Archive for the ‘Federal Agencies’ Category

Old Town caterer outsmarts scammer

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted July 27, 2014, at 3:56 p.m.

Let’s start this column with a set of assumptions. Let’s agree we’re all in this marketplace together; that means that we give and take, treat others as we want to be treated and learn from our mistakes and those of others.

Link to WABI video

I think Jane Thibodeau believes in that set of assumptions. A short time ago, the owner of Jane’s Catering in Old Town responded to an email offer she had received seeking her services. The email claimed to be from a man named Leroy Martin, who said he was planning to bring his family to eastern Maine for the summer.

“There were several weeks of very nice emails,” Jane told me last week. The first inquiry asked if he could hire Jane as a full-time chef; she would prepare meals for the man, his wife and three children during their stay. Since that’s the reason she is in business, Jane readily agreed.

Martin said he would be sending a check as a deposit for her services, so Jane opened a checking account specifically for her new client. She began to suspect that Martin was a scammer, rather than a mechanical engineer as he claimed, when he made a few other requests.

He needed a chauffeur … not just any chauffer, but one who spoke Spanish, the first language of Martin’s wife. He needed a housekeeper, and both of those positions required a deposit. Would Jane be so kind as to use part of the funds from his overly large check (more than $4,000) he had sent her to wire funds to those two people?

The red flags were really flying now, so Jane visited her banker. They determined the whole thing was a scam, and they closed the checking account. Jane did not lose any money, but she learned to put more faith in her instincts than her hopes.

“It was all a lie,” she said.

During their phone calls, Jane asked how he had picked her name from all of the chefs and caterers available; he wouldn’t answer. Her banker mentioned hearing of other scam attempts targeting people in Jane’s business.

“It would have been a dream job,” she said, “but I caught them, so, whatever.”

Jane urged others not to be taken in by offers — of work, prizes or other rewards — that involve an advance check and then wiring money to unknown parties.

Readers should know that the scammer’s email included a phone number that began “044.” That’s one of dozens of numbers used by advance fee scammers. The United Kingdom-based Internet Fraud Advisory Group says a handful of companies provide the numbers, splitting fees paid by unsuspecting callers with the caller’s network. The criminals apparently get the numbers free.

Jane’s sharing of her story is important. It sends the message that con artists do prey on honest people and that there is no shame in admitting it. When those honest people avoid being taken in, it’s cause for celebration and sharing the details to help educate us all.

The Federal Trade Commission has a neighbor-to-neighbor campaign called “Pass It On.” It’s based on the trust that each of us has in people we know, and their knowledge can save us money and other losses. Visit www.ftc.gov and search “pass it on” for details.

Watch Video from FTC

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Timeshare resellers & quick-money promises – Federal Trade Commission

 

Con artists are adept at selling — or selling you on  — just about anything. When it comes to timeshare resale services, they may claim to have a buyer for your property. Or that they can sell your place quickly and for a good price. But first, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee.

As part of an international crackdown on timeshare resale scams, the FTC and state law enforcement officials are going after timeshare resellers who took thousands of dollars in upfront fees from consumers after falsely claiming they could sell or rent the timeshares quickly. Today, the FTC announced settlements with Universal Timeshare, Resort Property Depot, and Resort Resolution Trust.

These companies violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by making false claims about their services in telephone pitches to timeshare owners. Universal Timeshare also called people whose phone numbers were on the Do Not Call Registry. Some consumers paid as much as $4,000 in so-called taxes, closing costs, and processing fees to these companies — and got nothing in return.

Before you allow someone to sell your timeshare:

  1. Check them out before you agree to pay them any money. See if the state Attorney General, local consumer protection agencies, or the Better Business Bureau in the company’s home state have complaints about them on file. Then, search online by entering the company name and the word “complaints” or “scam.”
  1. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers or agents. Check with the Real Estate Commission in the state where your timeshare is located to make sure the company has a current license.
  1. Get all terms in writing before you agree to anything. That includes services the company will perform; timing of the sale; fees and commissions; and cancellation and refund policies. If a company says you have to act now or you might miss out on a buyer, it’s not a company you want to do business with.
  1. Consider doing business only with a company that gets paid after the timeshare is sold. And don’t wire money or pay in cash.
  1. Be alert to a repeat scam. If a company offers to help get your money back from a timeshare resale scam  but wants you to pay them before they do anything for you, walk away. This is a classic setup for another scam.

Read about timeshare vacation plans and selling a timeshare through a reseller to learn more. And be sure to report these and other scams to the FTC.

Military consumers face special challenges

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted July 13, 2014, at 10:39 a.m.

This Wednesday marks the second annual Military Consumer Protection Day.

We wrote about the first one last July, and the news flash this year involves several simultaneous efforts to help members of the military and their families become smart, informed and protected consumers.

This year’s observance features a 2 p.m. Wednesday Town Hall/Twitter chat on identity theft and a range of issues relating to credit. The hashtag to take part is #MCPD2014.

Close to home, the state of Maine has been removing barriers to employment opportunities for veterans. Some time ago, state officials announced they were streamlining processes through which veterans can apply for jobs involving technical skills.

The state credits a veteran’s military service and experience when that veteran applies for an occupational license. You can read more at http://www.maine.gov/pfr/military.html.

The state has a number of benefits available to veterans, alongside those benefits guaranteed by the federal government. You can read or download the Veterans Benefit and Resource Guide at http://maine.gov/dvem/bvs/Veteran%20Benefit%20and%20Resource%20Guide_2014APR11.pdf.

The really good news about consumer protection is that regulators are realizing that the need is ongoing. Just as private citizens need to have their rights as consumers safeguarded, so do members of the military and their families.

Federal and state governments plus a number of nonprofit organizations have set up a comprehensive website aimed at service people at http://www.military.ncpw.gov/.

“Military Consumer, Your First Line of Defense” has lots of information about credit, debt, fraud, identity theft and many other topics. You can download materials for free to help spread the word.

The website also includes links to other helpful places. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recognizes that military families face special monetary challenges; they may be approached by both good and bad lenders. The bureau has some advice for meeting those challenges at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/servicemembers/.

We could never cover all topics of interest to consumer-veterans here. The Military One Source website maintained by the Department of Defense offers individual, confidential consultation on health matters. There also is advice on virtually all aspects of military life. Read more at http://www.militaryonesource.mil/ or call 800-342-9647.

Many businesses offer special deals for members of the military and their families. Scam artists offer what may appear to be “deals” but are in fact veiled attempts to rip people off. Other crooks might pose as VA officials in an effort to obtain your personal and financial information. They might try to make you pay for records that should be free.

Don’t be fooled; know the person you’re speaking with, and be sure that any information you divulge won’t be used to defraud you.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

FTC Alleges Amazon Unlawfully Billed Parents for Millions of Dollars in Children’s Unauthorized In-App Charges

No Password or Other Indication of Parental Consent Was Required for Charges in Kids’ Apps; Internal E-mail Referred to Situation as “House on Fire”

Date: July 10, 2014

Amazon.com, Inc. has billed parents and other account holders for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children, according to a Federal Trade Commission complaint filed today in federal court.

The FTC’s lawsuit seeks a court order requiring refunds to consumers for the unauthorized charges and permanently banning the company from billing parents and other account holders for in-app charges without their consent. According to the complaint, Amazon keeps 30 percent of all in-app charges.

Click image to link to Playing with Fire

According to the FTC, Amazon allowed kids to buy virtual goods — like coins, stars, and pet food — without getting parents’ permission.

Amazon offers many children’s apps in its appstore for download to mobile devices such as the Kindle Fire. In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Amazon violated the FTC Act by billing parents and other Amazon account holders for charges incurred by their children without the permission of the parent or other account holder. Amazon’s setup allowed children playing these kids’ games to spend unlimited amounts of money to pay for virtual items within the apps such as “coins,” “stars,” and “acorns” without parental involvement.

“Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents’ consent for in-app purchases.”

The complaint alleges that when Amazon introduced in-app charges to the Amazon Appstore in November 2011, there were no password requirements of any kind on in-app charges, including in kids’ games and other apps that appeal to children. According to the complaint, this left parents to foot the bill for charges they didn’t authorize.

According to the complaint, kids’ games often encourage children to acquire virtual items in ways that blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money. In the app “Ice Age Village,” for example, the complaint noted that children can use “coins” and “acorns” to buy items in the game without a real-money charge. However, they can also purchase additional “coins” and “acorns” using real money on a screen that is visually similar to the one that has no real-money charge. The largest quantity purchase available in the app would cost $99.99.

The complaint highlights internal communications among Amazon employees as early as December 2011 that said allowing unlimited in-app charges without any password was “…clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers,” adding that the situation was a “near house on fire.”

In March 2012, according to the complaint, Amazon updated its in-app charge system to require an account owner to enter a password only for individual in-app charges over $20. As the complaint notes, Amazon continued to allow children to make an unlimited number of individual purchases of less than $20 without a parent’s approval. An Amazon employee noted at the time of the change that “it’s much easier to get upset about Amazon letting your child purchase a $99 product without any password protection than a $20 product,” according to the complaint. In July 2012, as set forth in the complaint, internal emails again described consumer complaints about in-app charges as a “house on fire” situation.

The complaint alleges that in early 2013, Amazon updated its in-app charge process to require password entry for some charges in a way that functioned differently in different contexts. According to the complaint, even when a parent was prompted for a password to authorize a single in-app charge made by a child, that single authorization often opened an undisclosed window of 15 minutes to an hour during which the child could then make unlimited charges without further authorization. Not until June 2014, roughly two and a half years after the problem first surfaced and only shortly before the Commission voted to approve the lawsuit against Amazon, did Amazon change its in-app charge framework to obtain account holders’ informed consent for in-app charges on its newer mobile devices, as explained in the complaint.

According to the complaint, thousands of parents complained to Amazon about in-app charges their children incurred without their authorization, amounting to millions of dollars of charges. For example, one mother noted in the FTC complaint told Amazon that her daughter was able to rack up $358.42 in unauthorized charges, while others complained that even children who could not read were able to “click a lot of buttons at random” and incur several unauthorized charges.

The company’s stated policy is that all in-app charges are final and nonrefundable. According to the complaint, even parents who have sought an exception to that policy have faced a refund process that is unclear and confusing, involving statements that do not explain how to seek refunds for in-app charges or suggest consumers cannot get a refund for these charges.

This is the Commission’s second case relating to children’s in-app purchases; Apple, Inc. settled an FTC complaint concerning the issue earlier this year. The Commission is seeking full refunds for all affected consumers, disgorgement of Amazon’s ill-gotten gains, and a court order ensuring that in the future Amazon obtains permission before imposing charges for in-app purchases.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-1, with Commissioner Joshua D. Wright voting no. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

‘It’s shiny, it’s round’ — and it can kill your child: Guard against accidental poisoning

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted July 06, 2014, at 10:15 a.m.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nine of every 10 accidental poisonings of children happen in the home. The CPSC also says those cases involve more than our medicine and kitchen cabinets.

Safety experts urge that we “go beyond the bottle” and look all through our homes for possible dangers. They say we need to look at things through a child’s eyes and seek out anything that might be appealing to a youngster.

“It’s shiny, it’s round, and children can’t tell the difference,” says Dr. Karen Simone, director of the Northern New England Poison Center (NNEPC). Simone says tens of thousands of children who think they are eating candy have to be treated for accidental poisonings every year.

She says most of us think of household cleaners and insecticides as the major problems. However, she says children can grab common products such as toothpaste and deodorants, if they’re not kept out of reach; these products can also cause health problems when ingested.

NNEPC compiles statistics on accidental exposures to harmful things. Accompanying the stats is a reminder that numbers of exposures do not equal numbers of patients treated for those exposures; because little hands and mouths are attracted to all kinds of things, multiple exposures are all too common.

From 2011 to 2013, the center recorded 40,080 exposures in youngsters up to age 5. More than 6,000 of those exposures involved cosmetics or other personal care products. The next leading causes of problems were analgesics — mainly ibuprofen and acetaminophen — in what Dr. Simone describes as “therapeutic misadventures.”

Some of those accidents relate directly to our busy lifestyles. Adults hurrying through their morning routines may set out medication on the kitchen table; while their backs are turned, “a small child will scoop it up before they take it.”

Another issue involves adults putting chemicals of various kinds into food or drink containers for storage. Toddlers who don’t yet read act based on what they see; if they see something that looks like food or drink, they may ingest it faster than an adult can react.

Then there’s the matter of many Mainers’ addiction to opioids. An increasing number of take-home medications pose increased risks to children.

“We need to treat the people, but we have to look at the whole picture,” Simone says, urging more awareness by treatment professionals and patients alike.

A final caution involves caregiver errors. More and more women are working, and men are handling more household duties; Simone says this “has led to some confusion” in administering medications. Communication is the key to keeping consumers safe.

Call NNEPC at 800-222-1222 if you suspect there has been an accidental poisoning. You may also call just to ask a question. Simone urges people not to be embarrassed to call, and says they may call anonymously if they like.

For more information, visit www.nnepc.org.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visithttp://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Hiding in plain sight? — Federal Trade Commission

Could your mobile carrier be hiding third-party charges on your phone bill that you never authorized? The FTC has alleged that T-Mobile has done just that.

The agency says that T-Mobile charged consumers not only for regular phone services, but also for third party content – including monthly subscriptions for ringtones, wallpaper, horoscope texts, flirting tips, and celebrity gossip – that consumers neither knew about nor agreed to.

According to the FTC, here’s how it happened: On the first page of the bill, T-Mobile deceptively lumped third-party charges under a general line item that also included charges for their services like texting. The obscure breakouts of each charge were on the pages toward the end of the bill.

More surprising? The company continued to charge consumers, pocketing up to 40 percent of those third-party charges, even after some consumers caught on, complaints piled up, and industry auditors put T-Mobile on notice that the charges were unauthorized.

Here’s how to reduce the chances of paying charges crammed onto your bill without your knowledge or permission:

  • Read your mobile phone bill each month – line by line, and page by page. Don’t ignore the billing statement you get in the mail or through an automated online payment system. You should know your baseline monthly bill. Taking time to read every page of your statements can help you detect potentially fraudulent charges, keep surprise charges to a minimum, and save you money.
  • Consider a block on third-party charges. Many phone carriers already offer third-party blocking service for free. You just have to ask.
  • Ask your mobile phone carrier for its policy on refunds for fraudulent charges. Some carriers have a 60-day period for refund requests, and many have a policy of partial refunds for fraudulent charges you detect – no matter how long the cramming charges have occurred.
  • If you have a prepaid phone plan, check that you’re not losing pre-paid minutes to pay for unauthorized third-party charges. Stay on top of how many calling minutes you have, and make sure that minutes don’t go missing due to deductions unrelated to your regular phone calls. Check your accounts online or call the number your carrier gives you for account access.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of cramming, contact your phone carrier first about the charges, then file a complaint with the FTC.

FDA’s Advice: Know the Risks of Feeding Raw Foods to Your Pets

Press Release FDA June 30

Salmonella and Listeria Knowing the Risk to Your Pet

Dogs and cats aren’t exempt from the dangers of foodborne illness. To minimize risk, FDA suggests consumers carefully consider the risks of feeding a raw pet food to their pets.

Raw pet food consists primarily of meat, bones, and organs that haven’t been cooked, and therefore are more likely than cooked food to contain organisms that can make your dog or cat sick, says William J. Burkholder, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Medical Officer in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Division of Animal Feeds. Moreover, raw food can make you sick as well if you don’t handle it properly. FDA does not believe feeding raw pet foods to animals is consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks.
The agency therefore recommends cooking of raw meat and poultry to kill harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes before you give the food to your pets. And as always, when working with food, you should follow FDA’s instructions on how to handle it safely.

Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in such foods as raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs and egg products. Salmonella can also contaminate raw or unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, as well as raw fruits and vegetables.

Burkholder says people who choose a raw diet for their pets often point out that feral dogs and cats catch prey and eat it raw. “That’s true,” he adds, “but we don’t know how many of these animals get sick or die as a result of doing that. Since sick feral animals are rarely taken to a veterinarian when they’re ill, there’s no way to collect that information.”

Symptoms of salmonellosis in animals include:

Vomiting
Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
Fever
Loss of appetite
Decreased activity level

Listeria bacteria are commonly found in uncooked meats, vegetables and unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria like cold temperatures and can grow and spread in the refrigerator. So if you refrigerate Listeria-contaminated food, the germs not only multiply at the cool temperature, they could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods there, increasing the likelihood that you and your family members would be exposed to Listeria and get sick.

Symptoms of listeriosis in animals include:

Nausea
Diarrhea
Fever
Neurological disease can happen in a small percentage of situations
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Raw Foods Can Also Affect Human Health

Consumers also run the risk of getting sick if they handle contaminated pet foods and accidentally transfer the bacteria to their mouths.
“If you’re going to handle raw foods, you need to pay particular attention to good hygienic practices,” Burkholder says. “Wash your hands and anything else that comes into contact with the product with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.”

Feeding raw food to a pet also increases the risk of contaminating food contact surfaces and other places.

“Even if the dog or cat doesn’t get sick, they can become carriers of Salmonella and transfer the bacteria to their surroundings, and then people can get the disease from contact with the infected environment,” Burkholder says.

Once Salmonella gets established in the pet’s gastrointestinal tract, the animal can shed the bacteria when it has a bowel movement, and the contamination will continue to spread.

Symptoms of Salmonella and Listeria Infection in Humans

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) symptoms in humans include:
Fever
Nausea
Vomiting
Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
Stomach pain

More rarely: entry of Salmonella into bloodstream from intestines, followed by spread to joints, arteries, heart, soft tissues, and other areas of body

Symptoms associated with salmonellosis most often begin 12 hours to 3 days after ingestion of the bacteria and can last 4 to 7 days without treatment. All consumers are at risk for contracting salmonellosis from contaminated foods, but pregnant women, children under five, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Compared to salmonellosis and other foodborne illnesses, infection with Listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis) is rare, but has serious and potentially fatal risks.

Listeria can infect multiple locations in the body:

The brain
Membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord
Gastrointestinal tract
Bloodstream

Symptoms associated with listeriosis begin 11 to 70 days after coming in contact with the bacteria, with a mean (or average) of 31 days, and they can last up to a few weeks. Listeriosis occurs almost exclusively in pregnant women and their fetuses, newborns, the elderly and those with weak immune systems. Listeriosis can cause life-threatening infection in a fetus and newborns, as well as in persons with weakened immune systems, although the infection can often be treated with antibiotics.

“Feeding raw foods to pets increases the risk that both the pet and the people around the pet will encounter bacteria that cause foodborne illness, particularly if the products are not carefully handled and fed,” Burkholder says. “This is certainly one factor that should be considered when selecting diets for your pet.”

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

 

Keeping pets safe in war on ticks, fleas

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT

Posted June 29, 2014, at 8:57 a.m.

Fleas and ticks are most active this time of year, so pet owners should consider the variety of treatments on the market and keep their pets and their families safe from the little critters.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued updated guidelines for using flea and tick control products. Those guidelines can be found online at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm169831.htm. What follows is a condensed version of that update.

There are two pieces of advice we consider critical. Don’t go “off-label” when treating your pets, and always consult your veterinarian when beginning or changing treatment.

We’ve read plenty about the dangers of Lyme disease from ticks; complications from incorrect treatment also can have serious consequences.

Fleas are insects, while ticks are arachnids or spider-like creatures. Getting rid of them requires different treatments, as product manufacturers generally do a good job explaining. FDA regulates animal drugs, but some products that deal with external parasites come under rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dogs may be treated either with medication or topically, with what are called “spot-on” products.

Only topical treatments are safe for cats, according to Dr. Robert Feher of the Brewer Veterinary Clinic. He says pet owners must be extra careful not to use flea products designed for dogs on their cats. Because of its grooming habits, anything that’s applied to a cat will end up inside it; any product used on cats must be safe for cats.

Topical treatments coat the hair shaft of the pet. When a pest rubs against it, it picks up the active ingredients that cause it to move faster, so it runs into more hair and treatment. Soon after, the pest dies.

Medication works by being in the bloodstream. When a pest gorges itself on the animal’s blood, it ingests the medication in the blood, which kills the pest. Veterinarians advise pet owners who use medication to do so with great care, especially when giving doses based on a pet’s weight.

Thin animals can be especially at risk for adverse effects due to overdosing.

“Be very careful of weight; don’t guess,” Feher urged. He said that some new flea and tick treatments just on the market have more finely tuned “weight splits,” designed to help owners make better dosing decisions.

Feher, a vet for nearly 40 years, said treatment should continue year-round to protect both pets and people. However, he said kittens and puppies younger than 8 weeks and smaller than two pounds should not receive any treatment.

If side effects do occur — such as vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, excessive salivation or depression — discontinue treatments immediately.

If a topical treatment is suspected, immerse the pet in water to remove as much of the product as possible and call your vet. You can call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. While the call is free, the center does charge for consultation. Save packaging and instructions; they can help pinpoint problems if they occur.

What about flea and tick collars? Experts are split, mainly due to some questionable ingredients in some collars.

Manufacturers of those have agreed to stop using the active ingredient called propoxur by April 2016. Some vets say because collars concentrate active ingredients around the neck, they’re less effective than other treatments.

One off-label use we’ve heard of involves treating the clothes of those who work or spend time outdoors. Put clothing in a recloseable plastic bag and drop in a tick collar; seal the bag, and the next day any ticks that may have come home on the clothing should be dead. Wash clothes thoroughly to remove remnants of both ticks and active ingredients from the flea collar.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Brush up on safe grill care to avoid painful barbecue pitfalls

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT

Posted June 15, 2014, at 11:32 a.m.

When little bits of wire find their way onto the food you grill outdoors, serious health problems can result. Just ask Karen Dunlap of Houston.Just a few bites into her meal of grilled chicken last week, Dunlap felt a huge pain when she swallowed. A broken bristle from a wire brush had been left on the grill, found its way onto her chicken and down her throat. She needed endoscopic surgery to have the wire removed from her esophagus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted a similar problem two years ago, and its warnings are worth repeating. People unknowingly ingested wire bristles from brushes used to clean grills.

The CDC studied patient visits to emergency departments in Providence, Rhode Island hospitals over 15 months, starting in March 2011. The injuries ranged from punctures in the soft tissue of the neck causing painful swallowing to cuts in the gastrointestinal tract requiring surgery.

Wire brushes are commonly used to clean grills. The problem is that not all brushes are created equal. Poorly made brushes can lose bristles or the bristles can break, allowing bits of wire to get caught in the grill surface. The bits of metal can then be transferred to food that’s cooked on the grill.

Doctors urge people who cook outdoors to inspect their grills carefully before using them, to make sure that no bristles or pieces of bristles can be picked up by food as it’s being cooked. Some urge people who use wire brushes to follow up with paper or cloth towels to remove any debris that may be left behind after brushing.

Weber, which manufactures several lines of grills, says many people leave their wire brushes outside, where harsh weather can speed their breakdown. Weber urges people to inspect brushes for signs of deterioration and replace them if they’re badly worn or split.

You can do a simple test with a pair of pliers. Grab a bristle and pull with moderate pressure, as though you were pulling blades of grass out of your lawn. If the bristles come out, replace the brush. Buy a long-handled model to keep your hands out of the fire. Choose a brush with stainless steel bristles that feel firmly attached.

You may want to consider other ways of cleaning the grill. Some abrasive pads and spray-on type cleaners can effectively remove food residue and clean the cooking surfaces. Wad up a piece of aluminum foil — a baseball-sized hunk should do — and see how effectively it cleans.

While bristle injuries are not widespread, illnesses and injuries from poor food handling are unfortunately much more common. Health officials urge caution when cooking outdoors.

Make sure meats are handled safely and are kept away from fresh fruits and vegetables. Cook meat thoroughly and use a meat thermometer to verify that it’s done. Don’t leave food out any longer than necessary, to discourage growth of bacteria.

The CDC has more information online at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6126a4.htm?s_cid=mm6126a4_w.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Summer Employment Tips for Minors – Maine Department of Labor

Teen Work Permits Available Online

PRESS RELEASE
06/11/2014 10:32 AM EDT

AUGUSTA

As school gets out for the summer, the Maine Department of Labor reminds youth looking for summer jobs that the work-permit application is available online. All minors under the age of 16 must have a work permit before they start a job, whether or not they attend school.”Summer jobs introduce teenagers to potential careers while teaching them important work-related skills, not to mention how to manage a paycheck,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “Young people between the ages of 16 and 20 have the highest unemployment rate of any age group, so jobs that help teens gain work skills will make them more employable as they finish high school and consider their next steps.”There are some restrictions based on age and type of work. For teens under the age of 16, restrictions limit the kinds of jobs and the hours they can work. Minors cannot work jobs considered “hazardous.” Some of the jobs Maine teens under 18 years of age cannot do include operating most mechanical equipment, driving for work and working alone in a cash-based business.
During non-school weeks in the summer, minors can work more hours than they can when school is in session, although hazardous duties protections still apply. Minors ages 14 and 15 can work 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, but no more than six days a week; minors 16 and 17 can work 50 hours a week, 10 hours a day, but no more than six days a week.

“Before going to work, however, there are several steps teens must take to obtain a work permit,” advised Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “First, they must look for work and receive a job offer. They then must apply for a work permit at the superintendent’s office of the school district in which they live.”

Teens or parents can download the work-permit application at http://www.maine.gov/labor/laborlaws/publications/mainework_permit.pdf , and drop off the completed form, which must include a parent’s signature, at the superintendent’s office. Blank forms are available at superintendent’s offices for pick up as well.

Parents and employers can expedite the approval process by making sure the work permit request includes both proof of age and parental/guardian approval. The application must contain the specific job duties (e.g., “dishwasher”). The name of the business on the permit must be the actual business name, which may be different from what people commonly call it.

The school district sends the completed application to the Maine Department of Labor for approval. Teens can have two active work permits in the summer but only one permit during the school year.

A copy of the Guide to Maine Laws Governing the Employment of Minors is posted on the Maine Department of Labor website and is available by request by calling (207) 623-7900. Additional forms and information about employment law in Maine are available at the Bureau of Labor Standards’ website at http://www.maine.gov/labor/bls/index.shtml .

Businesses with questions about employment rules, wage and hour law and unemployment taxes can call the Maine Department of Labor’s customer service line at (207) 623-7900. Our staff will connect you with experts in the area of the law that addresses your question or concern. For more information, visit http://www.maine.gov/labor/bls .

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