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News Scan for Jun 29, 2020 | CIDRAP - CIDRAPNews Scan for Jun 29, 2020 | CIDRAP - CIDRAPViruses: Breaking new grounds in research | Results Pack | CORDIS | European Commission - Cordis NewsHelping Others Make Healthy Choices - Texas A&M Today - Texas A&M University Today"How Contagion Works" author Paolo Giordano on the environmental, social and political factors impacting coronavirus and future threats - Sydney Morning HeraldPandemic Outbreaks in the Past Decade: A Research Overview - ResearchAndMarkets.com - Business WireNews Scan for Jun 29, 2020 | CIDRAP - CIDRAPPosted: 29 Jun 2020 12:00 AM PDT Ebola infects 4 more in DRC's Equateur province outbreakOfficials have reported 4 more confirmed cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Equateur province Ebola outbreak, raising the total to 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said today on Twitter.So far, no details on the latest cases in the DRC's 11th Ebola outbreak are no…

DRACOs — The End of All Viral Infections? - h+ Magazine

DRACOs — The End of All Viral Infections? - h+ Magazine


DRACOs — The End of All Viral Infections? - h+ Magazine

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 12:00 AM PST

todd riderAn IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has been launched to fund the advancement of Dr.Rider's DRACOs research. DRACOs have proven effective against 18 viruses in proof-of-concept work. DRACOs, as a potential broad spectrum antiviral, now requires additional funding to progress research against a clinically relevant virus that may eventually lead to human clinical trials.

Dr. Todd Rider from MIT invented DRACOs (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers). DRACOs are novel broad-spectrum antiviral drugs that have the potential to revolutionize the treatment and prevention of virtually all viral diseases. So far, DRACOs have treated 18 viral infections in proof-of-concept work. Two different types of H1N1 influenza (flu), four types of rhinovirus (the common cold), two adenoviruses, dengue hemorrhagic fever, and others were among the 18 viruses that DRACOs have successfully treated in human and animal cells and in mice.

dracos work

dracos work2

dracos work3

Results have been published in the Journal of PLOS ONE (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0022572).

dracos

Just as the development of antibiotics revolutionized the treatment and prevention of bacterial infections in the mid-20th century, MIT's Dr. Todd Rider has invented DRACOs, a novel broad-spectrum antiviral drug that has the potential to revolutionize the treatment and prevention of virtually all viral infections. Dr. Rider's DRACOs approach and results have been called "visionary" by the White House (National Bioeconomy Blueprint, April 2012, p. 9), named one of the best inventions of the year by Time magazine (November 28, 2011, pp. 58, 78), and featured on the BBC Horizons TV program (2013).

However, research on DRACOs has entered the well-known "Valley of Death" in which a lack of funding prevents DRACOs, and many other promising new drugs, from being developed and advancing toward human medical trials. To progress DRACOs research it needs to be demonstrated against clinically relevant viruses (i.e; HSV). To that end an IndieGoGo campaign (http://igg.me/at/EndTheVirus) was started on October 13, 2015.

Donate and Learn More on IndieGoGo.http://igg.me/at/EndTheVirus

Funds raised by the IndieGoGo campaign will be used to test, optimize and develop DRACOs against Herpes viruses. The herpesvirus family contains many major clinical viruses such as; Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV, chickenpox and shingles virus), Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), and Kaposi's Sarcoma Herpesvirus (KSHV). Depending on funds, testing and optimizing DRACOs against the family of retroviruses, which includes Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Human T-Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV), may be possible. In principle, the DRACO approach should be effective against virtually all known viruses, or potentially even against new viruses that may appear.

Join the Movement to #EndTheVirus

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News for October 2016 - ConsumerAffairs

Posted: 31 Oct 2016 12:00 AM PDT

A year or so ago, the dentist was cleaning my teeth and remarked that his wife wanted a new MacBook for Christmas. "But they cost twice as much and don't they all just do the same thing?" he asked.

It was a difficult question for two reasons -- one, my mouth was full of dental equipment, and two, while all computers "do the same thing," they don't all do it the same way.

When able to do so, I said that in my opinion, the MacBook was overpriced and underpowered but that it had somehow obtained celebrity status and if he subscribed to the "happy wife, happy life" theory, he should probably just buy the MacBook.

I was mostly using an early 2015 MacBook Pro at the time and had basically lukewarm feelings about it. Yes, it was a nice enough laptop with a bright, sharp display (dubbed Retina by Apple's marketers) and good battery life. But whether it was worth its roughly $2,000 price tag while a comparable Windows-based PC could be had for much less depended entirely on how it was to be used, I thought.

Soul extender

Many so-called creative professionals -- writers, graphic artists, filmmakers, and the like -- feel Macs are somehow more attuned to their efforts. This is, of course, like saying that your BMW is an extension of your soul. In other words, blather. I switch back and forth among machines running Linux, Windows 10, and OS X (Mac's NASA-style name for its Unix-based operating system).

Linux, an open source Unix-like system, is by far the stablest and fastest (when running on comparable hardware), but it can take some tinkering to get printers, scanners, and other peripherals to run properly. I find the latest version of Windows 10 to be nearly as responsive and, although this is heresy in some quarters, very intuitive and easy to use. Drivers are available for just about every imaginable peripheral.

My top-of-the-line MacBook, on the other hand, has always seemed sluggish. It is also prone to odd chronic problems that somehow defy solution. Since the day I booted it up for the first time, my MacBook has had a problem communicating with iCloud and displays a screen advertising that fact, although my iMac and iPhone 6S have no problem with it. It is impossible to make the warning box go away, although I have managed to banish it to the lower-right corner of  my workspace most of the time.

I have spent countless hours trying to work through this little quirk and have read in online forums of the similar struggles of others, all to no avail.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the MacBook is that one is left to guess when Apple may deign to issue a new model. I felt for several months that my MacBook had fallen behind the latest Windows models, especially when I read that Asus and others were now making laptops with what we might call a Retina+ display, something sharper and brighter than the MacBook.

Curious, I ordered an Asus Zenbook Pro (UX501VW) and, as though it had been waiting to vex me once again, Apple then decided to release its latest MacBook. Leaving aside the lack of a delete key and the stubborn non-standard arrangement of control and function keys, this "surprise" update schedule is, to me, the most annoying of Apple's tricks and treats.

Business and professional users generally update their machines on a regular basis, wanting to keep up with new technology and avoid any surprises from aging components, and some are even sufficiently organized to have budgets they must adhere to. Apple makes it hard to do this since it has become addicted to treating every new model as the equivalent of a surprise asteroid hit. It would be a thoughtful gesture to establish a regular update schedule and stick to it. If GM can produce a new Chevrolet every year, why can't Apple produce a new MacBook every two years?

No Touchbar

So I missed out on getting a MacBook with the "Touchbar with integrated Touch ID sensor" but instead got the Asus with a brilliant display, a delete key, and everything else one might reasonably want.

It's hard to overstate the difference the sharper display makes. Wine may get better with age but vision does not, and looking at a 15-inch screen all day can get old quickly. Even the no-longer-unusual 2880 x 1800-pixel resolution of the MacBook pales besides the 3840 x 2160 of the Asus and others equipped with what is being called ultra-high def (UHD). 

Unlike clock speeds, RAM, and other under-the-hood features, the display is right in front of your nose every second you're using your machine. With consumers snapping up gigantic UHD TVs and salivating over iPhone displays, it's a little odd to contemplate why laptop resolution doesn't get more attention.

Looking at a page of text on the UHD display is roughly like reading a big glossy magazine page. It's hard to see why anyone wouldn't demand it on their next machine.

Software bundles

Finally, let's not forget the software that comes bundled with each machine. Apple and Microsoft both provide web browsers, simple photo editors, and the like. Apple includes an office package consisting of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs while Windows tries to sell you its Office package. 

The Apple package is, not surprisingly, incompatible with most competitors, forcing people like me to keep an Apple machine around for those stubborn few writers who insist on sending us stories written in Pages, the word processor that comes with Mac machines. 

The easiest and least costly solution is to use Google's excellent office package. Its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs are easy to use and since storage is in Google's cloud, you're not cluttering up your computer's storage with all those recipes you've concocted. This also makes it easy to change computers -- just log into your stuff and you're back in business. (Yes, Google may somehow make marketing use of your material but it will be so many degrees removed you'll never know it, assuming you are not running for president or related to someone who is).

This brings us, finally, back to the dentist's question -- which is better? Obviously, both are good or they wouldn't be as successful as they have become. For my purposes, the Asus Zenbook with UHD and Windows 10 beats the MacBook handily, both for ease of use, the brilliance of its display, and, not coincidentally, the price.

The 15-inch Asus goes for about $1,500, the 15-inch 2016 Apple MacBook Pro for $2,799. That's not a misprint -- the MacBook with comparable under-the-hood hardware and an outmoded display is $1,300 more than the Asus (or, probably, comparable machines from other manufacturers).

It's pretty easy for anyone, dentist or no, to decide which one to pull off the shelf. 

As social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand accounts of incidents straight from the people who witnessed them can be very powerful, but many worry whether some of these accounts are being censored.

That's the case for over 70 rights groups that reportedly asked Facebook on Monday to clarify its policies for removing content. The groups allege that the social media giant has repeatedly acquiesced to governments and agencies that ask it to block user content and posts that show human rights violations.

They cite recent examples, in which the company blocked content showcasing police violence and Vietnam imagery, as well as the suspension of two accounts belonging to Palestinian journalists. The groups say that this kind of censorship is dangerous because it deprives people of news from the source.

"News is not just getting shared on Facebook: it's getting broken there. .  . When the most vulnerable members of society turn to your platform to document and share experiences of injustice, Facebook is morally obligated to protect that speech," the groups said in a letter.

Preventing censorship

The letter goes on to say that censoring content not only prevents the spread of news, but perpetuates the injustices that many posts seek to expose. The groups say that blocking content related to police brutality "sets a dangerous precedent that further hurts and silences marginalized communities, particularly communities of color."

In particular, the groups point out the case of Korryn Gaines, whose account was deactivated by Facebook after she was fatally shot by Maryland police after an armed standoff. According to multiple sources, the deactivation occurred after Baltimore police issued an emergency request through the company's "law enforcement portal."

The groups asked Facebook to clarify its content removal policy, especially in regards to live broadcasts and journalistic material. It also asked the company to provide a platform in which users could protest the removal of content.

Facebook responds

In an announcement made later in the day, Facebook addressed the issue of content removal and said that it would be allowing more content in the future that would have been removed previously.

Senior executive Patrick Walker addressed "The Terror of War" photo – a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of a Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War – which was blocked from the accounts of a Norwegian author and newspaper last month. He affirmed that Facebook would be doing more to make sure controversial and newsworthy material was being protected and circulated.

"We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly. . . in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards," he said.

Though he could not provide further details, Walker told Reuters that Facebook was beginning to address its guidelines for removing content so that changes can be implemented.

"Sloppy or callous" practices by student loan servicers are still costing consumers money despite stepped-up enforcement efforts, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which recently returned more than $11 million to more than 225,000 harmed consumers.

The CFPB said it also uncovered student loan servicer violations, such as failing to enroll qualified borrowers in affordable federal loan repayment plans. It is issuing updated procedures for student loan servicing exams.

"Our examiners continue to find sloppy or callous practices among some student loan servicers and other financial institutions that violate the law and put consumers at risk," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "If their practices hurt consumers, they need to rethink and change their practices in light of the actions and observations found in this report."

The CFPB said its examiners have found student loan servicers unfairly denying or failing to approve qualified students' affordable payment plans, leaving borrowers to face needless hurdles and wrongful rejections when trying to enroll in these plans. 

CFPB said its examiners have found servicers are regularly and illegally denying applications from qualified borrowers. These practices could trap borrowers in payment plans they cannot afford, delay access to important benefits, increase costs for consumers, and contribute to avoidable defaults.

Auto loans, debt collection

The CFPB report also outlines violations found in auto loan origination and servicing, debt collection, and mortgage origination.  

CFPB examiners found one or more auto loan servicers refused to return personal belongings from a borrower's repossessed car unless the borrower paid a storage fee.

If borrowers did not pay the fee in the allotted time, usually 30-45 days, depending on the state, the companies would dispose of the property instead of returning it to the borrower. It is illegal to refuse to return a consumer's personal property until a fee is paid.

CFPB also found debt collectors charging illegal payment processing fees and making misleading collection calls about consumers' credit scores or reports. For instance, some debt collection employees misled consumers by falsely claiming immediate payments were needed to prevent damage to the consumer's creditworthiness.

The agency also found collectors revealed information about debts to consumers' friends and family during debt collection attempts, and failed to investigate consumer reporting disputes. These actions violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Although opinions on the term pet "parent" may vary, there's no denying the fact that pet ownership is a big responsibility. In households without children, dogs often get lavished in especially large amounts of love and attention.

So what's Fido to think when suddenly a tiny human enters the picture? While he may soon bond with the new addition, your dog may not immediately be thrilled by the presence of a screaming, time-stealing infant.

Studies show that dogs, like humans, can experience feelings of jealousy and insecurity. For this reason, it can be beneficial to prepare your pup for the arrival of a new baby. The preparation process can begin as soon as you find you're expecting, but pet owners should continue helping their dog adjust as the baby grows.

Preparing while pregnant

Your dog probably has a daily routine. It's important to start changing that routine to match whatever the dog's new routine will be once the baby arrives, says Michael Wombacher, a professional dog trainer and author of "Good Dog, Happy Baby."
How soon should dog owners be implementing these changes? Writing for CNN, Wombacher notes that it "depends on your dog and how deeply embedded into your routine she is."

Expectant parents can begin shaking up the routine a month before their due date or the moment the pregnancy test turns positive. What's important is that the dog not be given any reason to negatively associate the changes with the baby.

At 8 months old

Does your dog have soft, tuggable ears or a wagging tail that looks irresistible to grab? By 8 months of age, your baby will probably begin noticing -- and reaching for -- some of the more sensitive body parts on your fur-covered family member.
During the months leading up to this tactile phase, you can prepare your dog by conditioning him to be used to awkward grabbing and pulling. Wombacher notes that it's also vital that dogs be given a "safe zone" to retreat to if the baby's touching becomes too stressful.

It is during this phase that parents can also teach the family pet not to confuse dog toys with baby toys. The two types of toys may be similar in appearance and in noise-making ability, but Wombacher says dogs can easily learn how to distinguish between what's theirs and what isn't.

How? Simply dab a little Listerine on the baby's toys and teach your dog that the scent of Listerine equals an "off" command.

At 14 months old

When your little one has gone bipedal, you can begin creating opportunities for structured, positive interactions between your child and your dog. This can include games, rudimentary pseudo-training, and more.
During each of these phases, it's important to remember that dogs and babies should never be left unattended together. But teaching your pooch how to interact with the newest member of the pack from the beginning can help pave the way for a harmonious and loving future, says Wombacher.

During the 1960s, there was no OPEC and gasoline prices were pretty much the same, month in and month out. If prices climbed over 36 cents a gallon, consumers weren't very happy.

Could we be entering a similar pricing environment in the 21st century? Using an inflation calculator, we determined that 36 cents in 1966 is the equivalent of $2.71 today. So gasoline in most places is a lot cheaper than it was 50 years ago.

Today, the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.21 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey. That's the same as it was a week ago. It's also the same price as a month ago.

However, it is three cents a gallon more than at this time a year ago. For most of the year, 2016 gasoline prices have stayed well below the year-over-year price.

Prices should be lower

Many analysts think prices at the pump should be lower than they are, since the summer driving season has ended and stations have switched over the cheaper winter blend gasoline. The main reason the price decline has stalled has to do with the price of oil. It's remained just under $50 a barrel in recent weeks, higher than the going price 12 months ago.

"Drivers may continue to see prices wobble up and down as traders speculate on the possibility of OPEC countries developing an output agreement over the next month," AAA said in a release. "Additionally, planned and unplanned refinery maintenance continues across the United States and may result in regional fluctuations in gas prices."

Strategy backfired?

But just how reasonable an assumption is OPEC agreeing to limit production to raise oil prices? Saudi Arabia's calculated strategy of driving down oil prices as a weapon against U.S. shale producers has painted the cartel into a corner. Many members are struggling economically and can't afford to cut oil production in the short run in hopes that it will drive up prices in the long-run.

Iran and Iraq are not too keen on the idea either. Iran is just now getting its oil export business back on track after international sanctions were lifted. Iraq needs oil revenue to wage its fight against ISIS. Getting all parties to agree to limit production, and not cheat, may be a tall order. If it can't be done, then the oil glut remains and consumers will continue to pay the equivalent of 1960s gasoline prices -- maybe even 1950s prices.

Drivers in Missouri and Oklahoma are paying an average of $1.99 a gallon for gasoline. Even in the most expensive state for gasoline, Hawaii, the average price is still under $3 a gallon.

The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in revenue from every available source is practically unheard of.

However, "practically" may be the operative word. Southwest Airlines has been under pressure to generate more revenue. The company is the only one of the largest commercial airliners in the U.S. that doesn't charge a baggage fee, so the money is there for the taking. But, according to a Los Angeles Times report, CEO Gary Kelly has stated that the company won't be doing that, at least for now.

"We have a unique and beloved position in the industry with this approach and we would be foolish to squander it, so no thought whatsoever on charging bags," Kelly said in a recent quarterly earnings call.

Southwest woes

The decision to let bags fly for free is great for consumers, but it potentially costs Southwest millions every year. Last year, the top 13 airline companies raked in $3.8 billion in bag fees, along with another $3 billion in charges that consumers paid for changing or canceling flight reservations – another service that Southwest doesn't charge for.

As a result, investors have cranked up the heat on the company to start tapping these revenue streams. Recent earnings reports haven't been very favorable; last quarter's earnings were down by nearly $200 million year-over-year, and the recent technology outage in July cost the company dearly. Kelly also cites increased competition as a major factor in the company's bad fortunes.

"The fare environment is very competitive and we have seen an increase in competitor seats in our markets that is fairly significant year-over-year," he said.

The CEO says that he has plans to bring in more revenue soon, though he remained tight-lipped about what those plans actually involved. "Well, it's just not ready for prime time. And I'd rather not share with our competitors where we see opportunities for a variety of reasons," Kelly explained.

When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to find yourself.

In the past, hospitals didn't always have access to the latest treatments. Today, most have excellent capabilities, but they don't always have the resources or systems to handle the patient load. This can lead to breakdowns in safety that can result in patient injures and infections.

According to Leapfrog, which conducts annual hospital reviews, hospital mishaps kill over 200,000 Americans each year, making hospital mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Making the grade

Since not all hospitals are alike and some have much better safety records than others, it might be prudent to consult the data before selecting a hospital. In the latest Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which judged 2,633 hospitals and assigned letter grades, 844 earned an "A," 658 earned a "B," 954 earned a "C," 157 earned a "D" and 20 earned an "F."

That means 57% of hospitals were ranked as either "excellent" or "good," and only 6% were found to be "poor" or a "failure." Of course, that's small comfort for patients admitted to that 6% of hospitals.

Leapfrog found that geography sometimes plays a role, with some states able to attract the best hospital administration and best medical talent. North Carolina is a prime example. It was ranked 19th in spring 2013 for the number of "A" rated hospitals. In the current ranking, it's number five.

Idaho has moved from number 45 – the the bottom of the list in 2013 – to number two today, one reason that the state has begun to attract more retirees. At the same time, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C., have no "A" rated hospitals.

Not equally competent

"In the fast-changing health care landscape, patients should be aware that hospitals are not all equally competent at protecting them from injuries and infections," said Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder. We believe everyone has the right to know which hospitals are the safest and encourage community members to call on their local hospitals to change, and on their elected officials to spur them to action."

You might think with hospital errors causing so many deaths each year, health policymakers would carefully keep track of them. However, they don't. The 200,000 figure is only an estimate.

As we reported earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a category for hospital errors, much as it has for other health threats. The researchers say cancer and heart disease tend to get most of the attention. They say that since "medical errors" isn't an official category, it doesn't get the funding it needs.

You can find out how hospitals in your area ranked here.

An increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to traditional IRAs, contributing to Roth IRAs, and claiming the saver's credit.

You can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if you meet certain conditions. For example, if during the year either you or your spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced, or phased out, until it is eliminated -- depending on filing status and income. If neither is covered, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply.

Next year's phase-out ranges

  • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $62,000 to $72,000 -- up from $61,000 to $71,000.
  • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $99,000 to $119,000, versus $98,000 to $118,000.
  • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple's income is between $186,000 and $196,000 -- up from $184,000 and $194,000.
  • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The new income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household. This year it was $117,000 to $132,000.

For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is now $186,000 to $196,000, versus $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The income limit for the saver's credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up $500; $46,500 for heads of household, up $375; and $31,000 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $250.

No change for these limitations

  • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000.
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan remains at $6,000.
  • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA is unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.

Details are outlined in IRS Notice 2016-62.

Consumers enjoyed an increase of $46.7 billion, or 0.3%, in personal income in September.

The Commerce Department reports disposable personal income (DPI), what's left after the government takes its cut, rose $37.0 billion.

Last month's rise was due mainly to increases in compensation of employees and nonfarm proprietors' income.

Spending on the increase

At the same time personal consumption expenditures (PCE), also called consumer spending, jumped 0.5% or $61.0 billion. The advance was largely the result of an increase in spending for durable goods -- things like cars, refrigerators, and computers.

The PCE price index, a measure of inflation, was up 0.2%, with the "core Rate," which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, inching up 0.1%.

Personal saving totaled $797.8 billion last month – down $9.8 billion from August, although the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of DPI -- remained at 5.7%.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

If this holiday season is like the last one, more people will be doing their shopping online.

And it's safe to conclude that package theft will be an even bigger problem than the year before. A 2015 study by Insurancequotes.com estimated 23 million Americans a year have at least one package swiped from their porch.

They're called "porch pirates," thieves who know that during the holiday period, especially, often expensive merchandise is sometimes left at someone's doorstep because no one is home to receive it.

"Yes, many thieves don't have anything better to do than to follow delivery trucks around town to see what kind of bountiful packages they'll be leaving at the doorsteps of homes," said home security specialist Robert Siciliano. "This means even more crooks simply drive around residential areas during the holidays looking for boxes sitting outside of doors. These crooks will simply walk off with the packages."

Surveillance doesn't always help

With more homes now equipped with surveillance cameras, many of these thefts have been caught on tape. However, that has done little to stop them from occurring.

Enterprising companies have begun producing products that can help consumers safely receive their packages. Some of them involve smart home technology.

A study by August Home found that 74% of packages are stolen during the day, when the consumer is at work and no one is at home. Sixty-nine percent of consumers said they would consider some type of smart technology that would allow delivery personnel access to the home, so they could leave packages inside.

"With the average value of packages stolen costing $200 or more to replace, 80% of homeowners mentioned that they would rather invest in smart technology, such as our Doorbell Cam, which would eliminate this worry once and for all, rather than continue to spend money replacing stolen goods, said August Home CEO Jason Johnson.

Other options

A low-tech solution is installing a secure package receptacle on your front porch. This one, readily available at Home Depot, costs just over $250.

Meanwhile, to reduce the risk of swiped packages, have them delivered to a location where there will be a live human being to receive them. If it is okay with your employer, have a package delivered to the office to significantly reduce the risk.

If an online retailer provides the option, select a specific time for delivery. Also, try to program delivery alerts on your smartphone so you know when a package arrives. If you aren't home, call a neighbor and ask him or her to watch for it and pick it up for you.

We may fall back an hour on November 6, but that extra hour can actually help you get ahead. The end of daylight saving time marks the perfect opportunity to make a few changes that can increase your home's safety.

It's easy to forget to check certain safety features, especially if they're not drawing any attention to themselves. But while the squeaky wheel may often get the attention, sometimes even the working wheels need a little maintenance.
In under 60 minutes, you can make a handful of checks and changes around your home that can help ensure its safety as well as your own. Here's what you can change, in addition to the numbers on your clock, when the clocks roll back on November 6.

DST checklist

Checking (and possibly changing) these five safety features can keep your home protected while helping you feel productive, according to password manager Dashlane.
  • Smoke detector batteries. You may not be hearing any chirping, but your smoke detectors may benefit from fresh batteries. Three out of 5 home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms, according to FEMA. To keep your home protected, test and change your home's smoke detector batteries at least every daylight saving time.
  • Tire pressure. Check your tires to make sure they're not under-inflated. Under-inflated tires have a higher risk of damage and failure. They may also wear out more quickly.
  • Your credit score. A poor credit score isn't a threat to your physical safety, but it can hurt you nonetheless. Dashlane recommends checking your credit score and devising a plan to improve it, if necessary.
  • Medication. Head to your medicine cabinet and get rid of any expired or leftover medication. Before disposing of any bottles with your name on it, make sure to scratch out your personal information.
  • Passwords. Change your passwords to protect yourself against data breaches. Doing so at least once a year is a quick and simple way to protect your information and identify.

For children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their child's costume is safe.

Not every look-completing accessory or article of clothing your child chooses to don on Halloween may be safe. Before allowing kids to head out for a night of trick-or-treating, parents should know that their child's costume won't cause any frightening consequences.

Face makeup and other popular Halloween accessories can cause irritation and infection, while the fit of the costume itself can also cause problems. To help ensure kids' safety on Halloween, it can be smart to take the costume for a test run a few days before the big night.

Using costume caution

Here's what parents can do ahead of Halloween to make sure their child's costume is safe, according to Jill Creighton, MD, Medical Director of Ambulatory Primary Care Pediatrics.
  • Test makeup beforehand. Two to three days before Halloween, parents can test out non-toxic face makeup on their child's arms to make sure there's no skin reaction. After the kids are home from trick-or-treating, make sure to wash off all makeup to avoid eye and skin irritation.  
  • Avoid decorative contact lenses. As we reported, decorative contact lenses aren't always safe or even legal. They can impair vision, cause an infection, and irritate the eye. Creighton recommends not allowing children to wear decorative contact lenses at all.
  • Prevent trip-ups. Costumes and shoes should be checked by parents to make sure they fit properly. Creighton notes that a baggy costume that drags on the ground may cause trips, slips, and falls. Oversized high heels can also cause falls.
  • Choose fire-resistant fabrics. Costumes and accessories should be flame-resistant, just in case your child brushes up against a candle-lit Halloween decoration during the night.
  • Keep kids visible. The U.S. National Safety Council recommends placing reflective tape on costumes and trick-or-treat bags to help other people and motorists see children after the sun has set. Choosing light-colored costumes can also keep kids from blending into the night. 

With November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that's still sort of true this year, a report from the National Retail Federation shows that many are modifying their plans. Why, you might ask? Well, it has something to do with another important event happening in early November.

According to an NRF flash poll conducted earlier in October, a quarter of consumers said that the upcoming presidential election will impact their spending for the holiday season. Forty-three percent said that they would be more cautious with their spending due to the uncertainty of who will win the race.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says the campaign season has also forced retailers to delay advertising for holiday deals, which may have affected consumers.

"Everywhere you turn – whether you're picking up a newspaper or watching television – political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country," he said.

However, NRF says that while spending will be down from last year, it will still be at a relatively high level. The association estimates that consumers will spend an average of $935.58 on gifts for others, self-spending, food, flowers, decorations, and greeting cards for the holidays. That's a decrease of $17 from last year, but it's the second highest total since 2004.

"Once the election has passed, we anticipate consumers will pull themselves out of the election doldrums and into the holiday spirit," said Shay. "Retailers should prepare for a rush of consumers in the weeks following the presidential election as they get more economic and political certainty and are looking to take advantage of promotions and deals that are too good to pass up for their friends, family and even themselves."

Self-spending increases

NRF also predicts that self-spending will increase this holiday season, as consumers try to take advantage of good deals. Poll results indicate that 58% of shoppers plan to buy something for themselves; NRF predicts that consumers will spend an average of $139.61 on these purchases, up 4% from last year.

"Many shoppers are taking the approach of 'one for you, two for me' this holiday season. Retailers are preparing by offering a wide array of merchandise and promotions – items shoppers want to give as great gifts at prices so good they want to buy for themselves too."

Spending on others will still eclipse self-spending, though, as the NRF says consumers will spend an average of $588.90 on gifts for family and friends.

When it comes to where they'll shop, consumers indicated that they'll split their time pretty evenly between department stores (57%), online sources (57%), and discount stores (56%). Online shoppers will be looking to take advantage of free shipping as much as possible, though some will pay a little extra by opting for expedited shipping (17%) or same-day delivery (10%). 

Indictments in connection with massive scams are rare. Arrests are even rarer, since the perpetrators tend to work outside the U.S.

Despite that, the Justice Department has unsealed an indictment that charges 61 people and entities with an international scam ring that ripped off tens of thousands of U.S. Consumers.

In addition, 20 people were arrested and taken into custody in connection with activities that took place at five call centers located in India.

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Texas, claims the defendants took part in an elaborate scheme, organized in India, to wring money out of victims by calling and claiming to be an officer of the U.S. Government.

Impersonating government officials

In some cases, the caller claimed to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and demanded payment for alleged back taxes. In other cases, the caller pretended to be an immigration official, threatening the victim with deportation unless payment was made. Along the way, the callers also extracted sensitive personal information that could be used to steal identities.

The indictment says that once the callers in India had a victim on the hook, they would turn them over to co-conspirators in the United States to liquidate and launder the extorted funds.

In many cases, losses were huge. The indictment says one of the call centers extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, using the threat of arrest if a fictitious tax bill was not paid.

It was worse for a victim in Hayward, Calif., who was persuaded to cough up $136,000 after being hounded for 20 days over a phony tax bill.

What to do

The indictment and arrests lift the lid of a variety of ugly, similar scams that target the vulnerable. One widespread scam involves calling people and threatening them with arrests because they allegedly took out a payday loan and didn't repay.

The consumers who have complained of this to ConsumerAffairs have said the calls all appear to be coming from India.

It bears repeating that consumers should not take the bait if an IRS official calls and demands payment of back taxes. IRS officials don't operate that way. They don't call consumers on the phone.

If you get any type of threatening phone call that seems suspicious, the best course of action is to hang up and contact local law enforcement. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Hyundai and Kia will pay a combined $41.2 million to 33 states and the District of Columbia to settle charges it misrepresented fuel economy ratings on certain 2011, 2012, and 2013 vehicles.

The issue goes back to November of 2012, when the automakers revealed they were adjusting and restating the fuel economy ratings for certain models because they had overstated them. California Attorney General Kamala Harris says it was an even bigger issue then because gasoline prices were sky high, especially in her state.

"California consumers deserve reliable and accurate information regarding the environmental impacts of the cars they buy," Harris said in a statement. This agreement holds the automakers responsible for their unlawful conduct and ensures the companies advertise fuel economy ratings accurately going forward."

Violated false advertising law

California's complaint against Hyundai and Kia alleged that the companies' actions constituted violations of California's Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law. It noted that the misstated fuel economy numbers occurred at a time when they would have had overweighted influence on consumers' purchase decisions.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says state and federal law require clear and accurate fuel economy labels on all cars and trucks sold in the United States. Auto manufacturers are required to conduct testing under mandatory protocols set by government regulators. It must then use the results of those tests to post accurate fuel economy information on each vehicle before it is sold.

"Consumers need to be able to rely on the information they are given when deciding whether to purchase a product," Koster said. "When they mislead Missourians, we will hold companies accountable."

Deceived consumers

"These car companies deceived consumers into thinking they were purchasing vehicles that would be more fuel efficient than they really were," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said the settlement serves notice on other automakers that fuel economy ratings are important, and they'll be held accountable when they aren't as advertised.

Under the terms of the settlement, the actual consumers who purchased the cars in question will get no money. Rather, it will be distributed among the participating states. Hyundai and Kia have agreed to make sure its fuel economy data is correct in the future and will be subject to monitoring by the attorney general of each state in the multistate group.

The economy stepped it up in the third quarter of the year, according to the government's "advance" look at how things are going.

According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at an annual rate of 2.9% in the July-September period after growing just 1.4% in the second quarter.

It's important to note that the information used to calculate economic performance is incomplete and/or subject to further revision. An updated estimate will be released in late November.

Growth factors

The third quarter increase in real GDP reflects contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) -- consumer spending -- exports, private inventory investment, federal government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment. Those were partly offset by declines in residential fixed investment and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The acceleration from the second quarter came from an upturn in private inventory investment, an acceleration in exports, a smaller decrease in state and local government spending, and a turnaround in federal government spending. They were partly offset by a smaller increase in PCE, and a larger increase in imports.

Not much to cheer about

Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza isn't impressed. She points out that even with the 2.9% growth rate for the third quarter, "with such minimal growth across the first six months of the year, the average pace of activity for the year thus far remains a disappointing 1.7%."  

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

H-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.

Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

The company has received one report of the armrest detaching from the base. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Brazos Embossed star chairs that are brown metal with welded construction and an embossed star design on the back of the chair.

The white hangtag on this item has the following product identification: UPC number 8502430906 and item code number 194781. The chair is 24 inches wide and 33.5 inches high.

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at H-E-B stores in Texas from February 2016, through September 2016, for about $60.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and return it to the store where purchased for a full refund.

Consumers may contact H-E-B at 800-432-3113 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.heb.com and click on "Recalls" for more information.

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to adopt rules that protect consumers' privacy on the internet. The rules give broadband customers tools to make informed choices about how their personal information is used and shared by internet service providers (ISPs).

"It's the consumers' information," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler when the proposal was unveiled earlier this year, "and the consumer should have the right to determine how it's used."

Industry groups fought the proposal bitterly. USTelecom, a trade group, took to Twitter to denounce the rules as a "naked power grab."

But most consumer and privacy advocates endorsed the measure. Meredith Rose, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, said the rules would be "a step forward to protecting consumers' economic and dignitary rights in their own data."

Rose said that without such rules, "consumers face a very real threat of having personal data exposed, sold to third parties without their knowledge, or misused in other fashions." 

Thorn in the side?

The 3-2 party line vote by the five FCC commissioners is seen as a potential thorn in the side of the pending Verizon/Yahoo and AT&T/Time Warner mergers. The deals are built around the notion that Verizon will have access to data Yahoo has collected about its customers, likewise for AT&T and Time Warner. 

To provide consumers more control over the use of their personal information, the rules establish a framework of customer consent that will be required for ISPs to use and share their customers' personal information that is calibrated to the sensitivity of the information. Sensitive information requires greater transparency and consent than more routine data. 

The approach is consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission's and the Administration's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Three categories

The rules separate the use and sharing of information into three categories and include clear guidance for both ISPs and customers about the transparency, choice and security requirements for customers' personal information:

Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative "opt-in" consent from consumers to use and share "sensitive" information, which includes precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children's information, Social Security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications.

Opt-out:  ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer "opts-out." The "non-sensitive" information basically includes everything not included under the "sensitive" definition -- for example, email address or service tier data. 

Exceptions: Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection. For the use of this information, no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.

Clear, conspicuous

The rules require ISPs to give customers clear, conspicuous, and persistent notice about what information is being collected, how it is being shared, and how customers can change their privacy preferences.

ISPs are also required to follow "reasonable" data security practices and to notify customers of data breaches.

The rules apply only to broadband service providers and other ISPs and telecommunications carriers. They do not apply to websites and other "edge services," which are not under the FCC's jurisdiction.

The hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell itself off. In the last few weeks, there seemed to be a good number of buyers lining up for a shot to snap up the social media platform – including Google and Disney.

A deal has yet to pan out, though, and many companies have walked away from the negotiating table. That may very well have contributed to an announcement today that the company would be cutting 9% of its workforce, mostly in sales and marketing, and shutting down its Vine mobile app, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Company struggles

While Twitter started off very well, recent times have not been kind to the company. It has produced nine straight quarters of slowing revenue growth and the number of monthly active users began stalling as early as last year; the well-known social media platform boasts 700 million accounts, but only 317 million are active each month, and an even lower number are active on a daily basis.

Shareholder expectations have also gradually lowered for Twitter, as share prices have declined by 50% since the summer of 2015. Altogether, the company lags far behind its competitor Facebook, which has done very well during the same period and attracted more advertisers.

"Twitter monetizes its user base at about half the rate of Facebook, and we are not sure it can close the gap entirely," said Mark Mahaney of RBC Capital Markets.

Despite the hardships, the company has said it is committed to finding a sustainable path forward. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has stated that adjusting the user interface will be a key element of the company's future strategy.

"We will make tweeting easier and more meaningful by providing more context and letting people not only broadcast to the world but also have deeper, open conversations about the topics they care about. . . We're focused on building the largest, most comprehensive news network on the planet," he said in a statement.

Shutting down Vine

In a separate announcement today, Twitter said that it will be shutting down its Vine mobile app in the coming months. Twitter bought Vine before it had even launched in January, 2013, and for a while it did pretty well. The app uses a six-second format that has been great for capturing sports highlights, singing exhibitions, or comedically timed moments.

However, Vine never seemed to live up to Twitter's performance standards. The founders of the app gradually left, and the launch of other services like video on Instagram stunted its potential. Over half of the top 9,725 accounts on the app had been deleted or had stopped posting by July, with content creators leaving for greener pastures on sites like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

Although Twitter hasn't given a precise date for when the app will be shut down, it has guaranteed users that they will be able to download their videos before the plug is pulled.

"We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You'll be able to access and download your Vines. We'll be keeping the website online because we think it's important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website," the company said in a statement.

"To all the creators out there – thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day. To the many team members over the years who made this what it was – thank you for your contributions. And of course, thank you to all of those who came to watch and laugh every day."

A recent scourge for Android device users, maybe more so than an exploding Note 7, is a vicious malware called Ghost Push. It's a Trojan that some say can't be uninstalled and keeps downloading unwanted programs.

Cheetah Mobile's CM Security Research Lab says it discovered the nasty malware a little over a year ago, and, since then, it is downloading on unsuspecting consumers' Android devices an average of 10,000 times a day.

Ghost Push hides within what seem to be legitimate software and apps. Once downloaded it will in turn install annoying apps, such as Monkey Test and Time Service. When it was discovered, it quickly surged to the list of Cheetah's most widespread and infectious viruses.

By last October, monitoring results from CM Security Research Lab found over 600,000 android users had been affected within a single day. It first appeared mostly in Europe, Russia, the Middle East region, and southern China.

Not only does it install unwanted programs on mobile devices, it also pushes ads into status bars and often directs users to deceptive or pornographic sites, where additional malware is downloaded.

What to do

While Cheetah maintains the Trojan is next to impossible to uninstall, there are a number of internet posts with advice and tips for doing so. But use discretion in following any of these directions, making sure they are offered from reliable sources. Cheetah maintains the best course of action is to avoid getting infected in the first place.

For starters, be extremely careful where you get apps for your device. Avoid downloading from third party app stores and use only known and reputable sources.

Updating your devices to the latest operating system can also help. Cheetah says 90% of the infected devices are using out-of-date operating systems. Keeping devices updated means having the latest security patches.

Also, consider installing a reputable antivirus app on your phone or tablet. They can sometimes stop malware before they can take over your device.

In an effort to cater to younger consumers' love of convenience and plant-based meals, Purple Carrot is bringing its meal kits to Whole Foods stores.

In an increasingly busy world, home-delivered meal kits are streamlining the cooking experience and making it easier than ever for consumers to whip up a meal fit to be shared on social media.

But the ability to pick up a Purple Carrot meal kit at the grocery store may have advantages of its own. In a statement, Andy Levitt, founder and CEO of the company, noted that consumers seem ready to see healthy, portioned-out meal kits somewhere other than on their doorstep.

"Over the last year, we've listened to the feedback of our busy consumers who also wanted to find our products on grocery shelves. With that in mind, we have created a new product so people can pick up their meal kits when they shop at Whole Foods Market," Levitt said in a statement.

No subscription

Purple Carrot meal kits are currently only available in one Boston-area Whole Foods store, but more locations are expected to follow if the pilot program is successful.
Offering consumers the ability to purchase meal kits individually instead of requiring them to commit to a subscription may signal a new trend in meal kits.

As Fast Company reported, one of the biggest challenges for the meal kit industry is holding onto clients. Only half of Blue Apron customers continue after the first week of service and other meal kit programs face similar hurdles in getting clients to stick around.

"We recognize that now, more than ever, our customers are in need of convenience without the sacrifice of quality and nutrition," said Kimberley Rose, Vice President of Purchasing for Whole Foods Market's North Atlantic region. "Purple Carrot has created a great product that will help us to provide our customers with one more way to continue to eat well even on the busiest of days."

Purple Carrot's in-store meal kit offerings are set to include Mongolian Seitan Stir Fry, Pan Seared Tofu and Black Rice Noodles, and Cashew Korma with Cauliflower Rice. Each meal kit will be available for $19.99.

Consumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.

For example, most consumers are probably better off with a cash-back credit card, which pays as much as 2% on all purchases or as much as 5% on certain categories.

But frequent air travelers might profit more from using a card that rewards in miles. We've identified three such cards that are worth a look.

Capital One VentureOne Reward

Consumers who carry the Capital One VentureOne Reward Card earn an unlimited 1.25 miles on every purchase, making it easy to rack up miles. As an added bonus, there is no annual fee – a rarity in this class of credit card.

When you earn 100 miles, you've earned $1 dollar in travel rewards. But the rewards come a lot faster for new cardholders, who get 20,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation.

You can redeem your miles as a statement credit. As added perks, the rewards don't expire and you can carry a balance the first year without paying any interest.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards

Another good choice for frequent travelers is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards Card. You earn two times the miles on all purchases.

Right off the bat, new cardholders get 50,000 bonus miles if they spend $3,000 in the first 90 days of card activation. That adds up to a $500 travel statement credit.

The miles don't expire and you get 5% miles back every time you redeem, to use toward the next redemption. There's an $89 annual fee, but it's waived the first year. The card also has a 0% introductory balance transfer rate for 12 months if the transfer is made within the first 45 days.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

For consumers who find themselves flying Delta most of the time, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express might be a good fit. It pays two miles for every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta, and a mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

New card members earn 30,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation and earn an extra $50 statement credit just by making a Delta purchase during that time.

There are also some air travel-specific perks as well. Card members can check their first bag for free on every Delta flight, saving $100 on a round-trip. They also enjoy jumping to the head of the line with priority boarding.

There's a $95 annual fee, but it's waived the first year.

It's been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user accounts. When the news broke, many people speculated whether it would affect Verizon's acquisition of the company – a deal that had been struck in July for around $4.8 billion.

Those rumors began heating up at the beginning of the month when reports suggested that Verizon was pushing for a $1 billion discount because Yahoo had not disclosed information about the breach. And now, only a couple of weeks later, talk will be swirling about what Verizon actually intends to pay.

According to a report from Reuters, a Verizon executive stated at a tech conference that buying up Yahoo still made good business sense. However, she said that Verizon still needed more information about the breach, which will ultimately affect how much the company plans to pay.

"I've got an obligation to make sure that we protect our shareholders and our investors, so we're not going to jump off a cliff blindly," said Marni Walden, president of Product Innovation and New Businesses at Verizon.

Uncertain future

As we reported previously, the Yahoo acquisition gives Verizon a lot of advantages. The company acquired AOL back in 2015, and combining it with Yahoo would give the company a strong competitive rival to the likes of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

At the conference, Walden showed her enthusiasm for the prospective combination, pointing out that the deal could allow Verizon to cater more to brands, since Google and Facebook focus more on social media and search, respectively. "We can help other brands build inside of a very open, friendly marketplace," she said.

However, not having all the information on Yahoo's data breach could be a sticking point. When asked if Verizon could potentially back out of its acquisition deal, Walden was non-committal, simply asking for the next question. Leaving the door open in this way certainly won't make the folks over at Yahoo sleep any easier.

Consumers continue to flock to new car showrooms, but in fewer numbers this month. With October drawing to a close, industry analysts are predicting sales will be down as much as 6% from October 2015.

But that doesn't mean the industry is hurting. If you'll recall, last October was a huge month for car dealers, as new car sales set records month after month. Besides, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) notes there were some extenuating circumstances this month – two fewer selling days than last year.

But KBB analyst Tim Fleming says the preliminary sales numbers show a drop in volume across the entire industry, with dealers and manufacturers having to work harder to close sales.

"Higher incentives are helping boost sales, but with transaction prices at an all-time high and great consumer demand for SUVs and trucks, which are more profitable, automakers can afford the extra incentives," Fleming said. Still, discipline with incentives and moderating production will go a long way in preserving residual values in the next few years."

Edmunds.com, meanwhile, predicts a slightly better industry performance, with October sales down just 5.2%.

"On the surface, it might look like a slow month for sales, but in fact the industry's performance was much stronger than the raw numbers suggest," said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell.

What's hot and what's not

Monthly sales figures can be useful for consumers thinking about a new car purchase because it can show where the bargains are and are not. For example, a make and model that is in demand will have less wiggle room during a negotiation. A model that lags in sales might be purchased at more of a bargain price.

Going forward, that could make Volkswagen a good buy. Preliminary sales data shows VW continues to lose marketshare in the wake of the 2015 diesel emissions cheating scandal. Its sales this month are expected to be down nearly 10% from last October, the first month after the scandal broke.

"Upcoming SUV launches, including the redesigned Tiguan and an all-new three-row SUV, will certainly help Volkswagen's car-dominant lineup once they hit the market, and that can't come soon enough for Volkswagen dealers," Fleming said. Importantly, the Audi and Porsche brands have not been affected by the scandal, as sales for those two brands are up year-over-year."

Subaru still hot

While consumers might negotiate an attractive deal on a VW, it might be harder to get a low price on a Subaru, which remains a sales leader. Preliminary numbers show Subaru increased its marketshare from 3.6% to 3.8% this month, even with slightly fewer sales than in October 2015.

KBB notes Subaru has the fastest-selling inventory, lowest days' supply of vehicles, and the fewest incentives of any major brand.

When Chipotle Mexican Grill reported its third quarter earnings this week, the results were predictably bleak.

Last year's E. coli crisis occurred during the third quarter, and the year since saw restaurant traffic plummet. Third quarter profits this year were down 95% compared to the same period last year.

So how does a restaurant chain recover from that? Chipotle has a plan, which executives outlined during a conference call Tuesday night. Some of the plan revolves around reducing its exposure in other restaurant chains and focusing solely on its core business.

But the company also outlined changes at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants, which it hopes will bring back its core customer base. It's adding a dessert to the menu, it's stepping up digital ordering capabilities, and for the first time since 2012, plans an extensive national ad campaign.

A difficult year

Steve Ells, Chipotle's founder and co-CEO, told analysts on the conference call that the last year has been the most difficult in the company's history. At one time last year, Chipotle was forced to temporarily close more than 30 stores in six states after health officials traced E. coli to a common ingredient in the chain's food.

The restaurants have reopened and the company adopted new food handling procedures, and there have been no reported incidents since.

In an effort to win back consumers, Chipotle has been testing two desserts, one of which will be offered as a permanent part of the menu.

During the last quarter, Chipotle expanded its menu with the addition of chorizo, which it said proved popular and helped boost sales.

"We believe that this is a good way to entice infrequent or lapsed customers to return as well as a way to increase sales," Ellis said on the call. "Any time we consider new menu items, it's important to us that they remain consistent with our food culture, both in terms of the ingredients we use and how the new items are prepared."

Enhancements to digital ordering

The company is also redesigning its digital ordering system, which is able to take food and catering orders by mobile and fax. The enhancements are designed to make the process more efficient.

At the same time, Ellis said the company is testing a system that will allow customers to place their orders at the restaurant using a tablet, if they encounter long lines.

Finally, Chipotle hopes to win back customers with advertising – for the first time turning to television as a marketing medium. Ellis said the company has not yet settled on an ad agency, but said it expects consumers nationwide will be seeing the chain's commercials next year.

A U.S. senator and the Federal Communications Commission are joining forces with privacy and consumer advocates to support the Federal Trade Commission in its battle with AT&T over call throttling.

The FTC charged in October 2014 that AT&T duped more than 3.5 million customers by selling them unlimited data plans but then "throttled" their connections when they exceeded monthly allotments ranging from 3 to 5 GB. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the FTC's action on procedural grounds.

The court held that the FTC does not have the authority to sue common carriers, even though mobile broadband wasn't considered a common carrier service at the time the FTC brought the case.

The FTC is asking for a new hearing and is getting support from the Federal Communications Commission and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), among others.

"A wide hole"

In a friend-of-the-court brief, Blumenthal argues that the appeals panel's ruling creates "a wide hole in FTC jurisdiction that undermines the agency's ability to remedy deceptive acts committed by the growing range of companies that engage in common-carrier activity as well as non-common-carrier activity," MediaPost reported.

"If the panel opinion stands, it will greatly limit the government's ability to police unfair and deceptive practices in fields that Congress has long considered within the FTC's authority," Blumenthal said, cautioning that the decision could leave the FTC unable to police companies like Google, which owns the internet service provider Fiber.

The FCC said in another brief that the panel's decision is "at odds with the realities of the marketplace, in which entities that provide communications common carrier services have expanded their lines of business to include non-common-carrier offerings (or vice versa)."

A group of law professors also sided with the FTC, saying the earlier opinion "creates serious risks for the privacy rights of every American."

"The panel opinion's sweeping interpretation would immunize many of the largest information intermediaries in the modern economy -- potentially including companies such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo -- from almost all meaningful privacy oversight," the law professors say. "This outcome would be disastrous."

The group Public Knowledge said the case "creates real problems for consumer protection by creating significant concerns about the FTC's authority in a world where large corporations often engage in multiple lines of business." It said in a statement on its website that the appeals court "would be wise to overturn this unfortunate case."

AT&T revised its throttling practices last year, now only throttling people who consume more than 22 GB of data in a month and only when the network is congested.

A Florida man has pleaded guilty to operating a scheme that used consumers' cell phone accounts to make expensive international calls that they were then billed for, even though they did not place the calls.

Prosecutors said Jose Santana, 53, ran a "call site" in his West Palm Beach house that was used to relay calls from the internet to numbers in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and other high-cost countries, using customer account information that had been fraudulently obtained. 

The calls were provided at low cost to the internet users while the actual owners of the cellphone accounts got stuck with the bill, according to the plea agreement. 

Santana admitted that from December 2010 through October 2011, co-conspirators sent him more than 1,000 emails containing telecommunications identifying numbers associated with cell phone account holders around the United States.

Santana is the second defendant to plead guilty in the case. On Aug. 29, Edwin Fana pleaded guilty to similar charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 22. Santana's sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

The FBI investigated the case, dubbed Operation Toll Free, which is part of the bureau's ongoing effort to combat large-scale telecommunications fraud.

Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over the past year.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that increases in the South and West helped push its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, up 1.5% in September to 110.0.

The index has now risen year-over-year for 22 of the last 25 months and is up 2.4% from the same time a year ago.

"Buyer demand is holding up impressively well this fall with Realtors reporting much stronger foot traffic compared to a year ago," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Although depressed inventory levels are keeping home prices elevated in most of the country, steady job gains and growing evidence that wages are finally starting to tick up are encouraging more households to consider buying a home."

Regional breakdown

  • Pending home sales in the West shot up 4.7% last month to 107.3, and is now 4.0% above a year ago.
  • The index in the South rose 1.9% to a reading of 122.1 and stands 1.7% above where it was in September, 2015.
  • The PHSI fell 1.6% to 96.5 in the Northeast, but is still 7.7% the same time last year.
  • In the Midwest the index slipped 0.2% to 104.6 and is now 1.0% below its level in September 2015.

Jobless claims

From the Department of Labor (DOL), there's word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell in the week ending October 22 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000.

That's down 3,000 from the previous week and marks 86 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to be a more accurate barometer of the labor market, inched up by 1,000 to 253,000.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 14 model year 2016 Dodge Vipers manufactured May 24, 2016, to August 28, 2016 on which the wires for the driver's front airbag may be pinched.

If the wires are pinched, the airbag may not deploy properly in the event of a crash necessitating airbag deployment, increasing the risk of injury.

What to do

Dodge will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag and clockspring, free of charge.

The recall is expected to begin on November 18, 2016. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's recall number for this recall is S75.

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.

The recalled vehicles are equipped with a foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage.

If the parking brake cable disengages from the mechanism and the transmission is left in a gear other than 'Park' while the ignition is on and the driver leaves the vehicle, the vehicle may roll unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will install a clip at the parking brake cable end to prevent the cable from disengaging, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 11, 2016.

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is G01.

Gaiser's European Style Provision Inc., of Union, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,895 pounds of chicken and pork bologna products formulated with meat and poultry products that were not federally inspected.

Additionally, the products may contain nonfat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the product label.

There are no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following bologna items, produced from October 6, 2016 – 20, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing "Gaiser's RUSSIAN BRAND PROFESSORSKAYA BOLOGNA" pork bologna with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 10-lb. chubb artificial casing containing "Gaiser's PROFESSORSKAYA" pork bologna with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing "NetCost Market PROFESSORSKAYA BRAND BOLOGNA" with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing "Gaiser's CHICKEN BOLOGNA" with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 3-lb. chubb artificial casing containing "Gaiser's CHICKEN BOLOGNA" with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing "NetCost Market CHICKEN BOLOGNA" with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.

The recalled products, bearing establishment number "EST. 5385 or P-5385" inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations and/or for institutional use in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Igor Denisenko at (908) 686-3421.

The long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached separate $6 million settlements with both companies, which run games where players can win money based on the performance of actual players on their "fantasy" teams.

Last fall, as DFS games were reaching their height of popularity, Schneiderman sued both DraftKings and FanDuel, claiming both were in violation of New York's gambling laws. The two companies fought the suits, saying they offered games of skill, not chance.

In the end, the settlement revolves around Schneiderman's charges that both companies engaged in false and deceptive advertising. The complaint alleged both companies misled novice players about their chances of winning, giving "false and misleading" statistics about the odds.

During the protracted litigation, Schneiderman secured an injunction preventing both companies from offering games to New York residents. Between March and August, the companies were not allowed to accept money from New Yorkers.

Terms of the settlement

In agreeing to terms, both DraftKings and FanDuel agreed to change marketing practices, providing clear disclosure of terms and conditions and information about expected performance.

"Today's settlements make it clear that no company has a right to deceive New Yorkers for its own profit," Schneiderman said in a statement. "DraftKings and FanDuel will now be required to operate with greater transparency and disclosure and to permanently end the misrepresentations they made to millions of consumers. These agreements will help ensure that both companies operate, honestly and lawfully in the future."

The issue of whether DFS violates New York's gambling laws went away in August, when New York enacted legislation that specifically says DFS is a legal activity. Most other states have enacted similar laws.

Fantasy sports began as an informal hobby among sports enthusiasts. These informal "leagues" lasted an entire season, with participants getting points each week based on how their players performed in real games.

DFS made it a professional enterprise, allowing participants to form different teams daily or weekly, winning money if their "team" won. Critics said there was little difference between that and betting on the outcome of a game.

You might think having more mosquitoes around would aggravate mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. However, according to a BBC report, that's just what scientists plan to do in Brazil and Colombia to fight recent, dangerous outbreaks.

The $18 million project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an international team of donors, will release millions of mosquitoes that are infected with a certain bug called Wolbachia -- a natural bacterium that makes mosquitoes less able to transmit viruses to people.

While the bug already infects around 60% of mosquitoes worldwide, scientists have modified it over the past decade so that it also affects mosquitoes in the Aedes genus, the group most responsible for spreading diseases like Zika and Dengue.

The plan is for these infected mosquitoes to be introduced into the greater population and breed with uninfected mosquitoes. The resulting offspring will also carry the bug and will be less able to contract dangerous viruses and pass them along to humans, effectively cutting transmission rates. Wolbachia also uses many of the resources that dengue and Zika need to replicate, so the added competition makes it much harder for the diseases to survive.

Safe for humans

The scientists working on the project want to make it clear that they have done extensive research on Wolbachia. Consistent findings show that it does not harm humans.

"In the communities we have already worked with there have initially been two concerns. One was that the mosquitoes might harm them in some way or that there might be some unintended consequences. It is a testament to our community engagement teams working really closely with communities to answer questions that all the communities we work with are fully supportive," explained Professor Scott O'Neill from the Eliminate Dengue Program.

"We explained Wolbachia bugs are present in so many insects worldwide that millions of humans come into contact with them everyday with no problems. And in the six years we have been doing these trials there have been no problems," he added.

Affordable, sustainable protection

The plan has the potential to provide a great deal of protection against dangerous viruses that plague us now.

"It's affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue and a host of other viruses. We are eager to study its impact on how it can help countries," said Dr. Trevor Mundel of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers plan to start trials in large urban areas in Bello, Colombia, parts of Antioquia, and the greater Rio de Janeiro areas. The program will be monitored for three years to see how effective it is at reducing cases of dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya virus.

Dogs have long been considered man's best friend, but sometimes our furry pals may benefit from having some one-on-one playtime with a member of their own species.

Like humans, dogs are social creatures. They benefit, both mentally and physically, from positive interactions with other dogs. But what if you aren't sure where to find other dogs for your pup to play with?

That's where an app called BarkHappy may be of help. The location-based app, which launched nationally over the summer, aims to help pet parents "discover the dog-friendly world around them."

Connects dog owners

In just a few taps of a smartphone screen, you'll be able to find nearby dogs and arrange meet-ups. BarkHappy even lets pet owners send out "wags" to other owners to say "Hello" or create a "pack" to organize group events.
"We're trying to change what it means to live life with your dog. They don't have to always stay home anymore. There is a dog-friendly world out there that BarkHappy can help you discover," said Ninis Samuel, CEO and founder of BarkHappy.

In addition to helping you track down a four-legged friend for your pup, the app can open your eyes to a world of dog-friendly places and events in your area.

Map of dog-friendly locations

Wondering which restaurants will roll out a welcome mat for your favorite companion? Not sure if a certain park allows dogs?
BarkHappy can let you know with its map of nearby dog-friendly parks, hotels, and restaurants. Pet owners can also see a list of local dog-friendly events and meet-ups.

The app also includes lost (and found) dog alerts. Owners can see on a map exactly where a particular dog was last seen. BarkHappy will send the dog's photo and owner's contact information to all users within a radius of that location.

Halloween and candy go hand-in-hand, but consuming too many sugary treats can be harmful to kids' health. So how can parents keep their children from overindulging in sweets this year?

To start, it's important to recognize that moderation is key. Allowing kids to have one or two pieces of candy after trick-or-treating is okay, says Karla Shelnutt, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences nutrition expert.

But after Halloween, parents should make sure to watch kids' candy intake. Shelnutt recommends that parents space out the rest of the candy over days or even weeks. In addition, parents may want to explain to their kids why eating too much candy at once isn't a good thing.

Tips for a healthier Halloween

Shelnutt notes that kids who are between the ages of 6 and 8 need around 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day; just one or two candy bars can provide about 10% of those calories.
To keep kids healthy and reduce the risk of childhood obesity, parents can make an action plan to help reduce the temptation that may stem from having too much candy around.
Here's what parents can do to keep an influx of Halloween candy from impacting kids' health, according to the academy: 
  • Consider not buying candy
  • Don't open the candy too early
  • Establish limits
  • Portion control
  • Make candy trades by finding things your kids want more and switch out for the candy
  • Don't leave candy in plain sight
  • Be mindful
  • Donate extra candy

Alternative treats 

Parents can also consider buying healthier alternative treats to pass out on Halloween and have around the house during the days and weeks that follow.

Having several fun, non-candy options around can go a long way towards helping kids stay healthy. Here are a few alternative treats to consider: 

  • Cheddar flavored crackers
  • 100% fruit snacks or leathers
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Animal-shaped crackers
  • Mini rice cereal treat bars 
  • Cereal bars made with real fruit
  • Individual fruit cups
  • Mini 100% fruit juice boxes 
  • Low-fat pudding cups 
  • Pretzels 

Sometime over the last five years or so, things in our everyday lives began connecting to the internet. Suddenly we had smart thermostats, smart refrigerators, and smart watches, among other things.

While all this connectivity was supposed to make life easier, it has raised definite security concerns. Those concerns were realized in full last Friday when hackers were able to infect tens of millions of smart devices with malware and launch denial of service (DOS) attacks on major websites.

In a survey conducted before that incident, but released just afterward, consumers expressed concerns about the security of this growing Internet of Things (IoT) but were mostly in the dark about what to do. It showed more than half of consumers have three or more devices, besides computers and smartphones, that connect to the internet through their home routers.

Haven't changed password

But consumers only now appear to be coming to grips with the security implications. A survey commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found 43% of consumers either haven't changed the default password on their home router or aren't sure if they have or not.

"The Internet of Things presents tremendous opportunities for managing our health, homes and businesses, but we need to have our eyes wide open about the risks as well," said Michael Kaiser, executive director of National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Kaiser says consumers need to think of the IoT as the "internet of me." Consumers, he says, need to be proactive about learning what information your devices collect, where it's stored, and how it's used.

"Additionally, it's especially important to pay attention to the security of your mobile device if you are using it to control IoT devices – as well as your router, if you're connecting devices to it," he said.

Easy to download malware

Last weeks attack on the internet was not that difficult since many devices that make up the IoT have little or no security protection – at least a lot less than a computer or smartphone operating system. That made it relatively simple for hackers to download malware.

The problem, unfortunately, may get worse before it gets better. Almost a year ago, Gartner projected that there would be 6.4 billion devices connected to the internet in 2016, up 15% over 2015. Consumer devices, by far, make up the largest portion of devices.

In the wake of last Friday's attack, NBC News reports security professionals have drawn attention to IoT. It quoted one expert as saying the security framework for many devices making up the IoT is "self-evidently terrible."

Unfortunately, consumers are dependent on appliance and smart device manufacturers making their products more secure. In the meantime, a consumer's best defense is using a strong password for network routers.  

Retailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many retail analysts believe Amazon is poised to capture a bigger slice of the pie, which may motivate competitors to offer even more enticing deals.

Target has taken the wraps off its 2016 holiday strategy, saying it plans to offer new and exclusive inventory in every product category, as well as a wide range of bargains.

"Target is at our very best during the holidays, and we're building on last year's winning formula to make the 2016 holiday season even better," said Target CEO and Chairman Brian Cornell.

Cornell said the strategy is built around helping consumers save both time and money, both in stores and online.

"Most importantly, guests will find truly exceptional value through broad and simple offers timed to maximize savings on the most-shopped merchandise at each point in the season," he said.

Introducing the Wondershop

New this year is Wondershop, sort of shop within a shop that specializes in Christmas decorations. The company has also developed Wonderlist, which it says is a tool to find gifts for family and friends.

For children, Target says it will feature about 1,000 new items from the recently introduced Cat & Jack line, with price tags under $30. There will be more than 1,800 new or exclusive toys, an increase of about 15% over 2015.

Preparing for a burst in virtual reality popularity, Target says it will feature newly released VR products, including PlayStation VR and VR One Plus.

Frowning on Thanksgiving openings

Target is among the major retailers that have not yet announced plans for Thanksgiving Day. While a large number of stores plan to remain closed the day before Black Friday, Target is among the retailers expected to try to get a jump on holiday spending.

Shopping site BestBlackFriday.com is out with a survey of consumers that shows an overwhelming number prefer stores to close Thanksgiving Day and give employees the holiday off. Its survey shows only 8.18% of consumers "strongly favor" a store being open Thanksgiving Day, while 37.72% "strongly dislike" the idea.

"The vast majority of the population does not view the practice of stores dragging their employees and shoppers out of their homes on Turkey Day in a positive light," the authors write.

Even so, the site suggests plenty of consumers will shop on Thanksgiving, most likely ordering things online rather than going to stores.

Calls from debt collectors are always unpleasant. But when the calls are trying to collect so-called "zombie debt," they can be downright scary.

"As the name suggests, zombie debt is debt that you thought was dead, but has come back to life," said Katie Bossler, a GreenPath financial wellness expert.

To be more precise, zombie debt is money you really don't owe. It may be that you have already paid the debt, but it didn't get recorded. It may be the debt is so old it has passed the statute of limitations and can't be legally collected. Or it could be that the debt never belonged to you, and it's a case of mistaken identity.

Law gives you rights

Sadly, the debt collectors who are trying to collect the money are unlikely to be sympathetic to your protests that you don't owe the money. In fairness to them, they've heard it all before. But the law requires them to respect your rights and, if they fail to do so, they can be held accountable. To do that, you need to know your rights.

Consumer rights in this area are spelled out under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you are contacted about a debt you think you do not owe, the law allows you to demand to see written verification of the debt. The debt collector must send that to you within five days after first contacting you.

This validation notice must include the name of the creditor and instructions on how to proceed if you don't believe you owe the debt.

If you send the debt collector a letter saying you don't owe the debt, the collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. The only way a collector can legally begin contacting you again is by sending you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

What to do

If you are contacted about what you think could be zombie debt, consult your records to see if you can prove it has been paid. Pull your credit report to see if it is still being reported to the credit bureaus.

Demand to see written proof that you owe the debt. If you need a guide for writing the letter to the debt collector, use these samples from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If it's a real debt but you think it is past the statute of limitations, consult a lawyer or legal aid society on how to respond.

Even during the Halloween season, there is no reason to be spooked by zombie debt.

New home sales have rebounded from the sharp decline they posted in August.

Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales jumped 3.1% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 593,000. The increase also puts sales 29.8% above the rate of 457,000 chalked up a year earlier.

Pricing and inventory

The median sales price -- the point at which half cost more and half less -- was $313,500, up $19,700 from August and $5,900 from September 2015. The average sales price was $377,700, a gain of $21,500 from the previous month and $9,900 year-over-year.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 235,000, which translates to a supply of 4.8 months at the current sales rate.

The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

Home prices

From the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), word that home prices were on the rise in August.

According to the agency, its House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.7% following an advance of 0.5% in July. On a year-ovcr-year basis, prices were up 6.4%.

For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from July 2016 to August 2016 ranged from no change in the West North Central division to +1.2% in the New England division.

The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +3.3% in the Middle Atlantic division to +7.9% in the Pacific division.

The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The complete report may be found on the FHFA website.

Following a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.

The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index dropped 2% from the previous week, although the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 62.7% of total applications from 61.5% a week earlier.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 4.2% of total applications, the FHA share inched down to 11.1% from 11.3% the week prior, the VA share was 12.2%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.7%.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dipped two basis points -- from 3.73% to 3.71% -- with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) slipped to 3.71% from 3.72%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.56%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went down to 3.01% from 3.03%, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped four basis points to 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

We haven't even filed our income tax returns for 2016 and, already, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is telling us what we can look forward to in 2017.

In the coming year, IRS says, there will be inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules. These adjustments are for use on tax returns filed in 2018.

Those of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following:

  • The standard deduction for married filing jointly rises by $100 -- to $12,700. For single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $6,350 in 2017, up $50 from 2016. For heads of households, the standard deduction will be $9,350 for tax year 2017, also up $50.
  • The personal exemption for tax year 2017 is holding steady at $4,050. However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $261,500 ($313,800 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $384,000 ($436,300 for married couples filing jointly.)
  • For the 2017 tax year, the 39.6% tax rate affects single taxpayers whose income exceeds $418,400 ($470,700 for married taxpayers filing jointly), versus $415,050 and $466,950, respectively. The other marginal rates – 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35% – and the related income tax thresholds for tax year 2017 are described in the revenue procedure.
  • The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on returns of individuals begins with incomes of $287,650 or more ($313,800 for married couples filing jointly).
  • The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2017 is $54,300 and begins to phase out at $120,700 ($84,500, for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $160,900). The 2016 exemption amount was $53,900 ($83,800 for married couples filing jointly). For tax year 2017, the 28% tax rate applies to taxpayers with taxable incomes above $187,800 ($93,900 for married individuals filing separately).
  • The maximum Earned Income Credit amount in the 2017 tax year is is $6,318 for taxpayers filing jointly who have 3 or more qualifying children; the total was $6,269 for tax year 2016. The revenue procedure has a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds, and phase-outs.
  • For tax year 2017, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit is $255, as is the monthly limitation for qualified parking,
  • For calendar year 2017, the dollar amount used to determine the penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage is $695.
  • For participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account in the year ahead, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250 but not more than $3,350 -- the same as 2016. For self-only coverage, the maximum out of pocket expense amount is $4,500, up $50. The floor for the annual deductible for participants with family coverage is $4,500, $50 more than in 2016; however, the deductible cannot be more than $6,750, up $50 from the limit for tax year 2016. For family coverage, the out of pocket expense limit is $8,250 for tax year 2017, an increase of $100 from tax year 2016.
  • For tax year 2017, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $112,000, versus $111,000 for tax year 2016.
  • The foreign earned income exclusion is $102,100, up $800 from tax year 2016.
  • Estates of those who die during 2017 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,490,000, $40,000 more than in 2016.

Consumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.

The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reports the average domestic air fare dropped to $353 in the second quarter down 9.6% from $390 at the same time a year ago, adjusted for inflation.

The second-quarter 2016 fare was down 26.2% from the average fare of $478 in 1999 -- the highest inflation-adjusted second quarter average fare in 21 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995.

Nickle-and diming you

In recent years, the amount of additional revenue obtained from fees charged to passengers as well as from other sources has increased. U.S. passenger airlines collected just 74.3% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the second quarter of 2016, compared with 87.6% in 1995.

Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include fees for optional services, such as baggage fees, and do not include frequent-flyer or "zero fares."

BTS reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares. Itinerary fares consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included.

The complete report is available on the BTS website.

Fiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.

The carabiners attached to the strap system contain small internal parts that can become dislodged, posing a choking hazard to young children.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Fiddle Diddles LullaBelay adjustable car seat strap system with model number LB1001. The strap system includes two fabric straps, carabiner hardware, a mesh car seat cover and a tote bag. The carabiners are used to hang a car seat from a shopping cart.

The model number is printed on the gray straps. "Fiddle Diddles" is printed on a fabric label attached to the mesh car seat cover, tote bag and fabric straps.

The strap system, manufactured in China, was sold online at Amazon.com from November 2015, through June 2016, Fiddlediddles.com from May 2015, through June 2015, and at Zoolikins stores in Arizona from November 2015, through June 2016, for about $40.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the LullaBelay strap system and contact Fiddle Diddles for a free repair kit with three new carabiners. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Consumers may contact Fiddle Diddles toll-free at 888-741-2957 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@fiddlediddles.com or online at www.fiddlediddles.com and click on "Product Recall" at the bottom of the page for more information.

Crider Inc., of Stillmore, Ga., is recalling approximately 5,610 pounds of canned organic roasted chicken breast that may be contaminated with foreign materials.

The company has received a report of a potential injury associated with consumption of this product.

The following Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast, produced on January 16, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 1,496 cases of 5 ounce cans of "Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast – 100% Chicken Breast & Sea Salt – No Liquids Added" with a Best Buy Date of 01/16/18

The recalled item, bearing establishment number "EST. 31812" inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to multiple distributors for further distribution.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Judy Tridico at (912) 562-9162

A federal court judge today approved the $15 billion settlement between Volkswagen and consumers who owned or leased a Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI "clean diesel" car. It's the largest consumer class action settlement in U.S. history.

In most cases the owners of VW and Audi diesel cars fitted with illegal emissions defeat devices will receive between $12,500 and $44,000 each, depending on the model, year, mileage, and trim of the car, as well as where the owner lives.

The Federal Trade Commission today issued a new consumer blog post, VW Buybacks and Lease Terminations to Begin, which provides background information on the settlement order, along with detailed instructions for affected owners regarding how and where to file a claim, and the claim-processing timetable. It also tells consumers how and where they can pick up their buyback check, specifying that the checks do not have to be used to buy a new Volkswagen.

"The settlement in its current form is fair, adequate, and reasonable and is in the best interest of Class Members. Benefits under the Settlement shall immediately be made available to Class Members," Judge Charles R. Breyer said.

The settlement offers eligible VW owners and lessees the option of a buyback, to have their car fixed, or the option to wait and see what each owner believes is best for their situation.

Starting today, Volkswagen will begin processing claims so that consumers can participate in the settlement program and receive compensation. The compensation is free of attorneys' fees and taxes and also takes into account insurance paid for the affected vehicles.

Buybacks and lease terminations should begin in November. It's not yet known when or if federal and state agencies will approve a modification that brings the cars into compliance with emission standards. The settlement provides that if a modification is not approved by the court and environmental agencies after 12 months, VW must buy back the vehicles. 

Consumer options

"This settlement is all about giving the consumer options while ensuring Volkswagen does its part to remedy its harm to the environment as well as fairly compensate those impacted," said Joe Rice, a South Carolina attorney who was one of the lawyers negotiating the settlement. "Speed was critical in developing these options. ... The faster we are able to help consumers get the assistance they need, the better job we have done on their behalf."

A resolution must still be reached for consumers who bought or leased a 3.0-liter diesel-powered VW, Audi, or Porsche. 

The total settlement is $14.7 billion dollars, with $10 billion allocated for consumers and $4.7 billion for environmental restitution.

More action needed

While applauding the settlement, some critics said more needs to be done.

"It is great news that VW diesel owners can now be reimbursed, and that Volkswagen must begin to repair the environmental damage their emissions deception caused," said Center for Auto Safety staff attorney Michael Brooks but he said criminal charges are needed to get industry's attention.

"Automakers will not change their illegal behavior unless the government pursues significant criminal penalties against executives who take or condone such actions.  We look forward to news of federal criminal charges against the VW executives who participated in this fraud on the American public," Brooks said.

Safe Climate Campaign Director Dan Becker said the government "did a good job preventing further harm from VW's diesel fraud."

"Most heavily polluting diesels will be removed from the road and cannot be resold unless fixed. Other automakers must learn from this scandal that they dare not disable pollution controls, lie to the government or fleece consumers. Those lessons will be reinforced when the government brings criminal charges against VW officals who perpetrated this fraud," Becker said.

If you have healthcare coverage obtained from a healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), chances are your policy won't be so affordable next year.

A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows the premiums for the average benchmark policy sold on the Healthcare.gov exchanges will go up 25% in 2017. But the report also notes that policy holders who receive government subsidies won't pay all of that – the taxpayers will.

Consumers with ACA policies who do not qualify for a subsidy will have to shoulder the entire increase.

Much higher in some states

Of course, 25% is just the average. As we reported earlier this month, policyholders in Minnesota, which operates a state exchange, face much steeper increases in premiums. Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, in reporting the average premium would surge as much as 67%, said such increases are not sustainable.

Nationwide, the HHS report says the average benchmark premium is rising from $242 to $302. The government says insurers have adjusted premiums after analyzing two years of data.

As for the insurers, many have said they are losing money under the system, in part because several key assumptions haven't been met. For example, the health care law requires all consumers to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. But many young, healthy people have chosen to pay the fine. Most of those signing up for insurance have been older and in poorer health, requiring more expensive health care.

Cost to consumers still fairly low

Despite the premium increases, the government says the cost consumers actually pay, after receiving a government subsidy, remains fairly low.

"Thanks to financial assistance, most Marketplace consumers this year will find plan options with premiums between $50 and $100 per month," said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. "Millions of uninsured Americans qualify for financial assistance, and so could as many as 2.5 million Americans currently paying full price for off-Marketplace coverage."

HHS says 85% of consumers with ACA Marketplace health care policies receive tax credits that pay a portion of the monthly premium. Those tax credits, however, add to government red ink.

At the same time, consumers with an ACA policy, may have to make changes during the current open enrollment period, as major insurers have either reduced the number of policies offered or withdrawn from the marketplace altogether.  

It seems that New York has reached a decision regarding its enforcement of short-term rental laws. This past Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that makes it possible for regulators to fine consumers $7,500 if they violate a previous law that forbids rentals of less than 30 days on apartments if the owner or tenant isn't present.

The law is intended to crack down on apartment owners who rent out their apartments on services like Airbnb instead of using them for long-term rentals; being able to charge at a nightly rate is much more lucrative than setting up a long-term living arrangement, after all. 

However, immediately after the bill was signed, Airbnb sued New York, claiming that the new law "would impose significant immediate burdens and irreparable harm" to the company. Further, it says the law violates Airbnb's right of free speech and the protection it's guaranteed under the Communications Decency Act – a provision that protects websites from being held responsible for anything published by its users.

Law won't be enforced right away

Josh Meltzer, head of Airbnb's public policy in New York, has voiced his disgust at the passing of the new legislation, indicating that lobbying from New York's hotel industry had a heavy hand in the decision.

"In typical fashion, Albany backroom dealing rewarded a special interest – the price-gouging hotel industry – and ignored the voices of tens of thousands of New Yorkers," he said.

On Monday afternoon, the state agreed that it would not enforce the law until Airbnb's suit was resolved, but the potential loss of the New York City market could be a big blow to the company. As of this past August, New York City accounted for 45,000 Airbnb listings, while the rest of the state combined accounted for only 13,000 listings.

Lately, the automotive world has been focused on self-driving technology. But automakers are also developing ways to make vehicles more fuel efficient, regardless of whether someone is behind the wheel.

Honda says its new Clarity fuel-powered sedan, set for release before the end of this year in California, has achieved a 366-mile rating in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests. Honda says that translates into a 68 miles per gallon (MPG) rating.

Honda vice-president Steve Center says this achievement should not be minimized.

"Not only does the Clarity Fuel Cell fit five passengers and refuel in three to five minutes, it offers customers a driving range on par with gasoline-powered cars," Center said. "The Clarity leads the pack with a 366 mile driving range rating, and with a growing network of hydrogen stations and fast fueling time, the zero-emissions family road trip is no longer science fiction."

Zero emissions

Environmentalists and government policymakers tasked with reducing pollution from vehicles have been increasingly enthusiastic about hydrogen fuel cell technology. According to the state of California, these engines produce zero emissions since they produce electricity to power the vehicle.

Where a hybrid uses a gasoline-powered engine to recharge a battery and a purely electric vehicle is powered by a battery that is plugged into an electric outlet for recharging, the fuel cell uses hydrogen to power the battery.

"A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle is powered by a group of individual fuel cells, known as a fuel cell stack," DriveClean.gov, a California state website, explains. "The stack is designed to contain enough cells to provide the necessary power for the automotive application. A fuel cell stack produces power as long as fuel is available, similar to a combustion engine. The electricity generated by the fuel cell stack powers the electric motor that propels the vehicle."

Honda says it will roll out the five-passenger, hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell sedan by the end of this year. It will start by making them available for retail lease at 12 approved fuel cell vehicle dealerships in certain California markets. The network covers six dealerships in Southern California, five in the Bay Area, and one in Sacramento. Honda said it will expand its dealer network as more hydrogen fueling stations become available.  

The denial of service attack that last week briefly blocked access to major web sites was amazingly simple. Hackers used malware to infect millions of internet-connected devices, then ordered them all to access Amazon and other sites at the same time.

A new report from AT&T suggests that attack may have been typical of the kinds of threats businesses are facing. Most of today's cyber-attacks, the report claims, are "known threats." In other words, protections and protocols should be in place to mitigate them. In many cases, however, they aren't.

Because these attacks are not that complicated, the report warns that anyone from a nation state to a student is capable of bringing down an organization's network, or as we saw last Friday, of tying up a big chunk of the internet.

The AT&T study shows that 90% of companies reported a malware attack in the last year, where infected software infiltrated their network. Also, in the last year, 73% of companies reported at least one distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

Perhaps of greatest concern was that there was a 700% increase in ransomware attacks, where a hacker encrypted a company or organization's files and would not release them until a ransom was paid.

Even when an organization has adequate security procedures, an employee who makes a mistake – clicking on a bad link, for example -- can cause a dangerous breach.

The enemy we know

"The daunting depiction of newly discovered security threats often gets attention from media and business leaders alike. But in fact, most attackers are targeting businesses using forms of attacks we already know about and can help defend against," said Mo Katibeh, senior vice president of Advanced Solutions, AT&T.

That makes it important, he says, for businesses to remain on guard and constantly improve and update core security protections.

Instead of being focused on what new threats might be emerging, the AT&T report suggests organizations should build their security around the threats that are known, since those are the ones they are most likely to encounter.

In addition to keeping systems updated, the authors stress the importance of the human factor. They say employees should receive extensive training in how to avoid security breaches as part of a security culture within an organization.

After posting gains in each of the previous two months, consumer confidence in the economy took a negative turn in October.

The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index slipped 4.9 points in October -- to 98.6, with the Present Situation Index dropping from 127.9 to 120.6 and the Expectations Index falling to 83.9 from 82.7 the month before

"Consumers' assessment of current business and employment conditions softened, said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "while optimism regarding the short-term outlook retreated somewhat.

However she notes that consumers' expectations regarding their income prospects in the coming months were relatively unchanged. "Overall, sentiment is that the economy will continue to expand in the near-term, but at a moderate pace," she concluded

The view from consumers

Appraisal of current conditions softened this month, with those who said business conditions are "good" dipping from 27.7% to 26.2% and those who think they're "bad" rising from 15.8% to 17.7%.

Consumers' assessment of the labor market was also less positive than last month. Those who see jobs as "plentiful" dropped to 24.3% from 27.6%; however, those who think jobs are "hard to get" slipped from 22.3% to 22.1%.

There was less optimism regarding the short-term outlook in October. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 16.0% from 17.0%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased from 10.8% to 12.2%.

Regarding the labor market, the proportion of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead fell from 15.7% to 13.1%. At the same time, though, those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 18.1% to 17.0%.

The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase was unchanged at 17.5%, while the proportion expecting a decline dropped to 9.8% from 10.4%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cut-off date for the preliminary results was October 13.

Home prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.

According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, was up 5.3% from the same time a year ago.

The 10-City Composite showed a 4.3% annual gain, while the 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year advance of 5.1%.

Portland, Seattle, and Denver reported the highest year-over-year increases among the 20 cities over each of the last seven months. Portland posted an 11.7% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle at 11.4%, and Denver with an 8.8% increase.

Ten cities reported greater price increases in the year ending August 2016 than in the year ending July 2016.

Month-over-month

Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index was up 0.5% on a a month-over-month basis, with both the 10- and 20-City Composites posting a 0.4% increase.

The National Index recorded an advance of 0.6% after seasonal adjustment, while both the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite reported 0.2% month-over-month increases.

After seasonal adjustment, 14 cities saw prices rise, two cities were unchanged, and four cities posted declines.

This isn't the only encouraging housing news. David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices notes that, "Other housing data including sales of existing single family homes, measures of housing affordability, and permits for new construction also point to a reasonably healthy housing market."

When it comes to throwing sufficient light on the subject, most pickup trucks don't get the job done.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), all four small late-model pickups and three out of seven large vehicles that were evaluated got poor ratings.

In fact, only one large pickup -- the Honda Ridgeline -- is available with good-rated headlights, though all but the most expensive trim levels come with poor ones.

Pickups are the third vehicle category to be put through the IIHS headlight evaluations. Midsize cars were the first, followed by small SUVs.

"These latest ratings follow the same disappointing pattern as the other groups," says Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior research engineer. "As vehicle safety has improved in recent years, this important equipment has been overlooked."

How they are tested

In the IIHS evaluations, engineers measure how far light is projected from a vehicle's low beams and high beams as the vehicle travels straight and on curves. Glare from low beams for oncoming drivers also is measured.

There are 23 possible headlight combinations for the 11 trucks evaluated. Fourteen of them have excessive glare, contributing to their poor ratings. A vehicle cannot earn a rating better than marginal if it produces too much glare in any of the five test scenarios.

How'd we do?

A bright spot in the ratings is the headlight system on the Ridgeline's RTL-E and Black Edition trims. The LED projector low beams provide fair to good visibility on most approaches, with inadequate visibility only on the gradual left curve.

High-beam assist, a feature that automatically switches on high beams if no other vehicles are present, makes up for some of the deficiencies of the low beams.

The GMC Sierra has acceptable-rated headlights available on certain trims. Other versions earn a marginal or poor rating.

The two kinds of headlights available on the Nissan Titan both earn a marginal rating. The Ram 1500 has marginal headlights on certain trim levels, while others have poor ones.

The Ford F-150, the centerpiece of the best-selling F-Series line, is among the poorest performers. Both the base halogen and the optional LED low beams provide inadequate visibility in all test scenarios, including both sides of the straightaway, on sharp curves in both directions and on gradual curves in both directions.

The headlights with the worst visibility are on the Chevrolet Colorado. The halogen reflector low beams on the pickup's base trim illuminate to only 123 feet on the right side of the straightaway. In contrast, the Ridgeline LED low beams illuminate to 358 feet.

IIHS is incorporating headlights into the criteria for its highest award, TOP SAFETY PICK+. To qualify for the 2017 award, vehicles will need good or acceptable headlights.

It started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution has perhaps climaxed with AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner, the corporate parent of HBO, CNN, and other media treasures.

The sweeping roll-ups are basically a hedge against a future in which fast-growing rogue players like Netflex, Amazon, or Facebook might be a consumer's first choice for information and entertainment.  

The immediate effect on consumers isn't likely to be noticeable, but, assuming the deal is approved by antitrust regulators, it should make it easier for consumers to get access to the content they want without having to pay hefty cable television fees.

Of course, the downside of consolidation is that it puts more power in fewer hands, often stifling innovation and raising prices over the long term. Those concerns are certain to be studied by the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department as they review the anti-trust aspects of the transaction.

Trump says no

Among the announced opponents of the deal is none other than GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who told a crowd in Gettysburg, Pa., that if he wins the election, his administration will block it, CNBC reported.

While Verizon's purchase of AOL and its still-pending takeover of Yahoo got lukewarm receptions, the Time Warner acquisition is generally seen as a winner for AT&T. The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal over the weekend and executives at both firms say it is a natural fit. 

"It's the revolution of both of our businesses," Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes told reporters after the deal was announced. "Whether its the movies, television series, or an original show, we want our audiences to access them whereever they are, whenever they want to. We think AT&T gives us tremendous access to do that."

"Time Warner, we believe, is the clear leader in premium content," said Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T's CEO. Besides HBO and CNN, Time Warner's table includes Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, and Turner Sports. It earlier spun off many of the older Time Inc. print titles as well as AOL.

Besides its vast cellular network, AT&T provides cable service and also operates satellite provider DirecTV. It has announced plans for a streaming version of DirecTV. Time Warner's cable operations were recently taken over by Charter Communications. 

Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.

Over the weekend, AT&T confirmed that it wants to buy Time Warner for more than $85 billion. It comes on the heels of Verizon's deal to buy Yahoo and AT&T's own purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

But Yahoo Finance reports the deal may have a tough time getting a green light from government regulators. It quotes analysts as saying both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are likely to put the deal under a microscope to determine how it will affect consumers.

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, says these kinds of deals are almost always better for the combined businesses than for their customers.

Time to grab your wallet

"Any time you hear media executives talking about synergies, throwing around the business-babble that always accompanies these rumors, you know it's time to grab your wallet and hang on tight," Wood said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "Big mergers like this inevitably mean higher prices for real people, to pay down the money borrowed to finance these deals and compensate top executives."

Wall Street, of course, was quick to celebrate the proposed deal, because reducing competition and combining resources is usually good for the bottom line. But Wood says the evidence is clear that it doesn't help consumers. He says AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV was followed by price hikes.

"It's a good thing there's a renewed interest among lawmakers and antitrust enforcers in addressing this merger-mania," Wood said. "It's also a good thing we have solid Net Neutrality rules on the books — even though companies like AT&T continue to test those rules in the market, threaten them in Congress, and challenge them in the courts."

Bipartisan opposition

Opposition to the proposed deal also surfaced on the presidential campaign trail. Speaking in Pennsylvania, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump denounced the deal in unusually harsh terms, saying "deals like this destroy democracy." If elected, Trump said his Justice Department would move to quash the merger.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) took to Facebook over the weekend to express his reservations.

"I'm skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers," Franken wrote in a post. "And regulators often agree, like when Comcast unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner Cable, a deal that I fiercely opposed."

In the coming days, Franken said he will press for further details about the proposed deal and how consumers would be affected.

Last week, we reported on how a new bill making its way through the New York legislature could impose strict fines on consumers who violate the state's rental laws. If passed, this could create a big problem for Airbnb, a company that relies on offering short-term rentals from users to make its money.

It is already illegal in New York to rent an apartment or living space for less than 30 days if the owner or tenant of a property isn't present, and proponents of the bill say that services like Airbnb hurt hotels and take apartments off the long-term rental market because owners are more willing to rent them out on a nightly basis for more money.

However, the new changes that Airbnb is suggesting for New York would limit hosts to having one rental listing at a time, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The company has also vowed to kick users from the service if they violate the rule three times.

Additionally, Airbnb has stated that it will be seeking authority from the state to collect and remit taxes from hosts, as well as require additional registration, so that regulators can more easily crack down on illegal activity and keep permanent housing at a safe level.

Placative measures

Airbnb's proposal can be seen mostly as a placative measure to change lawmakers' minds about the state's proposed bill. It is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo, but if it is passed into law then consumers may face fines of up to $7,500 if they advertise illegal rentals. It would be a big deterrent for hosts who use Airbnb to make a little money when they're out of town.

Airbnb has come out against the bill, saying that it leaves consumers in a touch financial spot by cutting off a potential source of revenue.

"It's baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet," said Airbnb head of global policy Chris Lehane.

Whether the company's changes will be enough should be decided by the end of the month. Gov. Cuomo has until October 29 to sign or veto the bill. Choosing not to act on it will result in it becoming law anyway. 

Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more likely to be in a happy marriage when they're older.

Findings from a recent study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that a nurturing childhood could pave the way for a secure marriage later in life.

According to researcher Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School, loving families play a big role in helping children develop certain social and emotional skills that can help them in their relationships decades later.

Better emotional management

To conduct the study, Waldinger and his colleagues studied 81 men for over six decades, beginning when they were teens. Half of the men went to Harvard; the others were from inner-city Boston.

The researchers gathered information on participants' early home environment through questioning, interviews with their parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker.

By the time the men reached middle age, the researchers discovered that those who had grown up in caring homes were better at managing stress. This important ability was found to come in handy in participants' marriages.  

"Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians," said Waldinger.

"We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life."

"Far-reaching effects"

It's no surprise that the effects of a happy childhood can be felt within a marriage, but these findings show just how long-lasting the effects can be.
Having a happy home life as a kid can have "far-reaching effects on well-being, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan," Waldinger said.
The study's co-author, Marc Schulz, a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, adds that it is "remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen" decades after adolescence.
Dr. Waldinger's TED talk on the study can be viewed here

It was just last week that Alaska Airlines said it was on course to win Justice Department approval of its takeover of Virgin America, but a class action lawsuit could create some unexpected turbulence.

The suit, filed on behalf of 41 fliers and travel agents, argues that the deal would lessen airline competition, causing fares and fees to gain altitude quickly.

San Francisco U.S. District Judge William Alsup has taken the plaintiffs' motion for an injunction under advisement and said he plans to hold a trial on the merger as soon as the Justice Department makes its decision. Alsup ordered Alaska to give the court at least seven days' notice before it closes the transaction. 

In a statement Friday, both Alaska and Virgin America said they will defend their deal. They said that a combined Alaska-Virgin would control only 6% of U.S. market share, while American, Delta, United, and Southwest control the remaining 84%. 

Divestitures possible

Analysts thought it unlikely Alsup would block the deal entirely. It's more likely he would order some divestitures to make the post-merger atmosphere more competitive.

Such divestitures could include some routes that have become less competitive or gates at choice airports. Some code-sharing deals might also have to be unwound.

San Francisco attorney Joseph Alioto, representing the lead plaintiff, has brought several antitrust cases against airlines. "This is an excellent result so far," he said of the judge's orders, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Two online brokerages, which retail investors use to make stock purchases without paying a traditional full-service broker, are merging.

TD Ameritrade has announced plans to acquire rival Scottrade in a cash and stock transaction valued at $4 billion. Both companies give consumers the ability to purchase financial assets online for commissions of $10 or less per transaction. Of the two firms, Scottrade has the lower fee.

The proposed merger, which must first clear regulatory hurdles, will take place in two steps. TD Ameritrade will buy Scottrade Bank from Scottrade Financial Services, Inc. for $1.3 billion in cash considerations.

Scottrade Bank will be absorbed into TD Bank, N.A., an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary. TD will also purchase $400 million in new common stock from TD Ameritrade in connection with the proposed transaction.

After that, TD Ameritrade will acquire Scottrade Financial Services, Inc. The companies did not say whether Scottrade would continue as a separate service and brand, but it is unlikely that it would. The statement announcing the deal said it would provide $450 million a year in synergies, and Scottrade founder and CEO Rodger Riney will be appointed to the TD Ameritrade board.

Built on mergers

TD Ameritrade is the product of a series of mergers going back more than 30 years. It began as a small bank in Omaha, Neb., and introduced a telephone-based stock ordering system in 1988.

When the internet produced a number of small, discount online brokerages, Ameritrade made several acquisitions between 1995 and 2006. In 2006, it acquired one of its largest rivals, TD Waterhouse, adopting the TD prefix to its brand.

Scottrade was founded in 1980 as a retail stock brokerage that offered no advice, but simply took orders over the phone. It became an online brokerage in 1996.

TD Ameritrade currently charges $9.99 on transactions to buy or sell assets. Scottrade charges $7.

TD Ameritrade said it values Scottrade for its strong customer service reputation. It notes that the company ranked "Highest in Investor Satisfaction with Self-Directed Services" in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Study.

Assuming regulators approve, TD Ameritrade said it expects the deal to close by the end of September 2017.

On Friday, millions of consumers found they couldn't reach Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, and a handful of other major web destinations.

The reason, we are told, is that hackers unleashed a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack against these sites that overwhelmed their common DNS provider, Dyn. We now know how they did it, and it should serve as a warning of more cyber chaos to come.

According to a statement from Dyn, released over the weekend, the sites were simultaneously hit with requests for access by tens of millions of IP addresses. But how could hackers in some remote location do that?

Simple: they infected tens of millions of electronic devices – things like printers, thermostats, and other ordinary devices that now connect to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). Each of these devices has its own IP address, just like a computer.

A simple botnet coordinated the attack

Dyn says its preliminary investigation has shown that many of the devices had been infected with a malware called Mirai, a botnet.

"We observed tens of millions of discrete IP addresses associated with the Mirai botnet that were part of the attack," Dyn said in its statement.

As for the timeline, Dyn said the first attack was launched around 7:00 a.m. ET. Dyn's Network Operations Center (NOC) was able to overcome the attack after about two hours and restore service. The first attack impacted mostly the East Coast.

A second attack occurred around Noon ET and affected the entire country. This time it took about an hour to restore service.

Third attack failed

Dyn says there was a third attack, but because its personnel were ready for it, they were able to mitigate it without a disruption of service.

So what's the big take away from Friday's confusion? As Fortune observes, the devices that allowed the attack to happen are still out there, still connected to the internet, and as far as anyone knows, not repaired or patched. There's nothing to say hackers couldn't do it again if they wanted to.

Fortune quotes security researcher Brian Krebs as saying the companies that make IoT devices are mostly to blame for the vulnerability, charging that printers, cameras, and routers are not protected by adequate security.

Brookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.

The product contains soy, an allergen not declared on the label.

There have been no confirmed reports of injury, illness, or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following fully cooked, pulled pork item, produced between June 12, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 5-lb. plastic bags containing "COOKED PULLED PORK CARNITA STYLE."

The recalled product, bearing establishment number "EST. 1740" inside the USDA mark of inspection and code 15006 on the label, was distributed for institutional use nationwide.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Craig Wood at (919) 663-3612 ext.226. 

Once upon a time – let's say five or 10 years ago – the average internet user could enjoy a wide range of free content on the internet in relative peace.

Suddenly, there are ads everywhere. Not unobtrusive display ads like you find in newspapers and magazines, but pop-ups that entirely obscure the page, and video ads that start playing as soon as you land on a page.

If you are trying to read an interesting article, sometimes it is next to impossible because you have to stop every few seconds to try to close an ad, or stop a video from playing.

Mark Havenner, a vice-president at The Pollack PR Marketing Group in Los Angeles, traces the escalation in annoyance to just two years ago.

"Pop-ups have been around forever and they've always been disruptive," Havenner told ConsumerAffairs. "Online advertising has never really worked. We've seen data that suggests disruptive advertising has a negative effect."

The Facebook factor

But around 2014, he says, Facebook began to score spectacular results with "native" advertising. Native advertising blends in with the content of the site you are on. If you are looking at your Facebook timeline, you get video ads mixed in with everything else. The difference is, the content of the ads matches things you are more or less interested in. It's more effective for the advertiser but less obtrusive for the reader.

Because Facebook has been so successful with that strategy, Havenner says nearly all advertisers are now trying to replicate it, even though it might not be practical for their kind of site.

"When you're on a news site, that's different than being on Facebook," Havenner said. "On Facebook you're looking at content. On a news site, you're just reading articles, you're not actively looking for something like a video ad. But advertisers want to catch your attention, so they just start playing them."

Not all internet advertising is as infuriating as the ads that interfere with how you are trying to use the web.

Hulu and YouTube play commercials within videos. Hula commercials come within the content, much like TV commercials would. YouTube plays commercials at the beginning of videos but most of the time you can skip out after a few seconds.

"That kind of advertising doesn't mess with people," Havenner said.

Ad dollars moving online

Another part of the problem is that a huge transition has taken place in how people consume media. Television viewership is down, with most of those eyes moving to the internet. The advertising dollars have followed and web publications are fighting for them.

If you want to blame someone for the annoying state of the internet, Havenner suggests blaming the online publications that allow jarring and disruptive advertising. Because of it, he believes these publications are losing readers. If so, does that mean there's hope for the future?

"I suppose there is," Havenner said. "If they start losing readership over it. They see the analytics and see that when that ad is displayed people left their site. So I would hope they would make changes."

Havenner's advice to fed up consumers is to simply avoid going to sites with obtrusive ads. Eventually, he says, advertisers will get the message.

Fast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chains that have already taken that step, it won't help. Consumers, they predict, will still make unhealthy food choices.

They've written up their findings in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

McDonalds, Subway, and many other fast food franchises already put calorie information on their menus. While that's laudable, the researchers say only about 8% of customers are digesting the data and using it to order a healthier meal.

Study author Andrew Breck says health policies should focus on what is known about effective messaging and behavior change.

Information by itself is not enough

"The success of fast-food menu labeling depends on multiple conditions being met, not just the availability of calorie information," he said.

The calorie-posting initiative assumes that consumers will make healthy choices if given the right information. But the obesity epidemic should be evidence that we don't always act in our best interests, even when we know better. Most people know that eating too much food, especially too much of the wrong food, will pack on the pounds. Yet we do it anyway.

The research team says part of the problem is the information about calories simply isn't enough. Consumers need additional information.

First, they must be aware of the labeling. Everyone looks at the menu but not everyone recognizes those numbers beside the menu item.

Motivation is required

Second, the researchers say consumers have to want to eat healthy. Unless they are motivated to do it, they won't.

Third, they have to know what the calories mean. To many, being told the triple cheeseburger and fries has 1,176 calories might not mean anything unless they know that's about half their recommended daily calories.

Interestingly, earlier research done at Arizona State University found similar evidence that most consumers didn't benefit from the calorie information. Those who did, it found, were the most affluent and educated consumers -- consumers who knew how many calories they were supposed to consume each day and were motivated to stay within that number.

This latest study suggests that, until all consumers have a better understanding of calories and have the motivation to eat a healthier diet, they'll probably ignore the soon-to-be-mandated calorie information.

Children are much more likely to die in a car crash in Mississippi than in Massachusetts. That's among the findings of a new study that found wide variations in child traffic deaths from one state to another.

The use of child restraints, like safety seats and seat belts, and the prevalance of red-light cameras appear to be among the factors influencing the wide variations, according to an abstract being presented at a pediatrics conference.

Researchers examined 2010-2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data and discovered substantial differences among states, with annual mortality rates ranging from 0.25 deaths per 100,000 children in Massachusetts to 3.20 deaths per 100,000 children in Mississippi.

In general, states with a greater percentage of children who ride unrestrained or inappropriately restrained, and states where a larger proportion of crashes occur on rural roads or during the daytime, had higher motor vehicle crash death rates. States without a red-light camera policy also had a greater percentage of children dying from crashes.

10% improvement

Abstract author Lindsey L. Wolf, MD, a third-year resident and research fellow at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital and her colleagues determined that a 10 percent absolute improvement in child restraint use nationally could prevent more than 1,500 children from dying over five years.

Many previous studies have looked at an individual's risk factor for dying in a motor vehicle crash, Dr. Wolf said, but stepping back to view these risks at the regional level shows how many lives might be saved by developing and enforcing state child safety regulations.

"We are interested in helping states understand how their laws can prevent children from dying if they are involved in a car crash," said senior author Faisal G. Qureshi, MD, FAAP, Associate Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "Once lawmakers understand this at a state level they can make more informed decisions on what laws to focus on." 

The abstract, "Pediatric Deaths from Motor Vehicle Crashes: State?level Variation and Predictors of Mortality," will be presented Oct. 23 an American Academy of Pediatrics conference in San Francisco.

When checking out at a chain department store, the clerk might ask if you would like to open a charge account and get 10% off your purchase. Should you? Probably not.

Long before Visa and Mastercard were household names, most consumers carried a number of store charge cards. It made buying things easier, since you didn't have to write a check or pay cash, just about the only other options in those days.

So why shouldn't you have a store charge card these days? If you can qualify for a rewards or cash-back credit card, that's a much better deal.

Nearly 30% interest

In fact, CreditCards.com reports that store-branded credit cards are pretty expensive for consumers who carry a balance. For example, its latest study shows Big Lots charges 29.99% interest on its store card, Zales charges 29.24%, and Staples charges 28.24%.

The study found the average store card charges 23.84% interest, more than 8% higher than the average credit card. And while retailers usually offer consumers some kind of incentive to sign up for a card, it usually carries a value of around $25, the study found.

"With their outrageously high APRs, most consumers would be wise to steer clear of these cards unless they're 100% certain they can pay their balance off every single month," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "And even then, there are plenty of general-purpose credit cards with better sign-up bonuses."

Might help improve a credit score

True, but there is a useful purpose for a store charge card. For someone with weak credit, opening a store account, making a small purchase and immediately paying it off, can be a way to boost a credit score. Eventually, his or her credit score should be high enough to qualify for a credit card.

One reason store cards charge such high interest is they are easier to get than a regular credit card – for the lender, there's a higher risk. Having a store card or two and not running up a balance helps establish credit. But with such high interest rates, carrying a balance on these cards should be avoided at all costs.

The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.

The Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI) inched up 0.2% in September following a decline of the same magnitude the month before.

The increase "suggests that the economy should continue expanding at a moderate pace through early 2017." said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board.

Housing permits, unemployment insurance claims, and the interest rate spread were the main components lifting the index in September.

Overall, Ozyildirim pointed out, "the strengths among the leading indicators are outweighing modest weaknesses in stock prices and the average workweek."

How it works

The LEI is a composite average of several individual leading indicators. It's constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component -- primarily because it smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

The ten components of the LEI include:

  1. Average weekly hours for manufacturing
  2. Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
  3. Manufacturers' new orders, consumer goods, and materials
  4. Institute for Supply Management Index of New Orders
  5. Manufacturers' new orders and nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
  6. Building permits for new private housing units
  7. Stock prices of 500 common stocks
  8. Leading Credit Index
  9. Interest rate spread and 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
  10. Average consumer expectations for business conditions

Jobless claims

From the Department of Labor (DOL), word that initial jobless claims surged by 13,000 in the week ending October 15 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000.

Even with that increase, the claims level has been below 300,000 for the 85th consecutive week, the longest streak since 1970.

The four-week moving average, which lacks the weekly headcount's volatility and is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, came in at 251,750 -- up 2,250 from the previous week.

The full report is available on the DOL website.

Summer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.

The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base while a user is in the chair, posing a fall hazard.

The firm has received six reports of the lounge chairs breaking. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Summer Classics swivel rocking lounge chairs in the Aire, Belize, Bentley, Charleston, and Skye styles in multiple colors and finishes. The chairs are made for outdoor use and are designed to swivel 360 degrees and rock back and forth.

All the chair styles, except the Bentley style, come with detachable cushions. An "SC" brass logo is affixed to the back of the chairs.

The following chairs are being recalled:

Style

Color/Finish

Dimensions

Aire

Ancient Earth/Black Walnut

27"W 27"D 36.25"H

Belize

Oyster

27.25"W 29.5"D 36"H

Bentley

Oyster

29.5"W 31.83"D 35.5"H

Bentley

Black Walnut

29.5"W 31.83"D 35.5"H

Charleston

Mahogany

31"W 36.5"D 37.75"H

Charleston

Oyster

31"W 36.5"D 37.75"H

Skye

Black Walnut

27.25"W 32.5"D 36.75"H

Skye

Oyster

27.25"W 32.5"D 36.75"H

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Summer Classics stores and other stores nationwide from September 2015, through October 2016, for between $1,100 and $2,400.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lounge chairs and contact Summer Classics for a full refund. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Consumers may contact Summer Classics toll-free at 888-868-4267 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.summerclassics.com for more information.

Ford Motor Company is recalling 1,827 model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals manufactured June 14, 2016, to September 23, 2016 and equipped with high intensity discharge (HID) headlights.

The headlights may have been built with incorrect lenses, adversely affecting the turn signal visibility as well as not being properly marked. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

Reduced turn signal visibility to other drivers and pedestrians can increase the risk of a crash.

What to do

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the headlights, replacing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 7, 2016.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16C15.

Tyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.

The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically hard plastic.

There have been no confirmed reports of injury or illness due to consumption of these products

The following frozen, ready-to-eat, whole grain popcorn chicken items, produced on August 10, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 35 cases of 32.79-lb. "TYSON FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN GOLDEN CRISPY POPCORN CHICKEN, CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS" with a case code of "70368/928" on the upper right hand side of the label, and a lot code of "2236NHL33," which can be found next to the case code.

The recalled products, bearing establishment number "P-1325" inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a wholesale distributor in Illinois and further distributed to schools and food services in Missouri and Illinois.

What to do

Customers have purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Christina Self at (866) 886-8456. 

So far, 2016 has been a tough year for hedge funds, which are huge investment funds that receive money from wealthy individuals and institutions seeking to maximize returns.

Only lately, those returns haven't been all that impressive, causing money to start flowing out of these funds. By mid-year, some large investors were publicly airing their disgust at hedge funds' "fat fees" and paltry returns.

While many consumers may believe this is simply a Wall Street issue and doesn't affect them, they could be dead wrong. If they are drawing a pension that is invested in an under-performing, high-fee hedge fund, they could soon be feeling the effects.

New York agency squabble

In New York, the issue has bubbled up into public debate with the release of a report by the state Department of Financial Services, which takes the state comptroller's office to task for the way it invests state worker pension funds.

"Pension fund managers across the country have cut or eliminated exposure to these overpriced and under-performing investments, while the Office of the New York State Comptroller has stood still and spent pension system funds chasing performance that continues to fall far short," said Maria Vullo, Superintendent of Financial Services. "Just last week, the Comptroller admitted that hedge funds are not delivering the returns to even come close to justifying the sky-high fees that these fund managers have been charging the pension system for years."

Vullo expressed frustration, charging hedge fund managers continue to rake in huge fees, regardless of their performance, which she called a "rip-off" at the expense of pensioners.

Actively traded

Hedge funds justify their fee structure because they employ experienced traders who actively manage the funds, seeking to get the highest return possible. But Vullo says the state report shows that many of these funds have consistently under-performed so-called "passive" investments, including index funds that have no or low fees.

"Given the $3.8 billion hole the Comptroller's hedge fund gamble already has dug for the State pension system, taking away the checkbook may be the only way to safeguard the pensions of state employees, and the pocketbooks of taxpayers on the hook for System deficits," Vullo said.

The New York Comptroller's Office, meanwhile, blasted the report from its fellow state agency, calling it "uninformed and unprofessional." In a statement, the Comptroller's Office said it had been aggressively working to reduce hedge fund investments and limit fees.

Tesla's so-called "Autopilot" feature remains somewhat controversial, after a couple of high-profile accidents this year, and the German government wants Tesla to drop the phrase from its advertising.

But the high-tech car maker is doubling down on self-driving technology, announcing that it will be integrated into all Tesla models, including the Model 3.

"Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range," Tesla said in a statement announcing the move. "Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead."

Tesla also said it is upgrading the onboard computer in Tesla cars with one that processes data 40 times faster than the current one. While Tesla has made clear that its present Autopilot system is merely a driver-assist technology, Akshay Arand, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says the latest move appears to be much closer to true auto pilot.

Big step for the industry

"If Tesla is closing in on Level 4 or even Level 5 autonomy being released to consumers, it's a big step for the industry," Arand said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "The question then becomes how it translates to the consumer."

For example, will each Tesla owner need specific training for handling a car with true autonomous driving capability? Arand says Tesla still has a lot to prove.

"Whether fair or not, Tesla has been under scrutiny with a few accidents concerning Autopilot this year, and the scrutiny will be magnified with this announcement and as the Model 3 edges closer," Arand predicts. "For now, though, the bigger question is still how Tesla 'gets there' in terms of profitability and longer term sustainability."

Meanwhile, Tesla said the Model S and Model X with the new hardware are already in production. However, the new features won't "go live" until later, after what the company said will be millions of miles of real world driving.

Earlier this year, federal safety investigators began a probe of Tesla's Autopilot system after one of the cars in Autopilot mode hit a truck that had pulled in front of it.

In an odd juxtaposition, 80% of Americans say they use social media daily while 96% say they don't trust social networks to protect their privacy. You might wonder why so many people use something they think isn't safe, but that's a question that's seldom asked.

A recent survey conducted for the Craig Newmark Foundation provides a clue, however: we want the government to protect us. 

The survey found that many Americans think privacy laws are too weak, with Millennials being the strongest advocates for tougher privacy protections.

Millennials and Baby Boomers are the groups most distrustful of social media, the survey found.

  • Only 7% of Millennials have a lot of trust that social media sites will protect their privacy and personal information. Their trust of social media sites is down 9% from two years ago.
  • Adults 65+ have the least trust;
  • Of those who use social media the most – at least four social media sites – only 14% have a lot of trust in them;
  • Most of the best-known social media sites are seeing increased usage since 2014, according to responses to survey questions about which sites people use.

A majority of Americans surveyed also expressed concern about the lack of safety online, including fears over identity theft, email hacking, and non-consensual online tracking.

Similar findings

A recent Pew Research survey came to similar conclusions. It found that "68% of internet users believe current laws are not good enough in protecting people's privacy online; and 64% believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers." Americans also favor limits on how long the records of their activity are stored.  

Pew also found that "young adults are more focused than elders when it comes to online privacy," and many have tried to protect their privacy, removed their names from tagged photos, and taken steps to mask their identity. According to Pew, 74% of Americans say it is "very important" to be in control of their personal information

In the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change that, Google is starting a new cost-conscious TV package, a "skinny" bundle of TV networks.

Dubbed "Unplugged," the service is apparently meant to appeal to cable cutters who don't want to lose access to major networks and shows. Reports say it will be priced around $25 to $50 a month, which is several times what Netflix and Amazon cost. They don't offer live network shows yet but are rapidly becoming the prime producers of original content.

Google isn't saying anything about Unplugged, but the Wall Street Journal today reported that CBS is one of the first content providers to sign up, with Disney and 21st Century Fox said to be close behind.

Unplugged will use YouTube's infrastructure but will be a separate service and won't be covered by the existing YouTube Red subscription. 

This might bring back memories of Aereo, an audacious start-up that back in 2013 started trying to sell a streaming video service that consisted of local TV channels, also designed as a cable replacement. But because it didn't bother to license the content it was distributing, it was eventually forced to shut down after a series of court challenges.

With Black Friday just over a month away, more retailers are revealing their plans, not only for the official shopping season kick-off, but for advance promotions as well.

Sam's Club has announced a series of pre-holiday sales events, along with its Scan & Go app that allows members to use their smartphones to bypass the checkout line.

To get a jump on Black Friday, the retailer is planning special sale prices starting at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 12. It says the same sale prices will be offered online five hours earlier, before the brick-and-mortar stores open.

The company says it will offer savings on electronics and other popular gift categories. Additional promotions are scheduled for the following two Saturdays.

Black Friday plans

Sam's Club says it will kick-off Black Friday online at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, but brick-and-mortar stores will be closed. Stores, however, will open Friday, November 25, at 7:00 a.m. Special sale items will be available throughout the weekend, as long as supplies last.

Cyber Week deals start at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, November 27 and continue through Friday, December 2, with new sale items added daily.

Macy's bucks the trend

Macy's, meanwhile, reportedly will open its stores at 5:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, bucking the trend of more retailers giving their employees the holiday off. Though there has been no official announcement, the shopping site BestBlackFriday.com said it has been able to confirm Macy's plans unofficially.

"In 2015 and 2014, they opened at 6:00 p.m., so this is one hour earlier than last year," BestBlackFriday's Phil Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. "Whether other major retailers decide to move up their opening time on Thanksgiving remains to be seen, but Macy's is the first one to make their decision."

Dengler says the growing public backlash may be one reason fewer stores are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, but there is also a more practical reason.

Some rtailers fear the Thanksgiving Day sales detract from Black Friday the following day. Others know they can probably generate significant sales online, since increasingly, that's how consumers prefer to shop.

After declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-time buyers.

According to figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- rose 3.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million.

The advance pushed sales to their highest pace since June and 0.6% above a year ago.

Newbies in the market

A big reason for the September increase was the entry into the market of first-time buyers, who accounted for 34% of purchasers -- a level not seen in over four years

"The home search over the past several months for a lot of prospective buyers, and especially for first-time buyers, took longer than usual because of the competition for the minimal amount of homes for sale," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

"Most families and move-up buyers look to close before the new school year starts. Their diminishing presence from the market towards the end of summer created more opportunities for aspiring first-time homeowners to buy last month."

Prices and supplies

The median prices for all types of existing homes shot up 5.6% in September to $234,200 -- the 55th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

Total housing inventory at the end of last month was up 1.5% to 2.04 million existing homes available for sale. Still that inventory level is down 6.8% from a year ago and has now fallen year-over-year for 16 straight months.

Unsold inventory is at a 4.5-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.6 months in August.

Distressed sales -- foreclosures and short sales -- dropped to a new low of 4% in September, with 3% foreclosures and 1% short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15% below market value, while short sales were discounted 11%.

Sales by region

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 5.7% in September to an annual rate of 740,000 -- the same as a year ago. The median price was $261,600, a year-over-year gain of 2.1%.
  • In the Midwest, sales grew by 3.9% to an annual rate of 1.32 million in September, and are now 2.3% above a year ago. The median price was $184,500, up 5.9% percent from September 2015.
  • Sales in the South in September inched up 0.9% to an annual rate of 2.16 million, but are still 0.9% below the same month last year. The median price in the South was $204,000 -- a gain of 6.6% from last year.
  • The West enjoyed a sales gain of 5.0% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, which is 1.6% above a year ago. The median price surged 8.1% to $345,400.

Getting off the ground in August was something of challenge if you were traveling by commercial airline.

According to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, there were 15 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and five delays of more than four hours on international flights.

DOT is investigating the delays.

The carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 77.6% during the month, an improvement from the rate of 75.2% a month earlier, but worse than the year-ago rate of 80.3%.

Airlines report that they canceled 1.4% of their scheduled domestic flights in August, compared with 1.0% the year before and 1.9% in July.

Other areas covered by the report include chronically delayed flights and the causes of delays, and other flight problems including baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability and discrimination.

The complete report is available on the DOT website.

The nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report.

In another way of looking at it, the number of completed foreclosures nationwide posted a year-over-year decline of 27,000 -- to 37,000 in August 2016 -- representing a drop of 69% from the peak of 118,221 in September 2010.

Foreclosure inventory

The foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.4 million completed foreclosures nationally. Since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

As of last August, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 351,000, or 0.9%, of all homes with a mortgage. A year earlier, it was 499,000 homes, or 1.3%.

The August 2016 foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest it's been since July 2007.

"With the foreclosure inventory now under 1% nationally, the need to boost single-family housing stocks through new construction will become more acute in the coming months and years," said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.

Mortgage delinquencies

In addition, CoreLogic reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency was down 20.6% from August 2015, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 2.8%, being the lowest level since September 2007.

The decline was broad-based with decreases in serious delinquency in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Report highlights

  • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 7.7% to 37,000 in August from the 34,000 reported for the previous month. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
  • On a month-over-month basis, the August foreclosure inventory was down 3.2% from July.
  • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August were Florida (55,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), California (22,000), and Georgia (21,000).These five states account for about 35% of completed foreclosures nationally.
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August 2016: the District of Columbia (212), North Dakota (341), West Virginia (469), Alaska (624), and Montana (717).
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016: New Jersey (3.2%), New York (2.9%), Maine (1.8%), Hawaii (1.8%), and the District of Columbia (1.8%).
  • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016 were Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan -- all at 0.3%.

Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

The operator presence control bar can malfunction and cause the engine and blades to continue to operate when they should shut off, posing a laceration hazard to the operator.

The firm has received 53 reports of the engine not shutting off after the operator presence control bar was released. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Husqvarna, Poulan Pro, Jonsered, Craftsman, Yardworks, Murray, and Brute brand walk-behind gas powered lawn mowers with Briggs & Stratton 7.25 HP engines.

The mowers were sold in red, orange, blue and yellow/black colors and have either four similar-sized wheels or two larger rear wheels and two smaller front wheels, a long handle with an operator presence control bar that is pushed down towards the mower handle to start the engine, a mowing deck, and may have come with or without a collecting bag in the rear.

The brand names are printed on the mowers, and a Briggs & Stratton logo is printed on the engine shield. The mower model and serial number can be found on the rear of the mowing deck, next to the rear wheel.

The following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

Brand

Model Name

Serial Number Range

Brute

961480058

110115M00001 - 082516M50000

Craftsman

10176

10178

37275

37489

Husqvarna

LB155S

LC121P

HU725AWDEX

HU725AWDH

HU725AWDHQ

Jonsered

LM 2153CMDA

LM 2155MD

LM 2153CMDA

Murray

21P68H30

Poulan Pro

961320100

961420133

PR675Y22RHPE

PR725Y22RHP

961490006

Yardworks

961380047

961480057

The mowers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Lowe's, Sears and other hardware stores, home centers and equipment dealers nationwide from November 2015, through August 2016, for between $250 and $450.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lawn mowers and contact Husqvarna or go to http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ to determine if their unit needs a free repair.

Consumers may contact Husqvarna toll-free at 877-257-6921 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recalls@husqvarna.com or online at http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ for more information.

National Meat and Provisions of Reserve, La., is recalling approximately 2,349 pounds of beef and veal products.

The products may may be contaminated with E. coli O26.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following raw non-intact beef and veal items, produced and packaged on Sept. 14-15, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 51.40-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND COMPANY BURGER BLEND," packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of "00028584" and case codes of 53085/CB136 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 50.00-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND COURSE STEAK TRIM," packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of "00028582" and case codes of 53080/02300H in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.00-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND FRESH," packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of "00028583" and case codes of 53110/02300P in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 50.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND CHIMES FINE," packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of "00028581" and case codes of 56660/02300C in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 51.46-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND COMPANY BURGER BLEND," packed on 9/15/2016 with a lot number of "00028597" and case codes of 53085/CB136 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF FAT OF RIB CAP," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028595," and case codes of 50010/1138 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.83-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND CHUCK DAT DOG," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028593," and case codes of 56135/02150 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.23-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND CHUCK BRISKET BURGER," packed on 9/15/2016 with a lot number of "00028596," and case codes of 53060/208116120 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 5.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF STEAK CUBED 5#," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028594," and case codes of 50565/04902 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND CHUCK 10#," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028592," and case codes of 53015/02100 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.11-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF STEAK CUBED," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028591," and case codes of 50555/1100GJ in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.32-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "BEEF GROUND CHUCK BRISKET 8 oz.," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028585," and case codes of 53050/05M8 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 9.98-lb. VACUUM-PACKED "VEAL SIRLOIN CUBED POLY BAGED," packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of "00028590," and case codes of 56070/0776 in the upper left-hand corner of the label

The recalled products bearing establishment number "EST. M-22022" inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a distributor, as well as hotels, restaurants and institutions in Louisiana.

What to do

Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Amy Philpott at (703) 472-6615.

Nissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.

A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment, potentially affecting the performance of the airbag. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation", and number 214, "Side Impact Protection."

If the side curtain airbags do not deploy as intended there would be an increased risk of injury.

What to do

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left and right side curtain airbags, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 62,811 model year 2015-2016 Sonata Hybrids manufactured December 8, 2014, to August 18, 2015, and Sonatas manufactured May 28, 2014, to March 18, 2016, equipped with the panoramic sunroof option.

Due to a bonding issue with the sunroof wind deflector, the sunroof panel may detach while the vehicle is being driven, become a road hazard and increase the risk of a crash.

What to do

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will repair the wind deflector anchor plate, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 2, 2016.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 152.

T-Mobile's "unlimited" claims will cost the company $48 million. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says T-Mobile didn't adequately disclose the speed and data restrictions for its "unlimited" data policy.

T-Mobile said the disclosures dated back to 2015 and have since been updated to comply with FCC rules.

An FCC investigation found that T-Mobile policy allows it to slow down data speeds when T-Mobile or MetroPCS customers on so-called "unlimited" plans exceed a monthly data threshold while the company's advertisements may have led unlimited data plan customers to expect that they were buying better and faster service than what they actually received.

"Consumers should not have to guess whether so-called 'unlimited' data plans contain key restrictions, like speed constraints, data caps, and other material limitations," said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. "When broadband providers are accurate, honest and upfront in their ads and disclosures, consumers aren't surprised and they get what they've paid for."

The Commission's 2010 Open Internet transparency rules require broadband internet providers to give accurate and sufficient information to consumers about their internet services so consumers can make informed choices, LeBlanc said.

A T-Mobile spokesperson said that currently, less than 3% of unlimited customers fall into the category of heaviest users who might approach the 26GBs per month or more, and it resets at the beginning of each billing cycle.

"We never cap a customer's data," said Bethany Frey, a T-Mobile communications manager. "All this means is that occasionally, in areas of network congestion and during peak times, the top 3% of customers who use the most data on the network may notice slower data speeds."

Frey said T-Mobile was giving all customers with Unlimited LTE data plans a promo code for 20% off any single accessory in stores. And if they have a mobile internet line, they'll get an extra 4GB of mobile internet data. Customers should visit t-mobile.com/customerbenefit for more information.

Consumer benefits

Today's settlement includes $48 million in total financial commitments from T-Mobile. This includes a $7.5 million fine in addition to $35.5 million in consumer benefits offered to T-Mobile and Metro PCS customers with "unlimited" plans and at least $5 million in services and equipment to American schools to bridge the homework gap facing today's students. 

Eligible subscribers will be offered discounts on accessories and additional data.

The FCC opened its investigation after it received complaints from T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers who felt misled when they discovered their "unlimited" data plan included "de-prioritized" data speeds after using a fixed amount of data each month.

Under its "Top 3 Percent Policy," T-Mobile "de-prioritizes" its "heavy" data users during times of network contention or congestion. This potentially deprived these users of the advertised speeds of their data plan.

Consumers complained that this rendered data services "unusable" for many hours each day and substantially limited their access to data. The bureau believes that the company failed to adequately inform its "unlimited" data plan customers that their data would be slowed at times if they used more than 17 GB in a given month.

Under the settlement, T-Mobile will update its disclosures to clearly explain the "Top 3 Percent Policy," who may be affected by it, what triggers its application, and the impacts on data speeds.

The financial losses from Samsung's Note7 disaster number in the billions, and the company stands to lose millions of customers to competitors like Apple. However, the company could face additional financial backlash from consumers looking to take it to court.

That's what three New Jersey consumers have decided to do. The three plaintiffs have filed a class action suit against Samsung in federal court over carrier fees they and other consumers had to pay for phones that weren't safe to use.

They claim that users should be compensated for the money they paid for devices and plan charges to cellular operators while the South Korean phone maker took its time replacing and finally discontinuing the Note7's.

Unfair fees

The complaint alleges that many Note7 users were out of luck when initial reports surfaced that the phones were a fire hazard. Unable to use a device that could overheat and burst into flames, consumers who tried to exchange their phones during the initial recall period were often unable to because of limited stock.

As a result, some users were told that they would have to wait weeks until a replacement phone was available. "It was not until September 21 that Samsung announced that it would begin the Note7 exchanges nationwide. And even on that date, only an estimated 500,000 replacement devices had arrived in the United States," the complaint reads.

With so many defective phones left unreplaced – around 40% in South Korea and the U.S. as of September 27 – consumers were stuck with phones that they couldn't safely use. However, the complaint alleges that users incurred monthly device and plan fees during that same period from their phone carriers.

At this time, the amount of compensation has not been specified, although the complaint states that consumers incurred millions of dollars in fees during the stated time period. The class-action certification of the suit is still awaiting a judge's approval.

The case is re: Waudby vs Samsung Electronics America, U.S. district court, district of New Jersey, Newark, No . 16-cv-07334-CCC-JBC. 

A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they've been nickeled and dimed by excessive fees.

Announced on Wednesday, the new consumer protection rules will guarantee refunds on baggage fees if an airline delays returning luggage after a flight.

Additionally, airliners will be charged with more accurately reporting on-time arrival rates, the number of bungled wheelchair requests, and the rate of lost or mishandled baggage. The new regulations are meant to fulfill the administration's promise of imposing tougher consumer protections on the airline industry.

"The travel community is grateful that the administration continue to shine a light on many of the more frustrating issues that ail the air travel experience in the U.S." said Roger Dow, chief executive of travel industry trade group U.S. Travel Assn.

Airline industry pushes back

The changes are meant to provide travelers with a better sense of how well an airliner operates when it comes to factors like handling baggage and being on time, but the industry says that too many regulations may hurt performance.

"Efforts designed to re-regulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy," stated Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America.

Industry officials point out that airlines are already required by the Department of Transportation to reimburse customers if their bag is lost. Under the new regulations, they would also have to pay customers if luggage is "substantially delayed," but what the threshold for this term is hasn't been defined, they say.

Airlines aren't the only ones subject to the new rules, though. The regulations also provide provisions for online travel agents, who must disclose to fliers if they have a bias based on financial arrangements for offering flights tied to a certain airline.

The new reporting provisions of the regulations are meant to take effect on January 1, 2018, with the rest of the rules slated to be enacted 30 days after changes are published in the Federal Register.

Each year more consumers do more of their shopping online. A recent study by UPS found more than half of all shopping now takes place on the web, increasingly from a mobile device. The company's "Pulse of the Online Shopper" study found 51% of purchases made by its respondents were made online.

"This year's UPS study revealed that 45% of online shoppers love the thrill of hunting for and finding great deals, and that physical stores continue to play an important role in that experience, Teresa Finley, Chief Marketing Officer at UPS, said at the time.

You tend to notice this trend most around the holidays. Last year, industry sources reported online retailers enjoyed a 16% jump in holiday sales over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, while in-store sales dropped as much as 10%.

Saving money or saving time?

But it isn't clear whether consumers are buying online to save money or as a matter of convenience. While online retailers make it much easier to comparison shop to find the lowest price, many brick and mortar retailers are quick to match an online price. And unless consumers are taking advantage of a free shipping promotion, getting the purchase sent to them can eat into any savings.

The simple answer is that buying some things online may save you money, but others might not. If you are making the purchase through a deals site, or using a coupon, your purchase might be well below what you would pay in a brick-and-mortar store.

But when the online purchase is more about convenience, don't expect to save as much money. Online grocery shopping is well on its way to becoming 12% of all grocery purchases, according to one study.

Timothy Richards of Arizona State University, who has co-authored a study on the growth of online grocery shopping, says there is less wiggle room for food retailers, which are already dealing with very small margins.

"People are really concerned about the price of groceries," Richards said. "But if they think buying everything online is going to mean lower food prices, they have another thing coming."

A New Jersey attorney who taught seminars on elder law and hosted a radio show dispensing advice has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $1.2 million from elderly clients.

The victims in some cases did not have close relatives to guard their interests or suffered from dementia, according to New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

Detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice arrested Robert Novy, 65, of Brick, N.J., on charges of first-degree money laundering, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, and second-degree misapplication of entrusted property.

The Attorney General's Office obtained a court order freezing over $3.5 million in assets held in various bank accounts of Novy and his law firm and asked a judge to appoint a trustee to oversee the business operations of the law firm.

$1.2 million

From 2010 through 2015, Novy allegedly stole more than $1.2 million from four clients. He allegedly laundered most of the funds through his attorney trust accounts and/or attorney business accounts. Other transactions are still being studied, investigators said.

Novy has conducted seminars on elder law and hosted a bi-monthly radio program "Inside the Law," which focused on topics of concern to senior citizens.

"While Novy held himself out as a leading legal advocate for the elderly, we allege that he corruptly used his reputation and his law license to prey on vulnerable seniors, taking control of their finances and stealing more than $1 million from their life savings." said Porrino. "In his greed, Novy not only betrayed his oath as a lawyer to uphold the law, he betrayed all standards of decency."

"When senior citizens hire a lawyer to put their financial affairs in order, they should be able to trust that they will be treated honestly and with respect. Instead, Novy is charged with deviously draining his clients' estates," said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. "We urge anyone with information about such thefts by Novy to contact our office."

Allegations listed

It is alleged that Novy engaged in the following thefts from clients:

  • $78,000 from an 88-year-old woman who suffered from dementia, billing the woman and her estate a total of $78,000 that was not supported by any invoice or records showing justification.
  • $176,000 from an 85-year-old woman who suffered from Alzheimer's. Among other things, he allegedly withdrew funds directly from her personal account totaling nearly $60,000, converting them into cashier's checks and depositing the checks directly into his personal account, prosecutors said.
  • $459,000 from an 87-year-old woman. Among other things, he deposited proceeds totaling roughly $387,000 from two annuities into his attorney trust account, and subsequently transferred those funds into his law firm's business accounts, Porrino said.
  • $550,000 from another elderly woman. He allegedly transferred nearly $300,000 that he held for her in his attorney trust account into the firm's business accounts without any invoices or evidence that legal services were provided.

There are still plenty of people looking for work, but companies are becoming increasingly particular about who they hire. In the digital age, they are looking for employees with certain skill sets and often complain that they can't find them.

According to the ManpowerGroup annual survey, the problem is only getting worse. The survey found 46% of employers reported trouble filling certain jobs because they couldn't find skilled candidates. That's a big jump from the 32% who reported that problem last year.

The survey also found this growing problem has changed the dynamics of the job market, and while it might not help job seekers in the short run, it could definitely benefit people who are currently employed, but haven't been able to persuade their boss they need a raise.

'Upskilling'

Here's what's happening: employers frustrated at the lack of qualified candidates have begun looking around their own organizations, finding competent and proven employees performing lower skilled jobs, and have begun training them for the hard-to-fill jobs. It's called "upskilling."

"We see this particularly in industries like manufacturing, construction, transportation and education," said Kip Wright, senior vice president of Manpower North America. "When the talent isn't available, organizations need to turn to training and developing their own people – and in many cases this means first identifying the skills that will be required in increasingly digital industries, like manufacturing."

The benefit for companies is the employees are known quantities. If they have proved reliable in their current capacities, there's a reasonable expectation they would be reliable in a new capacity, assuming they received adequate training and had the aptitude.

Path for advancement

For employees, it's a path toward advancement in a career, which would likely lead to increased pay. Employees who believe they have a chance at upward mobility are likely to have better morale.

The survey measured businesses in 42 countries and territories and found that it's hardest to find skilled trades workers. After that, IT positions have been the hardest to fill.

For job seekers, obtaining these skills could improve the chances of landing a job. On the other hand, getting any kind of position at a company willing to "upskill" its employees could be a ticket to a new career without having to pay for training.

Every four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where "friends" get into heated arguments over politics.

Millions of people, it seems, believe the rest of the world needs to know their political opinions, and they often express them as though they were auditioning to host a talk show.

Facebook apparently believes there isn't enough political give-and-take on its pages, so it has introduced a new feature that encourages users to endorse a political candidate.

It works like this: a user goes to the Facebook page of their favored candidate. There, he or she selects the "Endorsement" tab, and then selects "Endorse." A user can also post a comment to go along with the endorsement.

Limiting visibility

Facebook has built into the endorsement feature a way to limit who can see your endorsement, but that assumes you know the political leanings of all your Facebook friends. Most likely it's designed to keep peace between friends and family members who are known to hold strong opposite political views.

But one has to wonder whether such an endorsement feature is necessary, since people posting on Facebook are rarely shy about sharing their views. And in years past it has damaged friendships, and even family relationships.

As recently as August, Politico reported that the presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was wrecking friendships. Democratic consultant Brent Blackaby told the site that when Trump suggested "Second Amendment people" might stop Clinton, he broke ties with his Trump-backing uncle. Before it was over, he said the arguments and name-calling spilled over to his extended family.

You're waiting your times

An anonymous poster on Slashdot appealed to Facebook users to do everyone a favor and keep their opinions to themselves, claiming spouting off for one candidate or against another is pointless.

"Those long rants about how Trump is a bully and a buffoon, Hillary is a crook, and conspiring against Bernie Sanders has doomed America forever aren't changing voters' minds," the poster wrote. "A staggering 94% of Republicans, 92% of Democrats, and 85% of independents on Facebook say they have never been swayed by a political post, according to Rantic, a firm that sells social media followers."

So why do we do it? Would we say the things we post on Facebook to someone's face? Probably not. The safe distance afforded by the internet likely makes us bolder, which is not always a good thing.

So one as to wonder what Facebook was thinking by introducing its new political endorsement feature. In the meantime, people sick of looking at their politics-riddled Facebook pages might want to check out this Facebook group, a refuge for people who want to escape politics.

Since the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of renters.

After all, lenders wanted sterling credit scores and ample down payments before agreeing to a mortgage. Many young people did well just to find a job.

But today, it's Millennials who are driving the housing market. A report by real estate marketplace Zillow shows first-time home buyers, overwhelmingly Millennials, are both buying and selling homes.

Millennial buyers want what the generations before them wanted: a home that's a good investment and a reflection of their personal tastes. But more than previous generations, Millennials' first instinct in searching for a home is to turn to the internet.

Using the internet

"These young adults came of age during a recession, but they are buying their first homes in a high-priced and fast-paced market," said Zillow chief economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "They're using every available resource, including online research and real estate professionals, and taking on the challenge with gusto."

But Millennials' entry into the housing market has been more difficult than previous generations. The Zillow report finds this group remained renters longer than previous generations and 52% of buyers said they considered remaining renters a while longer, in part because of the difficulty in raising a down payment, and then finding a house they liked. Fewer than half said they were able to buy the first house on which they made an offer.

When they do make an offer on a house, 83% of Millennials say they want to purchase a single-family home. Nearly half end up purchasing a home in the suburbs.

A different slant

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has released research of its own, an annual profile of both buyers and sellers. While the Zillow report is the first to be conducted, the NAR research has been done every year since 1981.

Its big takeaway is that, despite the changes in the housing market over time, what consumers are looking for has remained essentially the same.

It differs from the Zillow conclusions in one major area; realtors say the participation of first-time buyers remains "subdued." NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says the evidence suggests first-time buyers are struggling against rapidly-rising prices and a dwindling supply of available homes.

"A strong majority of current renters under the age of 34 say they want to own a home in the future, but their impending rise will be a gradual one and is not likely to increase substantially in the 2016 survey," Yun said.

The Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adjustment for the Columbus Day holiday.

The Refinance Index, on the other hand, dipped 1% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity dropping to 61.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.1% of total applications, the FHA share rose to 11.3% from 10.9% the previous week, the VA share was up to 12.8% from 12.0%, and the USDA share of total applications held steady at 0.7%.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose five basis points to its highest level since last June -- 3.73% from 3.68% -- with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 % loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) jumped from 3.67% to 2.72%, the highest level since June, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was unchanged at 3.54%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs came in at 3.03%, a gain of six basis points to its highest level since June, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose to 2.87%, its highest level since last May, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

Kuster's, Inc. of Camden, Mich., is recalling 14,238 pounds of its shredded, sliced and cubed cheese.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The shredded cheese was sold in 5-lb. plastic bags and packaged under the following labels:

  • Kuster's Dairy Foods Three Blend (pack date 10/05/16)
  • Fata's Best Four Blend Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
  • Fata's Best Mozzarella Muenster Provolone Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
  • Fata's Best Monterey Jack Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
  • Fata's Best PepperJack Feather Shred (Lot date 27816)
  • Nor-Tech Dairy Mozz/Muenster/Prov Feather Shred (best used by: 12-05-2016)
  • Nor-Tech Dairy Sharp White Cheddar Feather Shred (packed on 10.04.2016)

The shredded cheese was distributed in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The cubed cheese was packaged under the following label:

  • Nor-Tech Dairy PepperJack 3/4" Cubed (packed on 10/04/2016).

The sliced cheese was packaged under the following label:

  • Kuster's Dairy Foods Sliced Colby Jack

What to do

Customers who purchased any of the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to Kuster's for a full refund.

Cosumers with questions may contact the company at 517-368-5174 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (EST).

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.

In certain crash conditions, the front impact sensor wiring may be pulled until it detaches before a signal can be received by the Occupant Restraint Controller (ORC).

If the ORC module does not receive a signal from the front impact sensor, both front airbags and the seat belt pretensioners will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

What to do

The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S76.

Nutrisystem Everyday, the retail division of Nutrisystem, Inc., is recalling Nutricrush Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bars.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported.

The bar was sold as a 5-count carton, and can be identified by the UPC 6 32674 85579 4, Enjoy by Aug 22 2017 and Lot Code NF082216A.

All code information is found on the back panel of the carton.

The recalled product was distributed to ShopRite and Hannaford stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and online through Amazon.com and Walmart.com.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should not eat it, but discard it or return it to the place of was purchase for a full refund.

Consumers seeking information may contact the company toll-free 1-866-293-8118, Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. (EDT), and 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (EDT).

LF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.

Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard to the user.

The firm has received 15 reports of loosened hardware resulting in four reports of fall injuries.

This recall involves LF Products Sawyer swivel barstools sold in black, white, distressed blue, and dark brown. The recalled barstools have a tan cushion and were sold in two heights, 24 inches and 30 inches. "LF Products" is printed on a label affixed to the barstool.

The barstools, manufactured in Malaysia and Thailand, were sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond stores nationwide and online at bedbathandbeyond.com from May 2012, through March 2016, for between $90 and $110.

What to do

Consumers should immediately check to ensure that the hardware on their barstools is secure. Consumers with barstools that have loosened screws should download and review the revised assembly instructions at www.bedbathandbeyond.com/sawyerstoolinstructions, and reassemble the barstools.

Consumers may contact Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 anytime or online at www.bedbathandbeyond.com and click on "Product Recall Information" for more information.  

As airline passengers go, Virgin America regulars are a pretty cheerful bunch. They're sort of like Apple users, convinced they're flying along in the best of all possible worlds -- leather seats, free entertainment, cool snacks. 

But, to mix metaphors, the leather coach seats are about to turn into pumpkins, as the clock ticks down to the U.S. Justice Department's expected approval of the merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin, expected any day now.

Alaska had previously said it did not expect the deal to close before yesterday, Oct. 17, and sure enough, it didn't. But Alaska Air Group spokeswoman Bobbie Egan says the company is making "good progress" on the deal.

"We're good. We're making good progress with the DOJ (U.S. Justice Department) and we're looking at closing in early Q4," said Egan in a Reuters report.

The $2.6 billion deal, announced last April, will make Alaska the top carrier on the West Coast and the fifth largest in the U.S. Virgin's route structure is mostly east-west. 

Mood lights

Virgin has won a loyal following with its relaxed atmosphere and distinctive decor, and Alaska executives have said it is possible they will continue to operate Virgin America as a standalone brand, rather than merging it into Alaska.

If it doesn't do so, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson vows he will start another Virgin America, noting he never wanted the sale to happen in the first place. 

"If the sale goes through with Alaska and they don't keep the brand, we'll be starting again. Yeah," Branson said in an interview with WFAA-TV in Dallas.

Although he founded the airline and guided its growth, Branson was not permitted to own a controlling interest because he is a British citizen, so he was unable to stop the sale to Alaska Air.

In the wake of the financial crisis, consumers found themselves in dire straits when it came to meeting expenses. Many were forced to cut back on certain luxuries and activities they enjoyed to make up for stagnant incomes and to pay for necessities.

That trend of limiting spending has continued into recent years, but a new report suggests that it may be for different reasons. Instead of doing so out of necessity, a new survey from Bankrate.com suggests that the majority of consumers are tightening up their monthly budgets to save money for the future.

"With pay raises now spreading out among the broad population, Americans are finally limiting spending for a good purpose – to save money. This is the first time in 4 years that the top reason wasn't stagnant income," said Bankrate.com Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride.

Limiting spending by generation

Although saving money is now the top reason for limiting spending – as indicated by 30% of respondents -- the survey found that there were still other strong economic reasons. Consumers said they were also being more careful with their monthly budgets because of stagnant income (25%), worries about the economy (15%), and because they had too much debt (10%). Only 3% of respondents indicated that worries about job security limited their spending.

Millennials led the way among those who said they needed to save more, at 48%, and Generation Xers were the next most likely group to say the same (31%). Americans over the age of 62 were most likely to say stagnant wages led to a tightened budget, most likely because many retirees in this age range live on a fixed income.

Older Millennials ranging in age from 26-35 were more likely to cite debt as a reason for tightening their budget than any other group, while the Silent Generation – those aged 71 and up – were most likely to say they saved because of worries about the economy.

Political affiliation effects outlook

The survey also revealed a bit of political bias when it came to gauging personal financial security. According to the Financial Security Index -- wherein a rating over 100 indicates increased financial security over the past year and a rating below that mark indicates deterioration of financial security – Democrats' felt more financially secure, with their score rising from 103.6 to 106.0.

Figures for Republicans declined from 99.4 to 98.0, and Independents seemed to split the difference between these groups, rising from 97.0 to 99.2.

The survey was taken by a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults from the continental U.S from October 6-9, and the margin of error was calculated at3.7 percentage points. 

Halloween is now the biggest shopping holiday after Christmas, and that's contributing to a rash of pop-up stores selling costumes, treats, and tricks. But consumer protection officials note that pop-up stores can vanish like ghosts when Halloween is over, leaving customers with no way to return merchandise or redeem store credits.

"We want consumers to be aware that these 'pop-up' stores come and go in a flash, so shoppers need to be extra careful when making purchases," said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. "Know what questions to ask to avoid getting shortchanged."

Too often, pop-up stores pack up and clear out of their rented space long before the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten, said Steve Lee, director of the New Jersey Divison of Consumer Affairs.

"When it comes to pop-up stores, it's more important than ever for consumers to inspect merchandise thoroughly and know their rights ahead of time," Lee said. "When a consumer returns to a store to complain about a defective item and finds the merchant has packed up and left without a trace, there is not much hope of getting a refund."

What to do

Lee offers these tips to avoid a frightening shopping experience:

Ask store personnel how long they plan to occupy the building. If they can't give you a clear answer, consider that a major red flag that the store may not be on the up and up.

Ask how you would be able to contact the store once it leaves, perhaps by website or an alternate address.

Ask for specific details on returns. What types of merchandise will the store take back? Are unworn costumes returnable after October 31st? Will you get a full refund or store credit? How is store credit redeemable after the shop has closed for the season?

Fully inspect and try on costumes before leaving the store. Halloween stores are busy places and mix ups occur. Don't assume that the merchandise inside the box matches what's on the label.

Save all your receipts and pay by credit card so you can dispute unsatisfactory purchases through the card's issuer.

Your home and the people who live there are worth protecting, but it's likely that you can't be there every moment to protect your palace.

Fortunately, there are several low-cost "starter" security systems that can help you keep an eye on your home when you're not there. You can find research on more robust systems in the ConsumerAffairs Best Wireless Security System research report. 

These motion-sensing home security systems can provide the peace of mind that your home or business is safe and protected from intruders. 

Barking dog alarm

Don't have a dog? Or is your pooch more of a friendly couch potato than a dutiful guard dog? With the Barking Dog Alarm ($70), you don't have to own a large German Shepherd in order for it to sound like you do.

The device's radar technology enables it to detect motion through doors, walls, or windows. Potential intruders may be discouraged from breaking into your home upon hearing the sound of a loud, large breed dog inside. If the intruder persists, the realistic sound of the barking dog will become more frequent and threatening.

Ring Video Doorbell

Ring's Video Doorbell security system gives homeowners the ability to see and speak to whoever is at their door. Whether you're at the office or just upstairs, you'll be able to see whether the person on the other side of your door is a solicitor, a neighbor, or perhaps an unwanted visitor.

The system connects to your home's Wi-Fi and sends you a smartphone notification when someone is at your door. Using Ring's companion app, homeowners can program the system to send a notification either when the doorbell rings or when motion is detected.

The standard Ring Video Doorbell is $199. The Pro version, which comes with a few advanced features, will set you back $249.

Piper

Like Ring, Piper lets you keep tabs on your home from wherever you are. The Wi-Fi connected system will send you an alert when everyone has left your home, which may serve as your cue to arm the system.

Mom or dad can see when the kids have arrived home safely, pet owners can check on their pets throughout the day, and business owners can see when their employees come and go.

Key features of the system include an intruder-deterring siren, a camera with 180-degree views, motion and sound detection, and two-way audio. Piper classic is available for $99. The Piper nv Security Bundle, which comes with three door/window sensors, is $349.

Samsung's Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers' confidence. While the South Korean company will be scrambling for some time to mitigate the damage, competitors like Apple are likely to enjoy a bit of a boom.

But how much should the tech company expect to gain from the situation? According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, quite a lot. The expert says that Apple will likely gain 5-7 million customers because of Samsung's phone disaster. Kuo says that many disenchanted Note7 owners will make the leap to the iPhone 7 Plus because of the device's dual camera, which will be a big drawing point.

The analyst arrived at the prediction after examining sales of the Note7. Before reports surfaced about their tendency to catch on fire, Samsung's device was a hot commodity; around 12 million of the devices were originally sold.

Half may defect

Kuo says around 50% of those customers are likely to choose an Apple device as a replacement, while the other 50% of customers will consider devices sold by Android manufacturers Huawei and Google, which recently released its new Pixel smartphone.

While Kuo's prediction is only an educated guess, real numbers on Apple's performance confirm that the company has been thriving as of late. The company's stock has risen in recent weeks due to the Note7 issues, and fourth quarter projections look pretty favorable. Investors will be able to learn more when Apple releases its earnings report on October 25.

Meanwhile, Kuo predicts that the Note7 failure will only impact Samsung for a couple more months. However, if more of its devices continue to have technical problems, then its image may take a long-term hit. Customer complaints have flooded in over many the company's other products recently, so it will likely be something the manufacturer will need to be careful of going forward.

The health of the economy often depends on the financial health of the consumer. The consumer's pulse can usually be measured in how he or she is managing debt.

So far in the first nine months of this year, consumers appear to be doing a slightly better job. The S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices show a slight drop in default rates between August and September and remain lower for the year.

Mortgage defaults were nearly a point lower in September. Not a big surprise, since lenders have significantly tightened mortgage underwriting standards. The foreclosure rate has been consistently lower.

More auto loan defaults

The one area of concern, however, is auto loans. In September, the default rate was up four basis points from August – but still well within historical norms.

Perhaps most impressive was the bank card default rate, which dropped to 2.76% in September, a seven-month low.

David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, says the trend is running in a positive direction.

Positive trend

"Despite the continued growth in total consumer credit extended and the currently very low interest rates, we are not seeing any deterioration in consumer credit defaults," he said. "Rather, the default rates for major categories and for the five cities highlighted in this report continue to drift down to the lowest figures seen in 12 years."

In fact, four of the five major cities in the survey saw their default rates go down in the month of September. The decline was most pronounced in Miami, reporting in at 1.12%, down nine basis points from August. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles also has lower default rates. Dallas stood out as the lone exception, but its default rate didn't rise, it just remained the same as August.

Eight years removed from the financial crisis, the difference appears like night and day. In October 2008, millions of homeowners were in foreclosure and millions more were headed in that direction, amid widespread layoffs that sent the unemployment rate over 10%. Consumers were also maxing out credit cards and unable to keep up with the payments.

Today, Blitzer says a steadily improving economy, though still weak, has helped. He also notes that mortgage debt has declined since 2008, with fewer people buying homes. He says consumers have also taken on less debt overall in the last eight years.

It's not much, but monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments will be going up next year.

The Social Security Administration reports more than 65 million recipients will see a 0.3% increase in their benefits in 2017.

The more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries will see the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) starting in January, while increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin later this year -- on December 30.

The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as determined by the Department of Labor (DOL).

Some give, some take

Other adjustments aren't nearly as pleasant.

Based on the increase in average wages, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will jump to $127,200 from $118,500. That means roughly 12 million workers will pay more because of the increase in the taxable maximum.

Information about Medicare changes for 2017 have yet to be announced, but some beneficiaries may see their benefit increase or be partially or completely wiped out by increases in Medicare premiums.

Consumer prices on the rise

Meanwhile, DOL reports the CPI rose 0.3% last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, due in large part to increases in the costs of gasoline and shelter.

Gasoline prices soared 5.8%, while housing costs were up 0.4% -- the largest increase since May.

Food prices, meanwhile, were unchanged for the third consecutive month, with the food at home (grocery store prices) continuing to decline.

Core inflation

The price of items less food and energy -- the "core" rate of inflation -- was up 0.1% after rising 0.3% in August. For the 12 months ending in August, core inflation is running at a rate of 2.2%.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most of that could have been avoided, the company says, if customers had chosen the most consumer-friendly bank account.

Three fees tended to hit consumers the hardest – monthly maintenance fees, ATM and account use fees, and overdraft and nonsufficient funds fees.

"Checking accounts are the keystone of American personal finance," said Sean McQuay, credit and banking expert at NerdWallet. "My checking account is the center of my financial life. That's where all my money goes in and out, so I need to trust my bank."

There are ways to avoid these fees. The easiest to avoid is the monthly maintenance fee, which can be $10 to $12 at the nation's largest banks. That's $120 or more a year.

There is no reason to pay this fee, which is usually placed on a bank's most basic checking account. By doing a little research, you should be able to find a checking account that not only does not charge a monthly fee, but pays you interest on the balance.

Things you might have to do

These accounts usually require things on your part – perhaps maintaining a minimum balance, a certain number of debit transactions each month, and a direct deposit. With a little planning, most checking account customers should be able to manage these requirements.

The second set of fees, ATM fees, can be avoided by only using your bank network's ATMs. But again, having the right kind of checking account can help as well.

Some rewards checking accounts, offered primarily at credit unions, online banks, and small community banks, offer a set of perks that includes reimbursement of ATM fees. ATM fees can also be avoided by always withdrawing extra cash when making a debit card purchase at the supermarket or some other retail location that allows cash back.

Do not opt in

Overdraft fees can be avoided a couple of ways. First, do not "opt in" for overdraft "protection" from your bank. You bank wants to provide this "service" to you, covering any purchase you make with insufficient funds. However, it will charge you an average of $34 for this service, in the form of an overdraft fee.

That will protect you against overdrafts on debit purchases, but a bounced check will still carry a fee. To avoid bouncing a check, consider keeping your savings in your rewards checking account to pad your balance. Most rewards checking accounts pay a higher interest rate than a passbook savings account. If you do this, however, you'll need to keep careful track of your spending to make sure you don't eat into your savings.

The NerdWallet analysis shows using the most consumer-friendly checking accounts cost consumers just $31 a year, and that's if they have a couple of overdrafts per year, which can be avoided. If all consumers switched to the best free checking accounts available, they could save a total of more than $7 billion a year.

October is Open Enrollment Season, when Medicare recipients may change plans, mainly Advantage and Part D drug coverage. But should you switch?

U.S. News has released its assessment of the best Medicare plans for 2017, basing its recommendations on best coverage options from insurance companies that have consistently offered highly rated plans.

"Medicare beneficiaries have a lot to consider, including cost and in- or out-of-network coverage," said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis at U.S. News. "Our tools allow consumers to easily search and identify plans that suit their specific needs."

The rating system gives up to 5 stars for plans that consistently offer highly rated Medicare Advantage plans in multiple states. But not every state has access to one of the top-rated plans. Companies made the list only if their Medicare Advantage or their Part D plans scored an average rating of 4.5 or higher for all plans in a given state.

The rating system uses information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to identify the Best Medicare Advantage Plans and Best Medicare Part D Plans.

Ratings threshold of 4.5

For seniors considering a Medicare Advantage Plan, instead of the default Medicare Parts A and B, U.S. News narrowed the choices by listing plans that achieved a 4.5 rating or higher.

They include Kaiser Permanente, Caremore Health, and Optimum Healthcare, all of which earned a 5.0 rating.

In rating prescription drug coverage plans, US News breaks it down by states, picking the top plan for each one. In Connecticut, for example, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield took top honors with a score of 5.0. In Idaho, the top prescription drug plan is offered by Regence Blue Shield of Idaho, with a score of 4.5. Seventeen states had at least one plan that made the list.

Of course, you don't have to switch plans. If you are happy with your coverage or want to stick with traditional Medicare Parts A and B, you don't have to do anything.

If you want to shop around, the Medicare website offers this tool, which shows you the available plans in your area. A personalized plan search requires your zip code and complete Medicare information.

The open enrollment period for 2017 closes December 7.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed single-family homes, dipped in October.

Still, even with a decline of two points to a level of 63, builder confidence stands at its second-highest level of the year.

NAHB Chairman Ed Brady calls that, "a sign that the housing recovery continues to make solid progress," but notes that builders in many markets "continue to express concerns about shortages of lots and labor."

The builders' view

The HMI, which is based on a monthly survey, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor."

The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two of the three HMI components posted losses in October. The one gauging current sales conditions dropped two points to 69 and the index charting buyer traffic fell one point to 46. On the other hand, the index measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose one point to 72.

The three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores show the West increased two points to 75 while the Northeast, Midwest, and South each posted one-point gains to 43, 56, and 65, respectively.

"The October reading represents a mild pullback from a jump in September, and indicates that the housing market continues to make slow and steady gains," said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. "Moreover, mortgage rates remain low and the HMI index measuring future sales expectations has been over 70 for the past two months. These factors will sustain continued growth in the single-family market in the months ahead."

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 84,500 model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes manufactured December 12, 2008, to June 11, 2016.

The electrical harness connector for the front passenger seat Occupant Classification System (OCS) may dislodge when the seat is moved.

In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, the disconnected OCS would -- by default -- cause the first stage, and only the first stage, of the air bag to deploy, whether there is a child seat in the front seat and the bag should not deploy or if the crash is severe and both stages should deploy. Either scenario increases the risk of injury to the front seat occupant.

What to do

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will secure the OCS connector to prevent it from disconnecting, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 2, 2016.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 151.

L'echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

The carriers' side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle, posing a fall hazard to the child in the carrier.

The firm has received one report of a strap loosening unexpectedly from the carrier's side buckle. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Chimparoo brand Trek baby carriers that allow the user to carry a baby tummy to tummy, on the hip or on the back. The 100% twill fabric carriers were sold in 18 solid, striped and pattern color combinations.

The carriers attach to the wearer's body with adjustable straps made of polypropylene webbing and plastic buckles. "Chimparoo" is printed on the upper right hand corner of the carrier. "Trek" is embroidered on the belt.

The carriers, manufactured in Canada, were sold at children's boutique stores, such as Granola Babies, of Costa Mesa, Calif., Eat/Sleep/Play, of Summerville, S.C., and Top to Bottom, of Omaha, Neb., and online at www.Amazon.com and www.Chimaparoo.ca from May 2016, through July 2016, for about $170.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled baby carriers and contact Chimparoo for a free replacement buckle for the baby carrier's side buckle.

Consumers may contact Chimparoo toll-free at 855-289-5343 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at safety@Chimparoo.com or online at www.Chimparoo.ca/en/recall and click on "Product Recall" at the bottom of the page.  

Consumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance and new media trends take hold, it has gotten more and more difficult to do. Certain services, such as video streaming, can take a big bite out of users' data if they're not careful, which can lead to hefty overage charges.

It is for this reason that many providers have changed or abandoned unlimited data plans, which are potentially less lucrative than raking in exorbitant fees related to data limits. However, Verizon recently announced a new mobile data plan that allows users to buy unlimited data for small chunks of time.

The plan, called PopData, allows consumers to take advantage of 30- and 60-minute periods of unlimited data, which could be very useful if you need to download a large file or find yourself in an area without Wi-Fi. The company is pricing the 30-minute periods at $2 per extension and the 60-minute periods at $3 per extension, and the total cost of all extensions will be added to each customer's bill at the end of the month.

Shortcomings

While the new plan may seem great at first glance, critics have been quick to point out its shortcomings. First, customers should be aware that PopData is only available while they're in an LTE network; consumers in an area where Verizon's 3G network is only available WILL NOT be able to use PopData, so data limits will still apply. The plan is also only available to postpaid subscribers, which means prepaid customers won't be able to access it.

Perhaps more worrying is the way that the timer works on the plan. Once a user selects an extension and starts the timer, there is no stopping it. If there are network problems, like slow speeds or bad performance, the timer will continue to tick down anyway.

For users on less congested networks, this might not be too much of an issue. But for those who might be sharing a network in a city or highly-populated area, having a set time of unlimited data isn't all that helpful if the network speeds are slow.

So, before signing up for a block of unlimited data, consumers should be well aware of network conditions and how it might affect their mobile activities. To learn more about PopData, visit the plan's page here and peruse the FAQ section here.

A weekend meeting in Rwanda may affect how much you pay for your next refrigerator or air conditioner. At the meeting, envoys from the U.S., China, and other major countries agreed to phase out hydroflourocarbons from cooling appliances, aiming for an 80% reduction by 2045.

The hydroflourocarbons, commonly called HFCs, are an environmental problem; a "greenhouse gas," they contribute to climate change and have long been identified as a threat to the environment as we know it. 

Secretary of State John Kerry helped forge the deal and called it a major victory for the earth and its inhabitants.

"It's a monumental step forward, that addresses the needs of individual nations but it will give us the opportunity to reduce the warming of the planet by an entire half a degree centigrade," he said in a BBC News report.

Experts say the agreement, when fully implemented, will make a big difference in global warming, removing the equivalent of 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the air by 2050.

"A bit more time"

"HFCs posed an immediate threat to a safe climate due to their increasing use and high global warming potential, thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide," said Benson Ireri of Christian Aid. "By agreeing to an early HFC phase down schedule, we've bought ourselves a bit more time to shift to a global low carbon economy and protect the world's most vulnerable people."

Manufacturers in the U.S. were relatively pleased with the Rwanda agreement, seeing it as less burdensome than the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to phase out HFCs years earlier, 2024 in the case of refrigerators. For now, they will still have to meet the more stringent EPA regulations, which also call for greater energy efficiency, but it's likely U.S. industry will use the Rwanda pact to press for more time to meet the EPA deadline.

The problem, of course, is finding an alternative to HFCs that is safe, effective, and affordable. There are always trade-offs in environmental protection, so it becomes a balancing act to find a solution that is more or less satisfactory to everyone.

"Cooperative effort"

"Our members are rushing right now to make sure that the alternative refrigerants are going to work, going to be safe," Joe McGuire, chief executive of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), told the Wall Street Journal.

The group had earlier said it was "disappointed by EPA's decision to deny the home appliance industry the time it needs to cost effectively transition from hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant used in domestic refrigeration to newer alternatives," referring to the 2024 date.

"Some of the next generation refrigerants are flammable so a transition will require a cooperative effort from manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers and the safety standards bodies in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the relevant federal safety, environmental and energy agencies in both countries," said Kevin Messner, AHAM's Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Relations.

Messner said the earlier date "imposes additional and needless costs on U.S. consumers for virtually no environmental benefit."

The EPA says the date should not "pose a signifcant burden" on manufacturers, who have been anticipating the need to move to alternative coolants.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called the Rwanda agreement "truly an exciting time for all of us who have worked so hard to achieve this new level of success."

"As head of the U.S. delegation, I could not be more delighted with the outcome of the negotiations and our collective resolve. The prospects for the future of our planet are bright," McCarthy said in a prepared statement.

The effects of one's job don't always stay neatly tucked away at the office. Numerous studies have proven that your job can impact your health, even beyond the hours of 9 to 5.

One study found that answering work emails after hours can leave employees feeling depleted, while others have found that feeling control over one's job can help a person stave off work-related stress.

Now, a new study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business has found that being in a high-stress job with little control over your workflow may send you to an early grave.

15.4% increased risk of dying

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s. At the end of seven years, the team found that participants who had jobs with little control and high demands had a 15.4% higher risk of dying compared to those in low-control jobs with low demands.

"We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death," said lead author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School.

In contrast to those in low-control and high-demand jobs, employees who held positions in demanding jobs with high amounts of control had a 34% decrease in the likelihood of death.

Gonzalez-Mulé says these findings "suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making."

Importance of flexibility

The study underscores the importance of flexibility and discretion in the workplace. The ability to set one's own goals and have a say in how the work gets done could have a positive impact on employees' health, explained Gonzalez-Mulé.

"You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like," he said, adding that increased flexibility may also translate to thinner employees.

The study found that people in demanding jobs with little control were heavier than those in demanding jobs with a high amount of control.

In explaining why this may be, Gonzalez-Mulé points out that "when you don't have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff. You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it."

Restructuring jobs

The study's findings highlight the benefits of job crafting, says Gonzalez-Mulé. Research has shown that job crafting -- a process which gives employees the ability to mold their job into something more meaningful to them -- can create happier and more productive workers.

He notes that in some settings, job crafting may not be feasible. For a construction worker, for example, he explains that it would be "hard to allow them autonomy; there's usually just one right way to do things."

But in some blue-collar jobs, Gonzalez-Mulé says job crafting is very much a possibility. Flex-time and pay based on piece-rate are a few of the ways employers in factory settings can show employees the outcome of their work.

The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.

So now might be a good time to point out that if you plan to do a lot of end-of-the-year spending, doing it with a rewards credit card might help you save as much money as hitting the stores early on Black Friday.

In recent years personal finance experts have emphasized rewards credit cards as an easy way to save money. Like any credit card, a rewards card needs to be used responsibly, but if utilized to make purchases you would ordinarily make with a debit card or cash, credit card purchases can put money in your pocket.

How much varies from card to card, but the folks at Discover have rolled out some special holiday promotions, upping the rewards consumers can earn during the holidays, using the Discover it Card or Discover it for Students. Both cards normally pay 1% on all purchases but also have special quarterly promotions.

5% bonus

For example, for the fourth quarter Discover will pay a 5% cashback bonus on purchases at Amazon.com, department stores, and Sam's Club – places where consumers probably do the lion's share of their shopping. The 5% bonus applies to a total purchase amount of $1,500. Above that, any additional spending earns the regular 1% cash back.

"We try to make sure that we don't make our program complicated," Maureen Powers, vice-president of rewards for Discover, told ConsumerAffairs. "We don't want customers to have to start planning how they are going to earn their rewards, or having to do math."

Added bonus for new customers

There's an even better payoff for consumers who just recently obtained a Discover it Card, or plan to get one soon.

"Our card members can earn Cash Back Match," Powers said. "They are earning all of these rewards, and then at the end of the first 12 months that they have the card, we will double all of those rewards."

How much can that add up to? Let's assume you are a new cardholder who ends up spending $1,750 at Amazon, a number of department stores, and Sam's Club. You earn $75 on the first $1,500 and $2.50 on the difference between $1,500 and $1,750. Then, because you qualify for Cash Back Match, the amount is doubled for a total of $155 in cash rewards.

Powers also says Discover offers price protection, in case you find the item you purchase later at a lower price.

"What consumers will do is send in the receipt and show where they found a better price, and Discover will refund the difference up to $500, if you do it within 90 days of the purchase," she said.

While doing your holiday shopping with cash may keep you from overspending, it doesn't put money in your pocket. But it bears repeating, using a rewards credit card for all your holiday purchases will only put you ahead if you exercise discipline and don't over-spend.

It's no secret that consumers get a lot of their daily calories from beverages and snacks. As obesity rates have climbed over the last 30 years, companies that make these products have come under increasing pressure.

Pepsico, a conglomerate that makes soft drinks, snacks, and fast food, has announced a major initiative that it says will reduce the calorie count of most of its products by 2025.

"To succeed in today's volatile and changing world, corporations must do three things exceedingly well: focus on delivering strong financial performance, do it in a way that is sustainable over time and be responsive to the needs of society," said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.

Doing well by doing good

Nooyi says the plan will build on what she said is the company's progress so far. She points to Pepsico's rising stock price as evidence of "doing well by doing good." She said the company has been addressing environmental, health, and social priorities in all of its global markets.

So far, Nooyi says Pepsi has removed a lot of sugar from its products. That trend will continue, she says, as the company shoots for at least two thirds of its beverages containing 100 calories or less per 12 ounce serving over the next nine years.

By 2025, PepsiCo also plans to have three-quarters of its food products with no more than 1.1 grams of saturated fat per 100 calories and containing no more than 1.3 milligrams of sodium per calorie. It also plans to enhance its nutritional output, increasing products with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and hydration.

Seizing the high ground

The company appears to be attempting to capture the high ground from rival Coca-Cola, which last year endured a protracted public relations controversy over its involvement in obesity research.

Pepsi, meanwhile, says it has also been producing more diet beverages, repackaging Diet Pepsi with the sweetener aspartame. Nooyi says the goal is to harness technology to produce low-calorie/no-calorie products that taste the same as those rich in calories.

"PepsiCo's journey is far from complete, and our new goals are designed to build on our progress and broaden our efforts," Nooyi said. "We have mapped our plans against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and we believe the steps we are taking will help lift PepsiCo to even greater heights in the years ahead. Companies like PepsiCo have a tremendous opportunity - as well as a responsibility - to not only make a profit, but to do so in a way that makes a difference in the world."

Since the 1940s, one of the most common ways doctors treat prostate cancer is with something called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). It's currently used to treat an estimated 500,000 men in the United States by reducing their testosterone levels.

While it has been shown to be effective at countering prostate cancer, researchers are increasingly worried about some of its potential side effects. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania suggests ADT can double a man's risk of developing Alzheimer's or other dementia.

The researchers make clear they have not come up with conclusive proof that ADT increases dementia risks, but they say their analysis of medical records – comparing patients who received ADT with those who did not – "strongly supports" that conclusion.

"This is not an academic question anymore; this is really a clinical question that needs to be answered," said lead author Dr. Kevin T. Nead.

Two studies, same results

He points to two research papers – the first released late last year – that he says show very similar outcomes and magnitude of risk. At the very least, he says the possibility needs more study.

The Penn researchers are not alone in their suspicions. Research in recent years also has linked low testosterone to cognitive decline, finding that men with Alzheimer's tend to have lower testosterone levels, compared to men of the same age who don't have the disease.

Androgens are male hormones and doctors have known for a long time that they play a major role in stimulating prostate cell growth. That's why a major prostate cancer treatment reduces androgen production, in an effort to shrink prostate tumors.

The American Cancer Society says ADT is normally used in prostate cancer patients who are not good candidates for surgery or radiation treatments. Sometimes it is used if the patient has been treated for surgery or radiation, but the cancer returns.

But the research team warns that reducing androgen activity too much can negative consequences, including high blood pressure and diabetes. It has only been recently that researchers have included dementia in the list of side-effects.

The researchers don't rule out other possible reasons that men undergoing ADT treatments tend to have a higher dementia risk, but say there needs to be additional study to reach a firm conclusion.

To illustrate just how worrisome the Samsung Note 7 fire problem has been for the nation's airlines, all of them carried fire containment bags on board commercial aircraft, and may still, even though the government has officially banned the devices from flights..

It's a precaution against a potential catastrophe if one of the smartphones somehow gets on board, explodes, and catches fire. It's bad enough if it happens in your kitchen. It could be fatal if it occurs within a small space flying at 30,000 feet.

An incident a couple of weeks ago, when a Note 7 caught fire while a Southwest Airlines jet was boarding, was a wake-up call and led a few days later to Samsung withdrawing the Note 7 from production.

It was a huge reversal of fortune for Samsung, since the Note 7 had been acknowledged as among the best new smartphones.

Its fatal flaw, apparently, is its lithium ion battery that can reportedly overheat to the point that it ignites. Fix that and you may have fixed the problem.

Samsung may be pleased to learn that a chemistry professor at Virginia Tech has proposed a fix, that he says would make all smartphones resistant to fire.

Spent five years studying the problem

In an interview with Blacksburg, Virginia TV station WDBJ, associate professor Louis Madsen said he has been studying the problem of overheating batteries for the last five years.

"Lithium has to transport across this battery and it actually moves through a liquid that's a flammable solvent," he told the station. "If it gets too hot then it can boil, so some people may have seen batteries actually inflate if you overcharge them, I've seen a few of these. And then in the worst case, they can smoke or be heated up and start on fire."

The solution, Madsen suggests, is fairly simple, though it may increase the cost of producing the batteries. Just replace the flammable liquid solvent with a gel that won't burn. He says he has been working on just such a substance that he believes will lead to a safer lithium battery.

Madsen says he believes Samsung engineers pushed their batteries to produce too much power to run more functions. That becomes a problem, he says, because that can produce heat, and the liquid solvent within the batteries can ignite at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The gel he's working on can supposedly withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, Madsen says.

Nestlé USA is recalling its Nestlé Drumstick Club 16 count Variety Pack and 24 count Vanilla Pack (with cones marked for easy individual sale).

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The two pack sizes contain 4.6-fl. oz. cones and were manufactured in Bakersfield, Calif., and distributed nationally.

The following products are being recalled:


Description

Production Code

UPC

Best Before Date

DSTK Club CP 16x4.6floz US

6244580212

72554-11096

Between June 2 - June 15, 2017

6245580212

6246580212

6247580212

6248580212

6249580212

6250580212

6251580212

6252580212

6253580212

6254580212

6255580212

6256580212

6257580212

DSTK Vanilla 24x4.6floz US

6258580212

72554-00160

Between June 16 - June 19, 2017

6259580212

6260580212

6261580212

The product identification codes can be found on the back of the packages and on the individually marked vanilla cones from the 24 count pack. The two packs being recalled carry distinct UPC codes, as well as a "best before" date and production code.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase or contact Nestlé consumer services for replacement.

Consumers may contact the company at 1-800-681-1676, by email at Nestleproductinquiry@casupport.com or online www.Nestleusa.com and www.Drumstick.com.

GITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 205/65R16 95H, GT Radial Champiro Touring A/S tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 205/65R16 95H; and 225/50R18 95T, and Dextero Touring DTR1 tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, manufactured by PT. Gajah Tunggal TBK in Indonesia.

The replacement passenger car tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall, potentially resulting in a loss of air.

A loss of air pressure may result in sudden tire failure, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

GITI will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in October 2016.

Owners may contact GITI customer service at 1-877-342-0882.

Osage Gardens is recalling its Osage Gardens Organic 2-oz. Micro Greens that has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recalled product, packed in a clear plastic clamshell with a UPC Code 709376615008 and Julian codes from 266 to 279, was distributed to Whole Foods stores in Colorado and Kansas.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Osage Gardens at 970-876-0668 Monday-Friday, 8am-4:30pm.

Mount Rushmore captured my interest in elementary school. No one I knew had ever ventured to South Dakota and the memorial, located so far away, seemed out of reach. And yet, on a recent September afternoon, I fulfilled my childhood dream and there I was, at Mount Rushmore, viewing the spectacular memorial.

As we approached the memorial from the highway, I glanced over my left shoulder and there they were -- the faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt, four iconic presidents carved high into the mountain. Even from a distance, it was a thrill.

We entered the national park by walking uphill through the Avenue of Flags. I had seen this approach in photographs, but viewing the monument through the flags took my breath away. I continued to walk, and as I approached the Grand View Terrace, I had an unobstructed view. It was mesmerizing and I could not stop looking at the memorial.

The eyes twinkle

Mount Rushmore filled me with awe and the longer I stared, the more often it changed. The shifting sun and the clouds shaded some facial features and brought others into focus. I took over 30 photos and none are alike.

You don't have to just stand there spellbound, although that's a fine way to enjoy the memorial. I'm glad I had time to visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center. There's a lot to learn about Mount Rushmore at its museum, theaters, a bookstore, and ranger desk.

I asked a ranger why the eyes look so real and learned that the eye of each sculpture has a 20-inch shaft of granite. This makes the eye seem as if it is twinkling when the sun hits the shaft.

Here are some other facts I learned. The memorial was originally conceived by Doane Robinson, the state historian of South Dakota, as an attraction to bring tourists from all over the USA to the Black Hills of South Dakota. His original idea was to honor the West's greatest heroes that would include Native Americans.

Robinson recruited Gutzon Borglum who was carving the face of Robert E. Lee at Stone Mountain in Georgia. It was Borglum who chose the site and persuaded Robinson that the four presidents would be a greater draw. He then created and sculpted the design, dying before the project was completed. His son Lincoln did the finishing touches on the memorial. A senator and congressman were instrumental in getting federal funding in the early years and it became part of our National Park Service.

The Lakota Sioux

Ending here would not do justice to the true settlers of the Black Hills, the Native Americans. Mount Rushmore was carved on land that is both sacred to the Lakota Sioux and promised to them in perpetuity by the United States government, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The treaty was not upheld when gold was found in 1874 and the Lakota Sioux were then relocated.

A visit to Mount Rushmore would not be complete without a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument, just 15 miles away. Here you will find another magnificent sculpture carved into the mountain, one that honors the famous Indian warrior Crazy Horse.

This monument, not part of the National Park Service, was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder who had originally lobbied to have a Native American represented on Mount Rushmore. Sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on Mount Rushmore, it has been independently funded and operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

The face of Crazy Horse was completed in 1998, with his horse yet to be carved. After the death of Ziolkowski, his wife Ruth and seven of their ten children carried on the work of finishing the memorial, which is ongoing.

These amazing sites tell the story of our nation and the continuing struggles of the American West. They are both glorious and merit a visit.

One of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their fair share of them.

Many have called the tax system broken over the years because of how easy it is for a company or corporation to acquire a business overseas and move its tax address. This allows multinational businesses to engage in "earnings stripping," which is the term that describes a company that pays deductible interest to a parent company or affiliate in another country that has lower taxes. Simply put, it allows a business to avoid paying as much as they should in U.S. taxes.

But in an interview with CNBC on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced new regulations that will limit companies' ability to take part in this kind of "egregious" tax avoidance. The new rules will seek to end earnings stripping and mandate that corporations file documentation on interest deductions on related-party loans.

"This administration has long called for legislative action to fix our broken tax system. In the absence of Congressional action, it is Treasury's responsibility to use our authority to protect the tax base from continued erosion," said Treasury Department Secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement.

"We have taken a series of actions to make it harder for large foreign multinational companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes and reduce the incentives for U.S. companies to shift income and operations overseas. Such tax avoidance practices are wrong and should be stopped."

Exceptions and exemptions

The proposed regulations were submitted back in April, and were subject to months of scrutiny from stakeholders before being finalized. As a result, the finalized version allows for several exceptions and exemptions for situations where there is a low risk of earnings stripping.

Feedback from the public also led to exemptions for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational corporations, transactions between pass-through businesses, cash pools, and limited exemptions for financial institutions and insurance companies that are subject to regulatory oversight for their capital structure.

The final regulations also include more relaxed documentation requirements than those suggested in April, as well as more exceptions for ordinary course transactions like stock acquisitions associated with employee compensation plans. The regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

Mixed reviews

Republicans and Democrats have remained divided on the new regulations. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex) claims the regulations were pushed through too quickly and may damage U.S. workers and the economy. "By rushing the review process – despite the extensive comments received – and finalizing these regulations so quickly, it appears the Obama Administration has ignored the real concerns of people who will be most impacted by these far-reaching rules," he said.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich) said the new regulations were a step in the right direction towards restoring fairness to the tax system.

"For years, companies have been inverting and engaging in earnings stripping to unfairly lower their tax bills. In the absence of Republican action on tax reform, Treasury has used its Administrative authority to help bring fairness to the tax system. Today's regulations from Treasury—which took into account extensive comments from the public and intensive meetings with Republicans and Democrats in Congress—go straight to the core of that fairness issue by strongly limiting a company's ability to use this tax avoidance strategy, which involves disproportionately leveraging a U.S. company with debt and 'stripping' the U.S. tax base through deductible interest payments," he said.

One tax expert found both positives and negatives to the new regulations, saying that some necessary steps were taken but that some parts were still worrisome.

"On the plus side, the documentation rule's applicability of 1/1/18 and the exception – for the time being at least – for foreign issuers were responsive to comments and were absolutely necessary. . . But the rules' general response regarding cash pooling will still be highly burdensome where they apply as will the retroactive application of the re-characterization rules," said Ronald Dabrowski, a principal of KPMG LLP, a Washington National Tax practice.

So, based on the mixed reviews, consumers may have to wait and see if the new regulations save the tax system or lead to the collapse of the country as we know it. The smart bet may be to expect something in between. Consumers can learn more by visiting the Treasury's fact page here.

Before trekking out to an amusement park or embarking on an exciting adventure with the kids, parents may want to consider the fact that family happiness is often found right at home.

In a new study, researchers from Baylor University found that family leisure at home can be a "more effective route to happiness" due to the fact that familiar activities are easier for the brain to digest.

When the brain is busy digesting new information, it can make it more difficult to reap the emotional benefits of quality time together, explained lead author Karen K. Melton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of child and family studies in Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor.

"When the brain is focused on processing new information -- such as taking part in an unfamiliar activity with unfamiliar people in a new location -- less 'brain power' is available to focus on the family relationships."

Inside the home

You might think that any quality time is good quality time, but Melton disagrees. "All family leisure is not equal," she says, adding that "the best predictor of happiness for families may be spending quality time together in familiar activities inside the home."

To reach this conclusion, Baylor researchers asked 1,502 families to answer an online questionnaire regarding the nature of their family's leisure time together. Questions included, "What activities do you do?" and "How often do you do them?"

Scores supported the researchers' initial hypothesis, which stated that families that participated in more leisure with lower levels of recreation would have higher levels of happiness.

The study's authors note that these findings are good news for families with limited time, few resources, or both.

Expressing stress

Hanging out at home together may also offer families a way to release some steam. Instead of plastering on a happy face while doing activities outside the home, families members can "express stress and conflict as well as pleasure during leisure time" at home, says Melton.

So what at-home activities pave the way for healthy and happiness-inducing quality time together? Melton says there's no one-size-fits-all answer, but simple, familiar activities are a good place to start.

"For some families, quality togetherness is having dinner together or playing games; for others, it may be hobbies, videos or TV, music," Melton said. "At the end of the day, what matters is that we are social beings who crave a sense of belonging and connectivity."

The study has been published in World Leisure Journal.

DeVry University has agreed to limit job placement claims as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which has been cracking down on the for-profit college industry.

The DOE had charged that DeVry used unsubstantiated job placement claims in recruitment and advertising materials. 

"Students deserve accurate information about where to invest their time and money, and the law is simple and clear: recruitment claims must be backed up by hard data." said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

If a postsecondary institution advertises job placement statistics to recruit students, federal law requires that the institution be able to substantiate the truthfulness of such claims. In August 2015, DOE had asked DeVry to back up its claim that since 1975, 90 percent of its graduates were employed in their field of study within six months of graduation.

No evidence

After reviewing the information that DeVry provided, the department found that DeVry could not provide evidence to substantiate this claim.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued DeVry, charging that its advertisements deceived consumers about the job placement rates in graduates' chosen fields of study, and falsely claimed graduates would earn more than those graduating with bachelor's degrees from other colleges or universities. 

Today's agreement settles only the issue of a single, unsubstantiated claim and does not prohibit the Department from imposing future enforcement actions against DeVry in the event of additional findings.

"We are grateful to our federal partners at the Federal Trade Commission for their ongoing support in our investigation," said U.S. Department of Education Chief Enforcement Officer Robert Kaye. "Together, we've put an end to the use of an unsubstantiated claim by this institution, and we will continue our efforts to ferret out similar unlawful practices."

Effective immediately, DeVry University will be participating in the federal student aid programs only through a provisional program participation agreement. As a result of this settlement, DeVry's provisional status may last as long as five years. Moreover, DeVry also agreed that its continued participation in Title IV federal student aid programs will be contingent on complying with additional requirements.

Yahoo Mail's forwarding feature is working once again, according to Yahoo. It was disabled earlier this week with no explanation, leading many to think the action was related to the data breach that compromised more than 500 million accounts.

But no. According to Yahoo, the shutdown was simply part of a "platform upgrade," not a heavy-handed attempt to keep users from fleeing Yahoo Mail.

Usually, when consumers set up a new email account, they set the old one to forward incoming email from the old account to the new one. Without the forwarding function, there's no way to do this, leaving some Yahoo users feeling they were being held hostage.

Hoping to put the best spin on the situation, Michael Albers, VP of Product Management for Yahoo Mail, took to Tumblr to deny there was any attempt to detain fleeing customers.

"Over the past year, Yahoo Mail has been upgrading its platform. This has allowed us to bring a better search experience to Yahoo Mail, add multiple account support, and improve performance as we quickly scale this new system globally. The feature was temporarily disabled as part of this process," Abers wrote.

There's a famous story that in 1962, hours before he was to extend an economic embargo against Cuba to include all trade and all products, President Kennedy sent an aide to every cigar store in Washington, buying every available box of Cuban cigars. He reportedly stockpiled over 1,200 fine cigars using his insider information.

It's only fitting that another president is taking action to now make Cuban cigars more plentiful in the U.S., even if you won't find them for sale in cigar stores.

President Obama has signed a Presidential Policy Directive that further loosens restrictions on travel and trade between the United States and Cuba, and those who enjoy a quality smoke now and then might take notice of one particular provision. From now on, there is no limit on the quantity of Cuban cigars and rum American travelers may take home.

As many as your suitcase can hold

Previously, American travelers to Cuba could only return with $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products. The measure is not a lifting of the embargo against Cuba – only Congress can do that – so you won't be able to find Cuban cigars for sale in the U.S. until the embargo is lifted. But the President would clearly like for that to happen.

"This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we've already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people," Obama said in a statement.

The embargo was declared at the height of the Cold War, shortly after Fidel Castro seized power and alligned the island nation with the Soviet Union. In addition to cigars and rum, Cuban sugar has been excluded from U.S. store shelves.

There is growing support, mostly in the Democratic Party, for ending the embargo. The Miami Herald reports Patrick Murphy, the Democratic candidate for one of Florida's two Senate seats, has advocated ending the embargo. The Herald notes it's the first time a Florida candidate from either party has done that.

Halloween hasn't yet arrived, but many consumers have already begun their holiday shopping. With consumers kicking off their holiday shopping early, the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts retailers will see a 3.6% increase in holiday sales this year.

Shoppers with children to buy for this holiday season may be struggling to figure out what toys kids are into this year. To keep grown-ups from having to take a blind guess, Amazon has released its fourth annual Holiday Toy List.

This year's list includes more than 1,000 items in the categories of tech, STEM, and DIY. It also features a few new categories, such as Mini Madness -- a category which aligns with the current trend of mini figures.

"With our curated Holiday Toy List, customers shopping for toys and games on Amazon.ca have the convenience of knowing what the top picks of 2016 are and they have access to customer reviews, expanded search features and fast free shipping options," said Mike Strauch, Country Manager for Amazon.ca.

"All of these benefits save our customers valuable time during the busy holiday season."

Kid picks

Secure your position as the "Cool Aunt" or "Best Grandma" by selecting a toy from Amazon's collection of kid picks. Here are a few of the toys kids are clamoring for this year:

Parent picks

Learning toys are as popular as ever with parents this year, but kids may be just as happy to unwrap these toys:

Top 100

Amazon's top picks include a three-story house with a built-in garage and swimming pool for Barbie and a rideable version of Thomas the Tank Engine.

As we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.

After crashing in 2009, housing has recovered nicely, with prices rising nearly to pre-crash levels. But one of the biggest reasons for the price rally, especially lately, is that the supply of homes hasn't kept pace with demand.

So where does it go from here, and what does it mean for the economy? The latest ValueInsured Housing Confidence Index is not overly encouraging. While home prices are rising, confidence among consumers in the housing market is about the same as it has been all summer.

"Home prices rose over the summer, putting them out of reach for many renters who also saw their rents rising," said Joe Melendez, ValueInsured's CEO. "Another factor suppressing housing confidence is the unsettling presidential contest and uncertain future it entails."

Put those considerations together with the hangover from the 2009 housing crash and Melendez says many prospective buyers really need a confidence boost.

The Millennial factor

Millennials are being a large and powerful block of consumers who are shaping the housing market, and the survey breakdown shows this generation continues to have economic anxiety and uncertainty. They're skeptical and prepared for volatility.

Sixty percent of Millennials questioned by survey takers worry the housing market has entered a bubble and could face a correction in the next two years. Only 47% of Americans as a whole hold that view. The survey finds that prospective first-time buyers, in particular, are worried about instability in the housing market.

Indeed, the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests a slowing housing market going into the end of the year. At the end of September, NAR reported pending home sales – a statistic based on contracts signed but not yet closed – fell in August by 2.4%.

Fewer homes for sale

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun attributes it mostly to fewer available homes for sale. Where there were higher inventories of homes, Yun says, sales were higher. It's just simple math.

He also has a warning – without an increase in new home construction, the housing recovery could, in fact, stall.

He notes that housing inventory has shrunk year-over-year for 15 straight months. That has meant homes sold faster and for more money. So it might not be all that surprising that people searching for a home to buy are feeling some angst.

How is your dog feeling? A quick glance at his tail might offer some clues, but there's often a lot more going on below the surface.

Joji Yamaguchi, the biologist behind the creation of a new smart collar called 'Inupathy,' believes a dog's heart rate is the biggest indicator of his current emotional state.

In an effort to better understand his dog and help other pet owners do the same, Yamaguchi designed a collar which shows -- via different colored lights -- how a dog is feeling at an emotional level.

"I was always worried about my dog's nervousness and wanted a way to learn how to make him relaxed," Yamaguchi told Newsweek. "So I invented a device capable of analyzing the rhythm of a heart beat."

Gauging dogs' needs

Colored LED lights embedded on the collar function as a way of letting pet parents see how their dog is reacting to the world at any given moment.

If your dog is in a relaxed state, a blue light will appear on the device. If he's focusing intently on a squirrel in the distance or attempting to master a new trick, the light will glow white to indicate that the dog is concentrating.

Knowing if a dog is happy, calm, excited, or concentrating can help pet owners understand their dogs' needs, says Yamaguchi. This deeper understanding, he believes, can strengthen the bond between pet parents and their dogs.

'Mental visualizer'

Instead of relying on the position of a dog's tail or other external indicators of emotion, the Inupathy collar lets pet owners see their dog's internal emotional state.

What might the collar reveal? In Yamaguchi's case, the device opened his eyes to the fact that his Corgi preferred to be within close proximity of him.  

"I've learnt that the distance between me and my dog, and whether I'm touching him or not is very important," Yamaguchi said. "He is also more relaxed with the door of a room closed, rather than opened."

He also found that aggression wasn't always the reason his dog barked at other dogs. He gleaned this insight by comparing his dog's reaction to cats versus dogs. While barking at cats, the collar lit up red, Yamaguchi told The Next Web. But while barking at dogs, the collar picked up on the fact that the bark was less aggressive.

The Federal Trade Commission has finished applying an astringent solution to a group of skincare companies that it accused of using deceptive marketing and billing tactics to skin consumers.

The companies, which sold Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit products have agreed to court orders with the FTC or had default orders entered against them.

"These defendants tricked people into paying for skin care products and abused the credit card system to extend their scheme," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The Commission will continue to attack scams that rely on supposed 'free trial' offers and unauthorized credit card charges."

"Risk-free trials"

The agency said the defendants sold their skin creams through false advertisements for "risk-free trials." According to the FTC, the defendants convinced consumers to provide their credit card information, purportedly to pay nominal shipping fees.

However, the defendants allegedly used consumers' credit card information to impose unauthorized recurring monthly charges of up to $97.88 per month for unordered products. The FTC also charged defendants with misrepresenting themselves as accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The total number of defendants eventually reached 33. Most were charged with violating the FTC Act, the Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

Each final order bans the defendants from selling products through a "negative option," in which the consumer's silence is interpreted as consent to receive and pay for goods and services. The orders also bar them from future deception and credit card laundering.

American Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functionality, free of charge.

No crashes or injuries have been reported related to this issue, which was discovered through warranty claims associated with the illumination of the brake warning light.

The software for the Vehicle Stability Assist Electronic Control Unit may prevent application of the EPB when it is applied immediately after turning the vehicle ignition off. (This condition will not occur if the EPB is applied before turning off the vehicle ignition.)

If the EPB cannot be applied, the "BRAKE" warning indicator in the instrument panel will blink for 15 seconds to alert the driver. Additionally, if the EPB does not properly set and a parking gear is not selected by the driver, the vehicle may roll away, increasing the risk of a crash.

Honda is announcing this recall to encourage each owner of an affected vehicle to take it to an authorized dealer for repair as soon as they receive notification of this recall from Honda. Mailed notification to customers will begin in early November 2016.

Additionally, owners of these vehicles can determine if their vehicles require repair now by going to www.recalls.honda.com or by calling (888) 234-2138.

Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. Critics are comparing the bungled response to the Note 7 crisis to Samsung's handling of a rash of washing machine fires in Australia a few years ago.

Samsung recalled 150,000 Australian washing machines in April 2013 after a series of house fires were blamed on the machines. But first it tried to get consumers to use tape and a plastic bag to solve the problem, a solution that only increased consumer outrage and was itself blamed for several more fires.

Consumers in the U.S. have also reported fires in their Samsung washers, as we reported a few weeks ago, but so far no recall has been issued. Federal safety officials, however, warned consumers that the machines could shake themselves to pieces and cause injuries or damage.

Repercussions from the Note7 debacle are rippling through all corners of Samsung's business. A report today says that an expected deal with FCA (formerly Chrysler) has been delayed while Samsung, South Korea's largest company, tries to work its way through the aftermath of the smartphone recall and subsequent market withdrawal.

FCA and Samsung had been reported to be close to a deal involving electronic components for the company's Chrysler, Jeep, Fiat, and other auto brands.

The fallout from the Galaxy fires threatens to tarnish Samsung's other consumer products, which have experienced their own problems with unexpected fires and, more significantly, with a response that is best described as business as usual.

We heard from Lyn of Palm Harbor, Fla., about the red-hot charger that came with her Samsung tablet.

"Charger got so hot we had to use gloves to remove it from the wall. Went to the AT&T store ... where we purchased it, they told us we would have to contact AT&T corporate to get a replacement. Called corporate and we were told to contact the manufacturer," Lyn said. "We did and were informed that they would not replace charger. The warranty only covered the device. If you can't charge it you can"t use the device!!! Stay away from Samsung products. No Samsung, No FIRES."

Microwaves

Samsung microwaves have for years generated red-hot consumer complaints about fires, most recently from Bill of Palm Harbor, Fla.

"Bought new Samsung microwave (me21h706mqs) and after one week it caught on fire at the plastic piece in rear corner. Lucky we were at microwave watching or whole house could have caught on fire. Huge plastic smoke and horrible smell," Bill said in a ConsumerAffairs review a few days ago. Bill called Samsung and after calling three different numbers got little satisfaction.

"Samsung was not impressed their unit caught fire and really did not care. Said they would send tech in 2-3 days. ... Basically they hung up on me after I requested someone come out on Monday to remove."

Tracy of Winston-Salem, N.C., said she was boiling pasta when her microwave caught fire.

"I wasn't even using the inside of the microwave at the time. I was using the exhaust fan for I was boiling pasta on the stovetop. Flames all in the microwave, I had to use the fire extinguisher. I am so glad I was home when this happened! My model number ME18H704SFS."

By-the-book

A common theme in many of the microwave fire complaints submitted by ConsumerAffairs readers is the by-the-book response from Samsung's customer service representatives.

"Purchased Samsung Microwave Model Number ME18H704SFG on 07-03-2016 from HHgregg. They delivered the Microwave on Saturday 07-09-2016. Used the Microwave Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning 07-11-2016 my wife screamed 'FIRE' so I ran to the Kitchen where the Microwave door was open and a flame about 4-5 inches long was jetting out ... I got the Fire Extinguisher and put it out then unplugged it," said Joey of Sicklerville, N.J.

Joey said he called Samsung and "spoke to a lady there who gave me a transaction number and said a product specialist would call me back within 4 hours." The return call didn't happen, Joey said, but eventually a service call was scheduled for several days later. Like other owners of burned microwaves, Joey said he didn't want service, he wanted a new microwave.

 "I told her I did not want them to attempt to repair this unit and give it back to me. She said the service person would not take the unit but would take photos and send to Samsung where they would determine if it could be repaired. I told her I would not let that unit back into my home. She said if you refuse the service then you will be left with a broken microwave," Joey said.

Ovens & ranges

You expect a range to get hot but, ideally, the heat is confined to the oven and cooking surfaces. That's not always the case with Samsung ovens and ranges, consumers say.

"Our two year old Samsung NE58F9500SS began sending strong fumes of burning plastic upon oven preheat," said Nancy of Midlothian, Va. "Repeated email and phone contact with customer service about this fire hazard was a test of patience. Each contact told us to wait 24 more hours and we would be contacted by someone. Days passed. No oven. No stove. Wires attached to the back of the oven, melted. Plastic on the terminal block melted. This is DANGEROUS and deserves immediate attention," Nancy said. "We paid $1,533.35 for this poor workmanship and poor service."

Remi of Piscataway, N.J., wasn't as lucky as Nancy.

"I opened the broiler to place a tray inside and flames shot out of it and singed face and hair. The fire department, EMT and PSEG responded to the incident. The oven was tagged 'defective' and the gas line was shut off," Remi said. "I have been in constant communication with Samsung regarding the oven. I inquired about being compensated for food due to the 'loss of use' and was told that they do not provide compensation."

"Last week, I was advised that they would swap out the oven. I advised them that before I would commit to this resolution, I was like to know the cause of the fire. I was informed that this information could not be released to me," Remi said. "As a consumer who purchased this item, was injured by it and could have received extensive damage to my house, I believe that I should be informed of the cause and/defect of the unit."

Dinner was interrupted at Sheila's home in Albany, Ga. "Yesterday in the middle of preparing dinner, the range shot fire with a loud explosion. Samsung does not stand behind their products and you would think that a new stove that we paid $900.00 for would last longer than 2 1/2 years," she said.

Refrigerators

We haven't seen many reports of Samsung refrigerators actually igniting, but many consumers have complained of conditions that they thought were fire hazards.

"After 4 years of owning a French door Samsung refrigerator (RF267AARS/XAA), the coils started freezing up. I called out a Samsung repair service and they discovered that the evaporator coils had melted my liner and it is not repairable. It was so badly burnt inside that I am surprised it did not catch fire," said Jerri of Dripping Springs, Texas.

"When I contacted Samsung customer service about this hazard, I was put on hold for 30 minutes and then told that they could only refund me a partial credit for the refrigerator. When I asked if there have been similar problems with other refrigerators, they could not tell me," Jerri said.

Donald of North Kingstown, R.I., found singed components in his freezer compartment.

"After removing the cover in the freezer that covers the coils I found a lot of burnt areas and cracks in the freezer compartment. Also the defrost sensor was also burnt," he said. "I replaced the sensor and also took pictures of the freezer compartment showing the burnt areas and areas where the compartment was bubbling up from heat. This frig is a fire hazard."

Not everyone is so lucky. 

"Caused damage throughout house," said a consumer in Australia who asked to remain anonymous. "Had temporary accommodation for a year. Everything lost. Fire brigade recognised incident as a fridge fire. Fortunately happened when house was empty overnight. Samsung deny all liability and claim a waste bin must have caught fire in front of the fridge!"

Dishwashers

Aurelia of Wentzville, Mo., didn't have a fire in her Samsung dishwasher but was afraid that she was about to. She said numerous repair visits failed to resolve a water leak. After the last repair, "we ran a load [and] after 40+ minutes we got the LC* warning light."

"This indicated water to electric leak, it's recommended to shut off circuit to the unit to prevent further damage or fire.," Aurelia said. After all the attempts to repair her dishwasher, she said she expects to be told she is out of warranty and on her own.

Samsung has denied the incidents are linked and has said its warranty and repair services are adequate to handle the problems. Whether that is sufficient to reassure consumers is the question the company must now face.

In a bid to quell the furor over Wells Fargo's fraudulent accounts activity, establishing accounts without customers' permission, company chairman and CEO John Stumpf has announced his retirement, effective immediately.

Stumpf had been a widely admired corporate CEO until about a month ago, guiding Wells Fargo stock higher while other bank stocks languished. But the revelation that thousands of Wells Fargo employees had set up fraudulent accounts, apparently in a bid to hit sales goals, tarnished Stumpf's reputation and that of the bank.

In two appearances before Congressional committees, Stumpf was raked over the coals by angry lawmakers who condemned his oversight. At one point, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, called Stumpf "gutless" to his face.

So Stumpf might not mind stepping away from the ongoing scandal, with Wells Fargo President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Sloan tapped by the board of directors to succeed him as CEO.

Stumpf had been with Wells Fargo for 34 years, joining the firm in 1982 as part of the former Norwest Bank. He became Wells Fargo's CEO in June 2007 and its chairman in January 2010.

Optimistic about the future

"I am grateful for the opportunity to have led Wells Fargo," Stumpf said in a statement. "I am also very optimistic about its future, because of our talented and caring team members and the goodwill the stagecoach continues to enjoy with tens of millions of customers."

But there may be less good will than before. A lot of customers and former customers are angry that employees opened accounts in their names without their permission. But present and former Wells Fargo employees have complained that they have been victims too, pushed beyond limits to meet sales goals, no matter what the cost. After the scandal broke, Wells Fargo announced that more than 5,000 employees had been fired.

It should be pointed out that not all consumers are angry at the bank's employees. Ellie, a reader from Santa Cruz, Calif., writes that she thinks the managers of the branch she uses have over-reacted and are taking it out on employees.

"At the branch I frequent there is one teller in particular who actually seems picked on," Ellie wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "I can tell she isn't happy in her position but it seems she wants to be. It just seems like with every transaction she makes someone is watching her and they always jump in. She will get a customer and before she can even speak someone is all over her case. The poor girl is beaten down and walking on eggshells all day! That's no way to treat an employee and no way to run a business."

Stumpf, meanwhile, leaves Wells Fargo and its employees, with a tarnished reputation. The stock has taken a beating in recent weeks with some analysts saying it may fall even more.

No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu season comes around. Unfortunately, it might not just be hurting their health, though.

A new collaborative report shows that U.S. consumers spent $5.8 billion on medical costs related to the influenza virus. But monetary problems don't stop there. In all, Americans spent roughly $9 billion in 2015 on treating diseases that can be avoided by vaccination.

All of this begs the question, what do consumers have against vaccines?

Economic repercussions

The debate over vaccinations became very polarizing and high-profile in recent years after a scientific study stated that they may be linked to autism. The study was later debunked and the findings were retracted, but the notion has stuck with consumers ever since.

While the debate over whether or not a parent should vaccinate their child continues to rage, many adults have stopped getting vaccinations as well. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the majority of U.S. adults avoided getting their flu shot last year, and the study's authors believe that this hesitance could have major economic repercussions.

"Vaccines save thousands of lives in the United States every year, but many adults remain unvaccinated. Low rates of vaccine uptake lead to costs to individuals and society in terms of death and disabilities, which are avoidable, and they create economic losses from doctor visits, hospitalizations, and lost income," they said.

Addressing the issue

The researchers admit that increasing the rate of vaccination won't entirely erase the amount of money lost by consumers. In fact, they even go far as to say that vaccines are not always a 100% guarantee of good health. However, they say that opening the public's eyes to this growing problem should encourage consumers and lawmakers to look at the problem critically so that it can be addressed.

"By highlighting the tremendous financial burden that unvaccinated individuals place on the economy and the health system, we hope that our estimate will spur creative policy solutions," they said.

The full study has been published in Health Affairs.

With the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.

CheapAir.com reports it has expanded the number of flights on its site between the U.S. and Cuba. It says it now offers 36 routes from 11 U.S. cities to 10 Cuban destinations, adding over 280 weekly flights that have been approved by the Department of Transportation.

Americans can fly to Cuba on eight major airlines – JetBlue, American Airlines, United, Delta, Alaska, Spirit, Frontier, and Silver Airways. In addition, CheapAir users may also access a Miami-Havana flight on Public Charters, operated by Havana Air.

Direct flights

Currently, there are direct flights to Cuba from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta, to destinations that now include Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin, Cienfuegos, Vardero, Cayo Largo del Sur, Manzanillo de Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, and Cayo Coco.

In the future, CheapAir said it will have direct flights from Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Minneapolis.

"Last year, when the rule changes for travel to Cuba opened up a historic opportunity, we jumped on it," said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "We haven't had enough inventory to accommodate the demand, so we're thrilled to have all these new flights. We'll continue to offer more ways to travel to Cuba than any other site on the internet."

Even though the U.S. And Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations, it doesn't mean Americans can travel to that country for any reason. Tourist travel is still outlawed.

Only 12 reasons you can visit

However, the U.S. Embassy in Havana says there are 12 categories of travel that are permissible. They include:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions.

Tech support scams keep popping up, just like the pop-up ads that are often used to rope in unsuspecting victims. In the latest case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a group calling itself Global Access Technical Support with deceiving consumers.

The defendants allegedly used deceptive pop-up ads to scare thousands of consumers into paying hundreds of dollars each for unnecessary technical support services.

The ads led consumers to think there was something wrong with their computer and, secondly, that the pop-ups originated from Microsoft, Apple, or other reputable technology companies.

The ads often included loud alarms or recorded messages warning of the apparent dire threat to consumers' computers and "hijacked" consumers' browsers, leaving consumers unable to navigate around the ads or close them. The ads prompted consumers to contact a toll-free number.

Call center

According to the complaint, once consumers called the toll-free number, they were connected to a call center in India and pitched by telemarketers who claimed to be affiliated with or certified by a major technology company.

Consumers were told that in order to diagnose the problem, they must provide the telemarketer remote access to their computer. The telemarketers then showed consumers otherwise innocuous screens and directories on their computers, deceiving them into believing they were evidence of problems that require technical support services to repair.

The complaint alleges that the telemarketers pressured consumers to spend anywhere from $200 to $400 for repair services that could take hours to complete and which were at best useless, and in some cases could actually harm consumers' computers.

The FTC's complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act. The defendants are Global Access Technical Support, LLC (also doing business as Global S Connect, Yubdata Tech and Technolive); Global sMind LLC (also doing business as Global S Connect); Source Pundit LLC (also doing business as OneSource Tech Support); Helios Digital Media LLC; VGlobal ITES Pvt. Ltd.; Rajiv Chhatwal; Rupinder Kaur; and Neeraj Dubey.

Rewards credit cards have grown in popularity as consumers have realized they can get a little money back every time they make a purchase.

Some cards pay 3% on some purchases, some pay 1% or 2% on every purchase. It isn't a lot of money, but it can add up over time.

What sometimes gets overlooked are the bonuses some credit card companies pay, just for opening an account. It's just a one-time payment, but it can be significantly more than the cash back you earn on purchases.

CreditCards.com, a card comparison site, has looked into these sign-up bonuses and reports six credit cards will pay consumers at least $1,000 for opening an account. None of them are cash back cards and all of them charge an annual fee, so that will have to be figured into the equation.

$1,500 sign-up bonus

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card hands out rewards based on points. Right off the bat, it will give you 100,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months the account is open. More impressive, it will pay you a bonus of $1,500.

But hold on, the card charges an annual fee of $450. That might not be a complete disqualifier, depending on your spending patterns. But if you can't make the points pay off, that $1,500 sign-up bonus will pay for the first three years of annual fees.

The Chase – British Airways Visa Signature Card, as the name suggests, is a travel rewards card based on points. Just for signing up, it will award you 50,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. It will also pay you a signing bonus of $1,145. Compared to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, its annual fee is a bargain – $95.

$450 annual fee

TheRitz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card pays $1,080 as a sign-up bonus. It also provides three complimentary nights at a tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel, if you spend $5,000 in first three months. To get that, however, you also have to pay a $450 annual fee.

Another travel rewards card, the Chase – Fairmont Visa Signature Card, pays $1,000 as a bonus for opening an account. On top of that, you get two free nights when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You pay no annual fee the first year, but $95 a year after that.

The Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, affiliated with American Airlines, also pays a $1,000 sign-up bonus and awards you 50,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months. It carries an annual fee of $450.

All five cards carry attractive perks and features, but whether they will be useful or cost effective will all depend on your travel habits and spending patterns. And while the sign-up bonuses are attractive, steep annual fees should not be overlooked.

As we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shopping for end-of-the-year events, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) believes that this will be a big year for retailers.

The organization made a prediction earlier this month that sales -- excluding those made in the automotive, gas, and restaurant spheres -- would be 3.6% higher in November and December than they were last year, accounting for $655.8 billion in spending. That mark would beat the current 10-year average of 2.5% growth, and would even put sales above the current 7-year growth average of 3.4%, the period of time since economic recovery began in 2009.

"All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season. . . This year hasn't been perfect, starting with a long summer and unseasonably warm fall, but our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and industry expectations," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

If the prediction proves to be true, it would be a continuance of positive growth for the economy during the holiday season; in 2015, sales increased by 3.2% over the previous year. Over the course of this year, consumers seemed more willing to pay down purchases with credit, which is a positive sign for future sales figures.

"Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for spending throughout the holiday season," said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. However, he notes that both global and domestic political uncertainty, along with unseasonably warm weather, could still negatively impact consumer confidence going forward.

In addition to a positive sales forecast, the NRF is predicting that seasonal employment will also stay on track in 2016. The organization believes retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 workers this holiday season, in line with the 675,300 employees hired last year. Recent reports that Amazon will hire 120,000 holiday workers may pad those numbers even more.

It's fall, when oil refineries are turning out cheaper winter-grade gasoline. Oil prices remain at $50 or less a barrel and supplies are ample.

So why is the price at the pump rising in many areas?

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey, the national average price of self-serve regular is around $2.25 a gallon, up about two cents from a week ago and eight cents higher than a month ago. That's a big jump in 30 days, especially at a time when prices are usually headed lower.

While consumers might be wondering what's going on, it might not be a huge mystery after all. The increase in the national average may be largely a product of recent increases in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, which normally have some of the lowest prices at the pump. Also, prices have risen sharply in recent days in parts of the Midwest, which can be volatile depending on refinery bottlenecks.

Lingering effects of pipeline leak?

A few weeks ago a leak in a gasoline pipeline in Alabama stopped the normal flow of fuel to these areas. Prices in South Carolina, among the cheapest in the nation, shot up nearly 20 cents a gallon. Prices also rose in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The pipeline has long been repaired, but just as prices were getting back to normal, along came Hurricane Matthew last week. AAA reports Hurricane Matthew caused prices to again rise in some parts of the region, with Florida seeing an increase of six cents a gallon and prices in North Carolina going up four cents a gallon.

The hurricane created supply issues at many gas stations last week for a couple of reasons. Evacuation notices resulted in closed ports and terminals. Because of that, many gas stations simply could not handle the increased demand of drivers gassing up in advance of the storm.

Supplies remain plentiful

The good news? Despite all this turmoil, AAA says gasoline supplies in the Southeast remain plentiful.

Then there is the price of oil, which is now marginally higher than it has been for most of the year. Part of that is a product of speculators, who are betting that OPEC will cap production and begin to draw down the glut of oil that has existed for two years.

But it's far from a sure thing that OPEC will be able to pull that off. It hasn't been the most cohesive group in the past.

And even if it does manage to curtail supply, it has no control over U.S. shale operators, who would likely resume production at higher prices.

Heading into the winter, at least, consumers should see fairly stable gasoline prices below what they paid a year ago.

As a general rule, consumers don't much appreciate being told what they should or shouldn't be eating or drinking. As such, regulation in the food and beverage industry is often met with resistance. One recent example can be seen in a lawsuit submitted by the beverage industry, along with residents and businesses in the Philadelphia area, who want to stop the city from imposing a soda tax.

However, regulators and health agencies applaud such efforts and believe that they should be implemented more often. Now, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) is pushing for countries around the world to follow Philadelphia lawmakers' example and impose taxes on sugary beverages. The organization believes that doing so would go a long way towards reducing health risks like type 2 diabetes and obesity.

"Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. . . If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services," said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

Health crises

WHO's report was released on World Obesity Day to draw attention to how much the condition is affecting consumers around the globe. According to the report, the prevalence of obesity more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, with roughly 39% of adults over the age of 18 fitting that description by the end of the period.

Further, the report states that childhood obesity has become a very real problem; an estimated 42 million children under the age of 5 were diagnosed as being obese in 2015, up 11 million over a 15-year period. Those living with diabetes also went up from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million by 2014, and 1.5 million deaths were attributable to the disease in 2012 alone.

These disturbing upward trends are the primary reason why WHO is pushing for the reduction of free sugars in food and drink products. The organization points out that any added sugar is actually unnecessary.

"Nutritionally, people don't need any sugar in their diet. WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day," said Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

Fiscal recommendations

The fiscal changes that WHO recommends countries undertake come from a meeting of global experts that took place in mid-2015. The recommendations primarily focus on giving incentives for healthier alternatives and curbing excess sugar consumption. They include:

  • Subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10-30%, which could increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Taxation of certain foods and drinks, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fat, free sugars, and/or salt, which could reduce their level of consumption.
  • Excise taxes that apply a specific amount of tax on a (1) given quantity or volume of a product, (2) a particular ingredient, or (3) a certain percentage of the retail price.
  • Generation of public support for the taxes by putting the earned revenue towards improving health systems.

Thus far, many countries have already taken steps to curb the amount of sugar in its foods and beverages. Mexico has implemented an excise tax on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar; Hungary has placed a tax on packaged products with high levels of sugar, salt, and caffeine; and countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the Philippines have announced intentions to impose taxes on sugary drinks.

Paths lined with colorful leaves make the perfect backdrop for a walk with your dog. But while the foliage may be beautiful and the temperature just right, not every aspect of fall is safe for your four-legged companion.

Before heading outdoors, pet owners should keep in mind that fall brings with it certain risks to dogs. Some of these risks are made by mother nature while others are produced by man, but all of the following doggy dangers are prevalent during the fall.

As you take in the beauty of the season alongside your pup, be sure to watch out for potential hazards that may lead to serious -- or even deadly -- health consequences.

Doggy dangers of fall

Cats aren't the only creatures whose curiosity may lead them down an unsafe path. Keep your dog's sniffer from getting him into trouble by keeping an eye out for the following risks and toxic substances.

  • Snakes. According to the ASPCA, snakes preparing for hibernation may be spotted out and about more often, therefore increasing your pets' risk of being bitten. Protect your pooch by brushing up on the types of snakes in your area and making sure to avoid areas where snakes are often found.
  • Mushrooms. Colorful mushrooms pop up frequently during fall. While most are generally harmless, around 1% are highly toxic to pets. Because it can be difficult to tell which mushrooms are dangerous and which ones aren't, the ASPCA recommends keeping pets away from all mushrooms.
  • Rodent poison. When the temperatures drop, rats and other rodents often try to sneak indoors. Humans often try to thwart these attempts by laying down rat poison. Unfortunately, these poisons are highly toxic to pets. Homeowners should make sure pets are kept far from areas where rodenticides were used.
  • Engine coolants. Another substance which is notoriously toxic to pets is antifreeze. Keep pets from licking up any spills containing ethylene glycol-based coolants. Alternatively, pet owners may consider using less toxic propylene glycol-based coolants.
  • School supplies. School is officially in session, which means that materials such as glue sticks, pencils, and magic markers are seeing frequent use. Occasionally, these materials may be dropped in a driveway or left around the house. School supplies aren't toxic to pets, but they could cause digestive problems if Fido decides to make a snack out of them. Keep dogs from eating these materials by making sure they're not left in an animal-accessible place.

A lot of people go out of their way to eat extra protein. Dieters, in particular, think that eating more protein helps them stave off hunger and prevent the loss of muscle tissue that often comes with weight loss.

But is this really a good idea? In a study of 34 postmenopausal women with obesity, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that eating too much protein eliminates an important health benefit of weight loss -- improvement in insulin sensitivity, which is critical to lowering diabetes risk.

"We found that women who lost weight eating a high-protein diet didn't experience any improvements in insulin sensitivity," said principal investigator Bettina Mittendorfer, PhD, a professor of medicine. "However, women who lost weight while eating less protein were significantly more sensitive to insulin at the conclusion of the study. That's important because in many overweight and obese people, insulin does not effectively control blood-sugar levels, and eventually the result is type 2 diabetes."

A good marker

In fact, the researchers say, insulin sensitivity is a good marker of metabolic health, one that typically improves with weight loss. In their study, the women who lost weight while consuming less protein experienced a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their sensitivity to insulin.

Many dieters think that consuming extra protein can help preserve lean tissue -- muscle, in other words -- allowing them to lose fat without losing muscle. But Mittendorfer's findings don't support that belief.

"When you lose weight, about two-thirds of it tends to be fat tissue, and the other third is lean tissue," Mittendorfer said. "The women who ate more protein did tend to lose a little bit less lean tissue, but the total difference was only about a pound. We question whether there's a significant clinical benefit to such a small difference."

While the difference in muscle mass loss was slight, the same wasn't true of metabolism. The women who ate the recommended amount of protein saw big benefits in metabolism, led by a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their insulin sensitivity. That can lower the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The women on the high-protein diet, meanwhile, did not experience those improvements.

"Very big effects"

"Changing the protein content has very big effects," Mittendorfer said. "It's not that the metabolic benefits of weight loss were diminished -- they were completely abolished in women who consumed high-protein diets, even though they lost the same, substantial amounts of weight as women who ate the diet that was lower in protein."

The study included 34 obese women 50 to 65 years old. Although all were obese, none had diabetes at the time of the study. They were placed in three groups for the 28-week study -- a control group, a group that ate the recommended date allowance of protein, and a third group that ate more protein.

It's still not clear why insulin sensitivity didn't improve in the high-protein group, and Mittendorfer said it's not known whether the same results would occur in men or in women already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She plans to continue researching the subject.

The findings became available Oct. 11 in the journal Cell Reports.

If you have been searching for a job lately, you might have noticed employment is a little harder to come by.

The U.S. Labor Department's latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) shows that at the beginning of September there was a drop in the number of posted job openings in the U.S., with fewer people leaving or starting jobs.

That happens to coincide with the September employment report, which showed a slight uptick in the unemployment rate to 5%, mainly because more people were actively looking for jobs.

According to the government numbers, there were 5.4 million job openings on the last day of August, 388,000 fewer than at the end of July. The job openings rate was 3.6% in August, with the number of openings dropping over the month for both government and the private sector.

New hiring was mostly flat from the month before. The report shows 5.2 million people started new jobs in August, at a hiring rate of 3.6%.

Fairly static labor market

The Labor Department says the numbers point to a fairly static labor market, with about the same number of layoffs in August as in July.

Other data suggests job growth is slowing. For example, the economy produced 156,000 new jobs in September, after averaging 229,000 a month in 2015.

Analysts say this particular set of data tends to be volatile, so it is hard to draw many conclusions. However, should this become a trend, it could be a sign that business is losing confidence in the economy, and people seeking jobs may have to look longer and harder.

Does anyone use a personal computer anymore? You know, those big, clunky boxes that sit on or under a desk, connected to a keyboard, monitor and mouse?

Apparently, fewer of us do.

Gartner, Inc., reports global shipments of PCs dropped by 5.7% in the third quarter of this year. Not only is that a significant decline, it comes on the heels of eight straight quarterly drops in PC shipments.

In the entire history of the PC industry, which admittedly isn't very long, that's the longest sales slide ever.

Gartner analysts say the industry is facing ever-weakening demand, especially from consumers.

"There are two fundamental issues that have impacted PC market results: the extension of the lifetime of the PC caused by the excess of consumer devices, and weak PC consumer demand in emerging markets," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.

No longer a priority

Kitagawa cites other Gartner data showing the majority of consumers in developed countries use at least three different types of devices. He says of the three, the PC holds the least priority for consumers.

"So they do not feel the need to upgrade their PCs as often as they used to," he said. "Some may never decide to upgrade to a PC again."

Consumers, it seems, are using smartphones and tablets for their computing needs. And even many businesses have moved away from PCs to mobile devices. With a tablet, an employee is not tied to a desk, but can be productive as he or she moves around an office or retail store.

Continued shake-out

So among PC manufacturers, there is likely to be a continued shake-out. Gartner reports Lenovo, HP, and Dell continue to be the market leaders. Of all manufacturers, Apple suffered the biggest decline in third quarter shipments – 13%.

A separate Gartner report reveals that, while semiconductor chip spending is down slightly this year, it is expected to rebound in 2017. But the report makes clear the majority of those chips aren't going into PCs.

Instead, Gartner says smartphones, mobile devices, solid-state drives, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will lead demand for semiconductors.

Samsung has officially acknowledged the obvious. It has asked all cell phone carriers and retail stores to stop selling the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.

"Consumers with an original Galaxy Note7 or replacement Galaxy Note7 should power down and take advantage of the remedies available, including a refund at their place of purchase," the company said in a statement.

For Note 7 owners, it has been a stressful few weeks, to say the least. The critically acclaimed device, introduced August 19, was involved in dozens of incidents in which the battery overheated and caught fire.

Replacement phones

On September 2, Samsung announced it would replace the more than one million Note 7s that it had sold thus far with replacement phones, modified to prevent the overheating.

But a few of the replacement devices apparently still had the problem, including one that forced the evacuation of a Southwest Airlines jet. Samsung said it is working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to get to the bottom of the issue, but in the meantime it will stop making and selling the Note 7.

What to do

Consumers who own a Note 7, and now are on their second device, will need to exchange their phones for another model. The mobile providers and other retailers have indicated they will try to make the process as painless as possible, waiving restocking fees and providing refunds for purchased accessories.

Samsung is instructing consumers with a Note 7, either the original or the replacement, to turn it off and take it to the retail outlet where it was purchased. Consumers who bought their phone directly from Samsung should call 1-844-365-6197 for instructions.

Consumers can receive a full refund, allowing them to purchase some other device, but Samsung is offering an incentive to those willing to go with another Samsung model. The Note 7 may be exchanged for a Samsung Galaxy S7 or a Galaxy S7 edge and the consumer will receive a refund of the price difference between the devices. Those who choose that option will receive a $25 gift card or bill credit.

Shop online

Verizon is instructing its customers to shop for a replacement phone online, then to bring their powered-down Note 7 to a Verizon location for a refund. Customers will also be credited any Galaxy Note 7 equipment charges.

AT&T is giving its customers similar advice, telling them they can exchange their phones for any other Samsung smartphone or any other smartphone.

Is this the end of the Note 7, which debuted a few weeks ago to praise from technology experts? Probably.

CNBC reports that the company has permanently ended production, noting it would be difficult to resume production, marketing, and sales of the device, even if it were to eventually get a clean bill of safety health.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is still standing after a federal appeals court reduced the power of its director and ruled that the way it is structured is unconstitutional.

But the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals denied a plaintiff's request to shut the agency down.

The ruling came in the appeal of a $109 million fine levied by CFPB against a New Jersey mortgage servicing company. The company appealed, claiming the agency, established by Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation in the wake of the financial crisis, was unconstitutional.

The mortgage company's lawyers argued that the establishing legislation gave the agency's director too much power, which was increased by the fact that the director can only be removed by the President, and for cause. In this case, the plaintiff's attorney claimed CFPB Director Richard Cordray "ran roughshod over clear provisions of federal law."

The appeals court agreed with the mortgage company and overturned the fine. However, it stopped short of disbanding the agency.

Changes to director's status

Instead, it basically ordered a change to the director's status. Henceforth, he or she may be dismissed by the President for any reason.

"The CFPB therefore will continue to operate and to perform its many duties, but will do so as an executive agency akin to other executive agencies headed by a single person, such as the Department of Justice or the Department of the Treasury," the court ruled.

The ruling, while at first appearing to be a setback for the agency, could prove to be an advantage in the long run, blunting Republican efforts to dismantle it. Republicans have complained that the agency director is not accountable and the court essentially agreed, but it found a way to rectify the matter without killing the agency or altering its mission.

But many consumer advocates are clearly worried, Liz Ryan Murray, Policy Director of the People's Action Institute, issued a statement accusing the court of "joining the assault" on the CFPB. And Americans for Financial Reform said it is disappionted in the ruling, saying it reduces the agency's independence.

Democrats have staunchly defended CFPB as a check on abusive financial industry practices. They point out that it was among the agencies exposing the fraudulent activity at Wells Fargo, which was setting up checking and credit card accounts in customers' names without their permission.

Privacy concerns have plagued Yahoo for weeks now. Towards the end of September, the company confirmed details of a massive data breach that compromised over 500 million accounts, including information on users' names, email addresses, passwords, phone numbers, dates of birth, and security answers.

Even more recently, the company conceded that it had scanned emails for a U.S. intelligence agency, sparking a new wave of privacy concerns and leading some users to consider moving to a more secure email service.

Unfortunately, Yahoo Mail users may find it hard to make the switch. At the beginning of the month, the company disabled mail forwarding, saying that the tool is now "under development." While the move doesn't affect users who were already forwarding their mail to another account, it will prevent those who want to send emails to a new forwarding address.

Locked in

Mail forwarding is a common tool used by users who have decided to make the switch from one email account or service to another; it allows them to send any mail received by an old account to another account automatically.

In the wake of the privacy scandals, many Yahoo Mail users may have hoped to do just that, but disabling the feature has essentially locked them in. Although Yahoo has every right to disable its tool, users can't help but be suspicious that the company would make it harder to leave just as its controversies were revealed to the public. After all, email forwarding is a pretty universal tool provided by most email services, and Yahoo has been using it for years.

However, Yahoo has stated that disabling the feature had been previously planned and that it would be working to restore it as soon as possible.

"We're working to get auto-forward back up and running as soon as possible because we know how useful it can be to our users. The feature was temporary disabled as part of previously planned maintenance to improve its functionality between a user's various accounts," said a Yahoo spokeswoman in a statement.

Comcast has been fined $2.3 million after the Federal Communications Commission found that it wrongfully charged cable TV customers for services and equipment they had not ordered. Comcast said it was working to fix the problems long before the FCC became involved.

The fine follows an investigation into numerous complaints from consumers who said they were charged for services they did not order and, in some cases, services they had specifically said they did not want.

"It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. "We expect all cable and phone companies to take responsibility for the accuracy of their bills and to ensure their customers have authorized any charges."

The FCC said consumers complained that Comcast added charges to their bills for unordered services or products, such as premium channels, set-top boxes, or digital video recorders (DVRs).

Comcast said it is "laser-focused" on improving customer experience and has been working to straighten out the billing issues.

"We acknowledge that, in the past, our customer service should have been better and our bills clearer, and that customers have at times been unnecessarily frustrated or confused.  That's why we had already put in place many improvements to do better for our customers even before the FCC's Enforcement Bureau started this investigation almost two years ago," said Comcast's Sena Fitzmaurice in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

"The changes the Bureau asked us to make were in most cases changes we had already committed to make, and many were already well underway or in our work plan to implement in the near future," Fitzmaurice said.

"We do not agree with the Bureau's legal theory here, and in our view, after two years, it is telling that it found no problematic policy or intentional wrongdoing, but just isolated errors or customer confusion," Fitzmaurice added. "We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes." 

Time and energy

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

In some complaints, subscribers claimed that they were billed despite specifically declining service or equipment upgrades offered by Comcast.  In others, customers claimed that they had no knowledge of the unauthorized charges until they received unordered equipment in the mail, obtained notifications of unrequested account changes by email, or conducted a review of their monthly bills.  

Consumers also complained that they had spent significant time and energy trying to have the unauthorized charges removed and to obtain refunds.

Under the terms of today's settlement, Comcast must create a five-year compliance plan, implementing procedures designed to obtain affirmative informed consent from customers prior to charging them for any new services or equipment.  

Comcast will also send customers an order confirmation separate from any other bill, clearly and conspicuously describing newly added products and their associated charges. Further, Comcast will offer to customers, at no cost, the ability to block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts.

The settlement also requires Comcast to implement a detailed program for redressing disputed charges in a standardized and expedient fashion, and limits adverse action (such as referring an account to collections or suspending service) while a disputed charge is being investigated.

The educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools have benefited students in the classroom, having access to something as basic as the internet outside of school also lends a huge advantage.

Unfortunately, not all students are able to go online outside of school. Children of families that can't afford expensive smartphones or other internet-connected devices can often lag behind, which contributes to ever-widening educational and opportunity gaps. But a new announcement from Sprint may go a long way towards evening the playing field.

The company announced today that it will be giving away one million internet-connected devices and providing four years of internet access to low-income high school students across the U.S. It marks the largest corporate initiative to bridge the digital divide and close the "Homework Gap," according to the company.

"Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. But it's a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them. All of us at Sprint are committed to changing this by providing 1 million students in need with free devices and free wireless connections," said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.

Equal opportunity to succeed

Sprint's new initiative, called the 1Million Project, may go a long way towards giving low-income children an equal opportunity to succeed. A report from the Pew Research Center found that students who come from low-income families are four times more likely than middle- and upper-income students to have no access to broadband internet. This is a big problem, since the report also found that 70% of teachers are assigning homework that requires some kind of web access.

Not having access to the internet also tends to lower parent engagement in their children's education. Teachers often choose to correspond with parents via email these days, and online grading systems make it possible for parents with an internet access to keep tabs on how their child is doing in class. Not having those connections can result in parents who are simply out of the loop.

And when it comes time for a student to graduate, not having internet access could hamper future prospects. Applicants often have to apply for jobs online, and students wishing to learn more about scholarship opportunities and college applications will find the information on the internet.

Providing devices

In order to accomplish its goal, Sprint will be partnering with various non-profit agencies and manufacturers to provide free devices. Students may choose to receive a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or hotspot device, along with 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month.

For students who go over the 3GB limit, unlimited data at 2G speeds will be available. Students who choose a smartphone will be able to use it as a hotspot and can use the device for unlimited domestic calls and texts while on the Sprint network.

Funding for the initiative will come from donations from device manufacturers and through special events, donation drives, and other events hosted by Sprint and the Sprint Foundation. A pilot program is planned for launch in January of 2017.

Teen-aged drivers tend to have a higher accident rate than other age groups. It's partly because, well, they're teenagers, but lack of time behind the wheel is also a big factor. Lots of situations come up that are hard to handle if you've never encountered them before. 

That's why Google is feeling kind of confident about its autonomous cars, which this month will hit their 2 millionth mile on public streets. That's a lot of time on the road, if not literally behind the wheel.

In fact, it's the equivalent of 300 years of human driving experience and the company says it is now emphasizing "advanced driving skills," like responding to everything from crossing guards to emergency vehicles to construction zones.

In a blog post, Dmitri Dolgov, who leads the self-driving program at Google, says the algorithms that make things go are now better able to predict "the trajectory, speed and intention of other roads users" and readier to handle unexpected situations like a car going the wrong way.

Dolgov says you might say the Google cars are now learning the social side of driving.

"Ultimately, being a good driver is about understanding other people — pedestrians, bikers and fellow drivers. Over the last year, we've learned that being a good driver is more than just knowing how to safely navigate around people, but also knowing how to interact with them," Dolgov wrote.

Emergency response

One question that is starting to preoccupy automakers as well as safety advocates is what self-driving cars should do in an emergency. The latest to raise the issue was Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, which is working to develop a fully autonomous car within five years.

In a recent speech to the Economic Club of Washington, Ford called for "a national discussion on ethics" to examine the choices autonomous cars will face in the real world.

What if, for example, a self-driving car is forced to decide between hitting a stalled truck in the roadway or plowing into a crosswalk filled with pedestrians? Should the car sacrifice its passengers by hitting the truck or should it save them at the expense of the pedestrians?

Ford didn't presume to have the answer but said that it's essential that all driverless cars use the same algorithm for responding to emergencies, so that split-second responses can be as coordinated as possible.

Embarking on the journey of parenthood is accompanied by a range of feelings. Behind the sleep-deprived eyes of a new parent, there is often stress and shaky confidence to be found.

Navigating parenthood is hardly a walk in the park, but a new app could help make the first year easier for parents. Hiro Baby aims to show overwhelmed new parents the ropes as their baby grows.

To begin reaping the wisdom of this digital personal assistant, all parents need to do is enter their child's age and information. The app will use this information to provide updates on your baby's development, offer expert advice, and recommend helpful products.

Stay ahead of milestones

With notifications that let you know when a milestone is fast approaching, parents can stay one step ahead of their child's development.

Hiro Baby lets you know, for example, that your baby will be crawling within the next few weeks, so it may be wise to pick up childproofing supplies. TechCrunch reports that the app can also let you know when to be concerned if your child misses an important milestone.

Instead of a frantic Google search, parents who use Hiro Baby can message or speak to an expert who can offer advice or recommend helpful products. But who exactly are these baby experts?

Hiro Baby's co-founder and CEO, Phillip Buckendorf, says they're humans who work in combination with AI technology. Information and advice within the app is generated by a neural network and screened by human agents (most of whom are parents) who approve the suggestions.  

The app, which has been described as "Siri with a maternal instinct," can also be helpful to expectant mothers. Hiro Baby can recommend strollers and other products that will be helpful once an infant arrives. 

Although the app is free (on iTunes), tapping into its premium service will cost parents $20 per month.

With gas pumps in the U.S. equipped with credit card readers, and stations requiring you to go inside and pay in advance if using cash, you'll save a lot of time when you fill up by paying at the pump.

And with credit card cash back rewards programs, you'll save money as well as time. But choosing a credit card that rewards fuel purchases is important. Here are three that do just that. All three do not have an annual fee, which can significantly cut into an rewards you might receive.

BankAmericard Cash Rewards

One of the best credit cards to use for gasoline purchases is the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Card. It pays 3% cash back on gasoline purchases – among the best in the industry – but has a few limitations you need to know about.

First, you'll get 3% only on the first $2,500 in spending per quarter at gas stations, as well as supermarkets and warehouse clubs -- so purchases at supermarkets and warehouse clubs, which pay 2% cash back, will detract from your potential gas saving. If you use the card only for gasoline purchases, however, your potential cash rewards is $75 a quarter, or $300 a year.

As an additional perk, the card has a 0% interest introductory period on purchases and balance transfers. But it should be pointed out that gasoline purchases should be paid off monthly and not allowed to accumulate in a huge balance, even if it isn't racking up interest charges.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

While it doesn't have a separate gasoline rewards category, the Chase Freedom Unlimited makes the list because it pays a generous 1.5% cash back on every purchase, including gasoline. And as the name implies, it is unlimited. There are no annual or quarterly caps. It's good for consumers who do a lot of driving all year round.

There is a lot of flexibility in how you use the cash rewards and they never expire, as long as the account remains open. You get a $150 cash bonus after spending $500 the first three months after activating the account.

It also has a 0% introductory period on balance transfers, but the balance transfer fee is 5%.

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express 2%

The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express is another attractive option for gasoline purchases. It pays 2% cash back on what you spend at the pump. It also pays 3% cash back on spending at supermarkets, and 1% on all other purchases. The higher rates at gas stations and supermarkets, however, only apply to the first $6,000 of spending each year. After that, all purchases earn 1%.

Since most consumers do most of their spending at the supermarket and gas station, a smart strategy is to have both the BankAmericard and the Blue Cash card. Use the BankAmericard only for gas purchases, earning 3%. Use the Blue card only at the grocery store, which will also earn 3%.

As a consumer, you trust your personal information to countless businesses and organizations.

You trust your doctor to keep your health records private, your mortgage company to protect your financial information, and your bank to secure your money from cyber attack.

However, a new report from Experian Data Breach Resolution presents a mixed picture on whether that trust is misplaced.

On one hand, the report found the number of organizations that have prepared a plan to deal with and prevent data breaches rose from 61% in 2013 to 86% this year. But it also found only 38% have fixed procedures and timelines for reviews and updates.

In fact, 29% of organizations haven't conducted a review or update since the plan was put in place.

No substitute for being prepared

"When it comes to managing a data breach, having a response plan is simply not the same as being prepared," said Michael Bruemmer, vice president at Experian Data Breach Resolution.

Bruemmer said it seems some organizations are simply "checking the box" when it comes to cyber security. He says developing a plan is only the first step in an ongoing process that unfortunately, must evolve to keep current with threats.

Of all the threats out there, ransomware appears to be growing fastest, posing the greatest risk to organizations. Successful hackers who are able to find the weakest link in a corporate network can encrypt all files on the network, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid.

725 breaches so far this year

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) keeps a running count of reported data breaches in the U.S. As of early October, it had counted 725 successful breaches, with nearly half involving health care records.

These records, which usually include extensive personal history, including Social Security numbers, make it easy for hackers to steal identities.

The Experian report is not all bad news. For example, it shows 58% of organizations have increased their level of preparedness. But Bruemmer says that number needs to be higher to ensure the safety of U.S. consumers.

"Investing in breach preparedness is like planning for a natural disaster," he said. "You hope it will never happen, but just in case, you invest time and resources in a response plan so your company can survive the storm."  

Volkswagen's deceptive marketing of its "clean diesel" TDIs has been widely regarded as killing any hope of reviving the market for diesel-powered cars in the U.S.

But General Motors thinks the hundreds of thousands of disenchanted VW owners who will soon be selling their cars back to the automaker represent an opportunity that's too good to overlook, according to the trade journal Automotive News

The VW scandal may have poisoned the well, however. By rigging the TDI engines to look pristine at emission check stations while polluting up to 40 times the legal limit on the highway, Volkswagen has focused attention on the health risks of diesel exhaust, which includes harmful paritculate matter blamed for emphysema, lung cancer, and other diseases.

An MIT study found that dirty diesels will cause at least 60 U.S.deaths, possibly twice that many if the recall drags on for years.

In 2012, the World Health Organization classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans and also found a "positive association" between diesel exhaust and development of bladder cancer.

Peppy performance

Despite that, says Automotive News, GM is planning to offer the Chevrolet Equinox and Cruze with a newly designed 1.6-liter diesel engine that will offer the kind of peppy acceleration and impressive fuel economy that VW owners have come to crave.

It quotes GM powertrain chief Dan Nicholson as saying there are a lot of "diesel-loyal people who are looking for a brand." The market is pretty much wide open. VW has withdrawn its diesel line from the U.S. and the earliest it could start trying to sell diesels again would be in 2018.

GM's diesel plans are already far down the road. The Equinox compact cross-over will offer a diesel option in 2017 and the Cruze five-door hatchback is expected to follow in about a year.

The Cruze comes as close as any American car to the VW Golf, which was the company's most popular diesel model. Its Equinox is comparable to the VW Tiguan, currently its biggest seller. The Tiguan was never made available with a diesel in the U.S., but its just the type of smaller, sporty vehicle that does well with diesel powertrains.

The 1.6-liter diesel was developed in Turin, Italy, where it is called the "whisper diesel" because it runs so quietly. It powers the Opel Astra European editions and develops 160 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque. The U.S. version is expected to deliver about 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

The status of Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Note 7, appears very much up in the air after isolated reports last week that new replacement models have also burst into flames.

At least two mobile carriers are now urging Note 7 owners to switch to another model.

An exploding battery issue forced the Korean electronics firm to initiate a recall of the phone, three weeks after its August 19 release. Last week, a Southwest Airlines jet, at the gate in Louisville, was evacuated when a passenger's replacement Note 7 caught fire. Airlines now routinely order passengers to power down their Note 7s as part of the boarding instructions.

Samsung's last official statement on the matter came Friday, when it reacted to the latest incidents.

"We continue to move quickly to investigate the reported case to determine the cause and will share findings as soon as possible," the statement said. "We remain in close contact with the CPSC throughout this process. If we conclude a safety issue exists, we will work with the CPSC to take immediate steps to address the situation."

Halting production?

On Monday, a Korean news agency reported that Samsung had temporarily suspended production of the Note 7. It based the report on a statement from an unnamed official at an unnamed Samsung supplier.

Forbes quotes a Samsung spokesperson as confirming that the company is "…temporarily adjusting the Galaxy Note 7 production schedule in order to take further steps to ensure quality and safety matters."

Exchange them for another model

In the U.S., Computer World quotes AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook as saying the mobile provider will suspend its program of distributing new Note 7s in exchange for the original model. Instead, AT&T said it is encouraging consumers to exchange their Note 7 for another model.

Similarly, T-Mobile has issued a statement, saying it is temporarily suspending all sales of the new Note7 and exchanges for replacement Note7 devices.

"Customers can still bring their recalled Note7 or the new replacement Note7, along with accessories they purchased from T-Mobile, to a T-Mobile store for a full refund and choose from any device in T-Mobile's inventory," the company said.

T-Mobile is also waiving restocking charges, and any customers who received promotional premiums for their Note 7 purchase may keep them.

In the meantime, just about everyone – not just the airlines – is advising consumers who own a Note 7 to power it down and leave it off.

Facebook users may remember back a couple of years when the social media giant decided to create an app that exclusively handled its messages feature. The decision ended up being very controversial, with many consumers saying that they preferred to deal with all of their Facebook-related activities in one place instead of having to download a different app to divide the work up.

Since then, things have cooled down significantly and mobile users have gotten used to dealing with both apps. But in an announcement on Friday, Facebook said that it will be creating an app that exclusively deals with its "Events" feature, appropriately called "Events from Facebook." Whether or not there will be backlash from users is uncertain, since the Events feature is much less used on Facebook than Messenger is -- although the company says the former draws 100 million users.

The new app doesn't really add anything new to the Events experience, but it will allow users to keep track of all their social occasions without having to launch the base Facebook app. Users can also open the app and see what events friends are "interested in," or see events that are linked to pages they have "liked."

Additionally, users can use a feature that allows them see what events are happening in their area. The events are sorted by time, location, and personal interests, and they are viewable on the app's interactive map. Users can also check out future events in any city, possibly facilitating activities on an upcoming vacation or trip.

At this time, users can still access their events on the base Facebook app, but whether or not the company will force the use of Events from Facebook in the future like it did with Messenger is still up in the air. The app is currently available on iOS and will launch on the Android platform in the near future.

Avid do-it-yourselfers are no strangers to the idea of seeking out tools that make the job easier. Now, DIYers who focus their efforts on home improvement may find a new best friend in an app called DIYZ.

Pronounced "dee-eye-wise," the app seeks to impart knowledge and dish out expert advice on all manner of home improvement projects. Users can see step-by-step instructions and tutorial videos that can simplify the task at hand.

For those who lack confidence in their DIY skills, having the app handy while tackling a home improvement project could be especially beneficial. According to a report, 41% of DIYers consider certain home renovations beyond their skill level.

But even the most skilled DIYers may find new and useful information within the app. Matt Nestorick, DIYZ business leader, says the app caters to DIYers of all skill levels.

How-to's and advice

Nestorick says the app gives homeowners what they need most: "the added confidence to do it yourself and to do it wise."

Whether you're fixing a plumbing problem, attempting to improve your lawn or garden, or getting to the bottom of an electrical issue, DIYZ can help with its user-friendly instructions and segmented how-to videos.

Encounter a roadblock on your DIY endeavor? Let a pro help. A quick video chat with a Pro Advisor can help you cruise past your predicament and get back on track.

See estimated cost

In addition to comprehensive content and expert advice, DIYZ users will find that they are able to shop for recommended tools and materials right from the app.

If you begin to suspect that your project isn't very DIY-friendly, the app can step in and compare the cost of doing it yourself versus hiring a professional. An estimate of your project's difficulty level can also help you determine whether or not it's worth it to hire a pro.

The app is available for free on the App Store and Google Play. For a limited time, users can video chat with a Pro Advisor for free. In the future, video chats will cost $10 for ten minutes and $1 per minute after that. 

A few years ago some people began to be put off by "Black Friday creep." Stores kept opening earlier and earlier, until they started opening on Thanksgiving Day.

Whether it was consumer backlash at that idea, grumpy employees, or the realization they can sell just as much stuff online, an increasing number of stores this year have made a point of announcing they will not be open on turkey day.

BestBlackFriday.com provided us with this list of 44 confirmed closings:

  • A.C. Moore
  • American Girl
  • AT&T
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • BJ's Wholesale Club
  • Blain's Farm & Fleet
  • Burlington
  • Cabela's
  • Christmas Tree Shops
  • Costco
  • Crate and Barrel

  • Dillard's

  • GameStop

  • Gardner-White Furniture

  • Guitar Center

  • Hobby Lobby

  • Home Depot

  • HomeGoods

  • IKEA

  • Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores

  • Lowe's

  • Marshalls

  • Mattress Firm

  • Menards

  • Mills Fleet Farm

  • Neiman Marcus

  • Nordstrom

  • Nordstrom Rack

  • Outdoor Research

  • P.C. Richard & Son

  • Patagonia

  • Petco

  • PetSmart

  • Pier 1 Imports

  • Publix

  • Raymour and Flanagan Furniture

  • Sam's Club

  • Sierra Trading Post

  • Staples

  • The Container Store

  • T.J. Maxx

  • Tractor Supply

  • Von Maur

"While the common theme is 'so employees can spend more time with friends and family,' many stores also want to 'bring Black Friday back,' since it has really lost some of its luster in recent years," said BestBlackFriday.com principal Philip Dengler.

Also, Thanksgiving Blue Laws for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine prevent stores in those states from being open on Thanksgiving, regardless of what the national chain is doing.

Very few people pay cash for a car or truck, so choosing the right way to finance your ride is important.

Interest rates are near record lows but vehicle prices aren't. In fact, the average transaction price on a new car these days is north of $34,000, making for a steep monthly payment, even with 0% financing.

For that reason, new car leases have grown in popularity, since the monthly payments are generally significantly lower. But sometimes the best way to go on auto financing isn't that obvious.

"Do your homework ahead of time and don't let the facts and figures overshadow your excitement as you buy your next car," said Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader.

Don't get too focused on the monthly payment

Autotrader has come up with a number of helpful financing tips that are worth passing along. The first is fairly important – don't be overly focused with the monthly payment.

If you are only looking at the monthly payment, you may find yourself financing the car over a longer time period than you should. Autotrader warns that lengthy terms sometimes result in higher interest rates, meaning you'll end up paying more for the car than your should.

If you can't afford the payment amortized over four or five years, then maybe you can't afford the car. That means you should probably shop for a less expensive vehicle.

Shop around for financing

Also, it pays to shop around for financing, just as you shop around for the best deal on a car or truck. Despite what you may have heard, rate shopping has little to no impact on your credit score. If there are a number of inquiries on auto financing within a short time, Autotrader says that typically counts as a single hit.

Your credit score will determine your rate – the higher your score, the lower your interest rate. If you have excellent credit, look around for 0% financing deals. They are the best bargains out there. It's like paying cash for a vehicle, but you can spread the payments out over 60 months.

If your credit isn't so good, try to come up with more cash for a down payment. The more equity you have in the vehicle, the less risky you look to lenders. And financing less of the purchase price will lower your payment a bit.

Lease pros and cons

Leases are popular because of the lower monthly payment, but they aren't right for every consumer. You never really own the vehicle, meaning you will always have a monthly payment. However, if you are willing to lease a less expensive car, that payment can often be well below $200 a month.

As an alternative, however, Autotrader suggests considering the purchase of a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicle. The advantage is getting a one- or two-year-old model at a price well below the new car price.

With a lease, you are stuck paying for the depreciation – the drop in price once you take possession of the vehicle. With a CPO, someone else has already paid for that.

Good Earth Egg Company of Bonne Terre, Mo., is recalling shell eggs that have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

The following products are being recalled:

  • Various sizes of shell eggs packaged in the following ways: 6-count cartons, 10-count cartons, 12-count cartons, 18-count cartons, 15 dozen cases, and 30 dozen cases.

The dates and codes on the cartons and cases will include everything prior to and including date code 252 – Sell By 10/08/2016, with "Packed for" or "Produced for Good Earth Egg Company"

The recalled products were distributed throughout the Midwest, including Missouri, Illinois and Kansas, at the retail and wholesale level, institutions, restaurants and to walk-in customers.

Good Earth eggs were sold at Dierbergs, Straubs, Midtowne Market and Price Chopper in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

What to do

Customers do not need to return the product to the store where it was purchased. Instead, they should discard any product and its container. The company will work directly with each consumer to manage replacement of its product.

Consumers with questions may contact Good Earth Egg Company at goodeartheggco@hotmail.com.

Daily's Premium Meats of Salt Lake City, Utah, is recalling approximately 170 pounds of ready-to-eat bacon product.

The product may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

There have been no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following item, produced on September 22, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 17 CASES of 2-5 lbs. PACKAGES IN CARDBOARD BOXES, CONTAINING "48108 REGULAR ENDS PRECOOKED BACON NET WT. 10 lbs. 2/5 lbs." with a packaging date of "9/22/16" and use by date of "6/19/17.

The recalled product bears establishment number "EST. 6133" inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to Associated Foods retail locations in Idaho and Utah.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Barry VanderVeur at (801)-707-6145. 

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 28,249 model year 2012-2013 Audi A6s andA7s.

The vehicles have a fuel hose in the engine compartment that may degrade and leak fuel. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the under hood fuel pump and fuel hose, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. VW's number for this recall is 24BZ.

For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it online instead of simply picking it up at the store.

Showrooming is certainly commonplace these days, but it's often because so few stores are actually able to sell the items consumers are looking for. There may be a single item on display but it's increasingly difficult to be able to make an actual purchase.

I was reminded of this the other day when I stopped into the neighborhood Lowe's to pick up a battery-powered hedge trimmer. The vast garden department had a shelf full of trimmers, ranging from simple plug-in models to the large gas-powered variety favored by professionals.

I found one that looked suitable, hefted it around a bit, and decided it would be fine. But in the section where the boxed units were stored, the model I wanted was nowhere to be found. Looking closely, I discovered there were no battery-powered units at all, only a few plug-in types and only two gas-powered models.

"We don't have it"

"If it's not there, we don't have it," a friendly Lowe's employee shrugged. I bought $10 worth of mulch, went home and ordered $200 worth of hedge trimmer, battery, and charger from Amazon.

It was just a few weeks earlier in another Lowe's that I went in search of an outdoor lighting transformer to replace one that had mysteriously died. Again, a yawning vacuum greeted me -- no transformers in stock.

"It's because of Home Depot," a clerk sniffed. "They don't have any in stock so they send their customers over here and buy up all of ours. You might as well just order it from Amazon."

Best Buy is also becoming a de facto Amazon showroom. When my laptop went toes-up on a recent trip, I dashed over to the nearest Best Buy to pick up a Chromebook to tide me over. I was in luck -- the store had the new HP model I had been admiring.

"This is great, I'll take one of these," I told the salesman, who looked skeptically at me.

"Sir, I can't sell you that one. It's the only one we have. We might get some more next Thursday, maybe," he said. "If you really need it in a hurry, you could just order it from Amazon."

Even furniture is becoming an online-only item. I found an entertainment cabinet, again at Best Buy, while helping a friend move only to be told it was the only one in stock.

"I could special-order it for you but the expedited shipping would cost more than it's worth," the salesman said. "You could just order it from Amazon and save a lot of money." (Target, which actually stocks merchandise in some of its stores, turned out to have a nearly identical item).

Online gas?

I expect someday to pull into a gas station and be advised to just order a tank online. We all understand that inventory is expensive and consumer buying habits difficult to predict, but at some point consumers may give up even trying to shop in stores if the out-of-stock trend continues.

The situation is much the same in the online world -- Amazon, like a giant piranha -- is devouring everything in sight. A new study finds Amazon is even nudging out search engines as the go-to spot for consumers.

The BloomReach research, conducted by Survata, found that 55 percent of consumers start their product searches on Amazon -- up from 44 percent just a year ago. That compares to 28 percent who first look for products using search engines and 16 percent who start their digital shopping excursions on a specific retailer's website.

The survey of 2,000 consumers and 400 marketing and sales representatives found an interesting fear lurking beneath consumers' Amazon infatuation -- nearly one in five said they were concerned about Amazon's growing dominance of the retail field.

That fear is more explicit among retail professionals. Forty percent said they fear losing their job because of a competitor's dominance. Those whose main competitor is Amazon were twice as worried -- 80 percent fear losing their jobs because of Amazon.

The fast-approaching holiday shopping season is not likely to improve matters. UPS and FedEx are staffing up for what's expected to be the biggest online buying spree ever. Everybody else? Perhaps the news that Mall of America won't bother to open on Thanksgiving Day this year pretty much says it all. 

Instead of leaping up from the table and dashing over to the mall, we can all just leap up from the table and grab our laptops.

Each morning my spouse decides where he'll have coffee. This morning it was Lucerne, Switzerland, yesterday it was Ghent, Belgium, and tomorrow, maybe Times Square in Manhattan.

He's not traveling, but making a selection from the collection of Starbucks mugs he's brought home from his travels. This isn't his only collection. He wears a baseball cap to protect himself from the sun each day and he buys them at every destination.  It's not only a happy reminder, but a great conversation starter.

My spouse isn't the only one in our household who enjoys souvenir shopping. While I have brought home my share of artwork, decorative items, and jewelry, the items that bring me the most joy are the smaller ones I use every day, like my wallet. I bought it on the island of Bellagio on Lake Como. Every time I use it I'm reminded of a picture-perfect sunny day, wandering the streets and alleys of this charming island. While I'm extracting a credit card, I might remember how much fun it was to practice my limited Italian or how hard it was to choose a flavor of delicious gelato.  

It's fun to seek out the everyday items we use as travel souvenirs. They become frequent reminders of relaxed days, new experiences, and faraway places.

What can you purchase?

Annual calendars are a great memento of destinations you've visited. Last year I bought one from the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, and next year I will be using one from my trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Bookmarks are sold most often in museum gift shops and bookstores. They are perennial favorites of mine and I take the time to look through them all when starting a book.

Wallets and small leather items, such as gloves, business card holders, and belts are both useful and pack well.

Scarfs can be unique to your destination, useful, and reasonable. The pashminas I buy abroad are distinctive and often higher quality than those I find at home.

Fun items

Mugs can be fun items. Obviously you can use them for coffee and tea, but they are also great for storing pens, markers, cosmetic brushes, artist supplies, and anything requiring vertical storage.

Serving pieces made from unique materials are also a great find. I've found useful ones in olive wood, stainless, china, and pewter. They're easy to pack and delightful to use.

Cocktail napkins are useful and I enjoy the wonderful ones I find in my travels. They are the same price that I would pay at home but with distinctive motifs.

I love my heavy duty beverage glasses, one a gift from my daughter from her travels and the other from my Alaskan trip. When one broke I replaced it with one from an inn at Yellowstone.

Most of my table linens come from faraway places. Each week I choose a different table runner, maybe one from Provence, or Orvieto, or maybe Tallinn. I find you can never have too many placemats and they are so easy to pack.

Lastly, I bring home note pads. I constantly replenish my stack and use them daily.

Avoid buying souvenirs that will languish in a drawer or closet. Instead, find things you will use often so each time you see or handle it, it will trigger a memory, a smile, and warm your heart. That's what travel is all about.

With Hurricane Matthew roaring up the Florida coast and threatening parts of Georgia and South Carolina, now might be a good time to review what happens when it's over.

Property owners affected by the storm will likely be calling their insurance agents to start the claims process.

Once the storm has passed and it is safe to inspect your property, photograph any damage, then contact your insurance provider right away. Keep in mind many of your neighbors will be doing the same, so get in line as soon as possible.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is offering some advice for making the process go smoothly. It starts with writing down your claim number and having it handy each time you have contact with the insurance company. It makes its job easier and will probably mean you will get better service.

Most homeowner's policies cover "loss of use," so if your kitchen isn't usable, make sure to keep receipts for meals at restaurants and, if the home isn't habitable, hotel receipts.

Who's making the decisions?

CFA says there is an important distinction between claims adjusters employed by the insurance company and those who are independent contractors, so when the claims adjuster arrives, find out which he or she is. An independent contractor may not be authorized to make claims decisions. Find out who is making the decision and make sure you have a way to communicate with that person.

Insurance companies usually have contractors they use for repairs and will recommend using them for estimates. CFA says you may want to obtain an estimate from that contractor but you are under no obligation to use it for the repairs.

CFA estimates there could be as many as 100,000 claims for wind damage by homeowners but far fewer federal flood insurance claims. Damage payments could exceed $7.5 billion.

Flood damage not covered

Remember that your homeowner's insurance will cover most damage caused by wind but not from flooding. And adjusters will probably be under pressure to attribute as much of the damage to flooding as possible. The result could be some significant out-of-pocket expense.

"Families will have to dig deeper into their pockets because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other policy limitations," said J. Robert Hunter, Director of Insurance for CFA and former Federal Insurance Administrator and Texas Insurance Commissioner. "This liability shift to consumers may take some by surprise, since disclosures are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read."

Hunter says if recent hurricanes are any indication, consumers will have to remain vigilant with their insurance companies, to make sure they receive a full and fair settlement.

What if the insurance company denies your claim? CFA says consumers should ask the company representative to identify the specific language in the policy that served as the basis for the denial.

Buses and subways are plastered with ads, and airlines increasingly are finding ways to display ads while you're strapped into your seat. So why shouldn't cars present ads as well?

That seems to be the thinking behind a new General Motors initiative called OnStar Business Driver, an in-car advertising platform that's intended to literally drive you to purchase sponsors' products.

GM says it will be installing the system in more than two million cars by the end of next year. The advertising platform doubles -- or perhaps masquerades as -- an "infotainment center," providing such things as oil level and tire pressure as well as traffic information and directions, according to a report in MediaPost.

And the advertising? Well, of course, it will be what marketers call "geo-targeted," meaning that it will use your GPS data to display ads for businesses that are along your route. 

Maybe it will even combine the location data with other information. If, let's say, your oil is old and dirty and a Jiffy Lube looms ahead, the system might bombard you with JiffyLube ads. (GM didn't say that; we did).

Getting to know you ...

Idle speculation aside, your car will soon know pretty much everything about you, or at least the OnStar Business Driver will. It's actually an embedded app hosted in the Salesforce cloud. And since GM knows who buys its cars, the system will have your demographic profile, your home address, and your current location, which gives it a pretty good headstart on knowing whether it should show you ads for the Starbucks down the street or the geriatric care center around the corner. 

GM says the system has been extensively tested to minimize distraction, presenting information in small snippets so you can keep your eyes on the road while learning the latest and greatest news from the Gap.

Like a lot of advertising channels, this may prove to be a lot more popular with advertisers than with consumers, but that doesn't mean it won't be a successful business model.

Sleep is a commodity in homes with babies and toddlers, and parents often do everything they can to prevent a sleep regression.

If you're a parent to a little one, you may be dreading the day the clock falls back one hour and inevitably throws off your baby's internal clock.

This year, daylight savings will happen on November 6. While the day is fast approaching, you've still got plenty of time to start preparing your child for the time change.

What to do

To avoid losing any ground in sleep training once daylight savings hits, the sleep consultants at Dream Baby Sleep recommend preparing a plan ahead of time.  

The first step? Identify the type of child you have. If your child isn't very adaptable to things like a missed nap or a too-late bedtime, consider implementing a gradual change beginning nine days before daylight savings.

If your child isn't adept at handling sudden changes to their sleep schedule, consider following these tips for a smoother transition:

  • Slow change. Nine days before the time change, parents can start pushing their child's nap and bedtime schedule later by 15 minutes every three days.
  • Embrace the new clock. Once you've changed your clocks, put the old clock out of your mind immediately. In other words, don't calculate what your child's bedtime would have been yesterday. Adjusting quickly can make it easier for your kids to do the same.
  • Keep kids' rooms dark. With the sun making an earlier appearance in the mornings, kids may be tempted to rise earlier. Black out shades can help darken your child's room and keep them sleeping soundly.
  • Don't wake your baby earlier than 6 AM. On the day of the time change (and beyond, if necessary), avoid getting your baby up before 6 AM. If you're consistent with these 6 AM wake-ups, the experts at Dream Baby Sleep say the early rising will resolve itself.

When we first reported details about Yahoo's massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the disaster might negatively affect the acquisition deal it established with Verizon.

The telecommunications giant snatched up the struggling data company in July for $4.8 billion. However, since the breach happened in 2014 and it wasn't properly communicated, that gives Verizon some leverage to re-negotiate a price or back out of the deal entirely.

Now, a new report from the New York Post says that Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off the deal. It seems that news of the breach, along with allegations that Yahoo scanned emails for terrorist signals for a government agency, has put a strain on the negotiations.

"In the last day we've heard that [AOL boss] Tim [Armstrong] is getting cold feet. He's pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he's saying, 'Can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?'" said a source close to Verizon.

Yahoo pushes back

Asking for a discount simply makes good business sense, since the scandal and any financial consequences diminishes Yahoo value. On top of the discount, sources say that Verizon is putting aside $1 billion in reserve to deal with any fallout from the breach. It's a move that former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn detailed to CNBC on Wednesday.

"If I'm sitting at Verizon right now . . . just from a business standpoint, I'd probably reserve a bunch of money against the deal or go back to Yahoo and ask for a discount," he said.

At the same time, however, Yahoo is pushing back against the suggestion. The company has balked at the prospect of a discount, saying that Verizon should honor the established deal and that it has no legal avenue to change the terms at this point. Yahoo's board is set to meet in two weeks to address the issue, but discussions will continue up to that point.

"Tim was out there this week laying the law down and [Yahoo CEO] Marissa [Mayer] is trying to protect shareholders. . . Tim knows how to be fair, while Verizon is pushing him, he can bridge the gap," said a source close to the situation.

Incentive for a deal

On Verizon's end, the breach comes at an inopportune time for its other business prospects. The company acquired AOL nearly a year and a half ago for $4.4 billion and had hoped to combine it with its Yahoo acquisition to create a competitive rival to Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

Estimates suggest that the combination will reach 1 billion consumers if it closes in the first quarter, and that number could grow to 2 billion by 2020. Wanting to get the Yahoo acquisition put together may provide incentive for Armstrong to hammer out a deal quickly, but at this point the going may be slow and nothing is set in stone.

"They're being cautious because they don't know what they're going to find," one source said.

When it comes to clocking quality time with the kids, you may be doing better than you think. A new study finds that parents across most Western countries are spending more time with their children than parents did in the 1960s.

The study, which compared data collected in 1965 and 2012, also resulted in the conclusion that parents with higher levels of education tend to spend the most time with their kids.

To conduct the study, researchers examined one day in the life of 122,000 mothers and fathers. Participating parents used a daily diary to record how much time they spent on child-care activities such as meal preparation, feeding, bathing, playing, reading, and helping kids with homework.

In comparing the data, researchers found that today's busy moms and dads are outdoing parents of previous generations.

Fathers' time quadrupled

Fifty years ago, mothers were spending roughly 54 minutes on child-care activities each day. In 2012, however, moms are logging around 104 minutes daily. And dads have really stepped up the plate.

Fathers in 1965 spent a measly average of just 16 minutes with their kids each day. Today's dads, on the other hand, are spending around 59 minutes per day taking care of their daddy duties.  

"Contemporary fathers -- having more egalitarian gender views -- want to be more involved in their children's lives than their own dads were," said study co-author Judith Treas, UCI Chancellor's Professor of sociology. 

Treas adds that the increase in the amount of time parents are spending with their children is certainly a good thing. "The time parents spend with children is regarded as critical for positive cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes." 

College Vs. No college

When researchers sorted the more recent data into two categories, parents with a college education and parents without, they found an unexpected difference: less educated moms and dads spent less time with their kids.

College-educated mothers spent approximately 123 minutes taking care of the kids each day, while less educated mothers spent 94 minutes daily.

The same finding held true for fathers. Degree-holding dads spent 74 minutes a day with their kids. Fathers without a degree spent a daily average of 50 minutes on child care.

This finding surprised researchers, because, as Treas explained, "According to economic theory, higher wages should discourage well-educated parents from foregoing work to spend extra time with youngsters. Also, they have the money to pay others to care for their children."

The exception: France

The study authors note that France was the only country that showed a decrease in time spent with the kids. As for why this may be, Treas says there is no clear answer. There are, however, several possibilities.

"No one is certain why the French are exceptional. Public spending on child care is fairly high in France, lightening parental responsibilities. Some experts speculate that the French simply believe children can accommodate successfully without parents making big changes to their lifestyles."

The study was published online in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Prepare for bad news if you live in Philadelphia and are a fan of ride-sharing services like UberX and Lyft; as of today, the services are once again illegal in the city, according to a Common Pleas Court judge ruling on Thursday.

The change in status has created a sort of "legal limbo," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Back in July, the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) temporarily granted legality to the ride-sharing companies, and drivers took advantage of the opportunity to earn a little extra spending money.

However, that agreement expired at the beginning of the month, and the agency says it will once again be treating each company as an illegal service provider within city limits. This puts around 1,200 drivers in Philadelphia at risk if they choose to keep driving for the services. Previously, the PPA fined drivers and the companies they worked for up to $1,000.

Dennis Weldon, general counsel of the PPA, says he's not sure if these measures will be repeated, but he reiterates that the services are no longer sanctioned. "It's all on the table. We're not saying we will. . . we're saying it's illegal," he said.

Unfair treatment

The illegal status was reaffirmed, in part, due to a lawsuit filed against the PPA by holders of Philadelphia taxicab medallions. The group alleged that cab companies and ride-sharing services weren't being treated equally by the agency, even though they essentially conduct the same kind of business.

The call for equal statewide regulations has been echoed by drivers of all stripes in the city. "I would rather have the same regulation and the same stuff for everyone," said Ali Razak, president of the Philadelphia Limousine Association and representative of Uber Black drivers.

Unfortunately, getting a new set of rules in place may not be a quick and easy process. The legislature handling the issue will not meet again until October 17, and there will undoubtedly be much discussion and debate about what the appropriate regulations will be.

"We're hoping that by the time Oct. 17 comes around, and that gives us another 10 days, we're doing everything to get this moving," said Rep Maria Donatucci, head of the Philadelphia delegation to the House.

Regulatory action needed

While details on regulations continue to be hammered out, UberX and Lyft drivers will have to tread lightly. Some have stated that they may stay clear of busy central parts of the city in order to avoid possible penalties, although the PPA has said it won't take immediate enforcement actions against drivers who have a passenger in tow.

Uber and Lyft have both stated that they will not abide by the city's order and will allow drivers to continue to conduct their business. Each company is urging policymakers to create a regulatory framework for the growing industry as quickly as possible.

"This order makes it even more clear that the clock has run out for Harrisburg to pass a comprehensive ride-sharing bill," said Uber spokesman Craig Ewer, adding that the company is reviewing the judge's ruling.

Some of those working for the ride-sharing companies have met the sudden reversal of policy with contempt. "I think it's an inconvenience for people like myself," said Lyft driver Justin Heartsfield, adding that he could do without the extra money, but he would be flat broke after paying his bills every month.

The topic will likely be a hot-button issue for the month of October. If the legislature is unable to come up with a regulatory framework by November, then the PPA will be able to pursue an injunction against Lyft and Uber to stop them from operating in the city, Weldon said.

Home prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The latest report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests there's no relief in sight for some of these Western renters.

Rents are up generally because more consumers are renting instead of buying. That increases competition for apartments and condos and single-family homes on the rental market.

In the West, there's another contributing factor – high-paying tech jobs. As competition increases for the limited number of rental properties, landlords know there are plenty of people with good jobs who can pay a higher rent.

Up 7% in Seattle

Zillow predicts that rents will go up the most in Seattle and Portland over the next 12 months. While rents have begun to level off in some U.S. markets, renters in Seattle could see rents rise 7%, while Portland renters should brace for a 6% increase.

On the other hand, the rise in rents should slow in the red-hot tech markets of San Francisco and San Jose, where the cost of renting a home is projected to rise about 4% – still more than twice the rate of inflation.

It's not just the West where renters need to hold onto their wallets. Rents are generally rising in markets that have seen the most home price appreciation, and that includes Denver, Miami, and Cincinnati, the only Midwestern market to make the Zillow list of fastest growing rental markets.

High demand, low supply

Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell says high rent growth in these markets is being driven by high demand and low supply.

"We have more renters today than in the past and most newly formed households are renter households," she said. "This taken together with a lack of new rental construction at less expensive price points has been a recipe for rising rents."

But the news is not all bleak. Gudell says she expects rents in the hottest markets to begin to slow by the middle of next year.

"Instead of the 10% rental appreciation we've been seeing in some places, expect growth more along the lines of 4% to 7%," she said. "This is still high, but will hopefully give renters some relief."

If you have a good job and get regular raises, you might be able to scrape by. But U.S. Census data shows half of all renters, and 83% of those with incomes less than $20,000, pay more than 30% of their incomes for rent.

We report year after year that Black Friday is not necessarily the best day for holiday shopping deals. It seems more consumers are getting the message.

RetailNext, a brick-and-mortar retail analytics firm, has issued its forecast for the busiest holiday shopping days and Black Friday has fallen to third place, behind December 23 and December 17.

The company bases its forecast on two factors: anticipated foot traffic and sales. Black Friday is in third place on both lists.

Shelley Kohan, a RetailNext vice-president, says more retailers in recent years have opened on Thanksgiving Day, taking both sales and traffic from Black Friday.

"This year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, most shoppers will want to cut short their shopping early on Saturday, December 24, leaving the day before, Friday, as retail's biggest opportunity for sales," Kohan said. "For store visits, Super Saturday will lead the way, with Black Friday a very close second."

December will see the most shopping

According to the forecasts, the busiest holiday shopping days in terms of both sales and traffic are all in December, with the exception of Black Friday. That suggests that despite other data showing many consumers are already shopping, most consumers will either procrastinate or decide they will get the best deals closer to Christmas.

That may be causing retailers to become more aggressive in pricing their doorbuster specials for the big day. In recent years, these specials have become more numerous and attractive.

In its Black Friday deal forecast, GottaDeal.com says most of these Black Friday deals will also be found online, perhaps cutting into stores' foot traffic. This year it predicts 42-inch HDTV sets should go as low as $149 and larger models, up to 60 inches, could be priced as low as $279. There should also be attractive deals on 4K Ultra HD sets.

The forecast also has good news for gamers. Look for attractive holiday bundles for video game systems because, with no truly new systems this year, prices on existing models should drop sharply.

The best days for deals tend to vary year to year, but Black Friday usually isn't one of them. For retailers, they still have plenty of time and don't really want to give away the store with a month of shopping still ahead. And while you will find some really nice sales on Black Friday, other merchandise in the stores will go at its regular price.

September turned out to be something of a disappointment in terms of job creation.

The Department of Labor (DOL) reports employers added 156,000 private payroll positions last month after creating 167,000 jobs in August. The consensus forecast for September from Briefing.com was for 176,000 new jobs.

In addition, the unemployment rate edged up to 5.0% from the August reading of 4.9%. That translates to 7.9 million people who are out of work, a figure that has shown little movement over the past year.

A "so-so September jobs report," is the way Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza characterizes the latest employment news, adding that, "U.S. employment has noticeably lost -- not gained -- momentum since the December liftoff," which saw creation of around 250,000 jobs.

Who's working and who's not

Among the major worker groups, the jobless rate for Hispanics rose to 6.4% in September, while the rates for adult men (4.7%), adult women (4.4%), teenagers (15.8%), Whites (4.4%), Blacks (8.3%), and Asians (3.9%) showed little or no change.

The number of long-term unemployed (those out of work for 27 weeks or more) was virtually unchanged at 2.0 million, accounting for about a quarter of the unemployed.

Both the labor force participation rate (62.9%) and the employment-population ratio (59.8%) were little-changed.

Where the jobs are

Professional & business services and health care were the job-creation leaders in September, adding 67,000 and 33,000 workers, respectively.

More jobs were also seen in food services and drinking places (+30,000) and retail trade.

Mining employment was unchanged in September along with construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose last month by six cents -- to $25.79, and over the year are up 2.6%.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 110,042 model year 2015-2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, GTI, Audi A3 sedan and A3 Cabriolet vehicles.

A problem with the suction pump inside the fuel tank may allow fuel to flow into the evaporative emissions (EVAP) system.

As fuel accumulates in the EVAP system, it may leak out through the charcoal canister filter element. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

What to do

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the suction pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. An interim notice will be sent to owners by early November and a second notice will be sent when parts are available.

Volkswagen owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298, Audi owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's numbers for this recall are 20Y6 and 20Y5.

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.

The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack, allowing fuel to leak.

A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will clean the pump flange and install a butyl rubber band to protect the pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Interim notices will sent in early November 2016. A second notice will be sent when parts are available.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20W9.

Fresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.

The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label.

No illnesses are reported.

The following product is being recalled:

BRAND PRODUCT NAME SIZE UPC PRODUCTION CODE BEST IF USED BY DATE POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
Fresh Express American Salad 11 oz. 0 71279 241005 G264A127A 05-Oct AL, FL, GA, NC, SC, TN

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it.

A refund is available at the place of purchase or by contacting Fresh Express toll-free at (800) 242-5472 from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. (ET).

Brian Green had just boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in Louisville, bound for Baltimore. As he settled into his seat, he said he remembered to power down his smartphone – a Samsung Note 7. Then, he said something strange happened.

"I looked around to see what that popping noise was and there was just smoke billowing, pouring out of my pocket," Green told Louisville TV station WLKY. "I pulled it out of my pocket and threw it on the ground real quick and it continued to smoke for about 4 or 5 seconds heavily, and then that kind of filled up two or three rows in front and behind us in the cabin."

The smoldering smartphone forced evacuation of the Boeing 737 as a precaution. The plane was still at the gate and no one was injured.

But the overriding concern at this point is that Green says his smartphone was not one of the original models recalled because of their fire danger, but one of the replacements. One that was not supposed to explode and catch fire.

Investigations launched

Late Wednesday, technology site TechnoBuffalo caught up with Elliott Kaye, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The site quotes Kaye as saying the agency has been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Samsung to investigate what happened and why.

Samsung, meanwhile, said it is trying to recover Green's phone so that it can fully investigate it. Until then, it said it will not confirm that it was one of the new replacement devices.

But The Verge reports it has independently confirmed the device prompting the evacuation was, in fact, one of the replacement Note 7s, distributed in the last couple of weeks. The publication said it spoke with Green, who said he picked up the phone at an AT&T store September 21.

It also reports a photograph of the box shows a black square symbol that marks it as one of the replacement models.

The Samsung Note 7 was introduced on August 19, but by September 2, Samsung began recalling all the phones it had sold, promising replacements, after a series of incidents in which the phones exploded or caught fire.

When e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the tars and some other contaminants present in tobacco.

What might have gotten lost in the discussion, however, is another safety issue. Users are putting an electronic device in their mouths. And just as we have seen with other electronic devices, like smartphones, they sometimes explode.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina's (UNC) Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program decided to focus solely on e-cigarette safety rather than any other adverse health effects they might have.

They said that in the first half of this year, doctors at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals treated 10 inpatients with severe burns and facial fractures. The injuries, they say, all came from e-cigarette explosions.

Serious injury

According to their study, most of the injuries required surgery, and one patient lost his eye when an e-cigarette exploded while he puffed on it.

Clare Meernik, lead author of an editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says the UNC burn center's experience is not an outlier.

"We think these explosions are happening to a greater extent than the current medical literature suggests," she said.

Other safety officials have recognized a threat. E-cigarettes have been banned from airline luggage, for fear they could ignite a fire while the plane is airborne.

The BMJ editorial says there should be better monitoring of e-cigarette-related injuries, as well as better oversight of the manufacturing process.

Dr. Felicia Williams, of the UNC School of Medicine, says victims of an exploding e-cigarette suffer from flame burns, but also from exposure to chemicals. She's concerned most emergency rooms, where victims tend to first be treated, are unaware of the severe nature of the burns.

No way to track

Currently, the researchers say there isn't a system in the U.S. health care system to track these injuries. Most cases are gleaned from media reports. They point to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that more than nine million people in the U.S. are using e-cigarettes as a reason to increase the focus on safety.

"We believe the FDA should immediately develop safety standards that all manufacturers must comply with, Williams said. We know that some explosions are related to battery issues, but other mechanisms may also be involved."

Improved safety standards, she says, would reduce the number of severe burns and other injuries. Since the FDA now has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, the researchers say that authority should extend to the design and manufacture of these devices.

If you have a Nissan Versa, you may want to be careful about slamming the door. Federal safety regulators are looking into complaints that slamming the door can cause the airbag to deploy.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into complaints of airbag deployments in about 252,000 Versas from the 2011 and 2012 model years.

Complaints indicate that the driver or passenger curtain and seat-mounted airbags deployed when the front door was shut in a "possibly aggressive manner," a summary on NHTSA's website said.

In one complaint, the consumer reported that the Versa was parked in the driveway. "Upon entering and closing the vehicle doors, the air bags deployed without warning," the report said. "The vehicle was taken to the dealer where it was diagnosed that the air bag deployment was the result of the driver forcibly clsoing the [door]."

"I closed the passenger side door and the airbag from the door exploded. Just that easy," read one complaint.

No injuries have been reported. It was not clear which company supplied the airbag components to Nissan. 

Nissan said it is cooperating with regulators in investigating the matter.

First there was the Touareg, then the Tiguan, Volkswagen crossovers that have been admired for their looks and handling but not for their Teutonic nomenclature. 

Now, hoping to revive its diesel-fume-poisoned name in the United States, VW is introducing a new crossover later this year -- a seven-passenger, three-row family hauler that aims to cater to American tastes.

So, since VW traditionally gives its crossovers names starting with "T," you might expect it to be called something like Teutenhammer. But no, this time VW's top brass wanted to show they were sensitive to American tastes so they shrugged and signed off on "Atlas."

That's according to Automobilwoche, the German-language affiliate of Automotive News. The Atlas, which will be built in Chattanooga, has been shown under the concept name CrossBlue at auto shows but will be officially unveiled Oct. 27 at a press event in Santa Monica, Calif. 

Not soon enough

The new model can't come soon enough for Volkswagen dealers. They were complaining about a lack of American-style models even before VW trashed its reputation by installing stealth devices to conceal the illegal levels of pollution pumped out by the company's TDI "clean diesels."

By most accountings, the Tiguan has been VW's top seller in recent months. But although it's popular with drivers who like Euro styling and handling, it's generally regarded as too small and too expensive for its market segment.

The Touareg is bigger but costs two or three times as much as most VWs, putting it outside the brand's mainstream positioning. 

The Tiguan, by the way, is also being redesigned and enlarged. The new version is expected to hit showrooms in mid-2017.

Bringing certain Halloween costumes to life often requires a few special touches. For add-ons such as makeup or spooky novelty contact lenses, consumers often head to the web. But not all Halloween costumes and accessories found online may be safe.

According to brand protection firm MarkMonitor, the internet is rife with counterfeit Halloween costumes and accessories. Those hunting for a Halloween bargain may be directed to a site selling potentially dangerous counterfeits.

Purchasing a counterfeit item could lead to lasting physical damage, says Akino Chikada, senior brand protection manager at MarkMonitor. To avoid having a fright-filled night become truly scary, consumers should be cautious when shopping online for Halloween accessories.

Decorative contact lenses

Popular Halloween looks often involve the use of colored contacts or fake blood, but these accessories can cause harm if not purchased from a reputable site.

"Anything that has direct application or contact with your body can be a danger," Chikada told ConsumerAffairs, adding that novelty contact lenses found online may, in fact, be counterfeit.

Unwittingly purchasing decorative contact lenses from a counterfeiter can lead to eye infections, poor eye health, or other serious repercussions. Chikada notes that only licensed doctors can legally sell contact lenses.

Spotting a counterfeiter  

The internet can be a great place to find unusual items that may be difficult to track down in stores, but consumers should be on the lookout for counterfeiters. Here are a few of the tip-offs that may differentiate a counterfeiter from a legitimate site.

  • Low, low prices. If search terms such as "cheap" or "discount" originally led you to the site and the prices look too good to be true, be careful. It may be a counterfeiter.  
  • Lack of details. The site may look professional at a glance, but a scammer may not have a legitimate "About" or "FAQ" page. A slight misspelling of a popular domain name (called "typosquatting") can also be a red flag.
  • Failure to spell out return policy. Reputable sites will let you know what the return policy is up front.
  • Bad reputation. Do a search for "vendor+scam" and see if the website or seller you're dealing with is mentioned on any scam warnings.

Talk about retirement can be scary. No one knows how long they will live, nor how much money they will need.

Numbers are thrown around by any number of experts and organizations focused on retirement planning, but no one really knows for sure. Consumers only know they probably don't have enough money saved up. Or at least, that's the constant message.

Then there is Tom Sightings, a financial writer and contributor to US News. Sightings says he doubts very seriously that America faces a "retirement crisis." He gives five reasons.

Sightings' reasons

While it may be true that many Baby Boomers lack retirement savings, Sightings points out that many are among the last to receive pensions. That resource, he says, can add up to a lot of money over a lifetime.

The surveys that show working Americans aren't saving for retirement include all workers, including those in their twenties and thirties. There's still plenty of time for them to start.

Social Security may be in bad shape, but there's still time to fix it. And current law calls for cuts in Social Security if it can't be fixed, not its elimination.

Retirees are pretty good at finding extra sources of income. That reduces the number retiring entirely on Social Security.

People who suggest retirees can't sustain their standard of living fail to consider the fact that many retirees relocate to areas where it doesn't cost as much to live. They still enjoy a nice standard of living, but it just doesn't cost as much.

Plenty of people take exception

No doubt many professionals and organizations in the wealth management industry will take exception to Sightings' point of view. For one, the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council, released a report  shows Baby Boomers are woefully unprepared for retirement. It claims Baby Boomers will need at least $250,000 just to cover health care costs in retirement.

Putting money aside for retirement, of course, is never a bad idea, but it should be part of an overall retirement strategy. Part of that strategy may be a part-time retirement job that you enjoy. Part may be reducing costs by downsizing or relocating.

Consumers approaching retirement may benefit from talking with an objective financial adviser. You'll probably get the best advice, most tailored to your specific needs, if that adviser isn't also trying to sell a financial product at the same time.

Economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector increased at a strong pace during September.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reports that the NMI, a gauge of activity in the services sector, came in at 57.1% last month -- up 5.7% from August, showing growth for the 80th consecutive month.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while below that suggests contraction.

The index measuring new orders was up 8.6% to 60%, the Employment Index rose 6.5% to 57.2%, and the Prices Index edged up 2.2% to 54%, the sixth increase in prices in as many months.

The nation's purchasing and supply executives, while mostly positive about business conditions and the overall economy, note that a degree of uncertainty does exist due to geopolitical conditions coupled with the upcoming presidential election.

How they performed

The 14 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in September were:

  1. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting;
  2. Utilities;
  3. Retail Trade;
  4. Management of Companies & Support Services;
  5. Information;
  6. Health Care & Social Assistance;
  7. Transportation & Warehousing;
  8. Finance & Insurance;
  9. Construction;
  10. Other Services;
  11. Wholesale Trade;
  12. Public Administration;
  13. Accommodation & Food Services; and
  14. Professional, Scientific & Technical Services.

Four industries reported contraction in September:

  1. Mining;
  2. Real Estate, Rental & Leasing;
  3. Arts, Entertainment & Recreation; and
  4. Educational Services.

Jobless claims

The number of workers filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits has fallen below the 250,000 mark.

The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims totaled a seasonally adjusted 249,000 in the week ending October 1, a drop of 5,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

The four-week moving average was 253,500, a decrease of 2,500 from the previous week. That's the lowest level since December 8, 1973, and marks 83 straight weeks of claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970. This measure is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market since it lacks the volatility found in the weekly tally. There were no special factors impacting this week's initial claims.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

Employers across the U.S. announced plans to cut their workforces by 44,324 payroll positions in September -- up a whopping 38% from August.

Figures released by outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas show that despite the spike in terminations, cuts were down 25% from September 2015.

So far this year, employers have announced a total of 435,612 planned job cuts, 12% fewer than for the first nine months of the previous year.

"Heavy job cutting in the energy sector defined the first half of the year," said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. "But, each quarter has seen the number of overall job cuts decline, as this sector stabilized and the economy continued to improve."

Heavy education cuts

The education sector took the heaviest hit last month, as job cuts shot up 363% to 8,671. The bulk of the firings came from the collapse of for-profit college ITT Technical Institute, which led to 8,000 job losses.

The computer industry lost another 4,152 job cuts during the month, bringing the annual job-cut total for the sector to 59,719 -- second only to the energy sector, which has announced 98,733 terminations to date.

The retail sector, which announced 7,296 job cuts in September, ranks third in year-to-date job cuts with 51,939 through three quarters. However, those losses will be more than offset by seasonal hiring that has already seen nearly 230,000 new hires.

"It is not unusual to see a decreased job-cut activity in the third quarter, as many employers postpone major workforce decisions during the summer months," Challenger noted, adding, "We could see a resurgence in cuts to close out the year. The fourth quarter is typically when companies make strategic moves to prepare for the coming year."

Office Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.

The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard.

No incidents or injuries are reported.

This recall involves Winsley Mid-Back Chairs (Office Depot item #388262 for black or #907932 for white or the OfficeMax item #25100033 for black or #25100649 for white) sold on or before August 2016.

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Office Depot and OfficeMax stores nationwide and online at officedepot.com from August 2015, through August 2016, for about $150.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and contact Office Depot to receive a free repair kit.

Consumers may contact Office Depot at 800-949-9974 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.officedepot.com and click on Recall Notices at the bottom of the page for more information. 

Ford Motor Company is recalling 64,038 model year 2013-2017 Ford Focus hatchbacks manufactured February 14, 2012, to August 26, 2016 and equipped with a manual transmission.

The hatchback of the affected vehicles may be unlatched with a single press of the interior latch release button. As such, the vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 206, "Door Locks and Door Retention Components."

With only a single press needed, the driver may accidentally unlatch the hatchback, increasing the risk of injury to any unsecured passengers in the back.

What to do

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the Body Control Module with updated software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 14, 2016.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16C13.

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.

The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose, which could allow the bracket to detach from the vehicle while being it is being driven -- possibly becoming a road hazard.

If the bracket detaches during a vehicle recovery, there may be a loss of control of the towed vehicle. Either scenario increases the risk of a crash.

What to do

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will confirm both tow hook bracket bolts are properly tightened, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on November 6, 2016.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S73.

Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest shopping mall and in recent years, the two have co-existed, with shoppers jumping up from the dinner table to start their holiday shopping.

But not this year. The giant Minnesota mall announced today that it will be closed on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever. The mall's 520 stores can open if they want to but few are expected to do so.

Mall management says it simply wants to give employees a day off and get the holiday shopping emphasis where it belongs -- on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

"We've been talking about this for months, looking at the numbers, looking at the pros and the cons," said Jill Renslow, the mall's senior vice president of marketing and business development, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We're excited to give this day back to our employees so they can celebrate with their families."

"Special magic"

Renslow also hopes the move will "bring that special magic back to Black Friday" and noted that the mall will throw open its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, welcoming shoppers perhaps still somewhat besotted with family, food, and friends.

Critics have warned that Thanksgiving has been in danger of becoming little more than an elaborate luncheon that kicks off Black Friday, as stores great and small began opening for at least part of the traditional holiday in recent years.

For their part, retailers have complained that the extra hours have not generated appreciably more revenue but have simply spread it out over a greater time period while increasing labor, utility, and advertising expense.

That apparently mirrors Renslow's thinking. 

"By closing on Thanksgiving, we're confident we'll still get those strong numbers throughout the Black Friday weekend." she said, according to the Start-Tribune.

On the heels of news that millions of Yahoo user accounts had been compromised, a published report claims the tech company complied with a government order to scan all customer's email for certain combinations of characters in real time.

According to the exclusive report by Reuters, three former Yahoo employees with direct knowledge of the activity said the scans were carried out on behalf of an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency. The purpose of the scans was not revealed, though it likely involved monitoring of suspected terrorist activity.

If true, it would probably be the first time that an American internet company aided the government by searching real time communications, rather than turning over stored messages or monitoring a limited number of accounts in real time.

Mayer made the call

Two of the former Yahoo employees say the decision to comply with the government order was ultimately made by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and it proved to be highly controversial. They linked the decision to last year's resignation of chief information security officer Alex Stamos, who now works at Facebook.

Everyone else allegedly involved is remaining tight-lipped. Reuters said Facebook declined to make Stamos available for an interview. It quoted a terse statement from Yahoo that said only "Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States," leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports no one in the U.S. intelligence community is saying anything.

Yahoo rival Google, meanwhile, had no hesitation about commenting. A spokesman told Reuters the internet company had not been asked to scan emails, but if it had it would have refused. Microsoft also told Reuters it had not been approached.

Was Yahoo alone?

Security experts, however, said it was unlikely the intelligence services only approached Yahoo, since it was not determined which email service the target used.

"Based on this report, the order issued to Yahoo appears to be unprecedented and unconstitutional, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) staff attorney Patrick Toomey said in a statement. "The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit."

Toomey said customers who use email services like Yahoo are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court.

Last month Yahoo confirmed that 500 million user accounts had been compromised by hackers.

User information including name, email address, telephone number, date of birth, passwords, and, in some cases, security questions and answers were stolen almost two years ago.

The bad news just keeps coming for Wells Fargo. After revelations that its employees signed customers up for accounts without their permission, the bank has faced a slew of lawsuits and actions from several agencies and states.

About a week ago, California announced that it would be suspending financial ties with institution, saying that the Treasurer's Office would make no investments in Wells Fargo securities and that the state would stop using its brokerage and underwriting services. Now, the city of Chicago will be taking similar steps.

The Chicago City Council announced on Wednesday that it had approved a one-year suspension of Wells Fargo from city business, according to Reuters. The suspension will include the cessation of underwriting, brokerage, and trustee services.

"I hope this action by the city of Chicago will echo around the nation and make it clear to other institutions this conduct is unacceptable," said Alderman Edward Burke, head of the council's finance committee.

Wells Fargo released a statement on the suspension, suggesting that it may be a poor choice since the city will need the services it can provide. "Wells Fargo is disappointed that the Chicago City Council has chosen to suspend a relationship with one of the nation's safest and strongest financial institutions at a time when the city needs access to dependable financial partners," the statement read.

The action may be one of the first in a long line of similar decisions to come. On Monday, Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs suspended $30 billion in investment activity with Wells Fargo, and it's possible that other states and cities may do the same going forward.

To hear the infomercials and social media pitches tell it, a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement called Supple is the answer to arthritis and fibromyalgia pain. Why, it's scientifically proven effective, the ads and posts exclaim. 

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took a more rigid view. "Companies need solid scientific evidence to back up the health claims they make," said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Consumers should not have to take it on faith that products claiming to provide pain relief will live up to their billing."

The FTC alleged that Wisconsin-based Supple, LLC and its principals, CEO Peter Apatow and his ex-wife Dr. Monita Poudyal, put on a modern medicine show presentation. Their infomercials featured Poudyal acting as medica show hostess and Apatow acting as her supposed guest. 

Together, they portrayed Supple as a powerful all-natural drink that provides complete and long-lasting relief from joint pain; treats or relieves chronic or severe pain, including pain caused by all forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia; provides pain relief comparable to drugs or surgery; repairs cartilage; rebuilds joints and entire joint structures; and restores mobility and joint function to consumers with severe mobility restrictions.

A sales bonanza

It was great while it lasted. The FTC's complaint says the couple took in more than $150 million from sales of the supplement, which costs about $70 for a 24-day supply.

The FTC's complaint charged that the claims are false or not adequately substantiated. In addition, the FTC alleged that the defendants falsely claimed that Supple is clinically proven to eliminate joint pain.

The complaint also alleges that defendant Poudyal made unsubstantiated "expert endorsement" claims for the product, and falsely represented herself as an independent, impartial medical expert. The complaint further charges that the defendants failed to adequately disclose that Poudyal was married to Apatow during the time she was promoting the product.

In a settlement agreed to by the defendants, they are required to have scientific evidence to back up any future claims they make about pain relief, disease treatment, and health benefits, and are barred from misrepresenting the results of any scientific study. It also prohibits them from deceptively representing that Supple's endorsers are independent and objective when those endorsers have a close personal or financial stake in the company's product sales.

The settlement includes a $150 million judgment, most of which has been suspended based on the financial condition of Supple and Apatow.

Since the first bond between human and pet was established, we've been curious to know what they do while we're away. But it wasn't until recently that technology evolved enough for us to actually be able to see the answer.

As we've reported, several products -- including GoBone and the PlayDate small ball -- allow pet owners to check on and play games with their four-legged friends from wherever they may be. Now, Acer has rolled out a pet cam of its own.

The Pawbo Plus is an internet-connected camera that enables pet parents to see, talk to, and even play with their pets right from their smartphone.

Games and treats

A more advanced version of the original Pawbo, which debuted last year, the Plus boasts a wide-angle view, simultaneous streaming, and the ability to toggle between different feeds in the house.

Additionally, the app-controlled camera can help you give your pet some exercise and mental stimulation. Thanks to a motorized laser pointer, you don't have to be at home to be able to watch your cat dash after a red dot.

Interacting with Fido is also made easier. A microphone and two-way camera lets doting dog parents talk to their pooch, and an automatic treat dispenser can even dole out a reward.  

These remote interactions may lead to some cute antics, and luckily, you can share these aww-inspiring moments with others. With your permission, up to eight friends or family members can join and view the video streaming.

Add-ons

Later this year, several Pawbo add-ons will hit the market. An additional treat dispenser, appropriately named Pawbo Munch, may be a handy training tool for those raising a puppy. Pet owners can easily distract a chew-happy puppy with a treat on the other side of the room.

New toys will also be joining the Pawbo family. The Pawbo Catch will get cats active by waving a plastic wand in every direction. There's also Pawbo Punch, which will get your pet involved in a game similar to whack-a-mole.

The company is currently accepting pre-orders for the Pawbo Plus ($170). It is expected to ship in November.

Getting rid of old electronic devices isn't always easy. You're not allowed to dump the stuff just anywhere and there's not much of a market for many used laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets.

So the high-dollar buyback offers from Laptop & Desktop Repair, LLC, sounded pretty good to many consumers. The trouble is that many consumers didn't get the payments they were promised and a federal court has issued an order temporarily stopping the defendants' practices and freezing their assets.

"This is a classic case of bait-and-switch updated for the 21st century," said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The defendants in this case lure consumers with false promises of generous payments, then hold consumers hostage once they have mailed their devices to the company."

The complaint alleges that the defendants, which have done business under a variety of names including cashforiphones.com, cashforlaptops.com, ecyclebest.com, smartphonetraders.com, and sell-your-cell.com, generated a buyback quote for consumers who visited their websites and provided some basic information about the type and condition of the electronic device they wanted to sell.

The sites made it seem that consumers would get the exact amount of the quote. But when they sent in their used gear, the offer allegedly dropped to as little as three to ten percent of the original quote, according to the FTC.

According to the complaint, consumers usually had either three or five days to accept or reject the new lower offer. The complaint alleges that when consumers would attempt to call the defendants' purchasing department to ask for their device back, they would be met with long hold times, disconnected call s and an office that was frequently closed on the weekends – even though those days counted against the consumers' time limit to reject the lower quote.

Those few who did get through were told their devices had already been processed, the complaint alleges, adding that those who threatened to contact consumer agencies got a few dollars more for their trouble.

The company is charged with violating both the FTC Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act.

A new report by Bankrate.com suggests the reason so many consumers prefer not to use a bank is not all that mysterious. It can be expensive.

The headline number on the company's latest checking account report has to do with the cost of using an ATM. Using an in-network cash machine usually costs nothing, but the cost of using an out-of-network ATM jumped again this year.

The study found that, on average, banks charge non-customers $2.90 to withdraw money. It's not much of an increase from 2015, but it is the 12th straight year that cost has risen.

If your bank also slaps you with a fee to use an out-of-network ATM, that fee averages $1.67, up 1.8% from last year. Put the two numbers together and using an out-of-network ATM will cost an average $4.57, a record high for the 10th straight year.

Sweet spot for banks

ATM fees are a sweet spot for banks, according to Kevin Barker, a senior equity analyst with Piper Jaffray, who told Bankrate that he expects ATM fees to continue rising year-after-year.

But while it may cost more to use an out-of-network ATM, the report shows many other bank fees are not going up. There was actually a drop in the average overdraft fee.

"The average overdraft fee has been increasing year in and year out for 17 consecutive years. And that streak has been broken this year," said Greg McBride, Bankrate's senior vice president and chief financial analyst. "I think it's too early to say that we've reached the peak, particularly because we've seen more increases than decreases."

And for the first time since 2009, there was a slight increase in the number of banks offering free checking accounts. The study found some 38% of banks in the survey offer accounts that don't levy fees or require a minimum balance. That's a slight increase from 2015.

More free checking

Even the banks that still charge for checking don't charge as much. Banks have dropped the monthly charge on checking accounts by 1.4% to $5.78 and lowered minimum balance requirements to an average of $670.

If anything, the Bankrate report underscores the need for consumers to take advantage of the growing number of reward or preferred checking accounts more banks are offering. These accounts don't charge a service fee and often pay interest on checking account balances that are higher than a passbook savings account and some CDs.

They usually include other perks, such as reimbursement of all ATM fees, which as the Bankrate report notes, can lead to significant savings.

And where you bank is important. You are more likely to find rewards checking and lower fees at credit unions and small community banks than the big national banks.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)  has issued a new rule covering prepaid debit cards, providing a series of new consumer protections. The rule goes into effect October 1, 2017.

Consumers often use these cards instead of bank accounts. Money can be directly loaded on the cards, which can be used to make purchases or pay bills. The problem for consumers has been the fees associated with the cards and the lack of transparency for some of them.

That's because not all of these cards are the same. The cards have their distinct set of features, functions, and fees. Right now, it can be hard to compare cards because each card displays fee information differently.

The CFPB says the new rule will require clear, upfront information about fees so consumers will more easily shop for the best deal.

Reins in overdraft fees

The rule also tightly regulates overdraft fees connected to prepaid cards, which Nick Bourke, director of consumer finance at the Pew Charitable Trusts, is one of the most important features.

"The CFPB's rule on prepaid cards is a big win for consumers," Bourke said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "First and foremost, it keeps the cards free from overdraft penalties, which aligns with consumers' preferences."

Bourke points to research that shows many consumers turn to prepaid cards to control spending and to avoid overdraft fees.

"Moving forward, we strongly encourage the bureau to rein in these harmful fees for checking accounts, the most widely used financial product in the U.S.," he said.

Growing use

The use of prepaid cards has rapidly grown since the financial crisis, when many consumers joined the "unbanked" population. But Pew researchers say the cards are also widely used by people who also have bank accounts.

Use of prepaid cards rose more than 50% from 2012 to 2014, driven primarily by increased adoption among consumers with bank accounts, with approximately 23 million U.S. adults regularly using prepaid cards, according to Pew data.

Pew found that 72% of unbanked consumers and 45% of those with bank accounts say they use prepaid cards to avoid overdraft fees. A huge majority – 86% – prefer to have a transaction declined for insufficient funds than pay a $35 overdraft fee.

The rule also provides new features to make sure prepaid cards are safer to use at retail point-of-purchase locations and online. Currently, if an unauthorized person accesses a prepaid cardholder's account, the level of protection depends on the issuer. Under the new rule, there will be universal protections for all cards in case they are lost or stolen.

Once again, the price of U.S. homes as gauged by CoreLogic was on the rise.

The property information provider says it's Home Price Index (HPI) posted a year-over-year advance of 6.2% in August and, on a month-over-month basis, was up 1.1%.

"Housing values continue to rise briskly on stronger fundamental and investor-fueled demand, as well as lack of adequate supply," said CoreLogic President and CEO Anand Nallathambi. "This continued price appreciation is contributing to a growing affordability crisis in many markets around the country."

Looking ahead

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates prices will rise 5.3% from August 2016 to August 2017, and by 0.4% from August to September.

"Home prices are now just 6% below the nominal peak reached in April 2006," according to Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "With prices forecasted to increase by 5% over the next year, prices will be back to their peak level in 2017."

Private sector employment eased a bit in September.

According to the ADP National Employment Report, produced by the payroll firm in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, the economy created 154,000 jobs from August to September.

There were 177,000 new jobs the month before.

"Job gains in September eased a bit when compared to the past 12-month average," said ADP Research Institute Vice President Ahu Yildirmaz. "We also observed softening this month in trade/transportation/utilities, possibly due to a continued tightening U.S. labor market and lackluster consumer spending."

Job creators

Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 34,000 jobs in September, employment at companies with 50-499 employees rose by 56,000 jobs, and large companies -- those with 500 or more employees – hired 64,000 new workers.

Companies with 500-999 employees increased their payrolls by 8,000 and companies with more than 1,000 employees added 56,000 workers.

Employment at goods-producing firms was up by 3,000 jobs in September, following a loss of 9,000 in August. Within that sector, employment in the construction industry rose by 1,000 jobs, while manufacturing jobs were down 6,000.

Companies that provide services added 151,000 jobs in September, with professional/business services contributing 45,000. Employment in trade/transportation/utilities increased by 15,000 and financial activities hired another 11,000 workers.

"The current record of consecutive monthly job gains continued in September," said Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi. "With job openings at all-time highs and layoffs near all-time lows, the job market remains in full-swing. Job growth has moderated in recent months, but only because the economy is finally returning to full-employment."

Mortgage applications have posted a solid gain after falling for two weeks in a row, rising 2.9% during the week ending September 30.

The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index jumped 5% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 63.8% of total applications from 62.7% the week before.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 4.5% of total applications, the FHA share dropped to 10.0% from 10.2%, the VA share of total applications fell to 11.4%, and the USDA share of total applications increased to 0.7% from 0.6% a week earlier.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell four basis points -- from 3.66% to 3.62% -- the lowest level since July 2016, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dipped to 3.60% from 3.64%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA decreased by two basis points to 3.50%, with points falling to 0.16 from 0.21 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs slipped to 2.93% from 2.95%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was unchanged at 2.92%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

Since giving birth to corporate parent Alphabet, Google has been trying to grow up and act like a really serious business instead of a very successful advertising company that dabbles in technology.

In its latest strategy switch, it's introducing a pair of super-slick smartphones that will go head-to-head -- and maybe then some -- against Apple's iPhone and the svelte but troubled Samsung Galaxy Note7.

The new Pixel phones come in two sizes, sort of like the iPhone. There's the Pixel and the Pixel XL, the first phones to be conceptualized, designed, engineered, and tested in-house. Google markets Nexus brand phones but they are manufactured by someone else and have been regarded as a toe in the water rather than a full-out marketing attempt. 

The Pixel line -- not to be confused with the top-end Chromebooks of the same name -- featured a Siri-like virtual assistant and are said to have the best camera ever built into a smartphone. 

The phones start at $649 and $769 -- or $27.08 and $32.08 a month when purchased through Verizon. They can be preordered online.  
 
The phones feature thin aluminum and glass frames that come in black, silver, or blue (a limited edition for the U.S.). The smaller model, which starts at $649 for 32-gigabytes of storage, features a 5-inch screen, while the bigger model, priced at $769, has a 5.5-inch screen to match the iPhone 7 Plus.

The Pixels will be the first to run on Android's new Nougat 7.1 operating system. 

Consumers may remember back in 2014 when allegations surfaced that Best Buy was selling recalled products; charges for knowingly selling 16 recalled items between 2010 and 2015  ended up being leveled against the company by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Selling these products stood directly in the face of federal law, which prohibits the sale, offer for sale, or distribution of recalled products. However, it seems that the company will finally settle accounts. The CPSC announced yesterday Best Buy's intention to settle the charges by paying a $3.8 million civil penalty.

Improper sales

According to the release, Best Buy was charged with selling around 600 recalled items between September 2010 and October 2015 – including over 400 Canon cameras. The CPSC has provided a full list of the items sold, with recall links, which can be found below:

  • Toshiba Satellite Notebook Computers, recalled on September 2, 2010;
  • iSi North America Twist 'n Sparkle Beverage Carbonation Systems, recalled on July 5, 2012;
  • LG Electronics Gas Dryers, recalled on August 21, 2012;  
  • GE Dishwashers, recalled on August 9, 2012;  
  • Canon EOS Rebel T4i Digital Cameras, recalled on August 14, 2012;  
  • GE Profile Front Load Washers, recalled on October 3, 2012;  
  • Sauder Woodworking Gruga Office Chairs, recalled on November 7, 2012;
  • LG Electronics Electric Ranges, recalled on November 8, 2012;
  • LG Electronics Top-Loading Washing Machines, recalled on December 18, 2012;  
  • Samsonite Dual-Wattage Travel Converters, recalled on February 12, 2013;
  • Definitive Technology SuperCube 2000 Subwoofers, recalled on March 28, 2013;
  • Gree Dehumidifiers, recalled on September 12, 2013;
  • Frigidaire Professional Blenders, recalled on September 19, 2013;
  • Schneider Electric APC Surge Arrest Surge Protectors, recalled on October 3, 2013;
  • Coby 32-inch Flat Screen Televisions, recalled on December 12, 2013; and  
  • Whirlpool Jenn-Air Wall Ovens, recalled on July 29, 2015. 

In addition to paying $3.8 for selling the items, Best Buy has stated that it will establish and maintain programs that will ensure compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and adherence to the appropriate disposal of recalled products. The programs will be monitored internally by the company.

"We regret that any products within the scope of a recall were not removed entirely from our shelves and online channels. While the number of items accidentally sold was small, even one was too many. We have taken steps, in cooperation with the CPSC, to help prevent these issues from recurring," said a company spokesperson in a statement.

People have been buying and selling things on Facebook for quite awhile, even though there has been no official way to do so. So, says Facebook, it's only logical it should create a space specifically designed as a marketplace.

It's called -- what else? -- Marketplace and is available on the iOS and Android Facebook apps. Facebook's Mary Ku describes it as "a convenient destination to discover, buy and sell items with people in your community."

Ku, Facebook's director of product management, says you enter the marketplace by tapping on the icon in the bottom right corner of the Facebook app on your smartphone.

Marketplace opens with photos of items that people near you have listed for sale. To find something specific, search at the top and filter your results by location, category, or price.

Kind of like ...

If this sounds a lot like Craigslist, that's because it is. Craigslist has been around since the dawn of internet time and continues to thrive, despite an appearance critics call drab bordering on ugly and fans call minimalist and functional.

While many others have tried unsuccessfully to dislodge, or at least nudge, Craigslist, Facebook may have a better chance. With its huge active user base of one billion souls, many of them seemingly glued to their screens all day long, Facebook would appear to have better odds than its predecessors.

Selling or buying on Facebook may also eliminate some of the "creep factor" that has come to infest Craigslist, since Facebook users are required to use their real identity. Many consumers shy away from Craiglist, not wishing to deal with anonymous buyers and sellers.

Marketplace may not be visible on your phone just yet, but Facebook says it will be rolling out to everyone over 18 years old in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand over the next few days, with more countries to come.

It will also be available on the desktop version of Facebook in the coming months, Ku said.

People who live along the Southeast coast, including at least 100 miles inland, are preparing for a monster hurricane later in the week.

Hurricane Matthew, a category four storm, has already pounded Haiti and Jamaica in the Caribbean with ferocious winds and torrential rain. It's forecast to slowly move north this week, hugging the coast of Florida before possibly making landfall in the Carolinas by the weekend.

Once over land, the storm is likely to remain a menace, even after it is downgraded to tropical storm status. Consumers are likely to face high winds and heavy rain that could take down trees, knocking out power and posing safety hazards.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a statewide state of emergency and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in his state. Although it is too early to know exactly where the storm will hit, Weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce says consumers who live in the Southeast U.S. need to monitor its progress.

Prepare in advance

"Matthew could pass near or just off the Southeast coast late this week into the weekend," Dolce said on the website. "Even if the center of the hurricane does stay offshore, we would still have the potential for coastal flooding, beach erosion, battering surf, rain, and gusty winds. The magnitude of any of those impacts will depend on Matthew's track and intensity at that time."

People living along the coast should make plans to move inland, depending on the track of the storm. Coastal areas may be subject to a storm surge of several feet. Those living inland should make sure their homes are secure and that they have adequate supplies of food and water on hand. Many areas may be without power for extended periods.

The U.S. Coast Guard has created this hurricane safety checklist to help consumers prepare. The Coast Guard recommends having three to seven days of non-perishable food on hand for each family member.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a free app for Apple, Android, and Blackberry devices. Once downloaded, the app will provide National Weather Service alerts for up to five locations, send safety reminders, and locate emergency shelters, among other things.

Consumers should also fill their vehicle tanks with fuel before the storm hits. Gasbuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan says a hurricane always has the potential to disrupt gasoline distribution.

A federal appeals court has upheld an $11.9 million penalty against an affiliate marketing group for its role in promoting LeanSpa, a supposed weight-loss supplement.

In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that LeadClick Media, LLC recruited affiliate marketers that used fake news sites to drive internet traffic to the LeanSpa website. LeadClick knew that the news sites were phony and actively participated in creating their content, the FTC said.

The decision is the first by a court of appeals to hold the operator of an affiliate marketing network liable for deception by third-party marketers.

"LeadClick knew its affiliates were lying to consumers and took steps to help make those lies more effective," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The Circuit Court's ruling goes a long way toward ensuring that affiliate networks can't hide behind claims of immunity when their consumer fraud is exposed."

Legit sites

The court also found that LeadClick bought advertising banner space from legitimate online news sites with the intent to resell it for use with fake news sites, "thereby increasing the likelihood that a consumer would be deceived by the content."

The case got its start in 2011, when the FTC and the State of Connecticut sued LeanSpa and its principal Boris Mizhen, charging them with using fake news websites to promote their products, making deceptive weight-loss claims, and telling consumers they could receive free trials of acai berry and "colon cleanse" products, while only paying the nominal cost of shipping and handling.

But in fact, the complaint alleged, many consumers ended up paying $79.99 for the "free" trial, and for recurring monthly shipments of products that were hard to cancel. The defendants allegedly made more than $25 million from consumers in the United States.

The FTC and the State of Connecticut settled with LeanSpa and Mizhen and returned more than $3.7 million to consumers who bought the deceptively advertised product.

In early 2013, the FTC filed an amended complaint seeking an injunction against LeadClick, an affiliate marketing network operator for LeanSpa, and its parent company, CoreLogic, Inc.

Although giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person's health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist long after the last pack has been thrown out.

Researchers from San Diego State University have found that the smokers' homes remain polluted by thirdhand smoke (THS) for at least six months after they have quit. THS is made up of minute tobacco particles that penetrate various surfaces in the home – like carpets, upholstery, pillows, blankets, clothes, wallpaper, and ceiling tiles.

"We tend to see smoke in the air and then it's out of sight out of mind. But it leaves compounds in indoor environments that can do harm to our bodies, especially children, and sometimes we cannot see or smell it," said lead author George E. Matt.

Pollutants stick around

The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a six-month study on tobacco smoke pollutants found in the homes of 90 former smokers. They measured home surfaces, dust, and the fingers of the former smokers for THS pollutants at five different intervals to see if levels went down over time.

The data showed that levels of nicotine had a significant short-term reduction on household surfaces and on participants' fingers, but levels found in dust did not change much over the six-month period. Urine tests also revealed that urinary cotinine levels, which measure exposure to tobacco, were still detectable at the study's conclusion. 

This suggests that residents were still being exposed to tobacco pollution long after they quit, which could have long-term negative impacts on their health.

The researchers say that further study will be needed to fully understand the consequences of continued THS exposure. More work will also need to be done to figure out how to remove THS from the home so that it doesn't become a health issue.

The full study has been published in the journal Tobacco Control.

If you've been in a retail store in the last week or so, you might have noticed something odd. Retailers have completely skipped over Halloween displays and fast-forwarded to Christmas.

The numbers explain why. A survey conducted for BestBlackFriday.com shows a huge number of consumers have already started their holiday shopping, or plan to start very soon. Waiting until Black Friday to start marketing to consumers, the survey suggests, means being late to the party, or even missing it.

The survey found 17.3% of consumers started shopping soon after Labor Day. Nearly as many, 18.3%, say they plan to get started this month. Another 21.16% say they plan to start buying for the holidays in early November. That means 57.2% of consumers plan to start their holiday shopping before Black Friday rolls around.

Only 18.16% plan to start on Black Friday while 25.15% are waiting until December to hit the stores.

Biggest take-away

"The biggest take-away from the survey is that 18.96% of the American public, or over 47 million people, plan to have completely finished their holiday shopping before the month of November even begins," BestBlackFriday principal Phil Dengler told ConsumerAffairs.

"While many shoppers plan to wait until Black Friday and December for the traditional 'biggest shopping days of the year,' nearly 20% of the population is confident in concluding their shopping by the end of October. Many Americans are still frustrated with the 'Christmas creep,' but it appears as though more may be embracing it as time goes by."

Dengler says while Black Friday, Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday are still extremely important for retailers and shoppers, the majority of Americans are not waiting for them to make their first purchases. Labor Day sales, Columbus Day sales, and Pre-Black Friday sales starting in early November are luring shoppers to begin much earlier than ever before, he notes.

Just over 50% of consumers say they plan to wrap up their shopping by early to mid December while nearly 10% say they have already finished.

Lack confidence in Black Friday deals

One of the more interesting data points is that most shoppers do not believe Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the best times to finish their shopping, meaning they want to see if December brings even steeper mark downs. Past experience suggests that it will. And while more consumers than ever are starting earlier than before, when Christmas week arrives about 50 million people will still be shopping.

Another interesting trend is growing concern about retailers' data security. More than half the consumers in the survey said they are not comfortable sharing personal information with the stores where they shop.

New car sales were down slightly in September, but only in comparison with September 2015, which turned out to be an exceptional month at U.S. car dealers.

Sales totaled around 1.4 million units, down about 2% from last year but still on a healthy pace.

"The new car market is no longer growing, which means automakers now have to measure success in terms of market share, transaction prices, incentive levels and profitability," said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "In these areas most automakers are still doing quite well, as a market plateau above 17 million annual units leaves plenty of room for success. However, some manufacturers are already leaning heavily on incentives and/or fleet sales, which don't contribute to long-term corporate health."

Attractive financing and cash back

But that's a good thing, when it comes to consumers. People shopping for a new car are able to get low-or-no interest financing and cash back.

In September, some auto manufacturers did better than others. Hyundai-Kia reported record September sales.

Hyundai dealers reported strong sales of the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, in addition to the sub-compact Accent, combining to boost sales 4% above September 2015. It was a similar story at Kia, which reports sales in the first nine months of the year were the best ever.

"On the strength of double digit gains for the Rio, Forte, Sportage and Sedona nameplates through the first nine months of the year, Kia's upward trajectory continues despite the industry showing signs of little growth," said Michael Sprague, chief operating officer at Kia Motors of America.

Sales drop at Fiat-Chrysler

But overall sales were down at Fiat-Chrysler, which reported selling 192,883 cars and trucks during the month. Despite the overall drop in sales, Ram Truck sales surged 27% over last year, as more consumers decided low gasoline prices might be around for a while longer.

Fiat-Chrysler also got double-digit sales increases from the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Chrysler Pacifica. But the Pacifica was the exception, as Chrysler brand sales were down 27%.

Unloved cars provide best bargains

For consumers looking for bargains, considering a model that dealers are having a hard time moving off the lot will provide the best opportunity.

"The bottom line for shoppers is that following the crowd will cost you," said Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. "With so many SUVs and CUVs selling well, Honda HR-V for example, great deals are not likely on those vehicles – be prepared to pay full price."

Instead, Moody suggests taking a look at sedans, which have fallen out of favor over the last couple of years.

"Dealers may be anxious to move even typically great cars like Accord, Camry, Fusion, Impala and Passat," he said.

And the winner is...

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( IIHS) has bestowed its TOP SAFETY PICK+ award on the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The award came as the midsize luxury car earned good ratings in all five of the Institute's crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

The vehicle also has a standard front crash prevention system that earns an advanced rating. An additional, optional system boosts the car's front crash prevention rating to superior.

The C-Class was redesigned for 2015, but IIHS only recently evaluated it for crashworthiness. The car's structure held up well in the challenging small overlap test with maximum intrusion into the occupant compartment of just 4 inches. The earlier generation of the C-Class had intrusion of 20 inches at the footrest and earned a marginal rating.

The roof strength test also yielded notable results. The C-Class was found to have a strength-to-weight ratio of 7, among the highest ever registered. A ratio of 4 or higher is required for a good rating. Roof strength is important for protection in a rollover crash.

To qualify for 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the five IIHS crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

Tyson Foods of Sedalia, Mo., is recalling approximately 132,520 pounds of fully cooked chicken nugget products that may be contaminated with hard plastic.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following items, produced on July 18, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 5-lb. bag containing "Tyson FULLY COOKED PANKO CHICKEN NUGGETS" with a "Best If Used By" date of July 18, 2017 and case code 2006SDL03 and 2006SDL33.
  • 20-lb. bulk packages containing "SPARE TIME Fully Cooked, Panko Chicken Nuggets, Nugget Shaped Chicken Breast Pattie Fritters With Rib Meat" with a production date of July 18, 2016 and case code 2006SDL03.

The recalled products bear establishment number "EST. 13556" printed adjacent to the "Best If Used By" date on the back of the package.

The 20-pound cases were shipped for institutional use in Pennsylvania and the five-pound bags were shipped to retail locations nationally.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Tyson Foods' consumer relations at (866) 328-3156. 

Mylan Pharmaceuticals is continuing to feel the heat from Congress. Last month, company CEO Heather Bresch was grilled by House members over the price increases of the EpiPen, a life-saving device that skyrocketed from an inflation-adjusted $109 nine years ago to over $600 today.

As we reported, the hearing left many people unsatisfied and settled very little due to incomplete information and statistics that critics say were inflated. Some have speculated that the hearing will lead to no tangible change, but a new letter from two representatives suggests that the matter isn't being dropped yet.

Incomplete information

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) have sent a letter to Mylan requesting additional information about its pricing practices after it was revealed that Bresch left out key information in her testimony regarding taxes and profits.

"When you appeared before the Committee on September 21, 2016, at a hearing on Mylan's price increases for the EpiPen, you repeatedly stated that Mylan makes $100 profit per every EpiPen two-pack it sells," the letter states.

"This week, however, the Committee learned that your testimony omitted key tax assumptions that affect the company's profit per pack. Specifically, neither your testimony, nor the documents Mylan produced to the Committee, clearly disclosed that the company's profit claim was calculated after factoring in the statutory U.S. tax rate – 37.5 percent."

"Dumbed down financials"

The representatives go on in the letter to talk about the "dumbed down financials" that Bresch presented during the hearing, saying that many of the claims simply didn't make sense.

"You know, your numbers don't add up . . . And it is extremely difficult to believe that you are making only $50 profit when you just increased the price by more than $100 per pen," remarked Cummings during the hearing. The letter alleges that further scrutiny after the hearing is what led to Mylan's clarification about including tax figures in the company's profit figures.

Demanding additional documents

Due to the lack of information presented at the hearing explaining the profit figures, the representatives have demanded additional documents that might shed light on the gap between the actual cost of making the drug for Mylan and the soaring prices it has been subjected to in recent years. Specifically the letter asks for:

"A list of Mylan's profits and expenses relating directly to the sale of EpiPens for each year from 2007 through 2015, including, but not limited to:

a.) profit (including operating and net);

b.) sales;

c.) cost of goods sold;

d.) operating cost;

e.) rebates (including commercial, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid rebates);

f.) discounts;

g.) allowances;

h.) coupons;

i.) patient co-pay;

j.) charge backs;

k.) direct selling expenses;

l.) medical affairs;

m.) marketing;

n.) research and development;

o.) Patient Assistance Programs;

p.) EpiPens4Schools program;

q.) taxes; and

r.) any other expenses or costs."

Mylan won't have much time to put the information together either. The representatives have asked that the information be presented "no later than October 7, 2016," so it ought to be a busy week for the beleaguered company.

What if you are one of the two million Wells Fargo customers who recently discovered that the bank opened a fraudulent bank or credit card account in your name?

If so, you're probably angry, since you didn't ask for the card. So you'll show them – you'll close the account.

But not so fast. Closing a credit card account, even one opened in your name without your permission, can negatively impact your credit score. So you might not want to act until you are able to figure out what the damage will be.

Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, one of the three main credit agencies, says closing a credit card account that has no balance will reduce the amount of credit at your disposal. Often, she says, that can be a mark against you.

"Lenders and creditors want to see that a consumer is able to make a financial commitment and honor it – over time," Moogalian told ConsumerAffairs. "In other words, that ability to show responsibility can take time, and sometimes keeping an account open can be a good thing."

But if you don't want the credit card, you will probably suffer less of a hit by closing it if the card has a low credit limit. Chances are, most of the fraudulent accounts have low credit limits. By closing it, you aren't reducing your credit availability that much.

Is it costing you money?

Moogalian says a consumer may also want to consider closing an account that has no balance if that account is costing money. The trade off between spending unnecessary money and having your credit score go down temporarily should go in favor of not spending money needlessly.

How much will closing a credit card account affect your credit score? It depends on how much credit you have, how much you've used, and how good your credit is.

If you have a total credit limit of $20,000 on all your cards but only have balances totaling $4,000, you have a low credit utilization rate and closing an account that reduces your limit by only $1,000 or so won't make a lot of difference, especially if you already have a pretty good credit score.

And if you do have a good credit score, the hit you take for closing your Wells Fargo account should be fairly small and short-lived. By continuing to pay all your bills on time and not opening new credit lines for a while, your score should quickly recover.

There's lots of great original content on Netflix -- "Orange is the New Black," "Transparent," "House of Cards" -- stuff you can't find anywhere else. That's good but it comes at a price -- not as many old movies.

After all, Netflix has been spending truly big bucks to roll out its own original content, so it stands to reason it would have to cut back on how much it spends on other stuff.

But would you believe it has chopped its catalog by more than 50%? That's the estimate of streaming blog Exstreamist, which cites ex-Netflix employees as saying the number of titles has fallen from roughly 11,000 to about 5,300 since 2012. 

In fact, 2012 may have been the high-water mark for Netflix. It hit 11,000 titles but in 2013 started producing its own shows and trimming the number of what we used to call reruns -- old movies and TV series.

A must-buy

While there are no doubt those who are missing some of the deleted titles, there's little question the original shows have made Netflix a must-buy for many consumers who might otherwise not find much of interest in its rundown.

It basically comes down to a quality vs. content argument. If you just want to zone out in front of the screen and binge on old "King of the Hill" episodes, Netflix may not be your friend. But the gamble it's making is that high-quality original content will be more valuable in the long run than retread material. It's the "content is king" argument. 

This progression from dusty old favorites to original shows isn't all that unusual. Look at HBO. When it started back in the dawn of the cable era, HBO (which stands, you may recall, for Home Box Office) showed movies, movies, and movies. It gradually began adding sporting events and original comedies and dramas.

If you're hard up for something to think about, look even farther back to the early days of television. It basically stuck a camera in front of the actors doing radio shows and only gradually began producing original TV programming.

And radio? Well, in the early days announcers read the newspaper on the air. Today, well, sometimes things go in circles. 

Legend has it that Twitter has for years been a twinkle in the eyes of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and now Bloomberg reports that Google parent Alphabet has hired Lazard Ltd. to evaluate a possible acquisition.

Lazard served as the financial adviser for Google's $625 million takeover of software developer Apigee in September. The deal is expected to close by year's end.

Rumors of a Google takeover of Twitter have been around since at least 2009. It's seen as a natural fit for both companies and for advertisers who already advertise on both sites to reach their target audiences.

For Google, Twitter would perhaps finally supply what Google has been unable to conjure up on its own -- a successful presence in the social space. Google+ never quite took off, and microblogging site Buzz faded quickly after its 2010 launch. Meanwhile, Twitter has continued to ramp up its user base despite problems figuring out how to majorly monetize it, so to speak.

What the benefits are for everyday consumers isn't quite as clear, but there's no immediately obvious downside.

There could be privacy implications if the sites' user lists were merged after an acquisition, but does anyone really expect privacy in a social network setting?

As if income tax questions and tiffs with Venezuelan beauty queens weren't enough, Donald Trump is on the wrong side of a stinging rebuke from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Schneiderman's office wrote the Trump Foundation Friday ordering it to stop soliciting contributions in New York State, saying it had never filed the required forms. 

The letter, technically a "Notice of Violation," states that the Trump Foundation "is in violation of section 172 of Article 7-A New York's Executive Law, which requires charitable organizations that solicit contributions in New York State to register with the Charities Bureau and to provide annual financial reports and annual audited financial statements," Schneiderman's office said today.

The notice directs the Trump Foundation to "immediately cease soliciting contributions or engaging in other fundraising activities in New York" and "to provide the [AG's] Charities Bureau with the information specified in Section 172 within fifteen (15) days" of receiving the notice. 

"The failure immediately to discontinue solicitation and to file information and [the required] reports shall be deemed a fraud upon the people of the state of New York," said James Shaheen, chief of the Charities Bureau.

Ultimately, the Trump Foundation could be required to return money it has raised illegally. 

The legitimacy of Trump's foundation has been the subject of much speculation after critical press reports. The New York Times reported last month that Trump's foundation does show up on many states charity registers, and the Washington Post reported the foundation had not registered in New York.

Schneiderman successfully sued Trump in 2014, charging he was personally liable for running Trump University without a license. Schneiderman accused Trump of defrauding students of $40 million. 

Want to help public health investigators come up with new ways to fight the Zika virus? Now you can, with Kidenga -- a free app for iOS and Android devices.

The "community-based disease detection system" asks users to report their symptoms as well as mosquito activity in their area. In doing so, citizens may be able to help health experts better track and detect Zika outbreaks.

In addition to tracking "day-biting mosquito populations within a community," the app keeps users current on confirmed cases of Zika within their community. Kidenga also provides important information on preventing mosquito-borne diseases.  

'Early alert is critical'

Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the College of Public Health, said the app's use of ZIP codes may help experts zero in on areas that "appear to have an uptick of suspicious symptoms," which may hint at cases of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

"This early alert is critical to reduce or prevent further spread of the virus," Ernst said in a statement.

Apps like Kidenga and other tools for self-reporting could be especially vital, as not everyone will see a physician if their symptoms are mild. People may be more likely to report symptoms if it can be done on their smartphone.

"Click a button that says everyone is healthy and say whether or not you noticed mosquitoes in your area, and you're done." Ernst told News4 Tuscon.

Arizona, Florida, Texas

Currently, researchers are focused on having the app used in states with high populations of Aedes mosquitoes, such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Controlling populations of Aedes aegypti in states like these, where the climate is humid and subtropical, is no easy task.

Ernst says reducing transmission risk "requires buy-in ranging from grassroots community initiatives to government-operated programs," adding that the app may help. "With more information, we hope that more people will join the fight to control these mosquitoes."

The app was developed by researchers from the University of Arizona's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Symptoms of Zika 

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, red eyes, and joint pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Headaches and muscle pain may also occur, although some individuals may not exhibit any symptoms. 

If you have symptoms or visited an area with Zika, you are encouraged to see your doctor. It is especially important to do so if you are pregnant, as the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects. 

Flood insurance rates for consumers in flood-prone areas have skyrocketed in recent years as floods have increased damage to homes and other property, causing a huge financial drain on the government flood insurance program.

Congress is considering a measure, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, aimed at reducing flood damage and lowering flood insurance rates. Sponsors of the Repeatedly Flooded Communities Preparation Act say it would address issues surrounding properties that are rebuilt after each flood, only to be damaged by flood waters in the future.

Instead of rebuilding, the legislation would require communities containing these continually flooded properties to take steps to reduce the flood risk instead of rebuilding, flood-after-flood.

The measure, should it become law, would require communities to map the areas where floods have repeatedly caused damage and either improve drainage or institute a buyout program, paying property owners not to rebuild. That step was taken in parts of the New York-New Jersey area following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The measure would also require repeatedly flooded communities to develop a plan to lower the risks for both property and people. As of now, communities are not required to change their development regulations, no matter how many times they are flooded.

Same properties account for 30% of losses

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has announced support for the measure, has conducted an analysis of repeatedly flooded properties in the U.S. While it says they are few in number, they have an outsized effect on flood damage costs, accounting for as much as 30% of losses.

Property owners required to have flood insurance have seen their premiums surge in recent years, in part because the government's flood insurance program has been writing so many checks. Pew analysts say the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is now nearly $23 billion in the red, in part because of high-density development in coastal areas that are prone to flooding.

Pew says many of the people with flood insurance have properties that have flooded multiple times and are likely to flood again. It says the best way to end that cycle is to take steps to prevent flooding in the future, or not rebuild flooded properties after they have been damaged.

There's nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child in pain, and most parents would do just about anything to take away the pain of teething.

From massaging their gums to offering them a fridge-chilled spoon to chew on, there are numerous ways to relieve the pain of cutting teeth. But there's one thing parents should avoid doing.

According to the FDA, parents should refrain from using homeopathic teething tablets and gels. In a statement, the agency warns that these remedies may pose a risk to infants and children.

May cause seizures

In 2010, the agency released a safety alert about homeopathic teething tablets (specifically, Hyland's Teething Tablets). Now, the FDA is analyzing health issues reported since then.

"Consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation after using homeopathic teething tablets or gels," the FDA said.

The agency notes that homeopathic teething tablets and gels have not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, the products have not been shown to yield any proven health benefits.

Natural teething tips

The pain of teething can be managed in other ways, says Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Instead of obtaining a prescription or seeking out an over-the-counter remedy, Woodcock says parents and caregivers should "seek advice from their health care professional for safe alternatives."

Additionally, there are many natural home remedies that can be helpful throughout the process of teething. Here are a few ideas:

  • Chilled washcloth. A clean, wet washcloth can be put in the fridge and left to chill. Inflamed gums may become a little less angry as babies chew on the cold cloth.
  • Teething jewelry. Grabbing mom's jewelry is a favorite pastime of most babies. Teething babies can gum away on jewelry by companies such as Smart Mom Jewelry. The FDA-approved silicone the jewelry is made of is free of phthalates, BPA, PVA, latex, and lead.
  • Distraction. Give your baby some temporary relief from their discomfort by employing distractions, such as a game of peekaboo or a warm bath.
  • Chilled teether. Purchase a solid or liquid-filled teething ring, then place it in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes. Like chilled washcloths and spoons, these toys can help soothe your baby's aching gums.
  • Carrot. A full-sized carrot, when washed and peeled, can act as a teething tool. If you don't have a carrot on hand, try freezing a banana and letting your baby gnaw on it.  

October is finally here, but along with fall foliage and the annual seasonal holidays, consumers also have to prepare for the start of flu season. Getting a flu shot can provide some protection against the influenza virus, but the vaccine is not a guarantee of good health.

Health officials and researchers have worked for years to improve the flu vaccine, but current methods can be hit or miss when it comes to their effectiveness – and this can be disastrous for public health.

"Every year we have a round of flu vaccination, where we choose a recent strain of flu as the vaccine, hoping that it will protect against next year's strains. We know this method is safe, and that it works reasonably well most of the time," explains Dr. Derek Gatherer of Lancaster University. "However, sometimes it doesn't work -- as in the H3N2 vaccine failure in winter 2014-2015 -- and even when it does it is immensely expensive and labour-intensive. Also, these yearly vaccines give us no protection at all against potential future pandemic flu."

In order to address this problem, an international team of researchers have designed a new class of universal flu vaccines by using groundbreaking computational techniques. These new methods allowed researchers to analyze flu strains, vaccines, and the human immune system to generate what the authors believe to be a longer-lasting, more effective means of fighting the influenza virus.

Creating a better vaccine

With their work, researchers from the universities of Lancaster and Aston in the UK and the University of Complutense in Madrid were able to design two universal flu vaccines.

The first vaccine is specific to the United States and is expected to cover 95% of known influenza strains in the country. The second is a universal vaccine that will supposedly cover 88% of all global flu strains. The researchers are currently seeking pharmaceutical partners to synthesize the vaccines so that a laboratory proof-of-principle test can be conducted.

This new generation of vaccines will be unique because it was created using short flu virus fragments called epitopes. By selecting a range of epitopes that are already recognized by our immune systems, the researchers say they were able to create vaccines that can protect the vast majority of the world population.

"Epitope-based vaccines aren't new, but most reports have no experimental validation. We have turned the problem on its head and only use previously-tested epitopes. This allows us to get the best of both worlds, designing a vaccine with a very high likelihood of success," said Dr. Darren Flower of Aston University.

If proven to be effective, the new vaccines could help save countless lives around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that annual flu epidemics cause up to 500,000 deaths per year, and previous pandemics, like those that took place in 1957 and 1968 caused millions to die.

The full study has been published in the journal Bioinformatics.

After contracting in August, the manufacturing sector of the economy expanded in September, contributing to the 88th consecutive month of growth for the overall economy.

In the latest Manufacturing Institute for Supply Management (ISM) report on business, the nation's supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business say the September purchasing managers index (PMI) rose 2.1% from the previous reading of 51.5%.

A reading above 50% indicates growth, while anything below that mark suggests contraction.

The New Orders Index shot up 6.9% last month to 55.1%, while the Production Index came in at 52.8%, an advance of 3.2%.

The Employment Index inched 1.4% higher to register 49.7%, as inventories of raw materials registered 49.5% for a gain of 0.5%.

The Prices Index was unchanged at 53%, indicating higher raw materials prices for the seventh month in a row.

Welcome news

 Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza calls the report "a welcome step in the right direction," but points out that continued minimal growth both domestically and internationally will most likely limit domestic production from contributing much -- if anything -- to second-half growth.

"Nevertheless," she adds, "a better-than-expected report -- even one month -- helps alleviate fears of economic contraction and furthermore, bolsters the argument for the Fed to raise sooner than later." 

Industry performance

Of the 18 manufacturing industries, seven reported growth in September:

  1. Nonmetallic Mineral Products;
  2. Furniture & Related Products;
  3. Textile Mills;
  4. Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products;
  5. Computer & Electronic Products;
  6. Miscellaneous Manufacturing; and
  7. Paper Products.

The 11 industries reporting contraction were:

  1. Printing & Related Support Activities;
  2. Petroleum & Coal Products;
  3. Wood Products;
  4. Apparel, Leather & Allied Products;
  5. Transportation Equipment;
  6. Machinery;
  7. Plastics & Rubber Products;
  8. Primary Metals;
  9. Fabricated Metal Products;
  10. Chemical Products; and
  11. Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components.

Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 9,700 model year 2007-2008 Azeras manufactured March 7, 2007 through August 14, 2007.

The power-adjustable front driver seat may move unexpectedly without the driver's input while the vehicle is being driven.

Unintentional movement of the seat may affect the driver's ability to control the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the power-adjustable seat switch, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on October 28, 2016.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 150.

Mt. Kisco Smokehouse of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., is recalling two types of smoked salmon that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

The following products, distributed through retail stores and restaurants between September 6-16, 2016 in New York and Connecticut, are being recalled:

Atlantic Smoked Salmon Whole

  • lot # 13723516 USE BY 09 12 16
  • lot # 12125316 USE BY 09 30 16

Sliced – Smoked ATLANTIC SALMON, Net Wt. 8 oz (225.89)

  • lot # 12125116 USE BY 09 28 16
  • lot # 12125216 USE BY 09 29 16
  • lot # 11325716 USE BY 10 03 16
  • lot # 11325816 USE BY 10 05 16

The whole product is packed in an unlabeled paper box and delivered to restaurants. The sliced product is sold in a clear plastic package and labeled on the back with lot and use by date.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 914-244-0702, Monday through Saturday 9:00 am – 5:30 pm, (EST). 

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 79,895 model year 2016 TT roadsters, A3 cabriolets, A3 sedans and A3 e-trons; 2016-2017 TT coupes; 2017 A4 sedans and Q7s; and 2015-2017 Q3s.

The vehicles may have been programmed with new software that inadvertently makes the side marker lights inoperative in conjunction with the parking lights or the headlights.

As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment."

If the side marker lights do not illuminate, the vehicle may be less visible at night, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will upload revised software to correct the issue, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 97CB.

BMW of North America is recalling 3,606 certain model year 2015 BMW X3 sDrive28i, X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, X3 xDrive28d, X4 xDrive28i and X4 xDrive35i vehicles; and model year 2014-2015 X5 xDrive35i, X5 sDrive35i, X5 xDrive50i, and 2014 X5 xDrive35d vehicles.

The vehicles have a driver's front airbag inflator that may have been improperly welded.

In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's front airbag, the inflator housing could separate from the base plate and result in metal striking vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

What to do

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 11, 2016.

Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

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