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The Consumerist

Billions In College Aid Will Go Unclaimed Again Because Students Won’t Fill Out A Stupid Form

Tue, 2015-05-05 19:01

(Xavier J. Peg)

(Xavier J. Peg)

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Way back in December, we advised high school seniors who planned on attending college to not be stupid and go fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] form right away. Every year, billions of dollars in grant and loan money goes unclaimed because students and their parents never get around to filling out this paperwork, and it looks like the upcoming school year will be no different.

This is according to an analysis by the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, who looked at FAFSA completion numbers in the weeks leading up to May 1 (so-called “college signing day,” when many schools require applicants to choose which college they will attend), and found that around 40% of high school seniors had not yet filed a FAFSA by mid-April.

Only five states — Tennessee, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Indiana, Delaware — and the District of Columbia had completion rates higher than 50%, while 23 states were below 40% completion rates.

Three states — Arizona, Alaska, and Utah — were all below 30% completion, with Utah having the lowest rate (18.6%) in the country.

As of April 17, there were more than 104,000 unfinished applications still pending, an increase of more than 14,000 over the previous year.

Granted, the form is an ugly mess that too-closely resembles a complicated tax return, and it requires some of the same information you’d put on your 1040, but remember: FAFSA money is not all about student loans. While it does determine whether an applicant is eligible for subsidized federal loans, the process also determines whether they can get access to grants that can reduce how much you need to borrow to pay for your education.

Even if your family doesn’t need to borrow to pay for your college, you might still be eligible for some grants. Why pay full price when someone is willing to give you a grant you’ll never have to repay?

The other issue that causes delays in getting FAFSAs filled out is the bizarre and varied deadline system. Each state has its own deadline, and a number of states cap their grants so that they are available on a first-come basis. Applying late in the process may result in the applicant not getting everything they are qualified to receive.

This PDF breaks down each state’s specific deadlines. But our recommendation for any student who hasn’t filled out the form is to fill out your form immediately.

Currently outstanding student loans already account for more than $1 trillion in debt in the U.S. The cost of attending college continues to increase, so that amount is only going to increase. Using grant money to reduce the amount that students need to borrow in the first place helps us all in the long run.

[via Cleveland.com]

Lost Lucky Lottery Winner Ruins All The Fun, Turns Out To Be An Undercover Agent

Tue, 2015-05-05 18:07

lotteryguyThere was a feeling in the Internet air yesterday, one of solidarity, of coming together as a species in the face of a daunting mystery, and now that’s all over. There’s good news and “Aww, man, really?” news about the guy who’d won $75,000 in the lottery but only walked away with $75: He’s been found! The other news: He’s an undercover California lottery agent. The other, other news: Such a job exists.

Yesterday evening after the good denizens of the Internet no doubt started scouring the Earth for this fellow, ABC 7 News reported that the agent was sent to the gas station with a dummy winning ticket to check on the store to see if it was in compliance with lottery rules and regulations.

The cashier who handled the ticket trade-in misread the machine, and called his manager as soon as he realized the mistake. That was after the agent had taken his money and left.

Though officials say most businesses are honest, undercover agents exist to make sure stores aren’t behaving badly and trying to cheat customers. The gas station manager says she hopes her store passes the test, as her employee alerted her to the situation right away.

But the deputy director of the California Lottery told ABC he isn’t sure that the store followed all the rules, because the cashier didn’t hand the customer/agent a validation slip along with the money from the winning ticket. That would’ve confirmed the $75,000 payout, not $75.

“We have a lot more questions than answers. A lot of red flags have been raised and we are looking into whether this was an honest mistake or not,” Lopez said.

The group’s verdict won’t be reached until their investigation is complete in the next few weeks.

MAN IN LOTTO TICKET MISHAP TURNS OUT TO BE UNDERCOVER CALIFORNIA LOTTERY AGENT [ABC 7 News]

Big Credit Card Data Breach Hits Bars And Restaurants Using Harbortouch Point-of-Sale Systems

Tue, 2015-05-05 17:57

(Julio Marquez)

(Julio Marquez)

In much of the country, this is the first truly warm week of the year. The change of seasons has us turning to shorts, dresses, sandals, and chilled fruity drinks served in rooftop bars. But data breaches, alas, are always in style, and buying that beverage may land you with a stolen credit card number.

The issue this time around is with point-of-sale vendor Harbortouch. Security expert Brian Krebs flagged the hack on his site this week.

Unless you work in a few specific industries, you probably haven’t heard of Harbortouch. But they’re pretty huge: the company provides point-of-sale systems to roughly 150,000 businesses, generally restaurants and bars. Krebs reports that his sources at card-issuing banks say that at least 4200 Harbortouch customers nationwide appear to have been breached.

As we have seen plenty of times before, and will continue to see plenty more times, this hack involved point-of-sale terminals being infected with malware. Once in place, the malware scrapes card data from affected merchants at the time of swipe, and sends it zipping merrily off to people who should not have it.

Harbortouch confirmed the breach in a statement to Krebs, saying, “The incident involved the installation of malware on certain point of sale (POS) systems.” They added, “The advanced malware was designed to avoid detection by the antivirus program running on the POS System. Within hours of detecting the incident, Harbortouch identified and removed the malware from affected systems.”

Their own network was not affected, Harbortouch said, nor was it the result of a vulnerability in their software. And, as one does, they have hired a specialist network forensic investigative firm to help them sort out precisely what happened.

Harbortouch insists that “only a small percentage of our merchants were affected.” Technically, as far as we know, that’s true: 4200 out of 150k merchants is less than three percent. But over four thousand stores is also an awful lot of locations and an awful lot of lifted data.

“Harbortouch does not directly process or store cardholder data,” the company told Krebs. “It is important to note that only a small percentage of our merchants were affected and over a relatively short period of time. We are working with the appropriate parties to notify the card issuing banks that were potentially impacted. Those banks can then conduct heightened monitoring of transactions to detect and prevent unauthorized charges. We are also coordinating our efforts with law enforcement to assist them in their investigation.”

A few months back, after the P.F. Chang’s breach made headlines, Harbortouch made a post to their corporate blog on the importance of data protection and how not to become a victim of breaches. Unfortunately, “make sure the company you’re buying this system from doesn’t become infected with malware” was not on the list of action items.

This particular kind of breach is likely slowly to become less prevalent over the next few years, as merchants in the U.S. finally make the long-overdue transition to chip-enabled EMV cards. But for now, consumers’ best bet is to assume breaches are inevitable and to keep a sharp eye on all of their own cards and accounts.

Harbortouch is Latest POS Vendor Breach [Krebs on Security]

Sysco And FTC Fight Over Proposed Merger, Food Service Voltron

Tue, 2015-05-05 17:54

(Don Buciak II)

(Don Buciak II)

The Federal Trade Commission and commercial food supplier Sysco are meeting in court today over Sysco’s right to acquire its next biggest national competitor, US Foods. Does America need a food service Voltron? Sysco is defending its proposed acquisition, but the FTC stands against it. Arguments in federal court started today, and could last for more than a week.

While food supply is a fragmented market, Sysco and US Foods are the dominant national suppliers. That means they have relationships with hotels and restaurants that are national brands. The FTC’s argument is that while the marketplace may be pretty diverse on a local level, it isn’t so diverse for companies that have nationwide contracts with one supplier or the other. “Sysco and US Foods are the only broadline distributors with a truly national footprint,” the FTC noted after challenging the merger back in February, “and [the two companies] compete vigorously with each other to meet the needs of customers with foodservice locations dispersed nationwide or across multiple regions of the country.”

There are 32 markets that the FTC has identified where customers really only have a choice between Sysco and US Foods. While the FTC can force one of the merging companies to sell off its business in that market as a condition of approving the merger, that is not at all helpful for national customers that would be left with only one provider if the merger went through. The FTC argues that the companies would do business in about 75% of the country, which is unacceptably large.

Sysco’s counter-argument is that there are more than 16,000 food service providers nationwide, and plenty of competition. Together, the merged Sysco-US Foods would have about 27% of the commercial food-service market.

Sysco Fights FTC in Antitrust Showdown to Save US Foods Deal [Bloomberg News]

Cancer Patient Says American Airlines Ticket Agent Refused To Provide Her A Wheelchair

Tue, 2015-05-05 17:52
(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Just because someone looks healthy on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean they actually are. That’s the lesson a Texas woman hopes to pass on to others after she says a ticket agent with American Airlines declined to provide her with a wheelchair despite the fact she had just receiving cancer treatment.

ABC 10News in San Diego reports that the woman was traveling back to Texas after receiving treatment for her leukemia when the ticket agent failed to fulfill her request for a wheelchair transport to the gate.

The traveler says she started to feel weak and in pain while standing at the counter, so she asked the agent for a wheelchair to the gate and to have one waiting for her when she arrived in Dallas.

“She just kind of looked and said ‘Oh, you look fine to me,’ and I didn’t I know how to take it,” the passenger says.

The woman asked for assistance again, saying she had been diagnosed with leukemia three years ago and was in the city to receive treatment.

“I just said, you know, I’m here for cancer treatment and I need help, and at that point she just kind of yelled over her shoulder ‘I need a wheelchair’ and dismissed me on the way and I waited for about 20 minutes and nothing came,” she tells 10News.

Fortunately, the woman says an airport employee noticed her struggling and provided a wheelchair in time to catch her flight.

But the ordeal didn’t end there. The passenger says that upon landing in Dallas there was no wheelchair waiting.

“The lady at the counter by the gate said I don’t have you on my list and just turned and started talking to somebody else,” she says.

While the woman says she may look like a healthy person, she reminds others that you can’t see leukemia or other illnesses on the inside.

The woman tells 10News that she called American Airlines when she returned home but was unable to talk to an actual person. An email complaint resulted in an automated response notifying her that she would hear from the airline within 30 days.

“I don’t want anything,” she says. “I just don’t want them to do this to other people.”

10News’ attempts to contact the airline were also relatively fruitless, as the airline’s media desk was closed Monday evening and an email produced the same automated response. The company did respond to a Twitter message from the reporter, saying that the media desk would reply as soon as possible.

Cancer patient says American Airlines would not give her wheelchair [ABC 10News]

Now You Can Buy A Used Tesla Directly From The Company’s Website

Tue, 2015-05-05 17:44

The pre-owned Teslas currently available in Denver range from $60,500 to $87,500, so don't expect to pay for one with pocket change... unless you have really fancy pockets.

The pre-owned Teslas currently available in Denver range from $60,500 to $87,500, so don’t expect to pay for one with pocket change… unless you have really fancy pockets.

If you were looking to get a Tesla Model S electric vehicle but didn’t feel like paying full price for a new one, your options were limited. It’s not like Craigslist is full of ads for these relatively new cars. But in recent weeks, Tesla has launched an online portal that allows customers to check out the pre-owned Teslas available in their area.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Tesla quietly slipped a certified pre-owned sales page onto its website at some point in April.

It currently lists available used Teslas for sale in 11 different areas — Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Florida, Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.. Cars sold through this program include a 4-year or 50,000-mile limited warranty.

The number and variety of Teslas available varies significantly by market. The Journal reports there should be more to choose from in the coming year when Tesla’s first wave of leased vehicles are turned in.

Tesla sells new cars directly to consumers, primarily through its website and a few storefront showrooms. While this allows the company to set a firm, no-haggle price on its products and gives it better control of new vehicle inventory, it also means that Tesla doesn’t have dealers that can manage a fleet of used cars.

The carmaker would have to incur the cost of holding onto this inventory of previously owned vehicles, so it may be motivated to flip those older cars to new customers as quickly as possible. A rep for the company tells the Journal that its used cars are retained in various storage spots around the country. Customers can choose to pick their pre-owned Tesla up at one of these locations or have it delivered.

In addition to spreading the gospel of electric vehicles to new consumers, Tesla needs to be able to show its current group of owners that there is a resale market for their cars so that they will feel more secure when it comes time to choose their next car.

[via The Verge]

Windows 10 Users Will Be Able To Flip The Bird With New Emoji

Tue, 2015-05-05 17:32

(Jeepers Media)

(Jeepers Media)

Sometimes, words just don’t do the trick. For those times, using certain gestures can express everything you’re feeling with just the upward flick of one particular finger. Microsoft better hope people like Windows 10 a lot more than they did Windows 8, or they’ll be getting a lot of the middle-finger emoji included in the newest iteration of its operating system.

“Reverse Hand with Middle Finger Extended” (via Emojipedia) comes in a variety of skin hues for flipping the bird, with the gray version apparently supposed to be Microsoft’s idea of “neutral.” That, or a zombie is really ticked off at you.

"Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended"

“Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended”

It’s to be noted that Microsoft is the only one of the big tech companies to include the silent symbol for “fudge you”: Though the Unicode Consortium added the middle finger last year, Apple’s collection of symbols doesn’t have it and neither does Google’s array of emoticons and symbols on its Android platform.

Without those companies and others like Twitter and Facebook giving users the power to type and view those emojis, trying to say, paste one from Windows 10 elsewhere will just result in a big fat X.

“X you!” just doesn’t have the same power as that solitary messenger, does it?

Poultry Pros: Avian Flu Outbreak Could Impact This Year’s Thanksgiving Feasts

Tue, 2015-05-05 16:53

(poopoorama)

(poopoorama)

It’s still more than six months away, but amid an avian flu outbreak in the U.S. that’s doing some serious damage to poultry farms, some people are already having to think long and hard about Thanksgiving. Supplies of whole turkeys might not be able to keep up as well as usual with the holiday demand.

The H5N2 strain has spread to 14 states, spreading to the farms of poultry and egg producers in the largest outbreak this country has seen yet: More than 21 million birds have been felled, including 3.3 million turkeys in the nation’s top turkey-producing state, Minnesota, reports Reuters.

Farmers and trade groups say this could add up to a shortage when it’s time to gather around the table in the fall. For one thing, with only seven months before the big day, farmers might not have enough time to raise the amount of turkeys needed.

Once bird flu hits a farm, it takes several months to get it back to where a new flock can be brought in, Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association explained to Reuters. It then takes about four months from the point of chicks arriving in the barns to grow them into a full-sized bird.

But there’s also the matter of getting a chick in the first place — breeder farms can get infected as they have in Minnesota, making it tough to provide enough. And the outbreak shows no sign of stopping in Minnesota yet.

Nearly one in five out of the 240 million turkeys raised in 2014 in the U.S. came from Minnesota farms. Of those, about 30% are sold as whole turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the rest going to make deli meat, frozen meals and other products.

“We’re going to have fewer turkeys coming out because of this,” Olson said, adding that that number isn’t clear yet. “The question we can’t answer is how much this is going to impact our total system, because this isn’t over yet.”

There is some hope — there are stocks of whole turkey hens in cold storage to the tune of 98.7 million pounds, according to federal Agriculture Department data. Many of those birds were raised and slaughtered earlier in the year to be ready for Thanksgiving demand.

There are also those producers who think they can ride out the storm.

“You may see a small impact,” one producer who raises 600,000 turkeys a year told Reuters, adding that there’s some “wiggle room” for the holiday season. “Unless this outbreak gets a lot worse, I don’t see it having a huge impact on our overall supply.”

Bird flu may take bite out of Thanksgiving’s turkey supply [Reuters]

Los Angeles Sues Wells Fargo Over Unfair Customer Account Conduct

Tue, 2015-05-05 16:46
(Taber Andrew Bain)

(Taber Andrew Bain)

The City of Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit against the largest bank based in the state, accusing Wells Fargo of a plethora of unfair practices including encouraging employees to open unauthorized consumer accounts and then charging those accounts phony fees.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the lawsuit, filed in state court in Los Angeles on Monday, claims Wells Fargo pushed employees to engage in fraudulent conduct with regard to consumer accounts in order to meet the bank’s sales quotas.

According to the civil complaint, employees at the bank regularly misused customers’ personal information to open unwanted accounts and failed to close the unauthorized accounts despite complaints from customers.

In some cases, the city alleges in its lawsuit, employees were so adamant about meeting sales expectations that they used funds in client accounts to open additional accounts.

As a result, the suit claims that Wells Fargo was able to create a “fee-generating machine” that harmed customers, while the bank got by relatively scott-free.

In addition to opening unwanted accounts and charging exorbitant fees, the lawsuit claims that Wells Fargo further harmed customers by placing their accounts in collections when their accounts didn’t contain enough funds to cover the the bogus bank-generated fees. Customer would then receive marks on their credit reports.

The city’s investigation into the unfair practices found Wells Fargo – which previously blamed the issues on an isolated group of employees – took little action to protect consumers.

“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,” according to the suit.

The city filed the lawsuit under an unfair-business-practices law that allows cities to seek redress for customers throughout California. In all, the suit seeks a court order to stop the unfair practices, penalties up to $2,500 for every violation, as well as restitution for affected customers.

Wells Fargo says in a statement to the L.A Times that it will “vigorously defend” itself against the lawsuit.

“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,” the bank said.

Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer says he began investigating the bank’s alleged unlawful practices back in December 2013 after reading an article in the Times about sales pressure at the bank’s branches around the country.

That L.A. Times story centered on how staffers begged friends and family members to open unwanted accounts and then forged signatures and falsified documents so that the customer couldn’t be reached.

Despite the fact that Wells Fargo said it had disciplined or fired the employees involved in previous unfair practices, the L.A. Times reports that customers have still experienced issues.

One small business owner tells the publication that the bank’s employees pressured him into opening several unwanted accounts starting about four years ago.

He says that after he was charged a fee for a third account he didn’t want he canceled the account, only to find a few months later that he had three additional accounts and a credit card.

“I called the 800 number and said I want them canceled,” he says. “They would cancel them, but more would pop up later.”

In all, he says that at one point he had 10 different accounts with the bank.

Things only began to improve when he went to the local branch to complaint and have the accounts closed. And while he was able to receive refunds for some of the incurred fees, he says the ordeal affected productivity toward his business.

L.A. sues Wells Fargo, alleging ‘unlawful and fraudulent conduct’ [The Los Angeles Times]

T-Mobile To Dangle “Risk-Free” 14-Day Trial For Verizon Customers

Tue, 2015-05-05 16:43

tmoneversettleT-Mobile already offers to pay off early termination fees for new subscribers who want to leave their current wireless provider before their contract expires, and in a new, direct attack on Verizon’s huge customer base, the magenta-loving “un-carrier” is offering to pay for folks to return to Verizon if they’re unhappy with T-Mobile after a couple of weeks.

The new promotion, which kicks in May 13, openly calls out Verizon’s “Never Settle” ad campaign, telling consumers to “Never Settle for Verizon.”

Usually to get T-Mobile to pay for you to switch providers, you need to trade in your old carrier’s phone right away. But under the Never Settle Trial, current Verizon Wireless customers would switch to T-Mobile and hold onto their old phones during the 14-day trial period. If they’re happy with T-Mobile when it’s done, they trade in that old Verizon device and T-Mo will reimburse them for up to $650 in early termination fees or unpaid device balances.

If the user decides to go back to Verizon, T-Mobile says it will pay for any associated fees with moving that account back to Verizon.

Payments come in the form of prepaid cards, and none of this happens right away, so whichever way you go you will be out of pocket until you get reimbursed. Even then, that money won’t be in your checking account.

“Last week, I said we would hit right back at Verizon — I meant it,” explains T-Mo CEO John Legere in a statement. “T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network is the nation’s fastest. Not faster for the price … just faster, period… I’m so confident in our kick-ass network experience that we’re footing the bill so Verizon customers can give T-Mobile a try.”

Verizon has consistently charged the most for its wireless service, but the company maintains that its network is the best in the U.S. And while AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have all been engaged in promotional pricing and free data offers, Verizon has been the most reluctant to do so.

Earlier this year, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said the company has avoided engaging in short-term promotions and that it understands the risks.

“[T]here’s going to be certain customers who leave us for price, and we are just not going to compete with that because it doesn’t make financial sense for us to do that,” he said at the time.

Macy’s To Launch Quartet Of “Off-Price” (AKA Discount) Stores This Fall

Tue, 2015-05-05 16:09

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Earlier this year, Macy’s said it was going to dip its toes into the waters of discount retailing by creating some sort of off-price offshoot of its department store chain. Today, the retailer confirmed some details about the first four locations for the store it has dubbed Macy’s Backstage.

All four backstage locations (at about 30,000 sq. ft. each) will be in the New York City metro area, mostly in Long Island and the fringes of Brooklyn and Queens. The company says the stores will feature the same variety of goods you’d see at Macy’s — everything from clothing to housewares to jewelry — but at discounts of 20-80%.

Some items will be clearance sales from the regular Macy’s lineup. Others will be products purchased specifically for the Backstage stores, says the company.

While Macy’s store-brand charge cards will be accepted at the backstage stores, Macy’s coupons will not. The retailer says that the Backstage stores will not use promotional events to drive business to Backstage locations, but presumably will rely on everyday discounts to keep customers coming back.

The stores will also include free WiFi, so be sure to use it to check the prices to make sure you are getting a good deal.

“We believe we can deliver a whole new level of value to customers who appreciate fashion and love to hunt for a bargain,” said Peter Sachse, Macy’s chief innovation and business development officer in a statement.

The four locations for Macy’s Backstage:
• Sheepshead Bay (2027 Emmons Ave.), Brooklyn, NY
• Queens Place, Elmhurst (Queens), NY
• Lake Success Shopping Center, New Hyde Park, NY
• Melville Mall, Huntington, NY

JetBlue Will Let Amazon Prime Customers Stream For Free Onboard

Tue, 2015-05-05 15:50

(Boss Meg)

(Boss Meg)

Though it’s already the only airline to offer free WiFi, JetBlue is taking it once step further and will now let passengers who are Amazon Prime customers stream Amazon’s music and video content for free. Because let’s face it, you’ve got some binge watching of Transparent to get done and those two shrill, chatty 20somethings across the aisle will not shut up about their trip to Cabo.

JetBlue’s current free WiFi for passengers is suitable for web browsing and checking email, but to get the sort of bandwidth to watch stuff, you’d have to pay about $9 to start.

There’s now another option for people using Amazon’s instant video service or streaming music service: Those customers can now stream for free on their WiFi connected devices with a new plan called Fly-Fi Prime, the companies announced today.

Prime users can also rent or buy other titles in the Amazon Instant Video store while in flight, listen to music on Prime Music, download e-books for Kindle and get games from the Amazon app store.

The free Fly-Fi broadband Internet will be available on all JetBlue’s Airbus A321 and A320 aircraft later this year and on JetBlue’s Embraer E190 aircraft in 2016.

Panera Bread Dropping Nearly 150 Artificial Ingredients From Menu This Year

Tue, 2015-05-05 15:22
(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Panera Bread’s plan to remove food additives from its menu appears to be taking shape, with the restaurant announcing today that it plans to remove at least 150 artificial ingredients from its menu in the coming months.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Panera’s move to pinpoint certain ingredients for removal by the end of the year is just the company’s latest action when it comes to shifting to what consumers see as more healthful ingredients.

The company has been working on its plans since 2012, and announced last summer that it would work to remove all artificial food additives over the next two years.

Ingredients on the company’s chopping block this time around include fat substitutes and propylene glycol, a preservative sometimes found in deodorant and electronic cigarettes, the WSJ reports.

The company previously cut additives such as artificial sweetener sucralose and titanium dioxide, which is used to whiten mozzarella cheese.

Panera says that most of the recently announced additives being removed will apply to soups, salad dressings, sandwiches and some baked goods.

The company’s CEO Ron Shaich tells the WSJ that the company is trying to give customers a simple, easy approach to eating healthy, saying that customers “know they should be eating better, but they’re not always sure how to do that.”

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, applauded Panera’s announcement on Tuesday, but noted that not all additives or hard to pronounce ingredients are necessarily bad for consumers.

“Some of the additives Panera is ditching are perfectly innocuous, such as calcium propionate or sodium lactate—so those moves are more about public relations than public health,” he says in a statement.

Additionally, he says that the company should have made it abundantly clear that its plan to remove additives doesn’t include the soda fountain.

“If what you’re having at Panera is a 1,000-calorie panini with a day’s worth of sodium, or a 460-calorie soda, food additives should be the least of your concern,” he says.

 

Panera’s latest effort to drop artificial ingredients comes on the heels of other major food companies doing the same. Last week, Chipotle announced all of its food would be GMO-free (while simultaneously acknowledging that GMOs may be completely safe).

Just a week before that, Kraft announced it would remove synthetic colors and artificial preservatives form its Original Macaroni & Cheese in the United States.

In February, Nestle said it would remove artificial flavors and colors from all its chocolate products by the end of the year.

Panera to Drop at Least 150 Artificial Ingredients From Menu [The Wall Street Journal]

Get A Free Folded Biscuit At Taco Bell This Morning Until 11

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:00

Get one of these for free, if that's what you're into.

Get one of these for free, if that’s what you’re into.

If you fold a round and flat food item in half and put more food inside, as far as Taco Bell is concerned, that’s a taco. Today, they’re advertising their new breakfast menu by giving away free … see, I still can’t bring myself to call that thing a taco, but you can get a free biscuit folded in half with some breakfast stuff in it.

The folded biscuit is a new item nationwide, replacing its first attempt at an original breakfast food, the folded waffle. It’s part of Taco Bell’s push to compete with the breakfast sandwich offerings of other fast-food outlets. They call this campaign “breakfast defectors,” which does have the advantage of making a lot more sense than last decade’s meal invention, “Fourthmeal.”

The giveaway happens to fall on May 5th, which is a regional holiday in Mexico that somehow has become a day to celebrate crude Mexican caricatures and drink tequila in this country. Taco Bell’s advertising for this event focuses more on breakfast and on their “defector” concept than on Cinco de Mayo, which is just as well.

Guess what? Biscuit Tacos are free tomorrow from 7-11AM. You’re welcome [Taco Bell]

Are Front-Loading Washers Still Mold Machines?

Tue, 2015-05-05 00:15

(CrzysChick)

(CrzysChick)

Newer front-loading washing machines have developed a reputation for growing mold. Lawsuits also sprouted in the front-loader market, but washing machine manufacturers were ultimately not found liable for inflicting moldy washers on the public. That might make you hesitant to buy a front-loading washer, even if you find them appealing. Should you

Our fungus-free colleagues down the hall at Consumer Report say that the problem isn’t as bad as it used to be, since manufacturers have made some improvements that prevent mold growth. However, it can be very valuable to read any user reviews that you can find for the model that you’re interested in, and for very similar front-loaders from the same manufacturer. (Consumer Reports offers reviews for subscribers, and you can also seek them out on retailer and manufacturer sites, or review megasites like Epinions.) If you’re going to use the appliance for years on end in real life, the experiences of other people who have done the same are valuable.

This is because the mold problem hasn’t been eradicated. You can take steps to prevent mold from growing in the first place, and keeping your machine clean and your laundry area dry are probably a good idea anyway.

That leaves the answer to the core question of “should I buy a front-loading washer?” as “maybe, as long as you do some research first.”

Do new front-loading washing machines still have mold problems? [Consumer Reports]

Domino’s Australia Takes Pizza-Tracking To The Streets

Mon, 2015-05-04 22:59

 captured by cat. (brandylee)

Pizza status: captured by cat. (brandylee)

When you hail a ride using Uber and similar mobile applications, you know how close your car is to you thanks to the GPS receivers in your phone and in your driver’s phone. That’s nice and all, but what if that same technology could be used to track something that’s really time-sensitive…like a pizza delivery.

The company trying this out, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Ltd., runs the Domino’s restaurants to a few European countries in addition to Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Apparently, these are all countries where people get very impatient about their food deliveries, so they’re taking the Pizza Tracker concept a little further.

You may remember the Pizza Tracker: it tells you where your pizza is in the pizza-cooking process. Between the shop and your home, though, it disappears: the driver could be lost, running late, or off on a side trip. This tracker solves that mystery, while also letting bosses spy on delivery drivers. If they’re speeding, making side trips on the clock, and zooming around corners. The 50 shops that tested this app found that drivers cut back on potentially dangerous behavior.

Australia’s Domino’s Plans Uber-Style Pizza Delivery Driver Tracker [Wall Street Journal]

Cops Using GPS To Track Credit Card-Skimming Devices Back To Scammers

Mon, 2015-05-04 22:48

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

For years, we’ve been telling you about credit card skimming devices that collect the information on your card when you swipe at places like ATMs and gas pumps. The common-sense thing to do when finding a skimmer is to remove it. And while that prevents anyone else from being victimized, the scammers who hooked up the illegal device are rarely caught. That’s why some police are now leaving gas pump card skimmers in place but adding a GPS tracker to follow the skimmer back to its criminal creators.

See, many skimmers store the stolen information locally on the device. So in order for the scammer who installed it to get that information, he or she needs to take the skimmer off and download the information.

Skimmers are also often only meant to be temporary; get as many cards as possible in a short period of time before the rubber cement holding the skimmer to the gas pump gives out. Thus, the scammer will likely be by soon to collect the device for use elsewhere.

Police can stakeout a known skimming device and wait for the scammer to come and get it, but that’s expensive, time-consuming and may not work.

Cybersecurity expert and journalist Brian Krebs reports that police in Redlands, CA, have recently been using specially designed GPS trackers to locate all manner of criminals, including people behind gas pump skimmers.

It’s not a cure-all for the problem, as the GPS device has a limited battery life of as little as six hours. It can be extended by being set up to only send a signal after it’s been moved and by pinging less frequently.

Additionally, because scammers are always innovating to stay ahead of the police, some now use bluetooth skimmers that allow for remote collection of the data. These higher-tech devices also use the pump’s power supply, so the criminal has no need to remove the skimmer or come into contact with it directly.

Even if the GPS idea isn’t perfect, it’s a lot better than these anti-skimmer stickers that some gas stations just can’t figure out how to use… no, seriously, they just have absolutely no grasp on the purpose of these stickers.

No one knows how prevalent gas pump skimming is nationwide, but Krebs points to a 2010 study in Florida that found skimmers in about 1.5% of the 6,100 gas stations tested in the state.

This is why, in terms of account security, it’s generally better to use a credit card than a debit card at gas stations. Even if both your debit and credit card have $0 liability for fraud, it can be an arduous process getting stolen funds returned to your checking account while the credit card company will just remove the fraudulent charges from your account.

Of course, paying with cash will prevent any sort of ID fraud, but filling up can be an expensive prospect and in this plastic-happy age many consumers don’t carry that much actual currency on them.

Nearly 35% Of Consumers Have Never Checked Their Credit Reports

Mon, 2015-05-04 22:45
(20 buckz)

(20 buckz)

While consumers are often urged to take advantage of the free once-a-year opportunity to request a credit report and make sure they aren’t riddled with errors, a new survey suggests many Americans simply aren’t heeding the suggestion.

A new survey from Bankrate.com found that more than one-third of American adults – roughly 35% – have never requested their credit reports.

When it comes to not checking credit reports, both millennials and older consumers were the most likely culprits. Nearly 44% of senior citizens (those 65 years of age or older) report they have never checked their credit reports, while 41% of consumers ages 18 to 29 have never reviewed the records.

While nearly half of costumers surveyed – roughly 48% – say they have checked their credit reports, the frequency at which they do so is troubling.

Of the consumers who have checked their reports, only 23% do it yearly, while 14% say they typically go more than year between reviews.

Bankrate analyst Jeanine Skowronski says in a statement, that many consumers often wait too long before pulling their reports, risking the possibility that errors are marring their credit worthiness.

“Monitoring your credit goes well beyond scanning a three-digit number,” she says in a statement. “Americans need to thoroughly review their credit reports for errors or signs of fraud.”

As Consumerist has reported in the past, fixing an error on one’s credit report can often be a long and tedious task – something that shouldn’t be left unnoticed until you absolutely need to qualify for that loan.

In fact, negative info on your credit report can linger for up to seven years, even if your debt record is otherwise pristine.

So if you’re one of the millions of consumers who have never reviewed their credit report, there’s no time like the present.

AnnualCreditReport.com is the site you can go to in order to get reports from each of the three main bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — once per year for no cost.

But, according to Skowronski, just getting your hand on the report isn’t enough.

“They also need to understand what factors, like missed payments or high debt to available credit ratios, are driving their credit in order to improve it,” she says.

For help deciphering what those numbers mean, our colleagues at Consumers Union’s DefendYourDollars.org have put together a primer on the topic.

Survey: Americans embrace free credit scores [Bankrate.com]

Turns Out Kids Can React On Camera To New Technology As Well As Weird Old Stuff

Mon, 2015-05-04 21:41

 Unrestrained glee.

Pictured: Unrestrained glee.

The Internet just loves it when kids are put on camera reacting with things, but it seems we are not content to find out how children behave when faced with Walkmans and cameras that use film, but words also come out of their mouths at the sight of shiny, new technology. Who knew?

In a first for the latest episode of “Kids React” from YouTubers TheFineBros, our young heroes get their little mitts on something new instead of old — an Apple Watch — and respond with predictable amounts of adorableness.

“Eee! New stuff!” squeals one, her eyes lighting up like she just saw all of The Directions (that’s better than just one, right?) walking toward her.

“Can I keep it?” one savvy kid with no compunction asking the question an adult in the same situation would want to ask but would instead remain silent, afraid of rejection.

As hip and with it as we expect the younger set to be, many of them didn’t realize what this thing is. And others are disappointed it doesn’t do all the things they’d want it to — or maybe if someone “doesn’t have enough money to buy a phone but they have the money to buy this.”

The whole thing is as amusing and cute as kids can be, and it’s Monday, so you might need this:

Cablevision CEO: Pay-TV Is The “Milk & Eggs” Of His Business; Internet Is The “Soda & Chips”

Mon, 2015-05-04 21:20

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

As we noted earlier today, Comcast now effectively has exactly the same number of Internet customers as it does cable subscribers, and the Internet users will soon outnumber those who get their TV from Comcast. And while a pay-TV customer brings in significantly more gross revenue for a cable company than someone who is broadband-only, these companies are likely making more profit off their Internet users.

This is according to Cablevision CEO James Dolan, whose New York-based company also announced its quarterly earnings this morning. And like Comcast, it is seeing its cable subscriber numbers drop amid increased prices and competition from streaming products.

Speaking about the earnings this morning, Dolan likened the cable/ISP business to running a convenience store, where you’ve got certain items that customers rely on you to carry and those other items that you rely on customers to buy so that you make a profit.

“Our philosophy is that video is akin to the eggs and milk in a convenience store. You have to have it, but you don’t make money on it,” Dolan explained, according to FierceCable.com.

That’s where the “soda and chips” of selling broadband comes in.

“You can charge more, you can differentiate and the margins are good,” said Dolan.

And so it appears that the company’s new goal is to make sure as many people buy their soda and chips from Cablevision.

That’s why the company is currently the only pay-TV provider making the standalone HBO Now streaming service available to its customers. That not only gives some consumers with DSL (or without any Internet access) to get faster service, it also allows Cablevision to share in some of that $15/month charge for the service. The company’s quarterly earnings don’t include any information about this deal as the quarter ended March 31, shortly before the launch of HBO Now.

Cablevision also recently announced that its customers will be able to order Hulu Plus with their online service. That’s another way for a pay-TV company to make even more revenue from an existing customer base.

It’s really no different than the existing pay-TV model where the customer pays for a base level of service and then buys premium services from the cable company, who then takes a piece of the cost.

However, there has been a lot of handwringing from some in the pay-TV industry that making these online entertainment options readily available through the cable company would lead to further cord-cutting.

FierceCable reports that Cablevision COO Kristin Dolan is not seeing cannibalization, but is seeing more people sign up for broadband.

We’ve spoken to other analysts who support this “if you can’t beat ’em, make some money from ’em” approach. They say any cable companies that don’t make deals to sell HBO Now, Netflix, Hulu, or other subscriptions directly to customers are setting themselves up for disaster.

“Consumers are going to buy these things anyway,” one analyst told Consumerist. “It’s not like people aren’t aware of Hulu or HBO Now. These aren’t secrets. By not getting into revenue-sharing with these services, pay-TV operators are just watching their money go to someone else.”

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