriously injure the vehicle occupants.

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger air bag inflator, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on June 15, 2015.

ZYK Enterprises of Duvall, Wash., is recalling 2,522 pounds of boneless veal trim and whole veal muscle cut products. The product may be contaminated with...

ZYK Enterprises of Duvall, Wash., is recalling 2,522 pounds of boneless veal trim and whole veal muscle cut products.

The following boneless veal trim and whole veal muscle cuts produced from January 2-23, 2015, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 9325” inside the USDA mark of inspection on the boxes. Product from these lots was shipped for further processing to wholesale establishments in California, Massachusetts and Washington state.

Consumers are advised to prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen,safely, and consume only ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 ° F. 

DangerousJeeps.com logoThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered FCA US LLC, the company formerly known as Chrysler, to ...

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered FCA US LLC, the company formerly known as Chrysler, to appear at a July 2 hearing that will determine whether the company has properly managed 20 recall campaigns affecting more than 10 million vehicles.

If the company is found to have violated U.S. auto safety laws, NHTSA could order it to buy back affected vehicles. The recall campaigns in question include the highly controversial and long-running case involving Jeep SUVs that critics say are prone to explode into flames when rear-ended. At least 269 people have died in fires in the affected models, according to a database maintained by the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

“In each of those 20 recalls, NHTSA has significant concerns about Fiat Chrysler’s performance,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said on a conference call with reporters today, Automotive News reported. 

In one of the the latest Jeep fire developments, an attorney for a pregnant 23-year-old woman killed in the Detroit area in November 2014 said he expects to file a wrongful death lawsuit against FCA.

Thurswell said he had been waiting to file until the conclusion of a Georgia case involving the burning death of a four-year-old boy. A jury in that case awarded the family of Remington Walden $150 million on April 3. FCA has said it will appeal.

In the Detroit case, Clarence Quentin Heath Jr., the driver who rear-ended Kayla White's Jeep was sentenced to one year in jail. Thurswell said Heath “caused the accident, but he did not cause her death.”

“If the vehicle had not caught on fire ... she would have already delivered her baby, and she and the baby would be fine,” Thurswell said, according to the Detroit News.

FCA reluctantly recalled about 1.5 million 1993-98 Jeep Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Liberty models after years of refusing that the placement of the gas tank in the "crush zone" between the axle and the rear bumper met safety standards at the time the vehicles were manufactured.

“We’re really trying to emphasize that it’s not about one recall. We’re looking at 20 recalls affecting over 10 million vehicles, so we’re looking at a pattern of difficulty in responses here,” Rosekind said, Automotive News said. “It’s really across the board, which is why we’re looking at all 20 of them.”

In an emailed statement, FCA US said, "The average completion rate for FCA US LLC recalls exceeds the industry average and all FCA US campaigns are conducted in consultation with NHTSA. The company will cooperate fully."

Rosekind said his agency has also received consumer complaints about replacement parts being unavailable, not being notified about recalls, having trouble getting service appointments and “misinformation from dealers."

“Significant questions have been raised as to whether this company is meeting its obligations to protect the drivers from safety defects, and today we are launching a process to ensure that those obligations are met,” Rosekind said. “It is not enough to identify defects. Manufacturers have to fix them.”

The concept of a tutor to provide extra help to a student is centuries old. In recent years however, it has taken on added significanc...

The discovery that hackers can use your Starbucks mobile app to drain your bank and PayPal accounts or run up charges on your credit cards proves once and ...

The discovery that hackers can use your Starbucks mobile app to drain your bank and PayPal accounts or run up charges on your credit cards proves once and for all that the old conventional wisdom regarding the safety of apps is now officially obsolete.

According to the old conventional wisdom (“old” here meaning “before summer 2014”), smartphone apps are much safer than traditional Internet-connected website-visiting computers. After all: not until last August did security researchers first discover a previously unknown security weakness that left Android, Windows and iOS mobile operating systems vulnerable to what was basically the app equivalent of malware.

But those circa-2014 stories both involved dangers from third-party apps; the conventional wisdom could still believe you'd stay safe so long as you stay away from third parties and stick to officially approved app store options.

That happy state of affairs ended during the first week of January 2015, when researchers discovered a bad app in the official Google Play store, a malware app that “pretends to protect your data, then steals it.” More bad apps were discovered in (and removed from) the Google Play store in February.

And late last week, Starbucks acknowledged that hackers were stealing money from some customers' mobile accounts — although Starbucks insists that the company itself wasn't hacked; instead, the thieves managed to break into individual users' Starbucks apps, most likely after the thieves managed to somehow steal that person's password. (The initial evidence, plus the genuinely small number of Starbucks app users who've complained of theft, suggests that Starbucks is right.)

Consumer advocate Bob Sullivan first pointed out the problem last week. Once the thieves gain entrance to your Starbucks app account, they can steal from your credit card without even knowing its account number, by taking advantage of the Starbucks app's ability to auto-reload money to the account. As Sullivan explains:

Maria Nistri, 48, was a victim this week. Criminals stole the Orlando wom[a]n’s $34.77 in value she had loaded onto her Starbucks app, then another $25 after it was auto-loaded into her card because her balance hit 0.  Then, the criminals upped the ante, changing her auto reload amount to $75, and stealing that amount, too. All within 7 minutes. … The trouble started at 7:11 a.m. on Wednesday when she received an automated email saying her username and password had been changed, and if she hadn’t authorized the change, she should call customer service.  She tried, but the number she called notified her an operator couldn’t answer until 8 a.m.

When Nistri launched her phone's Starbucks app, she could actually see the thieves stealing first the $25, then $75, in real-time as it happened — and other Starbucks app users report suffering similar thefts, too.

Starbucks, for its part, says that it won't hold consumers responsible for the costs in cases like this — which is definitely a wise public-relations move on Starbucks' part.

But what would happen if Starbucks (or some other company in the same situation) chose instead to leave customers holding the bag for these costs? As Sullivan points out, “it’s unclear what level of consumer protection consumers would be legally entitled to. Because their credit card accounts aren’t actually compromised and their cards not stolen, it’s unclear that standard 'Regulation E' credit card liability protections would apply.  Prepaid card users don’t enjoy the same level of consumer protection.”

If you use the Starbucks mobile app – or any app connected to actual monetary accounts – treat it with the same stringent protection you'd use for your actual online banking or investing. Use a very strong password, and make sure it's an exclusive password. You should never use the same password across multiple accounts, especially financial accounts, to ensure that a thief who steals the password to one of your accounts at least can't use it to break into others.

Why is Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) trying to pass a national labelling law for genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Well, to appease E...

Why is Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) trying to pass a national labelling law for genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Well, to appease Europe of course.

From the American Farm Bureau to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a lot of the people who run America’s food system say we need Pompeo’s bill to stop the spread of a patchwork of state-level GMO labelling laws. But it’s not as though these laws have been a runaway success. Many were voted down, and the ones that passed face court challenges, leading many to suggest Pompeo’s bill is like taking a sledgehammer to a fly.

Whatever happened to informing voters before they go to the ballot box? And why isn’t Pompeo invoking the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution (Article I, § 8) which precludes states from interfering in interstate commerce?

Rick Tolman, former CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, says stopping local anti-GMO measures is only part of Pompeo’s goal. America’s trade relations also have to be considered. But how exactly does a law that applies only to Americans bear upon our trade relations?

Alas, it turns out the GMO-labelling portion of Pompeo’s bill is nothing but a front. It’s actually an international trade bill in disguise. Buried within H.R. 1599 is the following:

The Secretary shall promulgate regulations to specify a maximum permissible level of food consisting of a bioengineered organism that may be inadvertently present in food bearing claims [that bioengineering was not used]. (SEC. 425, emphasis added.)

A threshold limit on something renders it a potential contaminant, and you can rest assured America would not be the world leader in GMO farming today had GMO crops been labelled as contaminants when introduced in the 1990s. This codification of a maximum permissible level will make it possible, for the first time ever in America, for organic farmers to sue their neighbors when their neighbors’ GMO crops “contaminate” their organic crop above that level.

But if GMOs actually pose a threat to organic crops, would it not behoove Pompeo to include the precise point at which this threat becomes reality? Instead, the bill leaves it to “The Secretary,” a political appointee, to “promulgate regulations” after this law is passed, reminiscent of when Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Obamacare that "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

The reason Pompeo avoids being specific is because he knows full well any such limit will be arbitrary. GMOs pose no threat to organic crops. Nonetheless, here's the European Union’s regulation that will be cribbed in order to maintain America’s trade relations with anti-GMO nations:

Organic production outlaws the use of genetically modified organisms. However, the regulation on genetically modified food and feed lays down a threshold (0.9%) under which a product's GMO content does not have to be indicated. [Only] Products with GMO content below this threshold can be labelled organic.

And that, my friends, is how you screw American GMO farmers while facilitating “regulatory cooperation” with Europe, Japan, China and Russia.

Elitist leaders in these anti-GMO nations prevent their farmers from growing GMOs even as they import millions of tons of GMOs from America every year. And they have now managed to force a Republican and a Democrat (G.K. Butterfield) to join hands here in America to pass a law that ostensibly allows for the voluntary labelling of GMO foods, but which is really designed to force America to adopt a European-style, make-believe threshold limit on GMOs in organic food.

America invented GMOs. And we’re the leader in this field precisely because we do not have a threshold limit on GMO content. Why would we? Even European scientists say GMOs are perfectly safe. As such, American organic stakeholders agreed not to set a threshold limit for GMO “contamination” of an organic crop back in 1997 during President Clinton’s second term when America’s National Organic Program (NOP) was written.

Synthetic pesticides, by contrast, do have a threshold limit because they can be dangerous. But GMOs are not. So American organic farmers are only prevented from making use of GMOs, and can’t claim damage from them. And by all accounts, this arrangement has served the American organic industry very well, resulting in “remarkable growth domestically and globally.”

But, alas, activists want more. They want it all in fact. And by caving in to them, Pompeo and Butterfield are not only trashing the 2002 bipartisan Act of Congress that passed America’s NOP into law; they’re also putting the future of every American GMO farm on the line, while providing a huge disincentive for researchers to develop new GMO crops. Indeed, where are the farmers crazy enough to grow new GMO crops when the threat of a lawsuit hangs over their heads?

GMO labelling is bad for America whether at the state or federal level, which is why organic activists are so muted in their opposition to Pompeo’s bill. It plays right into their hands.

Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector, and is the author of "Is it Organic?"

People with celiac disease must avoid gluten in their diets and many take probiotics to aid the digestive process.So it might come as a shock to these ...

The Radio Shack bankruptcy not only means it may soon be harder to find an RCA phono plug "Y" connector, it may also be harder to protect the privacy of th...

The Radio Shack bankruptcy not only means it may soon be harder to find an RCA phono plug "Y" connector, it may also be harder to protect the privacy of the millions of pieces of consumer data the company has collected over the years.

The Federal Trade Commission today asked the bankruptcy court handling the case to place conditions on the sale of consumers’ names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and purchase histories.

In a letter to the court's privacy ombudsman, Rich points to the extensive privacy promises that RadioShack made to consumers both online and in its stores – including promises not to sell consumers’ information or the company’s mailing lists.  

She notes the FTC’s previous intervention in the bankruptcy of online retailer Toysmart, which sought to sell its customers’ personal information, counter to the promises the company made in its privacy policies.

In the Toysmart case, a settlement with the company placed a number of conditions on the sale of the data that allowed the company to divest the assets while protecting consumers’ information from being used in ways they did not anticipate.  Rich’s letter recommends similar conditions be applied to the sale of RadioShack customer information.

Among the conditions recommended in the letter are that consumers’ information not be sold as a standalone asset, but be bundled with other assets.

The letter recommends that consumer information be sold only to another entity that is in substantially the same line of business as RadioShack, that the buyer agree to be bound by the RadioShack privacy policies that were in place when the consumers’ data was collected, and that the buyer provide consumers with notice and obtain their affirmative consent before using data in a way that is materially different from the promises RadioShack made to consumers.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes: back when the Internet was still new, email fairly rare, and screensavers genuinely necessary to prevent patt...

History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes: back when the Internet was still new, email fairly rare, and screensavers genuinely necessary to prevent pattern burn-ins from damaging old-fashioned CRT screens, many of the earliest computer virus/malware epidemics were spread via infected screensaver offerings.

When mobile (though not necessarily “smart”) phones started getting big, malware writers used the lure of free decorative “wallpaper” to spread their unwanted products.

And now that smartphone or mobile device apps are the big thing, of course malware writers are working through third-party home screen apps, because – really, who expected anything different this time?

Today, security researchers at Cheetah Mobile announced the discovery of a new phishing scam which takes advantage of vulnerabilities in various third-party homescreen apps for Android devices:

...many homescreen applications contain potential safety threats. These apps will treat fake SMS messages, such as those sent by hackers, the same as common SMS messages and present them to the user for viewing. This kind of behavior is great for hackers as it means their SMS messages will be easily read and users will fall for them.

If your Android system is lower than version 4.4, then you may have heard of the ‘Fake SMS’ Leak, which is where this potential threat comes from. When user turns on the homescreen application, it will take over the SMS inbox and help organize your messages. Therefore it does not have the same kind of security safeguards as the regular inbox, and fake messages may be pushed as normal messages.

Of course, if your Android is a version more recent than 4.4 you probably have nothing to worry about, but f you use an older version, check your systems and applications against this list, and update them as necessary.

Back in the day, about the only people who even thought about drinking cactus juice were prospectors and pioneers who'd gotten lost in the desert. But time...

Back in the day, about the only people who even thought about drinking cactus juice were prospectors and pioneers who'd gotten lost in the desert. But times have changed and now you can order a whopping four-pack of 32-ounce bottles of Nopalea cactus juice from a company called TriVita.

Well, according to the company's website, its cactus juice from the blazing hot Sonora Desert of southern Arizona is downright anti-inflammatory. You know, sort of like it fights fire with fire.

Or as TriVita puts it: "Featuring the superfruit of the prickly pear (nopal) cactus, it contains a powerful class of nutrients called Bioflavonoids."

Could be but the Federal Trade Commission is mailing nearly 500,000 checks totaling about $3 million to consumers who actually ordered the stuff and, presumably, drank it based on TriVita's claims that the juice, sold under the name Nopalea, would treat a variety of health problems.

In July 2014, the FTC settled charges against TriVita Inc. for using unsupported product claims to deceive consumers, including infomercials with testimonials from consumers who received a commission for selling its products.

The stuff is still being sold but its promoters are, one hopes, being more circumspect in their claims. 

If you get one of the checks, from the FTC's administrator, Gilardi & Co. LLC, it should be deposited or cashed right away, no later than within 60 days of the mailing date. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed. The amount will vary based upon the amount of each consumer’s loss.

Nice-Pak Products Inc. makes what are called "wet wipes." They're basically an adult version of baby wipes -- moistened toilet tissue. But unlike toilet ti...

Nice-Pak Products Inc. makes what are called "wet wipes." They're basically an adult version of baby wipes -- moistened toilet tissue. But unlike toilet tissue, which is paper, the wipes can be hard for sewer and septic systems to digest, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“The evidence didn’t back up Nice-Pak’s claims that their wipes were safe to flush,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If you claim a product is flushable, it needs to flush in the real world, without clogging household plumbing or sewer and septic systems.”

Nice-Pak sells the under the Nice 'N Clean brand. Large retailers, including Costco, CVS, Target and BJ's sell them under their store brands. 

Nice-Pak has agreed to flush the flushability claims from its ads and packaging unless it can scientifically substantiate it, the FTC said today. The company said it has discontinued the products that were causing problems.

“All claims related to our current flushable product portfolio are fully substantiated as safe to flush, and the Consent Agreement does not require any change to our existing products or claims," Nice-Pak said in a statement. "Nice-Pak entered into a voluntary Consent Agreement with the FTC regarding certain wipe products labeled as flushable.  While the products that were the focus of the FTC’s inquiry at all times were subject to extensive testing on flushability, we are pleased to bring a resolution to this matter in an amicable manner.  These products have been discontinued since 2014."

Nice-Pak said it "will also continue our leadership position in proactively educating consumers on safe flushable practices, including labeling all of our non-flushable wipes with a prominent 'Do Not Flush' logo.” 

The FTC had charged that Nice-Pak misrepresented the flushability of some of its products by claiming that they: 

The company’s tests did not reflect real-world household plumbing or septic conditions, the FTC alleged.

The proposed administrative consent order settling the FTC charges prohibits Nice-Pak from misrepresenting that any wipe is safe to flush, unless it can substantiate that the wipe will disperse in a “sufficiently short amount of time” after flushing to prevent clogging and/or damage to household plumbing, sewage lines, septic systems, and other standard wastewater treatment equipment.

The test must also replicate the physical conditions of the environment where the wipes will be disposed.

Smartphones don't make students smarter, a study finds. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say banning phones in schools is equivale...

You normally think of orphans as children who have no parents or other close relatives who can care for them. But there's another kind of orphan and there ...

After rising in April for the first time in four months, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes is on the decline again. Ac...

After rising in April for the first time in four months, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes is on the decline again.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) confidence was down 2 points in May to a level of 54. Still, the HMI is up 9 points from the same period a year ago.

“Consumers are exhibiting caution, and want to be on more stable financial footing before purchasing a home,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “On the bright side, the HMI component measuring future sales expectations has been tracking upward all year, mortgage rates remain low and house prices are affordable. These factors should spur the release of pent-up demand moving forward.”

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next 6 months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

The component charting sales expectations in the next 6 months rose 1 point to 64, the index measuring buyer traffic dropped a single point to 39, and the component gauging current sales conditions dipped 2 points to 59.

Looking at the 3-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South and Midwest each rose 1 point to 57 and 55, respectively. The Northeast fell a point to 41 and the West dropped 3 points to 55.

“Despite this month’s slight dip, builder confidence in the new home market remains above the 50-point benchmark,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo. “Overall, the second quarter of 2015 is shaping up to be very solid.”

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) has issued a report that highlights what could be a very interesting trend. College enrollments ...

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) has issued a report that highlights what could be a very interesting trend. College enrollments are declining because fewer Millennials are attending.

This is an abrupt change from just a few years ago, when college enrollments shot up in the wake of the recession. With jobs harder to come by more people went back to school in hopes of making themselves more marketable.

Conventional wisdom holds that earning a four-year degree is necessary to increasing one's earnings power and enjoying a middle class lifestyle. But as we reported last week, there are plenty of solid careers that don't require a four-year degree.

Apparently, these jobs are attractive. Among the interpretations of the NSCRS report is young adults in their mid 20s are choosing to go to work rather than attend college. The report does not make clear whether these young adults are leaving school to pursue the workplace or not attending college in the first place.

The report does break down where enrollments are declining. The biggest decline has been in for-profit colleges, which also tend to be among the most expensive in terms of tuition and fees.

For-profit schools as a whole have been under closer regulatory scrutiny lately in the wake of complaints that many students who attended and ran up huge student loan debts couldn't find good jobs once they graduated.

Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued one for-profit school, Corinthian College, for what it called an illegal predatory lending scheme. Weeks ago, Corinthian College closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy.

But bad press and market forces can't fully explain the drop in college enrollment documented by NSCRS. Because while for-profit enrollments dropped by 4.9%, enrollments in one of the better education values, two-year community colleges, declined by 3.9%.

Only four-year state-supported colleges showed any increase in enrollment, and it wasn't much – just 0.1%.

NSCRS points out the drop in college enrollment only covers young adults in their early to mid 20's, those who might have started their college careers late or are taking their time getting their degree. The report found no change in the number of students entering college right out of high school.

Is it because Millennials see more opportunity in the job market right now and are less convinced of the need of a degree and unwilling to take on debt to pay for it? Or is economic necessity – the need to produce immediate income – driving them into the workplace?

The right cleaning cocktail can make all the difference, but just be sure you don't drink it. For the most part it consists of water, lemon juice and a lit...

The right cleaning cocktail can make all the difference, but just be sure you don't drink it. For the most part it consists of water, lemon juice and a little soap and is a good alternative to harsh chemicals.

Nothing holds odors better than a microwave. It also wears spaghetti sauce well. The chemical cleaners will make it shine but imagine what they taste like when you cook them. Stay away from the harsh chemicals.

The dirt in the microwave just needs a little soap and water with an extra boost that you can get from vinegar and lemon. Get a half a cup of water and half a cup of vinegar or a lemon, cut in half and squeezed, into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, or until the microwave door starts to steam up.

Leave it to cool for a few minutes, then wipe around the insides of the microwave with a damp sponge -- any remaining food residue should come away nice and easily.

The old wooden chopping block is a great way to keep everything you ever ate all in one place. You will need the other half of that lemon we used in the microwave. Rub it over the board, then scatter some sea salt on top. Rub the salt into the board to dislodge any remaining food particles, then wash with soap and water and dry as usual.

Blenders grind everything up and go from chunky to smooth. That’s what they are known for, but one of the less talked about subjects with your blender are those little pieces of banana that get stuck on the underside of the blade or the strawberry seeds that are lodged in the crevices. It appears that your blender is clean but when you look closely you see the gunk.

Use what you have and put it to good use. Make that blender work for you. Take some dish-washing soap and squirt it in the blender, then half-fill the blender with water. Turn it on and let it run for about a minute and a half, rinse with warm water and you will see those little pieces will be gone.

Is your furniture growing its own animal? Maybe your dog or cat is shedding and leaving hair wherever it goes. It’s horrible on furniture. It probably doesn't bother you too much, but it’s when you have company that it gets embarrassing. Ditch the lint rollers with the tape on them. You will be rolling until next season. Try this method. Get a rubber glove and some water. Just use it over the area and you will see the hair come right off.

It will be amazing what the world looks like through clean windows. Try not to clean them on a sunny day though. The windows will dry quickly which will leave streaks. Your mom used to use the newspaper but, well, the newspaper went out with the cassette player. Nowadays we use something called microfiber clothes they are amazing and don’t leave streak marks. Vinegar and water make a great cleaning solution and will dry quickly.

Acura is recalling approximately 19,500 model-year 2014-2015 MDX and RLX vehicles equipped with the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) in the U.S. ...

Acura is recalling approximately 19,500 model-year 2014-2015 MDX and RLX vehicles equipped with the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) in the U.S.

The CMBS may incorrectly determine that there is the potential for a forward collision if a vehicle detected ahead is traveling near a metallic structure, such as a metal guard rail or fence. This could lead the CMBS to apply the vehicle brakes unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash with following traffic.

No crashes or injuries have been reported related to this issue in the U.S., but 1 crash was reported in Japan.

Owners should take the recalled vehicle to an authorized dealer as soon as they receive notification of this recall. Mailed notification to customers will begin in June.

Owners can determine if their vehicles require repair by calling (800) 382- 2238 and selecting option 4.

Natural Creations of Woodbine, Iowa, is recalling a small quantity of Natural Creations New Zealand Colostrum dietary supplements. The product contains mi...

Natural Creations of Woodbine, Iowa, is recalling a small quantity of Natural Creations New Zealand Colostrum dietary supplements.

The recalled product was distributed principally through retail stores in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.

The product is packaged in a white plastic container containing 120 capsules, with lot numbers 1112301 and 3102914 located directly below the supplement box on the label. The UPC code is 877730001016.

Consumers who have purchased the recalled product may return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

OC Raw Dog of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., is recalling 2,055 lbs. of Turkey & Produce Raw Frozen Canine Formulation. The product may be contaminated w...

OC Raw Dog of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., is recalling 2,055 lbs. of Turkey & Produce Raw Frozen Canine Formulation.

The recall affects Turkey & Produce Raw Frozen Canine Formulations that were packaged into 6.5-lb. Doggie Dozen Patties and 5-lb. Bulk Bags with the lot number 1511 and use by date of 10/8/15.

The products were distributed in Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Colorado and sold to consumers through independent pet specialty retailers.

Customers who posses the recalled product are asked to submit a picture of the package with the lot number to Olivia@ocrawdog.com for verification of product in the marketplace. The product may be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund or replacement product.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-844-215-DOGS (3647) Monday thru Friday 9am – 5pm PST.

Gulf States Toyota (GST) is recalling 387 model year 2015 Toyota Siennas manufactured January 23, 2015, to April 13, 2015, and equipped with non-Toyota-bra...

Gulf States Toyota (GST) is recalling 387 model year 2015 Toyota Siennas manufactured January 23, 2015, to April 13, 2015, and equipped with non-Toyota-brand overhead entertainment accessories installed by GST.

During reassembly of the interior after the overhead entertainment system installation, a trim panel securing clip may have been reused instead of being replaced. If the clip was damaged during the entertainment system installation, the trim panel may detach in the event of a side curtain air bag deployment and strike a vehicle occupants increasing the risk of injury.

GST will notify owners, and dealers will replace the trim panel securing clip, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin June 8, 2015.

Aurora Products is recalling raw macadamia nuts packaged under the Aurora brand label and various store brand labels. The products may contain Salmonella...

Aurora Products is recalling raw macadamia nuts packaged under the Aurora brand label and various store brand labels.

The recalled products were distributed to retail stores in Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware. Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.

Consumers who have the recalled products listed below should not eat them, but destroy them or return them to the place of purchase.

Customers with questions may contact Aurora Products at (800)-898-1048 between 9:00AM – 5:00 PM EST. Monday – Friday.

Private Label Products That Use Store Branded Labeling Include: Belmont Market, Citarella, Ernest & Klein, Gourmet Garage, Harvest Co – Op Market, Le District, Lees, Palmers Market, Walter Stewart, Whole Food Market and Wild By Nature.

Google says its fully autonomous pod-shaped cars are ready to roll but the company has not yet applied for the permit it will need to hi...

Google says its fully autonomous pod-shaped cars are ready to roll but the company has not yet applied for the permit it will need to hit the road in California.

Google has been testing Lexus SUVs retrofitted with its self-driving software and hardware for quite some time but it is now itching to take its fully autonomous prototypes out for a ride.

What's the difference? Well, besides being a lot smaller than an SUV, the Google pod cars have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator. They are inended to be just what the name implies -- fully autonomous, leaving the "driver" with nothing to do but sit there.

That, after all, is the whole idea -- creating a car that is basically a personal transport pod, according to a blog post by Chris Urmson, director of the project.

"When we started designing the world’s first fully self-driving vehicle, our goal was a vehicle that could shoulder the entire burden of driving. Vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car," Urmson said.

The pod cars will be scooting around Google's hometown of Mountain View, Calif., collecting real-world experience that can be used to refine the process and iron out any kinks.

Urmson said speeds will be capped at 25 miles per hour and drivers will be on board with removable steering wheels, brake pedals and accelerators so they can take control of the car if needed.

He noted that the Lexus vehicles have been logging 10,000 miles per week and, although they've been involved in three fender-benders, all the accidents were minor and were the fault of the other car's driver. 

“It is important that the public know what happened,” wrote John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog in a letter to Google.  “You are testing driverless vehicles on public highways, quite possibly putting other drivers at risk.” 

California enacted legislation in September that allows autonomous cars on its streets and highways, although each model must be tested and granted a permit. So far, Google hasn't applied for that permit, Automotive News reported.

Last month's massive recall of ice cream due to Listeria contamination has prompted Blue Bell to make what CEO and President Paul Kruse called “the agoniz...

Last month's massive recall of ice cream due to Listeria contamination has prompted the Blue Bell to make what CEO and President Paul Kruse called “the agonizing decision” to cut the size of its work force and take other cost-cutting measures.

The company says the need to reduce its workforce, furlough some workers and cut salaries is “due to the extended timeline required to ensure the highest quality and safety of Blue Bell’s products when the company resumes production." The company adds that supply and distribution will be limited for some time to come.

“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s CEO and President,” Kruse said. While saying Blue bell “did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible, “ Kruse added, “we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future.”

Blue Bell says the process of cleaning and improving its 4 production plants is going to take longer than the company initially anticipated, especially at the main plant where major repairs and equipment replacements are expected. There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again. When production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time.

Approximately 1,400 employees will be furloughed, and approximately 750 full-time and 700 part-time employees -- or 37% of the total Blue Bell workforce of 3,900 -- will be laid off.

Blue Bell is also suspending operations and laying off employees at the following distribution centers:

Blue Bell says its executives will be contacting area chambers of commerce to ask for their help for employees who have been laid off. Business owners who may have jobs available are asked to contact Blue Bell at 979-830-9831 or at jobs@bluebell.com.

The Internet has made it easy to get your prescriptions filled or refilled. Many pharmacies have the means to fill your order online and mail it to you, of...

The Internet has made it easy to get your prescriptions filled or refilled. Many pharmacies have the means to fill your order online and mail it to you, of have it ready for pick-up when you visit the store.

But that's not to be confused with ordering your prescription drugs from an online pharmacy you aren't familiar with, one that may not be located in your city, your state or even your country.

The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, known as ASOP Global, warns that buying from one of these drug sellers is a prescription for trouble.

“These days, buying prescription drugs on the Internet is easy, but finding a safe source for those medicines is not,” said ASOP Global Founder and Executive Director Libby Baney.

She says there are between 35,000 and 50,000 active online drug sellers and that 97% do not comply with U.S. laws. Worse still, she claims that 50% of medicines sold online are fake or counterfeit.

That's a warning echoed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has found in many instances counterfeit medicine – pills passed off as being from an established pharmaceutical company – don't even have an active ingredient, or might have ingredients that are dangerous.

Consumers aren't the only victims. In April the FDA reported that a counterfeit version of Botox was found in the U.S. and much of it had been sold to doctors' office and medical clinics.

In 2012 the agency warned consumers about a counterfeit version of the widely-prescribed ADHD drug Adderall. FDA laboratory tests revealed the counterfeit version contained the wrong active ingredient. Consumers were turning to unregulated online pharmacies to buy it because the genuine version was in short supply.

Since by their very nature counterfeit drugs are unregulated, they can be made anywhere by anyone – even in someone's basement. Since no agency is examining what the drugs contain, they have been found to contain everything from floor wax, mercury, concrete, chalk, boric acid, road tar and paint, to anti-freeze and other poisons.

“This means that consumers are just a click away from buying products that may cause harm, treatment failure or even death,” Baney said.

There's an added danger to doing business with an illegal online pharmacy. You are giving your credit card or other personal information to someone who is, in fact, a criminal. If they are willing to sell you a pill that might kill you, they are certainly capable of stealing and misusing your financial information.

Illegal online pharmacies are big business, however, and Baney says the largest of them generate millions in sales each month. Because they are largely anonymous and mostly located outside the jurisdiction of the United States, it makes it very hard to prosecute them.

The only way to know if a drug is counterfeit is through chemical analysis done in a laboratory. Since you probably don't have that capability, your best advice is to only order prescription drugs from your local pharmacy or other trusted sources.

If gasoline prices quickly rise in the next several months, it won't be because oil prices have gone up. More and more industry experts believe world oil p...

If gasoline prices quickly rise in the next several months, it won't be because oil prices have gone up. More and more industry experts believe world oil prices will remain flat for the foreseeable future and U.S. government data tends to agree.

Since last fall consumers have enjoyed gasoline prices averaging under $3 a gallon in almost all areas of the country, made possible by the sharp drop in world oil prices. The price of oil has declined because there is too much oil on the market and not enough demand.

While prices have slowly crept back up to $60 a barrel, the latest government forecasts suggest there may not be enough demand to push them much higher. This is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago.

Just before the financial crisis of 2008 gasoline prices hit a record high, with a national average of $4.17 a gallon and the price over $6 in some areas. At the time the U.S. was already in the midst of a recession but it was said the rest of the developing world, principally China, had a voracious appetite for oil.

Even after the price of oil crashed in late 2008, it was climbing again early in 2009, primarily because China was a major importer. Then, two things happened that brought us to where we are today.

First, the U.S. oil industry roared to life, thanks to fracking technology. U.S. oil production surged in places like North Dakota and Ohio, rivaling the output in more traditional oil producing areas.

The U.S. is producing so much oil that Saudi Arabia has entered a price war with U.S. producers, trying to drive down the price and gain market share. In short, producers are pumping more oil than the world needs right now.

It was expected that world oil demand would eventually suck up the excess production, but that hasn't happened – and might not for a longer than expected time. It turns out that China's robust economic machine is slowing down, as are economies in other developing nations that in the past have driven up the price of oil.

After processing all this data, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) concludes that U.S. gasoline price should remain stable, allowing for seasonal fluctuations at refineries.

“EIA expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices, which averaged $3.36/gal in 2014, to average $2.43/gal in 2015 and $2.63/gal in 2016,” EIA said in a report this week. “The average household is expected to spend $675 less for gasoline in 2015 compared with last year because of lower prices.”

Even though the long-term trend looks promising for motorists, AAA reports the national average price of gasoline has increased 26 out of the last 27 days. Regional refinery issues on the West Coast have pushed up prices in a handful of states, mostly in the west but prices are expected to head lower in June.

California is the most expensive state in which to drive, with an average gasoline price of $3.72 a gallon. South Carolina, at $2.37 a gallon, is the cheapest.

Last week, the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA) announced that it was launching the “Best For Kids” program, a third-party certification pr...

Last week, the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA) announced that it was launching the “Best For Kids” program, a third-party certification process “designed to help consumers and retailers identify window covering products that are certified as best suited for use in homes with young children.”

Although window coverings seem innocuous to anyone with adult sensibilities, some types can indeed be fatal to small children – especially window blinds with long cords. Last year, during the 22-day period spanning February 8 through March 1, four children in America died after they accidentally strangled themselves on window-covering cords.

The WCMA's “Best For Kids” certification program is intended to address this problem. In order to win that certification, the WCMA says, “a window covering product must either have no cords or the inner cords cannot be accessible, as defined by the industry's safety standard.... If accessible inner cords are present in products with no operating cords, the accessible inner cords cannot create a hazardous loop in accordance with [certain] test procedures.”

But critics say this doesn't go far enough. Today, the Consumer Federation of America responded to and criticized the “Best for Kids” program on the grounds that it would still allow dangerous corded window coverings to be bought and sold:

Unfortunately, while this program provides assurances that cordless products are available to consumers, it fails to effectively address hazards posed by all corded window coverings and require that all window covering products be safe.  Under this program, WCMA member companies will still be selling window coverings that pose unreasonable and unacceptable risks to children. … The clear solution is to ensure that only cordless products, or products with cords made inaccessible by a passive guarding device, are available for sale. 

Meanwhile, you can take steps to ensure your own home's window-coverings are safe. If you have small children. or if you entertain visitors with small children in tow, do an inventory: do your window-coverings have any long ropes or cords, anything from velvet ties holding back long curtains to miniblind pull-strings with plastic aglets on the ends? That's the part most likely to be hazardous to young children.

If you cannot afford to replace your current window coverings with “cordless” varieties, at least make sure the ends of any rope-ties or pull-cords are up high, out of reach of any young child. For example: if the ends of your miniblind pull-strings dangle low enough for small kids to reach, try driving a small nail or decorative hook high into the wall next to the window, and keep the cords looped around that.

After the downfall of Corinthian Colleges, which declared bankruptcy earlier this month following years of legal troubles which included federal agencies r...

After the downfall of Corinthian Colleges, which declared bankruptcy earlier this month following years of legal troubles which included federal agencies ranging from the Department of Education (DoE) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), plus the attorneys general of several different states, all alleging that Corinthian-owned schools defrauded students in various ways, lawmakers and other public officials have turned a sharper eye to other for-profit schools dependent upon a steady stream of federally backed, bankruptcy-proof student loans to stay in business.

Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-California) released an open letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan urging the DoE to “conduct an investigation of and exercise increased oversight over the for-profit college operator ITT Educational Services, Inc.,” which has allegedly “engaged in deceptive and predatory lending practices, pushing students into high-interest loans they know cannot be repaid, at vast taxpayer expense.”

Speier's letter, available in .pdf form here, includes a list of complaints which sound depressingly familiar to anyone who knows Corinthian's story.

Last year, for example, the feds sued Corinthian for “predatory lending practices,” and Speier's letter mentions similar practices from ITT: “The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed charges on May 12, 2015 alleging that that [sic] the CEO and CFO of ITT Educational Services covered up balloning loan obligations stemming from the company's …. predatory lending programs.”

Last November, a former ITT student in Pennsylvania wrote us to say “I was one of those students who signed for a private loan in order to continue my education. Unaware of the lies and deceit that was going on within the company. The program of study was electronics.... I was assured that upon graduation I would have a career, not a job.”

But after graduating in 2011, she discovered her degree was useless: “I am a temporary employee. My credit is shot and I make a little above minimum wage. I have gone on numerous interviews just to be laughed at and questioned about why ITT. … I am over $50,000 in debt because I believed I was getting a good education that would lead to a good future.”

And remember: that debt, like almost all student-loan debt, can't even be discharged in bankruptcy. But a former student who goes over his head in debt to attend a traditional, accredited state college or university at least has an authentic college degree (or credits to count toward one) to show for that outrageous debt load. ITT students say they don't even get that.

Mike from Oregon told us in January: “I went to ITT and I finally graduated with really good grades, 3.8 … in 1994.” A few years later, Mike wanted to enroll in a regular four-year school to earn a bachelor's degree, but learned that no reputable school would “transfer any credits at all from ITT, so I had to start over from scratch …. since it is not an accredited school if you ever plan to further your education and want to transfer to a real college you are much better off going to a real college from the start.”

Still, Mike says, his degree from ITT isn't completely useless: “you can hang it on the wall to cover up a hole or you can use it to cover a stain.”

Jay in Massachusetts made a similar observation from a different perspective. He spent one academic year – September 2013 through the following June – teaching at an ITT “Electronic Technology School.”

I have been a PhD electrical engineer for 25 years, mostly in the defense sector. But have never worked for such a rot-gut shameless enterprise, not even close. You need to understand [the] whole enterprise, ITT I mean, is a colossal nationwide profiteering scam. There are so many problems with ITT, I hardly know where to begin …. Recruiters routinely tell students that ITT courses will transfer should a student decide to complete a conventional 4-year program at another school after, say, completing an associates degree program at ITT. This is false. Credits will transfer to another ITT school (or possibly to another for-profit school like ITT) - that much is true - but not to an accredited state university.

In her letter to Education Secretary Duncan, Rep. Speier alludes to such complaints, and previous problems with the now-defunct Conrinthian schools, when she says:

The Department of Education has conducted increased oversight and exercised enforcement options in the past, as it did with the Corinthian Colleges [but] those investigations have been plagued with delays. In fact, Corinthian Colleges, Inc. was investigated by the SEC in June 2013 – a full year before ED opened their own June 2014 investigation …. This delay harmed students who continued to take loans on a worthless education, and taxpayers who footed the bill. I ask that in this case you take action quickly and responsibly.

Walmart.com Big box stores are fine but Walmart would like to have a bigger piece of the online space as well, so the giant retailer is launching a $5...

Big box stores are fine but Walmart would like to have a bigger piece of the online space as well, so the giant retailer is launching a $50-per-year program that will compete with Amazon Prime.

Walmart says deliveries will be made within three days. Prime, priced at $99 per year, promises two-day delivery on most purchases and throws in a lot of extras like free video and music streaming.

Walmart isn't saying much about the program yet -- said to be code-named Tahoe -- and hasn't yet seen fit to post anything about it in its newsroom, which is generally pretty devoid of anything timely, something the big retailer might want to fix if it really wants to become an online player. Getting stuff into the weekly paper won't quite cut it.

Walmart currently offers free shipping on purchases above $50 so its cost-conscious customers may not be too eager to shell out an extra $50 a year when they could just be sure to order $50 worth of goods each time they buy from Walmart.com.

Perhaps taking a page from Google, or maybe just because it doesn't have a clue how to sell it, the new program will initially be offered by invitiation only, according to press reports.

“Amazon’s Prime program offers a lot of comprehensive benefits that Walmart will not be able to offer anytime soon,” said David Biernbaum, senior marketing and business development consultant at David Biernbaum Associates, in a Forbes report. “[Tahoe] will carry only what Walmart carries, and believe it or not, that selection is fairly limited to mostly commodities, basics and every day pantry items.”

As Biernbaum notes, one of Prime's major strengths is that it includes just about anything. You can find a saxophone reed, ketchup, an obscure auto part or a lawn tractor on Prime, order it with a single click and, in most cases, find it on your doorstep two days later.

Although Amazon doesn't release sales information for Prime, anecdotal evidence indicates that many consumers habitually go first to Prime when they need something and only in rare circumstances go elsewhere to complete the purchase. That's a habit that's going to be hard to break.

Fledgling online retailer Jet.com is also in the pre-launch phase of its Prime-like shopping service but denies that it has Prime in its sights.

"While a lot of outlets have been quick to make the Amazon connection because it makes for a good headline, Jet isn’t actually trying to directly compete with Amazon or get existing Amazon Prime customers," said Jet publicist John Harrington, who besides his other talents is apparently able to discern the motivations of reporters and editors.

According to the Commerce Department, currently only 8% of retail sales happen online, which leaves a lot of space for Amazon and Jet to co-exist, Harrington said in an email to ConsumerAffairs a few days ago, after we reported on Jet's plans.

"The e-commerce space is going to be growing rapidly over the coming years and Jet’s aim is not about competing with Amazon, but rather about offering current or future shoppers an option that’s focused on getting them the lowest possible price," he said.

"Feel free to reach out if you’re in need of anything for a future story!" Harrington exclaimed. We took him up on that and asked if we could get an inside look at Jet.com's beta site so we could report on it more fully.

That wasn't in the cards, though. Saying the site was still in "a pretty early beta," Harrington declined, although Re/code and other tech-focused publications have been allowed inside, perhaps reflecting Jet's faith that the key to successful retailing is technology, rather than those pesky consumers. 

Lettiann Southerland is a Kansas City area real estate agent and a foodie. Despite the fact those two things have little in common, she has combined them i...

A new set of labels is on the way from the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). These will deal with raw or partially cooke...

A new set of labels is on the way from the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

These will deal with raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized. According to the FSIS, consumers, restaurants, and other food service facilities “will now have more information about the products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.”

Product tenderness is a key selling point for beef products. To increase tenderness, some cuts are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. This process, says the FSIS, can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior, making proper cooking very important.

The potential presence of pathogens in the interior of these products means they should be cooked differently than intact cuts. Officials say the new labeling requirements are needed because mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact product, but that consumers need to know that they should be handled differently.

Under the new rule, will become effective in May 2016, or one year from the date of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register, these products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized.

The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so that consumers know how to prepare them safely. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.

“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products,” said Deputy USDA Under Secretary Al Almanza. “This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of 6 outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes. Failure to cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product thoroughly was found to be a significant contributing factor in each of these outbreaks.

Prospective homebuyers continue to face the prospect of paying more for the money they borrow. Freddie Mac reports average fixed mortgage rates are higher...

Freddie Mac reports average fixed mortgage rates are higher for a third consecutive week as Treasury yields continue to climb.

The rate for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) rose 5 basis points in the week ending May 14, to an average of 3.85% from 3.80% -- just below the high for 2015. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.20 percent.

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.07%, also up 5 basis points. It averaged 3.29% a year ago at this time.

5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) slipped to an average of 2.89% from 2.90% last week 2.90 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.01%.

1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.48% up 2 basis points from last week's 2.46%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.43%.

Mortgage rates as tracked by Bankrate.com's weekly national survey were up for a fourth consecutive week.

The benchmark 30-year FRM was up 2 basis points to 4.01%, the highest level since mid-December. The average 15-year FRM climbed to 3.22% from 3.17%, while the larger jumbo 30-year FRM rose to 4.09%. Adjustable rate mortgages were mixed, with the 5-year ARM sliding to 3.17%.

Bankrate economists point out that the rise in mortgage rates has been tame compared with the increase in benchmark Treasury yields. They've climbed nearly twice as much during the same period due to more selling of government bonds than mortgage bonds, and is evidence that the rise is not necessarily based on underlying economic fundamentals, but rather from traders unloading positions and perpetuating the increase.

Just three weeks ago, the average 30-year FRM was 3.79%. At that time, a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $930.78. With the average rate now at 4.01 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $955.98 -- a difference of $25 per month for those waited.    

The 2015 Audi Q5, a midsize luxury SUV, earns the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest award after its structure was improved for protection in...

The 2015 Audi Q5, a midsize luxury SUV, earns the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest award after its structure was improved for protection in small overlap front crashes.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK+ award and the good rating in the small overlap test have been awarded to to the Audi Q5.

The rating and the IIHS's top award went to vehicles that have come off the line after January with a reinforced front end and occupant compartment giving them protection in small overlap front crashes..

During the crash, in which a vehicle is sent toward a barrier at 40 mph so that only its left front corner collides with it, the driver dummy's movement was well-controlled. The driver's space was maintained reasonably well, with maximum intrusion of 4 inches at the lower door hinge pillar.

The dummy's head hit the front airbag and stayed cushioned until rebound. The side curtain airbag deployed and provided enough forward coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects.

To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK or TOP SAFETY PICK+, vehicles must earn a good or acceptable small overlap rating and a good rating in the Institute's four other crashworthiness tests -- moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.

The "plus" is awarded to vehicles that have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating from IIHS.

General Motors is recalling 49,980 model year 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks manufactured January 6, 2014, to April 1, 2015. The hooks tha...

General Motors is recalling 49,980 model year 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks manufactured January 6, 2014, to April 1, 2015.

The hooks that secure the driver's and/or front passenger's seat frame may not have been properly attached to the vehicle body during assembly. Thus the seat may not be anchored adequately to the vehicle, and in the event of a crash, the seat occupant could be at an increased risk of an injury.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the seats, correcting their installation as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in May 2015.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 or GMC customer service 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 15150.

AA Poultry Processing of Ridgeland, Wis., is recalling approximately 2,191 pounds of chicken and 21 pounds of turkey products. The products may have been ...

AA Poultry Processing of Ridgeland, Wis., is recalling approximately 2,191 pounds of chicken and 21 pounds of turkey products.

The products may have been contaminated with trichloro-s-triazinetrione, which is not approved for use in poultry processing.

The following whole and cut chicken and turkey pieces, produced from May 4, 2015, through May 11, 2015, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-45525” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Following processing, the carcasses were returned to their original owners in Wisconsin.

A brand-new “Like-farming” scam page on Facebook is using the promise of a free (but nonexistent) Walt Disney World vacation and other valuable prizes to c...

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be looking into student loan servicing practices that can make paying back loans a hassle. Among the ...

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be looking into student loan servicing practices that can make paying back loans a hassle.

Among the issues: industry practices that create repayment challenges, hurdles for distressed borrowers, and the economic incentives that may affect the quality of service.

At the same time, the CFPB is also re-launching an enhanced version of its Repay Student Debt online tool to help borrowers figure out their options for affordable repayment.

“Student debt stress can make borrowers feel like they are walking a tightrope where any false move in paying back a loan can cause them to fall,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today’s inquiry seeks information on the pain points in student loan servicing that make repayment a more difficult and stressful process.”

Student loans make up the nation’s second largest consumer debt market. The market has grown rapidly in the last decade. Currently there are more than 40 million federal and private student loan borrowers and collectively these consumers owe more than $1.2 trillion. The market is now facing an increasing number of borrowers who are struggling to stay current on their loans.

Servicers are a critical link between the borrowers and the lenders. They manage borrowers’ accounts, process monthly payments, and communicate directly with borrowers. When facing unemployment or other financial hardship, borrowers must contact student loan servicers to enroll in alternative repayment plans, obtain deferments or forbearances, or request a modification of loan terms. A servicer is often different than the lender, and a borrower typically has no control over which company services a loan.

The CFPB has heard from borrowers through its complaint handling, its Tell Your Story function, and from staff travelling across the country. The agency has observed that many borrowers are experiencing significant student debt stress. Consumers have complained about billing problems associated with payment posting, prepayments, and partial payments.

For example, borrowers report that payments may be processed in ways that make repaying student loans even more expensive. Other consumers have complained about lost records, slow response times to fixing errors, and a general lack of customer service. Often, consumers who have their loan transferred from one servicer to another report experiencing interruptions when receiving notices, billing statements, or other routine communications.

The CFPB has also heard from distressed borrowers that student loan servicers may have difficulty helping them avoid defaults and delinquencies. Repayment roadblocks can worsen problems.

Distressed borrowers complain that they are given the runaround when they ask for help, they have a hard time getting straight answers from servicing staff, and that the staff are untrained or unequipped to deal with their problems.

Joyce of Fairmont, W.Va., tells ConsumerAffairs of the problems she experienced with Wells Fargo Education Financial Services, with loans she took out for her daughters. "All of the loans were set up on the deferment option as my girls were taking the loans over as soon as they found jobs," she writes in a recent post. "Since then, I've had nothing but problems. They sent statements out late and the due dates were 3 days from date I received it. This, of course, caused all of my payments to be late, because according to one of their CRS, all payments took 10 days from the date Wells Fargo received it to be credited to my account. When I called about this, I was told 'We don't have to send you a statement, and you are still responsible for making payments.' "

The CFPB has re-launched its Repay Student Debt web tool, which offers a step-by-step guide to navigate borrowers through their repayment options, especially when facing default.

The new version of this tool provides student loan borrowers with sample instructions to send to their student loan servicer to protect themselves against payment processing problems and auto-defaults.

It also has information about how to request a lower monthly payment when experiencing financial distress.

You probably know where America's most expensive homes are. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), they are mostly in California, stretch...

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Maryland and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have filed a patent application for a ...

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Maryland and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have filed a patent application for a new drug they say could destroy the childhood disease acute lymphoblastic leukemia — and potentially other cancers as well.

According to the Mayo Clinic, acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children. Current treatments result in a good chance of a cure. However, when the disease occurs in adults survival rates are much lower.

The researchers say their drug may change that. It represents a sharp departure from the current approach.

“Most drugs have to go inside a cell to kill it,” said Sandia researcher Susan Rempe. “Instead, our method withholds an essential nutrient from the cell, essentially starving it until it self-destructs.”

One of the big drawbacks to current cancer treatments is they usually employ chemicals to kill cancer cells. While this can work, one side effect is the chemicals often make the patient sick.

The new drug focuses on a nutrient in the body called asparagine. Cells need it to survive but cancer cells can't produce it on their own. Remove cancer cells' access to asparagine and they die – it's simple as that.

Well, not quite that simple. The ideal nutrient-deprivation strategy for cancer cells requires a difficult balancing act. Doctors must remove enough asparagine from the blood to cripple the cancer, but leave enough of a chemically-similar molecule called glutamine so the patient can tolerate chemotherapy.

Using computer simulations, the researchers think they have found that right balance. When they tried it out in test tube experiments, the new drug left glutamine untouched. Follow-up tests they conducted in petri dishes showed that the mutated enzyme they created killed a variety of cancers.

There are more tests underway on laboratory mice at MD Anderson. They should be completed by early next year. If successful, Rempe says the drug will then be tested on humans.

“If we’re wrong, and keeping glutamine intact is not the answer to the cancer problem, we’ll continue investigating because we think we’re onto something,” she said.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia is a type of leukemia that starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow, which is the soft inner part of bones. It grows from cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell central to the immune system. It can also develop from lymphoblasts, an immature type of lymphocyte.

Once the disease gets into the blood stream is can spread throughout the body to other organs, though it doesn't usually produce tumors like many types of cancer. It is an acute type of leukemia, which means it can progress quickly. Without treatment, the National Cancer Institute says it can be fatal within a few months.

A Virginia man with help from the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Fairfax County Police Department, charging that Fairfax PD's habit of storing...

A Virginia man with help from the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Fairfax County Police Department, charging that Fairfax PD's habit of storing all license plate scanner data for a full year is not only a privacy rights violation, but also a violation of Virginia state law. The county posted a response on its website today.

Earlier this year, the Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates unanimously voted in favor of SB 965, also called the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, which among other things would allow police to continue using Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) to collect license plate data from vehicles on Virginia roads – but police would only be allowed to store those records for seven days, unless they were part of an active, ongoing criminal investigation.

Given the bills' overwhelming bipartisan popularity, observers expected Governor Terry McAuliffe would sign it into law. Instead, McAuliffe amended the bill's language so radically, the bill's author called it a “quasi-veto”: rather than require police to delete ALPR data after a week, it would allow cops to keep those records for 60 days.

McAuliffe's April action ultimately led to the ACLU of Virginia filing suit against Fairfax police the following month.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, said “Governor McAuliffe had the opportunity to clarify that the Data Act prohibits law enforcement from collecting Virginians’ personal information unless there is a documented need and relevance established in advance. Instead, he chose to veto the legislation and left the ACLU of Virginia with no choice but to go to court to ensure that law enforcement follows the Data Act. While the facts of this case are focused on just one type of surveillance technology, the reasonable protections established in the Data Act apply equally to all surveillance technologies.”

The ACLU filed this suit along with Fairfax resident Harrison Neal, who is suing the police after discovering that his license plate data was scanned and entered into the police database twice, even though Neal is not the subject of any police investigation.

The mass collection and storage of ALPR data is not exclusive to Virginia, but growing ever-more common through most of the country. Last year, for example, a California man who filed a public records request learned the public record includes over 100 photos of the man's license plate in various locations — and photographs of the man's daughters standing in their own driveway.

At the same time, a California state legislator paid a private investigator to track his wife's whereabouts (presumably with her consent), and discovered the detective could, for a relatively small amount of money, pay to acquire her ALPR license-plate data to get a near-complete record of everyplace she drove and parked — including a particular gym 100 miles from her home.

And such data is being collected about every driver on every road where ALPRs are in operation, though the ACLU's lawsuit in Fairfax, Virginia is believed to be the first of its kind.

Today, Fairfax County responded to the ACLU's lawsuit by posting an announcement on the county government website:

On May 13, 2015, the Fairfax County Police Department and its chief, Edwin C. Roessler Jr., were served with a lawsuit (Neal v. Fairfax County Police Department, et al) that was recently filed in Fairfax Circuit Court challenging the Police Department’s use of Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs). The lawsuit does not challenge the “active” use of ALPR data, but only the “passive” use of ALPR data.  … The Police Department retains the data for 364 days after which it is automatically purged unless it has become part of an active criminal investigation. Roessler strongly believes that retaining this data for 364 days serves a legitimate law enforcement purpose. This retention period is intended to increase protection of the community by providing an investigative tool to aid in the detection or investigation of terrorism or a series of related crimes. In fact, many other jurisdictions retain ALPR data for up to two years.

So Fairfax PD is basically saying that yes, it does record the whereabouts of every driver in the county and keeps these records for a whole year, but you shouldn't be disturbed by any privacy implications because the police think it's really useful and besides, other police departments hoard such data for even longer.

And it's true: other police departments and government agencies throughout the country do hoard such data. The state of California, for example, sets no legal limit on how long ALPR data can be kept. So in March, Ars Technica tried a little experiment with some disturbing results: it collected and analyzed four years' worth of ALPR data from Oakland, California as part of a public records request, and was able to deduce huge amounts of personal information about pretty much any resident of Oakland – or at least, any licensed driver in the city.

When license plate data records every place you park and drive, after all, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the address where you park your car overnight every night might correspond to where you live, nor to figure out that the daytime address your car visits every Monday through Friday might have something to do with your job.

Neal's and the ACLU's lawsuit in Fairfax County, Virginia is almost certain to set a precedent nationwide. Whether that precedent helps or hinders privacy advocates – well, that's what the court will decide.

Is your dog an Ace, Charmer, Socialite, Expert, Renaissance Dog, Protodog, Einstein, Maverick or Stargazer? What, you may be asking? Well, these are all ac...

Is your dog an Ace, Charmer, Socialite, Expert, Renaissance Dog, Protodog, Einstein, Maverick or Stargazer? What, you may be asking? Well, these are all actual names for a personality type that dogs have been given. Read on to find out where your dog fits in.

The Dognition Assessment uses 20 games to determine a dog's level of empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning. People believing they have the world's smartest dog can see if their pet fits the bill on Nat Geo Wild's three-part series "Is Your Dog a Genius?" airing May 15-17. It sounds more entertaining than "Is your dog smarter than a 5th grader?" "People will learn about and come to a new understanding of their best friends," said host Brian Hare, who helped develop the assessment as an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology and member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University in North Carolina.

It sounds interesting and everyone wants to feel like their dog has unique characteristics that sets them apart from other dogs. It costs $19 to take the assessment. For that you will get the list of games to play with your dog at www.dognition.com. You will record the results and Duke puts together your pet's profile.

A dog will be dubbed an Ace, Charmer, Socialite, Expert, Renaissance Dog, Protodog, Einstein, Maverick or Stargazer. 

The dog's brain power isn't measured as it is with humans. "We don't deal in numbers," Hare said. "In the animal world, we recognize there are lots of kinds of intelligence, and they vary widely. You can be a genius in one area but not in another."

An example is the cup test. You may have seen this test on the street where someone puts a ball under the cup and they switch the cups around and you have to guess where the ball is. It’s similar.

Cups are overturned and a treat is put under the cup. You point to the empty cup and see where your pet goes. Both show a kind of genius: If your dog goes to the empty cup, he's good at following orders and bonding. If he goes the other, he's able to rely on his own devices - and gets the treat.

As long as my dogs are happy, wag their tails and give those great kisses, it doesn’t matter to me how smart they are.

The promoters of "Get Away Grey" and "Go Away Gray" have agreed, despite their disagreement over how to spell "grey" to stop claiming their products can pr...

This morning, the Sally Beauty company released an update about their most recent customer-data security breach.In the past 14 months, hackers have sto...

This morning, the Sally Beauty company released an update about their most recent customer-data security breach.

In the past 14 months, hackers have stolen customer payment-card information from the company twice: the first theft discovered in March 2014, and the second breach earlier this month.

The March 2014 breach was initially uncovered by security expert Brian Krebs, after he learned that 282,000 credit and debit card numbers stolen from Sally Beauty in the previous month were being offered for sale in an illicit online criminals' forum. And Krebs (more specifically, his unnamed sources at various card-issuing financial institutions) was also the first to suspect this second Sally Beauty breach, after various banks' fraud investigators noticed a pattern of fraudulent-charge complaints sharing one trait in common: every defrauded cardholder had recently used that card to pay for something at a Sally Beauty store.

So on May 4, Sally Beauty released a statement saying, in part, that it “is currently investigating reports of unusual activity involving payment cards used at some of our U.S. Sally Beauty stores.”

This morning, the company went a small step further when President and CEO Chris Brickman confirmed that there is “sufficient evidence to confirm that an illegal intrusion into our payment card systems has indeed occurred. However, we will not speculate on the scope of the intrusion as our forensics investigation is still underway.”

Thus far, nobody involved in the investigation – whether official Sally Beauty spokespeople, or anonymous financial-industry insiders – has offered any estimates regarding the time frame of this security breach, nor how many customers were affected. Any Sally Beauty payment-card customers concerned about their accounts can call Sally Beauty at 1-866-234-9442, or send an email to customerserviceinquiry@sallybeauty.com .

For the first time ever, consumers are spending more at restaurants than grocery stores.National Restaurant Association (NRA) Chief Economist Bruce Gri...

National Restaurant Association (NRA) Chief Economist Bruce Grindy reached that conclusion after crunching the numbers from U.S. Census Bureau data. He found a dramatic shift toward restaurants in the last 10 months.

In June 2014, grocery store sales were still in front of restaurant sales by $1.6 billion. By April of this year that gap had reversed, with restaurant sales outpacing grocery store sales by $1.5 billion.

In total, the $3.1 billion sales shift seen in the last 10 months is almost as much as what occurred during the previous 4 and a half years.

It also might answer the question “what are consumers doing with the money they are saving on gasoline?” The answer appears to be, they're eating out, not at home.

This shift in how consumers are spending on food has coincided with the sharp drop in gas prices. While economists predicted this savings would likely be spread across the entire retail sector, it hasn't been. Now it appears that consumers have used their savings at the pump to treat themselves to a meal or two.

To determine if this is actually what is happening the NRA commissioned a national telephone survey of 1,008 adults. Eighty percent of consumers who own cars said the recent drop in fuel prices made a positive impact on household finances.

Forty-nine percent of car owners said lower prices at the pump made it more likely they would purchase meals, snacks or beverages from restaurants, fast food places or coffee shops.

A majority of car owners in households with incomes below $50,000 said their fuel savings increased their willingness and ability to go to restaurants, fast food places or coffee shops.

NAR says its research suggests this trend is likely to continue as long as gasoline prices remain lower than the recent norm.

What this may suggest is that, given the means and a choice, today's consumers would rather eat out than eat a meal prepared at home. This is a trend that could hold significance for health policy makers concerned about obesity.

A steady diet of restaurant meals – particularly fast food – has been linked (PDF) to America's expanding waistline. But not all restaurant meals are loaded with calories.

Restaurants that post calorie information on menus give consumers a means to measure their caloric in-take that eating meals at home might not offer. And some restaurants go out of their way to offer healthier choices.

After rising in March for the first time since last October, the governments producer price index (PPI) is headed lower again. Figures released by the Bur...

After rising in March for the first time since last October, the governments producer price index (PPI) is headed lower again.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show prices were down a seasonally adjusted 0.4% last month. For the 12 months ended in April, the PPI is down 1.3%

The broad-based decline was led by a 2.9% drop in energy costs, with a 4.7% plunge in gasoline playing a major role. Prices for diesel fuel, jet fuel and utility natural gas also fell.

Food costs also were down 0.9%,with pork prices lower, but the costs of fresh and dry vegetables rising.

Separately, the government reports initial jobless claims were down by 1,000 in the week ending May 9 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000. Officials say there were no special factors affecting the tally.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly count, fell 7,750 to 271,750 -- the lowest level since April 22, 2000 when it

It's been a good 3 months for those looking to buy a home. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (H...

According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI), 66.5% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of January and end of March were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $65,800. That's a gain of 3.7% from the final 3 months of 2014.

“Consumers benefited from continued low mortgage rates and some fall in the price of homes sold in the first quarter, as these conditions offer a great time to buy,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo.

The past two quarters have seen an improvement in affordability as mortgage rates remain low. “Eighty-five percent of the metropolitan areas measured experienced an increase in affordability,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Along with favorable home prices and pent-up demand, this broad improvement should help encourage more buyers to enter the marketplace.”

The national median home price -- the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower -- fell from $215,000 in the fourth quarter to $210,000 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, average mortgage interest fell from 4.29% to 4.03% in the same period.

For the second straight quarter, Syracuse, N.Y., was the nation’s most affordable major housing market, as 95.6% of all new and existing homes sold in the first quarter of 2015 were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $68,500.

Also ranking among the most affordable major housing markets in respective order were Toledo, Ohio; St. Louis; Akron, Ohio; and Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.

Meanwhile, Sandusky, Ohio, topped the affordability chart among smaller markets in the first quarter of 2015. There, 96.3% of homes sold during the first quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $69,600. Other smaller housing markets at the top of the index included Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Elmira, N.Y.; Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa-Ill.; and Kokomo, Ind.

For a 10th consecutive quarter, San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif., was the nation’s least affordable major housing market. There, just 14.1% of homes sold in the first quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $103,400.

Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif.; Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.; New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J.; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

All 5 least affordable small housing markets were in California. At the very bottom was Santa Cruz-Watsonville, where 21.6% of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $87,000. Other small markets included Salinas, Napa, San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta in descending order.

You perhaps are aware of it more in places like Walmart or large supermarkets. Amidst the sea of shopping carts is a growing number of shoppers riding arou...

RelayRides.comAn Arizona man who rented out his vehicle through the RelayRides peer-to-peer service has been carless for at least a month, after his ...

The conventional wisdom is a four-year college degree is required for anything but a minimum wage job.Not true, says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast,...

The conventional wisdom is a four-year college degree is required for anything but a minimum wage job.

Not true, says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast, a job search portal. Lee's company has analyzed its job postings and found many that offer a comfortable salary and don't require a four-year degree.

While it is true that a college degree will give you a leg up on the better jobs, people without degrees aren't carrying any of the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt that has burdened many higher-earning college grads.

"Starting a career without a degree may be unconventional, but succeeding in the workplace without one is far from impossible," said Lee.

An entrepreneurial spirit will make you valuable to an employer and help you get ahead. Specialized training will prepare you for a specialized job, more so than most college curriculum.

It might be harder to land that first job so Lee suggests working pro bono where possible. Also, working as an independent contractor allows an employer to see what you can do without making a major commitment.

What are some of the better jobs? Lee says a dental hygienist can make a median salary of $70,000 with a projected hiring outlook of 33%.

In fact, health care is a hot field with growing opportunities. Lee says a registered nurse earns around $65,000. A respiratory therapist earns more than $55,000.

The increasing demand for IT professionals can mean more opportunities, even if you only have a high-school diploma. The median salary for a web developer is $62,000 a year with a projected 20% hiring outlook. A multimedia artist earns a median salary of $61,000.

Skilled tradesmen can do well too. Lee says the median salary for an electrician is $49,000 while a carpenter makes about $40,000.

Some of the great jobs available to those without a degree require some specialized education but not a full four years. You'll find some states require certification to become a skincare specialist, dental hygienist or personal trainer, for example, while trade crafts such as electrician and carpenter demand either advanced training or apprenticeships.

Carpenter, dental hygienist, nurse and electrician also make Kiplinger's list of the best jobs that don't require a 4-year degree. But so does computer user support specialist – someone who helps others deal with increasingly complex technology. Kiplinger's says that job can pay anywhere from $35,000 to $60,000 a year.

Lee says a willingness to get outside your comfort zone is definitely an asset for those seeking a good job without a college degree. Technology, he says, can help.

For example, he says you could use CareerCast's Part-Time Network to connect with potential clients. Social media tools can also help.

Deservedly or not, cable TV companies have a bad reputation these days. Multiple bad reputations, in fact: one bad reputation for high prices, another alle...

Deservedly or not, cable TV companies have a bad reputation these days. Multiple bad reputations, in fact: one bad reputation for high prices, another alleging poor-to-nonexistent customer service, a reputation for limited or inflexible program offerings, and others.

It's bad enough that the cable industry is trying to distance itself from the very word “cable” and rebrand itself as something else.

Last week, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) held its annual trade show in Chicago, a trade show formerly known as “The Cable Show.” But this year, as Bloomberg initially noted, The Cable Show was renamed “The Internet & Television Expo.”

Michael Powell, the former Federal Communications Commission head who now serves as president of the NCTA, said he “hates” the world “cable” because it's so outdated: “It doesn’t fairly capture what they do.”

Resist the temptation, here, to make snide commentary regarding just which terms would “fairly capture” what the cable companies do. According to Powell, the term “cable company” has “a proud history, but it needs to be retired,” in order to focus on “its future as it's associated with the Internet.”

And yet, as TechDirt pointed out: “when your entire business revolves around using coaxial cable to deliver Internet and television service, deciding to drop the word in the hopes of forcing a brand refresh might be an uphill climb.”

Yet even if Powell succeeds in his effort to make people completely and utterly forget the word “cable” in this particular context, that doesn't mean they'll forget the complaints that gave the word such a bad reputation in the first place.

For example: last month, after a Minnesota man lost his home after a vicious wind-driven fire destroyed it (plus a couple other homes in his neighborhood), it took a full week plus media attention before Comcast would let the man cancel his Comcast account. As of press time, that story has 12 reader comments posted on it, every one critical of Comcast. One commenter asked:

Is it Comcast or Time Warner that has the worst customer service record in the entire business industry?? If not one, than the other is, and the other is in second place. Soon there will be an alternative to cable, and hopefully this company will go out of business.

Another one said: “Customer service is dead. A moment of silence. Comcast is a constant nose bleed.”

Taken at face value, it's pretty obvious neither of those commenters (nor any other on that story) have any problems with the word “cable,” nor with any of the individual syllables comprising the word; their complaints involve customer service, or the lack thereof.

Or take a gander at any of the 1,268 complaints ConsumerAffairs has collected about Time Warner cable.

On April 25, for example, Reynaldo from San Antonio, Texas had this to say about the company's tech support: “...I had to beg for someone to come out to look at my PC and TV. Finally someone came out and replaced the modem. Service sucks. I would not recommend Time Warner and am considering changing service.”

That same day, Reynaldo's fellow Texan Thomas, from Cedar Park, wrote in with a detailed complaint about Time Warner, ending with: “This is the worst customer service I have ever dealt with. They took my money which I still have not received back, lied to me about 3 scheduled appointments, and have completely wasted my time. I will never even consider doing business with them again....”

“Service sucks.” “Worst customer service.” Memo to Michael Powell and other upstanding members of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association: your bad reputation derives from what you do, not what you call yourself.

British police have uncovered the latest security threat to ATM cardholders, a threat so simple from a thief's perspective that it's pretty much guaranteed...

British police have uncovered the latest security threat to ATM cardholders, a threat so simple from a thief's perspective that it's pretty much guaranteed to come to America — if it hasn't already.

Security-savvy ATM users have known for years now to watch out for illegal “skimmers” — electronic devices placed over a legitimate ATM-card reader to steal personal identification numbers (PINs) and other information from any swiped cards.

Many of these skimmers are small and thin enough to escape a typical ATM user's notice (unless that sharp-eyed user knows exactly what to look for) — but a thief hoping to use a skimmer generally needs either technological ability sufficient to build his own, or criminal “connections” sufficient to buy one.

However, as Security Affairs reported yesterday, the latest criminal threat to ATM security has no such barriers to entry. An off-the-shelf iPod hidden behind a panel with a pinhole drilled in it is all it takes to make a pinhole spy camera capable of recording the PINs of anyone who visits that particular ATM.

Though there's a little more to the scam than that. Apple's iPods have been on the market for years, but only last January was the first such incident of this particular iPod-based ATM spy camera scheme discovered in Gatley, Stockport (a suburb of Manchester, England). As the oft-sensationalist Daily Mail reported last January:

These pictures show the lengths criminal gangs are going to in an attempt to steal card details at ATM machines - as a trick of using hidden iPods as spy cameras continues to spread.

It involves strapping the musical device to the roof of a cash point and setting it to record video of a person inputting their personal identification number (PIN).

The iPod is concealed in a specially-designed fascia with the camera recording through a pinhole-sized gap.

A fascia is simply a long, thin board covering the area where a wall joins a roof or ceiling — the architectural equivalent of a beveled edge, more or less.

So long as the thief has a few minutes of privacy, it's very easy to attach an iPod to the roof or upper wall of an ATM cash point, hidden behind a fascia of the same color. After installing this hidden camera, the fraudsters then slip a thin piece of plastic into the actual ATM card slot.

Now they're ready to pull their scam, which works like this: a victim walks to the ATM, inserts his card and types his PIN, unaware of the hidden camera recording this information. Meanwhile, that piece of plastic in the card slot traps the card inside the ATM. So the victim can't get his card out of the machine, and eventually leaves – most likely to contact the bank and complain about a faulty card-eating ATM.

Once the victim leaves, the thieves go to the ATM, retrieve the card from the slot and the PIN from the video recording, and use these to withdraw cash from the victim's account.

When British police discovered such a setup at a Barclays ATM, they immediately removed the device and informed Barclays, which in turn urged its customers to keep a sharp eye on their accounts and immediately contact the bank if they notice any signs of fraudulent activity.

For this month's college graduates preparing to enter the workforce, the April jobs numbers, released last week, were pretty good news.The U.S. economy...

For this month's college graduates preparing to enter the workforce, the April jobs numbers, released last week, were pretty good news.

The U.S. economy is still producing more than 200,000 new jobs each month and the unemployment rate is back at a pre-recession 5.4%

It's that low because millions of people are no longer looking for work, but for someone just entering the workforce, that means less competition.

In the years just after the Great Recession young men and women coming out of college usually felt lucky to find any job. This spring, things are a little different.

Katharine Brooks, executive director of personal and career development at Wake Forest University, says 2015 graduates don't have to jump at the first job offered.

“It’s not surprising coming out of the previously poor economy that new grads may feel pressure to accept the first offer they receive, thinking that the ideal job is in a distant future,” Brooks said. “But, there are questions to ask before accepting a job that can help determine if it’s really the best career choice and a good first step.”

She counsels job seekers to carefully consider what the job pays, both in salary but also benefits. At the same time, she advises grads to ask themselves whether the work is something that aligns with their values. It does no good, she says, to take a job for the generous pay but hate going to work every day.

“Rarely is a job the right one or the wrong one,” Brooks said. “Entering a new position with an attitude of growth and learning shows a respect for your employer and an understanding that every experience brings is valuable to learning more about yourself.”

For grads with student loans and no job lined up, the next few weeks can be crucial. Kathryn Bossler, a counselor at GreenPath Debt Solutions, suggests graduates contact their student loan servicer to arrange for a short deferment in payments.

She also says new job seekers need to have their financial lives in order before going on interviews.

"Graduates need to realize how much an impact their credit history can have on their future," Bossler said. "As more hiring departments take personal finances into consideration, recent college graduates need to make sure their credit and debts are in order."

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban also has some advice for those just starting their careers; live like they are still college students. In his book “How to Win at the Sport of Business,” Cuban writes “living cheaply” is the key to financial success.

Instead of buying an entry level luxury car, models of which are increasingly marketed to Millennials, Cuban suggests paying off bills and starting a saving and investment program.

Bossler also suggests developing thrifty habits early in a career. She suggests direct depositing a portion of your paycheck into savings.

Even though most 21-year olds can't yet conceive of ever being old enough to retire, they should take advantage of an employer's retirement plan, especially if there is a match.

If you're carrying credit card debt, begin aggressively reducing those balances to minimize the amount of interest you're paying.

Toyota Motor Sales is expanding its recalls involving Takata air bag inflators. First, the automaker is conducting a recall to replace Takata-supplied dr...

First, the automaker is conducting a recall to replace Takata-supplied driver front airbag inflators on approximately 160,000 model year 2004 and 2005 RAV4 sport utility vehicles. The inflators could be susceptible to rupture when deployed in a crash, increasing the risk of injury to vehicle occupants.

For similar reasons, Toyota is expanding 2 existing recalls for Takata-supplied front passenger airbag inflators, namely:

Areas of high absolute humidity encompass Coastal Areas around the Gulf of Mexico for Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana; and Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

Multiple investigations into the root cause of the potential for inflator rupture are taking place, including by Orbital ATK, an independent engineering firm commissioned by an industry-wide joint testing initiative composed of the 10 automakers conducting Takata-related recalls.

All known owners of the affected Toyota / Lexus vehicles will be notified by first class mail to return their vehicles to a Toyota / Lexus dealer. The dealer will replace the airbag inflator with a newly manufactured one.

When black mold invades it can look horrendous and it puts a black mark literally on your house-cleaning skills. Moisture is your enemy when it comes to bl...

When black mold invades it can look horrendous and it puts a black mark literally on your house-cleaning skills. Moisture is your enemy when it comes to black mold and you have to be careful because of the toxicity of mold period. It can cause allergic reactions.

In most cases, depending on the length of exposure and the number of spores inhaled, symptoms can include chronic fatigue or headaches, fever, irritation to the eyes, mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and throat, sneezing, rashes, and chronic coughing.

In cases of prolonged or severe exposure, or cases exacerbated by an allergic reaction, more extreme symptoms can include nausea, vomiting and bleeding in the lungs and nose. This is why you have to be very careful when you are cleaning it yourself.

Black mold is most likely to appear in areas of the home that are particularly warm, humid and damp. Basements or crawlspaces that may have leaks or other sources of moisture are often susceptible to toxic black mold growth. Black mold is called black for a reason, it’s black. Most other molds are green or gray in color, but toxic black mold is a dark black.

To remove requires an investment not only in protective gear but patience as well. Find a way to muster up the courage to go into dark places where fungus is definitely among us.

Moisture has to be sucked out of the area and removed. Leaks have to be terminated and any form of condensation needs to be eradicated. If you leave either of these the mold will most likely return.

Sealing off doorways and any other opening is also of utmost importance. Heavy plastic can be used to cover doorways and just use duct tape to keep it sealed on. An exhaust fan will be a good aid in the room if there are outdoor openings to help remove mold spores.

You really need to cover up in order to do this, head to toe. Wear a respirator or a facemask rated for black mold spore protection, and cover arms, legs and hands to avoid contact with mold spores. Mold should remove pretty easily by using a sponge with soap and water. If the moldy area is dry, lightly spray with water, as this will reduce the incidence of airborne mold spores during cleaning.

There are products that are made specifically for black mold. You can find them at most hardware stores or the big stores like Home Depot or Lowes. Bleach does work very well and the only issue you will have is to make sure it doesn’t discolor any surfaces or materials, like furniture or splash on curtains.

April was not a particularly good month for retail sales, despite the exit from the harsh winter weather. The Census Bureau reports sales were flat last m...

April was not a particularly good month for retail sales, despite the exit from the harsh winter weather.

The Census Bureau reports sales were flat last month, totaling $436.8 billion. If auto sales a stripped out, sales were up a meager 0.1%.

Still sales were up 0.9% from the same time last year, and March sales were revised higher -- showing a gain of 1.1% instead of the .09% advance initially reported.

For the month, health and personal care stores; sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores; and nonstore retailers were the bright spots -- all showing advances of 0.8%. Losers were department stores (-2.2%), furniture and home furnishing stores (-0.9%) and gas stations (-0.7%)

Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza says no matter how you slice it, sales were downright weak. "Any lingering claim that the weakness at the start of the year was solely the result of unseasonably cold winter weather has now officially been squashed, she pointed out, adding, "Clearly the consumer remains under pressure resulting from fundamental weakness as opposed to Mother Nature -- including lackluster job opportunities and minimal income growth."

Two men who allegedly sold software that let consumers break into Photobucket.com's system and download pictures of naked women have been arrested by FBI a...

Two men who allegedly sold software that let consumers break into Photobucket.com's system and download pictures of naked women have been arrested by FBI agents.

Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said the two sold the app, called "Photofucket" -- that allowed users to get around the privacy and security settings on Photobucket. It also allegedly automatically found photos of nude and scantily-clad women and downloaded them.

FBI agents arrested Brandon Bourret, 39, of Colorado Springs, Colo. and Athanasios Andrianakis, 26, of Sunnyvale, Calif., at their homes yesterday. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

“It is not safe to hide behind your computer, breach corporate servers and line your own pockets by victimizing those who have a right to protected privacy on the internet,” said U.S. Attorney Walsh.  “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is keenly focused on prosecuting those people for their theft -- and for the wanton harm they do to innocent internet users.”       

According to the indictment, beginning on July 12, 2012 and continuing through July 1, 2014, Bourret and Andrianakis knowingly conspired to commit computer fraud and abuse, access device fraud, identification document fraud and wire fraud. 

Bourret and Andrianakis both face one count of conspiracy, which carries a penalty of not more than five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.  They also each face one count of computer fraud, aid and abet, which also carries a penalty of not more than five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.  Finally, they each face two counts of access device fraud, which carries a penalty of not more than ten years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine, per count.

Amberen is one of the "anti-aging" dietary supplements promoted by Lunada Biomedical. But the Federal Trade Commission says the company's claims aren't sup...

Amberen is one of the "anti-aging" dietary supplements promoted by Lunada Biomedical. But the Federal Trade Commission says the company's claims aren't supported by the evidence.

The FTC charges in a federal lawsuit that Lunada advertises that Amberen causes substantial weight loss for women over 40, and says the company sold nearly $65 million worth of the supplement between 2010 and 2013.

“Lunada marketed Amberen to women over 40 as ‘clinically proven’ to cause weight loss,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But their own studies didn’t support those claims. The best way to lose weight is still diet and exercise.”

The company disputes the charges and says it "prefers ... to litigate this matter before an impartial judge."

According to the FTC’s complaint, the company's ads claimed Amberen could cause significant weight loss and loss of belly fat, and increase the metabolism of perimenopausal or menopausal women over 40.

Lunada’s websites and other advertisements pitched the capsules using female announcers saying things like: “Amberen restores hormonal balance naturally, so the weight can just fall right off. Even that stubborn belly fat.” They also claimed that Amberen is “the ONLY product on the market today clinically proven to cause sustained weight loss for women over 40.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, however, a clinical trial conducted in 2001 by the Russian scientists who developed the Amberen formula, used a double dose of Amberen and did not specifically measure weight loss; a subsequent clinical study failed to show a statistically significant difference in weight loss between the test and control groups.

“Scientific evidence, including a recent randomized, double blind, placebo controlled clinical trial, involving 102 test subjects, just released by the world renowned First Moscow State Medical University (the premier educational, scientific and medical institution in Russia since 1758) supports the conclusion that Amberen achieves weight loss in menopausal women," a company spokesman said.

"The data obtained during the study was evaluated independently by the prestigious Institute of Mathematical Problems in Biology, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Additional peer reviewed scientific evidence supports the conclusion that Amberen also reduces many menopausal symptoms," the company's statement added. 

The FTC also charges that the defendants falsely claimed a consumer satisfaction and success rate of 93 percent and failed to disclose their relationship with certain endorsers, including one who blogged about the benefits of the supplement.

The complaint further alleges that the defendants falsely claimed that consumers could try Amberen “risk-free” for 30 days, through statements such as, “You can try Amberen absolutely risk FREE and get a one month supply FREE.” In fact, customers were provided a ninety-day supply of Amberen and to qualify for a refund, consumers had to return two unopened product boxes at their own expense, within 30 days of placing the order.

Moreover, in many cases consumers were not reimbursed the shipping and handling charges they had paid when they ordered the product, the FTC said.

Like Amtrak and the late Eastern Air Lines, US Airways has been an East Coast tradition as often despised as embraced. Plagued by fickle weather, congestio...

Like Amtrak and the late Eastern Air Lines, US Airways has been an East Coast tradition as often despised as embraced. Plagued by fickle weather, congestion in the skies and overcrowded airports, it has had more than its share of setbacks, delays, cancellations and complaints.

"This is my second miserable experience with USAir in 8 weeks. Same airports and same flights in 8 weeks," Robert wrote. "First experience was a 24 hour delay from a trip that would have taken no more than seven hours of driving. This trip at this point is now going into it 9th hour. Sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open and then being dumped on the tarmac 200 feet from the terminal entrance in the pouring rain. Now hearing at 11 pm that 'we have an aircraft but are trying to locate a crew.'" 

There are those who say that it was US Airways or one of its predecessors that coined the phrase, "time to spare, go by air." As a largely regional carrier for much of its existence, US Airways has had a lot of ups and downs -- lots of short hops that are more prone to disruptions than long-haul routes. This leads to lost bags, lost seats and, as in Robert's case, lost crews.

But all of that is about to end. Soon it will be American Airlines that inherits its customers' enmity. American, which merged with US Airways last year, says it will phase out the smaller carriers' operations beginning in July and possibly completing the process by October. You'll still see airplanes flying the US Airways colors after that but the reservations system -- the heart of any airline -- will be all American's when the switchover is complete.

Chaos has ensued in other airline mergers when the change to the dominant carrier's reservations system was made too abruptly, so American has chosen to slowly phase out the US Airways system, switching a few routes at a time.

It's perhaps appropriate that US Airways completes its journey via merger. It is, after all, the product of numerous mergers. It took off back in 1939 as All-American Airways, morphed into Allegheny Airlines (known in some road warrior circles as Agony Air), then took over Mohawk Airlines and became US Air. Somewhere along the line, Empire Air was added to the mix.

After a series of misstarts and aborted strategies, new management came aboard and changed the name to US Airways, causing the predictable jokes about the airline needing more than an airway to stay alive.

But stay alive it did, merging with America West to become a truly national carrier, eventually adding international routes as well.

When the merger is complete, there will be just four big airlines -- American, United, Delta and Southwest -- controlling 80% of the market. Welcome aboard.   

For a third consecutive week there's been a decline in applications for mortgages. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications S...

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications were down 3.5% in the week ending May 8.

The Refinance Index posted a drop of 6%, with the refinance share of mortgage activity calling from 52% of total applications to 51% -- its lowest level since May 2014. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity, on the other hand, rose to 6.3% of total applications.

The FHA share of total applications fell 2 basis points -- from 14.0% to 13.8%, the VA share was unchanged at 11.9% and the USDA share of total applications inched up to 0.9% from 0.8% the week prior.

More big declines in foreclosures. CoreLogic reports there were 41,000 completed foreclosures nationwide in March -- down 7,000, or 15.5% from the same mo...

CoreLogic reports there were 41,000 completed foreclosures nationwide in March -- down 7,000, or 15.5% from the same month in 2014, representing a plunge of 65.2% from the peak of completed foreclosures in September 2010.

Completed foreclosures are an indication of the total number of homes actually lost to foreclosure. Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 5.6 million completed foreclosures across the country, and since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 7.7 million homes lost to foreclosure.

CoreLogic also reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency was down 19.1% from March 2014 to March 2015 with 1.5 million mortgages -- or 3.9% -- in serious delinquency. Serious delinquency is defined as 90 days or more past due, including those loans in foreclosure or real estate owned (REO). This is the lowest delinquency rate since May 2008. On a month-over-month basis, the number of seriously delinquent mortgages dipped 1.9%.

As of this past March, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 542,000 homes, or 1.4%, of all homes with a mortgage compared with 729,000 homes, or 1.9%,the year before, representing a year-over-year decline of 25.7%.

“We are seeing additional improvement in housing market conditions due to a decline in the serious delinquency rate to 3.9%, far below the peak of 8.6% in early 2010,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Despite the decline in the number of loans that are 90 days or more delinquent or in foreclosure, the percent of homeowners struggling to keep up is still well above the pre-recession average of 1.5%.”

Cost Plus Management Services of Oakland, Calif., is recalling about 125,000 twist swivel stools. The weld joint attaching the stool seat to the center po...

This recall involves twist swivel stools with a light brown-finish wood seat and base with four black metal legs. They measure 24.5 inches high in the non-extended position and 29.5 inches when fully extended. SKU number 438000 is printed on the UPC sticker attached to the underside of the stool seat.

The stools, manufactured in Indonesia, were sold exclusively at Cost Plus World Market and World Market stores nationwide and online at www.worldmarket.com from February 2011, through February 2015, for about $120.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled stool and return it to any Cost Plus World Market or World Market store for a full refund. Refunds can be used toward the purchase of a replacement stool when it becomes available.

Consumers may contact Cost Plus World Market toll-free at (877) 967-5362 from 7 a.m. to midnight ET daily.

La-Z-Boy of Monroe, Mich., is recalling about 2,600 PowerReclineXRw pieces of reclining furniture. When reclined, the furniture can tip forward if the con...

When reclined, the furniture can tip forward if the consumer exits without bringing the chair to an upright position, posing a fall hazard.

The company has received 5 dealer reports of the furniture tipping forward when the chair was in a reclined position. No injuries have been reported.

The recalled power reclining furniture involves three series of the PowerReclineXRw: P16, 32P and 39P. The P16 series is a single-seat recliner; the 32P series is a loveseat recliner; and the 39P series is a loveseat with a middle console.

The furniture’s back and leg rest are raised and lowered electronically by pressing buttons built into the furniture’s side or on an optional attached controller. All models are upholstered in a variety of fabrics or leather products.

The series and style numbers are printed on a white label stapled to the front rail behind the leg rest or the underside of the leg rest. The first three characters of the number will be P16, 32P or 39P, followed by the style number.

The recliners, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores and independent furniture stores nationwide from January 2015, through March 2015, for $600 to $4300.

Consumers should stop using the chair and contact the local dealer where the chair was purchased for a refund or a repair. A service technician will schedule a time to come to the consumer’s home and install a new part.

Consumers may contact La-Z-Boy toll-free at (855) 592-9087 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

In recent years high school students and their parents have obsessed over the college admissions process. Certain colleges have become like designer con...

In recent years high school students and their parents have obsessed over the college admissions process.

Certain colleges have become like designer consumer products, a sign of status and announcing to the world that this young person is embarking on a meaningful and successful career. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way.

Some graduates of name-brand colleges flame out in their careers. Others fall into depression because they weren't accepted by the school of their choice.

In his book “Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argues that the Ivy League has no monopoly on corner offices, governors' mansions, or the most prestigious academic and scientific grants.

His book is a recounting of the stories of highly successful people who didn't attend the most exclusive schools. In fact, he writes there are many great colleges and universities that aren't well known. You just have to be able to find them.

University Research & Review, which offers college placement advice, has issued a list of what it believes are the best colleges you've never heard of. Attending one of them, the company says, will offer a great education and set the stage for a successful career.

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Located in rural Georgia this school, as the name implies, might be ideal for those pursuing a career in making things grow. The school offers a degree in, among other things, turfgrass management for those aspiring to a career in the golf course industry. They even have their own golf course where students practice what they learn.

Amridge University Flexible is one way to describe Amridge University. All of its courses are also offered online with live course lectures viewed in real time and optimized for mobile devices. The school's low tuition also makes it attractive.

Brandman University University Research & Review calls Brandman “one of the most progressive institutions in the country. It now embraces competency based education, meaning if you know the subject matter you are not held back by outdated seat time requirements. This could be a good choice for serious adult learners who want to get on with life and career.

Brescia University There are only about a thousand students at Kentucky's Brescia University, offering both classroom and online programs. Most of the school’s mostly female students are full-time and enroll in programs such as social work, teacher education, and business.

Kettering College This might be a good choice for someone planning on a career in health care. It wins high marks for a professional and committed faculty and a responsive administration.

Lincoln Memorial University Lincoln Memorial is also popular among those interested in health careers. Students can become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, or of veterinary medicine, or maybe earn one of several master’s degrees.

Park University, Patten University, Western Governors University and William Carey University all have attributes that set them apart. About 90% of Park's students are part-time and about half take their courses online.

Patten University tries to help students avoid taking out loans by developing an inexpensive monthly payment program where a student can take all the courses he or she can handle. All courses are available online.

Western Governors University is a pioneer in competency based education, meaning you can get a degree sooner than you might think. Its course offerings are also 100% online.

William Carey University has unique scholarship and assistance programs available for students. There are special assistance programs for low income families, and students with excellent academic records may qualify for full tuition and fees plus a room allowance.

Verizon is buying AOL for an estimated $4.4 billion, saying the purchase will help its efforts to "drive growth in video and digital platforms," subject to...

Verizon is buying AOL for an estimated $4.4 billion, saying the purchase will help its efforts to "drive growth in video and digital platforms," subject to the usual regulatory approvals. AOL owns major content brands including The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, MAKERS and AOL.com.

“Verizon’s vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multiscreen network platform," said Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman and CEO. "This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”

AOL still makes much of its money by billing customers for dial-up servicers many consumers don't even know they still have. Others think the monthly charge is for AOL email, which is actually free. Those who discover the charges often have a difficult time trying to cancel.

A 2013 class action lawsuit accused AOL of ripping off non-tech-savvy seniors, citing the case of Harvey Dunn, then 76. He was still paying AOL for outmoded dial-up service, which he was no longer using since he had become a Time Warner client.

When Dunn saw the monthly $17.95 charges on his credit card bill, he didn't realize that AOL was charging him for content and email services it gave away free to others. 

"AOL is well aware that the vast majority of its paying customers are not using its nearly obsolete 'dial-up' services, and misunderstand what they are paying for," the complaint stated. "AOL's technology allows it to easily tell which of its paying customers are using AOL's dial-up ISP services. AOL knows that plaintiff, and millions of other consumers have absolutely no use for their paid accounts, or AOL dial-up service they do not need and are not using."

It was recently estimated that 2.6 million Americans were still paying AOL for dial-up service. The company was something of a pioneer, introducing an easy-to-use Internet dial-up service in the 1990s. Its attempts to become an advertising-supported content provider have returned spotty results, apparently making AOL reluctant to turn its back on all those widows and orphans sending in their $20 or $30 each month.

If anyone thinks Verizon will be quick to release customers still stuck with its outmoded dial-up, McAdam's press release listed AOL's "subscription business" as among its "key assets."

Verizon says the acquisition will help drive its LTE wireless video and OTT (over-the-top video) strategy. The agreement will also support and connect to Verizon’s IoT (Internet of Things) platforms, creating a growth platform from wireless to IoT for consumers and businesses, the company said.

It's Verizon and Sprint's turn to pay refunds and penalties for illegally "cramming" their mobile customers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says ...

A Google self-driving Lexus (Photo credit: Google) Google, founded on Sept. 4, 1998, will be turning 17 in a few months and, like many teens, it's eag...

Google, founded on Sept. 4, 1998, will be turning 17 in a few months and, like many teens, it's eager to get out on the open road after a few years of puttering around town with driving instructors and anxious parents looking over its shoulder.

Critics have been questioning whether Google's self-driving cars are safe and Google, like many an adolescent driver before it, is arguing that a few dings here and there don't really amount to much and says it's getting better with experience.

The Associated Press reported recently that three of Google's self-driving cars have been involved in accidents since September, when California allowed them to begin using public roards. Google doesn't deny that but says its cars have logged 1.7 million miles since 2009, more than twice the 700,000 the AP reported. They've also been involved in 11 minor accidents, according to Google, not just three.

Chris Urmson, the head of Google's self-driving initiative, says 11 accidents in 1.7 million miles is a lot better record than most humans achieve.

Also chiming in is Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit organization that is calling on Google to release all of the data it has on the accidents.

“It is important that the public know what happened,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, in a letter to Google.  “You are testing driverless vehicles on public highways, quite possibly putting other drivers at risk.” 

"If you spend enough time on the road, accidents will happen whether you’re in a car or a self-driving car. Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident," Urmson wrote in a blog posting on Medium. 

Urmson said that in most of the accidents, there was nothing Google's driver -- human or otherwise -- could have done to avoid being hit.

"Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America, and often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit; we’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway," he said. "We’ve also been side-swiped a couple of times and hit by a car rolling through a stop sign. ... We have a detailed review process and try to learn something from each incident, even if it hasn’t been our fault.

“Rather than hide behind the cloak of DMV confidentiality, Google should disclose the accident report and the full details of the incident.  We also call on you to commit to making all future accident reports public,” he said in a letter to Google executives.

Results from the latest round of small overlap front crash testing of midsize SUVs are in, and the results are mixed. Three vehicles achieved good or acce...

Results from the latest round of small overlap front crash testing of midsize SUVs are in, and the results are mixed.

Three vehicles achieved good or acceptable ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but many models -- including three newly rated SUVs from Fiat Chrysler and one from Hyundai -- continue to struggle with the test.

The Nissan Murano earns a good rating and, with a superior-rated optional front crash prevention system, qualifies for the Institute's highest award, TOP SAFETY PICK+. The Ford Flex earns an acceptable rating and qualifies for TOP SAFETY PICK.

Consumers looking for a midsize SUV now have seven choices that qualify for awards from IIHS. The earlier winners are the Toyota Highlander with TOP SAFETY PICK+ and the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Kia Sorento and Nissan Pathfinder, which all earn TOP SAFETY PICK.

Among the seven 2015 models in this round of testing, the Jeep Wrangler four-door model also picked up a good small overlap rating. However, the Wrangler offers only marginal protection in side and rear crashes, so it's not a recommended choice. It also lacks a fixed roof, so it can't provide good protection in rollover crashes.

Aside from the Wrangler, three other Fiat Chrysler SUVs were tested for small overlap protection and didn't fare well. The Dodge Journey earns a poor rating, and the Dodge Durango and Jeep Cherokee earn marginal ratings. The Hyundai Santa Fe also earns a marginal rating.

The small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph.

The test is more difficult than either the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the longstanding IIHS moderate overlap test. That's because, in a small overlap test, the main structures of the vehicle's front-end crush zone are bypassed, making it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy. The occupant compartment can collapse as a result.

Since IIHS began small overlap testing in 2012, manufacturers have responded to the challenge in two ways: One is by taking the test into account when models are redesigned. The other is by making smaller modifications to beef up the front structure and improve airbags even before a model gets a full overhaul.  

"This test presented a major challenge for manufacturers when it was introduced three years ago, and many have adapted quickly," said IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. "Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep have had some successes with redesigned models, but they haven't done much in the way of interim improvements. As a result, they still have many models that rate poor or marginal."

The best performer in the current group of seven is the redesigned 2015 Murano. It hit all the marks for ideal small overlap protection. The driver space held up well, with maximum intrusion of 5 inches at the lower door hinge pillar. The dummy's movement was well-controlled, and its head hit the front airbag and stayed there until rebound.

The side curtain airbag deployed with sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects. Measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.

In addition to earning a good small overlap rating, the Murano improved its roof strength rating to good from the previous generation's marginal rating. The optional front crash prevention also is new for 2015. The Murano's autobrake nearly avoided a collision in the 12 mph IIHS track test and reduced the vehicle's speed by 11 mph in the 25 mph test. The Murano also earns a point for meeting federal criteria for forward collision warning systems.

The Journey is the worst performer in the group and a classic example of poor small overlap protection. The occupant compartment failed to hold up, with intrusion measuring as much as 9 inches at the instrument panel and the parking brake pedal, which tore through the dummy's left lower leg. Injuries to the left hip, left knee and right lower leg also would be possible.

The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side, as the steering column moved to the right. The side curtain airbag failed to deploy, leaving the dummy's head vulnerable to contact with side structure and outside objects.

Not only are animal abusers facing harsher penalties, some areas have now established animal abuser registries. Just like sex offenders, they will be place...

With the economy improving and rents rising, more people may be looking to transition into home ownership this spring. But a new report from the National A...

With the economy improving and rents rising, more people may be looking to transition into home ownership this spring. But a new report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests this year's housing market poses some stiff challenges.

In it's review of the first quarter of the year, NAR finds home prices have risen while the number of homes on the market has not kept pace. That means attractively priced real estate in good locations often draws multiple offers.

That said, some markets are more competitive than others. In some areas houses move quickly while in others, they linger on the market.

Still, the report shows the number of U.S. metros experiencing double-digit price appreciation doubled compared to last quarter. For existing single family homes, the median price increased in 85% of the measured markets.

"Sales activity to start the year was notably higher than a year ago, as steady hiring and low interest rates encouraged more buyers to enter the market," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "However, stronger demand without increasing supply led to faster price growth in many markets."

The national median existing single-family home price in the first quarter was $205,200, up 7.4% from the first quarter of 2014. Still, that's not yet back to pre-housing crash levels.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation's median home price peaked in February 2008 at $245,300.

Despite the rising prices for single-family homes, the number of existing home sales actually went down in the first quarter – a quirk Yun attributes the the tighter inventory of homes for sale.

At the end of March there were 2 million existing homes available for sale in the U.S., slightly above the 1.96 million homes for sale at the end of the first quarter in 2014. But demand for homes was greater than the year before, resulting in higher sale prices.

The average supply during the first quarter was 4.6 months – down from 4.9 months a year ago. NAR says a supply of 6 to 7 months represents a healthy balance of supply between buyers and sellers.

NAR President Chris Polychron says all indicators point to renewed interest on the part of potential buyers.

"Realtors are reporting increased foot traffic this spring as more consumers are feeling confident about their financial situation and looking to lock-in before rates eventually start to climb," he said.

But he too notes that supplies of homes in many markets are tight, especially at entry level prices. Yun says one reason is because current homeowners who have accumulated equity appear reluctant to move up.

"They aren't confident they'll find another home to buy,” he said. “This trend – in addition to subpar homebuilding activity – is leading to the ongoing inventory shortages and subsequent run-up in prices seen in many markets."

A radio shot is not the best place to get retirement planning information and a retirement planning firm run by two radio talk-show hosts may not be much b...

A radio shot is not the best place to get retirement planning information and a retirement planning firm run by two radio talk-show hosts may not be much better, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC yestrday charged Novers Financial and its radio host owners Christopher Novinger and Brady Speers, both of Mansfield, Texas, with falsely telling customers that interests in life settlements they offered and sold were “guaranteed,” “safe as CDs,” and “federally insured.”

The SEC also alleges that they used a bogus “net worth calculator” that improperly qualified some prospective investors for purchases by including income that investors hadn’t received, such as future pension and Social Security benefits.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that from 2012 to 2014, they sold approximately $4.3 million in life settlement interests to 26 investors.

“We allege that Novinger and Speers described speculative investments as safe and secure and were willing to manipulate investors’ financial information to make a sale,” said David Peavler, Associate Director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office.  “No matter what a salesperson tells you, interests in life settlements are never guaranteed, risk-free, or federally insured.”

Interests in life settlements are investments based on potential payouts on insurance policies held by others.  Typically they can only be sold to investors who meet certain income or net worth levels.  The SEC alleges that, to get around those limits, Novinger and Speers provided prospective investors with a net worth calculator that factored in future income to artificially inflate client assets. 

For example, according to the SEC complaint, one couple’s non-homestead assets falsely “ballooned” from $263,000 to nearly $1.5 million when the calculator improperly included 20 years’ worth of Social Security and retirement payments the couple anticipates receiving in the future.

In addition to the charges against Novers Financial and the two principals, the SEC charged ICAN Investment Group LLC and Speers Financial Group LLC for acting as unregistered broker-dealers.  The SEC seeks injunctive relief, return of allegedly ill-gotten gains with interest, and financial penalties.

The airline industry is getting an earful from its passengers. According to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, consumer com...

According to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, consumer complaints filed with its Aviation Consumer Protection Division shot up 55.1% from the same time a year ago and rose 27.2% from the previous month.

The report shows DOT received 1,733 complaints about airline service from consumers this past March, compared with the total of 1,117 filed in March 2014, and the 1,362 received in February.

For the first quarter of the year, there were 4,580 complaints -- up 14.4% from the 4,002 filed during the first quarter of 2014. DOT routinely contacts individual carriers when it notices spikes or significant variations in complaint types or complaint levels in regulated areas.

The consumer report also includes data on tarmac delays, on-time performance, cancellations, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays. In addition, it contains statistics on passengers denied confirmed space (oversales/bumping), mishandled baggage, and disability and discrimination complaints.

Finally, the consumer report includes reports of incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of animals traveling by air.

There were fewer jobs available in March than there were in February. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports there were 5.0 million job openings on ...

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports there were 5.0 million job openings on the last business day of March, compared with 5.1 million the month before. Hiring also were little changed at 5.1 million in, as were separations were little changed at 5.0 million.

for total nonfarm, total private, and government. Job openings increased over the year for many industries including professional and business services, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services. Job openings fell over the year in mining and logging.

Over the 12 months ending in March, the number of hires (not seasonally adjusted) increased for total nonfarm and total private and was little changed for government. Hires increased in wholesale trade as well as in accommodation and food services. The number of hires decreased in mining and logging.

The separations rate was 3.5%.Total separations, which includes quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations, is referred to as turnover. Quits are generally voluntary separations initiated by the employee. Therefore, the quits rate can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave jobs.

Layoffs and discharges are involuntary separations initiated by the employer. Other separations include separations due to retirement, death, and disability, as well as transfers to other locations of the same firm. The number of total separations was little changed in total private and government but increased in the Midwest region.

Over the 12 months ending in March 2015, hires totaled 59.7 million and separations totaled 56.7 million, yielding a net employment gain of 3.0 million.

Schylling Inc. of Rowley, Mass., is recalling about 15,300 Police Press & Go toy vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. The hat can detach from the policeman’s ...

Schylling Inc. of Rowley, Mass., is recalling about 15,300 Police Press & Go toy vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.

The company has received 1 report of the police hat detaching from the toy vehicles. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves the Police Press & Go toy vehicles. The white plastic toy cars have a painted dark blue hood and trunk, light blue windshield with a black eyes and mouth painted on the front of the car. There is a police head coming out of the roof of the car wearing a blue police hat with a green star on the center of the hat. When the police head is pressed down it winds up the motor and the car moves forward.

The toy vehicles measure about 2.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches long by 3.5 inches tall. “Schylling Rowley, MA” and UPC number “01964922782” are printed on the bottom of the toy cars.

The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at specialty toy and gift stores nationwide from April 2010, through April 2015, for about $5.

Consumers may contact Schylling at (800) 767-8697 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or by email at SafetyAlert@Schylling.com.

Good Seed Inc. of Springfield, Va., is recalling all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts. The products may be contaminated with Listeria mon...

Good Seed Inc. of Springfield, Va., is recalling all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts.

These recalled items were distributed to retail stores in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina.

Consumers with questions may contact the company directly at 703-392-0075 or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Food Safety Program at 804-786-1006.

Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul has been getting more screen time lately than his son Rand, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. The...

Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul has been getting more screen time lately than his son Rand, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

The senior Paul, who sought the GOP nomination himself representing the Libertarian wing of the party, is a Tea Party favorite and harsh critic of the Federal Reserve. His image is all over the Internet and cable TV under the dire headline “Crisis Bigger than 2008 is coming!”

Though in many of its Internet placements it looks like a news story, it is actually an advertisement for a company called Stansberry Research. In a video infomercial produced by the company, Paul warns of a coming currency crisis affecting the U.S. dollar that he says will wipe out the savings of millions of Americans, primarily seniors.

“It's not a question of if this will happen,” Paul says confidently in the video, “but when.”

Stansberry research, which says you can protect yourself and even profit from the coming crisis, doesn't sell annuities or other investment products. It describes itself as a publisher, producing financial newsletter and reports about those products and the financial landscape in general.

“Under no circumstances should you construe anything that appears in our newsletters, reports, or on our website as personalized investment advice,” the company declares in its disclosures. “Our recommendations and analysis are based on Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, current events, interviews, corporate press releases, and what we've learned as financial journalists. It may contain errors, and you shouldn't make any investment decision based solely on what you read here.”

In other words, the company looks at publicly available financial data and draws its own conclusions, publishing those opinions in reports and newsletters that it sells to the public. Nothing wrong with that.

Another frequent Internet warning comes from Money Morning, another financial publisher, with the headline “CIA insider breaks silence of global currency wars.” It features a video interview with former CIA operative Jim Rickards, who warns U.S. intelligence agencies have begun preparing for World War III.

Like Paul, Rickards traces the problem to the Fed, charging it is essentially broke. But in the video, he outlines specific investments that he says could profit in such a catastrophic environment. For its part, Money Morning is a bit less emphatic.

“Readers should be aware that although our track record is highly rated, and has been legally reviewed for presentation in this invitation, investment markets have inherent risks and there can be no guarantee of future profits,” its disclaimer reads. Likewise, our past performance does not assure the same future results. Warning: The past performance of any trade whether actual or hypothetical is not necessarily an indication of future results.”

In fact, investors would be wise not to be swayed by scary pitches. One only has to remember 2011 and 2012 when the Internet and cable TV airwaves carried countless ads urging investors to sink their money into physical gold to protect themselves from impending financial doom. As we reported last year, investors who followed that advice haven't fared so well.

In the post-financial-crisis environment, investing profitably isn't easy and there are plenty of things to consider and even worry about. But like most important decisions, ones involving finances should be based on careful reason rather than fear.

“If you are not an experienced investor, we urge you to get as much education as possible and to consult a licensed individual advisor before making investments of any kind.”

It sounds like such a good idea. The "Interest Minimizer" program that's heavily promoted by Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc., claims that homeowne...

Fairly or not, Facebook's algorithms have long been blamed for various complaints Facebook users have about what appears in their feeds, including the comp...

Fairly or not, Facebook's algorithms have long been blamed for various complaints Facebook users have about what appears in their feeds, including the complaint (common to many social media platforms) that Facebook participation tends to result in an online “echo chamber,” where you're only shown stories that reinforce, rather than challenge, whatever views and opinions you already have.

But last week, those algorithms were apparently vindicated after the scientific journal Science published a paper titled “Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook,” written by Facebook-employed researchers, which basically concluded that neither Facebook nor its algorithms are to blame for any echo-chamber effects in your feeds; you are.

Or, as MIT's Technology Review put it, “Facebook says you filter news more than its algorithm does; a Facebook study of 10 million users shows that your selection of friends holds more sway than filtering algorithms when it comes to seeing news from opposing political viewpoints.”

Facebook's researchers studied the URLs shared by millions of anonymized American Facebook users whose profiles self-identified them as either politically liberal or politically conservative, then concluded that (contrary to popular belief) the news a politically opinionated Facebook user sees “while interacting via Facebook’s algorithmically ranked News Feed” is influenced more by that user's own self-selected Facebook friends than by the algorithms. So any problems you might have with your Facebook feed are your own fault, not Facebook's.

At least, that's how some critics interpreted the results. The day after Facebook's Science article appeared, Wired magazine summarized it as “Facebook: It's Not Our Fault.”

PandoDaily was a bit more opinionated, calling the Science article “less a piece of objective scientific inquiry and more the work of corporate-commissioned data tricksters —  a rancid pile of pro-Facebook propaganda that derives and frames its conclusions with the sole purpose of making Facebook look good.”

It's hard to say conclusively what's going on, in part because Facebook's algorithms are proprietary secrets known only to a handful of high-ranking Facebook insiders, and also because those algorithms are always changing.

For example: last May, when Facebook came under fire for promoting blatantly false news stories as part of its then-new “related articles” system, an unnamed Facebook spokeswoman blamed the problem on “algorithms” (whereas critics suggested the actual problem was more a lack of standards on Facebook's part).

If you're active on Facebook, you've surely noticed (and even enjoyed the occasional laugh about) how foolish those algorithms often seem to be: post a withering insult about your least-favorite politician, and Facebook's algorithms will latch on to his name and recommend that you “Like” his page and donate to his re-election campaign. (Which, in all fairness, is pretty much the exact opposite of any “echo chamber” complaints.)

Nor is this limited to political topics. A couple summers ago a good friend of mine, an American fan of the British science fiction series Doctor Who, kept getting constant Facebook recommendations that he read news articles about then-current doping allegations in the world of European competitive bicycle racing; eventually he figured out it's because the articles all mentioned a doctor who might have helped certain athletes cheat.

Then again, Facebook users such as my Doctor Who-loving friend were not included in Facebook's Science study, which focused only on American users who don't merely have opinions about politics, but choose to self-identify as either “liberal” or “conservative” in their Facebook profiles.

So how many people are we talking about? Only 4% of American Facebook users, all of whom share a particular trait not shared by the other 96% – the specific trait of putting one of the two most common American political labels (“liberal” or “conservative”) in their own Facebook profile descriptions.

As Zeynep Tufekci, as assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, pointed out in a Medium post about the study (italics lifted from the original): “The gold standard of sampling is random, where every unit has equal chance of selection, which allows us to do amazing things like predict elections with tiny samples of thousands. … [but] in cases like this, the sampling affects behavior: people who self-identify their politics are almost certainly going to behave quite differently, on average, than people who do not, when it comes to the behavior in question which is sharing and clicking through ideologically challenging content. So, everything in this study applies only to that small subsample of unusual people.”

Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota led the way as consumers plunked down ever-larger amounts of money for new cars and trucks last month. The estimated average ...

Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota led the way as consumers plunked down ever-larger amounts of money for new cars and trucks last month.

The estimated average transaction price (ATP) for new cars and trucks in April was $33,560, up $836 from a year ago and up $195 from March, according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). Automobile sales appear to be the one segment of the U.S. economy that grows each month.

"Prices were up across most of the industry, but we are seeing some of the greatest increases in the truck segments," said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Full-size trucks were particularly strong, up 4.5%, while mid-size trucks were up 3.5%. Incentive spending on trucks also has been lighter this year, indicating a great market for these units right now."

When truck sales rise it is often taken as a leading indicator of economic strength, since these vehicles are used mainly in light construction. This time around, however, falling fuel prices may also be an influence. Chevy and Ford, both with strong truck divisions, appear to have been the chief beneficiaries.

According to the numbers, Ford had 14.7% of the new car and truck market in April. Chevrolet was close behind, capturing 12.9% of sales. Toyota was third with 11.9% of April's transactions.

Despite relatively low gasoline prices, fuel-efficient compacts were still in demand, leading segment sales with 14.1%. Mid-size sedans were second at 13.3% and SUV/crossovers were third at 13.0%.

Full-size pick-ups made up 12.2% of April sales with mid-size adding another 2.1%. KBB says trucks and SUVs were the primary driver of higher transaction prices, which were up 3.3%.

Fiat Chrysler was helped by strong prices from its Dodge and RAM brands. As it retools its portfolio, Dodge had an 8.9% gain, while RAM increase 4.2%.

Ford got a revenue boost from its F-150, which was up 4.4% with nearly half of sales coming from the redesigned 2015 model. Meanwhile, Ford's number 2 seller, Fusion, dropped 3.1% as its hybrid and electric variants sold fewer units.

"Another notable increase in transaction prices is from Hyundai Kia, which is up 4.7%," said Tim Fleming, analyst for KBB. "The redesigned Sonata, up 7.9%, helped the Hyundai brand to a 4.2 % gain, while the Kia Sedona, up 16.5%, lifted the Kia brand 5.2 percent in April."

Consumers looking for the new car with the cheapest price, the Smart wins hands down. The tiny 2-seater had an average transaction price of just $16,119. For consumers who need a little more room, Mitsubishi averaged a $22,198 sale price.

Millions of people are going to be taking to the nation's highways over the Memorial Day weekend – May 21 – 25, and unlike the last few years, they're goin...

Millions of people are going to be taking to the nation's highways over the Memorial Day weekend – May 21 – 25, and unlike the last few years, they're going to feel a little better about it.

Since 2008 refueling stops on the first unofficial weekend of summer were filled with angst. In 2011 prices had just peaked at a national average price of just under $4 a gallon when the holiday weekend arrived.

Gasoline prices vary state to state but most drivers will likely see the lowest Memorial Day pump prices in at least 5 years. The recent national average price of $2.66 a gallon suggests rising prices during the spring, due to refinery maintenance and the switch-over to summer blends of fuel, has just about peaked.

Even at that elevated price – about 26 cents a gallon more than a month ago -- fuel is $1.00 less than last year's average Memorial Day price.

Travel is expected to be up all the way around with AAA projecting that 88% will travel by car and another 2.6 million booking flights on airlines, an increase of 2.5% from last year.

While gasoline prices and air fares are down travelers may find it more expensive this year to stay in a hotel. Still, AAA says many consumers are ready to splurge a little.

"Following a harsh winter, many Americans are trading in their snow boots for flip flops and making plans to start the season with a vacation getaway," said Marshall L. Doney, president of AAA. "AAA is expecting more Memorial Day travelers this year than any time in the past 10 years as confident consumers come out of hibernation ready to explore national parks, beach destinations and America's great cities."

Lower gasoline prices, which have yet to make much of an impact on economic data over the last 6 months, may finally be showing up. Doney says savings at the gas pump, along with more encouraging hiring data from U.S. employers, are lifting both consumers' optimism and their disposable income.

For travelers hitting the road a couple of weeks from now, AAA has some advice; inspect your car – particularly battery and tire condition – before heading out on a holiday getaway. AAA says its principal Memorial Day weekend road service calls are for flat tires and dead batteries, along with lock-outs.

If you plan to travel by air to your holiday weekend destination, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reminds travelers to plan for extra time to clear security.

TSA said it screens approximately 1.8 million passengers each day at more than 450 airports nationwide. During major holidays, including the Memorial Day travel period, TSA sees a spike in the number of passengers screened at airport checkpoints across the country.

If you or a member of your party has disabilities or medical conditions that make air travel difficult there's a special TSA hot line that will answer questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. Injured service members and veterans including individuals associated with a wounded warrior program may contact TSA Cares to help facilitate the screening process.

Runners take note: before you sign up to participate in your next “fun run” – and especially before you shell out any money in registration fees – make sur...

Runners take note: before you sign up to participate in your next “fun run” – and especially before you shell out any money in registration fees – make sure you're not signing on with a scammer looking to steal your money instead.

The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning not just about fun-run scams in general, but about one particularly suspect company called the Color 5 Mile Run, which currently has future runs scheduled to take place in over 100 different locations nationwide. Yet when the Bureau contacted several venues where these runs were supposed to be taking place, the venue operators had never heard about them.

Furthermore, Color 5 Mile has abruptly canceled previously scheduled runs – so far, without issuing refunds to any registered runners.

Bear in mind: the Color 5 Mile Run is not to be confused with The Color Run, LLC, which is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. If you're a regular fun-runner, there's even a chance you've already done some legitimate runs through The Color Run – and that's probably why the promoters behind the Color 5 Mile Run chose their confusingly similar name.

For example: WOOD-TV in Michigan reports that the legitimate Color Run is coming to Grand Rapids on August 1 – and Color 5 Mile's website is also collecting registration fees of $50 per person for an Aug. 1 run in that city. ConsumerAffairs tried calling the “registration support” phone number on Color 5 Mile's website, but it's been disconnected.

On April 30, the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina posted an announcement on the city government's website warning residents away from a fraudulent Color 5 Mile Run advertised in the area:

The City of Fayetteville would like to let residents know that an advertised race will not be taking place on Saturday. The Color-5-Mile is not a permitted event by the City of Fayetteville and will not occur. Permits for such events are required and one was neither requested nor received for this event. Residents are encouraged to not sign-up for the event, which is advertised as starting at City Hall. The City of Fayetteville is not sponsoring, nor has it sanctioned the race.

On May 5, police in Bangor, Maine posted a similar announcement on the Bangor PD's public Facebook page, specifying that the genuine Color Run really is coming to Bangor later this summer, but “there are no permits in place for something called The Color 5 Miler. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.”

To protect yourself from potentially shady fun runs, the BBB recommends you take the following precautions:

Amid concerns about childhood obesity, the food industry adopted voluntary standards for the food it advertises on television programs for children. The...

Amid concerns about childhood obesity, the food industry adopted voluntary standards for the food it advertises on television programs for children.

The industry agreed to nutritional standards the advertised food should meet, setting limits on trans fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium.

So how does reality sync up with aspiration? Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, organized a research project to monitor 103 kids' shows on 2 cable channels and 5 broadcast networks.

The team said it found the industry has kept its promise, but still has a lot of room for improvement.

"The long-standing pattern favoring nutritionally deficient food products over more-healthy items clearly persisted despite the advent of industry self-regulation,” Kunkel said. “This outcome occurred largely because participants in self-regulation achieved no significant improvement in the nutritional quality of their advertised foods between 2007 and 2013."

The research team found that 80% of the food products advertised to children fall into what it calls the poorest nutritional category set by US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidelines.

So how can the food industry be keeping its promise but still be falling short? Kunkel says it has to do with the industry standards.

In 2006 the industry formed the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), the means for the nation's 17 largest food companies to set nutritional standards for child-targeted ads.

However, it was left up to each participating company to set its own standards. For example, Kellogg pledged that all child-targeted advertising will contain a maximum per serving of 200 calories, 2 grams (g) saturated fat/0 g trans fat, 230 milligrams (mg) sodium, and 12 g added sugar.

The study finds that CFBAI-participating companies have completely delivered on promises by advertising only products that meet nutritional guidelines agreed to by their parent corporations and have used licensed characters solely in advertising for products that comply with their parent corporations' guidelines for healthier products.

In that regard, Kunkel says the industry has done everything it promised. His complaint is with the standards themselves. He says a number of companies have classified a product as healthy if only a small portion of an unhealthy ingredient has been removed from its formulation.

When the researchers analyzed the products they found the food hit the companies' stated benchmarks but fell short of HHS nutritional standards. Companies that did not sign on to CFBAI standards, Kunkel says, tended to advertise the least-healthy food products.

"Deficiency in the nutritional standards employed by industry self-regulation has already been recognized as a critical shortcoming," Kunkel said.

The Association of National Advertisers takes strong exception to Kunkel's conclusions. A spokesman told Reuters that the nutritional standards the researchers are holding the food industry to “went way overboard,” claiming 87% of the most consumed food products in the U.S. wouldn't pass the test.

"In the face of pleas for advertising reform, the food industry has achieved what might be labeled as baby steps," Kunkel said.

But he says the takeaway from the study is the limits of self-regulation. Continuing to rely on self-regulation, he predicts, won't achieve the goal of reducing childhood obesity.

Gardening seems so basic -- you get some dirt, a few plants, dig a hole and plop them in. What could really go wrong? A lot, and although seedlings aren’t ...

It is a fact -- black dogs have a harder time getting adopted than lighter-colored dogs. Shelter and rescue group workers call it BDS -- Black Dog Syndrome...

The Mediterranean Diet is often touted as the key to a healthy cardiovascular system. Now a study finds it may also keep our brains working smoothly as we ...

The Mediterranean Diet is often touted as the key to a healthy cardiovascular system. Now a study finds it may also keep our brains working smoothly as we age.

The study of older adults in Spain suggested that supplementing the plant-based Mediterranean diet with antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts was associated with improved cognitive function.

The results of the randomized clinical trial are being published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. The trial included 447 cognitively healthy volunteers (223 were women; average age was nearly 67 years) who were at high cardiovascular risk and were enrolled in a nutrition intervention.

Of the participants, 155 individuals were assigned to supplement a Mediterranean diet with one liter of extra virgin olive oil per week; 147 were assigned to supplement a Mediterranean diet with 30 grams per day of a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds; and 145 individuals were assigned to follow a low-fat control diet.

The authors measured cognitive change over time with a battery of neuropsychological tests. After a median of four years of the intervention, follow-up tests were available on 334 participants.

At the end of the follow-up, there were 37 cases of mild cognitive impairment: 17 (13.4%) in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group; eight (7.1%) in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group; and 12 (12.6%) in the low-fat control group.

“Our results suggest that in an older population a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts may counteract age-related cognitive decline. The lack of effective treatments for cognitive decline and dementia points to the need of preventive strategies to delay the onset and/or minimize the effects of these devastating conditions. The present results with the Mediterranean diet are encouraging but further investigation is warranted,” the study concludes.

Baby’s Dream Furniture of Buena Vista, Ga., is recalling about 4,600 cribs and furniture pieces. The vintage grey paint on the cribs, furniture, and acce...

The vintage grey paint on the cribs, furniture, and accessories exceeds federal lead limits. If ingested, lead can cause adverse health effects.

This recall involves Baby’s Dream full-size cribs, furniture and accessories sold in a vintage grey paint finish under the Brie, Braxton, Heritage, Everything Nice and Legendary collections. Cribs and furniture included in this recall were manufactured between March 2014 and March 2015.

A label affixed to the bottom of the crib’s back frame and the back panel of the furniture lists the product name, date and location of manufacture, model number and purchase order number (PO#).

The cribs and furniture, manufactured in Chile, were sold at specialty furniture stores nationwide and online at BabysDream.com from March 2014, through March 2015, for between $350 and $900 for the cribs, and between $450 and $1,000 for the dressers, hutches, nightstands, bookcases and chests. Additional accessories were sold for between $100 and $300.

Consumers should immediately contact Baby’s Dream to arrange for an exchange at (800) 835-2742 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Walker's Foods of Carrollton, Ga., is recalling approximately 46,612 pounds of pork-with-sauce products. The products contain soy, an allergen not listed ...

Walker's Foods of Carrollton, Ga., is recalling approximately 46,612 pounds of pork-with-sauce products.

The products, which bear the establishment numbers "EST. 9062" inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped for institutional distribution and to retail stores in Alabama and Georgia.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Walker's Foods Public Relations Manager Nicole Walker at (770) 834-8171 or by email at Nicole@walkermeats.com.

Honda is recalling 504 model year 2014 Honda CBR1000S motorcycles manufactured December 9, 2013, to March 28, 2014, and 2015 Honda CBR1000S motorcycles man...

Honda is recalling 504 model year 2014 Honda CBR1000S motorcycles manufactured December 9, 2013, to March 28, 2014, and 2015 Honda CBR1000S motorcycles manufactured October 20, 2014, to February 27, 2015.

The recalled motorcycles may have been built with an improperly manufactured rear shock absorber. The nut on the damper rod for these shock absorbers may loosen, resulting in a loss of damping and the possible disassembling of the shock.

If the damper rod nut loosens, shock absorber performance would be affected, possibly causing a loss of vehicle control and increasing the risk of a crash.

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will remove the shock assembly and send it to the supplier's service center for repair. Once repaired, the supplier's service center will ship the shock assembly back to the dealer and the dealership will reinstall the shock on the motorcycle. This work will be performed free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Hurricanes only strike certain coastal regions and earthquakes are largely confined to well-identified areas but all 50 states have experienced a tornado a...

Hurricanes only strike certain coastal regions and earthquakes are largely confined to well-identified areas but all 50 states have experienced a tornado at one time or another. Much shorter in duration than a hurricane, a tornado can be just as deadly and cause more destruction.

On May 3, 1999 a deadly series of tornadoes tore through Oklahoma, killing 40 people and causing nearly 700 injuries. An F5 twister stayed on the ground for nearly 90 minutes, cutting a 38-mile path of destruction from Chickasha through southern Oklahoma City.

Because these storms can form quickly and strike with deadly force, knowing the warning signs and what to do when one approaches can be the difference between life and death.

Tornadoes are most likely to form in conditions that spawn severe thunderstorms. Hot, humid weather is often common but so is a clash of temperature extremes, when two fronts collide. When these conditions exist it is wise to keep eyes and ears on weather bulletins.

In addition, your eyes and ears can tell you that conditions are ripe for a tornado. According to the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., you might observe strong, persistent rotation in the base of a cloud. You might also see whiling dust or debris on the ground, minutes before a funnel forms.

A forming tornado will often produce hail and heavy rain – and then suddenly, the wind dies down and the sun comes out. You might observe debris, like small tree limbs, actually floating in the air. An approaching storm will many times turn the sky an eerie shade of green.

Tornadoes that strike at night are particularly deadly because so many people are asleep and can't see the approaching storm. But they can often hear it. A tornado is usually accompanied by a loud, continuous roar or rumble.

You may also see small, bright blue-green to white flashes near ground level. That is usually a sign of snapping power lines and the approach of a funnel cloud.

Regardless of the time of day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises anyone in the path of a suspected tornado to take shelter immediately

“The key to surviving a tornado and reducing the risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you and your family will do if a tornado strikes,” the CDC says. “Flying debris causes most deaths and injuries during a tornado. Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, some locations are much safer than others.”

A basement or shelter below ground will be the safest. In a house with no basement, go to the lowest floor and stay clear of windows. Crouch as low as possible in a small center room, under a stairwell or an interior hallway.

If possible, cover yourself with thick padding, like a mattress. Lying in a bath tub might offer a shell of partial protection.

Once a tornado has passed conditions can still be dangerous. If you have suffered damage or injuries, keep family members together and wait for emergency personnel. If you can safely render aid to someone who is injured, do so.

Damage from the storm can pose a serious threat threat long after the tornado has left the area. Stay clear of downed power line since they may still be hot. Watch your step, since broken glass, nails and other sharp objects could be everywhere.

Don't go into heavily damaged buildings since they could collapse at any time. Find a working radio, TV or smartphone and get instruction from local officials and news about the storm.

If you live in the Midwest or Great Plains, two areas at high risk of spring tornadoes, it's a good idea to assemble a disaster preparedness kit for the season. Federal disaster officials provide this list of things that should go in it.

There is no doubt the Apple Watch does many cool things and over time, consumers may find even more uses for it. But people who worry about distracted d...

There is no doubt the Apple Watch does many cool things and over time, consumers may find even more uses for it.

But people who worry about distracted driving now have a new concern – that drivers wearing an Apple Watch might become even more distracted, making the highways less safe.

Maybe they have a point. You might be driving in traffic and your Apple watch vibrates. If it were your cellphone, maybe you would leave it in your pocket until you could safely pull over and retrieve and respond to the message.

But the watch is on your wrist. All you have to do is glance at it. Is that a dangerous distraction? There are people trying to figure that out.

“The Apple Watch has great potential,” said Eddie Bermudez, Manager of Product Development for GPSTrackIt.com. “But we’re still trying to get a handle on cell phone use and the impact that has on distracted driving.”

GPSTrackIt.com is a firm in the fleet management industry, meaning it assists companies that operate fleets of cars and trucks. One of its roles is to make sure the vehicles are operated in a safe manner.

This industry has been focused on distracted driving since cellphones became a ubiquitous part of modern life. It has backed state laws that fine drivers for talking or texting while behind the wheel.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 14 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands all have some form of primary handheld device ban. This applies to using a smartphone for navigation as well as for communication.

“This means that law enforcement doesn’t need another reason to pull you over,” said Bermudez. “And those are just the states that ban the use of handheld devices while driving. Many other states have cell phone or texting bans, with specific criteria like for school bus drivers or novice drivers.”

So now a new device has entered the mix, one that is always close at hand and performs a multitude of functions. Users can receive text messages on the watch, which vibrates to alert them to an incoming message.

With the watch attached to the wrist, Bermudez says a user will need the other hand to manipulate the device's controls.

“Now they’re not just distracted, they’re driving one-handed,” he said. “And the watch is smaller, so it requires more attention to manipulate it.”

Bermudez admits it is very early in the Apple Watch product cycle so it is hard to know just how it will add to driver distraction, if it does at all. But he says technological advances, even when it was expected they would improve safety, haven't always worked out that way.

“Think about what happened with Google Glass,” he said. “They thought a ‘heads up display’ would be safer for drivers, but even that proved to be too distracting.”

Many fleet managers have policies that require their drivers to turn off cell phones while driving. To make sure they do, some companies have even installed lock boxes in their vehicles to prevent drivers from even handling their phones while driving.

That probably makes fleet vehicles a little safer on the road. But there are no such requirements for all the other drivers.

Photo via Wikipedia The San Francisco and New York metros have produced some of the greatest gains in personal wealth in the U.S. over the last two de...

The San Francisco and New York metros have produced some of the greatest gains in personal wealth in the U.S. over the last two decades.

The Bay Area has been the center of the technology explosion. New York is the epicenter of finance. Companies in both regions have flourished, posting huge profits and paying generous salaries.

Perhaps as a result of that, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., and New York are among the nation's most expensive housing markets.

It's tempting to conclude from all this that the Bay Area and New York are economic drivers of America. But if you were to conclude that, researchers at the University of California Berkley and University of Chicago say you would be wrong.

The researchers studied 50 years worth of economic data from 220 U.S. cities, looking for ways the cities contributed to U.S. economic growth. It found the differences between cities often came down to each locale's ability to attract workers and when jobs go unfilled, expensive housing is largely to blame.

Interestingly, a separate report prepared by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and released this week reached a similar conclusion. It found that rising home prices in many metro areas have helped homeowners become wealthy because of the equity in their houses.

But because fewer people are buying homes these days, those gains are going to fewer people and likely leading to worsening wealth inequality in the U.S.

The report found that over 90% of metro areas have experienced declining homeownership rates at a time when home values have risen and incomes have remained flat. The findings reveal wealth distribution is seen as most unequal in metro areas with the lowest homeownership rates, including high-cost areas such as Los Angeles, New York and San Diego.

The Berkley/Chicago study also traces much of the growing wealth gap to housing but underscores the link with employment. For example, the study found that labor productivity and demand for employees surged in the Bay Area and New York over nearly 5 decades.

But oddly enough, these metro areas were not even close to the top contributors to U.S. economic growth. Local economies grew just under 20% but only added 6.1% to national growth.

Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says the inability for renters to buy homes is leaving them behind financially. With today's low interest rates, a typical homeowner might have a lower monthly payment while building equity. Renters, meanwhile, face rapidly rising rents.

“Homeownership plays a pivotal role in the U.S. economy and has historically been one of the primary sources of wealth accumulation for middle class families,” Yun said. “Unfortunately, due to an under-performing labor market, insufficient housing supply and overly-stringent underwriting standards since the recession, homeownership has plunged to a rate not seen in over two decades. As a result, the country has become more unequal as the number of homeowners has fallen while the number of renters has significantly risen.”

To make housing more affordable in high-wage metros for people who can qualify for a mortgage, the Berkley/Chicago researchers suggest reducing land use regulations. Rolling back these regulations in New York, San Francisco and San Jose, they say, would increase U.S. economic growth nearly 10%.

In essence, more housing supply would allow more American workers to access the high productivity of these wealthier cities.

While that's unlikely to happen, the study suggests expanded mass transit would allow more workers to fill high-paying jobs from outlying areas.

Good news for up to a million bankrupt former debtors of Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Synchrony Financial (formerly GE Capital Retail Fi...

Good news for up to a million bankrupt former debtors of Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Synchrony Financial (formerly GE Capital Retail Finance): In response to various lawsuits, those banks have generously agreed to start obeying the actual laws regarding debts that have been discharged in bankrputcy.

The New York Timesreports that the four banks faced various lawsuits in Federal Bankruptcy Court over their handling of “zombie” debts — bills which have been legally discharged in bankruptcy proceedings, yet still appear on credit reports. Various lawsuits accused those four banks of deliberately ignoring bankruptcy rulings in order to make extra money by selling bad debt to financial firms:

The lawsuits accuse the banks of engineering what amounts to a subtle but ruthless debt collection tactic, effectively holding borrowers’ credit reports hostage, refusing to fix the mistakes unless people pay money for debts that they do not actually owe.

The banks, for their part, maintain in court documents that of course they always comply with the law, and make sure they provide credit agencies with accurate, up-to-date information. In this week's agreement with the court, however, BoA and JP Morgan agreed “to update borrowers’ credit reports within the next three months to reflect that the debts were extinguished.”

Americans love their coffee but cleaning up is sometimes messy. What do you do with all those coffee grounds? If you are tossing them in the garbage, yo...

Given how much everyone talks about it, thinks about it and worries about it, sex must be pretty important. And having a lot more sex must be a lot better ...

Given how much everyone talks about it, thinks about it and worries about it, sex must be pretty important. And having a lot more sex must be a lot better than not having so much. Right?

Not necessarily, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. They assigned some couples to have more sex than others, then observed them and a control group over three months.,

In a paper published in the,Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, they report that simply having more sex did not make couples happier, in part because the increased frequency led to a decline in desire and in the enjoyment of the act itself.

The couples instructed to increase sexual frequency did have more sex but instead of being happier, they were actually a little less happy than the control group. It's not that the increased sex wasn't enjoyable but perhaps it was,just the fact that they were asked to do it, rather than initiating on their own.

"Perhaps couples changed the story they told themselves about why they were having sex, from an activity voluntarily engaged in to one that was part of a research study. If we ran the study again, and could afford to do it, we would try to encourage subjects into initiating more sex in ways that put them in a sexy frame of mind, perhaps with baby-sitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so," said George Loewenstein, the study's lead investigator.

So, maybe having more sex would make us happier as long as we weren't doing it because someone told us to?

Yes, maybe. In fact, despite the study's results, Loewenstein said he continues to believe that most couples have too little sex for their own good, and thinks that increasing sexual frequency in the right ways can be beneficial.

Another of the researchers,,Tamar Krishnamurti, suggested that the study's findings may actually help couples to improve their sex lives and their happiness.

"The desire to have sex decreases much more quickly than the enjoyment of sex once it's been initiated. Instead of focusing on increasing sexual frequency to the levels they experienced at the beginning of a relationship, couples may want to work on creating an environment that sparks their desire and makes the sex that they do have even more fun," said Krishnamurti, a research scientist in CMU's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

The study included 128,healthy individuals between the ages of 35-65 who were in married male-female couples participated in the research. The researchers randomly assigned the couples to one of two groups. The first group received no instructions on sexual frequency. The second group was asked to double their weekly sexual intercourse frequency.

Each member of the participating couples completed three different types of surveys. At the beginning of the study, they answered questions to establish baselines. Daily during the experimental period, the participants answered questions online to measure health behaviors, happiness levels and the occurrence, type and enjoyableness of sex. The exit survey analyzed whether baseline levels changed over the three-month period.

Over the spring, Blue Bell Creameries recalled a number of ice cream products potentially contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. In late April it expande...

Over the spring, Blue Bell Creameries recalled a number of ice cream products potentially contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. In late April it expanded the recall to include all products.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that the company had evidence of the contamination long before it began recalling its products.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as many as 10 consumers were infected with the Listeria bug in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas between 2010 and 2015. There were 3 deaths in Kansas.

Blue Bell began the recalls in early March. On March 13, it reported that it had removed the affected ice cream products from the market by picking them up directly from the retailers and hospital settings the company serves. The firm also said it shut down the production line where the products were made.

As part of the investigation, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) collected environmental samples, which are swabs from surfaces likely to come in contact with food, from the hospital kitchen.

On April 3, the company said it had voluntarily suspended operations at its Broken Arrow, Okla., plant. But the FDA reports (PDF) Blue Bell uncovered at least 17 positive tests for Listeria at that plant as early as 2013, but did not take steps to improve sanitation procedures.

For it's part, the company said it is preparing a detailed response to the agency's inspection observations. However, a company spokesman confirmed to  The Wall Street Journal  that Blue Bell had discovered the presence of Listeria at a location inside its Broken Arrow plant but thought it had eliminated the problem.

“The Broken Arrow plant has been closed for cleaning and sanitizing since April 3, 2015,” the company posted on its website. “Numerous cleaning, upgrade and facility construction projects are well underway or have been completed, including floor repairs, extensive equipment disassembly and sanitizing, and a re-design of the processing and production areas to increase production and cleaning efficiency and eliminate potential contamination pathways.”

It also said the process of updating, cleaning and sanitizing the four Blue Bell production facilities, as well as training employees and implementing new programs and procedures, “will take longer than we initially anticipated.”

The FDA said the three strains of Listeria related to the illnesses reported in Kansas and four other rare strains were found in samples of Blue Bell Creameries single serving Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwich and the Great Divide Bar ice cream products collected by the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control.

The samples were found during routine product sampling at a South Carolina distribution center on February 12, 2015. These products are manufactured at Blue Bell Creameries’ Brenham facility.

The Texas Department of State Health Services later collected product samples from the Blue Bell Creameries Brenham facility. The FDA says these samples yielded Listeria monocytogenes from the same products tested by South Carolina and a third, single-serving ice cream product, Scoops, which is also made on the same production line.

According to the Kansas health officials, hospital records available for four patients show that all were served ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries’ prepackaged, single-serving products and milkshakes made from these products. The hospital receives ice cream manufactured by Blue Bell Creameries but it could not be determine which plant produced it.

After creating an anemic 85,000 (revised downward from 126,000) jobs in March, the economy got fired up and cranked out 223,000 nonfarm payroll positions i...

After creating an anemic 85,000 (revised downward from 126,000) jobs in March, the economy got fired up and cranked out 223,000 nonfarm payroll positions in April, pushing the unemployment rate down 0.1% to 5.4% -- a 7-year low.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asians rose to 4.4%, while the rates for adult men (5.0%), adult women (4.9%)+, teens (17.1%), whites (4.7%), blacks (9.6%), and Hispanics (6.9%) showed little or no change.

The number of long-term unemployed (those without jobs for 27 weeks or more) was little-changed at 2.5 million, accounting for 29.0% of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed has decreased by 888,000 over the last 12 months.

The civilian labor force participation rate (62.8%) showed little change last month. In the past year, it has remained within a narrow range of 62.7% to 62.9%. The employment-population ratio held at 59.3%, where it has been since January.

Employment increased in professional and business services (+62,000 jobs), health care (+45,000), and construction (+45,000) while employment in mining continued to decline (-15,000).

wholesale trade, retail trade, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.5 hours and average hourly earnings rose by 3 cents -- to $24.87. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.2%.

Ford Motor Company is recalling 73 model year 2015 Ford F-150s manufactured January 30, 2015, to January 31, 2015. The affected vehicles may have loose o...

Ford Motor Company is recalling 73 model year 2015 Ford F-150s manufactured January 30, 2015, to January 31, 2015.

The affected vehicles may have loose or missing underbody heat shields. A missing underbody heat shield can lead to degradation or melting of the fuel or vapor lines, increasing the risk of a fire.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicle for missing underbody heat shields and fasteners, and will install the missing components as required, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on May 11, 2015.

SP Wholesale Meats of a Portland, Ore., is recalling approximately 1,729 pounds of raw pork and chicken sausage products. The products contain wheat, an a...

SP Wholesale Meats of a Portland, Ore., is recalling approximately 1,729 pounds of raw pork and chicken sausage products.

The recalled products bear the establishment numbers “EST. P-2886” and “EST. 2886” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to restaurants in Oregon and Washington.

Franklin Corporation of Houston, Miss., is recalling about 81,000 pieces of power reclining furniture. The switch used to operate the reclining function c...

Franklin Corporation of Houston, Miss., is recalling about 81,000 pieces of power reclining furniture.

The company has received 2 reports of switches igniting and 3 reports of switches smoking on showroom samples, resulting in minor property damage to the flooring. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves power reclining furniture with rectangular power switches. The black plastic switches measure 1 3/8 inches by 3 inches and are installed either on the arm, console or side of various styles of reclining chairs, sofas and sectionals. Furniture with the rectangular power switches was sold under the name, Franklin Corporation or one of eight private labels, including Big Sandy Superstore, Cardi’s Furniture, Cimarron Lumber/Sutherland’s, The Great American Home Store, Levin Furniture, Overstock.com, Raymour & Flanigan and Slumberland Furniture.

A label on the underside of the footrest lists the retailer or private label name and the product style number and, if applicable, the basic change (BC) number.

The recalled products, manufactured in the U.S. and China, were sold at furniture stores nationwide and online from October 2013, to December 2014, for between $400 and $4,000.

Consumers should immediately unplug the recalled units and contact Franklin for a replacement operating switch.

Consumers may contact Franklin Corporation toll-free at (866) 551-2706 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Khubba Al Nahrain of Skokie, Ill., is recalling approximately 665 pounds of beef products. The products contain wheat, soy and milk, known allergens are...

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 45103M” inside the USDA mark of inspection. They were shipped to retail locations in Illinois and Michigan.

With Mother's Day coming up fast, you may be looking around for a florist to send your mom a nice bouquet or a plant she can keep, to remind her of her tho...

With Mother's Day coming up fast, you may be looking around for a florist to send your mom a nice bouquet or a plant she can keep, to remind her of her thoughtful son or daughter.

If you live in the same town as you mother, your job is easy. You can either personally shop for the gift, or you probably know which florist in town is likely to be most reliable.

If Mom lives out of town, however, it's a little trickier. You have to find a florist in her local area that can do the job.

You may be tempted to look online for a nationwide service that will take your order and then contract with a local florist to make the delivery. After all, millions of consumers do that every holiday. But before you go that route, there are a few things you might want to consider.

In past years ConsumerAffairs got plenty of reviews from irate consumers after every major holiday. We often read stories of disappointment when flowers were ordered for a special occasion and they either didn't get delivered, or the product that was delivered was not what the consumer thought he or she ordered.

With competition being what it is, most of these national flower deliver services have probably gotten better and improved their performance over the years. Still, when you are not dealing directly with the florist you are counting on to score a home run with Mom, you're taking an unnecessary chance.

Unnecessary, because it is very easy these days to find and deal directly with a florist anywhere in the country, no matter where you happen to be.

Most nationwide flower deliver services were established in the 1990s, during the early days of the Internet. At the time, many local flower shops did not have any kind of web presence. They were mostly invisible online.

There were also fewer ways for customers to post reviews, pointing out which florists were good and which not so good. That's all changed now.

Let's say Mom lives in Albuquerque, N.M. I would suggest using a search engine to search for “Albuquerque, N.M. florists.” There are dozens with websites, allowing you to get a feel for their business and what they have to offer.

When you select a few you think you like, check them out on review sites like ConsumerAffairs. See what our readers have to say about various florists here. Don't miss our collection of ugly bouquets.

After you have read the reviews and selected one that looks satisfactory, you can go ahead and place your order. However, I would recommend one more step.

When my uncle died in a small town in Tennessee last year I was unable to attend the funeral. So I used a search engine to locate what appeared to be a long-established florist in the town.

Then I picked up the phone and called them. I was able to speak with the owner, who knew my uncle and was receiving other orders for his service. I discussed with him what I wanted to send and he made recommendations.

As a result I was pleased with my choice and confident that it would be handled correctly. It was like I was a resident in that small Tennessee town and was treated like it.

That's not to say one of the large third-party flower-delivery companies won't come through for you on Mother's Day. It's just that there is a higher probability of risk they won't, when compared to dealing directly with a florist yourself.

Does it take a little more effort than placing your order with a national flower-delivery website? Sure, but come on – it's your mom!

Lumber Liquidators is pulling all Chinese-made laminate flooring and Lowe's is pulling Tecsun products because of concerns about chemical emissions. Lum...

Kudos to Keurig Green Mountain CEO Brian Kelley, who only needed 14 months to recognize the boneheadedness of a certain business decision he once made and ...

The housing market has recovered and, in some areas, is actually robust. Rising rents are prompting more people to shop for a home. However, many are fi...

The housing market has recovered and, in some areas, is actually robust. Rising rents are prompting more people to shop for a home.

However, many are finding it's not that easy. Housing and financial experts say it's best to take a methodical approach to the home buying process.

“Buying a home is the most significant financial commitment one may make in their entire lifetime,” said National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) vice president of public relations and external affairs Bruce McClary. “Being prepared and making the right choices can lead to a more satisfying purchase and a stable financial future.”

NFCC promotes financial literacy education and stresses the importance of being prepared for any major financial step – with buying a home probably the biggest of those decisions.

A major impediment to home buying is rent. We reported just this week that 11 million U.S. households spend 50% or more of their monthly income on rent. And as rents go up, so do home prices.

“Current renters seeking relief and looking to buy are facing the same dilemma: home prices are rising much faster than their incomes,” said Lawrence Yun, the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) chief economist. “With rents taking up a larger chunk of household incomes, it’s difficult for first-time buyers – especially in high-cost areas – to save for an adequate down payment.”

Difficult maybe, but not impossible. So here are 8 steps to follow if you'd like to transition from being a renter to a home owner.

Before you spend hours looking at real estate websites, conduct a complete review of how your household budget is managed. Compare income and expenses, list debt and track savings. That will tell you how ready you are to start the process.

This is vital information because it's what a lender will look at first to judge your creditworthiness. You can get your credit report free, once a year, from www.annualcreditreport.com.

You'll have to pay a small fee to obtain your credit score. There are financing options for credit scores below 700 but you'll get the most attractive terms with a score of 760 or above.

Conduct this review early in the process. If there are problem areas in report, including inaccurate information, it will give you time to address it. Remember, the fastest way to raise your credit score is to pay your bills on time.

There are financing options requiring as little as 3% down. However, the more you can put down on a home purchase, the more equity you will have and the lower your payment will be.

Another thing to remember – down payments of less than 20% will require you to pay a mortgage insurance premium each month, adding to your payment. Down payments of 20% or more typically don't carry that requirement.

You can talk to your local bank or credit union, an online lender or a mortgage broker. Any can make a loan and all will have about the same underwriting standards.

But some might be easier to work with than others. If you have an existing relationship with a bank or credit union, that's a good place to start.

You'll have a choice between a fixed or adjustable rate loan. An adjustable rate might start at a lower rate than a fixed rate loan but could go up over time. However, over the last 6 years adjustable rates might have gone down. But you can't count on the present low interest rate environment continuing.

You might also qualify for a government-backed FHA loan, which usually carries a lower interest rate, allows you to qualify with a lower credit score, and allows for a higher income to debt ratio. In other words, it might be easier to qualify.

Give a mortgage lender some basic financial income about your household. With this data the firm will issue a letter specifying the amount of a loan it believes you can receive.

The letter is in no way binding but many Realtors will be reluctant to show you any houses until you can provide a pre-qualification letter.

This is a step above getting pre-qualified and might carry some weight if the house you want has received more than one offer.

You'll need to provide a lot more information to the lender and there will likely be some cost involved. But once your offer is accepted by a buyer, you will be farther along in the process.

If you think interest rates could rise before you close on the loan, take advantage of provisions that allow you to lock in the rate for a specified period of time.

Buying a home is much more of a complex process than it once was. Being prepared before you start should make it go more smoothly.

If you need to interact with companies, organizations and even government, increasingly you are encouraged – and in some cases required – to do it online. ...

Americans' turn towards organic and "natural" foods is sort of an endorsement of the Whole Foods approach to shopping, but i...

Americans' turn towards organic and "natural" foods is sort of an endorsement of the Whole Foods approach to shopping, but it's also creating a lot of new competition for the venerable chain.

So, Whole Foods will launch a new format next year that will retain its high quality standards but offer value pricing and a curated selection “unlike anything that currently exists in the marketplace,” according to Walter Robb, co-CEO.

"You can’t envision it yet because it hasn’t been created yet. We’re creating it, and it will be new and different and unlike any other stores you’re seeing out there,” said co-CEO John Mackey.

Beyond that, neither Robb nor Mackey is saying much about the new brand, although the Wall Street Journal quotes Mackey as saying it will be "hip, cool and tech-oriented."

Supermarket News reported that, at a recent analysts conference, Mackey said the biggest rationale for the new format is the fact “the [natural and organic] market continues to grow and explode, and we think by creating a second growth vehicle, we can broaden the accessibility to fresh healthy foods and continue to be leaders.”

OK, so we're talking lots of smaller stores in new neighborhoods? Maybe. Robb said the company is trying to "create a complementary brand that can go places the Whole Foods Market brand cannot effectively go.”

Whole Foods presently has 417 stores in the U.S. It has said for years that its longterm goal was to grow to 2,000.

Convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, may not come to mind right away when you think of healthy eating. There's plenty of products on the stores' shelves that...

Convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, may not come to mind right away when you think of healthy eating. There's plenty of products on the stores' shelves that are packed with sugar, sodium and preservatives with unpronounceable names.

But in most 7-Elevens these days you'll also find ripe bananas right on the check-out counter, along with all the other impulse buys.

WaWa, an East Coast convenience store chain, not only has fresh fruit and yogurt in prominent displays but goes out of its way to promote nutrition.

Even the New Jersey Turnpike's snack shops are displaying fresh fruit, yogurt and packs of snack-sized vegetables.     

A new Cornell study suggests these measures might actually help American consumers eat a healthier diet. They found, for example, that keeping fruit in a bowl on a table or kitchen counter made it more likely to be eaten than if it were shoved in the bottom of the refrigerator.

The Cornell analysis of more than 100 studies that examined healthy eating patterns found that most people who consumed a healthy diet did so, in part, because a restaurant, grocery store, school cafeteria, or spouse made foods like fruits and vegetables visible and easy to reach, attractively displayed, appearing to be a normal choice.

"A healthy diet can be as easy as making the healthiest choice the most convenient, attractive, and normal," said Brian Wansink, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of the report.

It's the reverse of “out of sight, out of mind.” When healthy food is kept in a consumer's line-of-sight, it seems more appealing.

The study found restaurants play a big role as well. When restaurants give the shrimp salad appetizer a fancy name, give it prominent space on the menu, and have the wait staff point it out as a special, it gets ordered more than the deep-fried onion rings on the back of the menu.

The consumer wins because it's healthier. The restaurant wins because the profit margin on shrimp salad is significantly higher than on onion rings.

Convenience appears to be a key factor. When a school district wanted to encourage children to drink more white milk than chocolate milk, it simply placed the white milk cooler in front of the one for chocolate in school cafeterias. It resulted in an increase in white milk consumption by as much as 60%.

"With these 3 principles, there are endless changes that can be made to lead people -- including ourselves -- to eat healthier," said Wansink.

In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, University of Missouri (UM) Heather Leidy thinks consumers should be eating more protein than they are. Protein, she says, can support weight loss and prevent weight gain by boosting metabolism, increasing feelings of fullness and helping the body retain muscle while losing fat.

Leidy says not all proteins are created equal, however. She recommends protein found in animal-based foods such as beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. Vegetables and grains can contain protein as well, but she says they are considered lower quality, or "incomplete," proteins because they lack one or more essential amino acids and are less digestible.

"Most people eat enough protein in the evening," Leidy said. "Take whatever source of protein you ate for dinner - whether that's a steak or a pork chop - and eat it for breakfast along with Greek yogurt or include it in a pre-made breakfast casserole with eggs, which can easily get you to 30 grams of protein in the morning."  

Chevrolet has made changes to the structure and airbags of its 2015 Sonic, lifting the small car's rating for small overlap front crash protection from mar...

Chevrolet has made changes to the structure and airbags of its 2015 Sonic, lifting the small car's rating for small overlap front crash protection from marginal to good.

That was enough for the vehicle to qualify for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK award.

The new rating applies to both sedan and hatchback versions of the Sonic built after February 2015. The modifications were made to the front-end structure, door sill and door hinge pillar. In addition, the side curtain airbags were lengthened and reprogrammed to deploy earlier in small overlap crashes.

In the latest test, the driver space was maintained reasonably well, with maximum intrusion of 4 inches at the footrest and adjacent footwell. That's less than the 6 inches of intrusion in the lower interior that occurred in the earlier test.

The lower intrusion likely contributed to better injury indicators. Measures taken from the dummy in the earlier test showed that leg injuries would be possible. The new test indicated significant injuries would be unlikely in a crash of this severity.

The dummy's movement in the latest test was well-controlled. The head hit the front airbag and stayed there until rebound. The side curtain airbag deployed and had enough forward coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects.

In contrast, the curtain airbag in the earlier test deployed too late, and the dummy's head ended up between the airbag and the side structure.

The Sonic also has good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK, a vehicle must have good ratings in those four tests and a good or acceptable small overlap rating.

The Sonic is available with an optional forward collision warning system that earns a basic rating from IIHS for front crash prevention.

Fewer homeowners are finding themselves in trouble with their mortgages. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) National Delinquency Survey...

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) National Delinquency Survey, the delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.54% of all loans outstanding at the end of the first quarter of 2015 -- the lowest level since the second quarter of 2007.

In addition, the delinquency rate dropped 14 basis points from the previous quarter, and 57 basis points from a year ago.

The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least 1 payment past due but does not include loans in the process of foreclosure. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the first quarter was 2.22%, down five basis points from the fourth quarter of 2014 and 43 basis points lower than the same quarter one year ago. That's the lowest foreclosure inventory rate since the fourth quarter of 2007.

The percentage of loans on which foreclosure actions were started during the first quarter was 0.45%, a dip of 1 basis point from the previous quarter, and unchanged from the first quarter of 2014.

The serious delinquency rate, the percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or in the process of foreclosure, was 4.24%, down 28 basis points from the previous quarter, and 80 basis points from the first quarter of 2014.

"Delinquency rates and the percentage of loans in foreclosure continued to fall in the first quarter and are now at their lowest levels since 2007," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of industry surveys and forecasting. "The job market continues to grow, and this is the most important fundamental improving mortgage performance. Additionally, home prices continued to rise, as did the pace of sales, thus increasing equity levels and enabling struggling borrowers to sell if needed."

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the overall delinquency rate fell 14 basis points to 5.54%. For prime loans, the delinquency rate was down 7 basis points to 3.18% and for subprime loans the rate plunged 90 basis points to 17.60%. The FHA delinquency rate fell by 63 basis points to 9.10%. VA loans saw the only increase across loans types -- 4 basis points to 5.02% in the first quarter.

Overall foreclosure starts were down 1 basis point to 0.45%. Prime loan foreclosure starts had an increase of 1 basis point to 0.28%, while the foreclosure starts rate for subprime loans fell 34 basis points to 1.39%. For FHA loans, the foreclosure starts rate rose 9 basis points to 0.70%, while the foreclosure starts rate for VA loans inched up 1 basis point to 0.37%.

The delinquency rate for all loans -- excluding loans in foreclosure -- dropped 55 basis points from the same quarter a year ago. Prime loans had a 33 basis point decline, while the rate for subprime loans plummeted 214 basis points. The delinquency rates for FHA and VA loans were down 65 basis points and 35 basis points, respectively, over the year.

Compared with the first quarter of 2014, the foreclosure inventory rate for prime loans decreased 37 basis points and the rate for subprime loans fell 110 basis points, while the foreclosure inventory rate decreased 36 basis points for FHA loans, and 27 basis points for VA loans.

Over the past year, the foreclosure starts rate slipped 1 basis point for prime loans and rose 6 basis points for subprime loans. The foreclosure starts rate was up 6 basis points for FHA loans, and down 2 basis points for VA loans compared with the same quarter one a year ago.   

Falling oil prices contributed to a 68 percent surge in job cuts last month, as U.S.-based employers announced they were cutting 61,582 jobs in April -- ...

U.S.-based employers announced they were cutting 61,582 jobs in April -- the highest monthly total since May 2012 (61,887) and the highest April total since 2009 (132,590).

Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks the numbers reports the April total was 53% higher than the same month last year, when 40,298 people were sacked.

So far this year, employers have announced 201,796 planned terminations, marking a 25% increase from the 161,639 firings tracked in the first 4 months of 2014. It's the largest 4-month total since 2010.

The dramatic decline in oil prices is leading producers and suppliers to cut production. Of the 61,582 jobs cut announced last month, 20,675 or 34% were directly attributed to oil prices.

For the year, oil prices are blamed for 68,285 job cuts, or about 34% of the 201,796 planned workforce reductions announced between January 1 and April 30.

“Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and Halliburton have all announced multiple rounds of job cuts in recent months, including April,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The largest job cut of the month came from Schlumberger, which announced that it will shed 11,000 workers, in addition to the 9,000 laid off in January.”

“The jobs that are most vulnerable are those in the field -- engineers, oil rig operators, drill operators, refinery operators, etc., “ Challenger noted, adding, “Managers and executives in the corporate offices are more secure, but the drop in oil prices is leading to increased merger activity, which could put more executives at risk of job loss”

Most of the oil-related reductions have occurred in the energy sector, which is the top job-cutting industry to date, with 57,556 planned cuts. That is more than double the second-ranked retail sector, which has announced 26,096 job cuts this year.

The pace of retail sector job cuts is slightly higher than a year ago, when these employers announced 25,224 job cuts through the first 4 months.

“We could be witnessing the after-effect of the severe and protracted recession,” said Challenger. “Much like the generation that lived through the Great Depression, those who scraped by during the recession are being extra careful with their money. Another factor is that not everyone’s boat is rising with the tide. Many Americans are still struggling to find work and those that do are not earning as much they once did.”

While low oil prices should be helping retailers, Challenger said the extra money in consumers’ wallets do not appear to be making it into the nation’s cash registers. “Retail sales have been lackluster, at best,” he points out. “Furthermore, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble announced in April that it would reduce its headcount by as many as 6,000 workers over the next two years, following a poor earnings report.”

After falling last week to their lowest level in 15 years, first time applications for state unemployment benefits are headed higher again.

The Labor Department (DOL) reports initial jobless claims rose by 3,000 in the week ending May 2, to a seasonally adjusted 265,000. The government says there were no special factors affecting this week's tally.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, came in at 279,500, down 4,250 from the previous week. It's the lowest level since May 6, 2000.

With rising obesity, America faces an increased number of type 2 diabetes cases. With an aging Baby Boom generation, the country is bracing for an increase...

With rising obesity, America faces an increased number of type 2 diabetes cases. With an aging Baby Boom generation, the country is bracing for an increase in Alzheimer's disease.

Previous studies have hinted at such a link. But researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say they have nailed down the connection.

Their study, using mice, found that elevated glucose in the blood – a primary consequence of diabetes -- can rapidly increase levels of amyloid beta, which shows up in brain plaques in Alzheimer’s patients. The buildup of these plaques is believed to be what brings on the memory loss that Alzheimer’s causes in the brain.

“Our results suggest that diabetes, or other conditions that make it hard to control blood sugar levels, can have harmful effects on brain function and exacerbate neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Shannon Macauley, a postdoctoral research scholar. “The link we’ve discovered could lead us to future treatment targets that reduce these effects.”

There are two types of diabetes, type 1 mostly hereditary and the other, type 2, usually brought on by lifestyle factors, such as being overweight or obese. In both types the patient is unable to control glucose, or sugar levels in their blood.

Diabetes patients usually take insulin or other medication to keep their blood sugar where it is supposed to be.

So what does blood sugar have to do with Alzheimer's? To explore the linkage the researchers fed glucose to mice with an Alzheimer's-like condition.

If the mice did not have the amyloid plaques in the brains, doubling their blood glucose levels increased amyloid beta levels in the brain by 20%. When the scientists repeated the experiment in older mice that already had developed brain plaques, amyloid beta levels rose by 40%.

“This observation opens up a new avenue of exploration for how Alzheimer’s disease develops in the brain as well as offers a new therapeutic target for the treatment of this devastating neurologic disorder,” Macauley said.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health say they have found another link between diabetes and diminished memory function. They studied the brains of people with type 1 diabetes and found these brains aged faster, correlating with slower information processing.

Among the middle-aged test subjects who underwent an MRI, 33% of those with type 1 diabetes showed signs of damage to the brain's white matter. Only 7% of subjects who were not diabetic showed similar damage.

The researchers suggest middle-aged patients with type 1 diabetes should be screened for cognitive difficulties. If cognitive issues are progressive, they say these changes could influence a patients ability to manage his or her diabetes.  

If you're looking for a single recent anecdote illustrating almost everything dysfunctional about the modern American system of funding higher education, t...

If you're looking for a single recent anecdote illustrating almost everything dysfunctional about the modern American system of funding higher education, try this one: On Monday, one week after the long-embattled chain of for-profit schools abruptly closed all of its remaining campuses, Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy.

However, Corinthian's former students lack the same opportunity to wipe out their bad debts and start over again at Net Worth Zero (plus an abysmal credit rating), because student-loan debt, for the most part, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

What led to Corinthian's downfall? Like most for-profit schools, it was almost entirely dependent on federally backed student aid (especially those bankruptcy-proof loans) to function. The beginning of the end for Corinthian arguably came last June, when the feds temporarily halted all financial aid to Corinthian schools.

Federal agencies ranging from the Department of Education (DoE) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in addition to the attorneys general of several different states, have alleged that Corinthian-owned schools defrauded their students in multiple ways: inflating or lying about post-graduation job-placement rates, teaching courses whose credits were not accepted by reputable universities or state professional-licensing boards, even engaging in what the CFPB called “predatory lending scheme[s]” bad enough that in February, the DoE and CFPB announced $480 million in debt relief for certain Corinthian students.

Affected students could see their debt burdens reduced by up to 40% — which is another way of saying affected students are still on the hook for at least 60% of those “predatory” loans.

Meanwhile, a group of former Corinthian students went on “Debt Strike,” refusing to repay the federally backed loans they took out to pay for their Corinthian school attendance. The “Corinthian 15” (so called because they started out with 15 members) started their strike in February, by posting an open letter to the DoE saying, in part, that:

We wanted an education because we were driven to learn and to achieve a better life for ourselves and for our families.

We trusted that education would lead to a better life. And we trusted you to ensure that the education system in this country would do so. But Corinthian took advantage of our dreams and targeted us to make a profit. You let it happen, and now you cash in. … Corinthian’s predatory empire pushed hundreds of thousands into a debt trap. But even beyond for-profit schools, tens of millions of students are in more debt than they can ever repay. And you are the debt collector, with powers beyond a payday lender’s wildest dreams. …

“More debt than they can ever repay.” That's exactly the sort of person bankruptcy is supposed to help. So, of all possible subgroupings of Americans to be denied that second chance, why single out the indebted students, most of whom took on that debt when they were still teens or young twentysomethings?

As of March, the total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. surpassed $1.2 trillion. And of the former students who started repaying their federal student loans in 2011, 650,000 had defaulted by 2013. Average default rates were 19.1% for students at for-profit schools, and 7.2% at non-profit colleges.

College tuition rates have risen faster than inflation every year for at least a generation now. And the people – mostly young people – behind these depressing numbers can't even seek the protection of bankruptcy.

It wasn't always like that. Originally, student loan debt was pretty much like any other, where bankruptcy was concerned. But in 1976, Congress changed the bankruptcy code to bar the discharge of student loan debt within five years of graduation. In the 1990s, that limit was raised to seven years. Then, as Inside Higher Ed said, “the 2005 code revision made it all but impossible to have student loan debt canceled.”

I've heard arguments saying that's only fair, on the grounds “Bankruptcy shouldn't apply to college debt, because a college education can't be repossessed.” Yet that's true of many kinds of debt: you can't repossess medical procedures, vacations, restaurant dinners, gambling debts, property value lost when the housing bubble collapsed – but if you go over your head in debt to acquire such things, you can declare bankruptcy and get a financial second chance. Over-their-head former students cannot.

Reminder to legal adults who are still under 21 years old: the federal government doesn't think you're responsible enough to buy or drink a beer — yet you can sign on for enormous amounts of bankruptcy-proof college debt with that same government's blessing and active encouragement.

American Uber users beware: Customers from all over the country are complaining that their Uber accounts were charged for trips they never took – in many i...

File photo When the U.S. government reported domestic airlines' financial data this week, two numbers leaped off the page. The first was the revenu...

When the U.S. government reported domestic airlines' financial data this week, two numbers leaped off the page.

The first was the revenue collected from customers in 2014 baggage fees: $3.5 billion. The second was the amount airlines charged customers for making changes to their reservations. That was good for another $3 billion.

As an industry, the airlines in 2014 collected $127.4 billion in ticket sales, so baggage and schedule change fees added another 5% on top of fares, helping the airlines achieve a collective operating profit of $14.6 billion. That's up from about $8 billion in 2010.

There were other fees, of course, but they are not tracked by the Transportation Department. Baggage fees and reservation change fees are the only ancillary fees paid by passengers that are reported to the government as separate items.

Other fees, such as revenue from seating assignments and on-board sales of food, beverages, pillows, blankets, and entertainment are combined in different categories and cannot be identified separately.

When you isolate individual airlines, you see how important fees are to some carriers. Spirit, famous for the number of its fees, got only 63% of its profit from fares – the rest, presumably, in fees.

The airlines getting most of their profit from fares, and not from fees, were SkyWest at 96%, Southwest, at 95%, and JetBlue, at 92%.

Airlines began to add baggage fees in 2008, at the time justified by the soaring price of fuel. And it helped. Almost immediately after adding fees, airlines on the verge of bankruptcy began to show profitability again.

Now that fuel prices have declined, there has been no move to remove or modify fees. They are likely here to stay. But not just because fuel prices could go back up.

Charging fees allows an airline to keep its advertised fares low. Fares, after all, is how consumers usually choose a flight. Websites like Kayak.com make it easy for consumers to compare fares on dozens of flights with the click of a mouse. The difference of just $2 in a fare might sway a consumer to choose one airline over another.

When an airline knows that it can count on a certain amount of revenue per flight on fees, it feels more comfortable offering a lower fare than if it were counting solely on ticket revenue.

The problem for consumers, then, is selecting a flight based just on the fare. Without taking fees into account, you could select the more expensive flight, even though it had the lower fare.

A year ago the Transportation Department proposed new rules for the industry that would, among other things, provide more transparency by requiring airlines to post baggage fees, along with fares. The department has collected comments and the rule is awaiting final action.

Most of the early versions of self-driving cars have looked like Google's prototype -- small, kind of cute and probably not dangerous to anyone except mayb...

Most of the early versions of self-driving cars have looked like Google's prototype -- small, kind of cute and probably not dangerous to anyone except maybe their occupants.

But how about a self-driving semi? Freightliner introduced its Inspiration Truck last night in a ceremony at Hoover Dam, which just happens to be in Nevada, the first state to license autonomous trucks.

"Putting the Freightliner Inspiration Truck on the road is an historic day for Daimler Trucks and the North American trucking industry," said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard of Daimler AG Daimler Trucks & Buses, Freightliner's parent company. 

As Daimler officials tell it, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck can reduce accidents, improve fuel consumption, cut highway congestion and safeguard the environment.

Earlier yesterday, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval formally granted the license to operate the vehicle in the state, affixing a license plate to the truck and taking part in the ceremonial first drive of the truck in autonomous mode.

Freightliner says the truck rumbles along with the help of Highway Pilot, a system that links together a sophisticated set of camera technology and radar systems with lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering and other monitoring systems.

The Freightliner Inspiration Truck operates on highways at what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as Level 3 of autonomous vehicle capabilities, enabling the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions.

The autonomous vehicle system is responsible for maintaining legal speed, staying in the selected lane, keeping a safe braking distance from other vehicles, and slowing or stopping the vehicle based on traffic and road conditions. The vehicle monitors changes in conditions that require transition back to driver control when necessary in highway settings. The driver is in control of the vehicle for exiting the highway, on local roads and in docking for making deliveries, the company said.

The economy continued to create jobs in April, but the pace continued to slow. According to the April ADP National Employment Report, private sector emplo...

According to the April ADP National Employment Report, private sector employment increased by 169,000 jobs from March to April. The economy cranked out 189,000 jobs from February to march, making April the second consecutive month that job creation has fallen below 200,000.

"Fallout from the collapse of oil prices and the surging value of the dollar are weighing on job creation. Employment in the energy sector and manufacturing is declining, “said Moody's Analytics Chief Economist of Mark Zandi. “However, this should prove temporary and job growth will re-accelerate this summer."

Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 94,000 jobs in April, after rising by 105,000 in March. Companies with 50-499 employees added 70,000 jobs, 6,000 more than the previous month.

Employment gains at large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- fell slightly from March, adding 5,000 jobs in April, versus 6,000, while companies with 500-999 employees added no jobs; they added just 2,000 the month before. Companies with over 1,000 employees added 5,000 jobs, a small improvement from March's 4,000.

Employment in goods-producing firms was down 1,000 in April, after a gain of 3,000 jobs in March. Within that sector, the construction industry added 23,000 jobs, while, manufacturing lost 10,000 jobs.

Service-providing employment rose by 170,000 jobs in April, 2,000 fewer than in March. Professional/business services contributed 34,000 jobs in April, 6,000 more than in March. Expansion in trade/transportation/utilities totaled 44,000, compared with 41,000 in March. The 7,000 new jobs Financial activities added 7,000 workers.

"April job gains came in under 200,000 for the second straight month," said Carlos Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. "Companies with 500 or more employees had the slowest growth."

The report, which is derived from ADP's actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

It's taking its time, but the recovery in the housing sector continues. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American Leading Markets In...

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American Leading Markets Index (LMI) shows markets in 68 of the approximately 360 metro areas nationwide returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity in the first quarter of 2015. This represents a year-over-year net gain of 7 markets.

The index’s nationwide score edged up to .91, meaning that based on current permit, price and employment data, the nationwide average is running at 91% of normal economic and housing activity. Meanwhile, 68% of markets have shown an improvement year-over-year.

“The markets are continuing to make gains,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo. “A strengthening economy and low interest rates should spur the release of pent-up demand and keep housing moving forward this year.”

Baton Rouge, La., continues to top the list of major metros on the LMI, with a score of 1.43 – or 43% better than its last normal market level. Other major metros leading the pack include Austin, Texas; Honolulu; Houston; and Oklahoma City. Rounding out the top 10 are San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; Salt Lake City; Charleston, S.C.; and Nashville, Tenn.

“The strongest gain is employment, where the number of metros that reached or surpassed their norms nearly doubled in a year,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Despite a minor uptick in single-family permits, only 7% of the markets are at or above their normal permit activity.”

Looking at smaller metros, both Midland and Odessa, Texas, have LMI scores of 2.0 or better, meaning their markets are now at double their strength prior to the recession. Also leading the list of smaller metros are Manhattan, Kan.; Grand Forks, N.D; and Casper, Wyo., respectively.

Think about this. If you have a desktop or laptop computer, the machine is most likely equipped with a fan that...

Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy earlier this week, shortly after the long-embattled chain of for-profit schools abruptly closed all of its remaini...

Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy earlier this week, shortly after the long-embattled chain of for-profit schools abruptly closed all of its remaining campuses.

Like most for-profit colleges, Corinthian was largely dependent on federal student aid – primarily bankruptcy-proof education loans issued to students. Last June, the feds temporarily suspended funding for Corinthian-owned schools, after the Department of Education argued, among other things, that credits from Corinthian schools often proved useless to students, since those credits were not accepted by regionally accredited state schools, nor by various professional licensing boards.

These and similar problems explain why last October, the attorneys general of 14 different states announced their support for a proposed Congressional measure to increase regulations on the for-profit education industry. (Remember, too, that student loan debt is much worse than other forms, because it can't even be discharged in bankruptcy.)

More recently, the Obama administration tried setting new standards on for-profit schools, standards slated to come into effect this July.

Unsurprisingly, for-profit schools are generally opposed to the newer, stricter regulations. But they have a surprising ally. ProPublica's Alec MacGillis yesterday published the results of an in-depth investigation showing that traditional colleges and universities are also working against the new regulations.

For years, the higher education establishment has viewed the for-profit education business as both a rival and an unsavory relation — the cousin with the rap sheet who seeks a cut of the family inheritance. Yet in a striking but little-noticed shift, nearly all of the college establishment’s representatives in Washington are siding with for-profit colleges in opposing the government’s crackdown. … The emerging alliance points to a new calculation by the higher education lobby. By throwing in with the for-profits, traditional schools might be able to capitalize on Republican control of Congress to limit the government’s reach into their own campuses. Among other things, colleges and universities would like to block the proposed new federal ratings system designed to help families choose institutions based on how of their many students graduate and where they get jobs.

Corinthian and other for-profit schools have long been accused of inflated or outright fraudulent job-placement rates. For example: in mid-April, only a couple weeks before Corinthian's bankruptcy declaration this week, the Department of Education levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian, alleging among other things that Corinthian-owned Heald Colleges paid companies to hire graduates for temporary positions lasting as little as two days, performing such basic tasks as moving computers and organizing cables, then counted those graduates as “placed in field.”

Heald also counted obvious out-of-field jobs as in-field placements, including one graduate of an accounting program whose food-service job at Taco Bell was counted as “in-field” work.

But why would reputable, accredited traditional universities oppose regulations intended to crack down on such fraudulent behaviors? As ProPublica said:

the higher education lobby represents an industry as self-interested as any other—the two largest of the its many trade groups reported spending $500,000 on federal lobbying last year—and it spies an opportunity in the deregulatory instincts of the Republican majority.

The gambit underscores one of the under-appreciated truths about lobbying in Washington in an era of divided government: Special interests are often as interested in preserving a favorable status quo as they are in getting government to take an action to their benefit. To that end, gridlock can be a feature to be encouraged, not a bug.

At stake in this case is the roughly $150 billion that the federal government shovels annually into colleges and universities in the form of Pell grants and subsidized loans for students. Current and former higher education regulators say the federal government is obliged to assure that taxpayers are getting results for that spending.

Are taxpayers getting their money's worth? Higher education costs – at traditional universities, not even counting the for-profit schools – have risen considerably faster than inflation every year for at least a generation now.

(Personal anecdote: I attended Cheap State U at in-state rates for four consecutive years in the 1990s, and my senior year tuition costs were significantly higher than freshman year's. Adjusted for inflation, I paid $1,760 per semester as a full-time freshman, compared to $2,661 per semester as a senior. For Fall 2015, the in-state tuition cost will be just under $6,270 per semester. Of course, those cited tuition costs do not include the cost of textbooks, housing, food, parking fees, lab fees, student fees, or any other costs related to college.)

So a high school senior today who enrolls at Cheap State U will pay, in inflation-adjusted dollars, at least three times more money than I did for the same degree. Which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the job market had similarly expanded, so that today's newly minted college grads can reasonably expect salaries two or three times higher than what I made at the same entry-level gigs.

But that hasn't happened. Wages have been stagnating or even falling, even as the cost of educational credentials continues to rise. Students – and, ultimately, federal taxpayers – are spending more money on education than ever. Are they [we] getting results for all that spending?

Despite a slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter of 2015, members of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) and other industry ec...

Despite a slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter of 2015, members of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) and other industry economists have bullish expectations for the year.

In the April NABE Business Conditions Survey, 77 NABE members and selected industry economists were polled on business conditions in their firms or industries. The results reflect first-quarter results and the near-term outlook.

The survey results indicate “a marked deceleration in growth across the board in the first quarter,” said Survey Chairman Jim Diffley. “However, the panel did not pull back on bullish expectations for the upcoming quarter.”

NABE President John Silvia notes that over the past three months, the prices of crude oil and the dollar have not had a material impact on the outlook for the majority of respondents’ firms,” buts adds, “Due to unusually harsh weather and dock strikes on the West Coast, growth in the first quarter appears to be an outlier within the broader economic outlook.”

Applications doe mortgages posted their second consecutive decline last week. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applicati...

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications fell 4.6% in the week ending May 1.

The Refinance Index plunged 8% from the previous week to the lowest level since January 2015, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2% -- to 53% of total applications

“Refinance volume dropped last week as rates in the U.S. increased sharply towards the end of the week, with signs of recovery in Europe lifting rates across the globe,” said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “Purchase activity increased slightly over the week, and the average loan amount for a purchase application reached a record high, a sign that the mix of purchase activity is still skewed toward higher priced homes.”

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 6.1% of total applications. The average loan size for purchase applications rose to a survey high of $297,400.

The FHA share of total applications increased to 14.0% from 13.7% the week prior. The VA share of total applications was 11.9%, and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.8%.

Silicon Valley was shocked last weekend at the sudden death of SurveyMonkey.com CEO Dave Goldberg, husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. But the circums...

The city of Los Angeles has filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank, alleging that the bank's policies and high-pressure sales quotas encouraged employees to e...

The city of Los Angeles has filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank, alleging that the bank's policies and high-pressure sales quotas encouraged employees to engage in “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent conduct” against customers.

L.A. Prosecutor Mike Feuer filed the suit in state court on Monday, alleging that, among other things, employees would misuse customers' confidential information, open accounts in customers' names without authorization, often failed to close those accounts when the customers demanded it, and sometimes even took money out of authorized client accounts to pay for those unauthorized fees.

“The result is that Wells Fargo has generated a virtual fee-generating machine, through which its customers are harmed, its employees take the blame, and Wells Fargo reaps the profit,” the lawsuit says.

Furthermore, “On the rare occasions when Wells Fargo did take action against its employees for unethical sales conduct, Wells Fargo further victimized its customers by failing to inform them of the breaches, refund fees they were owed, or otherwise remedy the injuries that Wells Fargo and its bankers have caused.”

The lawsuit also claims that Wells Fargo bankers engaged in a practice known as “gaming” -- opening unauthorized accounts in customers' names, making unauthorized withdrawals from customers' authorized accounts to pay the fees on the unauthorized ones, and reporting customers to collections and/or posting “derogatory information” in the customers' credit reports.

Wells Fargo responded with a statement saying it would fight those allegations in court, and that “Wells Fargo's culture is focused on the best interests of its customers and creating a supportive, caring and ethical environment for our team members. This includes training, audits and processes that work together to support our Vision & Values and our commitment to customers receiving only the products and services they need and will benefit from.”

Yet many consumers — from all over the country, not just California — have written reviews that sound remarkably similar to some of the allegations mentioned in Feuer's lawsuit. Consider this sampling of complaints we got about Wells Fargo, just during the month of April 2015. Dan from Bozeman, Montana wrote us on April 1 to say:

Over the past several years, I have become more and more frustrated with Wells Fargo as a whole. I have kept my personal and business bank accounts with Wells Fargo and just about every month they find a way to charge some kind of fee for some random reason. Their accounts are set up with such complex sets of terms and conditions that you cannot possibly keep track of all of them. If you don't watch your accounts daily - you can be assured they will be siphoning money. The bankers will always assure you that your accounts are free.. just know that they are not.

Tawnya from Alexandria, Alabama went into more detail about those fees. She visited her local Wells Fargo branch seeking “ANOTHER temporary check card since the company failed to send me the new card, although I did receive an email [assuring me] it was sent out.” While she spoke to one employee about her check-card problems, another one overheard her mention that she had an at-home business, and encouraged her to open a business savings account.

He quickly went over the benefits and had me transfer $150 from my checking on that day, explaining to me $150 must be deposited into the business savings monthly. He did not specify it had to be an automatic transfer set up for a specific date.... [the following month] I made a deposit of $150 in the Lenlock, AL branch and no worries, until I see they took out a $14 service charge from my business checking and $6 from my business savings. As I looked further, there was another $6 charge to my business savings in Feb. … Not only was I charged a $5 service fee for years to have a checking account after the Wachovia/Wells Fargo takeover, but now I am getting service fees for trying to build a business when I was mislead in the beginning by the representative ….

John from Chicago said that “Wells Fargo small business account reps gave me a personal credit card I did not ask for and charged me fees for that.”

.... [O]ur finances hit the toilet when my husband switched jobs and began working for Wells. The amount of stress and pressure that he had to endure to sell and open accounts was too much for him. ... My husband has since left but reiterates that it is the worst to its customers and employees alike!

A Senate committee has raised “significant questions” about DISH Network's conduct during a recent auction for licenses to spectrum airwaves.Senate Com...

A Senate committee has raised “significant questions” about DISH Network's conduct during a recent auction for licenses to spectrum airwaves.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has requested documents from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), DISH Network and 2 affiliate companies regarding the FCC's recent Auction 97 for Advanced Wireless Services, concluded early this year.

The FCC from time to time holds auctions where it sells unused airwaves to the private sector. This spectrum space can be used for all sorts of consumer services, ranging from mobile phones, satellite service, terrestrial radio and television broadcasts. The more licenses a company has the more services it can offer.

At issue is whether Dish Network strictly followed auction rules when it engaged in the bidding, along with two of its affiliated companies, which ultimately secured the airwaves for $3 billion.

“While the FCC is reportedly already looking at whether DISH broke auction rules, an examination of how these affiliated companies approached the auction is the only way for Congress to determine whether this $3 billion price discount was appropriate or a result of wrongful conduct, flawed agency rules, or laws Congress must update,” Thune wrote in a letter to all parties involved.

To make sure the bidding is fair there are rules in place to guard against the formation of bidding rings and other collusive practices. All bidders can see the number of competitors they face and their competitors’ bid amounts.

However, the identity of the other bidders is not revealed. While the rules allow affiliated companies to share and coordinate some information, the FCC warns that companies are not exempted from anti-trust laws designed to prevent collusive bidding practices.

Thune says that when you look at the data from the auction, an interesting pattern appears. He says DISH appeared to bid aggressively in the early rounds of the auction on hundreds of licenses.

But in every case, he says the company stopped bidding when Northstar or SNR were the only other bidders. When all was said and done, DISH didn't win a single license while its affiliates Northstar and SNR collectively won 702 licenses – which they could buy at a 25% discount.

“The Committee has significant questions about whether conduct surrounding the bidding strategies employed by DISH Network and two affiliates adhered to both the letter and intent of the law, since it may ultimately cost $3 billion in public funds,” Thune said.

Thune has asked for responses from all parties by May 15. Meanwhile, PC Magazine reports some other bidders, notably AT&T and Verizon, were “irked” by what they observed during the bidding and may have complained.

It's generally accepted among consumers that you will get more money for your used car if you sell it yourself, rather than trade it in on a new car.Bu...

A certain A certain fictional Dr. Frankenstein thought that putting a bunch of spare human parts together and zapping them with an electrical current would...

A certain fictional Dr. Frankenstein thought that putting a bunch of spare human parts together and zapping them with an electrical current would create a splendid new human being. We know how that turned out.

But the idea is still around and some scientists and tinkerers have been using a weak electric current to stimulate their brains, hoping to improve their brainpower in the process. 

But a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine finds that the most common form of electric brain stimulation had a statistically significant detrimental effect on IQ scores -- the opposite of the result the do-it-yourselfers were hoping for.

Published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, the study adds to the increasing amount of literature showing that transcranial direct current stimulation - tDCS - has mixed results when it comes to cognitive enhancement.

"It would be wonderful if we could use tDCS to enhance cognition because then we could potentially use it to treat cognitive impairment in psychiatric illnesses," said Flavio Frohlich, PhD, study senior author. "So, this study is bad news. Yet, the finding makes sense. It means that some of the most sophisticated things the brain can do, in terms of cognition, can't necessarily be altered with just a constant electric current."

Frohlich, though, said that using less common alternating current stimulation - so-called tACS - could be a better approach, one that he has been investigating. Earlier this year, Frohlich's lab found that tACS significantly boosted creativity, likely because he used it to target the brain's natural electrical alpha oscillations, which have been implicated in creative thought.

With tDCS, scientists don't target these brain waves, which represent neuronal patterns of communication throughout regions of the brain. Instead, they use tDCS to target brain structures, such particular regions of the cortex.

Some researchers have reported good results from tDCS experiments but Frohlich said that some of the studies that have made waves were poorly designed. Some studies were not properly double-blinded or properly placebo controlled. Other studies were very small -- fewer than 10 people.

A recent meta-analysis of a large number of tDCS papers showed that tDCS is far from a magic pill for cognitive enhancement or brain-related health conditions.

"Aside from stimulating the motor cortex, which has very exciting implications for stroke rehabilitation, I think the jury is still out on tDCS," said Frohlich, who is a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center.

Frohlich stressed that the scientific community should be careful not to create simplistic storylines about tDCS being a 'magic pill' for many brain-related conditions. "There could be dangerous consequences, especially if tDCS is used daily," he said. "Ours was an acute study. We don't know what the long-term effects are. There is so much more we need to understand before tDCS is ready for home use without medical supervision."

Many consumers worry that their credit rating isn't high enough, but a new report finds that 26 million Americans have no credit rating at all, making them...

Many consumers worry that their credit rating isn't high enough, but a new report finds that 26 million Americans have no credit rating at all, making them "credit invisible."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published the report, which finds that one in 10 adults have no credit history, many of them black, Hispanic or living in low-income neighborhoods.

“Today’s report sheds light on the millions of Americans who are credit invisible,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “A limited credit history can create real barriers for consumers looking to access the credit that is often so essential to meaningful opportunity — to get an education, start a business, or buy a house. Further, some of the most economically vulnerable consumers are more likely to be credit invisible.”

The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies, also called credit bureaus, generate credit reports that track a consumer’s credit history. Credit reports and the three-digit credit scores that are based on those reports play an increasingly important role in the lives of American consumers -- and those with a low, or non-existent, credit score face hurdles in getting credit.

In broad terms, consumers with limited credit histories can be placed into two groups, the CFPB said.

The first group is consumers without a credit report, or the “credit invisibles.” The second group, the “unscored,” includes consumers who do not have enough credit history to generate a credit score or who have credit reports that contain “stale” or not recently reported information.

26 million consumers are credit invisible: About one in 10 Americans can be considered credit invisible because they do not have any credit record. About 189 million Americans have credit records that can be scored.

19 million consumers have unscored credit records: About 8 percent of the adult population has credit records that are considered unscorable based on a widely-used credit scoring model. Those records are almost evenly split between the 9.9 million that have an insufficient credit history and the 9.6 million that lack a recent credit history.

Consumers in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be credit invisible or to have an unscored record: Of the consumers who live in low-income neighborhoods, almost 30 percent are credit invisible and an additional 15 percent have records that are unscored. 

Black and Hispanic consumers are more likely to have limited credit records: Black and Hispanic consumers are considerably more likely to be credit invisible or have unscored credit records than White or Asian consumers. About 15 percent of Black and Hispanic consumers are credit invisibles compared to 9 percent of White consumers. 

This analysis was conducted using information from the CFPB’s Consumer Credit Panel, which is a random sample of de-identified credit records purchased from one of the nationwide credit reporting agencies and is representative of the population with credit records. By comparing information in the credit panel from December 2010 with 2010 Census data, the Bureau was able to estimate the number of consumers who were credit invisible or had unscored credit records.

A company called Sale Slash has Oprah Winfrey and other big-name celebrities endorsing it and it uses "fake news" sites and spam emails to lure customers b...

There was improvement April in the non-manufacturing, or services, sector of the economy. According to the Institute for Supply Management, the sector ros...

There was improvement April in the non-manufacturing, or services, sector of the economy. According to the Institute for Supply Management, the sector rose 1.3% last month to 57.8% -- the 63rd straight month of expansion.

The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index jumped 4.1% -- to 61.6 percent, reflecting growth for the 69th consecutive month at a faster rate. The New Orders Index was up 1.4% to 59.2% and the Employment Index inched up 0.1% to 56.7% -- indicating 14 consecutive months growth. The Prices Index, meanwhile, dropped 2.3% from March to 50.1%.

According to the report, 14 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in April, with most of them crediting the uptick to “the improved economic climate and prevailing stability in business conditions.”

Home prices posted a year-over-year increase in March for a 37th consecutive month. According to property information provider CoreLogic, its Home Price ...

According to property information provider CoreLogic, its Home Price Index (HPI), which charts home prices nationwide -- including distressed sales -- was up 5.9% from the same period last year.

Twenty-seven states plus the District of Columbia were at or within 10% of their peak prices. Seven states -- including Colorado, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming -- reached new home price highs since January 1976.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices increased by 6.1% in March 2015 compared with March 2014 and rose 2% month over month. Also excluding distressed sales, only New Mexico (-0.4%) showed year-over-year depreciation in March.

“The homes for sale inventory continues to be limited while buyer demand has picked up with low mortgage rates and improving consumer confidence,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “As a result, there has been continued upward pressure on prices in most markets, with our national monthly index up 2% for March 2015 and up approximately 6% from a year ago.”

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates home prices -- including distressed sales -- will increase by 0.8% month-over-month from March 2015 to April 2015 and on a year-over-year basis by 5.1% from March 2015 to March 2016.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices are expected to increase by 0.7% month-over-month from March 2015 to April 2015 and by 4.7% year-over-year from March 2015 to March 2016.

“All signs are pointing toward continued price appreciation throughout 2015. In fact, the strong month-over-month gain in March may be a harbinger of accelerating price appreciation as we enter the spring selling season,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “Tight inventories, job growth and the inexorable impact of demographics and household formation are pushing price levels in many states, and especially large metropolitan areas like Dallas, Denver, Houston, Seattle and San Francisco, toward record levels.”

Is your dog isolating himself from other dogs and family members? Do you see him sleeping more than usual? If you said yes, it could be that your dog is st...

FCA Chrysler is recalling 43,750 model year 2006 Dodge Viper and Jeep Wrangler and Liberty vehicles manufactured July 1, 2005, to July 31, 2006. The spri...

FCA Chrysler is recalling 43,750 model year 2006 Dodge Viper and Jeep Wrangler and Liberty vehicles manufactured July 1, 2005, to July 31, 2006.

The springs within the clutch pedal position switch that prevents the vehicle from starting unless the clutch pedal is pushed down may break. As a result, the vehicle may not be started when the clutch pedal is pushed down or the engine may crank and start without the clutch pedal being pushed down causing the vehicle to lurch unexpectedly.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the clutch ignition interlock switch, free of charge. Parts are currently unavailable. Owners will be mailed an interim notification beginning in June 2015, and receive a second notification when remedy parts are available.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R13.

General Motors is recalling 3,690 model year 2013 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured April 10, 2012, to August 2, 2012. The console transmission gear selecti...

General Motors is recalling 3,690 model year 2013 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured April 10, 2012, to August 2, 2012.

The console transmission gear selection indicator in the affected vehicles may not illuminate the shift position selected. As a result, the driver could inadvertently select a transmission position other than the intended one, increasing the risk of a crash.

GM has notified owners, and dealers will replace the transmission gear selection control module, free of charge. The recall began on April 20, 2015.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 12162.

Technology innovator Elon Musk has taken a step that may provide a boost to the still-developing solar energy indus...

Since the financial crisis of 2008, fewer people have purchased homes and more, either by necessity or choice, have rented their homes. With demand increas...

Since the financial crisis of 2008, fewer people have purchased homes and more, either by necessity or choice, have rented their homes. With demand increasing faster than supplies of available property, rents have skyrocketed, especially in expensive housing markets.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, rents are up a staggering 14.8% year-over-year, according to the real estate site Zillow. Nationwide, rents are up just under 4%.

Make Room, a non-profit group focusing on rental affordability, estimates more than 11 million families, or 1 in 4 of the 42 million U.S. renter households, spend at least half their income on rent. It bases its claim on an analysis of U.S. Census data.

With half of income going to pay the rent, that leaves little for the rest of life's necessities, such as groceries, health care and child care.

“The lack of rental homes is pervasive and affects working families, seniors and children across America, said Angela Boyd, vice president of advocacy at Enterprise Community Partners. “No community – be it urban, suburban or rural – is immune.”

The analysis of 2013 Census data finds rent shock is most severe in Florida, New Jersey, California and New York. In those states, 30% of renters pay at least half of their income toward housing costs, including rent and utilities.

But even in traditionally more affordable markets in Ohio, Alabama, Maine and Tennessee, the group says about a quarter of the people renting their homes pay more than half their income to do so.

A recent Zillow report shows buying a home is becoming a much better deal in more and more housing markets. But the company says a survey of renters found half reporting that either their credit or finances prevented them from becoming homeowners.

Eighteen percent said they can't afford taxes, maintenance and other costs associated with homeownership, while 13% said they don't have enough savings for a down payment. About a quarter said they struggle, as it is, to pay their rent.

The survey also showed that 82% of renters are long-term renters, and 57% are long-term renters who have lived for a long time in the same home. Under normal circumstances, these are the people that eventually become first-time home buyers.

"If the buy versus rent decision were about simple math, we'd likely have millions more homebuyers in the market, because the equation is tilted heavily in favor of buying," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries.

Humphries says there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to buying or renting, but says the survey demonstrates that a lot of renters who might be better off financially as homeowners are still shut out of the market.

Among the top 35 metro areas in the U.S., the Dallas-Fort Worth market showed the fastest rate in which a home buyer reached the break-even point over renting – 1.2 years. Indianapolis and Detroit were next at 1.3 years. The national average is 1.9 years.

Concussions are a serious issue for high school football players and not just during games. A new study finds that more than half -- 57% -- of high school ...

Concussions are a serious issue for high school football players and not just during games. A new study finds that more than half -- 57% -- of high school and college football player concussions studied occurred during practice.

"Concussions during practice might be mitigated and should prompt an evaluation of technique and head impact exposure. Although it is more difficult to change the intensity or conditions of a game, many strategies can be used during practice to limit play-to-player contact and other potentially injurious behaviors,” the authors of the study said.

Thomas P. Dompier, of the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention Inc., and his team collected data from over 20,000 athlete seasons to see how much of an effect concussions had on athletes from youth to college levels. An athlete season is defined as one player participating in one season of a sport.

The study found that high school players were much more likely to suffer concussions than youth- or college-level players. 

There were 1,198 concussions reported during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Of this number, 141 (11.8%) occurred at the youth level, 795 (66.4%) occurred at the high school level, and 262 (21.9%) occurred at the college level. At each level, concussions accounted for 9.6%, 4%, and 8% of all injuries, respectively.

While 53.9% of concussions happened during games at the youth level, roughly 57% of all concussions at the high school and college levels happened during practice.

“The rate of concussion in youth players was generally not different from those in high school and college players compared with other injuries. However, football practices were a major source of concussion at all three levels of competition," the researchers said. 

It's not enough that millions of Americans are struggling under $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. They often must must try to avoid getting taken by bogu...

It's not enough that millions of Americans are struggling under $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. They often must must try to avoid getting taken by bogus offers of relief.

Any offer of relief can be very tempting for someone who has run out of options. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says this has drawn the attention of numerous scammers who make big promises in return for big fees, but deliver nothing but disappointment.

Madigan has filed suit against five companies she says charged student loan borrowers hundreds to thousands of dollars in upfront fees with false promises. She says the promises suggested that the debt load could be reduced, or forgiven entirely, under programs endorsed by President Obama’s administration.

The lawsuits paint a picture of a highly deceptive approach. The state says the companies run heavy marketing campaigns, claiming expertise and offering loaded-down borrowers several options to ease their debt burden.

In reality, Madigan alleges, the companies she named in the suit try to persuade desperate people to pay as much as $1,250 upfront for services she describes as “bogus.” These often include enrolling in loan forgiveness programs for public service employees, including teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and employees of non-profit organizations.

In many cases, she says, the companies hold out the possibility of complete debt relief without even looking at borrowers’ individual situations, to determine whether they are eligible for the programs. Seldom, she says, is there any explanation of all the required steps borrowers must take to qualify for loan forgiveness.

“These scams are proof that the rate of student loan debt in this country has skyrocketed, and it has already destabilized the financial security of millions of people across the country,” Madigan said. “When people cannot make their loan payments, they don’t get to build the future that they dreamed about when they went to college. We cannot allow these scams to continue.”

This isn't the first time the Illinois Attorney General has taken on companies promising student loan debt relief. Last July she sued 2 other companies – First American Tax Defense LLC and Broadsword Student Advantage LLC, charging them with deceptive marketing practices and illegally charging consumers hundreds in upfront fees to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt burden.

The student loan debt settlement industry appears to be a new incarnation of the debt settlement industry that most recently targeted homeowners in distress. In 2011 six defendants agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that they participated in a fraudulent mortgage modification and foreclosure relief scheme.

Under that settlement five defendants were ordered to pay back money they collected and all 6 were permanently banned from selling any mortgage assistance or debt relief products.

Meanwhile, consumers looking for options when it comes to repaying student loan debt might want to start with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Consumers are driving cars longer than ever, leading to concerns that slow-to-show safety hazards may be going undetected. Federal law doesn't currently re...

Consumers are driving cars longer than ever, leading to concerns that slow-to-show safety hazards may be going undetected. Federal law doesn't currently require manufacturers to report suspicious accidents to safety regulators in cars more than 10 years old.

The average age of cars on U.S. roads is now 11.4 years, meaning that millions of cars -- about 121 million by one estimate -- could be rolling along with undetected defects that could lead to an accident. 

Safety advocates are calling for remedial action and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has introduced legislation in Congress that would eliminate the 10-year limit. 

Currently, when consumers file reports of suspected safety defects with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the reports go into a database that is reviewed by NHTSA staffers who are charged with spotting patterns that may indicate a problem.

Critics already complain that serious safety hazards can fester for years before enough complaints accumulate to get NHTSA's attention. More time can elapse as the agency reviews the data and decides whether to open a formal investigation, which can in turn last a few more years.

NHTSA, however, has said that it does review complaints for older cars, even though manufacturers are not required to report suspicious accidents after the 10-year mark. 

In newer cars, safety hazards are usually the result of faulty design or errors in the manufacturing process. In older cars, parts can simply wear out, either as the result of unusually rough use or because they were not designed to last for decades.

Dallas real estate on Zillow.com Realtors have noted a stronger housing market as the spring home-buying season gets underway. A shortage of homes for...

Residents of a homeowners' association in Santa Clarita, California, are complaining that HOA bylaws requiring lawns put them at odds with state mandates t...

This morning, the Sally Beauty company admitted for the second time in 14 months that hackers had managed to breach their security and steal the payment-ca...

This morning, the Sally Beauty company admitted for the second time in 14 months that hackers had managed to breach their security and steal the payment-card information of customers who used their cards at Sally Beauty Supply stores.

Security expert Brian Krebs, who initially broke word of the first Sally Beauty hacking in March 2014, said today that over the past week, multiple unnamed financial institutions noted a pattern of fraudulent charges sharing one thing in common: all cardholders complaining of false charges on their accounts had previously used their cards to pay for something at a Sally Beauty store. Krebs asked Sally Beauty about these claims yesterday, and this morning, Sally Beauty issued a statement saying, in part, that:

Sally Beauty Holdings, Inc. is currently investigating reports of unusual activity involving payment cards used at some of our U.S. Sally Beauty stores. Since learning of these reports, we have been working with law enforcement and our credit card processor and have launched a comprehensive investigation with the help of a leading third-party forensics expert to aggressively gather facts while working to ensure our customers are protected. Until this investigation is completed, it is difficult to determine with certainty the scope or nature of any potential incident, but we will continue to work vigilantly to address any potential issues that may affect our customers.

The statement went on to say that “we encourage any customer who is concerned about the security of their payment cards to call our Customer Service Hotline at 1-866-234-9442, so that we can assist them in addressing any potential concerns. Sally Beauty will, as appropriate, provide updates as we learn more from our investigation.”

Thus far, Sally Beauty has not indicated the time frames involved: when did this pattern of “unusual activity” start? Last year, when Sally Beauty announced its first breach discovery, it was also able to offer an exact date (about three weeks before the announcement), which in turn made it easy for then-recent Sally Beauty customers to know whether or not they personally needed to worry.

The equivalent information is not yet available regarding this second Sally Beauty breach. But if you've recently used your credit or debit card to buy something at a Sally Beauty Supply store, you should check your recent account activity for fraudulent charges, and contact your card issuer at once if you find any.

Many parents may remember a time when they dreaded putting their child down to bed. When they are young, many children go through a sleepwalking phase or e...

Many parents may remember a time when they dreaded putting their child down to bed. When they are young, many children go through a sleepwalking phase or experience night terrors that make them inconsolable.

While these problems are fairly common, the scientific community has never pinned down exactly why these things happen in the first place. Well, a new study conducted in Canada says that it may have to do with genetics.

Dr. Jacques Montplaisir, of Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal, has theorized that children may inherit their sleeping problems from their parents. His study analyzed sleep data from 1,940 children born in the province of Quebec.

All children were born between 1997 and 1998, and their sleep patterns were studied from 1999 to 2011. The researchers assessed sleepwalking and night terrors through questionnaires and parental sleepwalking was taken into account.

The results of the study revealed correlations between sleepwalking and sleep terrors. The data showed that children who had sleep terrors during early childhood (1 ½ to 3 ½ years old) were about 15% more likely to sleepwalk later in childhood.

These odds increased dramatically if the child’s parents had a history of sleepwalking when they were young. Children who had one parent who was a sleepwalker were three times more likely to sleepwalk themselves. If both parents were sleepwalkers, children were seven times more likely to be sleepwalkers.  

The study concludes by offering an explanation about the root cause of sleepwalking. Researchers believe that their data points to “a strong genetic influence on sleepwalking and, to a lesser degree, sleep terrors. This effect may occur through polymorphisms in the genes involved in slow-wave sleep generation or sleep depth.”

They caution that parents who have been sleepwalkers in the past should count on their children to be sleepwalkers as well. The full study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics, and contains detailed statistics on the researchers’ findings.

A federal judge has ordered American Express to rewrite its contracts so that merchants are allowed to encourage their customers to use less expensive cred...

A federal judge has ordered American Express to rewrite its contracts so that merchants are allowed to encourage their customers to use less expensive credit or debit cars.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis issued the order last week after ruling that AmEx can no longer enforce its rules that prohibit merchants from offering a discount to customers who use a cheaper card, promoting other cards and telling customers how much more AmEx charges retailers.

He gave AmEx five days to make "reasonable efforts" to notify merchants of the change. He also ordered the company to make quarterly reports to the Justice Department listing merchants whose authorization to accept AmEx cards was revoked.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Leslie Overton of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division said she was pleased with the decision.

"These rules have stifled competition among credit card networks by blocking merchants from encouraging their customers to use particular credit cards," Overton said.  "The court’s remedy will benefit merchants, who pay more than $50 billion in credit card ‘swipe fees’ annually, as well as the consumers who ultimately bear these costs."

Garaufis ruled in February that AmEx's contracts violated antitrust laws after a seven-week bench trial of a 2010 federal lawsuit brought by several states and business groups. He ruled that the company's policies resulted in higher costs for all consumers who purchased goods and services from merchants who accept AmEx cards.

AmEx said it is still pursuing plans to appeal and said the judge's ruling will "harm competition by further entrenching the two dominant networks." 

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in April for the 28th consecutive month, with the overall economy growing for the 71st month in a row. ...

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in April for the 28th consecutive month, with the overall economy growing for the 71st month in a row.

According to the latest Manufacturing Institute for Supply Management (ISM) report on business, the April Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was 51.5%, the same as in March, while the New Orders Index registered 53.5% -- an increase of 1.7% from March.

The Production Index came in at 56%, 2.2% above the 53.8% posted in March. The Employment Index was down 1.7% at 48.3 % reflecting contracting employment levels from March.

Inventories of raw materials dropped 2% from March to 49.5%, and the Prices Index registered 40.5% -- up 1.5%, indicating lower raw materials prices for the sixth consecutive month.

While the March and April PMI both registered 51.5%, 15 of the 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in April while only 10 industries reported growth in March, indicating a broader distribution of growth in April among the 18 industries.

The two industries that reported contraction in April were Apparel, Leather & Allied Products and Computer & Electronic Products.

Cats are sensitive beings and some new research backs that statement up. They are so sensitive that even rattling your keys can cause seizures, according t...

Sun Rich Fresh Foods of Richmond, Canada, is recalling sliced apple and products containing sliced apples, from its Northeast Fresh Facility located in Bra...

Sun Rich Fresh Foods of Richmond, Canada, is recalling sliced apple and products containing sliced apples, from its Northeast Fresh Facility located in Brampton, Canada.

Apple slices and products containing sliced apples were distributed to retail stores, distributors and food service establishments in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The recall is limited to product produced out of the Brampton, Canada, facility, which is identified by a 7-digit numerical lot code that begins with the number 2.

If you have recalled products in your home or establishment, dispose of them or return them to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-661-0087 between 8am – 7pm EST, Monday – Sunday.

A Bi-Lo Supermarket in Rossville, Ga., is recalling approximately 11-22 pounds of ground beef product. The products may be contaminated with pieces from a...

A Bi-Lo Supermarket in Rossville, Ga., is recalling approximately 11-22 pounds of ground beef product.

The recalled products have a sell by date of 4/25/15 and were sold from one retail location to consumers from Georgia and Tennessee.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the consumer call center, at (866) 946-6349.  

Victory Kitchens of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is recalling approximately 4,672 pounds of chicken noodle soup products. The products contain chicken from a...

Victory Kitchens of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is recalling approximately 4,672 pounds of chicken noodle soup products.

The following frozen chicken noodle soup items, produced on February 5, 2014, April 1, 2014, and September 11, 2014, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “I-422” inside the USDA FSIS mark of inspection on the outside box and the establishment number “Est. 711” inside the CFIA mark of inspection on the immediate container.

​IKEA North America Services of Conshohocken, Pa., is expanding an earlier recall of crib mattresses. About 344,000 mattresses are being recalled in the U...

About 344,000 mattresses are being recalled in the U.S. and Canada. About 169,000 VYSSA crib mattresses and about 175,000 SULTAN crib mattresses were recalled in the U.S. and Canada in January 2015.

The mattresses could create a gap between the mattress and crib ends larger than allowed by federal regulations, posing an entrapment hazard to infants.

The firm has received 2 reports of infants becoming entrapped between the mattress and an end of the crib. The children were removed from the gap without injury.

The recalled mattresses are 52 inches long and 27 ½ inches wide and were manufactured on May 4, 2014 or earlier. An identification label attached to the mattress cover has the date of manufacture in Month-DD-YY format or YY-WW format and the SULTAN or VYSSA model name. In the YY-WW format, mattresses with a date code of 14-18 or earlier are being recalled.

A gap between the mattress and crib ends larger than two finger width is an indication of the defective mattress.

The mattresses, manufactured in Mexico, Poland, China and the U.S., were sold exclusively at IKEA stores nationwide and online at www.ikea-usa.com from October 2000 to May 2014, for about $20 to $100.

Consumers should immediately stop using a recalled mattress and inspect it by making sure there is no gap larger than the width of two fingers between the ends of the crib and the mattress. If any gap is larger, customers should immediately stop using the recalled mattresses and return it to any IKEA store for an exchange or a full refund.

Ford Motor Company is recalling 487,301 model year 2013-2015 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles manufactured February 3, 2012, to March 20, 2015, and 201...

Ford Motor Company is recalling 487,301 model year 2013-2015 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles manufactured February 3, 2012, to March 20, 2015, and 2015 Ford Edge vehicles manufactured February 26, 2015, to February 28, 2015.

The vehicles were originally sold, or are currently registered in, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Snow or water containing road salt or other contaminants may corrode the electric power steering gear motor attachment bolts.

If the bolts corrode, the steering gear motor may detach from the gear housing resulting in a loss of power steering assist. Loss of power steering assist would require a higher steering effort, especially at lower speeds, which may increase the risk of a crash.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will apply sealer and replace the steering gear motor bolts as required. If one or more of the steering gear motor attachment bolts are broken or missing, a new steering gear will be installed in the vehicle. These repairs will be performed free of charge.

The recall is expected to begin June 22, 2015. Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 15S14.

Felt Bicycles of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 200 Felt Cruiser bicycles The bicycle’s brakes can fail, posing a crash hazard. The company has recei...

The company has received 26 reports of incidents with the recalled bicycles. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves beach cruiser style Felt Deep Six and El Guapo model bicycles with one speed and coaster brakes. “Felt” and “Deep Six” or “El Guapo” are printed on the bicycle’s frame.

The Deep Six was sold in black cherry with white sidewall tires and the El Guapo was sold in matte black with white tires. The Deep Six has a serial number between YI31106188 and YI31106287. The El Guapo has a serial number between YI31106288 and YI31106387. The serial number is printed on the bicycle’s bottom bracket.

The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at bicycle specialty stores nationwide from June 2014, through March 2015, for between $600 and $750.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact their local Felt bicycle dealer for a free inspection and replacement of the rear hub cog/driver.

Consumers may contact Felt Bicycles toll-free at (866) 433-5887 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

Cars are getting better and consumers tend to hold onto them longer. For one thing, it may take 5 or 6 years to finish paying for them....

The bad news is, there's been another point-of-sale (POS) hacking which has compromised the credit- or debit-card information of Zod-knows however many Ame...

Since the U.S. economy bottomed at the end of the Great Recession in the third quarter of 2009, it has failed to generate much of a rebound. There have ...

Since the U.S. economy bottomed at the end of the Great Recession in the third quarter of 2009, it has failed to generate much of a rebound.

There have been only 4 quarters where economic growth exceeded 4%. There have been 2 quarters of negative growth and 2 quarters when there was barely any growth at all.

One of those was the just-ended first quarter of 2015, when the government reported this week that the economy grew by a measly 0.2%. This, in spite of retail gasoline prices around $2 a gallon for months.

In its annual small business survey, the bank asked small business owners if they believe they have recovered from the Great Recession. Only 21% said that they had.

Since millions of Americans work for small businesses – defined as those that employ fewer than 500 people -- it might help explain why consumers in general have been struggling since the financial crisis nearly 7 years ago.

The report found that the people who own small businesses have been working longer hours, forgoing raises for their employees and delaying their own compensation as they focus on rebuilding their businesses and rewarding repeat customers.

If employees are going longer without increases in compensation, it may be small consolation that the owner is doing the same thing. But according to the survey 67% of small business owners said they would rather delay or reduce their own compensation than take any other course of action to make ends meet.

In fact, more than half said they have either never given themselves a raise, or haven’t done so in more than 2 years.

In order to keep their businesses going, 85% of small business owners work more than 40 hours per week on average. Thirty percent of respondents work more than 60 hours per week on average.

There are jobs available at many small businesses but owners often struggle to come up with salaries that are able to attract the people they need. Forty-five percent of owners said prospective employees declined job offers because the salary was too low.

Hiring expectations, meanwhile, are moving in the wrong direction. The Bank of America report found 46% of small business owners plan to hire additional employees over the next 12 months, down from 52% a year ago. Again, one reason cited for the decline is the inability to offer a competitive wage.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has noted a similar trend. In March it found a 2 point decline in the number of small businesses planning to create new jobs.

With an estimated 150 million Americans working for small businesses, when a small business struggles, so do consumers.

As Baby Boomers become grandparents, it means Millennials are becoming parents. In 2014, there were approximately 20.5 million parents 18 to 34 years old, ...

A long, long time ago, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission recognized that everybody needed a telephone. So it (and Congress) created something call...

A long, long time ago, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission recognized that everybody needed a telephone. So it (and Congress) created something called the Universal Service Fund (USF), which took a little bite from each phone bill and applied it to wiring up remote areas.

Well, the USF still exists and just about every living being has at least one phone by now. But lots of people who live in rural areas are still pretty much locked out of enjoying broadband communications -- no Netflix, really slow Web speeds and other privations.

In fact, according to the FCC’s latest report, nearly 1 in 3 rural Americans lack access to broadband, compared to only 1 in 100 urban Americans. "Broadband" is defined as 10 megabits per second (Mbps) down/1 Mbps up.

So, trying to catch up with the times, the FCC is offering the largest telecom providers $1.7 billion in subsidies to expand broadband to over 8.5 million rural Americans.

“Today’s offer of $1.675 billion for rural broadband deployment will connect millions of rural Americans who lack access to modern high-speed Internet service,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “The Connect America Fund is tackling the rural digital divide so that all Americans can have access to the jobs, education and opportunities provided by broadband, no matter where they live.”

Carriers -- meaning telephone companies -- have 120 days to decide to apply for the funding. In areas where the funding is declined, it will be available to competitive carriers like cable operators.   The funding will be available in areas (actually census blocks) "(a) where the cost of providing service according to our cost model exceeds $52.50 a month, and (b) that are not served by unsubsidized competitors offering service at speeds of at least 4 Mpbs downloads/1 Mbps uploads."

Well, that didn't take long: earlier this week, Google introduced a new anti-phishing tool called Password Alert to its Chrome browsers. Password Alert wou...

Well, that didn't take long: earlier this week, Google introduced a new anti-phishing tool called Password Alert to its Chrome browsers. Password Alert would show you a warning if you type your Google password into a site that isn't a Google sign-in page.

So if, for example, a scammer sent you an email purportedly (but not really) from Google, claiming there's some problem with your Google account so you should click the link in this-here email to log in and type your password when asked – Password Alert would send you a warning notice advising you to reset your password since it had just been typed into a non-Google page.

But it took less than 24 hours for security researchers to discover a workaround which ArsTechnica called a “drop-dead simple exploit that nukes Google's password alert.”

Paul Moore, an information security consultant with the UK-based Urity Group, developed a simple proof-of-concept exploit, shown here,which looks convincingly similar to a genuine Google login page even though it's completely fake, with no connection to Google at all — yet if you're in Chrome and type your password into it (don't try this yourself), you won't see Google's Password Alert warning because the program will suppress it.

A proof of concept (or PoC) exploit is an example of white-hat hacking (or “good guy” hacking). PC Mag's encyclopedia defines a PoC exploit as: “An attack against a computer or network that is performed only to prove that it can be done. It generally does not cause any harm, but shows how a hacker can take advantage of a vulnerability in the software or possibly the hardware.”

To its credit, Google swiftly responded to news of Moore's PoC exploit with an update to patch it. Yesterday, a Google engineer took to Twitter to say that Password Alert has been updated to version 1.4, in order to prevent Moore's PoC exploit from working:

It's now fixed in 1.4. To update quickly, go to chrome://extensions/ , enable developer mode, click update extensions now.

Earlier this week, we told you how tattooed iFans on various social media platforms were complaining that certain Apple Watch functions, including Apple Pa...

Earlier this week, we told you how tattooed iFans on various social media platforms were complaining that certain Apple Watch functions, including Apple Pay and the heart-monitoring and other fitness apps, didn't seem to work properly if the underside of their Watches came in contact with tattooed skin.

Upon inspection, those claims seemed to pan out. Apple's own support page said that certain Watch functions, including the heart rate monitor, use a combination of infrared or LED light pulses and light-sensitive photodiodes to basically shine light through your skin and veins, then measure how much of the light bounces back, and how long that takes.

And when an Apple fan blog tested the Watch's sensors against tattooed and non-tattooed sections of the same person's skin, the results seemed to confirm that yes, tattoo ink does interfere with those light sensors, and the darker or denser the tattoo, the more interference there'd be.

Today Apple confirmed those rumors with an update to its support page titled “Your heart rate. What it means, and where on Apple Watch you'll find it.”

After explaining how its sensors use light to work, Apple asks the question “What else affects your reading?” followed by several paragraphs including these two:

Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance. The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings.

If you’re not able to get a consistent reading because of any of these factors, you can connect your Apple Watch wirelessly to external heart rate monitors such as Bluetooth chest straps.

If you'd rather not bother with that, you should hurry to take advantage of Apple's two-week return window.

There probably isn't any way for Apple to fix this particular problem, short of abandoning light-based sensors altogether. Nothing Apple or anyone else can do will change certain fundamental facts of nature, such as “Crushed minerals and other tattoo-ink ingredients packed together densely enough to look black in full daylight will block or absorb far more light than ordinary human skin and blood ever could.”

A company called Jet.com has been promoting itself as the beginning of the end for Amazon Prime, promising to provide much lower prices to its customers an...

A company called Jet.com has been promoting itself as the beginning of the end for Amazon Prime, promising to provide much lower prices to its customers and driving Amazon into the history books.

Although it hasn't launched yet, Jet.com has been raising money at a healthy clip, with about $220 million invested so far. The company's valuation is estimated at about $600 million, which isn't bad for a retailer that has yet to sell a single pair of shoes or box of tissues.

It's mostly because of its founder and CEO, Marc Lore, lionized on Wall Street as one of the gods of e-commerce. He's known mostly for starting Diapers.com, a successful site that was eventually sold to none other than Amazon, the company Lore now promises to decimate.

As Lore tells it, Jet.com will sell memberships for $50 a year, roughly half the $99 cost of Amazon Prime. In exchange, consumers will be guaranteed the absolute lowest prices, along with free shipping for orders over $35.

There are some potential problems with this. For starters, Amazon Prime offers free shipping on nearly everything with no minimum. And, Amazon currently sells literally hundreds of millions of products. Jet.com promises it will have 10 million by the time it launches later this spring.

Then there are all the things that are included free in Prime -- music, streaming video and books to mention a few. 

In business school, budding entrepreneurs learn about something called the "value proposition" -- basically a fancy term that defines what consumers think they're getting for shelling out their money.

In the crudest possible terms, Lore thinks consumers will rush to spend half as much for a Jet.com membership as for a Prime subscription, in exchange for getting access to a fraction of the inventory with no movies, books or tunes thrown in and free shipping only on bigger orders.

If so, get that $50 ready to hand over. If not, it might be wise to hold onto the cash for awhile and see what early adopters have to say about it.

There's gold in all that gray. At least that's how home builders see it. The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) ...

The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) was in positive territory for the first quarter of 2015. Compared with the previous quarter, the measure of builder confidence edged down slightly -- 1 point -- to 58, which is the fourth consecutive quarter above 50.

Two of the three components of the 55+ single-family HMI posted increases: Present sales increased 1 point to 64 and expected sales for the next six months rose 3 points to 67, while traffic of prospective buyers dropped 8 points to 40.

“Builders in many parts of the country were affected by a particularly severe winter, but builders and developers in the 55+ sector continue to be positive as we move forward in 2015,” said Timothy McCarthy, chairman of NAHB's 50+ Housing Council. “The weather had an effect on traffic, and moderated and delayed settlement schedules. Nonetheless, 55+ builders’ confidence remains bullish on the outlook for the balance of the year.”

There are separate 55+ HMIs for 2 segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair or poor (high, average or low for traffic). An index number below 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as poor than good.

The 55+ multifamily condo HMI dipped 4 points to 38, and all components of the index dropped in the first quarter as well: Present sales dropped 3 points to 41, expected sales for the next 6 months fell 5 points to 39 and traffic of prospective buyers dipped 1 point to 33.

Three out of the 4 indices tracking production and demand of 55+ multifamily rentals posted increases for the first quarter. Present production jumped 8 points to 58, expected future production increased 1 point to 52 and current demand for existing units rose 3 points to 68, while future demand dipped 2 points to 64.

“The strong eight-point surge in the 55+ HMI survey’s index for multifamily rental production is a positive sign, and a contrast to the relatively low attitudes builders are currently expressing towards 55+ multifamily condos,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “This suggests that there is a significant number of 55+ households who desire to live in dense multifamily settings but not to own -- at least not right away.”

Despite advances in modern medicine, there are still many diseases that stubbornly persist. Cancer, heart disease and diabetes are being worked on tireless...

Despite advances in modern medicine, there are still many diseases that stubbornly persist. Cancer, heart disease and diabetes are being worked on tirelessly by researchers and scientists every day.

So if there were a medicine that could help with these illnesses, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Unfortunately, it seems that many medical professionals are keeping us in the dark, or may be in the dark themselves.  

A study from UCLA shows that only a small fraction of practicing doctors are prescribing metformin, which has been proven to help prevent the onset of diabetes. It indicates that only 3.7% of U.S. adults with pre-diabetes were recommended to take the drug in a recent three-year period.

While many people struggle with fully formed diabetes, pre-diabetes is often understated. It is found in people who have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, yet do not reach the threshold for diabetes. It is projected that one third of adults in the U.S. currently meet the requirements for pre-diabetes. Dr. Tannaz Moin, who is the study’s lead author and a professor of medicine at UCLA, says metformin can help those at risk.

“Diabetes is prevalent, but pre-diabetes is even more prevalent and we have evidence-based therapies like metformin that are very safe and that work," Moin said.

Different organizations have recognized the benefits of metformin in recent years. The American Diabetes Association added metformin to its guidelines for diabetes prevention in 2008. The organization specifically mentions that the drug should be used by those who have high blood sugar levels, even if they are not yet in the diabetes range.

Despite all of this support, only small fractions of patients are advised to take the drug. Of these, there were specific people that were more likely to get a prescription. In particular, women, the obese, and those suffering from multiple chronic diseases were preferred.

Researchers are not completely certain why the drug is not being recommended, but they do have theories. One of these is that medical professionals are reluctant to “medicalize” pre-diabetes. Even patients may be hesitant to admit that they could be in danger. This lack of acceptance could very well be the reason that the FDA has not approved the drug for treatment of pre-diabetes.

While the study is telling, there are some shortcomings that need to be followed up on in the future. For example, the researchers focused only on adults who had commercial insurance. This excludes those who are uninsured or older. Being able to verify if patients could take the drug could also adjust the findings significantly.  

Additional research could very well lead to drastic improvements in health, says Dr. Sam Ho, a co-author of the study: "Identifying more effective ways to help people avoid diabetes is essential to individuals' lives and to society as a whole, which is why it was important to us to support this research," he says.

Wholesome Soy Products of Chicago owner Julia Trinh and manager Paul Trinh have been barred from receiving, processing, manufacturing, preparing, p...

Wholesome Soy Products of Chicago, Ill., owner Julia Trinh and manager Paul Trinh have been barred from receiving, processing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, holding and distributing ready-to-eat mung bean and soybean sprouts. The company had sold its products to wholesale distributors and retail stores in Illinois.

The consent decree of permanent injunction was ordered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois following multiple findings of contaminated food and environmental samples by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“It is FDA’s responsibility to ensure that appropriate action is taken when we conduct inspections and find results that could put consumers at risk,” said Melinda K. Plaisier, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “Agreeing to the consent decree is a first step in the right direction for this company.”

In August 2014, during a routine inspection of the company, the FDA collected environmental and product samples that tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono), a foodborne pathogen that can cause serious illness or even death in vulnerable groups including elderly adults and those with impaired immune systems (such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and transplant patients). In pregnant women, L. mono can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and serious illness or death in newborn babies.

On Aug. 28, 2014, Wholesome Soy Products agreed to recall and temporarily stop production of their sprout products. The company reported that it cleaned and sanitized its facility. The firm also hired an independent consultant to collect and test several samples that reportedly came back negative for L. mono. Operations were resumed on Sept. 15, 2014, after these corrections were made.

Later that month, the company was notified of an outbreak of human infections with a strain of L. mono linked to strains found in the samples previously collected by the FDA during its inspection of the company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 4 cases in Illinois and 1 in Michigan. All 5 patients were hospitalized and 2 died.

The FDA began a follow-up inspection of in October 2014 to verify the effectiveness of the company’s corrective actions. Nine samples taken by FDA inspectors tested positive for L. mono. Due to these findings, the FDA concluded that sprouts could not be manufactured safely by the company in that environment.

In November 2014, the company agreed to shut down operations, and the Illinois Department of Public Health oversaw the company’s voluntary destruction of remaining inventory. The CDC closed its investigation in January 2015 and no further cases of illness in connection to the company have been reported.

Security researchers from the antivirus provider Eset announced the discovery of a new strain of malware dubbed “Mumblehard” (because it's “Muttering spam ...

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 2,580 model year 2015 Accent vehicles manufactured September 15, 2014, to February 10, 2015. In very cold temperatures...

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 2,580 model year 2015 Accent vehicles manufactured September 15, 2014, to February 10, 2015.

In very cold temperatures, the occupant detection system (ODS) may not be able to determine if a child restraint seat is in the front passenger seat. This will prevent the front air bag from being deactivated and, in the event of a crash necessitating front air bag deployment, the risk of injury to the occupant in the child restraint seat is increased.

"[T]his problem might only occur in temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and would go away as soon as the interior of the car reached a temperature above 0 degrees," Hyundai's Jim Trainor said. 

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will correct ODS software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on June 5, 2015.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-671-3059. Hyundai's number for this recall is 129.

Ohanyan’s Bastirma & Soujouk Company of Fresno, Calif., is recalling approximately 159,291 pounds of sausage products. The products contain soy lecithin, ...

Ohanyan’s Bastirma & Soujouk Company of Fresno, Calif., is recalling approximately 159,291 pounds of sausage products.

The recalled products were produced from April 30, 2014, through April 30, 2015 and bear the establishment number “EST. 5867-A” inside the USDA mark of inspection with the sell by date printed on the label. They were shipped to distributors, retailers and consumers nationwide.

Branded LLC of Sammamish, Wash., is recalling about 35,000 H-E-Buddy kaleidoscopes. The end caps of the kaleidoscope can be removed and expose small parts...

The end caps of the kaleidoscope can be removed and expose small parts that can come loose and pose a choking hazard to small children, and internal components that pose a risk of laceration.

The recalled H-E-Buddy kaleidoscopes are made of red plastic, about 5 ¾ inches long and 2 inches in diameter and have "H-E-Buddy" on the barrel.

The kaleidoscopes, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at H-E-B and H-E-B Plus stores in Texas from April 1, 2015, to April 3, 2015, as a prize for accumulated purchase points.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled kaleidoscopes, take them from children and return them to an H-E-B store for a refund of purchase points that can be used for another item.

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