We all should be aware of and try to avoid identity theft. But what happens if someone has already gotten your personal info, charged on your credit cards or even made a large purchase like a car? There were two good articles in the Chicago Tribune about identity stolen, $159K in unpaid loans and credit damage.
On Feb. 5, Jeff’s identity was stolen – though he didn’t realize it until May 18, when a collection agency taped a bright yellow notice to his front door that read “URGENT FINAL NOTICE.”
In reality, Jeff didn’t fully understand what the May 18 notice meant – he assumed it was a scam – until the next day when he coincidentally heard from his mortgage broker that, “You and [your wife] have been approved for your mortgage, but I have a couple questions because you have some marks on your credit report.” Said Jeff: “I had no idea what he was talking about.”
This marked the start of Jeff’s month-long saga to reclaim his identity and clear his credit.
It is interesting to note that when someone steals your credit info they may not run up a lot of charges right away. On the other hand if you don’t pay attention to your credit card statements you will miss out on what may be the first clue. But if credit cards were not the issue then what happened to the man in the report could happen to you. How to deal with identity theft is first of all to get a credit report. You will see what has been purchased in your name and can start to deal with the mess involved. The next thing that the man in the news did was contact the police and that should be your next step too followed by a call to your attorney.
Report Fraudulent Transactions
If someone has stolen your identity and purchase things on loan or with a credit card in your name you need to contact each of the lenders and report the actions as fraud. They note in the Tribune article that your credit report contains phone numbers for the banks or other agencies involved. At that point these people need to stop sending collection notices and in fact cannot harass you at all.
Contact Credit Reporting Agencies
The next step was to contact one of the big three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Federal law states that you need only report to one of these in order for all to know.
Freezing Your Credit and Getting Reports
If things have gotten really bad you may choose to freeze your credit. This means that no one can access your credit until you lift the freeze. Following this action you can pay Equifax or one of the other agencies for monthly credit monitoring. For more information on reporting identity theft visit the Federal Trade Commission web site, IdentityTheft.gov. This site also helps walk you through how to deal with identity theft.
Unfreezing Your Credit
When the dust settles you probably want to unfreeze your credit. The Chicago Tribune comes to the rescue again. You get a unique PIN number when you freeze your credit. Save this or remember this but don’t put it where it might be stolen. When you want to unfreeze your credit you need a raft of personal info, credit history and the PIN number so it is unlikely that whoever stole your info in the first place will be able to get back into your credit. Obviously you need to change card numbers, passwords, etc. in your new credit life.
Do antibacterial soaps really work to prevent illness and the spread of infections? Are there any long term problems associated with use of these products? These two issues arose in 2013 and the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a rule requiring makers of over the counter antibacterial soaps to demonstrate safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to demonstrate that their products are safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. Under the proposal, if companies do not demonstrate such safety and effectiveness, these products would need to be reformulated or relabeled to remain on the market.
[This] action is part of a larger, ongoing review of antibacterial active ingredients by the FDA to ensure these ingredients are proven to be safe and effective. This proposed rule does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products used in health care settings.
Beside there being a question about whether or not these products do what they claim which to help fight disease and the spread of infection there are now questions about the side effects of their use.
Smithsonian.com wrote in 2014 about five reasons why you should probably stop using antibacterial soap. Here are their five reasons.
- Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than conventional soap and water
- Antibacterial soaps have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- The soaps could act as endocrine disruptors
- The soaps might lead to other health problems such as immune system disruption and allergies
- Antibacterial soaps are bad for the environment such inhibiting algae photosynthesis
Did They Pass the Test?
Three years have passed since the FDA rule. Their September 2016 ruling says with the exception of three chemical ingredients that have been given a one year extension for more testing that antibacterial ingredient must be removed from over the counter consumer soaps. Soap makers are already phasing out these products. They did not meet the required standards for safety and effectiveness.
This final rule applies to consumer antiseptic wash products containing one or more of 19 specific active ingredients, including the most commonly used ingredients – triclosan and triclocarban. These products are intended for use with water, and are rinsed off after use. This rule does not affect consumer hand “sanitizers” or wipes, or antibacterial products used in health care settings.
“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”
The three ingredients that have been given a 1 year reprieve are benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol (PCMX) as there testing has apparently shown some hope that they do what they are said to do and are not harmful. You probably don’t need to throw out that half bar of soap in your shower but you may want to be sure that you are not buying antibacterial soaps until we hear more from the FDA.
General Mills has issued a product recall for several types of flour due to contamination with the E. coli bacteria. This happens after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linked illnesses to eating uncooked dough and batter made with raw flour. Here is the flour recall information.
All products included in this recall are listed below.
Illnesses have NOT come from properly baked or cooked flour.
Do not eat uncooked dough or batter made with raw flour. Flour is made from wheat that is grown outdoors where bacteria are often present. Flour is typically not treated to kill bacteria during the normal milling process.
Actions you should take
Do not eat or taste dough or batter made with raw flour.
Properly cook or bake food made with flour. Bacteria (such as E. coli) that might be found in the raw flour will be eliminated.
Check your pantry and throw away any products that match the recalled products listed below. If possible, save the product name, UPC (bar code) and Better if Used By Date to help our Consumer Relations team assist you with a replacement coupon. If you no longer have the flour package or have any doubts, throw away the flour.
If you have any questions about this recall or need a replacement coupon for any product included in this recall, complete this form or call our Consumer Relations team at 1-800-230-8103.
Go to the link to see the various flour products involved in this product recall. Remember that E. coli bacterial illness has come from ingesting raw flour or batter, not from baked good. Baking kills the bacteria.
E. coli Illnesses
The Mayo Clinic web site provides useful information about E. coli illnesses.
Among the many strains of E. coli, only a few trigger diarrhea. One group of E. coli – which includes O157:H7 – produces a powerful toxin that damages the lining of the small intestine, which can cause bloody diarrhea. You develop an E. coli infection when you ingest this strain of bacteria.
Unlike many other disease-causing bacteria, E. coli can cause an infection even if you ingest only small amounts. Because of this, you can be sickened by E. coli from eating a slightly undercooked hamburger or from swallowing a mouthful of contaminated pool water.
Potential sources of exposure include contaminated food or water and person-to-person contact.
The more common sources of E. coli food infection are poorly cooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk and uncleaned fresh produce. Contaminated water (not chlorinated or otherwise purified) is another reason for E. coli illness.
It turns out that flour is a rare source of E. coli infection, probably because flour is rarely contaminated and because baking kills the bacteria and breaks down any toxins.
Who Should Worry the Most
Except for the rare O157:H7 strain, E. coli causes mild and short term diarrhea in most people. Those who are more likely to become more ill with infections are the elderly, those with weakened immune systems (cancer therapy or AIDS), users of acid blocking agents such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and people who habitually consume raw hamburger, unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses made from raw milk. If your symptoms include anything except very mild diarrhea you should promptly contact your physician.
Feeling tired? Want to lose weight? How about using food supplements to make you feel better and slim down? There are certainly lots of products available online and without prescription at health food stores and even your local pharmacy. But how safe are food supplements? Prescription drugs need to pass very strict testing to demonstrate that they do not cause harm and that they do what the manufacturer says they do. Food supplements do not need to pass the same test. Consumer Reports just published a list of 15 supplement ingredients to always avoid.
With the help of an expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers, Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients that are potentially harmful. The risks include organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest. The severity of these threats often depends on such factors as pre-existing medical conditions as well as the quantity of the ingredient taken and the length of time a person has been exposed to the substance.
Many of the ingredients on this list also have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin and generic).
The first rule of medicine is to first do no harm and that is what the law has demanded for a century for U.S. prescription drugs. It took another 70 years or so for the law to demand that prescribed medications do what they are meant to do. Unfortunately food supplements are, well, considered to be food and do not fall within the governance of the food and drug administration. The only time that FDA rules apply to food supplements is when the manufacturer makes claims about medical benefits. But the makers and sellers of food supplements get around this by publishing testimonials from people who state that they felt better, lost weight or achieved other benefits from the supplement. No proof is offered. The end result is that there are food supplements being offered that can result in illness and even death. Here is the list from Consumer Reports.
- Caffeine Powder
- Greater Celandine
- Green Tea Extract Powder
- Pennyroyal Oil
- Red Yeast Rice
- Usnic Acid
We wrote about green coffee extract on our Consumer Help Dept website a couple of years ago. We noted that you might, according to the purported evidence, lose weight briefly if you used the extract, ate less and worked out but that the weight would not stay off unless you continued exercise and watching your diet. Shortly thereafter the same site published an article noting that the original research was bogus! In general our view of dietary supplements is that they work only if you diet and work out and that there is no lasting weight loss for free. The concern with green tea extract powder according to Consumer Reports is that you can get dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced iron absorption, worsened glaucoma, higher blood pressure and heart rate, liver damage and even death from this product!
In fact of the 15 products listed 9 could possible cause death. That is how safe food supplements can be. Read the article and check any food supplements that you have purchased.
According to Cleveland.com a group of brewers wants more specific beer-label information.
The Beer Institute says the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative encourages brewers to list calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol by volume on products by including a serving-facts statement. In addition, brewers can provide freshness dating and disclose ingredients via a list, a website reference or a QR code on the label or packaging.
The Washington-based institute says it will “encourage its member companies to display specific consumer information on products, packaging or websites.”
The Beer Institute counts as members Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, HeinekenUSA, Constellation Brands Beer Division, North American Breweries and Craft Brew Alliance which are responsible for 81% of the beer sold in the USA. The issue is that there has been no standard for what needs to be on a beer label. Brewers have put on their labels information aimed at increasing sales. New rules by the Food and Drug Administration require labels to include serving size and vitamin content as well as other info.
Do You Really Drink Beer for the Vitamin Content?
It would seem important if you have high blood pressure to know how much salt is in a serving of beer. The answer by the way is about 14 milligrams and the daily recommended intake of sale is about 2,300 milligrams. So you would need to drink a lot of beer for its salt content to be an issue. How about calories? A typical can of beer contains 154 calories. A can of coca cola by the way has 140 calories. And then there are the vitamins in beer. Medical Daily reports 4 health benefits of beer. Beer it turns out a good source of B vitamins.
Any contemporary reader of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms will possibly be surprised to read that Catherine’s doctor recommends she drink beer while pregnant. Believe it or not, doctors did that in 1929, when the novel was published. Beer was known to be a source of B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and folate, which scientists now understand can help guard against birth defects of the brain and spine. In fact, a single bottle of beer (12 oz.) provides up to 12.5 percent of the recommended requirement of vitamin B6, which is known to be generally helpful on a cellular level and also heart-healthy.
In addition beer contains silicon which increases bone density, reduces the risk of kidney stones and taken in moderation reduces the risk of heart attacks. The key words here are taken moderation.
Drink During Pregnancy?
The label on any bottle or can of alcohol says not to consume if you are pregnant. Although doctors in 1929 may have suggested drinking beer, that is not the case today. Official medical advice is to abstain from alcohol before and during pregnancy. If you want your B vitamins eat fish, poultry, meat, eggs, bread or cereal made with enriched flour or dairy products. Or simply take the vitamins that your doctor recommended.
In the eternal quest to lose a few pounds, or more, we try all sorts of things. Two of the things you will commonly hear proposed for losing weight are weight loss pills or creams. But, do weight loss pills or creams work and are they safe? Street Directory asks if these products are really effective or just a rip off.
The main premise behind a weight loss cream is that it will serve as an alternative method of helping the body to reduce fat, especially bulges around the waist, the buns and thighs.
These products are promoted as “fat burners.” What are really being promoted are chemicals that increase your metabolic rate. If you do not increase your calorie intake but increase your metabolic rate you will lose weight. Your system will break down fat store as a source of energy because you are not eating enough support your metabolic needs. If a weight loss cream or pill contains a chemical that increases your metabolic rate and if that chemical is absorbed into your system and if you do not eat more to compensate, you may lose weight. However, there is no evidence anywhere that you will keep the weight off once you start eating more and stop using the chemical. The other question is do weight loss pills or creams cause problems?
Weight Loss Product Recall
Pharmacy Times reports that Dream Body Weight Loss products have been recalled. These are:
Dream Body Extreme Gold 800 mg, 30 gold capsules
Dream Body 450 mg, 30 white capsules
Dream Body Advanced 400 mg, 30 purple capsules
Sibutramine, an appetite suppressant, was withdrawn from the US market in October 2010. The ingredient is known to increase blood pressure and pulse rate, which can cause problems in patients with a history of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke. In addition, sibutramine can interact “in life-threatening ways” with other medications a patient is taking, the FDA noted in a press release.
The presence of sibutramine was discovered after FDA sampling and testing. This undeclared ingredient means Dream Body Weight Loss’ products are unapproved new drugs.
Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant related to amphetamines. The evidence for amphetamines is that they increase your metabolism and reduce your appetite and help you lose weight. And that weight comes back on when you quit the medicine. Amphetamines are dangerous and addicting with long term use and are contraindicated for use as appetite suppressants. Sibutramine was used until 2010 for weight loss but was pulled from the market when it was found that had a host of bad side effects including dangerous interactions with other medications. The issue with Dream Body products it that they were putting Sibutramine in their product without mentioning it on the label. The FDA discovered this and forced the company to recall the product.
Do Weight Loss Creams and Pills Work?
If your long term goal is to lose some weight and keep it off you need to eat less and exercise more. Trying to trick your system into burning more calories without any effort from you can be dangerous and no short term diet tricks using such chemicals will result in long term weight loss.
Summer is here and so are weddings. And with weddings come expenses. How can you reduce expenses for the whole thing? For that matter how much does it cost to do a backyard wedding? The Abilene Reporters News offers a few tips to help cut costs. Things to look at include the following.
- Photography, Videography, Entertainment
- Food and Catering
- Flowers, Invitations, Favors
- And All the Rest
If you don’t want to break the bank consider renting a designer wedding gown. If you are having the reception catered get your estimate for the minimum guest count and aim for a low demand day and season for a better price. Destination weddings help you trim the guest list and there is nothing wrong with going to a local restaurant if your party is not all that large.
Think about what you really want for pictures and shop around for prices. Once the photographer has taken the formal wedding shots send him home!
Those of us who were married out on the prairie in the old days had the reception in the church basement after the service. A donation to the church for use of the kitchen and money for food was all that was required. And having the reception in the church gets you off the hook for buying booze.
Who needs limo? When the married couple leaves the church it can be in their own car, cans tied to the bumper and all.
When planning a wedding show your list of things to do to someone who has recently gone through the same experience. That will you will learn from their experience and not forget crucial details.
How Much Does It Cost to Do a Backyard Wedding?
If you go the backyard route for your wedding you can skip paying for use of the country club. You will have trimmed down the guest list to a few friends and family and can save on the food bill. And there is nothing wrong with asking family and friends to bring a casserole, salad, chips or soft drinks depending on their culinary skills. Anyone who can’t cook can pay for takeout.
You will need to pay the judge or minister to perform the ceremony and should agree in advance on how much to pay. Because you are getting married in a less formal setting the two of you can get by with his best suit and a new dress for her.
Pay to Attend
An old country custom is for guests at the wedding to give cash instead of a gift. Guests will find out how much the father is paying (per guest) for all aspects of the wedding. Then they will place an envelope containing that amount of cash per guest in the bride’s hand in a reception line after the wedding. This way the newlywed couple has funds for starting their new life. This approach works for formal wedding and when the wedding is in the back yard as well.
If you are having problems with student loan debts there is a new source of help. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help with student loan debt.
You’re not alone if you’re confused about your student loans or feel stymied by your student loan servicer. More and more resources out there can help, but you can’t use them if you don’t know they exist.
We talked to Seth Frotman, who works at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as student loan ombudsman and assistant director of its Office for Students and Young Consumers. The CFPB was created to help consumers after the financial crisis of 2008; Frotman’s office collects consumer complaints about student loans, publishes reports about the industry, and drafts policy recommendations to improve student loan servicing.
According to the CFPB about one in four student loan borrowers are behind in payments or in default. But the fact of the matter is that there are affordable repayment plans available that many are simply not aware of. How to reduce student loan debts, catch up or have loans reduced starts with the CFPB student loan playbook.
The playbook is a common sense guide stating in the beginning that payers have a right to choose different payment plans than the one that they have. One can pay monthly payments for ten years based on loan balance or pay based on income over as long as 20 years. Changing payment plans can be done at no cost to you.
Student Loan Forgiveness
There is public service loan forgiveness available under certain circumstances according to the Federal Student Aid page of the U.S. Department of Education.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.
This web page explains qualifying employment, full time employment, types of loans that qualify and how to pursue help under this option.
A Complete List
The web site Student Loan Hero provides a “complete” list of student loan forgiveness programs on options. The loan forgiveness categories are these.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness
- Teacher Cancellation for Federal Perkins Loans
- Special Teacher Forgiveness Programs by State
- Special Forgiveness Programs for Doctors by State
- Special Forgiveness Programs for Lawyers by State
- Forgiveness with Income-Based Repayment
- Forgiveness with Pay as You Earn
These folks also provide a list of lenders who will refinance student loans.
How Much Do Former Students Owe?
According to Market Watch 70% of bachelor degree recipients leave college in debt. The sum total of student loan debt runs to about $1.2 Trillion. Only mortgage debt surpasses this number for person US debt. Because of the economic consequences of this amount of debt the government has initiated the programs that we mentioned and more may be in the works as pressure on politicians grows. Many are saddled with excessive student loan debt. The first step is to find out your options.
When personal computers were invented experts predicted that one day each of us would have an Apple computer or a PC that would run our home. It turns out that computer chips are showing up in more and more parts of our lives although they are not necessarily connected to our home computer. Rather the so-called internet of things exits which is network of physical objects. These are devices, vehicles, buildings and lots of other things that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity. Thus these objects collect and exchange information. According to the Global Standards Initiative the Internet of Things (IoT) is the infrastructure of the information society. The thing is do you really want the internet of things in your home and especially connected to things outside of your home? From the world of business there is an example of how the internet of things can cause problems.
Target Security Breach
Around Christmas of 2013 the American retailer Target suffered the biggest security breach in US history. Hackers stole 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million addresses, phone numbers and other person info. This case of identity theft started when hackers gained access to Target’s computer via an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) vendor. Krebs on Security reported how the hackers used an HVAC company to get into Target’s computers.
Target told reporters at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters that the initial intrusion into its systems was traced back to network credentials that were stolen from a third party vendor. Sources now tell KrebsOnSecurity that the vendor in question was a refrigeration, heating and air conditioning subcontractor that has worked at a number of locations at Target and other top retailers.
Now we suspect that you do not have credit card info for millions of people stored in your home but the point is that using the internet of things hackers can move from point to point in search of something to steal, something to control or something to damage.
Smart Object, Dumb Idea
A FRIDGE that puts milk on your shopping list when you run low. A safe that tallies the cash that is placed in it. A sniper rifle equipped with advanced computer technology for improved accuracy. A car that lets you stream music from the Internet.
They go one to cite the example of security researchers shutting down the engine of a car on the highway. The selling point for the IoT is convenience and safety. Is that really so?
The early Internet was intended to connect people who already trusted one another, like academic researchers or military networks. It never had the robust security that today’s global network needs. As the Internet went from a few thousand users to more than three billion, attempts to strengthen security were stymied because of cost, shortsightedness and competing interests. Connecting everyday objects to this shaky, insecure base will create the Internet of Hacked Things. This is irresponsible and potentially catastrophic.
So, what can you do when you would like the convenience and safety of the IoT and not the dangers? PC Word offers 5 steps to keep your smart home from being hacked.
They suggest using a cloud service to store data and routinely updating passwords on your router. For home automation equipment they recommend Nest and Hive products and services.
Did your microwave simply stop working or did your clothes washer spring a leak? Both appliances are out of warranty and you really don’t have the cash to buy new. What do you do? Repairs might be expensive so does that mean heating water on the stove and washing clothes by hand? Maybe you need a home warranty for repairs. A good option is to check out Choice Warranty for a free quote before your refrigerator dies and the air conditioner goes off on the hottest day of the summer.
Home Repair Warranty Coverage
You will be paying a small fee every month for a home repair warranty. Make sure when you get your quote that everything that you want covered is included. Here is a basic list of what a home warranty should cover.
- Air conditioner or system
- Water Heater
You may want to include a few other items in this list as well:
- Vacuum cleaner
- Garbage disposal
- Range Hood
- Ice maker
- Garage Door Opener
- Garage Door
- Sewing Machine
- Digital Camera
- Home Theater
- Exercise equipment
- Lawn mower
- Snow blower
It is unusual to find a service that covers outside appliances such as a lawn mower or your furnace. Check with your natural gas supplier for your furnace as many will offer maintenance and repair plan with monthly charges on your gas bill.
Timely Service at Your Home
Make sure when you sign up for a home warranty plan that it prompt home visits and all repairs possible on site. If an appliance needs to be taken into the shop the home repairs warranty should cover that possibility at no extra cost. And there should be some sort of guarantee as to the promptness of getting repairs completed and your appliance back at work in your home.
Getting Your Money’s Worth
A home repair warranty should be cost effective. In this regard take a look at this price list comparing replacement versus repair costs for various items in your home. As a rule of thumb if you have older appliances expect to be fixing one or two of them yearly for several years. As a rule repair instead of replacement is more cost effective.
|Household Item||Replacement Costs*||Repair Costs*|
|Heating with Ductwork||$2,885||$390|
|Main Electrical Panel||$651||$210|
If you want the job done right a cheap service that does not show up on time and does not do the repairs properly is useless. Checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good idea before buying a home warranty. Our suggestion is to check out Choice Warranty for a free quote.