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The Consumerist

Target: You Must Pick One Discount With Your Wii U. Only One

Wed, 2014-07-30 21:48

Silly Justin: he thought that because Target advertised two different promotions for the Wii U he bought, he would get to take advantage of both of them. Nope. He learned that he could have $25 off or $10 off, but not both.

This may seem like a minor point, but the advertised promotions were what prompted him to choose Target for his purchase, and to bother ordering the item for in-store pickup. Saving $10 extra was worth the trip. Wasn’t it? Nope. Here’s the item he bought, preserved in screenshot form for perpetuity:

wii_page

Now, here are those deals that he wanted to take advantage of. Note that Target never says that customers have to choose one one or the other. That’s a common disclaimer for coupons and promotions, and perfectly fair.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.00.28 PM

What happened when he went through with the purchase? He had to make a choice. “Apparently, in Target-speak, this means you get one or the other,” he wrote to Consumerist. We’ve said for years that Target exists in a reality vortex, so that sounds plausible. “So, when I opted to purchase this item and for in-store pickup, I sacrificed $25 for $10. How this makes any sense to anyone, I have absolutely no idea.”

Maybe the more time you spend dealing with Target, things like this start to make sense. That’s the only plausible explanation.

FCC Chair Asks Time Warner Cable Why It Treats Dodgers Fans So Badly

Wed, 2014-07-30 21:42

 Atwater Village Newbie)

For Dodgers fans in L.A. without Time Warner Cable, going to see a game live may the only way to catch a game. (photo: Atwater Village Newbie)

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, some 70% of people in L.A. are currently unable to watch the L.A. Dodgers because SportsNet L.A., a station jointly owned by the first-place team and the bottom-the-barrel cable company, won’t let other pay-TV carriers air the channel without paying a premium. While the FCC has generally stayed out of such messes, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has let TWC know that he’s not exactly happy with the current situation in Los Angeles.

“I am writing to express my strong concern about how your actions appear to have created the
inability of consumers in the Los Angeles area to watch televised games of the Los Angeles
Dodgers,” explains Wheeler in a letter [PDF] to TWC’s CEO-for-now Rob Marcus.

See, TWC wants other pay-TV carriers to a $4-5 month per customer to SportsNet L.A., and for the channel to be carried on the most popular tiers of service.

Some companies, like DirecTV have said they are willing to pay that fee — nearly as much as pay-TV operations ante up each month for cable’s most expensive network, ESPN — but that they would only do so if they could sell it as an add-on premium channel or as part of a sports package.

TWC recently said it is willing to enter into arbitration to settle these disputes, news that FCC Chair Wheeler finds encouraging.

But, writes Wheeler, “I am troubled by the negative impact that your apparent actions are having on consumers and the overall video marketplace.”

As such, he says the FCC will monitor the dispute. His office is also requesting that TWC provide it with an explanation of the proposed arbitration process, along with info on “how that process could bring relief to consumers expeditiously, and what other steps TWC will take to resolve this matter if arbitration is not successful.”

Since TWC isn’t currently making SportsNet L.A. available to satellite companies at an agreeable price, and since most consumers have only one choice for terrestrial cable TV service, the only option for Dodgers fans is to pay for an online package like MLB.TV, but even those games are blacked out during the live broadcast and only available for online viewing starting 90 minutes after each game’s conclusion.

(That is unless you use a DNS-spoofing service, high-speed proxy, or VPN to get around MLB.TV’s blackouts… just saying.)

Wheeler has requested that TWC turn over unredacted copies of certain documents within 10 days, including, “Any contract or agreement between TWC… and SportsNet LA…. providing TWC with rights to SportsNet LA;” “Any contract or agreement governing TWC’s… carriage of SportsNet LA, including any schedules or amendments to the contract or agreement, or any term sheet summarizing the terms and conditions under which TWC currently carries SportsNet LA;” and any documents showing which terms TWC has proposed to other carriers in the area, and what those carriers have proposed in return.

“I continue to have the hope that this dispute can be resolved in the marketplace,” concludes Wheeler. “Nevertheless, given the breadth and protracted nature of this dispute, it is appropriate that we begin to assemble the facts and build a record. Inaction is no longer acceptable.”

Leaving Your Child In A Hot Car: “If You Think It Cannot Happen To You, You’re Wrong”

Wed, 2014-07-30 21:37

hotcarCRBy this point in the summer, we’ve written more than a few times — unfortunately — about children who have died after being left in closed cars on hot days. While some cases point to parents deliberately leaving their children behind, the reason we keep writing about the dangers of doing so is because the reality is that it can happen to anyone.

We’re not alone — our esteemed colleagues at Consumer Reports are working hard to inform parents and raise awareness about the problem. With KidsAndCars.org reporting that 17 children have died as a result of being left in hot cars this year already, as of mid-July, it’s an issue that can’t be highlighted enough.

Along with Consumers Union, the public policy arm of Consumer Reports, we believe that research is needed to come up with new ways to prevent hot car deaths, possibly through technology that could be used by car manufacturers and/or the makers of car seats. If there’s an annoying beep that won’t shut up when you don’t have your seat belt on, why not a shrill alarm to ensure you don’t leave your child to swelter?

If you want to make your voice heard, you can sign a White House petition by KidsandCars.org to stop child deaths in hot cars. The petition seeks action from the Obama administration to make such innovations possible, by authorizing the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide financing for research and development of technology to alert drivers.

In the meantime, if you think you’re the best parent that has ever existed and would never, ever be able to forget your child, or that only bad parents with bad intentions would do something like that, well, you’re wrong. Watch the video below, because if you don’t believe us, maybe you’ll believe some of the families who have had experienced the tragedy of forgetfulness themselves.

EA To Offer $5 Monthly All-You-Can-Play Old Game Buffet For Xbox One Owners

Wed, 2014-07-30 20:45
(Of Corgis & Cocktails)

(Of Corgis & Cocktails)

Disc-based video games aren’t doomed yet; there are many years left to go before their seemingly-inevitable demise finally comes. One big game publisher, though, is clearly already scrounging for the nails they eventually hope to put into the lid of that particular coffin. EA this week announced a new online subscription service giving players unlimited access to a whole “vault” of games for as long as they keep paying the monthly fee. Is it a great idea for consumers or a blatant cash-grab from EA? In reality, probably a little bit of both.

The program is called EA Access, and it’ll run players about $5 per month. For now, EA is starting small. The service is in limited beta and only has four games available: Battlefield 4, Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, and Peggle 2. But the hook is that players who choose to subscribe not only get access to the vault games, but also get small discounts on and early access to new, big-budget, blockbuster games when they come out.

EA Access is also exclusive to Xbox One owners — but that’s not necessarily because of a specific preferential deal with Microsoft. Sony considered, but ultimately rejected, allowing EA Access on the PlayStation 4. A Sony representative told Game Informer that, “We don’t think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer,” who is of course ideally already paying annually for Sony’s not entirely dissimilar game-vault-access service, PlayStation Plus.

The idea of subscription access opening up a massive on-demand archive isn’t new, although it’s less well-explored in gaming than in other media. After all, an HBO subscription doesn’t just get you the newest season of Game of Thrones; it also gives you access to an extensive on-demand catalog of older shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, along with a whole bunch of movies they have the rights to. And that’s pretty similar to what EA is doing here.

So whether EA Access is a good deal or a bad deal depends on what you play and how often. It’s a bet, of sorts. Sometimes you win, and sometimes the house does.

For example, Peggle 2, one of the four pilot games being offered on the service, is $11.99 on Xbox Marketplace. After three months of paying $4.99 for EA Access, you’re losing the bet and EA is keeping your extra money. On the other hand, Battlefield 4 for Xbox One is still about $30, as is Madden 25, and FIFA 14 remains listed at its $60 launch price. If you did regularly play all four of those titles through EA Access, it would take over two years for the monthly subscription fee to exceed the price of buying the games outright. In that case, you win the bet.

The concept of EA Access is both like and unlike the models we’ve already adopted for other media. Take Netflix, for example. We all know that you can go buy a Blu-ray of a movie that’s also on Netflix. When you do, you’ve spent $20 on something you already had access to — but you get to keep it if you stop subscribing. On the other hand, imagine if Netflix delivered its original series independently of its streaming service. Then you could just buy Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards for $60 per season as soon as they came out. Or, if you paid them your $8.99 monthly for access to Netflix’s entire back catalog of film and TV, then you could get season 3 of Orange Is The New Black added to your account for $50 instead.

But EA’s new plan is like its peers in other media in one key way: it’s rent-to-own content, without ever getting to the whole “own” part.

And games are far from alone. Once upon a time, consumers purchased a book or a tape or a CD or a video game cartridge, and then the consumer owned that thing to use as often as she wanted or to resell when she was done with it. Now, though, we’re transitioning into an era where we don’t own copies of our media but instead, mainly rent access to it. You own access to your Kindle books at Amazon’s whim, or to your iTunes library at Apple’s. If a PC gamer’s Steam (or EA Origin) account is cancelled, she can’t play any games she has registered through those services anymore. Likewise, if a player loses his XBox Live account, his access to most of his games is severely curtailed.

EA’s new plan isn’t just about one game publisher trying to keep getting a long-tail revenue stream out of older or less lucrative titles. It’s about an industry trying to find its footing in a rapidly changing world. We’re not there yet (and won’t be without some upgrades to our broadband infrastructure, for starters), but an all-download, all-streaming, disc-free future for video games is clearly not too far over the horizon.

EA Access in and of itself isn’t actually a bad deal for many consumers in the current landscape, but it is yet another step on the path to rental-only access to all media. That’s a big change for consumers, and one with the potential for a whole bunch of pitfalls.

Restaurant: Kids Can Eat Here If They Can Sit Quietly Without Special Seating Or A Stroller

Wed, 2014-07-30 20:44
(ChrisGoldNY)

(ChrisGoldNY)

Restaurants that have tried to tell parents in the past that children or babies aren’t welcome inside have faced backlash for coming out and saying so in the past, but one restaurant has instead decided to just make it really difficult for anyone with a small child or infant to eat there.

Basically, you can bring your kids to this Monterey, Calif. restaurant, but it won’t provide high chairs or booster seats or allow strollers, reports KSBW.com.

Oh, and noisy, crying kids aren’t allowed in the dining room, per a sign posted at the eatery reading:

– NO STROLLERS –
— NO HIGH CHAIRS –
— NO BOOSTER SEATS –

Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room.

So if you happen to have a young, perfectly-behaved, silent child who can sit on her own and doesn’t need a stroller to get where you’re going, you’re fine, and you should probably alert the media because your kid must be an alien. Or an adult.

Otherwise, it’s a no-go, says the owner. He adds that despite criticism from some offended parents, he’s keeping the rules as is. Don’t like it? Not his problem — there are plenty of other places to eat, he says.

“If a place has the rules, that’s what the rules are,” the owner told the news station. “You go in and abide by the rules or you find a place more suitable for you.”

And despite any angry parents, he says business is doing just fine without catering to kids.

“Well, let’s put it this way — I haven’t had a down year for over 20 years and our business continues to grow,” he explains.

Popular restaurant on Monterey wharf posts no loud kids sign [KSBW.com]

Capital One Sends Customer A New Orange-Juiceless Keyboard So He Can Pay His Bill

Wed, 2014-07-30 19:53

(MaskedKoala on imgur)

(MaskedKoala on imgur)

We are living in a digital world, which means many things we used to do offline, like paying bills, are now handled online. But what’s a good customer to do when he can’t pay his credit card bill due to a keyboard infiltrated with orange juice? Speak up — and maybe get a free keyboard out of it.

One Capital One customer wrote on Reddit that after complaining to Capital One about not being able to pay a bill online, due to extenuating circumstances involving an unfortunate orange juice incident, a surprise came in the mail.

“I complained to Capital One that I couldn’t pay my bill because I couldn’t copy and paste a 2 into the account number, and my 2 key didn’t work because of an orange juice incident,” he wrote, “So they sent me a keyboard.”

Wait, what? Yes, a new keyboard, and a very nice card signed by two Capital One employees who seem to enjoy playing Santa.

And because we here at Consumerist always have our skepticism hats on when it comes to big companies doing anything nice, we reached out to Capital One to make sure this really happened.

“It’s legit,” a Capital One spokeswoman tells Consumerist.

“We encourage our agents to look for and act on opportunities to practice random acts of kindness for our customers,” she writes. “The program enables our agents to follow up on customer conversations in unexpected, personalized and creative ways.”

Virgin Mobile Debuts $12 Single-App Data Plans

Wed, 2014-07-30 19:15

(Mr.TinDC)

(Mr.TinDC)

Do you love having access to social media on your smartphone, but don’t bother to venture outside of Facebook? Sprint’s Virgin Mobile brand has introduced the perfect smartphone plan for both 74-year-olds and 14-year-olds: cheap mobile Internet access that limits you to a single service.

The new plan, Virgin Mobile Custom, will be available at Walmart beginning next Saturday, August 9. The plan lets each user control which services they have from their own phones, and also allows the person who is paying the bill control which services each phone can access from an app. The person controlling others’ services doesn’t have to be a Virgin Mobile customer.

Each line on the Custom plan starts at $7, which allows for 20 voice minutes and 20 text messages. From there, custom plans are available, all the way up to unlimited voice and text for $35.

It’s the data plan that caught our attention, though. Right now, customers have a choice of four apps, unlimited access to which will cost around $12 each. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are the most popular social media services, according to Virgin Mobile USA parent company Sprint. The company may expand access to other apps if the custom plans take off.

If this catches on, it could only lead to more people commenting on Facebook headlines without bothering to click through to the original story. For that reason, we disapprove.

Virgin Mobile USA Launches Virgin Mobile Custom – Fully Customizable Cell Phone Plan with Rich Parental Controls [Press Release]

Police Arrest Man Who Left Hospital Untreated Because You Can’t Wander Around With Tuberculosis

Wed, 2014-07-30 18:43
(Truthout.org)

(Truthout.org on Flickr)

While you might think that your health is your own gosh darn business — and it is, to some extent — when you’re wandering out there in the world with an infectious and potentially fatal disease, your health is everyone’s business. So when one man refused treatment and left the hospital, he ended up with police on his trail.

The man was wanted by Stockton, Calif. police for failing to comply with health officers to treat his tuberculosis, reports USA Today, after he was diagnosed in March at a hospital with the disease.

Authorities say the man, a transient, refused medical orders for treatment and left the hospital. Hospital staff reportedly told him to stay in a motel room nearby where a health worker could bring him medication and ensure he’d take it.

Instead, he skipped out, prompting a hunt by authorities who were worried about the health risk he posed to the public.

“If he doesn’t want the treatment, we can’t force the treatment but we can force that he’s not with other people to infect them,” the county public health director said at the time.

Police caught up with him this week and charged him with one misdemeanor count of refusing to comply with a tuberculosis order. He could face up to a year in prison as a result.

Police nab TB patient who skipped treatment, vanished [USA Today]

Uber Passenger Complains Of Spider Bite In “Filthy” Car

Wed, 2014-07-30 18:34

uberxdropOn Friday, the state of North Carolina received its first complaint against the app-based ride-sharing service Uber. The customer’s complaint? His driver arrived late in a “filthy” vehicle, and there were spiders inside the car. Which bit him. The spiders, that is, not the car. As far as we know.

Of course, when you’re riding in a vehicle belonging to a random civilian independent contractor and not a professional limo service, things can go awry. Uber has been known to drive around with kittens in its cars as a publicity stunt, but delivery of spiders to cuddle is not yet a service that they provide.

Uber was rather gracious in its response to the complaint, but took the opportunity to point out that this is why they collect ratings, and that it only takes a few complaints about the quality and cleanliness of a vehicle to shut a driver down.

“We take this feedback seriously – if we receive vehicle quality reports, we will deactivate the driver partner until they are able to prove that the issues have been rectified,” an Uber spokesperson told Triangle Business Journals.

Complaint: spider bit rider in ‘filthy’ N.C. Uber vehicle [Business Journals]

Flower Power: FTD Buys ProFlowers, Shari’s Berries And More For $430M

Wed, 2014-07-30 18:04

FTDMaybe someone should send FTD a bouquet of flowers to celebrate its recent expansion. Then again, the company probably has enough flowers now that it’s agreed to buy Provide Commerce, the company behind ProFlowers.

The proposed $430 million deal includes Provide Commerce’s e-commerce brands ProFlowers, Shari’s Berries and Personal Creations, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The combined company is expected to bring in an annual revenue of more than $1 billion, a stream that officials say will open the door for additional consumer offerings.

Officials with Illinois-based FTD say in a news release that the proposed merger allows the company to offer consumers “innovative and expansive” floral and gift products and “an enhanced shopping experience.”

No word on whether or not increased flower power of the company means arrangements will actually show up on customers’ doorsteps looking like they do in the company’s ads.

FTD To Buy Provide Commerce for $430 Million [The Wall Street Journal]

Airline: Sorry A Flight Attendant Told PassengersTo Flush Their Drugs Before The Plane Lands

Wed, 2014-07-30 16:56

(John Kittelsrud)

(John Kittelsrud)

Australian discount airline Jetstar is busy apologizing after a crew member got on the PA system and told passengers they might want to flush any drugs they had on them before the plane landed in Sydney. This, because many travelers had just been at a music festival, and you know how kids are these days at those music festivals (they do drugs sometimes).

Passengers on the flight out of the Gold Coast included people who’d attended the Splendour in the Grass music festival, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, prompting one flight attendant to issue a very special public service announcement.

The attendant reportedly got on the PA and told passengers that sniffer dogs and quarantine officials would be at the terminal when they arrived, so people should flush “anything you shouldn’t have” down the toilet.

And that made a whole bunch of people get up and bum rush the bathrooms, which is never fun on a crowded plane.

Jetstar is now apologizing, saying the crew member was complying with a policy that airlines make quarantine announcements, but that the words were “poorly chosen and plainly at odds with the professional standards we’d expect from our team.”

“We’re addressing the matter with the cabin crew member involved,” the airline added.

Meanwhile, some travelers think that was a pretty considerate thing to do, writing on Jetstar Australia’s Facebook with words of support.

“Thank you for caring for your Splendour passengers. Very thoughtful and kind thing to do,” one wrote. “Hope the staff member will be promoted.”

Maybe next time the announcement should be made at the beginning of the flight so there’s more time for people to do any necessary flushing. Or perhaps just don’t bring drugs on a plane.

Jetstar apologises after crew member advises passengers to flush their drugs [Sydney Morning Herald]

Radio Shack May Run Out Of Cash, Fail To Turn Itself Around

Wed, 2014-07-30 16:55

radioshackbghuff copy

(TrendingBuffalo.com)

Back in June, we learned that part of Radio Shack’s turnaround plan is to start in-store repair counters for mobile devices as a bid for relevance and an attempt to offer at least one thing that no other retailer does. However, the stock-rating company Moody’s doesn’t think that Radio Shack has enough cash to make it through 2015, let alone turn itself around by then.

The company has $62 million in cash on hand right now. That might seem like a lot, especially compared to the eight bucks in your wallet, but Moody’s also points out that the company had an $81 million operating loss in the second quarter of 2014.

Investors don’t have much hope, and the chain’s stock has reached such a low price that the New York Stock Exchange has threatened to kick it out of the exchange. The company has 6 months to turn its performance for investors around and get the stock price above $1, or it will be kicked off. Of course, the note from Moody’s didn’t help, and the stock is down to 68 cents as of this morning.

Moody’s doesn’t expect a sudden influx of customers to pour into the Shack anytime soon, and made its predictions based on the assumption that sales will keep falling, and the chain will need to use its cash reserves to keep going. How much have sales fallen? While the Shack has closed some stores, the key number is same-store sales. They were down 15% in May.

RadioShack May Not Have Time or Cash For a Turnaround, Moody’s Says [Wall Street Journal]
RadioShack is running out of cash: Moody’s [CNBC]

Everyone Wants To Be The Guy Who Bought Two $1M Lottery Tickets In Three Months

Wed, 2014-07-30 16:35

(Lisa Brewster)

(Lisa Brewster)

How many $1 million dollar lottery tickets have you bought lately? None? Then you’re right there with the rest of us lagging behind an Indiana man who somehow managed to win not one million-dollar jackpot, but two in a span of only three months with his lucky buys.

The Indianapolis man won his first million on April 28, after purchasing a scratch-off ticket at a convenience store on his way to a conference, reports WTHR.com.

Cut to July 22 and there he was claiming his second prize, on the same prize.

“It’s the icing on the cake,” he said, making me not only jealous of all that money but also very hungry for cake. A cake filled with money.

He’s planning on using his latest winnings to buy himself a motorcycle, after using the first prize to pay off debts, buy a new home, go on vacation, get his dad a truck and invest in his business. A cake business? Yum.

“After he won the first time I told him he could buy a motorcycle if he hit it again,” his wife said.

Out of the 600 millionaires created by the Hoosier Lottery in 25 years, there are very few who have ever won such sums twice. They all deserve a cake, in my opinion.

Indiana man wins $1 million Lottery prize…twice! [WTHR.com]

Hynudai Recalls 880,000 Sonatas Because When You Put The Car In Park It Shouldn’t Continue To Move

Wed, 2014-07-30 16:06
(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

One would assume that when shifting a vehicle into park that means all forward and backward motions of the vehicle have ceased. That apparently wasn’t the case for some Hynudai vehicles that are now being recalled in the United States and Puerto Rico for a transmission issue.

Hyundai is recalling 883,000 model year 2011 to 2014 Sonata sedans because of a potentially defective transmission-shift cable that could increase the risk of a crash, Reuters reports.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the affected vehicles contain a transmission-shift cable that could detach from the shift lever pin, causing the gear selection not to match the indicator gear.

“When the driver parks the vehicle, despite selecting the ‘PARK’ position, the transmission may not be in ‘PARK.’ If the vehicle is not in the ‘PARK’ position and the parking brake is not applied, there is a risk the vehicle will roll away as the driver and other occupants exit the vehicle or anytime thereafter.”

Hyundai has identified 1,171 warranty claims and seven incidents related to the issue. The manufacturer will notify owners of the issue and dealers will inspect and repair the connection between the shift cable and the shift lever.

Wednesday’s announcement comes less than a week after NHTSA announced it opened an investigation into Hyundai. The regulatory probe concerns a possible seatbelt and airbag safety malfunction in 394,000 model year 2006-2008 Sonatas.

A sensor inside the driver and passenger seat belt buckle assembly may experience a failure leading to a malfunction of the safety belt pretensioner. The agency received more than 80 complaints from consumers regarding the issue.

Hyundai recalls 883,000 Sonata sedans in U.S. for transmission issue [Reuters]

Wells Fargo Customer Learns $6,700 Lesson: Stop-Payments Don’t Guarantee A Payment Will Be Stopped

Wed, 2014-07-30 13:55

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

We’ve told you before about the idiotic loophole in some banks’ stop-payment policies that can allow a supposedly blocked check from being cashed after six months, but here’s a story about a Wells Fargo customer who got written confirmation from Wells Fargo that it had stopped payment on a check that had already been processed.

Our colleague Karin Price Mueller has the story in her latest Bamboozled column for the Newark Star-Ledger.

It all began in early 2013, when the Wells customer made a costly mistake. Ticked off at his lawyer over some billing issues, he angrily dashed off a check for $6,666.66.

Then, on his way home, he apparently realized that his attempt at check-related humor was a bad idea and he didn’t want his lawyer to cash that check.

So he contacted Wells Fargo, went through the process of putting a stop-payment on the check, had an additional $31 debited from his account, and even received a letter in the mail a couple days later confirming the stop-payment.

Thing is, that letter and the $31 fee were all for naught, as Wells had already processed the check. Meaning he was no out $6,697.66.

Numerous back-and-forths with the bank resulted in no explanation for why the check was allowed to be processed.

Last November, he wrote to Wells CEO John Stumpf and eventually — months later — received a response from a bank rep that didn’t sit well with the customer, pointing to fine print on the stop-payment confirmation that warns customers that it’s not a guarantee the check won’t still be cashed.

“Please be advised that when a customer calls to request a stop payment order they are informed that we do not guarantee the stop payment of the check if it has already been accepted by Wells Fargo for processing,” reads the letter affirming the bank’s decision.

An appeal to the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates Wells Fargo, resulted in another “sorry, but” from the bank.

“While we understand your frustration, our position remains the same,” reads the second letter from Wells Fargo said. “As stated in our previous response, stop payments are not guaranteed if the check has been accepted by Wells Fargo for processing.”

After Bamboozled got involved, it was finally explained that the check was processed before the customer had put in his stop-payment request.

Which just brings up the question: If the check was already being processed, why did Wells allow the customer to go through the whole rigmarole of filing the stop-payment, debiting his account $31 and sending him a confirmation letter whose only worth is as birdcage liner?

“There are nuances in the check-clearing process between banks,” a Wells Fargo rep who somehow manages to look in the mirror every day explains to Bamboozled. “These nuances create timing issues so that in many cases our bankers cannot see what the true status of that particular item is at any given time.”

In the end, the bank made a quasi-human decision, offering to refund the customer the $31 fee it had charged for not stopping payment on his check.

“If they had told me the check was cashed, the conversation would have ended,” says the customer. “With the automated stuff we have today, it should have been a piece of cake. If they can’t handle a simple stop payment request, how can they handle anything else?”

Presenting The 9 Most Calorie-Filled Chain Restaurant Meals Of 2014!

Wed, 2014-07-30 12:55

(Bill Binns)

(Bill Binns)

To some, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s annual Xtreme Eating awards are a reminder of how some restaurant meals can pack thousands of calories, oodles of saturated fat, and piles of sodium on a single plate. To others, the awards make up a to-try list of over-the-top menu offerings. Both will find plenty of sugary, fatty, salty treats to study with scorn, concern, curiosity, lust, or awe.

Perennial Xtreme Eating favorite The Cheesecake Factory did not disappoint this year, accounting for a full 1/3 of the meals on the list. In fact, it’s the only restaurant to have multiple winners (or losers, depending on your point of view). Other chain faves represented in the 2014 awards include Red Robin, Famous Dave’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, and Maggiano’s.

Enough talking. Let’s eat.

bruleetoast
The Cheesecake Factory: Bruléed French Toast (with optional bacon) • Calories: 2,780
• Sat. Fat: 93g
• Sodium: 2,230

Before anyone goes and blames the added bacon for the high calorie count, CSPI says the side of cured pork only adds 200 calories. Thus, the “Extra Thick Slices of Rustic French Bread Baked and Grilled Golden Brownm” and, oh yeah, filled with custard and served with a huge helping of butter-infused syrup, on its own still adds up to more than 2,500 calories.

“Would you eat 14 slices of Aunt Jemima frozen Homestyle French Toast stuffed with 2.5 8-oz. tubs of Kraft Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese Spread?” asks the CSPI. “Well, you pretty much just did.”

And there’s an even higher-calorie version of this meal at the Factory — the 2,900-calorie French Toast Napoleon, which is the “Bruléed French Toast Stacked with Strawberries, Pecans and Chantilly Cream.”

redrobingrab
Red Robin: A.1 Peppercorn Monster Burger, with Steak Fries and Monster Salted Caramel Milshake • Calories: At least 3,540
• Sat. Fat: 69g
• Sodium 6,280mg

Red Robin has all sorts of burgers for those looking to chow down, but the A.1. Peppercorn is a particularly extreme offering, topped with “hardwood-smoked bacon, melted Pepper-Jack, A.1. Peppercorn Spread, tomatoes and crispy onion straws,” which are basically fried breaded onion strips.

The sizable sandwich can be made a “Monster” by doubling up on the 6-oz. beef patty. And if that weren’t enough, it comes with “Bottomless Steak Fries” for those who want more.

The Monster A.1. burger alone is 1,670 calories. Then throw on at least another 370 calories for each serving of fries you eat.

But you’ve got to have something to drink, so why not balance out your savory burger and fries with a Red Robin Classic milshake, and make it a Monster, which means it comes with a refill tin full of extra shake.

Eat all this and you’ve likely consumed more than 1.5 days’ worth of calories, more than 3 days’ worth of saturated fat and four days’ worth of sodium.

CSPI says this is “like eating seven McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers washed down with a quart of Coke,” and that you’d need 12 hours of brisk walking to burn the calories off.

Famous Dave’s: The Big Slab • Calories: 2,770
• Sat. Fat: 54g
• Sodium: 4,320mg

bigslab

This plate of spareribs lives up to its name, yielding nearly 1.5 pounds of meat. And all that meat — not to mention the sauce in which it’s slathered — comes at a cost to your diet, especially when you throw in the cornbread muffin and choice of two sides.

The ribs, along with fries and baked beans comes out to nearly 3,000 calories, and that’s without counting whatever beverage you’re having with your meal.

This might be the meal if you’ve got a lot of land and little motivation to mow, as CSPI estimates it would take about 7.5 hours of pushing that mower around to keep these spareribs from contributing to your spare tire.

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse: Small Deep Dish Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

Bacon_Chk_Ranch_DD
• Calories: 2,160
• Sat. Fat: 30g
• Sodium: 4,680mg

With “Grilled garlic chicken, Applewood smoked bacon, jack and cheddar cheese, red onions, diced tomatoes and a drizzle of ranch,” this 9″ pizza packs a lot of punch into a small pie.

Just one of these pizzas is the same as eating three Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizzas, reckons the CSPI.

Chevys: Chevys Super Cinco Combo • Calories: 1,920
• Sat. Fat: 36g
• Sodium: 3,950

chevys

This mega-sampler, with “Two enchiladas: one beef, one chicken, a Crispy or Soft Beef Taco, a hand-rolled Pork Tamale and a handcrafted Chile Relleno,” gives you a a taste of several items on the Chevys menu. Oh, and it also comes with “Fresh Mex rice, our signature sweet corn tamalito and choice of homemade Beans a la Charra or Refried Beans made with bacon or Vegetarian Black Beans.”

Assuming you only drink water with this meal and don’t gorge on the free chips and salsa at Chevys, you’ll only need 3.5 hours of playing tennis to burn these calories; chances are you probably won’t feel like it when you’re done eating.

The Cheesecake Factory: Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic • Calories: 2,410
• Sat. Fat: 63g
• Sodium: 1,370mg

cfactpasta

This year’s second Cheesecake Factory meal sounds rather pleasant — “Bow-Tie Pasta, Chicken, Mushrooms, Tomato, Pancetta, Peas and Caramelized Onions in a Roasted Garlic-Parmesan Cream Sauce” — and it very well may be (we haven’t tried it, so we can’t say). But that cream sauce and the bountiful helping of pasta means you’re getting your full day’s worth of calories in one bowl.

Joe’s Crab Shack: The Big “Hook” Up • Calories: 3,280
• Sat. Fat: 50g
• Sodium: 7,610mg

joescrab

Another sampler that is not for the calorie-conscious, this platter with Joe’s Great Balls of Fire (“seafood and crab balls full of jalapeños and cream cheese coated in panko breadcrumbs…served with ranch”), Fish & Chips (“flaky white fish hand dipped in a classic Samuel Adams beer batter…served with fries”), Coconut Shrimp (“jumbo shrimp hand dipped in shredded coconut with pineapple plum sauce for dipping”), Crab Stuffed Shrimp (“plump shrimp hand stuffed with crab”), Hushpuppies, and Coleslaw, has the second-highest calorie count on the list (and the highest if you take away the Red Robin milkshake from that meal).

It also has a full five days’ worth of sodium.

By comparison, you could two full Admiral’s Feasts (fried shrimp, scallops, clam strips, flounder, along with fries and biscuits) at Red Lobster and consume the same calories, but but less than half the saturated fat.

Maggiano’s Little Italy: Prime New York Steak Contadina Style • Calories: 2,420
• Sat. Fat: 66g
• Sodium: 5,260mg

wowsteak

What do you get when you take a steak that is already 1,250 calories and serve “Contadina style,” which apparently means it comes with with “two Italian Sausage links, Crispy Red Vesuvio-Style Potatoes, Roasted Red & Yellow Peppers, Roasted Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Steak Jus, and Garlic Butter”?

You get a meal that is the equivalent of eating nine McDonald’s Quarter Pounder beef patties, with a Cheeseburger on the side.

The Cheesecake Factory: Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake • Calories: 1,500
• Sat. Fat: 43g
• Sugar: 21 teaspoons

ccake

If you’re going to eat at The Cheesecake Factory, you’ve got to eat cheesecake, right?

[Ed. Note: I'm being told you are not legally obliged to consume cheesecake at the restaurant.]

What does it say when the least calorific meal on this list is on the dessert menu? But even though this is the one of the few award-winning offerings that doesn’t have a full day’s worth of calories, it’s still going to require 4.5 hours of aerobics to burn off this slice of cheesecake.

It makes you wonder how the Big Bang Theory crew stays so slender eating out at the Factory all the time.

USPS Vehicle Fleet Even Older, Crappier Than My Toyota Tercel

Tue, 2014-07-29 23:15

Yep, these are old.

Yep, these are old.

The U.S. Postal Service estimates that most of its current fleet of vehicles are going to crap out by 2017. Sure, they pretty it up by saying that the vehicles are “near or have exceeded their expected service life,” but we all know what that means. Yet the USPS has the same problem as many ordinary citizens: how do you acquire a reliable vehicle to get to work when you’re flat broke?

Some scary numbers: the USPS has about 190,000 delivery vehicles, and 142,000 of them will reach the end of their life expectancy during or before 2017. The oldest members of the fleet are 27 years old, lacking safety features that are now standard or required. Yes, the postal service could keep repairing them into perpetuity, but the basic problem is the same one that many consumers have: often you’re better off buying a new car with better fuel efficiency rather than continuing to pay for repairs to an old one.

According to a USPS Office of the Inspector General report, designing and replacing vehicles to replace the current familiar postal vans could take up to a decade and cost $5 billion. The postal service has maybe three years to complete the replacement, and their continuing budget problems made even buying a few thousand vans as a stopgap measure difficult. The most recent rate increase was projected to bring in almost $3 billion in additional income, so that might help cover part of the expense of replacing the vehicles. Or the plan could just get shelved again, like it has repeatedly for the last decade.

Check out the comments in the Office of the Inspector General blog post: today we learned that mail carriers really, really would like air conditioning in their vehicles. We can’t say that we blame them.

The Road to a New Delivery Fleet [USPS]
USPS’s Aging Delivery Fleet to Conk Out in 4 Years [ECommerceBytes]

Which Is Worse To Get Caught Drunk Eating On Video: Styrofoam Or Chips Off A Train’s Floor?

Tue, 2014-07-29 23:09

(MissMassey on YouTube/LiveLeak

(MissMassey on YouTube/LiveLeak)

There’s something about today that is bringing in evidence of some behavior we’ve all likely been guilty of: Eating while drunk and feeling like whatever you’re consuming is just the best darn [insert preferred drunk food/cheese] you’ve ever ingested. But in the two videos the Internet has dumped ashore today, we’re pretty sure these people take that guilty pleasure to new heights.

Because your sarcasm hats are firmly on and you can read headlines, I assume you’ve realized that these people aren’t eating tasty things, exactly — in one case, chips scooped off a Metro North train’s floor, in the other, large bites out of an extruded polystyrene container (because styrofoam is a trademarked word for insulation, someone would otherwise point out).

And although there will be no answer to the question of “Why? Why would you eat chips off a train’s floor/an inedible, flavorless container?” we felt a need to ask which one is ultimately grosser.

On the one hand, chips are a food item. Dropping them on a well-traveled and likely germy surface is pretty disgusting, but according to Gothamist the girl caught on video doing just that allegedly ate a $5 bill right before the eyewitness started filming her as she went for the chips with gusto. So that certainly ups the ante, though we don’t see her in action.

Meanwhile, this guy in the United Kingdom (via Gawker) seems to be quite enjoying his extruded polystyrene container mixed with whatever food it was designed to hold.

They both look so happy, it’s almost a shame to be amused. But amused we are, so let’s vote:

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

NLRB Rules That McDonald’s And Franchisees Are Joint Employers

Tue, 2014-07-29 23:03

(Paxton Holley)

(Paxton Holley)

In a decision that could impact not just the fast food business, but all chain retailers that use the franchisee model, the National Labor Relations Board Office of the General Counsel announced today that McDonald’s can possibly be held responsible for franchisees’ bad labor practices.

McDonald’s and many other franchised businesses have long used that corporate/franchisee arrangement to distance the company from bad actions by individual store owners.

The corporations have long argued that they are merely licensing their brands and products to these franchisees, who are then responsible for complying with laws regarding hiring, wages, hours, and the like.

But the NLRB General Counsel contends that McDonald’s HQ exerts such an influence over its franchisees that it should be treated as a joint employer alongside the franchisees.

For example, in 2013 a Pennsylvania McDonald’s franchisee was thrust into the spotlight when an employee complained about allegedly being forced to accept her wages on a prepaid debit card.

In this instance and in other labor-related gripes, McDonald’s HQ claimed that all wage decisions were made by the franchisees. Today’s NLRB decision would make it much more difficult for the company to put all the blame on a rogue franchise owner.

The General Counsel decision doesn’t necessarily set a standard for all franchised companies, but it does mean that McDonald’s HQ will have to defend itself in at least the 43 current McDonald’s-related cases that the General Counsel believes have merit.

Not surprisingly, McDonald’s says it intends to fight.

“We believe there is no legal or factual basis for such a finding,” said the company in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, “and we will vigorously argue our case at the administrative trials and subsequent appeal processes which are likely to follow from the issuance of the complaints.”

Micah Wissinger, a lawyer representing McDonald’s employees in New York City, says that today’s decision “shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple… The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

Before today, the NLRB General Counsel had 181 McDonald’s labor complaints to review. Sixty-eight of those cases were deemed to have no merit and 64 are still pending investigation.

Parents Stuck With $200K In Student Loan Debt After Daughter Dies

Tue, 2014-07-29 22:42
(Daniel Lobo)

(Daniel Lobo)

The last thing families want to deal with after the death of a loved one is a phone call reminding them of their departed’s debt. But that’s the case for a number of parents who have inherited the obligation to repay the student loans they co-signed for their deceased child.

More and more families are finding themselves struggling financially with few options of relief after taking on their child’s student loan debt, CNN Money reports.

Unexpected Inheritance
That’s certainly the case for Steve and Darnelle whose daughter, Lisa, died five years ago. The couple quickly took in their three young grandchildren, but also received a rather unwelcome addition: $100,000 in student loan debt.

Years before her death, Steve had co-signed Lisa’s private student loans so she could attend nursing school and now, after her death, he was on the hook to repay the lenders.

The couple, who live on a modest salary and are now raising three children, struggled to make the loan payments each month. They depleted their savings and ruined their credit, Steve tells CNN, and eventually the loan debt ballooned to $200,000 because of late penalties and interest rates as high as 12%.

The situation would be markedly different if Lisa had taken out federal student loans. In that scenario, the couple could have had the loans discharged or received some kind of financial assistance.

Few Avenues To Receive Help
Instead the family is left grappling with their new reality and finding little in the way of help from the lenders.

Steve called each loan issuer to explain his situation, and while most expressed sympathy for his situation, none were required to actually do anything.

Private loan issuers have full discretion when it comes to doling out loan forgiveness, Deanne Loonin, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, tells CNN Money.

In fact, private lenders aren’t bound by the same federal requirements that federal student loans must adhere to, meaning private lenders don’t have to offer help to borrowers or co-signers unless they want to.

A few private loan lenders did offer Steve and Darnelle relief – albeit on a small scale.

Officials with Navient Corp., the recent offshoot of Sallie Mae, say they provided the family with a reduced balance and lower interest rates in the past. Additionally, Steve reported that after the lender was contacted by CNN, it lowered his interest rate to 0% on three out of four loans and reduced the amount owed by $8,000 to a total of $27,000.

Still, the company that handles the majority of the private loans now owed by Steve and Darnelle says it’s only in charge of collecting payments and can’t make the rules on forgiveness. Instead, the family would need to contact the original lender, National Collegiate Trust. And Steve did just that, only he says the company refused to provide any kind of help.

It Won’t Disappear In Bankruptcy
While many consumers facing hardships because of debts would simply file for bankruptcy, that’s not an option for Steve and Darnelle, and families in similar situations.

Unlike mortgages, credit cards and auto loans, neither federal nor private student loans can currently be discharged in bankruptcy.

“People with other debt from splurging — they can discharge that,” he tells CNN Money. “Student loans should really be the one type of debt they do discharge because it’s done to further an education and career. But somehow getting [my daughter] an education has encumbered me for the rest of my life.”

Loonin, with the NCLC, says that in rare cases parents can try to prove undue financial hardship in court to get debts discharged in bankruptcy. Otherwise, the only other option is to attempt to work out a payment plan with lenders.

Attempts To Reform Rules
Cases like Steve and Darnelle’s inspired Iowa senator Tom Harkin to introduce a bill in June that would, in part, allow private student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy proceedings.

Although the bill has little chance of being passed, it’s not the only legislative proposal made this year that would have given private student loan borrowers a bit of much-needed relief.

A bill, introduced by Massachusetts senator Elizabeeth Warren in May, would have allowed federal and private student loan borrowers to refinance to rates set for first-time borrowers – approximately 3.86%. That measure died on the Senate floor when it didn’t garner enough votes of support.

Taking The Issue To The Masses
With relatively few options left, and his dreams of retirement disappearing, Steve and Darnelle turned to Change.org to petition the president to allow student loans to be eligible for discharge in bankruptcy. So far, the petition has 1,064 signatures.

This isn’t the first time grieving families have turned to the online petition site when seeking recourse for the private student loans they’ve inherited.

CNN Money reports there have been four other attempts by families, one of which was successful. In that case the brother of a deceased borrower petitioned the bank to stop seeking payments from his grieving father and the loan was eventually forgiven.

Another petition, created by Virginia mother, Angela, asked private loan provider First Marblehead Corp. to forgive her son’s $40,000 in student loans after he was murdered in 2008. While that petition received more than 150,000 signatures, no action was taken by the lender.

Just Another Problem With Co-Signed Loans
The situations faced by these families further illustrates the problems associated with the practice of co-signing private student loans.

In many cases, lenders require a co-signer in order to issue these loans and to minimize the interest rates. In 2011, nearly 90% of all private student loans included a co-signer; someone who, in the event that a borrower can’t repay their debt, is obligated to do so.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported this spring that automatic-defaults associated with private student loans were at an all-time high.

Borrowers have increasingly found themselves put in automatic-default at no fault of their own. The issue occurs when a loan issuer finds out the loan’s co-signer has died or filed for bankruptcy.

Although the two co-signer situations are admittedly different, they are a alike in the fact that little recourse is available for borrowers.

“Private student loans should really be a last resort, if possible,” the CFPB’s Rohit Chopra, told Consumerist earlier this year. “When you run into trouble you often have very few options to navigate tough times.”

Grieving parents hit with $200,000 in student loans [CNN Money]

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