Danger: Exploding iPods

July 27, 2009

ipod exploding

Troubling news about iPods that could be a danger to iPod owners. It seems there are a growing number of iPod owners who have found their iPods to spontaneously overheat, explode or burn their skin.

An investigative reporter from KIRO-TV in Seattle had a difficult time getting answers from both Apple, the maker of iPods, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about these “overheating” iPod instances. According to the story, it took the reporter more than seven months to get a hold of the CPSC documents due to a series of exemptions filed by Apple attorneys. Click here to watch the report and learn more.

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Loan Modification Scams Target Desperate Homeowners

July 23, 2009

With more Americans losing their jobs, there’s no end in sight to foreclosures.  A growing number of homeowners are struggling to make their mortgage payments and that’s bringing scam artists out of the woodwork claiming they want to help.  Beware.   Click here to watch the report and read more.

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Seven Ways To Lower Your Health Insurance Premium

July 23, 2009

by John Newcomer:

Health Insurance Premiums Out of Control

chartEveryone knows health insurance premiums are spiraling out of control. But did you know that even if your employer is paying the premium it still impacts you. Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra from Harvard University published a study that concluded that a 20% increase in health insurance premiums increases the likelihood that employers will lay people off by 2.4 % — the equivalent of 3.5 million workers.

More importantly, for those lucky enough to have a job with benefits, a 20% increase in health insurance premiums resulted in an annual wage reduction of $1,700 per employee. A 10% increase in health insurance premiums results in 2.3% decline in wages.

The bad news is that health insurance premiums have been increasing more than 20% over the past three years, and there appears to be no end in sight to annual premium increases. So, if you think it’s just your employer’s problem, you’re wrong. It is everyone’s problem. Everyone has to work together to lower premiums.

What Can You Do About It?

The following are seven ways to reduce health insurance premiums. Some are for businesses (if you are an employee, remember the cost of health insurance is being directly passed on to you). Others are tips for individuals to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums.

  1. Raise Deductibles. Yes, this shifts more cost to the employee, but it can dramatically reduce premiums. Typically, the employer will also institute a health savings account to off- set the increased deductible. This can result in savings for both the employer and the employee.
  2. Change Co-pays. This is how much you pay after your deductible has been met. A common ratio is 80/20 in which the insurance company pays 80% and you pay 20%.  It’s just like raising the deductible means a lower premium, but it does shift more risk to you if something happens.
  3. Shop Around. Each time your health insurance is up for renewal look around for better deals. Chances are you can find a better deal.
  4. Start a Wellness Program. A wellness program can reduce health insurance claims. If employees are healthier and getting sick less often, a business owner can negotiate lower premiums. Wellness programs also have an additional benefit of reducing absenteeism and employee turnover, while boosting morale and productivity.
  5. Cut-out dangerous hobbies. Hobbies such as sky diving or scuba diving are considered dangerous. Any hobby that poses a significant risk of injury will necessarily increase your premiums. A dangerous hobby is not a pre-existing condition. If you truly want to lower health insurance premiums you may have to alter your lifestyle.
  6. Get Healthy. This means stop smoking, eat healthy, go on a diet, and exercise. Insurance companies do not like to insure smokers or obese people. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle not only will you feel better, but you will pay less for your health insurance.
  7. Clean Up Your Driving Record. You may not realize this, but your driving record is taken into consideration when health insurance companies determine your insurance rate.

Goal:  Most Affordable Plan

When lowering your health insurance premium keep in mind that you do not want to be foolish. You need to have health insurance that meets your needs.  The goal is not the lowest premium, but the most affordable plan that protects you and your family.  High deductibles and less favorable co-pays lower premiums, but can come back to haunt you if you think you are at risk for serious injury or illness.  Remember almost any serious encounter with the health care industry can bankrupt most middle class families if they are not adequately insured.

One final tip, never cancel any current health insurance policy until you have a new one. Strange things have and will happen even if you are uninsured just for one day.

Psst…. The FDA Has A Secret

July 17, 2009

By Nicole Andriso:

side effectsEach year, pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars showing us how their drugs will make us feel better and take away our pain. While we’re all looking for the one drug that will change our life, we also know it probably has side effects. We expect that pharmaceutical companies are telling us everything we need to know about those side effects to help us make educated health decisions, but what if they’re keeping something from us?

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Hidden Fees – How We’re Being Nickled & Dimed

July 16, 2009

These days we’re getting socked by hidden fees from every company we’re brave enough to do business with.  From credit card companies to utility companies to the airlines.  Whoever it is, it seems the business model is to sign you up, then nail you down with sneaky charges.  ABC’s Nightline took an in depth look at the growing number of fees we pay in a great report, “America:  Home of the Fee.” Click here to watch the amusing and sobering report.

Airline Safety Update – Cause for Concern?

July 16, 2009

The Charleston Gazette, Chris Dorst / AP Photo

By Terry Smiljanich:

Three new airplane accidents in the past two weeks have many of us examining the safety records of major airlines and the planes they fly.

The topic was the focus of a recent Consumer Warning Network story, which turned out to be one of our most popular.

Talk about timing.  When our initial story posted, Southwest Airlines had the safest record among U.S. carriers, but there’s been a chink in the armor, or should we say a big hole blown into it.

Southwest Record Takes a Hit

Southwest made the news on July 14, when a hole opened up in one of its Boeing 737’s on a flight from Nashville to Baltimore, causing an emergency landing in Charleston. No one was injured, but the news reports pointed out that Southwest has an aging family of 737’s.

Among the major American airlines, the average age of Southwest’s fleet is 14 years, but 208 of its planes are older model 737’s with an average age of 18 years. Alaska Airlines and Continental Airlines have the newest fleets (7 and 9.6 years respectively).

As almost a foreboding premonition, back in March of this year Southwest was fined $7.5 million by the FAA for failure to perform mandatory inspections for – you guessed it – fuselage fatigue on its fleet. A doubling of the fine can still be imposed if Southwest fails to meet additional safety benchmarks involving maintenance inspections. Better inspections might have prevented the near catastrophe averted on the Baltimore flight.

Even so,  Southwest still has the best safety record involving fatal incidents, having experienced none in its 38 year history.

Yemeni Airlines Crash

On June 30, 2009, a Yemenia (the national airline of Yemen) Airbus 310-300 crashed just before landing in the Comoros Islands, killing 152 passengers and crew (a 12 year old girl survived). On July 15, a Caspian Airline Russian-made passenger jet (a Tupelov TU-154) crashed in Iran, killing 170 when its tail burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Tehran.

As pointed out in our previous article, the safest foreign airlines are British Airlines, SAS, Lufthansa, All Nippon Airlines and Air France, while the most dangerous are Turkish Airlines, Indian Airlines, and Aeromexico. China and Russia, however, do not provide accurate airline safety information, a cause for well-earned concern.

Iranian Airplane Crash

Iran also had a fatal incident in 2006 when another Tupelov TU-154 crashed during landing, killing 29 on an Iran Airtour flight.

Clearly, the air safety standards in some countries, notably Russia, the Middle East and Iran, are in sore need of improvement. Given U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran, that country has found it impossible to replace older planes with newer U.S. models.

When flying overseas, stay away from Iranian carriers. Generally, it seems best to stick to the main airlines, which offer better flight training and equipment. Russian-made Tupelov’s in particular have either poorly trained pilots, poor equipment, or both.

The Yemeni crash on June 30 involved an Airbus A310. In production from 1978 to 2007, this Airbus model has a very poor safety record, putting it among the worst passenger planes in current use. 217 planes, operated exclusively by smaller foreign airlines, are still flying.

The lessons to be learned today: Smaller foreign airlines are not as safe.  Older fleets are not reliable.  Still, America continues to lead the world in airline safety.

The Following is a Paid-For Announcement

July 13, 2009

By: Jonathan Cohen:

Good Morning America. The Today Show. The View. The Balancing Act. They’re all the same, right? Daily morning shows with chipper hosts presenting news, factoids, and interviews in an upbeat and digestible format. Regardless of where your particular morning viewing allegiances lie, each of these programs has a loyal audience that believes it’s getting honest advice and information from these shows and their hosts. So would it disturb you to know that one of these shows is nothing more than an infomercial in disguise?

It turns out that The Balancing Act, a half-hour show airing weekday mornings on the Lifetime network, essentially consists of paid-for-programming.

Lifetime has built its reputation as a network dedicated to women and their interests. Well ladies, every weekday morning Lifetime helps companies peddle a variety of products in an attempt to separate you from your hard-earned money. This conduct wouldn’t be so offensive but for the way in which The Balancing Act is structured.

The would-be program is devised to look like your standard morning show, complete with friendly hosts sitting in a relaxed environment gabbing away with energetic guests. But in reality, some (if not all) of The Balancing Act’s guests have paid to appear on the show and discuss a particular product.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with selling airtime to businesses for commercial purposes, but call it what it is. This is paid-for-programming masquerading as a legitimate television show. Viewers have a right to know whether they’re watching an advertisement or an actual show. This is the very reason why your cable guide (and infomercials themselves) typically state whether a particular timeslot is a paid-for announcement.

Clearly, the Lifetime network sees no need to inform its audience that The Balancing Act contains paid-for-programming. At no point before, during or after each episode is it disclosed that any portion of the show has been bought and paid for by a company for the sole purpose of selling something. This has the intended affect of misleading viewers into believing that the guests, who are often subject-matter experts, celebrities or doctors, are appearing out of the goodness of their hearts and their interest in sharing important information with the public.

Watching an episode of The Balancing Act makes it clear that the show is all about products.

During a recent episode, a celebrity trainer and fitness author appeared and discussed the challenge of fitting a workout into a busy schedule. Within a matter of seconds, the trainer was recommending two specific Bowflex products. The camera zoomed in on the product several times, and at the end of the segment, the host suggested viewers visit the show’s Web site for more information.

Interestingly, this additional information is simply a link to Bowflex’s Web site, and a toll free phone number and promotional code to use when ordering Bowflex equipment. Other show segments include more of the same. In one, former Olympian Mary Lou Retton discusses her hip replacement surgery. But she doesn’t discuss it in a general sense. She specifically discusses the brand of replacement hip put into her body.

During Retton’s “conversation” with the host, the product itself is sitting on the table between them. But possibly the most offensive segment focuses on liposuction. In this before-and-after segment, two sisters discuss their experiences with liposuction. Their actual surgery is shown.

During the procedure, they actually speak to the camera. Immediately following the surgery, they discuss how simple it was. The host once again suggests viewers visit The Balancing Act online for more information. That information consists of a link to the official Web site for the specific brand of liposuction machine used in the segment, which enables you to search for a doctor who uses that particular equipment.

From an independent businessperson’s perspective, The Balancing Act is equally troublesome. The program not only sells airtime to big names like Nautilus, Inc., the makers of Bowflex; it also targets small businesses. Recently, Rosalie Kellman, a distributor of organic baby products, was solicited by Brenda Sultan, one of the show’s producers. Sultan scheduled a phone interview with Kellman, during which she asked extensive and detailed questions about Kellman’s business. According to Sultan, she was trying to assess whether Kellman and her products were a good fit for one of the show’s segments.

Finally, at the end of the call – and only when asked directly – Sultan admitted that the show would expect a fee of $39,000.00 from Kellman to secure her airtime. Clearly, The Balancing Act is not like other morning programs, despite claims to the contrary. When asked how The Balancing Act considers itself to be in the same league as programs like The View when guests are paying to appear, Sultan simply stated that she was unaware of any financial obligations related to other shows.

It is disconcerting that a network, especially one as popular as Lifetime, would so blatantly and willingly blur the lines between advertising and non-paid content. In doing so, the audience is denied the right to know what they’re actually watching and the real motivation behind it. If honesty and deception are at opposite ends of the spectrum, The Balancing Act tips the scales towards the latter.

Which Airplanes and Airlines are the Safest?

July 10, 2009

Air France Tail SectionBy Terry Smiljanich:

The June 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 in Brazil, killing 228 passengers and crew, renewed questions about airline safety in many people’s minds.  On October 14, the FAA proposed fines of $9.2 million against domestic carriers US Airways and United Airlines for operating planes that violated FAA and company maintenance requirements.

How safe is flying? Which airlines have the best track record? What airplane models have fewer fatal crashes? [For an update to this story as of August, 2010, please read our new posting].

Flying safety

Last year alone, U.S. airline passengers traveled 798 billion miles. During the same period, Americans traveled about 3 trillion miles in automobiles. Using comparative figures, it has been calculated that the chances of a fatality in driving between Boston and Washington, D.C., is 8.5 times greater than the chances of an airline fatality for that same trip. So there is no question that airline safety still beats driving risks by miles.

Statistics show that on average in the U.S. a person dies in a plane crash for every 4 million flights taken.  These are the kind of odds faced in winning the lottery with a single ticket. You are more likely to die from stumbling while walking, an accidental firearms discharge, or suffocating in bed while sleeping than from perishing in a plane crash.

Which Airlines Have the Best Safety Record?

The top eight airlines in the United States (those having more than 2 million flights per year) all have good safety records. Their rank, based on the number of fatal events per million miles traveled, is as follows:

  1. Southwest Airlines           0.00 (no fatalities in its history)
  2. Delta Airlines                   0.17
  3. Northwest Airlines           0.21
  4. Continental Airlines         0.24
  5. US Air                              0.28
  6. United Airlines                 0.31
  7. Alaska Airlines                 0.33
  8. American Airlines             0.40

This is an average of 0.24 fatal events per million flights.

How does that compare to the airlines of other countries? The sixteen airlines based in other countries with flights exceeding 2 million per year average 1.10 fatal events per million flights, or more than four times worse than the U.S. average. The top 5 safest foreign airlines are:

  1. British Airlines                 0.17
  2. SAS                                 0.19
  3. Lufthansa                        0.22
  4. All Nippon Airlines          0.22
  5. Air France                       0.72 (not including the 6/1/09 crash)

The foreign airlines with the worst fatality records are:

  1. Turkish Airlines               3.60
  2. Indian Airlines                 3.53
  3. Aeromexico                     1.76
  4. Japan Airlines                  1.36
  5. SwissAir                          1.20

It should be noted that the official airline of China, Air China, does not release mileage or accident statistics. It is a good bet that if China does not want the world to know the answers to these questions, it must not like the answers.

There is no doubt that the American airline industry is on average the safest in the world.

What Airplanes Have the Best Safety Records

The top 5 airplanes currently in production and flown in more than 10 million flights per year rank as follows:

  1. Airbus A320                     0.13
  2. ATR 42/72                       0.33
  3. Boeing 737                      0.36
  4. Boeing 767                      0.40
  5. Boeing 747                      0.76

Other airplanes no longer in production but still flying include the Boeing MD80/90 (0.26), the Boeing 757 (0.30), the Boeing 727 (0.49) and the Airbus 300 (0.54).

What about the Airbus A330 involved in the Air France disaster? This airplane came into production in the late 90’s. 1,021 planes have been ordered, but only 609 have actually been delivered.

Compared to the Airbus A320 (6,321 ordered, 3,893 delivered), comparatively few of the A330 planes are in the air. The fatality statistics kept on this plane are currently unavailable, perhaps due to the lack of a sufficient track record, but the Air France crash will obviously push this model nearly to the top of the list.

This might be considered an unfair comparison, since only one accident can seriously skew the statistics. Take the Concorde SST, the supersonic airline in operation from 1976 to 2003. It only had one fatal accident in its entire history, but because it flew less than 100,000 flights total, its fatal events per million flights is 11.36, the highest of any aircraft model.

It could be argued that statistics such as these are misleading, since so few airline crashes occur, making them susceptible to the vagaries of chance occurences. What can be gleaned from these statistics, however, is that the major airplane models in current use have good track records, and that the air safety regulations in a few other countries are suspect.

Getting to the Bottom of Why a Bank would Sue Itself

July 10, 2009

By Angie Moreschi:

Our recent CWN article and video on Wells Fargo suing itself got the attention of Dow Jones Columnist and award winning business writer Al Lewis.  With his piercing sarcasm, Al  tackles the perplexing question of why on earth a bank would sue itself.  He went far and wide in his search for answers, but it turns out there really is no good explanation.  Watch the report that started it all above.

Read Al Lewis’ column below and watch his segment on FOX News with Neil Covuto.

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The DIY Myth: Save Now, Pay Later

July 10, 2009

By Larry Wiezycki:

Let’s face it, economic times are tough for everyone right now whether you are unemployed, have lost your home to foreclosure, or can’t afford that next health insurance increase. Just when things seem to be at their worst, something goes wrong with the family car.

Now what? Do you head down to the local ‘stealership,’ credit card in hand and plunk down the big bucks for your free coffee, donut, and an estimate from a certified technician (assuming they are still in business)? Or do you grab a flashlight and screwdriver to start poking around under the hood in hopes of saving a few bucks?

Faced with a repair bill potentially in the hundreds – even thousands of dollars – many people are summoning the courage for the first time to take matters into their own hands. Recent search engine data from Yahoo reflects this recent increase in DIY or “do it yourself” repair.

It’s not a bad option, if you have some sort of idea what you are doing. But many people don’t.

With DIY on the rise, it’s giving way to a new phenomenon: an increase in botched do-it-yourself auto repairs. Worse than the unsuccessful repair attempt itself is when the DIY-er breaks something else in the process.

A recent AP story details the mishaps of one owner’s unsuccessful attempt at replacing a burned out tail light, and another whose neighbor’s driveway-brake-job nearly ended in a crash.

Both wound up paying hundreds more to get everything fixed.

Our advice:

  1. Do your research. Forget the ‘repair manuals’ sold in auto parts stores, most don’t go into enough detail to be helpful. Let Google be your guide to the ever expanding online auto repair discussion groups. Even if you choose to pay a professional, you’ll be better equipped to avoid getting ripped off.
  2. Call around for the best price. Privately owned shops sometimes charge half the price of a dealership, but usually don’t offer the free coffee.
  3. As a bonus, some private shops may allow you to source your own parts cheaply online while adding a small fee to offset their normal markup.
  4. If you do decide to take matters into your own hands, know your limits. Don’t go trying to replace a worn fan belt if you’ve never turned a wrench before!

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