Dec 17, 2008

Top 10 Of Everything In 2008


Consumer Reports Most Trusted

Yahoo Finance

No Batteries Required: Future Devices Could Power Themselves

Yahoo News

Giving You Less For The Same Price

Dec 6, 2008

Warning About Discount Health Care Plans

WKOW-TV Madison

Going Out Of Business Sales May Not Be A Bargain

Picking The Best Electronic Gifts

Consumer Reports

Feds Fine Marketers of Secret Shopper Scam

Public Investigator Milwaukee Journal

Safe Toys

I learned that the toy guitar I used to illustrate noisy toys in the story above had been souped up. It's called bending a circuit. Hackers take toy electronics and alter them to make distinctive sounds. There are musical groups--including one in Madison--that use these devices.

One of the things that hackers may do is drill a hole in the toy and then stick a finger inside to alter the sound. Obviously, this could be trouble if the device is plugged into the wall.

Click here, and you can check out circuit benders--one actually uses his son to alter a guitar's sound.

The Coming Credit Card Debacle?

New York Times

How To Block Spam Going To Your Telephone

Star Bulletin

What Day Of The Week Is The Best Time To Buy

Smart Money

Doctors Say Watch Your Step

WISN-TV video

Nov 17, 2008

Nov 7, 2008

12 News Milwaukee Investigates: What Do You Know About Workers You Let Inside Your Home

12 News Investigates

TV 26 Green Bay Looks At Fast Food Nutrition With Dietitians

TV 26 Green Bay: Secret Shopper Scam

Bank Fees Continue To Soar

Drop In Consumer Spending Tied To Drop In Housing Values

"You'll Save Gas And Avoid Crowds By Shopping Online, And You Needn't Be Nervous About The Outcome"

Consumer Reports:

1 In 5 Mortgages Higher Than Home's Value

Suggestions On Fighting Fake Check Scams

In recent weeks, consumer protection has warned consumers about the Publishers Clearinghouse scams which involve fake checks. MSNBC Consumer Reporter Herb Weisbaum recently wrote about this scam and had some interesting observations about MoneyGrams and banks:

There are plenty of warning signs this prize notice is a scam. The most obvious one: You are required to send money. No legitimate contest ever requires you to buy something or pay any money.

Then there’s the check that comes with the award notice letter. It always has the name of some unrelated company on it – such as a funeral home in North Dakota or a collision shop in California – not Publishers Clearinghouse. Why? The bad guys steal the names and account numbers of real companies to put on their fake checks so they won’t bounce as soon as you deposit them.

And then there’s the strange instruction you get about wiring the money. You’re told not to mention that you’ve won the contest. You’re supposed to say you’re sending money to a friend or relative. That should make warning sirens go off.

Willard Hart, director of fraud at MoneyGram International says this is done to fake out their agents who will question the transaction if you say you’ve won a contest or lottery. “What the bad guys are trying to do is give their victims a set answer to keep the transaction going,” he explains.

Trying to attack the problem

Consumer groups, businesses and government regulators have formed a task force on fake checks. Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America chairs this task force.

I asked her if she believes the banking industry should do more to protect their customers from these fake check scams. Her response: “Banks clearly need to do more.”

Grant has high praise for West Suburban Bank in the Chicago area. It reduced this check fraud by 85 percent in one year by instituting a simple policy. Every customer who deposits a check for $1,000 or more or withdraws $1,000 or more gets a flyer about fake check scams. “It’s simple and effective,” Grant says.
Entire article

Oct 3, 2008

Rats and Mice Can Destroy Household Furnishings Stored in Mini Warehouses

The above story about rats and mice ruining household furnishings and memorabilia is just one of a number of interesting animal tales I’ve heard lately.

For example, a lonely young friend of mine going through a divorce often sits in front of his computer late at night eating bag after bag of Doritos with the crumbs tumbling down the shirt covering his ample stomach. Recently, my friend discovered he had company…a mouse. Every time my friend uses his computer late at night, the mouse shows up to provide company and share junk food.

Cellphone photos by Glen Loyd III

Recently my son, Glen III, had a beautiful red fox approach him while he was parked near the quarry in Columbus. Glen noticed that the fox was staring at him like a hungry dog…so my son started sharing part of his lunch with him—a bagel and two bear claw pastries. In the photos, you can see Glen’s bear claw pastry in the fox’s mouth. After awhile, the red fox went away and came back with another hungry fox which looked like a brother or sister. A colleague thinks the two may be new offspring who haven’t fully developed hunting skills. They often explore together. The red fox is usually very good at avoiding man--his enemy--and is found in rural areas bordering towns. Usually they eat rodents, insects, fruit and plants.

Shortly after his experience with the foxes, Glen glanced out the window of his home on the Rock River in Janesville and saw both a majestic eagle in the sky and a tiny humming bird at the feeder.

Will The Cellphone Slay The Wristwatch?

Palm Beach Post

Nearly 1/5 of Homes Have No Landlines

New York Times

Sep 19, 2008

News about the news business is about the future of journalism and the news business. Former WLUK-TV(Green Bay)and CNN reporter Grant Perry is editor and the founder of this site which provides "information and insight that will empower news professionals to create sustainable businesses and quality journalism."

Don't let your clothes dryer catch on fire

Washington Business Journal: "Most banks not compliant with identity theft rules"

Washington Business Journal

New card on campus: Prepayed debit

Wall Street Journal

25 simple ways to save energy

Consumer Reports

10 things banks will not tell you

Cyber Sleuth: Tracking down spammers

Sep 12, 2008

Contractor allegedly stole his customers' IDs

Sex, drugs and youth gangs in WI and a judge who looks for the best in everyone

Officer Joe Wagner of the Dane County Sheriff's Office says there are gangs in virtually all Dane County Communities and many other Wisconsin communities. (TRIAD Crime Prevention & Safety Expo in Madison, WI)

Despite his experience as a criminal prosecutor for domestic violence, violent felonies, sexual assaults and elderly abuse, Judge William Hanrahan of Dane County Juvenile Court still looks for the best in everyone. He looks back to one of his first days as a prosecutor in Milwaukee.

Advice for Countrywide Credit customers who received a securty breach notice

Survey: See How Your Credit Card Stacks Up

JD Powers

Comparison of ID theft monitoring services

Institute of Financial Consumer Education

How RFID Tags Could Be Used to Track Unsuspecting People

Scientific American

Background on Social Security Numbers and Privacy

Congressional Research Service

Ten worse insurance companies: alleged by the American Association for Justice

American Association for Justice

Journal Sentinel gets ‘Innovator of Year’ title

Milwaukee Journal

Sep 6, 2008

KWCH-TV 12: Shredded checks used for packing material

Stores on Line settlement in WI

Seattle Court Sets Aside AT&T's Arbitration Clause

Samsung Sued Over Alleged False Cartridge "Empty" Warnings


Consumer Reports Rates TV Converter Boxes

Consumer Reports has just updated its ratings of the set top boxes you will need for old analog TVs starting February 17, 2009. Based on comments posted by real owners of these boxes on other websites, the Channel Master CM-7000 and Zenith's new DTT901 (at Circuit City) are most preferred.

Top 10 opt outs

World Privacy Forum

Sep 4, 2008

280,954 mobile phones now on WI No Call List

The Wisconsin No Call list effective October 1, 2008 has 1,421,484 numbers.

There were 280,954 mobile telephone numbers added to the No Call list between June 5, 2008 and August 31, 2008.

On one day, August 11, 2008, there were 38,400 mobile numbers added to the list.

Public Investigator: Natural enhancement exposed

Milwaukee Journal

Sep 1, 2008

Aug 16, 2008

First Case Of Fatal Horse Virus Hits State


"A major concern is that this particular virus also infects humans," said state veterinarian Robert Ehlenfeldt. "It doesn't transmit from horses to people, but could be transmitted to people by the mosquito bite."

Jul 7, 2008

Views from brother journalist Mark Twain

Originally uploaded by rachaelhubbard
Going West before trains made the trip was tough on our pioneers. But not for Mark Twain: "It was now just dawn; and as we stretched our cramped legs full length on the mail sacks, and gazed out through the windows across the wide wastes of greensward clad in cool, powdery mist, to where there was an expectant look in the eastern horizon, our perfect enjoyment took the form of a tranquil and contented ecstasy. The stage whirled along at a spanking gait, the breeze flapping curtains and suspended coats in a most exhilarating way; the cradle swayed and swung luxuriously, the pattering of the horses' hoofs, the cracking of the driver's whip, and his "Hi-yi! g'lang!" were music; the spinning ground and the waltzing trees appeared to give us a mute hurrah as we went by, and then slack up and look after us with interest, or envy, or something; and as we lay and smoked the pipe of peace and compared all this luxury with the years of tiresome city life that had gone before it, we felt that there was only one complete and satisfying happiness in the world, and we had found it." Roughing It

Questionable free digital TV conversion box

New York Times

Don't get sunk with a flood car

Jul 6, 2008

Enjoy the views from Mark Twain, a brother journalist

The Great Pyramids
Originally uploaded by Siddhi
"At the distance of a few miles the Pyramids rising above the palms, looked very clean-cut, very grand and imposing, and very soft and filmy, as well. They swam in a rich haze that took from them all suggestions of unfeeling stone, and made them seem only the airy nothings of a dream--structures which might blossom into tiers of vague arches, or ornate colonnades, may be, and change and change again, into all graceful forms of architecture, while we looked, and then melt deliciously away and blend with the tremulous atmosphere... A laborious walk in the flaming sun brought us to the foot of the great Pyramid of Cheops. It was a fairy vision no longer. It was a corrugated, unsightly mountain of stone. Each of its monstrous sides was a wide stairway which rose upward, step above step, narrowing as it went, till it tapered to a point far aloft in the air. Insect men and women--pilgrims from the QuakerCity--were creeping about its dizzy perches.... " The Innocents Abroad

Small businesses, churches, nonprofits: beware of getting unordered office supplies and directory listings

May 28, 2008

If there are toddlers nearby, be especially careful backing out of drive ways.

Right after WISC-TV in Madison warned about toddlers being killed and injured by cars when drivers are backing out of drive ways, it happened again in Wisconsin. A 15-month-old girl was killed Thursday (May 29)in Rock County. Last Sunday, a 13-month-old girl was killed in a Whitewater church parking lot.

CBS-TV: Shopping Network employees come forward with allegations


Plan would change penalties for early termination of cell phone contracts

Star Telegram

The catch with mail-in rebates on cell phone deals

May 11, 2008

May 8, 2008

Seven easy ways to be victimized by ID theft

Six ways to gain more check float time

Can a steamer replace your iron?

I think this article maybe directed to the older generation because from what I observe wrinkled clothing is in with many young people.

May 4, 2008

Pictures of these scary looking dustmites are sometimes shown to consumers by questionable vacuum cleaner salespeople trying to sell machines priced a thousand dollars higher than most good vacuums.

The latest medical information on dust mites suggests that vacuums don't help: Getting rid of dust mites—worthwhile?

By the way, some salespeople have also used AIDS to frighten people into buying vacuums. When AIDS became a known problem, consumers were told that the vacuums were air filtration systems that would protect families from the disease!

May 3, 2008

Look out when your credit card company sends you those blank convenience checks!

Fed to Pursue Aggressive Checks on Credit Cards

Washington Post

Green Bay area woman nicked by Nigerians

And here is Dateline video of another Wisconsin victim and a Dateline sting of the Nigerian scammers.

Want to work at home stuffing envelopes?

When I started as a Consumer Protection reporter in 1971 the stuffing envelopes scam dotted almost every newspaper classified ad section--because the scam worked like a chain letter. Instead of receiving envelopes to stuff when you sent in your money you got instructions on how to make money putting the same rip-off ad into other newspapers.

Thirty-seven years later, the envelope stuffing scam is still going fairly strong. Fact is there have never been any envelopes to stuff at home. Every last one of those ads is meant to deceive and steal money.

Here is the latest prosecution.

FTC Charges Mortgage Foreclosure “Rescuers”

Federal Trade Commission

What's that smoke drifting from your fluorescent bulb?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Speeding Up Safety

With the government slow to act and consumers quick to mobilize, companies have learned to take swift action on potentially dangerous products. Washington Post

Apr 26, 2008

They are coming! When salespeople knock on your door.

Clarification: Investments are exempt from the three-day right to cancel.

Have you seen those colon cleaning TV infomercials? Here is a second opinion:

From the website of Dr. Steven Barrett M.D. who is vice-president of the National Council Against Health Fraud:
...Some approaches to "detoxification" are based on notions that, as a result of intestinal stasis, intestinal contents putrefy, and toxins are formed and absorbed, which causes chronic poisoning of the body. This "autointoxication" theory was popular around the turn of the century but was abandoned by the scientific community during the 1930s. No such "toxins" have ever been found, and careful observations have shown that individuals in good health can vary greatly in bowel habits. Quacks may also suggest that fecal material collects on the lining of the intestine and causes trouble unless removed by laxatives, colonic irrigation, special diets, and/or various herbs or food supplements that "cleanse" the body. The falsity of this notion is obvious to doctors who perform intestinal surgery or peer within the large intestine with a diagnostic instrument. Fecal material does not adhere to the intestinal lining...

Do those footpads for toxins really work?

Apr 9, 2008

Apr 2, 2008

NCAA cheap seats? Take an oxygen bottle.

This story is dated because it's about the Badgers in the NCAA's playoffs in Detroit. But it is worth a look just to see the creativity used by Reporter Mark Lovicot of WISC-TV in Madison to demonstrate questionable ticket sales.

Apr 1, 2008

Consumer Protection in the digital age

At some time in our lives, we, or someone close to us, will experience a questionable consumer transaction.

Mar 29, 2008

Plastic to pay taxes?

We are being encouraged to pay our taxes with plastic for "rewards" back. Should you take the bait?

Genetic Testing Gets Personal

Washington Post
Firms Sell Answers On Health, Even Love

Why high gold prices don't mean it's time to sell your jewelry


Shoddy home addition merits double damages

Milwaukee Journal

Mar 5, 2008

See the Grand Canyon flooded for beach restoration and read how this process endangered rafters in 2005

Here is my personal story about what happened when the feds flooded the Canyon for a similar restoration attempt in 2005:

Facing my 65th birthday, I was perplexed. I had been striving for retirement for many years and now, when I could retire comfortably, I couldn’t let go of my career. I was having too much fun.

After deciding to stay on for another five years or so, I began experiencing a letdown. I had worked for more than forty years and now I was just going to keep on working?

Adventure offer

Then—three days before my birthday—a friend on the verge of early retirement told me he was lifting weights to get in shape for a private whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. I admired my friend (and still do) for having this kind of adventure in his life and told him so.

Later, he sent me this email: “No promises here, but if you want to stay on a backup list for this year’s trip, let me know. Perfect conditioning is not a must, but you would have to be in condition to descend 5,000 vertical feet over a nine-mile route.”

I told him I was interested, and began walking six miles a day instead of my normal three—just in case.

The day before my 65th birthday, my friend told me there was an opening for the second half of the trip. I said I would think it over and give him an answer the next day.

I woke up after 1.00 a.m. and realized I was now 65. It just seemed so old…older than I felt. I decided to go rafting.

Research Reveals
I was bragging about the trip now, telling just about everyone I knew. Instead of turning 65 and having people inquiring about my retirement plans, they were asking me about my adventure.

But checking recent news releases from the Canyon, I was shocked to learn that multiple deaths occur there every year. For example, rafters drown, runners die of heat exhaustion, teenagers fall over the rim, campers get struck by lightning…And climbers fall to their death on Bright Angel, the trail I would be taking down to the river.

I had to sign a waiver acknowledging that I was participating in a risky adventure and would hold no one liable if I was injured or killed.

Adventure Ho

I met up with a group of the rafters in Phoenix and we drove to the Grand Canyon by car. They were nice church-going professional men, but that night some were drinking to excess and slurring their words--despite the potentially dangerous trip we were about to make the next day.

It was 28 degrees the following morning and Bright Angel Trail was icy, muddy, narrow and straight down the Canyon if you stepped off it. Suddenly I was having second thoughts as:

A fear of heights kicked in;
I realized you can die doing what I was about to do;
My new friends were drinking too much; and
I had just learned that the federal government was going to be flooding the river while we were rafting!

So I changed my mind and didn’t make the climb down.

Before I made that decision, I’d been troubled about what I’d gotten myself into. As soon as I said I wasn’t going, I instantly felt better. And I laughed at myself for taking on too much adventure.

After saying good bye to my companions, I waited around and watched climbers coming up Bright Angel after completing the first half of the trip.

They trudged wearily over the rim, one by one, after a five-hour climb. Most wanted a drink at the hotel bar to toast their great accomplishment. A rafter in his early thirties told me he had been so drunk in the Canyon that, “I couldn’t remember my name.” Another man in his late fifties told me privately that, while he would remember the beauty of the Canyon for the rest of his life, he didn’t condone the excessive drinking. The rafters hauled whiskey, gin, wine and at least sixty cases of beer, enough for each to have a six pack a day.

Back in the Canyon, a tragedy was about to take place. The feds released a flood from Glen Canyon Dam for more than four days. It was an experiment to restore sand to the Colorado’s beaches and it created peril for my rafting friends. The river rose more than seven feet in some places and generated faster currents than normal. Beaches and camps disappeared under water. Hurtling downriver, the rafters had nowhere to land and dodged dangerous logs and driftwood ripped from the shoreline.
Unfortunately, a fireman from Phoenix who was rafting with another group drowned. His friends abandoned their rafts at Phantom Ranch and headed for the funeral.
Downriver, where there were not trails out of the Canyon, my friends had to scramble for high ground, where they were forced to stay for three days.

The rafts were too heavy to lift so day and night the crews floated, dragged, and pushed them to a shoreline that rose higher and higher. Then, as the water receded, the crews struggled to move the rafts to the river, hoping not to get stranded on land.

The rafters were not prepared for the flood because a river ranger told them it probably wasn’t going to happen and had no advice if it did.

When I got home to Madison I was so relieved to have bailed out , I was ready to accept ribbing about Glen’s Great Adventure. It didn’t come.

I’m sixty-eight now, still working--and not signing any more risk waivers!