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Chase Becomes First Bank To Implement New, Simpler Disclosure Box For Prepaid Cards

Wed, 2014-02-26 20:44

Pew 1 In 2012, nearly 12 million consumers loaded more than $64 million onto prepaid debit cards. With so many people turning to these cards, more companies are getting into the prepaid debit business. To assist consumers faced with a plethora of card options, Pew Charitable Trusts unveiled a new model disclosure box for easy comparison of prepaid card fees and terms and conditions.

JPMorgan Chase announced today that its Chase Liquid prepaid cards will be the first prepaid product to employ the new disclosure box, which fits on the inside flap of the existing card packaging.

“Our customers appreciate that we use clear language when we describe how our products work,” Barry Sommers, CEO of Chase Consumer Bank, said in a news release. “Chase Liquid was built on the premise of being simple and easy to understand, so the Pew disclosure form is perfectly aligned with this product.”

Uniform, concise, and easy-to-read disclosures will help consumers chose the best card for their needs while navigating through the many prepaid card of options offered by banks, credit union, wireless companies and even celebrities, Pew reports.

Pew presented the model disclosure box in a new study, “The Need for Improved Disclosures for General Purpose Reloadable Prepaid Cards” [PDF], detailing the lack of transparency in current card disclosures. Pew researchers found that nearly every one of the 66 cards included in the study failed to disclose at least one type of fee, service, or consumer protection.

“The disclosures for most prepaid cards are inconsistent and unclear,” Susan Weinstock, director of Pew’s safe checking research, said in a news release Wednesday. “Terms should be plainly stated so that consumers can choose the product that best meets their needs. This disclosure box should be required by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for all general purpose reloadable prepaid cards.”

To develop the disclosure box Pew hosted focus groups in Baltimore, Denver, and Austin. Participants reviews and commented on three disclosure box prototypes. The final disclosure model is based on Pew’s disclosure box for checking accounts, which has been adopted by 26 banks and credit unions.

Pew’s Model Disclosure Box for Prepaid Cards

Pew’s Model Disclosure Box for Prepaid Cards

Use of a disclosure box falls in line with Pew’s recent recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make cards safer. The recommendations were part of two reports released earlier this month by Pew highlighting increased consumer demand for prepaid cards and growing concerns over the lack of consumer protections.

Pew recommended six policies to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would ensure the protection of consumers using prepaid cards:
• Prepaid cards should not have overdraft or other automated or linked credit features.
• Prepaid cardholders should be protected against liability for unauthorized transactions that occur either when a card is lost or stolen or a charge is incorrectly applied.
• Prepaid cardholders should have access to account information and transaction history.
• Prepaid cards should be required to provide information about terms, conditions, and fees in a uniform, concise, and easy-to-read format. This information should be included with the card packaging so that it is accessible pre-purchase at retail outlets as well as online.
• Prepaid card funds should be federally insured against loss caused by the failure of an institution.
• Predispute binding arbitration clauses in cardholder agreements, which prevent cardholders from having the choice to challenge unfair and deceptive practices or other legal violations in court, should be prohibited.

Couple Goes For A Hike, Finds $10 Million Cache Of Gold Coins

Wed, 2014-02-26 20:41

saddle_hoard_canImagine that you were hiking on your property and saw the rusty old can pictured at left. Me, I’d probably grumble about previous generations’ approach to trash disposal and pick the can up to throw it away. When a California couple saw a can sticking out of the ground, they checked it out…noticing that it had a lid. What could be inside? Not century-old creamed corn.

Nope: it was a hoard of gold coins. Experts believe, based on the age and condition of the coins, that the original coin-stasher must have built the hoard over a period of years during the 19th century, then left it behind. What were coins with a face value of $5, $10, or $20 are now much more valuable to collectors: one piece is valued at about $1 million by itself. The entire hoard could be worth about $10 million.

In a press release from Kagin’s, the company selling the coins on the family’s behalf, the staff senior numismatist is quoted saying, “Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine coins coming out of the ground in the kind of condition that I saw in front of me. Many pieces were finer than anything known in major collections or museums.”

golllllllld

The family decided to stay anonymous, allowing Kagin’s to publish an interview with them. According to Kagin’s, which refers to them as “John” and “Mary,” the couple are self-employed, around 40 years old, live somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, and really, really don’t want treasure-hunters swarming on their property.

California Family Discovers Buried Treasure – Hidden Cache of 19th Century U.S. Gold Coins May Be Most Valuable Hoard Unearthed in North America [Kagin's]

CFPB Sues ITT Tech For Allegedly Exploiting Students, Pushing Predatory Loans

Wed, 2014-02-26 20:03

ittadThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a federal lawsuit against a well-known for-profit college chain, alleging the company exploited its students and pushed them into high-cost private student loans that were likely to end in default.

The complaint [PDF] charges that between 2009 and 2011 ITT Educational Services, Inc., pressured students into predatory loans and mislead students on future job prospects and salaries, CFPB director Richard Cordray announced during a news conference Wednesday.

The suit seeks restitution, a civil fine, and an injunction against the for-profit college chain.

“ITT marketed itself as improving consumers’ lives but it was really just improving its bottom line,” CFPB Director Richard Corday said in a news conference Wednesday. “We believe ITT used high-pressure tactics to push many consumers into expensive loans destined to default. Today’s action should serve as a warning to the for-profit college industry that we will be vigilant about protecting students against predatory lending tactics.”

The CFPB’s lawsuit alleges that between July 2009 and December 2011, ITT encouraged students to enroll by providing them with a zero-interest loan called “Temporary Credit.” The credit was used to close the tuition gap between a student’s federal aid and the school’s high tuition rate.

Typically, the Temporary Credit had to be paid in full at the end of the student’s first academic year. When students were unable to repay their first year Temporary Credit, ITT allegedly pushed high-cost private student loan programs to cover the costs of repayment and second-year tuition gap.

The suit alleges that ITT’s CEO revealed in investor calls that converting the temporary loans to long-term loans was the company’s “plan all along.”

The Indiana-based technical education school, which enrolls tens of thousands of student online and at its 150 institutions, has one of the highest tuition costs among the country’s for-profit colleges. Earning an associate’s degree at the school can cost more than $44,000, while a Bachelor’s degree program can cost $88,000.

The suit also alleges that ITT’s representations led students to think they would land jobs with enough salary to repay their private student loans.

“This is truly an American tragedy,” Cordray said. “Students may think they are climbing a ladder to success when instead they are getting knocked down, crushed by student debt that does not help them gain a better job or a better life.”

Attorneys general from Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, and New Mexico are conducting investigations into major for-profit colleges, including ITT.

“Some of these colleges are thriving on selling a dream to someone…once the ink is dried on the financial aid paperwork the nightmare begins,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said during the conference. “We will be working tirelessly to be certain that the industry as a whole understand their business is education and not just flattering the bottom line.”

Wednesday’s complaint is the first action the CFPB has taken against a company in the for-profit college industry. However, for-profit colleges have come under greater scrutiny in the last several years. The Government Accountability Office has conducted investigations into a number of schools that use high-pressure enrollment tactics and misleading promises to attract students.

Earlier this month, Consumerist reported on a federal lawsuit filed by former employees of accusing the Harris School and its parent company, Premier Education Group, of misleading students — who paid more than $10,000 a year for various programs — about career prospects, and falsifying records to enroll students and keep them enrolled in order to continue receiving government grant and loan dollars.

Last October, the California Attorney General filed suit against Corinthian Colleges, Inc., the operators of 111 North American campuses and three online programs, claiming that it lied to students about the prospect of job-placement and to investors about the success rate of graduates.

In December, a court ordered a for-profit school in Kentucky to pay $1,000/day for avoiding a subpoena related to the state’s investigation into for-profit National College schools.

NYC Brunch Crowd Shocked, Simply Shocked, That Bottomless Drink Specials Are Illegal

Wed, 2014-02-26 20:00
(ChrisGoldNY)

(ChrisGoldNY)

Listen very carefully with your ear turned toward the Big Apple and you will likely hear the combined keening of brunch fans mourning the fact that those bottomless drink specials offered on weekends are actually against the law in New York City. Everything must have a bottom, it turns out, even a Bloody Mary.

It isn’t news to the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which is pointing out this week that any kind of deal where you get unlimited alcoholic beverages for a fixed price are now, and always have been, illegal, points out Eater NY.

According to the law on the books from the State Liquor Authority in New York (which I first spelled, “Liquority Authority” and kinda liked it that way), restaurants are prohibited “from selling, serving, delivering or offering to patrons an unlimited number of drinks during any set period of time for a fixed price.”

It’s also against the law to let party promoters or organizers holding an event at such a restaurant to do something similar. You’re totally fine to take advantage of a private event’s open bar, like a wedding or Fun Uncle Ted’s 65th Birthday Jam.

The only drink deals that don’t run afoul of this law are two-for-one specials and any discounts that aren’t larger than half off the original price.

And while no one from the SLA is going to come slap your fourth mimosa from your hands at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, don’t be surprised if you start to see your favorite watering holes quietly pulling those bottomless deals from the menu in the face of a likely crackdown.

Look on the bright side, New Yorkers — you’ve still got Happy Hour, unlike your drinking counterparts in Boston. So it could be worse.

You can follow MBQ on Twitter as she tries to cope with the loss of bottomless specials, along with her band of merry brunchers: @marybethquirk

Here Are The 20 Sony Stores That Will Be Closing

Wed, 2014-02-26 19:41

(pdxmac)

(pdxmac)

Sony, still trying to sort out its place in an electronics market in which it is no longer the biggest player, announced today that it will be closing 20 of its 31 retail stores in the U.S. Here’s the list of the locations that will be axed as part of the corporate “restructuring.”

According to Sony’s corporate office, the following locations are to be shuttered:

CALIFORNIA
Camarillo, CA (Camarillo Premium Outlets)

Gilroy, CA (Gilroy Premium Outlets)

Los Angeles, CA (Century City)

San Diego, CA (Las Americas Premium Outlets)

Santa Clara, CA (Valley Fair)

COLORADO
Cherry Creek, CO (Cherry Creek Shopping Center)

FLORIDA
Boca Raton, FL (Town Center at Boca Raton)

Miami, FL (Dolphin Mall)

ILLINOIS
Aurora, IL (Chicago Premium Outlets)

NEW JERSEY
Menlo Park, NJ (Menlo Park Mall)

MASSACHUSETTS
Wrentham, MA (Wrentham Village Premium Outlets)

PENNSYLVANIA
Philadelphia, PA (The Market at Comcast Center)

NEW YORK
Central Valley, NY (Woodbury Common Outlets)

NEVADA
Las Vegas, NV (Forum Shops at Caesar’s)

TEXAS
Dallas, TX (Galleria Dallas)

San Marcos, TX (San Marcos Prime Outlets)

VIRGINIA
Arlington, VA (Fashion Centre at Pentagon City)

McClean, VA (Tysons Corner)

WASHINGTON
Seattle, WA (University Village)

WISCONSIN
Pleasant Prairie, WI (Pleasant Prairie Prime Outlets)

9 Things We Learned About A Guy Who Claims He’s Only Eaten Pizza For The Past 25 Years

Wed, 2014-02-26 19:00
(Coyoty)

(Coyoty)

We’ve all got our culinary predilections — I will fight you if you touch my cheese curds — but there are favorite foods and then there are extreme acts of food devotion. To wit: A guy who’s claimed he’s only eaten pizza, and only pizza, every day for the last 25 years.

Vice’s Justin Levy interviews his friend Dan, a 38-year-old diabetic who hates vegetables and survives entirely on that beloved combination of carbs, cheese and sauce. Mmm, pizza. Anyway!

Here’s what we learned about Dan, the “I only eat pizza” Man:

1. He has only been eating pizza — just cheese, no other toppings — every day of his life for the past 25 years, after deciding to become a vegetarian. But he hates vegetables, so he chose pizza.

2. He usually eats an entire 14″ pizza in one day.

3. All pizzas are not the same: “If I go to one pizza shop or another brand, it’s like eating a completely different meal.”

4. His favorite pizza is a Rochester, N.Y.-based chain called Pontillo’s.

5. He sees a therapist for what he calls both his “food aversion” and his “pizza addiction.” But he still hasn’t tried any other foods… yet.

6. He has diabetes — but most doctors seem okay with it besides the endocrinologist he met with at first, he says: ” But all the other doctors have said, “Your cholesterol is fine. You seem healthy. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

7. Dan feels great, despite your expectations to the contrary: “I must say, even though I sound like a horribly unhealthy and fat person, I’m not. I’m thin. I have tons of energy, and I feel great every day, so there might be something to the exclusive pizza diet.”

8. It’s doubtful he’s eating a lot of homemade pizza, at least by his own hands, as he “never really understood cooking.”

9. He does want to someday eat something other than pizza, though he’ll never give up his “love and passion” for the pie. Mostly because it’d be nice to eat out at a non-pizza restaurant with his fiancée: “I would like to be able to go to a restaurant where they didn’t serve pizza and order off the menu, which I can’t really do right now. “

*Thanks for the tip, Friend of Consumerist Jim!

You can follow MBQ on Twitter where she will no doubt recount any fights she has over cheese: @marybethquirk

THIS MAN HAS SURVIVED ON PIZZA ALONE FOR 25 YEARS [Vice]

House Passes Bill To Re-Legalize Cellphone Unlocking

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:49

(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

A legislative effort to once again make it legal for consumers to unlock their cellphones without seeking their carriers’ permission is a step closer to reality after being passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

HR 1123, better known as the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, was introduced last summer by Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

On Tuesday, the full House passed the bill by a vote of 295-114. It must now be considered by the Senate.

The legislation would reverse a 2012 decision by the Librarian of Congress, who has the sole authority to interpret the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The LOC decided that consumers no longer had the right to unlock cellphones on their own, even if the consumer owned the phone outright and was no longer bound by a contract with their carrier.

That rule change went into effect in early 2013, meaning any phone purchased after January 25, 2013, required permission from a wireless carrier to be unlocked.

This resulted in a backlash from consumer advocates, consumers, legislators, and even the White House, which called for regulators to figure out a way to give consumers back the right that had been taken away from them.

Under pressure from regulators, the wireless industry announced a voluntary set of unlocking standards in December. These guidelines stated that the carriers would make the unlocking process relatively pain-free for people who owned their phones or were out of contract. It also allows for deployed military personnel to have their phones unlocked.

Beware Of Fake Verizon “Tech Support” Scammers Calling From Actual Verizon Tech Support Number

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:30

(maulleigh)

(maulleigh)

There have been variations on the “tech support” cold-call scam for years, with the scammers attempting to take advantage of some consumers’ naivete about electronics. But a new version of the scam appears to go a step further, by making it appear like the person is actually calling from a legitimate tech support number.

The folks at DroidLife.com write about receiving robocalls claiming to be from Verizon technical support, but which are really just attempts to get unwitting consumers to go to a scammy website and enter their personal information.

What makes this scam different than ones we’ve seen in the past is that the scammers are apparently spoofing their phone number so that when the call shows up on Caller ID, it is an actual 1-800 number used by Verizon’s tech support team.

Scammers have long used spoofed numbers to hide their actual phone numbers, but it’s a pretty brazen move to use Verizon’s own tech support number.

As we’ve reported before, spoofing in and of itself is not yet illegal in the U.S. It is illegal to use a spoofed number for the purpose of fraud, which seems to be the case here, but the government’s current stance is that it would rather go after people who abuse the practice than outlaw it entirely.

If you receive a call claiming to be from a company, don’t assume that the number on caller ID is actually the number that is calling you. If you smell a scam, hang up and call the actual company on a listed, public phone number. If Verizon is indeed trying to get in touch with you, someone there will be able to tell you.

Here is the audio of the scam message received by DroidLife:

Woman Calls Cops On Herself To Defend Claim Of Raw Waffles

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:15

(NoNo Joe)

(NoNo Joe)

When you might be in trouble, it’s good to get ahead of the story. We’re not sure whether that’s what led a woman in Tampa, Florida to contact the authorities when a restaurant allegedly served her an uncooked waffle. Did she call the health department, or the Board of Breakfast Foods (which should be a thing)? Nope. She dialed 9-1-1.

People really enjoy calling emergency services for non-emergencies. Of course, what seems like an emergency to someone right this minute may not objectively be one. The police department in Tampa has decided to fight non-emergeny 9-1-1- calls with a tool designed to reach the widest spectrum of people possible: YouTube videos.

They released the waffle video yesterday, and it was an instant hit. It’s silly, and it’s also very fun to say “raw waffles.”

As far as any sober person can determine, the caller was having a disagreement with a restaurant employee over whether she should have to pay for an uncooked waffle.

In the recording, she tells the dispatcher:

I told him I don’t want the waffles, could he take it off my bill, he’s all, ‘oh I can’t take nothing off your bill, ma’am’, but you sold me something that was uncooked, I’m already paying for the whole waffle that was uncooked, you want me to pay for the half a waffle too that was uncooked? No, he’s all ‘well I’ll call the police, you been drinking alcohol’, well come on bring me a breathalyzer and everything, I am ready.

9-1-1, ever-helpful, sent over a police officer to help mediate the waffle dispute. The operator reminded the woman that serving raw waffles is “a civil matter,” not a crime, though.

How about when your car alarm fob doesn’t work?

Tripping over a wire is not a crime.

This is why it’s good to store the non-emergency police number for the town or city where you live in your phone’s contacts. You might need to use 911 to reach emergency services while out of town: that is the reason for the nationwide number, after all. For gosh sakes, though, try not to.

Or you’ll join these other members of the Misusing Emergency Resources Hall Of Fame:

Do Not Call 9-1-1 To Request Beer Delivery
McDonald’s Customers, Employee Call 9-1-1 On Each Other Over Missing Hash Browns
Calling 9-1-1 Will Not Convince Mall Security To Push Your Wheelchair To The Apple Store
Police Arrest Woman Who Called 9-1-1 Six Times To Complain About Bar Full Of Drunk People
Calling 9-1-1 Won’t Help You Find The Red Jell-O When It Disappears From The Fridge
Do Not Call 9-1-1 When You’re Overcharged By A Penny For Beer
Blogger Admits He Maybe Overreacted By Calling 9-1-1 To Report Cell Phone Use In Theater
McDonald’s Customer Arrested After Calling 9-1-1 About Mixed-Up Order

LISTEN: Woman calls Tampa police over uncooked waffle [WFLA]

How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 3: The Costly Little Extras

Wed, 2014-02-26 18:01

(afagen)

(afagen)

Wedding Week continues on How To Not Suck! We’ve already talked about the big-ticket items and other major expenses that couples tend to pay too much for. Today, we look at all those additional purchases that can send wedding costs skyrocketing.

So far we’ve covered everything from the venue to the dress to the limo and the cake. Hard part’s over, right? Not exactly.

The little things can add up quickly and bust your wedding budget. Here how to not suck at all those extras.

GIFTS FOR THE WEDDING PARTY
After you’ve convinced your closest friends to spend hundreds of dollars on dresses and matching shoes and tux rentals, all just to stand up for you at your wedding, it’s tradition to give these people a present. And let’s not forget the flower girls and ring-bearers.

Oy.

First, remember you can save lots of cash by having fewer people in your wedding party.

If you’re already invested in a big group, sit with your partner and create a budget, then take your time and shop around. Negotiate with retailers for bulk pricing on those earrings that match the bridesmaids’ dresses or the monogrammed flask that’s a common gift for the guys.

And remember, they’ve already said yes to you. With gifts, it’s the thought that counts… or at least that’s what people say.

A GIFT FOR YOUR SPOUSE-TO-BE
I never understood this one, but many couples give a gift — in addition to their promise to love and honor and cherish forever — to their spouse.

If money is tight, talk to your partner so you can decide if a gift is really worth the extra strain on your wedding budget.

EXTRA POSTAGE
As we warned you yesterday, choosing invitations with lots of extras means lots of additional postage costs. Maybe a buck-and-a-half doesn’t seem like much, but that’s $300 when you’re sending to 200 guests; money that could be better spent on, well… anything other than postage.

Look for invitations without the extra flair, and ones that fall within certain sizes, to lower your postage costs.

ALTERATIONS
After spending hundreds, or geez, thousands, on a wedding gown, you’re still going to need alterations to make the fit just right. Make sure your bridal salon includes alterations in the price, or look elsewhere for a tailor who can do the job for less.

UNDIES
Yes ladies and gents, certain garments needs special underclothes — and we’re not even talking about the sexy wedding night options. If your dress will need a special bra, corset or other unmentionables, make sure to budget for these rather than to get surprised at the last minute.

Don’t forget the garter and wedding-night lingerie. (And guys, I recommend the “trophy husband” boxer briefs my husband received from, ahem, an admirer last Christmas. Sorry for sharing, babe.)

ACCESSORIES
Rather than buy the bride’s veil, the groom’s cufflinks and other accessories from the provider who supplies the main clothing for your big day, look online for better prices for these extras. Also consider costs for shoes, jewelry and other items.

PRE-WEDDING ATTIRE
If your families are hosting a rehearsal dinner or another function — bridal showers, engagement parties, you name it — before the big day, you’re doing to need something to wear. Remember to include this as a line item on your budget.

TIPPING
So you’ve already paid thousands for your venue, the service, the photographer, and so on. You still may need to tip — and it may be customary — for certain services. Make sure to add this to your budget, too. Here’s some conventional wisdom on the topic.

PARTY FAVORS
Giving favors to your wedding guests is traditional, and if you aren’t careful, it can add to your wedding budget big-time.

Consider raffling off your centerpiece (to the bride who has been married the longest or shortest or something like that) rather than creating a separate favor. Or DIY with some Hershey’s Kisses in decorative bags rather than paying for specially-printed wedding labels on candy; or lottery scratch-offs under each plate, as a giveaway.

“PHOTO MOMENTS” ACCESSORIES
When it comes to your cake, remember the cost of your cake topper is extra. So is a commemorative cake knife and serving spatula. And if you want special keepsake champagne flutes for your first toast as spouses, expect to fork out extra for that, too.

THE MARRIAGE LICENSE
Eek! Imagine spending all this money on a big wedding, and forgetting the one piece or paper you need to make it legal!

Costs vary depending on the state in which you’re getting hitched, so check this list to see what it will cost you and the time needed to qualify.

PASSPORT
If you’ve planned an overseas honeymoon, make sure to get your passport well before your departure date, or else you may face extra fees to expedite it. Here’s what you need to know about cost and timing.

WEDDING INSURANCE
We’re sure you don’t expect your soon-to-be-spouse to leave you waiting at the altar, and no one plans for their reception hall to shut down the day before the big day. Consider wedding insurance to cover those possibilities.

Learn more at WedSafe, ProtectMyWedding, WedSure or do a Google search for more options.

Wedding Week continues tomorrow with advice on planning your honeymoon.

Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at notsuck@consumerist.com.

You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at NJ.com, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

PREVIOUSLY ON HOW TO NOT SUCK:
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 2: The Stuff People Pay Too Much For
How To Not Suck At Planning Your Wedding, Part 1: The Most Expensive Steps
How To Not Suck… At Teaching Your Kids About Money
How To Not Suck… At Valentine’s Day Gifts
How To Not Suck… At Merging Your Money When You Marry
How To Not Suck… At Borrowing For College
How To Not Suck… At Saving For College
How To Not Suck… At Pre-Paying For Your Funeral
How To Not Suck… At Making Financial New Year’s Resolutions
How To Not Suck… At Last-Minute Christmas Gifting
How To Not Suck… At Saving For The Holidays
How To Not Suck… At Charitable Giving
How To Not Suck… At Disputing Credit Report Errors
How To Not Suck… At Lowering Your Utility Bills
How To Not Suck… At Home Inspections
How To Not Suck… At Understanding Credit Card Rewards
How To Not Suck… At Getting Ready For Tax Season
How To Not Suck… At Picking A Retirement Plan
How To Not Suck… At Deciding When To DIY
How To Not Suck… At Getting Out Of Debt
How To Not Suck… At First Year College Budgets

DISCLAIMER: Any websites, services, retailers, or brands mentioned in the story above are only intended as some of many options available to consumers, and do not constitute an endorsement by Consumerist, Consumerist Media LLC (CML) or its staff. Per Consumerist’s No Commercial Use Policy, such information may not be used by others in advertising or to promote a company’s product or service. In addition, this policy precludes any commercial use of any of CML’s published information in any form, or of the names of Consumers Union®, Consumer Media, Consumer Reports®, The Consumerist, consumerist.com or any other of CU or CML’s publications or services without CU or CML’s express written permission.

McDonald’s Hopes Cheaper Mighty Wings Will Sell Better This Time Around

Wed, 2014-02-26 17:59
They're baaaaack...

They’re baaaaack…

Despite much fanfare and ballyhoo over McDonald’s attempt to woo wing lovers last fall with its Mighty Wings, the almost $1-per-wing price instead led to many customers shunning the fast food chain’s effort. The result of that tepid response was $10 million in frozen, unsold Mighty Wings, an outcome Mickey D’s is hoping to avoid this time around with lower prices.

Yes, the Mighty Wings will be back for another limited run, McDonald’s confirmed on Twitter:

We’re taking the ordinary & making it MIGHTY. See how #MightyWings can make your everyday delicious. http://t.co/0EFMImSW0i
McDonald's (@McDonalds) February 25, 2014

The difference this time around is you’ll get five wings for $3, a price shift that CEO Don Thompson alluded to last October when he pledged that the Mighty Wings would rise again, reports BurgerBusiness.com.

“Mighty Wings resonated with consumers but performed at the lower end of our expectations,” he explained, saying that adjusting the price could fix that. “One dollar per wing was still not considered to be the most competitive in the current environment.”

It’s unclear if the recipe has changed as well — Thompson said some customers might not have taken to the spiciness of the wings, but this newest iteration also advertises its flavors as “spicy, bold, delicious.”

If they’re the same recipe, get those defrosters ready, McDonald’s franchisees. We imagine at least $10 million in unsold, frozen Mighty Wings is coming your way.

Mighty Wings Return at 5 for $3 [BurgerBusiness.com]

Citing 13 Fatalities, GM Expands Ignition Switch Recall To 1.37 Million Vehicles

Wed, 2014-02-26 17:37

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

When General Motors announced its recall of hundreds of thousands of Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles for concerns about the ignition switch, it said the defect was tied to as many as six fatalities. Now the car company says the recall is significantly larger than originally believed and that a total of 13 people may have died as a result of the defect.

On Tuesday, General Motors expanded the three-week-old recall to include the Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, CNN Money reports.

Initially, General Motors recalled 778,000 compact cars after reports of five frontal impact crashes and six fatalities related to ignition switch failure in the 2005 to 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5s. Now, the company reports there have been 13 fatalities as a result of 31 frontal crashes associated with the problem.

The recall warns that vehicle’s ignition switch may fail by switching out of the run position if a key rink is carrying added weight, the vehicle goes off-road or experiences some other jarring event, GM reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The expanded recall comes less than a week after General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were criticized for not acting quickly enough to resolve the issue, even though several fatalities were reported.

A Georgia attorney, who is suing the car company on behalf of a woman who died while driving a 2005 Cobalt, has petitioned NHTSA to fine GM for not addressing the issue as soon as it knew of the problem, CNN Money reports.

According to a deposition provided by the Georgia attorney, a GM engineer experienced the problem while test-driving one of the vehicles in 2004.

Automakers are required to report safety defects to NHTSA within five days of discovering them. Failure to do so carries a maximum fine of $35 million.

On Monday, General Motors filed a chronology of events confirming the company knew of a potential ignition problem as early as 2004.

According to the chronology, the company issued service bulletins in 2005 and 2006 telling dealers how to fix the problem with a key insert, and advising dealers to tell customers not to dangle too many items from key chains. Records provided by the company show only 474 vehicles received key inserts.

The chronology shows the company was told of at least one fatal crash in March 2007. By the end of that year, the company knew of 10 cases in which Cobalts were involved in front-end crashes and the airbags did not deploy.

A 2007 NHTSA investigator’s report [PDF] shows both the agency and GM were aware of the possibility of ignition failure.

At the time, a NHTSA investigator was tasked with looking into the cause of a crash that took the lives of two teenagers in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt. The investigator’s report included the possibility that the driver’s and passenger’s seat airbags did not deploy as a result of “power loss due to movement of the ignition switch prior to impact”.

When the investigator looked at the vehicle’s Event Data Recorder, which keeps track of the vehicle’s various systems while in operation, it was found that the ignition switch was not in the ‘on’ position at the actual time of the accident. The investigation reveled that inadvertent contact with the ignition switch or a keychain could result in engine shut-down and loss of power.

Following the release of the report last week, NHTSA officials said the special crash investigation did not determine a cause for the airbag non deployment or that the failure to deploy was a result of a vehicle design defect or noncompliance with federal motor vehicle regulations.

Still, consumer advocates say more could have been done about the issue.

“They knew by 2007 they had 10 incidents where the air bag didn’t deploy in this type of crash,” Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Center for Auto Safety, tells CBS News. “This is a case where both GM and NHTSA should be held accountable for doing a recall no later than the spring of 2007,”

Officials with General Motors maintain the company handled the recall accordingly.

“The chronology shows that the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been,” General Motors president Alan Batey said in a company statement. “Today’s GM is committed to doing business differently and better. We will take an unflinching look at what happened and apply lessons learned here to improve going forward.”

GM expands recall, cites 13 deaths [CNN Money]
GM adds 842,000 vehicles to recall linked to fatal crashes [CBS News]

Accused Peeping Tom Taking Upskirt Photos Of Shopper Gets Beaten Up By Victim’s Boyfriend

Wed, 2014-02-26 17:00
(frankieleon.)

(frankieleon.)

There are other things a boyfriend can do beyond hold a purse: After a woman’s boyfriend saw another guy allegedly taking photos with his cell phone up her skirt while she was shopping at a Georgia store, he took matters into his own hands. As in, he started a fight with the accused peeper and restrained him until cops arrived.

While we aren’t in favor of vigilante justice, of course, the police say the avenging boyfriend did the right thing after he witnessed a fellow shopper putting his cell phone underneath the dress of the woman, who was shopping with a young girl, reports 11 Alive News.

The boyfriend then hit the suspect in the head and kicked him twice, then held him until a police officer arrived.

“He went to the rescue of his girlfriend…and he did the right thing,” the sheriff said.

He added that the suspect had confessed to peeping in the store, and called him self an “idiot” for “doing something stupid.”

Other customers were also in favor of the smackdown.

“I probably would have beat him a little more before the police got there,” said a fellow shopper.

The suspect is facing one felony count of eavesdropping and illegal surveillance. The sheriff says that since both the suspect and the victim had a young child with them during the incident, there could be additional charges.

Coweta phone Peeping Tom beaten by victim’s boyfriend [11 Alive News]

Delta SkyMiles To Be Based On Price Of Ticket, Not Distance Of Flight

Wed, 2014-02-26 16:52

(guynamedjames)

(guynamedjames)

In a move that may please some business travelers whose employers aren’t picky about pricey airfares, but will likely annoy frugal frequent travelers, Delta Air Lines announced today that it will be changing its SkyMiles frequent flier program so that the number reward miles earned will be based on the price of a ticket, and not the distance flown.

Most frequent flier programs rewarded customers for long-distance travel regardless of the cost of a ticket, meaning that if two SkyMiles members on the same flight from JFK to LAX earned the same number of miles even if one passenger’s ticket only cost a fraction of the other passenger’s.

But under the new Delta program, which won’t kick in until Jan. 1, 2015, SkyMiles members will receive rewards miles based on how much they paid for their tickets.

The lowest tier SkyMiles members will earn 5 miles per dollar spent, while Diamond Medallion members will 11 miles/dollar (and can earn up to 13 if they pay with the right Delta-branded credit card).

Here is the chart released this morning by the airline that shows the breakdown of miles/dollar:
deltachart

Delta is making no attempt to hide that this policy change is intended to attract more high-end business travelers; the ones who call their offices and say things like “Just book me on the next flight to Santa Fe” without ever asking about the ticket price.

“The introduction of a new model for earning miles will increase rewards for those who spend more as well as differentiate the SkyMiles frequent flyer program for our premium travelers,” said Delta’s VP of SkyMiles, which we imagine is sort of like being the Master of Coin in King’s Landing.

While frequent business travelers and first/business-class travelers will likely benefit from this policy change, we imagine that the rest of us who actually care about what we pay for plane tickets will not be pleased when they see that being a cost-conscious consumer is now a penalty in the eyes of Delta.

Bank Of America’s Compliance With Federal Mortgage Program Being Investigated

Wed, 2014-02-26 16:21

(James Callan)

(James Callan)

While it’s still settling multibillion-dollar tabs tied to the mortgage meltdown, Bank of America continues to face new legal and regulatory pressure. Yesterday, the bank revealed that it is being investigated by federal authorities to see whether it has complied with a program aimed to ease the mortgage-lending process.

In its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission [PDF], BofA writes that, “[T]he Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York is conducting an investigation concerning our compliance with the requirements of the Federal Housing Administration’s Direct Endorsement Program.”

Under the Direct Endorsement program, mortgage lenders can approve loans that are then insured by the FHA without review. However, if a mortgage defaults and regulators determine that the lender failed to comply with FHA underwriting standards, the government can come after the bank for any losses it experiences.

In 2012, Citi paid $158 million to settle claims related to violations of this program. That same year, the government sued Wells Fargo for allegedly lying about the quality of FHA-insured mortgages. In 2013, Wells attempted to have the case thrown out but could not convince the court to do so.

BofA had previously reached a $1 billion deal with the feds to settle similar claims that Countrywide, which the bank acquired when the housing market collapsed, misled the FHA about the quality of some mortgages. That deal only covers loans made before May 2009.

[via Reuters]

Family Suing Petco Says Son Died After Catching A Bacterial Infection From Pet Rat

Wed, 2014-02-26 16:00
(WashuOtaku)

(WashuOtaku)

A family in San Diego has filed a lawsuit against Petco, claiming that the pet store is to blame for selling an infected rat that passed a bacterial infection on to their 10-year-old son that killed him. The family is seeking an unspecified amount for the suffering they’ve endured as a result of his loss.

According to the Associated Press, the boy passed away hours after he was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains. The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis infection, which is also known as rat-bite fever.

Subsequent tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the pet rat was infected, says the family attorney.

“We are deeply saddened by the… family’s tragic loss,” Petco said in a statement. “The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family’s concerns very seriously.”

It added that the company is “in the process of investigating these claims and will respond appropriately when we have more information.”

The boy was so fond of his female rate, apparently, that his grandmother bought a male so the two could be a couple.

“He was a bright, energetic, friendly, happy kid who actually had a prior rat, who was a female, and he had this idea in his young head of having his female rat get married,” the family’s attorney said.

He adds that the family isn’t speaking to the media about their ordeal, but just want to make sure other parents are aware of this tragedy.

“It’s a means to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” the attorney said of the suit. “Apparently there was some breakdown in procedures. They want tighter controls.”

San Diego family suing Petco after boy dies of bacterial infection from pet rat [Associated Press]

One Month After Being Hijacked, Twitter Finally Restores @N Account To Rightful User

Wed, 2014-02-26 15:47

nrestoredSeveral weeks ago, the Internet was abuzz with the story of how hackers had taken advantage of idiocy at Paypal and GoDaddy to hijack developer Naoki Hiroshima’s personal website and hold it hostage until he handed over the keys to his coveted @N Twitter handle. Now comes the good news that Twitter has finally put that account back under the control of the person it originally belonged to.

For those coming late to the game, here’s the backstory. Hiroshima was an early adopter of Twitter and was thus able to score the @N handle way back in 2007. Since then, he’d received numerous cash offers from legitimate and sketchy sources, and hackers had tried unsuccessfully to attack his various accounts tied to that Twitter handle so they could take control of it.

Then in early 2014, he first learns that someone tried, but failed, to access his PayPal account. But in that attempt, the hacker was able to glean information about Hiroshima that was then used to change ownership of his personal site. The hackers then held the site hostage until Hiroshima gave up control of the @N Twitter account.

While both GoDaddy and PayPal later admitted that maybe they had screwed up, Twitter was dragging its feet on the matter. It booted whoever had taken over the @N handle from Hiroshima, but then the account was immediately snapped up by some other sketchy non-human that was not the person who had created it nearly seven years earlier.

And then on Tuesday evening, a happy Tweet finally came from the @N account:

Order has been restored.—
Naoki Hiroshima (@N) February 25, 2014

Followed by:

This is a happy ending not only for me but also for sane employees and loyal users of Twitter's. Congrats to those, too.—
Naoki Hiroshima (@N) February 26, 2014

No idea what took so long for Twitter to restore this account, but we’re glad it’s back where it belongs.

[via ArsTechnica]

Grocery Shrink Ray Ladles Out 2.5 Ounces Of Del Monte Pasta Sauce

Wed, 2014-02-26 15:30

delmonteDel Monte recently redesigned its cans of pasta sauce. “New look, same great taste!” brags the label. Yes, the new label is bright and cheery, emphasizing fresh tomatoes. Very nice. Reader Joey spotted an older can on the shelf, though: one with two and a half ounces more of saucy goodness.

The can looks the same size. Let’s zoom in on those labels…

sizechange

Gasp!

Okay, we aren’t that shocked. Shaving off a few ounces to prevent a price change is common: we just like to keep track of when it happens.

Shoppers At Trader Joe’s Pick Up Granola, Cookie Butter, Potentially Measles

Tue, 2014-02-25 23:50

(power_piglet)

(power_piglet)

Shoppers at the Trader Joe’s store in Framingham, Massachusetts may have picked up more than green olive tapenade during the long President’s Day weekend. The state Department of Public Health reported that a customer who visited the grocery store and a nearby restaurant has a confirmed diagnosis of measles, and people who were there around the same time have been warned to watch for symptoms of the disease in themselves or their families.

Decades ago, “Person contagious with measles visits grocery store” wouldn’t have been a news headline. It would have been any given Tuesday. Routine childhood immunizations beginning midcentury led officials to say that the disease had been eliminated in this country in 2000, but people traveling from other countries or who were never immunized also pass on the disease.

Measles is highly contagious: experts say that after a person with the disease coughs or exhales, disease-containing droplets can remain in the air for up to two hours. Paitents don’t start to show symptoms until 7 to 21 days after exposure, and are contagious for about four days before a rash appears, and four days after it’s gone.

There’s a reason why public health officials are warning everyone who might have passed through the two establishments–the Trader Joe’s and a restaurant called Samba. If they show symptoms of measles, which at first appear a lot like a cold with red eyes, a runny nose, and a fever, they should stay home and call their doctor.

Most Americans are immunized: if you’re unsure about your immunity status, have your doctor draw titers to test your immune response.

Health officials identify second measles exposure location [Boston.com]
Overview of Measles Disease [CDC]

Uncle Sam, Pre-Marital Counselor: The Approval Process Ahead For Comcast And TWC

Tue, 2014-02-25 23:04

Comcast-TWCLogoThe proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, as it currently stands, looks like it could be a good move for the businesses and a bad move for consumers. But right now it’s still just that: a proposed merger. In order for this corporate marriage to move forward, federal regulators first have to approve the union–and that’s where it gets tricky.

There are a lot of eyes on Comcast, and on this acquisition. Some regulators are likely to be concerned for consumers, and ask for big concessions from the cable megacorp in order to allow the purchase to move forward. Others are very keen on supporting business interests, and might be inclined to wave the deal forward. What is the actual approval process, who are the players involved, and how are they likely to act?

The Merger Approval Process
Two separate entities have to approve Comcast’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable before it can proceed: the FCC, and either the FTC or the Justice Department. The FTC explains the merger approval process in detail on their website. The short version of the process is:

  • Filing. The companies involved, in this case Comcast and Time Warner Cable, file notice of their proposed deal. From the date those documents are filed, the companies must wait at least 30 days before concluding the deal.
  • Clearance: The FTC and Department of Justice sort out between them which agency will have oversight of the deal, called “clearance.” When clearance is granted, the agency can start digging into investigation, including accessing non-public information from both companies.
  • Next steps: Once an agency has clearance, it can take one of three actions: terminate the waiting period early, allow the waiting period to expire, or ask for further information, called a second request, from the companies. The first two actions, ending the waiting period in any way, are essentially a green light to merger. Comcast/TWC will be subject to second requests, no matter which agency gets clearance.
  • Compliance with second request: This is the part that takes a while. The second request from the investigating agency includes information about the companies and the industry, the relevant market conditions, and the “likely competitive effects” around the proposed merger. Once the companies have “substantially complied” with the requests for information, it kicks off another 30-day period for the agency to review the information and potentially make more requests.
  • Approval or challenge: If the investigating agency closes its investigation without taking action, that’s approval and the business deal moves forward. If the agency does want to challenge the merger, they can do it in two ways: either they enter into a negotiated consent agreement, in which the companies work out details that will keep the marketplace competitive, or the agency files a preliminary injunction in federal court that stops the entire deal.

Comcast has said they plan to file their premerger notification documents in late March, which will get the ball rolling on the formal process.

Because Comcast and Time Warner Cable are communications companies, they are also subject to FCC oversight. The FCC’s role is “to ensure that the public interest would be served by approving the transaction.” Once the process begins, the FCC will maintain a public timeline of filings, as they did for the Comcast purchase of NBCUniversal in 2010-2011.

The proposed merger is also big enough to have attracted the attention of the Senate. Government scrutiny of this deal begins on March 26, when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the issue. The Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee, under the Judiciary Committee, oversees antitrust enforcement at both the DoJ and FTC.

The Players
It’s clear that Comcast has a lot of work to do to convince the FCC and the FTC/DoJ that this deal is not anticompetitive and is in the public interest. The merger announcement may have been made only two weeks ago, but Comcast has been laying a foundation of support for a very long time.

The New York Times reported last week on the sheer scope and reach of Comcast’s lobbying efforts. Those efforts not only include traditional lobbying and campaign donations, but also rallying organizations to which Comcast has made philanthropic donations. Those nonprofit groups are likely to write letters of support for the deal to the FCC en masse.

And of course, no company would spend so much time and money on lobbying if it didn’t work. As the NYT reports, 91 of the 97 members of Congress who signed a letter in support of Comcast’s 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal received contributions from Comcast’s PACs or executives.

The revolving door between regulators and the regulated is another piece of the puzzle. When lobbyists become lawmakers and retiring lawmakers start lobbying, everyone knows exactly whose elbows to rub. Comcast currently has two former Senators and two former Representatives lobbying on their behalf, and a former FCC commissioner who approved the NBCUniversal buyout immediately turned around and became a Comcast executive.

As influential as all of those people and organizations are, though, none of them actually get to approve or challenge the merger. The FCC does.

The FCC is a five-member bipartisan commission with a chairman at the helm. Commissioners serve fixed terms (but can serve more than one) and are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Analysts and spectators have been looking to Comcast’s 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal as a guide for how the FCC might approach the proposed Comcast/TWC merger. Only one current FCC commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, also served in the role during the Comcast/NBCU purchase. She, like the majority of the FCC, voted in favor of the deal. At the time, she wrote in her statement that she felt the combination of Comcast’s voluntary commitments and the regulators’ requirements would be sufficient to keep the environment fair. In the end, Clyburn signed the approval “with far more comfortable optimism than fearful skepticism.”

Other commissioners are more inscrutable. Jessica Rosenworcel, who worked as a legal advisor for former FCC commissioner Michael Copps–the lone dissenter in the Comcast/NBCU deal, and who has been outspoken in condemning the FCC’s pro-merger stance since his term ended–will proably be cautious. Meanwhile pro-business commissioner Ajit Pai, whose official bio says he “believes that it is vital for the FCC to adopt policies that will give private firms the strongest incentive to raise and invest capital; to develop new products and services; and to compete in established and new markets,” may well favor the deal.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler just began his tenure in November, as did commissioner Michael O’Reilly. Once upon a time, chairman Wheeler worked for the NCTA, the major industry/lobbying group for cable television. However, in recent conversations around net neutrality, he has expressed concern for individual consumers and has promised, if vaguely and tentatively, to protect consumer interests.

At the very least, then, the FCC seems likely to comb over every detail, to try to look for the repercussions, and to ask for concessions before approving any potential merger. The Justice Department, which has been more cautious with mergers since approving the NBC deal in 2011, will probably also take a fine-toothed comb to the proposal.

FCC commissioner Pai said in December that he felt a Comcast/TWC merger was likely to face hurdles from the Obama administration, and it probably will.

Which brings us to…

Concessions, Spin-Offs, and the Regulation Game
The real question probably isn’t “will regulators approve this?” The real question is: “What concessions or divestitures will regulators require to approve this?”

Comcast and Time Warner Cable don’t operate in any of the same markets, as they have been careful to shout since day one, so it’s true that consumers in those markets won’t see any less competition after a merger than they see right now. On the other hand, consumers in most markets are barely seeing any competition right now as it is, and the merger would give Comcast enormous reach over huge stretches of the country.

The issue is not just of Comcast being a potential monopoly, which they probably aren’t, but of being a monopsony. Where a monopoly has to do with buyers’ ability to choose services, monopsony has to do with a company’s ability to dominate the marketplace farther up the supply chain.

Basically, in any industry, the bigger the biggest company gets, the less wiggle room other companies have with their own buying power. Reuters uses the example of how Walmart’s size affects manufacturers, who have to hit a certain price point–sometimes to their own detriment–to end up on the shelves of the world’s largest and most dominant retailer. That, in turn, affects manufacturing and retail around the world, because of Walmart’s sheer scale.

When one company gets significantly larger than most of the other players combined, they have more power to dictate the terms of the marketplace. With pay TV, that comes across in content carriage fees: cable networks get a certain amount of money per subscriber from the cable and satellite companies that carry them. And in the broadband arena, that can include things like the recent agreement between Comcast and Netflix.

Comcast clearly anticipates challenges. In the initial announcement, Comcast said it was prepared to ditch 3 million existing subscribers “in order to reduce competitive concerns.” Regulators could ask for a lot more than that, wanting Comcast to spin off or open up certain markets to competition from other companies, like Charter and Cox or even smaller operators.

It’s also possible that regulators could ask Comcast in some way to split its businesses. Regulators could ask Comcast to sell NBCUniversal off again, as the cost of acquiring Time Warner Cable. Or perhaps a service split: both Comcast and TWC support a very high number of double- or triple-play subscribers, who receive a discount for purchasing their pay TV, broadband internet access, and home phone service from one company. If services were split–TV being separated from internet and phone, say–it would certainly mix up the marketplace.

If the feds did ask Comcast to split their services, would they still find TWC’s juicy markets worth acquiring? Or would Comcast back down and seek a smaller target? As regulators and lawmakers spend the year diving into the details of this proposed buyout, Comcast’s real goals–and the price it’s willing to pay–are what we’ll begin to find out.

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