vendredi 31 juillet 2015

YotaPhone 2 Cancels U.S. Version, Offers Limited Refunds Instead

It’s easy to understand why gadget fans were interested in the Yotaphone 2: it’s an Android smartphone with a regular touchscreen on the front and an e-ink display that can display widgets or function as a power-saving regular screen on the back. When the company behind the phone announced in May that a U.S. version compatible with our LTE networks here in the US would become available, lots of people stepped up to place orders, including reader Steve.

The company used Indiegogo for the pre-order process, and took in almost $300,000. The first 100 backers could reserve a phone for $500 each, and they cost $525 each after that. They would be unlocked GSM phones which would work with T-Mobile or AT&T or compatible MVNOs on their networks, such as Ting or StraightTalk. Most importantly, unlike the phone’s international versions, it would be compatible with LTE networks in the United States. The phones were supposed to ship next month…and then the company dropped the bad news.

It’s important to note here that even though this was a crowdfunded pre-order process, the campaign was no sketchy crowdscam. Yota Devices is a fully-grown company that sells actual devices in other countries, and the YotaPhone 2 has been on the market elsewhere since May of this year. There were rumors that the company would be selling their phone through T-Mobile.

They sent this update to backers:

The reason for our cancelled launch is due to unforeseen delays including both production and delivery of the North American variant of YotaPhone 2 from our manufacturer. This despite spending months finalizing and securing the deal to bring to life the North American variant of YotaPhone 2, and when we launched this campaign we were confident our supplier would be able to follow through with their commitment. This was a shock to everyone at Yota Devices, and our leadership team, including our CEO, met with the manufacturer last week in a last-ditch effort to find a solution but the logistics were insurmountable and the device would simply arrive too late. In turn, we believe that the likelihood of a severe delay in these shipments would have created a conflict with our international road map for 2016, leaving Indiegogo supporters behind when customers in other regions will be offered a newer, cheaper and better YotaPhone.

A later update to the IndieGoGo page gave users two options: to have the international phone shipped to them instead: it’s the same device, but not compatible with the LTE that we use in this country. While this is the most professionally-handled crowdfunding failure that we’ve ever seen, reader Steve, who let us know about this, pointed out one problem: they’re issuing refunds for customers who want them through Square Cash, a service that needs to be tied to a debit card to work. What if, like Steve, you don’t have a debit card?

Steve made his pre-order pledge more than two months ago, so disputing the charge on his credit card is out of the question. He’s asked the company whether customers who don’t want to use Square have an alternative option, and we’ve contacted them too. We’ll update this post if we hear anything.

YotaPhone 2 won’t be coming to the US [The Verge]

Mozilla Displeased That Windows 10 Changes User’s Default Browser

windows_browserOver at Mozilla HQ, they make web browsers that run on various platforms, including Windows. Over at Microsoft, they have their own new browser that is part of Windows, and they’d really like everyone to use it. According to Mozilla, the new version of Windows steamrolls over a user’s preferred app settings and makes Microsoft’s Edge browser the default. Mozilla is not fond of this change.

In an open CEO-to-CEO letter, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard tells Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that the Mozilla team was disappointed to learn that the the new version of Windows overrides current preferred apps by default, unless the user knows how to change this while installing Windows.

“We appreciate that it’s still technically possible to preserve people’s previous settings and defaults, but the design of the whole upgrade experience and the default settings APIs have been changed to make this less obvious and more difficult,” Beard explains. Most people might be able to figure this out, but they don’t know that they’ll need to do it. That’s the reason for Mozilla’s campaign.

The open letter is because Microsoft hasn’t responded to Mozilla’s queries about the situation or why Windows installation overrides the user’s current preferences.

Windows 10 is a free upgrade for current home users of Windows 7 or 8, which means that it’s sure to be a popular upgrade. Mozilla has put together its own education campaign for users to show them how to get Mozilla’s Firefox back as their default browser if they’ve already upgraded: it’s less than a minute long, but not everyone would be able to figure this out intuitively.

Safeguarding Choice and Control Online [Mozilla]
An Open Letter to Microsoft’s CEO: Don’t Roll Back the Clock on Choice and Control [Mozilla]

Sling TV Says Comcast-Owned NBC Stations Are Blocking Its Ads

There’s a rumble brewing in telecom town: Sling TV is accusing Comcast of keeping its ads off some NBC stations’ airwaves. Which is exactly what the big bad cable company in its recent marketing campaign would do, Dish Network-owned Sling says.

Sling threw down the gauntlet in a blog post on Thursday by CEO Roger Lynch.

“We recently learned that NBC blocked Sling TV’s new advertisements from airing on its owned and operated (O&O) stations. For anyone who needs a reminder, Comcast – the standard bearer for ‘Old TV’ in the U.S. – owns the NBC broadcast network, and by extension, its O&O stations across the country,” Lynch writes. “At this time, NBC’s O&O stations in San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have rejected the ads.”

In contrast, Lynch notes that Sling’s ads are currently running on ABC, CBS and Fox O&O stations and affiliates, “as well as independently-owned NBC affiliates (emphasis on ‘independently-owned,’ or in other words, not owned by Comcast).”

The ad in question features pre-teen bullies employed by “Old TV” beating up on average customers: the meanies administer wedgies and wet willies, treat customers to scathing admonitions when they try to get out of contracts and literally beat down on folks who resist.

Though Comcast is not named in the ad, Sling thinks it’s no coincidence that the company has responded this way, as it reinforces the campaign’s truth that traditional pay-TV players “just don’t get it,” Lynch says.

“And what is it that they don’t get?” Lynch asks. “Innovation benefits customers.”

He goes on to point out that many customers are sick of long-term contracts, expensive programming bundles, high prices and poor customer service.

“Instead, we want TV on our terms. To come and go as we like. To watch great content, including sports, on the devices we own and use. And perhaps most importantly, we want rational pricing,” the post reads. “This is what our new commercials call out. This is what Comcast doesn’t want you to see.”

It’s worth noting that Comcast recently announced its intention to test its own version of live TV that streams through the Internet, aptly enough called “Stream.”

This would differ from Sling TV: Comcast says Stream would include stations like ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, Telemundo and Univision, that are freely available over the air for anyone with a decent antenna, as well as HBO.

Sling, meanwhile, peddles a “Best of Live TV” lineup for $20/month with a slew of channels like A&E, Adult Swim, AMC, Bloomberg, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN2, Food Network, Lifetime, TBS, TNT and others in its base package, as well as various add-ons like HBO, available for $15 per month.

In any case, Lynch sees Comcast’s move to ban Sling ads as a compliment.

“Hey, if they’re going to go through the trouble of banning our ads, we must be doing something right,” Lynch says. “I hope you take our commercials and share them with your friends.”


Regulators Settle Charges That Reynolds, Lorillard Merger Would Be Anticompetitive

A year after the No. 2 and No. 3 cigarette brands in the country first announced they were planning to go all-in on a $27.4 billion merger, regulators have approved an order settling charges that the deal would be anticompetitive for the U.S. cigarette market, paving the way for the merger to move forward.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today it had approved an order stipulating that betrothed tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds American Inc. – the maker of Camel and Pall Mall – and Lorillard – the maker of Newport cigarettes – divest four cigarette brands to a UK-based company.

The proposed combination of the two companies would create a formidable rival for current top cigarette company Altria Group, the maker of Marlboro. Altria currently accounts for 46% of the U.S. cigarette market, while Reynolds has about 25% and Lorillard about 12% of the market.

Back in May, the regulator proposed [PDF] that Imperial Tobacco Group will buy three brands (Salem, Kool and Winston) from Reynolds and Lorillard’s Maverick brand in order to preserve competition.

Imperial Tobacco Group currently has a competitive presence in about 70 countries, but a relatively small presence in the U.S. By taking over the four brands, the company will be a more substantial competitor for the merged companies and Altria, and become the third-largest cigarette maker in the U.S.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], the merger raised significant competitive concerns as it had the potential to eliminate current and emergent competition for Reynolds and Lorillard in the U.S. market.

Additionally, the FTC determined that without divestiture there was a likelihood that the merger would unilaterally raise prices, and that coordinated interaction would occur between Reynolds and Altria.

In addition to divesting the four cigarette brands, Reynolds must divest to Imperial the Lorillard manufacturing facilities in North Carolina and provide Imperial the opportunity to hire most of the existing management, staff and salesforce.

The newly-merged companies must also provide Imperial with retail shelf space for a short period of time and provide other operational support during the transition.

FTC Approves Final Order Preserving Competition in U.S. Market for Cigarettes [The Federal Trade Commission]

Investors Sue American Express After Loss Of Costco Agreement

Five months after American Express and Costco announced they would go their separate ways and end their exclusive relationship – essentially allowing members of the warehouse club to use other cards – shareholders for the credit card company have filed a lawsuit claiming it blindsided investors with the loss of the contract.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed by Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 137 Pension Fund, accuses American Express of failing to reveal how significant the 16-year long contract with Costco had become to the business.

According to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of all shareholders who bought stock between Oct. 16, 2014 and Feb. 11, 2015, American Express had accelerated its talks with Costco regarding renewal of its exclusive deal that was set to expire in March 2016 without the knowledge of investors.

“Defendants never disclosed the financial impact of the U.S. Costco co-branding agreement on AmEx’s reported financial results,” the suit states.

The investors contend that the U.S. Costco co-branding contract was “highly material to AmEx’s business,” representing 8% of the company’s revenues in 2014; 20% of its outstanding loans and 10% of its cards issued worldwide.

“Because AmEx concealed throughout the class period just how material the U.S. Costco co-branding relationship was to AmEx’s business and financial prospects and thereby overstated the continuing revenue growth prospects of its all-important U.S. Card Services segment,” the lawsuit states.

In December 2014, the shareholders claim AmEx’s stock traded at artificially inflated prices – reaching a high of $95 per share. Then without notice in February 2015, the company announced it had lost the Costco contract and stocks plummeted to $77.53 per share.

The lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial, seeks unspecified damages.

[via Reuters]

Just Because You Find $150K Sitting Around Doesn’t Mean You Get To Keep It, Buy A New Car

One might think that the average adult would be aware that the playground rule of “finders, keepers” doesn’t apply to most situations in life that aren’t scavenger hunts. But one would be wrong, if the police investigating the theft of a bag filled with $150,000 in cash are correct.

Authorities say a man picked up the bag, which was left outside a New Jersey business by ATM workers on Monday, and took the money home, reports the Associated Press.

Not content to simply rest on a pile of cash, police say he took some of that money and bought an SUV with it a few hours after the find. His time with the new Chevrolet Tahoe was short-lived, as police arrested him on Wednesday as one of two suspects they believe made off with the bag of moolah.

Police said a white van caught on surveillance video pulling up to the loot had a passenger who hopped out to grab the cash. That same van was seen in another video where the suspects allegedly stole tires from an auto repair business.

The suspect was arrested after police found the van. He said he was driving it and admitted that an SUV — valued at about $46,000 and found nearby — had been bought soon after the grab. He was charged with theft of mislaid property, or what we will call violating the “anti-finders keepers law.”

Police issued a warrant for the arrest of the van’s passenger, who is also wanted for a probation violation.

Cops: Man buys car after taking $150,000 left by ATM workers [Associated Press]

United Airlines CEO: Checked Bag Fees Are Here To Stay, Just Part Of Doing Business

Despite Southwest Airlines’ recent admission that charging for bags would be a financially irresponsible policy change, it doesn’t appear that other airlines feel the same way.

Reuters reports that United Airlines, for one, has no plans to stop charging check bag fees, no matter what other airlines do.

The airline’s CEO Jeff Smisek defended the fees, noting that some passengers have “difficulty recognizing that we’re now a business.”

“They criticize us if we charge for more legroom. Let me tell you though: that’s what businesses do,” he said during an industry lunch on Thursday.

Smisek said that customers should expect checked bag fees to be based on a sliding scale, like extras offered by other businesses.

“If you want more data on your data plan so you can watch faster, better cat videos, you call AT&T, and they’re happy to increase your data plan,” he said. “And they charge you for it. That’s what businesses do.”

Airline checked bag fees, which range from $15 to more than $25, have become an important source of revenue for many carriers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the first three months of 2015 saw airlines collecting more than $864 million in revenue from the fees.

Despite those proceeds, Southwest said earlier this week that it isn’t doing so bad without the added fees. The company’s net income increased nearly $143 million over the past year.

Of course, hefty fees for checked bags could soon be a thing of the past, as legislators recently introduced the Baggage Fee Fairness Act of 2015 that would limit checked-baggage charges to just $4.50/bag.

United Airlines CEO: Checked bag fees are here to stay [Reuters]

Converse Blows Up New Chuck Taylor Shoes To Show What’s Different

SneakersplosionMaybe you saw a photo of Converse’s new version of their classic Chuck Taylor All-Stars and wondered what the big deal is. “So they changed the eyelet color,” you say. “What’s the difference?” To appease people like you, Converse virtually exploded one of their new shoes so you can see what’s inside.

Since we routinely call out bad ads, here we’re calling out a good one for once. It would be interesting to see this YouTube spot aired as a TV commercial: for once, a shoe ad that isn’t about branding or lifestyle or the athlete it’s named after, but just what’s inside the shoe.

(via Adweek)

N.J. Police Officer Smashes Window To Save Child Trapped Inside Hot Minivan

(via NBC News)

(via NBC News)

If we’re going to hear stories of children being left in hot cars, we’re at least glad to report on those that end well. That includes the report of a New Jersey sheriff’s officer who bashed open a minivan window to free a child who was locked inside it as it sat parked at a Costco supermarket.

Witnesses said the crying two-year-old was drenched in sweat when a Bergen County police officer broke open one of the van’s windows, reports NBC News (warning: link has video that autoplays).

Passersby worried about the girl in the van parked in Costco parking late had gathered on the scene, with at least two people attempting to push down a window that had been cracked open a few inches. In a video taped during the rescue, you can hear the child crying inside the car.

“I’m telling the girl, ‘Don’t cry, we’re gonna get you out,'” one of the men who tried to get into the van told NBC News. “She was drenched in sweat and crying constantly.”

Bystanders wondered if the parents were shopping, expressing disbelief that they would’ve left the toddler behind.

Moments after an officer carries the small girl in her arms away from the van, with her hair matted to her forehead with sweat, the toddler’s mother shows up with a shopping cart and another child.

“You left her in the car!” the officer holding the crying girl says. The mother apologizes, but the officer replies, “No ‘Sorry!’ She could have died!”

The child’s mother was arrested for child endangerment and released with a desk ticket. The little girl was taken to a local hospital and then turned over to her father, according to the sheriff’s office.

Though it’s unclear how long the girl was inside the van, temperatures can rise dangerously high in a matter of minutes. Remember: Leaving a child in a hot car for any length of time is unsafe, so please, please do not do it.

WATCH: Sweat-Soaked, Wailing Toddler Rescued from Hot Minivan in Costco Parking Lot [NBC News]

Two For-Profit Schools Must Pay Students $2.3M Over Unfair Practices

Hundreds of former students at Kaplan Career Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute in Massachusetts will receive redress from the for-profit colleges after the schools settled charges they engaged in unfair practices with the state’s Attorney General’s office.

The Boston Globe reports that Kaplan Higher Education LLC and Lincoln Educational Services Inc. have agreed to pay millions of dollars to students in order to resolve claims the companies used unfair recruiting tactics and inflated job placement numbers to lure students into enrolling at the colleges.

“We allege these for-profit schools lured hopeful students into enrolling in their vocational programs by promising certain careers, but only left them with substantial debt,” Attorney General Maura Healey said. “Students trying to better their lives through education are instead being left financially ruined. These settlements will provide the relief these students deserve and prevent deceptive practices that put taxpayer dollars at risk.”

The settlements are the result of an Attorney General’s Office investigation that looked at dozens of schools operated by the companies and found, among other things, that the schools falsely reported a 70% job placement rates for graduates.

According to the AG’s office, Kaplan Higher Education, which owned the now-shuttered Kaplan Career Institute schools in Massachusetts, used job listings that were publicly available resources and did not offer any independent services or programs for its students’ job searches.

The company will pay eligible graduates of its medical vocational programs a total of $1.375 million. The Globe reports that the office first opened its investigation into the Kenmore Square school four years ago.

A spokesperson for Kaplan tells the Globe that the school “emphatically maintains that its actions were compliant and in the best interests of students, who were well-served by the institution.”

The company says they agreed to the settlement because of litigation costs, and was not found to have engaged in any wrongdoing.

As for Lincoln Technical Institute, the school’s parent company will pay eligible graduates of its criminal justice program at its Somerville and Lowell campuses $850,000 and will forgive $165,00 worth of private student loans the students took out.

The AG’s office reports that its investigation into the program found that students were unable to find work in law enforcement or private security after graduation.

The school was also found to include unrelated jobs, such as general retail positions, in its placement data, the Globe reports.

According to the AG’s investigation, the school allegedly told recruiters to pressure prospective students to attend the school by establishing unhappiness, creating urgency and to “bring out the pain.” They were also allegedly told to contact students at least seven times within the first three days to convince them to enroll.

In a statement to the Globe, Lincoln Educational Services says the investigation into the school started in 2008, at a time when employment opportunities were limited for all students.

The company contends that for-profit schools are held to higher standards than other traditional universities, despite their differing student bodies.

“Full disclosure and transparency require a level playing field,” the statement said. “We look forward to the day that all post-secondary institutions … are held to the same standards.”

Two for-profit colleges settle lawsuit with attorney general for $2.3 million [The Boston Globe]

Why Gasoline With More Than 10% Ethanol Will Make Your Mower Sad

Modern cars are designed to get around just fine with gasoline containing ethanol in their tanks, but not all gasoline that you buy at the corner gas station is healthy for other items that you own that use gas. Think outdoor power equipment like push mowers, string trimmers, and chainsaws. Cars made in 2006 and afterwards can take fuel that’s up to 15% ethanol, but that mixture can be disastrous for small gas-powered appliances.

There’s a trade group for these items, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and they are not happy that higher-ethanol blends are becoming more common in gas stations, but lack consumer warnings at the pump that explain this clearly. Something like “Hey dude/dudette, don’t put this stuff in your chainsaw,” it might say, but most consumers say that they don’t notice the puny warnings that the EPA requires.

Why shouldn’t you use these cheaper blends in your outdoor power equipment? Since you probably don’t use your lawn mower as often as your car, all of that time sitting around idle means that the ethanol has time to draw water from the gasoline, making the fuel goopy and crusty, which hurts any plastic and rubber parts that it reaches as well as affecting carburetors. Worse, ethanol makes small engines run hotter, reducing their lifespan.

You can prevent this by checking what kind of fuel your small gas-powered equipment prefers: that information should be in the manual. Don’t automatically fill your gas can with the same stuff you put in your tank, especially if your car is much newer than average.

The cheapest gas can be trouble for outdoor gear [Consumer Reports]

The Last Full-Service Dunkin’ Donuts Prepares To Shut Its Doors

Though you might not even have been aware it existed, the last full-service Dunkin’ Donuts diner is preparing to close, and will be renovated to look like the rest.

That means no more wait staff serving fried fish and grits, something many customers will miss: while the Lake Park, FL restaurant also serves doughnuts and coffee like other Dunkin’ Donuts locations, it also has a grill, serving up hot food and sandwiches. The Palm Beach Post spoke with a few of the diner’s customers who will miss the old days once the place is remodeled.

“I’m so sad,” one said, adding, “We can go anywhere to get the doughnuts but you can’t go everywhere and find food like this.”

It was the first Dunkin’ location to open in Florida, in 1962, and the last full-service spot left standing. For now — the restaurant’s last day of dining room service is Saturday, with the fast-food side closing Aug. 16. The place is expected to reopen with its new look on Aug. 31.

The owner says he made the decision to renovate because he can’t offer the menu items that other Dunkin’ locations have, including the 10 he owns across the county, because they don’t have the right equipment. The remodel will mean guests are served faster and more efficiently, he says.

There’s a bright spot, however, as customers will still be able to drink coffee from a ceramic mug at the counter, just as they do now.

“This particular Dunkin’ Donuts has a rich history and the new, remodeled location will include several elements that are a nod to its past,” the owner says. “Despite the changes, it’ll still be a unique neighborhood gathering place for the community to catch up with old friends, make new ones and enjoy great food.”

World’s last Dunkin’ Donuts diner to close [The Palm Beach Post]

Woman Sues Starbucks For $2 Million Over Drink Allegedly Tainted With Chemicals



A Utah woman has filed a $2 million lawsuit against Starbucks and several employees claiming she was given a drink that contained a cleaning solution.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the woman filed the suit after she suffered severe damage to her esophagus at a Utah Starbucks in July 2012.

According to the lawsuit, the woman experienced severe nerve damage and chronic burning mouth pain after ingesting Urnex, a speciality cleaning product for coffee and espresso equipment.

The suit, which names Starbucks and John Does one through five as defendants, alleges the company was negligent in more than one way and failed to adequately train workers.

As for the employees, the suit claims they created a dangerous situation and failed to remedy it, and knew or should have known of the dangerous condition but failed to take adequate steps to prevent injury to customers.

The woman, who is seeking $2 million in damages, contends that the incident has already cost her $186,000 in medical expenses, wage loss and household expenses.

A spokesperson for Starbucks tells the Tribune that the company takes the lawsuit very seriously.

“The safety of our customers is our highest priority,” Laurel Harper, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “We take this obligation seriously and are investigating [the customer’s] claims.”

Utahn claims her Starbucks coffee was tainted with cleaning solution [The Salt Lake Tribune]

Police: Man Pretended He Was His Brother To Avoid $7,500 In Unpaid Tolls

It’s a classic caper: passing yourself off as your brother or sister to squirm out of trouble when you’re caught doing something you shouldn’t. But New Jersey police say one man didn’t quite pull off the sibling switcheroo when he was stopped for $7,500 in unpaid tolls.

Port Authority police in New Jersey say officers stopped a 44-year-old man after he drove through an EZ-Pass lane on the George Washington Bridge toll without paying, reports

A police spokesman said the man couldn’t provide any documentation for the motorcycle he was riding and the license plates didn’t match the bike. After a search, police said they found baggies of cocaine in his pocket, which he at first said was just candy.

While he was being taken into custody, officers say he gave them a government ID card that had his brother’s name and photo on it. Unaware that it wasn’t him, police issued the man a summons under his brother’s name and let him go.

When Port Authority police figured things out, they issued a warrant for his arrest. He was later arrested by State Police on unrelated traffic warrants and was turned over to Port Authority police Officer to face wrongful impersonation, theft, hindering apprehension and cocaine possession charges.

Man used brother’s name to dodge unpaid tolls, drug charge, police say []

Class-Action Suit Accuses CVS Of Overcharging Customers For Generic Drugs

The country’s second largest pharmacy chain is the latest party in a class-action lawsuit that accuses CVS of deliberately overcharging hundreds of thousands of patients for generic prescription drugs.

Bloomberg reports that the pharmacy customers claim in the class-action seeking lawsuit that CVS intentionally overcharged them for prescription drugs by submitting claims for payment to third parties at inflated prices.

According to the lawsuit, since 2008 CVS has engaged in “massive fraud” that led to “substantial ill-gotten gains” by charging three or four times the typical price for generic drugs.

At issue in the lawsuit is CVS’s Health Savings Pass, a discount program for patients paying cash for prescriptions. The plan costs $15 per year to join and offers 90-day supplies of some generic drugs for $11.99.

The complaint contends that patients who purchased prescriptions through third-party plans paid higher prices than those who paid through CVS’s program.

CVS allegedly failed to present insurance companies with the discounted price, resulting in customers paying higher co-pays based on the more expensive prices.

“Not only was the HSP program a means by which CVS could maintain and increase its market share by fending off discounted prices from its competitors, but importantly, CVS also intended that the HSP program would serve as a mechanism to hide CVS’s true usual and customary prices from third-party payers,” the lawsuit says.

A CVS spokesperson tells Bloomberg that he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, as the company had yet to be served, but that a similar suit had been dismissed in Massachusetts.

“It is important to note that co-pays for prescription medications are determined by a patient’s prescription coverage plan, not by the pharmacy,” the spokesperson said. “Pharmacies charge the co-pays that are set by the coverage plans.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a court order banning CVS from running the alleged scheme.

CVS Health Accused in Suit of Overcharging for Generic Drugs [Bloomberg]

Walmart Customer With Tourette’s Claims She Was Kicked Out Of Store, Told Not To Return

A Florida woman with Tourette’s syndrome is suing Walmart, claiming she was banned from the store, in violation of the American with Disabilities Act. She and her husband are seeking more than $2.2 million in damages for emotional distress.

People with Tourette’s may exhibit facial tics and other involuntary repetitive movements, and have outbursts of profanity, known as “coprolalia,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The woman was shopping at Walmart with two of her children in August 2011 when she was ordered to leave and not come back by a manager and a security officer, according to a circuit court filing complaint, reports Florida Today.

Her lawyer says the Walmart workers also called the police, who issued a no-trespassing order against her.

“It’s putting part of her hometown off-limits for her. And it’s a place she’s accustomed to frequent, and she has the right to frequent. They used to do this to people who had black skin, or who didn’t speak English, or were Chinese (or of) Asian ancestry. Women were excluded from some places — and that’s just been in my lifetime,” her attorney told Florida Today.

He added that most people understand when they hear her having a verbal tic, or using profane language.

“They recognize it as Tourette’s, and they just shrug it off like water off a duck’s back,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed in mid-May, and seeks $2 million in damages for the woman’s emotional distress, as well as $200,000 for the husband, due to “loss of consortium” with his wife.

Walmart’s legal counsel stated in a court filing that store employees did not act improperly; did not physically or psychologically harm the customer; and had no prior knowledge of her Tourette’s syndrome or medical condition.

The woman says she is often traumatized by the treatment she receives because of her outbursts. Since the alleged incident at Walmart, she says she’s led a more secluded life, and her kids do her grocery shopping for her.

“God didn’t make everybody to be the same. You know, this is who I am. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s genetic. It’s hereditary. And it’s something that I have to live with for the rest of my life. This is just me,” she told Florida Today.

Brevard woman with Tourette’s sues Walmart over ban [Florida Today]

I Can’t Buy A Car Becaue Lexus Thinks I’m Dead

Dead people do not need cars, and they also have trouble making the payments. That’s probably why one woman’s credit score plummeted to zero when a lender accidentally put her down as dead. It was due to human error, but she’ll need to wait 30 days to move on with her new car purchase because someone at Lexus Financial Services picked the wrong thing in a drop-down menu.

Yes, that is literally what happened. Unfortunately, it just takes one creditor accidentally telling the bureaus that you’re deceased to send your credit score plummeting to zero and to make it impossible to sign up for new lines of credit.

What can you do about it? You can’t prevent people from clicking on the wrong thing at your lender, unfortunately, but the best thing to do is check your credit periodically for errors like this. Use at least 30 days before you plan to start shopping for a new home, car, or other thing that requires credit bureaus to believe that you’re alive.

It takes about 30 days to clear an error for the system, but this 100% alive aspiring car owner was lucky: she had contacted CBS Sacramento about her plight, and their calls to Experian and Equifax prompted the credit bureaus to correct Acura’s error a few weeks earlier than they normally would have, and she got to zoom off in her new car.

Call Kurtis: I Can’t Buy a Car Because Lender Declared Me Dead [CBS Sacramento]

Prisoners Will Soon Be Eligible For Pell Grants To Finance Education

Twenty years after passing a law that banned prisoners from financing higher education with federal grants while incarcerated, the government is ready to begin investing in the education of inmates.

The Washington Post reports that the government announced plans today that it will initiate an experiment — called the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program — to offer a limited number of prisoners Pell grants to finance their education from a select number of colleges starting as soon as next year.

The move, which is being made under the Obama administration’s authority for limited financial aid experiments, doesn’t immediately change the status of the ban put in place in 1994. At the time, Congress decided it was unfair for prisoners to claim a share of federal financial aid dollars that were in limited supply at the time — $5 billion, compared to the $29 billion available today.

The Second Chance program aims to help prisoners who are eligible for release within five years work toward an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated. The schools partnering with the program have yet to be announced.

“America is a nation of second chances,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are – it can also be a cost-saver for taxpayers.”

Duncan maintains that the new experiment will not take money away from the nearly eight million students who are expected to receive Pell grants in 2016, saying that the cost of the program will be very modest.

Although the experiment isn’t a reversal of the 1994 ban, it could eventually lead there. At the time that ban was enacted, the government estimated that more than 25,000 inmates received $35 million in Pell Grants for the first nine months of the 1993-1994 school year.

For two decades, critics of the ban have argued that Congress was shortsighted in taking away funding for prisoners’ schooling. They contend that investing in education for inmates could reduce the likelihood they will commit another crime when released, the Post reports.

Despite the long-running rule, many schools have continued to operate their own inmate education programs. One such program is Goucher College in Maryland, which enrolls 60 to 100 prisoners at a time.

“There’s a long waiting list,” Goucher President Jose Antonio Bowen, tells the Post. “Anything that helps bring more education to the incarcerated is something we would support.”

Feds announce new experiment: Pell grants for prisoners [The Washington Post]

American Airlines Plane Evacuated With Emergency Slides, Three Passengers Burned

An American Airlines flight pulling away from the gate at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on Thursday was evacuated with the use of emergency slides, resulting in minor injuries for three passengers.

NBC-DFW reports that the flight – carrying 141 passengers and five crew members – was readying for travel to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when smoke was reported in the cabin.

Five emergency exits, including two over the wings and one through the plane’s tail, were opened during the incident. Two inflatable slides were utilized at the passenger access door and a rear service door, American said.

During the evacuation three passengers were injured, suffering from minor burns.

“Our fleet service team was still on the ramp and assisted passengers and crew with a successful evacuation of the aircraft,” a spokesperson for the airline said.

The airline said that passengers were being put on other flights to Chicago Thursday afternoon.

Emergency Slides Used to Evacuate American Airlines Plane at D/FW Airport [NBC-DFW]

Cable Companies Refuse To Reveal How Much They Make Off Of Set-Top Boxes

Sen. Ed Markey of Massachussetts and Sen. Dick Blumenthal of Connecticut recently posed a handful of questions to the nation’s cable and satellite providers about their set-top boxes — Are they required? How many customers have them? Is there an option for customers to purchase their own? etc. While some providers were more transparent in their responses than others, but one thing they all agreed on: We’re not telling you how much we make from leasing these devices.

For example, even though Comcast [PDF] says that virtually all 22 million pay-TV customers have set-top boxes, with a total of 59 million devices currently being used, and that the monthly lease per box ranges from $1-$2.50/month, it balks — citing “competitive sensitivity” — at providing the senators either the average per-customer revenue from these leases or the total revenue.

AT&T, which filed the response [PDF] before its merger with DirecTV was approved, likewise acknowledged that its entire U-Verse install base has a set-top box. While the company says the first device is provided at no charge, AT&T didn’t provide any information about the average number of devices per household or the total number of devices currently in use, so we don’t know how many U-Verse subscribers are paying $8/month for their additional set-top boxes. AT&T claimed it can’t share any more detailed information because it’s “commercially sensitive.”

Speaking of DirecTV, the country’s largest satellite service (and second-largest pay-TV provider) provides so little information it’s bordering on the deceptive. The only useful data in DirecTV’s response [PDF] is that customers lease “roughly 2.5 boxes per household” and that it charges $6/box, but it glosses over the all the related fees it charges for things like Whole-Home DVR service.

Verizon [PDF] is much more willing to break down the pricing of its boxes, DVR services, and number of TV sets involved, showing how FiOS can run you anywhere from $11.99/month for a single TV up to $85.99 for eight TVs with “Quantum Premium Service.” But once again, in spite of this info dump on Verizon’s part, the company joins the chorus of cablers refusing to say the average per-customer revenue or total annual revenue from leased devices.

The most amusing response comes from Time Warner Cable [PDF], who justified its refusal to answer virtually every question by stating that “TWC operates in a highly competitive market and does not make this information publicly available in the ordinary course of business.” [bolded for emphasis].

That’s right, Time Warner Cable, whose $45 million merger with Comcast failed because of an obvious lack of competition in the cable marketplace, is apparently hoping that if it repeatedly states that it “operates in a highly competitive market,” it might come true.

After looking at these responses — and others from Cox, Cablevision, Charter, Brighthouse, Cox, and Dish — Sens. Markey and Blumenthal did their best to estimate how much these companies are making based on what little information they provided.

By their math, the average pay-TV customer will spend around $89/year for a single set-top box. And since the average household with pay-TV service has approximately 2.6 boxes, the senators estimate the average yearly cost of having these cable boxes is around $232.

Figuring that, between all these companies there are some 221 million set-top boxes being leased in the U.S. right now, that would put the industry’s annual revenue at nearly $20 billion.

While the senators understand the technological need for having a set-top box, they believe that consumers should not be forced to lease just one or two models made available by their pay-TV provider.

“Consumers should have the same range of choices for their video set-top boxes as they have for their mobile phones,” said Senator Markey in a statement. “When Congress last year regrettably removed the requirement that cable company services be compatible with set-top boxes purchased in the marketplace rather than rented directly from the provider, we doomed consumers to being captive to cable company rental fees forever. We also endangered a competitive set-top box marketplace, replacing consumer choice with cable company control. We need a new, national consumer-friendly standard that will allow consumers to choose their own video box irrespective from their pay-TV provider. Consumers should not be forced to rent video boxes from their pay-TV provider in perpetuity.”

Blumenthal says the $200+ annual expense on set-top box leasing is “unjust and unjustifiable. As the world becomes increasingly connected and technology advances, new innovations must be able to break into the cable marketplace and provide the vigorous competition that drives down prices for consumers. Consumers deserve competitive options in accessing technology and television – not exorbitant prices dictated by monopoly cable companies.”

Whole Foods Announces Five Cities Where It’s Opening Cheaper Stores

Back in May, Whole Foods announced it’d be making a play for that coveted category of customers, the almighty millennials, by launching a new line of lower-cost stores. The company has now revealed which cities will see those first cheaper stores.

If you’re on the East Coast and hoping for lower prices, well, you’re out of luck for now: the first of five “365 by Whole Foods Market” locations the company is opening in the second half of 2016 is slated for the Silver Lake neighborhood of L.A. The company says it made the “strategic decision to renegotiate the lease in development for the Silver Lake location,” transforming the Whole Foods Market there into a 365 by Whole Foods Market store.

The other locations getting a millennial-baiting store include Houston; Bellevue, WA; Portland, OR and Santa Monica, CA.

These spots were chosen due to a “high demand for both quality food and value in a convenient format,” according to a statement by Jeff Turnas, president of 365 by Whole Foods Market.

In May, Whole Foods co-founder and co-Chief Executive John Mackey said prices will be lower at the new stores, which will also cost less to run and be “hip, cool, and tech-oriented.”

Whole Foods could use a boost right now, as it admitted earlier this week that the company had its weakest increase in quarterly sales since the early days of the Great Recession.

Pot-Centric Colorado Credit Union Sues Federal Reserve Bank For Denying Account

fourthcornerpicThe state of Colorado no longer outlaws recreational marijuana use, but the U.S. government still considers it a Schedule I controlled substance, so many businesses making money from the locally legal sale of cannabis are having trouble finding banks to handle their cash. One credit union formed with the goal of providing financial services to those in the marijuana industry received a charter from Colorado, but has filed suit against a regional Federal Reserve bank for blocking its ability to work with other banks.

Denver-based Fourth Corner Credit Union, whose stated mission is to “service the unique financial needs of the cannabis and hemp industries and their supporters,” received a charter from Colorado regulators in late 2014. The credit union then reached out to the Federal Bank of Kansas City to apply for what’s known as a “master account.”

Master accounts at Fed branches allow banks to not only deposit their cash reserves, but gives banks the ability to easily transact business with other financial institutions by settling credits and debits through the account at that Fed branch bank. Basically, the master account is the bank’s bank account.

Without a master account, “a depository institution is nothing more than a vault,” notes Fourth Corner in its lawsuit [PDF].

The credit union accuses the Fed bank of delaying review of Fourth Corner’s master account application for nearly nine months, claiming that the usual turnaround for processing an application is only five to seven days.

Fourth Corner argues that federal law requires the Fed banks to provide their payment services to all “depository institutions,” even if the institution is not a member of the Federal Reserve system.

Despite the increasing decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, many established financial institutions are refusing to accept deposits from pot sellers, growers, and distributors out of concern that it may lead to unwanted scrutiny of their business from federal regulators and law enforcement.

In early 2014, the U.S. government attempted to provide some guidance for banks who might find themselves involved with marijuana money, but it may have only muddied the waters. Banks now know they should file “suspicious activity reports” that are specific to the pot industry, but they don’t really know if they are breaking federal law by continuing to do business with these account-holders.

As a result, there are a number of licensed marijuana businesses in Colorado and Washington who can’t deposit their piles of cash in the bank.

Not only does this make it difficult for these businesses to pay taxes, rents, salaries, and other costs that would normally be dealt with through checks or electronic transfers, it is a growing public safety risk. In an era when gas station and fast food heists turn up less money because of increased use of credit cards, robbers will certainly be tempted to go after primarily cash businesses that have no bank in which to deposit their earnings.

Part of the Fed’s eventual decision to deny the Fourth Corner master account application was the fact that the National Credit Union Administration — an independent federal regulatory agency — refused the credit union’s application for deposit insurance.

In order to get a master account, an institution must show that it’s eligible to receive this type of insurance, but Fourth Corner argues that the insurance need not come from the NCUA and can be privately obtained. The credit union has filed a separate suit against the NCUA claiming it was denied due process in the insurance application review.

Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination, had hoped the Fed would be more open-minded about Fourth Corner’s business.

“We thought it was a good solution to the problem,” Freedman told Dealbook about the Fed’s decision. “Here was a place willing to take on the risk of banking this underbanked group — and that could do rigorous compliance.”

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Here are eleven of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

Want to see your pictures on our site? Our Flickr pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.