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The Consumerist

UPS Loses Wedding Rings, Pretends They Were Held By Customs For 6 Weeks

Fri, 2014-10-31 22:55

(Zsolt Székely)

(Zsolt Székely)

A few weeks ago, reader Melissa got married. Congratulations, Melissa! Only she and her now-husband had to celebrate their marriage without the nerdy custom wedding rings that they had ordered from a jeweler in Canada. At first, UPS told the couple that their package was being held at customs and would be on its way soon. Then they lost it. Or it had been lost all along.

Now, in theory, it doesn’t matter whether this package was a pair of wedding rings for a ceremony just a few weeks away, a bunch of crumpled-up newspaper and some floppy disks, or a $12,000 nitrogen calibration system: all packages deserve equal dignity. They paid for three-day shipping from Ontario to Tennessee, and they didn’t get what they paid for. However, a wedding does make their story extra sympathetic. Also, their rings came from a popular jeweler who has a lot of experience shipping internationally. He says that he has never experienced anything like this with UPS before.

Melissa did some research on how a customs hold is really supposed to work, and learned that normally the government actually tells the courier why their items are being held, and doesn’t just keep them indefinitely. UPS maintained that they couldn’t do anything more until 30 days after Melissa requested the investigation.

Here’s what the UPS tracking info for the rings looked like:

ups_tracking

ups_2

Earlier this week, UPS gave us their final verdict: they have no idea where the package is. “The customer has been advised that the package appears to be lost, and has been referred to the shipper to discuss the matter further,” a representative told Consumerist. Well, okay, so why has there been an imaginary customs hold on it for six weeks?

In her first e-mail to us, Melissa summed up the runaround she was getting pretty well.

We also were unable to have our rings in our wedding pics, which was heartbreaking, and while I’m not a cliche bridezilla, I was beyond excited to find these gorgeous super nerdy triforce rings, and the frustration of not having them as a new bride and the run around and change of story from UPS has been the cause of more tears than I would care to admit.

Even after that, UPS continued to tell her and the jeweler different things. He has very generously offered to make new rings if the original package has really gone missing, but he tells Consumerist that he is currently checking with UPS in Canada to find out whether it will be possible to get the original rings back. If there really is an issue with importing them (clearly, the United States government fears the power of the Triforce) then he should get them back, and he could find another way to get the rings to Melissa.

Dollar General Extends Deadline For Family Dollar Offer, Hopes Shareholders Finally Give In To Advances

Fri, 2014-10-31 21:26

(Mark Clifton)

(Mark Clifton)

The drama that is the dollar store wars doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, with Dollar General extending the life of its latest deal to buy Family Dollar out from under Dollar Tree.

Reuters reports that Dollar General extended its tender offer for shares of Family Dollar to December 31 in order to keep the deal viable until a shareholders meeting.

As of October 30, the day before the original deal was set to expire, Dollar General had only received offers for about 4 million Family Dollar shares of the total 114 million shares currently outstanding.

Industry analysts tell Reuters that Dollar General’s decision to extend the offer deadline was made in order to give Family Dollar shareholders time to make a decision after a mid-December meeting.

The No. 1 dollar store turned hostile and took its pursuit for the smaller dollar store straight to shareholders back in September.

The sordid dollar store love triangle began back in July when Dollar Tree made an $8.5 billion bid for North Carolina-based Family Dollar. Not one to feel left out, Dollar General proceeded to provide an unsolicited bid of $8.95 billion for the smaller chain.

But Family Dollar wasn’t feeling the love and rejected the offer citing “significant antitrust issues” because the two chains have similar business models. Both Dollar General and Family Dollar sell items at different dollar price points, catering to low-income shoppers, while Dollar Tree caters to more middle-income shoppers and sells most items at $1.

Dollar General came back with a second bid of $9.1 billion and in an attempt to ease Family Dollars’ anti-trust review fears it proposed closing 1,500 of the potentially combined companies 20,000 stores.

Yet, that still wasn’t enough and Family Dollar rejected the bid, choosing instead to stay with its true love, Dollar Tree.

Dollar General extends tender offer for Family Dollar shares again [Reuters]

Study: Broadband Still Slower, More Expensive In U.S. Than In Europe, Asia

Fri, 2014-10-31 21:18

(Tom Richardson)

(Tom Richardson)


American consumers have gotten a mixed bag of broadband news this year. Between mergers and net neutrality it’s been a rough twelve months, even while some consumers have seen better connections and dropping prices. But the news for most of us is the same as ever: on the whole, Americans pay more, for worse broadband service, than our peers in the rest of the world.

The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation conducts a study every year comparing broadband speeds and prices nation- and world-wide. This year’s, which they released this week, is the third annual study.

Last year’s report found that Americans were paying more for broadband access than our counterparts abroad, and getting worse service for it.

This year’s data paint a similar picture. Overall, our national average broadband speeds are still lower, and our prices higher, than what customers in similarly-sized cities in Europe and Asia get.

That’s not to say that all consumers in the U.S. are chugging along with terrible connections, though. In fact, the seven top-ranking cities, all tied at first place with symmetrical gigabit connections, include three cities in Asia and four in the U.S. Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo are tied for first place along with Chattanooga, TN; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; and Lafayette, LA.

If that list of cities sounds familiar, it’s because Chattanooga is the country’s go-to example of just how great municipal broadband can be, and the Kansas City area is where Google Fiber first launched. Lafayette also has a well-regarded public fiber utility.

But in larger cities, where only big incumbent ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable operate, the picture is more dire. Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC all tie for 12th place on the list, with fiber connections of 500 Mbps. San Francisco, America’s high-tech hotbed, comes in near the bottom of the list with top speeds of 200 Mbps, just 20% of what consumers in Chattanooga can get.

American users aren’t just seeing slower service, though; even though prices have dropped since last year, we’re still paying significantly more for every gigabyte we get. Gigabit service in Chattanooga and Kansas City runs $70 per month, and in Lafayette it’s about $110. As compared to last year’s $1000 monthly fee, that’s great. But customers in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo — all cities with a high cost of living — are all paying between $30 and $40 USD for their connections.

Meanwhile, those 500 Mbps connections in New York and L.A. — literally half as fast — will run a subscriber a whopping $300 per month. American consumers are also paying more in other ways, for example, with high monthly modem rental fees.

So what’s keeping American broadband down? There seem to be two key factors: one, broadband is a government-sponsored or -subsidized utility in many other parts of the world.

Public or public/private partnerships for broadband are often very successful in the United States, as Lafayette, Chattanooga, and Kansas City show. But they’re very, very hard to get started. Not only do new ventures face logistical and financial hurdles, but also legal ones. Incumbent ISPs, especially AT&T, have successfully sponsored or lobbied for state level laws that prohibit the construction or expansion of municipal broadband projects.

The other major factor is related, and it’s competition. Or, more specifically, the complete lack of it. In most U.S. cities, customers seeking high-speed internet don’t really have a choice of what provider to go with. For connections faster than 25 Mbps, over 80% of us can go with, at most, one provider.

Big telecom companies are nominally expanding their gigabit fiber networks, but they aren’t there yet and it will be a long, slow slog before they are. And without competition, they aren’t really motivated to. Incumbent ISPs are more likely to pretend everything is great and rigging the rules in their favor than they are actually to spend the time and money it takes to make wide-scale change.

OTI has made their full data set available to anyone who wishes to dig around in it.

Bag Of Cash Falls Out Of Armored Truck, Scatters Across Highway

Fri, 2014-10-31 21:11

(FastFords)

(FastFords)

Some commuters this morning in Maryland encountered some unexpected excitement when they saw a huge amount of cash blowing across the highway. This was not the most dangerous radio station promotion ever, but a mishap when a bag of money fell out of an armored truck, scattering its contents across the highway. Naturally, motorists stopped to pick it up.

Bags of money are just falling out all over the place? No, this was an unusual situation. Police say that one of the GardaWorld truck’s doors malfunctioned, causing a bag of cash to fall out. They have not disclosed how much cash was in the bag, but the commuters were apparently very thorough: with the help of K9 officers they were only able to recover $200.

This is not a “finders keepers” situation: the Maryland State Police say that if they find any of the motorists who helped themselves to the money, those people could be charged with theft. At least one person has turned in the money they picked up so far, and the state police have encouraged others to do the same.

We appreciate the good samaritan who turned some of the money found on I-270 back into the Frederick Barrack. Thank you for your honesty.

— MD State Police (@MDSP) October 31, 2014

I-270 drivers scramble to snatch cash that falls out of armored truck [WTOP]

This Target Call Of Duty Promo Is Either Not Bad Or Chintziest Thing Ever

Fri, 2014-10-31 21:06

(Reddit)

(Reddit)

The new Call of Duty game comes out next week, and various retailers are doing what they can to lure in buyers. For example, Best Buy and others are putting the game on sale at the exact same time nationwide so that the West Coast doesn’t have to wait hours to gripe about the multiplayer server’s inevitable crash, and Target’s Canadian stores are offering what is either a not-horrible Dorito’s tie-in or the cheapest giveaway we’ve seen in years.

A Reddit user in Canada posted this screen grab of the “killer deal” he saw advertised online for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

Just casually looking at the ad, you’d assume — and you’d probably be correct — that the deal is for two free bags of Doritos when you buy the game; the ultimate value of that deal depends heavily on one’s love for Doritos and the size of the free bags, but hey — free Doritos.

But if you take the text literally, it doesn’t seem as appealing.

“2 select Doritos chips when you buy 1 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video game,” along with an asterisk next to the “free” that indicates in the fine print below that items are packaged separately.

We’re just imagining a bunch of hungry CoD fans showing up at Target ready to take home two bags of Doritos, only to find that they are actually getting a pair of individually wrapped Dorito chips.

(Before anyone writes us, we know this isn’t actually going to happen. There is no need to send us a 1,500-word e-mail explaining that it would be cost-prohibitive to individually wrap each Dorito chip.)

And as for the $69.99 price on the games, remember that this is in Canadian dollars. In USD this is only around $62, about two dollars more than the retail price of the same game here.

New Crash Test Dummies Will Gain A Few Pounds To Better Reflect Fatalities Of Obese Drivers

Fri, 2014-10-31 20:28
Humanetics announced this week that it will begin making an obese crash test dummy.

Humanetics announced this week that it will begin making an obese crash test dummy.

We’ve all seen the dummies used in tests to determine if vehicles are safe before hitting the streets. Remember that picture, because the dummies are getting a makeover to better represent Americans’ growing waistlines.

CNN reports that one of the world’s largest makers of dummies will soon provide an obese model in order to help determine why larger consumers are more likely to die in a car crash.

The new obese dummy, which will weigh about 273 pound and have a body mass index of 35, will be used to measure seatbelt and airbag loads generated during crashes. Traditional crash test dummies weigh 167 pounds.

Christopher O’Connor, president and CEO of Humanetics, tells CNN that the larger dummies were created after reports found that obese people are 78% more likely to die in a crash.

“The reason is the way we get fat,” he says. “We get fat in our middle range. And we get out of position in a typical seat.”

Officials with the Center for Injury Biometrics tell CNN that the idea behind the updated dummy is to do a better job of prediction injury.

O’Connor says a prototype of the new dummy has already been tested in Europe and are expected in the U.S. next year.

Are obese crash test dummies the key to preventing road deaths? [CNN]

NY Pols Want Free Broadband For Public Housing, WiFi For Parks If Comcast Deal Approved

Fri, 2014-10-31 20:25

(Vivienne Gucwa)

(Vivienne Gucwa)

Usually by this point in the review process of a mega-merger like the one pending between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, there are discussions about things the parties are willing to do or give up in order to make the deal more palatable to critics. But because Comcast and TWC proactively offered to spin off some 3 million customers, and because Comcast already made a bunch of promises and concessions when it acquired NBC back in 2010, there hasn’t been much chatter. But some folks in New York are making known their demands for signing off on the deal.

Earlier this week, the NY Times reported [via DSLreports] that a group of city and leaders, with NYC public advocate Letitia James at the helm, are pushing for a commitment from Comcast to provide free broadband to the city’s public housing and to extend its low-cost Internet Essentials plan (which was created as a condition of the NBC deal).

While New York City might be the center of finance and commerce in the U.S., about 1/3 of households don’t have an Internet connection, highlighting the huge “digital divide” between the city’s wealthy residents and those who can’t afford broadband service.

In addition to the free service for public housing, the group wants gratis access at shelters for the city’s homeless and its victims of domestic violence.

While they’re at it, the pols are also calling for free WiFi in city parks, along with promises of faster connections.

And much like a group of U.S. Senators recently requested, the New York folks are asking Comcast to extend its current obligation to abide by the 2010 net neutrality rules, even though they were gutted earlier this year by a federal appeals court, and even though the FCC is currently working on more relaxed rules.

“We need our city to remain competitive in the 21st century,” explained James.

What right do these city and state politicians have to make these demands on Comcast? After all, they are not members of the FCC or the Justice Dept., the two federal regulators that are currently weighing the pros and cons of the merger.

Well, these folks have a lot of pull with the New York state Public Service Commission, which was informed of these requests on Wednesday.

The Commission could seek to block the merger in New York, which would effectively take away Comcast’s main reason for acquiring TWC — so that it can have a virtually continuous monopoly on broadband and cable from D.C. to Boston.

While Comcast would probably win in a legal battle with the Commission, it would be a delay and an expense the company doesn’t want. The company’s path of least resistance might be to give into some demands so it can acquire the customers and the geographic continuity it desires.

A rep for Comcast told the Times that it has been working closely with the Commission.

Meanwhile, in honor of Halloween, our colleagues at Consumers Union took out the below full-page ad this week, calling attention to the huge potential problems of the merger — higher prices, poor customer service — whether or not there are any concessions made:
Comcast.7.5x9.5.web_

Petition Demands Big Banks Give Consumers Back Our Right To Sue

Fri, 2014-10-31 19:40

(Colin)

(Colin)

Since 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that it was perfectly okay for companies to take away a consumer’s right to sue — and their ability to join other wronged consumers in a class action — by inserting a paragraph or two of text deep in lengthy, unchangeable contracts, the rush has been on for almost every major retailer, wireless provider, cable company, and financial institution to slap these mandatory binding arbitration clauses into their customer agreements. Now one petition is gathering signatures, calling on the nation’s largest banks to put an end to the practice.

For those not familiar with binding arbitration, it works like this: You’re wronged by a company; not just a customer service dispute, but a complaint where you have an actual legal dispute.

But you can’t sue, because 13 pages into a 23-page customer agreement (that you have no ability to change) there is a clause that says you and the company agree that all legal disputes will be handled, not in a court, but through an arbitration process, often with very strict limits on damages.

The companies claim this is all for everyone’s benefit, because arbitration moves much faster than going through the court system. It is, by its proponents’ own admission, biased in favor of the companies, which have lawyers on retainer and deep pockets against the consumers who frequently have no knowledge of the complicated process or the means to hire someone who does.

And since the damages are so low and the odds so stacked in the companies’ favor, few lawyers are willing to take on even the most legitimate dispute.

This problem is even more pronounced when the legal dispute involves a large group of customers who were all negatively affected in the same way.

Your credit card company has been overbilling a few million customers? Once upon a time, you could band together and sue as a class. But with around 95% of credit cardholders now bound by arbitration clauses, it’s more likely that each person would need to go through arbitration on his/her own.

Only a fraction of affected people will even attempt arbitration, and the company faces minimal damages, even if it was a massive cock-up.

In fact, in 2013 the Supreme Court effectively told companies they can get away with violating federal law, so long as it would cost too much money for a wronged consumer to prove the wrongdoing in arbitration.

In that case, a group of restaurants wanted to sue American Express for allegedly violating antitrust law by forcing businesses that accept AmEx charge cards to also accept the company’s credit and debit cards, for which the merchants say they pay higher rates than they do on competing credit cards and debit cards.

But AmEx uses forced arbitration clauses to keep customers — even its commercial customers — from suing as a class. Further, the cost of actually proving the antitrust case against the card company would have been significantly more than any individual business (A) could afford and (B) would ever receive in damages through arbitration.

Writing for the dissenting members of the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan said that her peers had basically just told Americans with valid legal complaints, “Too darn bad,” and that they had just given companies the tools to thwart federal antitrust law.

This is why the folks at Public Citizen have drafted a petition — which already has nearly 20,000 signatures — asking JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp and PNC Financial to remove arbitration clauses from their user agreements.

“Forced arbitration functions as a license to steal that makes it impossible for customers to hold you accountable in court if you break the law,” reads the petition. “Honor our rights and stop using forced arbitration.”

While we support the petition and believe that arbitration clauses need to be removed, the Supreme Court’s repeated blessing of the practice means that the only way it’s going to end is with Congress passing legislation declaring these clauses unconscionable, or at least outlining ways in which consumers can still seek legal action against companies that break the law.

Florida Man Stuffs Chainsaw Up Shirt, Tries To Bicycle Away

Fri, 2014-10-31 19:30

chainsawA few years ago, we shared the story of a bold shoplifter who thought that nobody would notice if he stuffed a chainsaw down his pants and tried to make a break for it. Someone will notice, as it turns out. In Florida, police say that a man tried to commit a similar crime this week, only with the chainsaw stuffed in his shirt. He did not succeed.

Yes, there is surveillance video with audio, which you can see at the Palm Beach Post. Warning: the video plays automatically when you open the page.

According to police, the man entered a hardware store and asked for change for a dollar, then picked up the chainsaw and left the store with it. Maybe it was his getaway method that was problematic: he fled the store on a bicycle. Police found the chainsaw in a vacant lot, but not the suspect. An employee of the store later helped police find him.

He has been charged with grand theft and burglary and is being held in the county jail.

Police: Man tried to steal a chainsaw by hiding it under his shirt [Palm Beach Post] (Warning: auto-play video)

28,980 Pounds Of Chicken Kiev Recalled For Connection With Salmonella Illness

Fri, 2014-10-31 18:53

kevin-40z-1Sometimes you want Chicken Kiev but don’t feel like pounding out the chicken breasts, stuffing them with butter and herbs, and then cooking them. But if you’ve got some Antioch Farms Chicken Kiev sitting in your freezer, check the label because 29,000 pounds of the pre-stuffed chicken have been recalled for possible Salmonella contamination.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Aspen Foods, a division of Koch Meats in Chicago, recalled 28,980 pounds of partial prepared chicken products sold under the Antioch Farms brand.

The recall was initiated at the request of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) after Minnesota health officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified a cluster of salmonella cases that appeared to be connected to the product.

According to the USDA notice, the Minnesota Health Department investigation identified six patients who reported being sick after consuming the chicken Kiev.

Samples of the product collected during the course of the investigation by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis.

Investigators were able to prove that the illness strain was indeed associated with the Antioch Farms chicken.

The single 5-ounce plastic packets of Raw Stuffed Chicken Breast Breaded, Boneless Breast of Chicken with Rib Meat “A La Kiev” comes with sell by dates of October 1 and October 7, 2015. The product also bears the establishment number “P-1258″ inside the USDA mark.

Supermarkets that sold the product include Albertson’s, Shaws, Cub Foods and other retailers. A full list of retailers can be found online.

The product was shipped to stores in Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Rhode Island, Vermont, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The USDA reports that consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated product. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Most people recover without treatment. In some persons, however, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Older adults, infants, and persons with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a severe illness. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact their health care provider.

Illinois Firm Recalls Chicken Products Due to Possible Salmonella Enteritidis Contamination [USDA]

Ferrari To Pay $3.5M Penalty For Failure To Submit Fatality Reports To NHTSA For Three Years

Fri, 2014-10-31 17:31

(Ian)

(Ian)

As we’ve reported previously, car manufacturers are required to report death and injury claims to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so that the agency can identify potentially fatal and dangerous defects. Failing to submit those reports not only endangers drivers, it can cost a pretty penny for auto makers. Just ask Ferrari, the high-end carmaker must pay a $3.5 million penalty for its inaction.

NHTSA announced that Ferrari will pay the hefty fine and revise its reporting procedures as a result of failing to submit early warning reports [EWR] that included three fatalities.

Ferrari, a subsidiary of Chrysler Fiat, admitted that it violated federal law when, for three years, it failed to submit required safety information to the agency.

While Ferrari once qualified as a small volume manufacturer and was not required to file quarterly reports with NHTSA, that status changed when Chrysler was acquired by Fiat in 2011.

Additionally, all car manufacturers are required to submit fatal accidents no matter their volume size.

“There is no excuse for failing to follow laws created to keep drivers safe, and our aggressive enforcement action today underscores the point that all automakers will be held accountable if they fail to do their part in our mission to keep Americans safe on the road,” Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary, says in a NHTSA statement.

Under the settlement, Ferrari must improve its processes for EWR reporting, to train personnel on the EWR requirements, to communicate these improvements to NHTSA, and to retroactively submit all EWR reports.

NHTSA Fines Ferrari $3.5 Million for Failing to Submit Early Warning Reports [NHTSA]

Review Of Dunkin’ Donuts Not-A-Cronut: It’s The Lookalike Pet Parents Buy When Real One Dies

Fri, 2014-10-31 17:28

notacronutEarlier this week, Dunkin’ Donuts announced that it was jumping on the call-it-anything-but-a-Cronut craze by offering its own croissant/donut hybrid. Alas, the early word from one fan of the original Cronut is not so appetizing.

Over at People.com, writer and food-tasting guinea pig Mark Marino — a self-described aficionado of the actual Cronuts created by NYC pastry chef Dominique Ansel — put the DD “crossaint-donut” to the test, with not-so-favorable results.

“The company claims it’s not ‘copying a specific bakery in New York’ with its holey creation, and I believe them,” he writes, “mainly because the Duncrodonsant… looks and tastes nothing like a Cronut.”

Marino likens the experience of eating a Fauxnut to parents’ failed attempts to placate children when their pet parakeet dies.

“[Y]our parents run out and buy a new one but try to convince you it’s the same bird even though it is bigger and has different markings and bears no resemblance the original bird,” he writes. “It’s kind of like that.”

As for his specific issues with the DD product, Marino cites the chain’s decision to glaze its creation, as opposed to Ansel’s unglazed Cronuts, which only have a light layer of frosting on top and a dusting of sugar on the sides.

But the problems aren’t just crust-deep, according to the review. While one should be able to peel apart the flaky layers of a croissant/donut thingy, the DD version contains “dense, yeasty layers” and “just tastes like a regular glazed donut.”

Marino writes that it’s not a bad thing, but concludes, “I definitely wouldn’t wait in line at 5:30 a.m. for one. Unless I had to kill time waiting for PetSmart to open so I could buy a replacement parakeet.”

No word yet on whether Ansel’s lawyers have sent Dunkin’ a cease-and-desist letter over its not-a-Cronut.

Does Using Someone Else’s Costco Card To Steal From Store Count As Burglary?

Fri, 2014-10-31 16:52

(Groovnick)

(Groovnick)

When you leave a store without having paid for something, you’ve likely committed the crime of theft, but if you use someone else’s card to get into a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s Club and then walk out of the store without paying for items in your bag, have you also committed the crime of burglary? A New Mexico appeals court says no, but it depends on where you live.

Back in 2010, a group of people in New Mexico — none of them Costco members — flashed a membership card on their way into an Albuquerque-area store. And while perusing the oversized aisles, they stashed some items in a purse belonging to a woman in the group.

They did pay for some bottled water and ice cream, but didn’t pay for the items put into the purse, so a loss-prevention employee stopped them.

In 2012, some members of the group were found guilty of burglary, which New Mexico state law defines, in part, as “unauthorized entry of any vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, dwelling or other structure, movable or immovable, with the intent to commit any felony or theft therein.”

Prosecutors argued that the crime rose to the level of burglary because the shoplifters had no right to enter the store since they were not Costco members. Thus, use of someone else’s card constituted an unauthorized entry by fraud, deceit, or pretense.

But a state appeals court panel unanimously reversed that conviction earlier this year, ruling that “retail stores are open to the public during business hours and, therefore, an individual who enters a retail store with the intent to shoplift is not guilty of burglary.”

In their opinion, recently published in Bar Bulletin [PDF, see p. 25], the appeals panel pointed to conflicting testimony provided by two Costco employees during the trial.

One greeter first testified that members of the public are not allowed inside Costco without a membership, but also told the court that it isn’t routine or in her “job description” to check the photos on membership cards, agreeing that a “ten-year-old Costco card, a friend’s card, [or] a card they found on the street” could be used to enter the store.

A second employee, this one from loss-prevention, also testified that only members could enter the store but later clarified that the store policy really just meant that non-members “cannot make purchases.”

“Notwithstanding Costco’s membership policies, we discern no particular security or privacy interest at stake inside Costco that justifies recognizing a departure from the general rule that we presume retail stores to be open to the public,” reads the appeals court’s opinion.

While Costco shoppers pay a membership fee to enjoy the benefits of buying in bulk from the store, the court claims that, “Once inside, the store is similar to any other retail store in that merchandise is presented for the shopping public to purchase.”

Thus, explains the panel, using someone else’s card to enter a Costco or similar store does not engender “the feeling of violation and vulnerability” normally associated with the crime of burglary.

The court also pointed out that there is no security purpose to the membership requirement, as there are already laws against trespassing and theft.

“Defendant’s entry into Costco during business hours, albeit deceptive, granted him access to an otherwise open shopping area, as opposed to an area ‘where things are stored and personal items can be kept private,'” writes the court. “Thus, as far as the privacy and security interests of the store itself are concerned, we see no heightened or unique security or privacy interest that distinguishes Costco from other retail stores that we generally consider open to the public.”

Commenting on the implications of assuming that faking your way into Costco may raise a petty theft to charge to the level of burglary, the panel concludes, “It would be an absurd application of our burglary statute to punish those who shoplift from Sam’s Club more severely than those who shoplift from Walmart.”

At the same time, the court acknowledges that some states have a much broader definition of burglary, citing the California criminal code, which states that “Every person who enters any store with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary.”

In that case, the definition is so broad that it doesn’t matter whether you use someone else’s card or your own Costco ID; if you go into the store to steal, you’ve committed a burglary in California.

[via ABQjournal.com]

Developmentally Disabled Man Falls Over Mall Railing, Dies

Fri, 2014-10-31 16:43

(Kerry Lannert)

(Kerry Lannert)

Police say that what happened yesterday at the Palisades Center mall in upstate New York was a terrible accident. Residents from a nearby group home for developmentally disabled adults were on a trip to the local mall, and somehow––nobody knows quite how yet––one of the residents fell over a third-floor railing, landing at the bottom of an escalator near the Best Buy store. He was killed.

The group was on a trip meant to get people with developmental disabilities out in the community, called “habilitation.” Police hadn’t yet announced the identity of the man or of the group home as of late last night, since his family had not yet been identified. “The safety of the individuals in our care is paramount and we are doing everything we can to help determine what led to this terrible accident,” a statement from the social services agency that runs the home, New York Foundling, said in part.

Police say that the man had been standing near a railing next to the escalator bank on the third floor, near Best Buy. Then he wasn’t. Shoppers made a flurry of calls to 911 to report the accident. The man was pronounced dead at the scene. Police believe that he fell, rather than jumping or being pushed, but they will investigate.

Group home resident falls to death in Palisades Center mall [Journal News]

Deer Goes On Rampage Breaking Windows At Subway, Visiting Auto Repair Center

Fri, 2014-10-31 16:41

(Marike79)

(Marike79)

A deer’s lack of opposable thumbs led him to take a different route while trying to obtain a foot-long from a Pennsylvania Subway: jumping through the window. But things didn’t end there, the wild animal continued his rampage down the street at an auto repair shop.

Lancaster Online reports that the buck jumped through a window of a local Subway restaurant Wednesday morning, jumping over the counter while thrashing around the store.

The whole ordeal lasted about 10 minutes or so before the large, antlered deer knocked out yet another window trying to escape.

Eventually, the deer made its way through a back door and smashed through the restaurant’s fence, employees tell the newspaper. No customers were in the restaurant at the time of the deer’s visit, but several employees were present getting ready for the day.

A manager for the restaurant says a motorist told employees he had hit the deer shortly before the animal began its journey to Subway.

After leaving Subway, the deer reportedly visited a nearby Auto Center. The owner of the shop tells LancasterOnline that no one was injured in the incident but that more damage was caused.

Sadly, local police report the deer did not survive the day’s events.

This isn’t the first time a deer wreaked havoc on a place of business this week. On Monday, Consumerist reported on a deer going buck wild inside a furniture store in Cedar Falls, IA.

Deer jumps through Columbia restaurant window [LancasterOnline]

Nissan Recalls 1,848 Infiniti Vehicles Over Defective Takata Airbags

Fri, 2014-10-31 15:57

(John)

(John)

The number of vehicles recalled related to defective Takata airbags increased by more than 1,000 vehicles Friday, as Nissan issued a recall of luxury Infiniti vehicles.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notice [PDF], Nissan issued the recall after determining that 1,848 model year 2013 Infiniti QX56 and model year 2014 Infiniti QX80 vehicles may contain defective airbags made by the same company responsible for the recall of more than 8 million cars.

Officials with Nissan say the vehicles’ airbags may have been manufactured with an incorrect part that could cause excessive inflator internal pressure that can lead to rupture during deployment. In the event of a crash this could cause inflator components to separate and potentially be propelled toward the interior of the vehicle, increasing a risk of injury.

A defect report [PDF] from Nissan details that the manufacturer began looking into a potential issue back in June after General Motors recalled vehicles for a similar problem.

Nissan then contacted Takata and requested further investigation to determine if Nissan vehicles were affected.

In August, Nissan received a preliminary data set from Takata, detailing potentially misbuilt inflators. Nissan assessed its vehicles and in mid-October determined that select Infiniti models may contain the airbags.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the timing of production for the recently recalled Infiniti models – which occurred between September 1, 2012 and April 26, 2013 – likely means the airbags are not the same as those responsible for at least four deaths and 30 injuries. Takata airbags related to earlier recalls were produced in 2007.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified of the issue next month and dealers will replace the front driver airbag inflator.

Walmart Shoplifter Threatens To Infect Employee With HIV

Fri, 2014-10-31 15:39

(Patrick)

(Patrick)

A wannabe shoplifter at a Dallas Walmart somehow thought it would be a good idea to threaten a store employee with HIV infection rather than get in trouble for trying to pilfer $11 worth of frozen food from the retailer.

Police say that when the employee confronted the 25-year-old shopper about her purloined goods, the woman said she is HIV-positive and told the worker, “I can infect whomever I please.”

The woman allegedly attacked the employee, who received some scratches on his face, but who is incredibly unlikely to have been infected during the confrontation.

However, because police believe that the shoplifter was deliberately attempting to draw blood and expose the employee to HIV, she was charged with attempted aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Had the shopper merely fessed up to the attempted shoplifting and accepted a ban from the store, it’s possible the arrest may have been avoided, as Walmart rarely prosecutes small-time shoplifting offenses. However, the woman also had a pair of outstanding arrest warrants, so once police got involved she was likely heading to lock-up regardless of whether the store prosecuted her.

[via DallasNews.com]

Forget Black Friday, Holiday Shopping Season Starts Tomorrow

Fri, 2014-10-31 15:20

(SOB Photography)

(SOB Photography)

While children and parents around the country are sitting around, regretting the huge amount of sugar and chocolate consumed tonight, the folks at Walmart, Amazon and other stores are not only busting out the holiday decorations, but reducing prices and offering short-term large-scale sales for early holiday shoppers.

Four weeks in advance of Black Friday, Walmart says that it is discounting some 20,000 items starting tomorrow, including toys and electronics; items that make up a good chunk of consumers’ Christmas shopping lists.

This will be followed Monday by a 24-hour online sale on Walmart.com, offering free shipping on many orders of $50 or more.

Not to be beaten by bricks-and-mortar stores, Amazon is also planning to kick off its holiday lightning deals on Saturday, and will soon begin doubling up on its Deal of the Day offerings through Dec. 22.

Target is already promoting free shipping on all Target.com orders for the holidays, and starting Sunday users of Target’s Cartwheel coupon app will see deals for 50% off a different toy each day through Dec. 24.

And for folks looking for office supply deals these holidays, both Office Depot and OfficeMax will begin offering deals this Sunday, along with “Every Monday is Cyber Monday” each week through the rest of the season.

Retailers dangle holiday deals as soon as Halloween is over [StarTribune.com]

FCC To Propose New “Hybrid” Approach To Net Neutrality

Fri, 2014-10-31 14:47

fccprotestThe FCC proposed their new, “fast lane” net neutrality rule back in May. Since then pretty much everyone — from Congress to 3 million regular people, to members of the FCC — has objected in one way or another. And now it looks like FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is going to revise the plan.

The Wall Street Journal reports that sources in the know say that Wheeler is close to settling on a “hybrid” proposal.

The new stab at net neutrality would not flat-out reclassify broadband service as a common carrier under Title II, as most consumer advocates have asked for.

Instead, the new plan would split broadband into two service categories. One would cover retail broadband, and be defined as the internet access services that consumers buy. The other would cover “back-end” broadband, as the WSJ puts it, “in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content.”

That back-end service would then be classified as a common carrier, while retail broadband would not.

If that proposal were to be adopted, that would mean that internet traffic would be regulated in two different ways depending on how far away from you, the end user, it is. Traffic moving from its origination point on some server somewhere, through transit ISPs, would be treated under common carrier rules. Traffic coming through the last mile of cable, into your house, would not be.

That would theoretically mostly prevent broadband providers from engaging in fast lane/slow lane behavior and throttling or blocking content — but only in the back-end. It’s still a golden opportunity for retail ISPs (the Comcasts and Verizons of the world) to make things difficult for the consumers who actually receive that content.

As the WSJ puts it, the proposal would “leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for, say, videogamers or online video providers, which require a particularly large amount of bandwidth. The proposal would also allow the commission to explore usage-based pricing at some point, in which consumers are charged based on how much data they use and companies are able to subsidize traffic to their websites or applications.”

Want to spend all your evenings in League of Legends? You’ll want the Gamer High Score Plus package, which actually lets you connect to that without lag for only an extra $19.99 per month. Really into watching House of Cards in 4K on your shiny new ultra-HD TV every night? You’ll need the Feature Film Fan bundle for that.

The point of a hybrid plan is to try to appease all corners, but so far this seems likely to be a flop on that front. Consumer advocacy groups see all the potential pitfalls that remain for end users, and aren’t pleased.

Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron, taking full advantage of today’s holiday, said in a statement, “This Frankenstein proposal is no treat for Internet users, and they shouldn’t be tricked. No matter how you dress it up, any rules that don’t clearly restore the agency’s authority and prevent specialized fast lanes and paid prioritization aren’t real Net Neutrality.”

Nor are big businesses enthralled with this approach. Verizon has strongly suggested that they will once again take the FCC to court over any attempt to reclassify broadband services, saying they do not think a reclassification approach would “withstand judicial review.” And an industry official told that WSJ that while hybrid plans might be seen as fractionally more tolerable, they would almost certainly meet the same legal challenges from ISPs as a full attempt at using Title II would.

Rumor has it the FCC wants net neutrality done with before the end of the year, which gives them two months to get through any new proposal. They are in an unenviable position; they absolutely cannot make everyone happy. But the more they try, the more they seem to fail to make anyone happy.

FCC ‘Net Neutrality’ Plan Calls for More Power Over Broadband [Wall Street Journal]

Starbucks Plans To Launch Delivery Service In 2015

Fri, 2014-10-31 14:35

(Ron G)

(Ron G)

If you didn’t things could be more convenient than having the ability to order and pay-ahead of picking up your morning coffee then you’d be wrong. Starbucks is reportedly taking its push to be the most convenient form of morning java a step farther by launching delivery service next year.

CNBC reports that Starbucks plans to launch a food and beverage delivery service in select areas of the United States in the second half of 2015.

“Imagine the ability to create a standing order that Starbucks delivered hot or iced to your desk daily,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in a conference call.

The service will only be available to Starbucks loyalty program members as part of its soon-to-launch mobile order and pay app.

Officials with the company say the delivery service is still in development.

Starbucks just announced big news about delivery [CNBC]

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