vendredi 30 septembre 2016

Oregon Department Of Justice Announces Investigation Of Coolest

Back in 2014, the Coolest was a Kickstarter hit that drew even more backers as it appeared on national TV. It crushed records as well as crushing ice in its built-in blender. Yet over two years later, all of the original backers still don’t have their coolers, even as the Coolest is available in brick-and-mortar retail stores and on Amazon. Now the Oregon Department of Justice is investigating the company behind the Coolest, which is based in Portland.

While crowdfunding veterans know that Kickstarter isn’t a store, many of the people who backed the Coolest were new to the idea and may have thought they were pre-ordering. In any case, their consumer rage is understandable: the coolers were supposed to be delivered all over the world in the spring of 2015.

Instead, the company has been steadily shipping out coolers to original backers while also selling them online and to retailers. The Oregon Department of Justice wouldn’t tell the Oregonian much about the investigation, but did confirm that there is one, and that hundreds of Coolest backers have filed complaints with the company’s home state.

Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms say that enforcing project creators’ promises to backers isn’t their job. The Federal Trade Commission and Washington state Attorney General have stepped in and taken action against companies that raised money through crowdfunding platforms and didn’t deliver.

The Coolest may be a little bit different because some products are being delivered…. much later than promised, and in some cases only after backers kicked in some extra money.

State launches Coolest Cooler investigation [Oregonian]

Federal Jury Decides Costco Owes Tiffany $5.5M Over Alleged Copycat Rings

Since 2012, Costco and Tiffany have been fighting in court over the question of whether “Tiffany” describes a jewelry company and a prestigious brand, or a just a style of diamond solitaire ring. The case finally reached a jury this month, and the jury’s verdict is that Costco owes Tiffany $5.5 million in compensation, and an amount yet to be decided in punitive damages.

In 2012, Costco put a bunch of what its signage called “Tiffany” diamond engagement rings out in its stores with much lower prices than one would pay in a Tiffany store. Both companies agree on that.

However, Costco claims that it was selling regular diamond rings with a Tiffany setting, at reasonable prices. Tiffany countered that the warehouse club was out to deliberately mislead shoppers into thinking that the rings were from Tiffany, including similar packaging.

Last year, a federal judge found in favor of Tiffany and the case went ahead, and now the jury concluded that Costco owes $5.5 million, or the approximate amount that it took in on the sales of these rings.

The warehouse club argued that it owed maybe $750,000, or about $500 per ring that had been sold during the brief period that they were avauilable.

Costco had offered refunds to any customers who had purchased the Tiffany setting rings who were dissatisfied with them or felt that they had been misled.

Costco should pay $5.5 million for selling fake Tiffany rings: U.S. jury [Reuters]

Senators Urge Continued Oversight Of For-Profit Colleges Amid Another Closure

For-profit college operators continued to take hits this week, as lawmakers called for federal aid restriction on the Computer Systems Institute brand, and smaller Regency Beauty Institute brand announced it would close. 

Less than a month after one of the industry’s largest companies ITT Educational Services closed its doors, following the Department of Education decision to ban the operator of the ITT Technical chain from accepting federal student aid, several lawmakers sent a letter [PDF] urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to do the same with Computer Systems Institute.

Senators Dick Durbin (IL), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Tom Carper (DE) urged the VA secretary Robert McDonald to immediately withdraw Computer Systems Institute (CSI) from participation in the GI Bill program after an investigation found evidence the schools allegedly defrauded students.

According to the letter, the Dept. of Education terminated CSI’s participation in federal student loan programs in January amid findings the college submitted false job placement data to its accreditor and disclosed false job placement data to current and prospective students.

The senators questioned why the VA has taken so long to take action against the school despite a law that requires the disapproval of any institution that engages in misleading practices.

“The Secretary shall not approve the enrollment of an eligible Veteran or eligible person in any course offered by an institution which utilizes advertising, sales, or enrollment practices of any type which are erroneous, deceptive, or misleading either by actual statement, omission, or intimation,” the law states.

In other for-profit college news this week, Minnesota-based Regency Beauty Institute announced it would close the doors of its 79 campuses across the country.


The college, which had about 7,000 students enrolled at the time of the closure, claimed the decision to cease operations was a result of several issues including “a negative characterization of for-profit education by regulators and politicians that continues to worsen.”

Regency made a point of noting that the closure was not the result of federal sanctions.

“This is not another case of a school being forced to shut down because it was accused of wrongdoing,” the company said on its website. “We held ourselves to high educational and ethical standards. The environment is simply not one that allows us to remain open. We diligently explored a range of strategic options that would benefit our students, teachers, and staff — and allow us to remain open. Unfortunately, those efforts were not successful.”

Regency’s demise adds yet another group of thousands of students to those that will likely seek closed school discharges for any federal loans they took out to attend college, Sen. Durbin (IL) said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of ITT Tech students are currently working to have their debts erased following that chains closure.

Despite this option, Durbin urged consumers looking at for-profit colleges to think twice, noting that closures such as those of Regency and ITT put a burden on taxpayers.

“We gave Regency $50 million in taxpayer dollars last year through federal grants and student loans,” Durbin said, while calling on educators to warn students of the dangers of enrolling in for-profit schools. “The Regency Institute operators took the millions, pulled the plug, and left the students and taxpayers high and dry.”

If You Plan To Go To College Next Year, Fill Out Your FAFSA This Weekend

Each year high school graduates preparing for college leave billions of dollars on the table by failing to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A new initiative by the Department of Education aims to change that this year, by starting the process earlier and making it easier to fill out. So here’s your warning: FAFSA season starts Saturday. 

Sure, most students have only been in school for a little more than a month, but it’s apparently never to early to plan ahead, you know, in order to minimize the mountains of debt you’re likely to take on to attend college.

FAFSA determines whether an applicant is eligible for subsidized federal loans and whether they can get access to grants that can reduce how much you need to borrow to pay for your education.

But that’s only possible if you actually fill out the form, which is available starting Oct. 1 on the Dept. of Education website. 

The Wall Street Journal offered a few tips for those preparing to fill out their FAFSA this weekend:

1.) Do it now — Don’t wait, the money you could received in grants isn’t going to wait around for you.

The form has different deadlines depending on your state and which college the money will be used to pay for (see this PDF for a state-by-state breakdown of deadlines), but it’s always a good idea to get the FAFSA completed as soon as possible.

2.) Use the new tool — The Department now allows families to base their FAFSA form on “prior-prior year” income, meaning you likely have all the information you need on hand.

Under the previous system, the FAFSA application process began in January and couldn’t be completed until tax forms could be retrieved from the Internal Revenue Service.

To make things even easier, the Dept. of Education streamlined the once daunting task by utilizing earlier tax information. Families will now be able to use a tool that directly retrieves their tax information directly from the IRS.

By using the tool, the Dept. of Education estimates the time needed to fill out a FAFSA form will decrease from one hour to about 20 minutes.

[via The Wall Street Journal]

Lawmaker Presents Wells Fargo With Evidence Of Potential Account Fraud From 2007

At yesterday’s contentious House Financial Services Committee hearing on the Wells Fargo fake account fiasco, CEO John Stumpf said his bank was reviewing accounts going back to 2009 to see how long employees had been opening new accounts in customers’ names without authorization. Now one member of Congress says there is evidence indicating that this sort of bad behavior goes back nearly a decade.

In a letter [PDF] sent today to Stumpf, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY) asks the CEO to extend the bank’s review to 2007.

At yesterday’s hearing, Maloney referenced documents that she believes shows that bank employees were up to no good in 2007 and asked Stumpf if he would commit to expanding the account review if he were president with credible evidence.

Taking Stumpf up on his sworn pledge that he would “leave no stone unturned,” Maloney sent these documents along with her letter to the CEO.

The documents involve a lawsuit filed by six former Wells Fargo employees who accused the bank of wrongful termination.

According to the amended complaint [PDF] from 2009, these workers were accused by bank management of reordering debit cards without customer authorization.

They claimed at the time they were just what their branch manager had instructed them to do. In another document [PDF], one of these former employees says she became suspicious about these directions from her manager so she made a call to the bank’s EthicsLine hotline to complain “that her supervisor was making them call [customers] and issue unsolicited [debit cards] that had already been validated by Wells Fargo.” These cards, per the plaintiff did not come with the disclosures required by law, nor had they been validated “in response to the consumer’s oral or written request for validation, after the institution has verified the consumer’s identity.”

The plaintiffs alleged that it was this complaint to the EthicsLine that got them fired, but not any of the male employees or managers who had instructed the workers or acted similarly.

Maloney contends that the actions described in these documents is strikingly similar to some of the gaming that occurred in more recent years as Wells Fargo employees opened up unauthorized accounts in order to meet bank-enforced sales quotas.

Also, the allegations of retaliation against a purported whistleblower echoes statements made by former Wells workers in the last few weeks.

“I ask that you consider this evidence a stone, and turn it over,” writes Maloney in the letter to Stumpf. “Moreover, in light of this evidence that I am enclosing that these same illegal practices were occurring as far back as 2007, I request that you formally extend Wells Fargo’s review of accounts back to — at least — 2007.”

Were You Paying Attention This Week? Take The Consumerist Quiz To Find Out

Remember only a few weeks ago, when many of us were complaining about the heat, pining for the start of the new fall TV season, and boasting about how the Browns finally had a franchise quarterback in RGIII? Yeah, neither do we. What we can recall is what happened this week. Can you?

If you hadn’t caught on yet, it’s time for the Consumerist Quiz, where you pretend that you’ve read a bunch of news stories this week while hoping to guess the correct answer from context clues and process of elimination.

Last week, you collectively squeaked by with a median score of 60%. We’ll take that as an indicator that you’re honest enough to refrain from cheating by going back to look at stories while you take the quiz.

That was last week. This is now, and this is the season of the quiz.

LaCroix Parent CEO: Don’t Worry, Company’s Prospects “Fundamentally Strong”

After a report from a short-seller caused a few ripples in LaCroix parent National Beverage Corp.’s stock, the company CEO is firing back and assuring investors that everything is just fine.

Glaucus Research Group said on Wednesday that National Beverage “has become a faddish stock-market darling du jour” amid the LaCroix revival that has millennials arguing the merits of coconut flavor versus pamplemousse.

The report urged regulators to investigate the company, its accounting and its practices, and valued its stock — FIZZ — at about 65% of what it was trading at. That sent stock tumbling 8.2% to $42.67 a share, the South Florida Business Journal reported.

Not to fear, Chairman and CEO Nick Caporella said in responding to the report, calling it “false and defamatory.”

“I would again caution fellow shareholders about reacting to the many false statements made yesterday and I assure all parties that the financial prospects of the Company are just as fundamentally strong today as the day before this self-serving attack by short sellers,” Caporella said.

By the end of Thursday, National Beverage stock was perking up, hitting $43.32. As of this morning, it had dropped a bit lower to $42.91 a share.

CEO of LaCroix parent company responds to dramatic stock drop [South Florida Business Journal]

CDC Concludes General Mills Flour Investigation, Warns That People Will Still Get Sick

You might remember the General Mills flour recall from earlier this year, where a massive amount of flour was recalled because it was potentially contaminated with E. coli, bacteria found in feces and in soil that can cause bloody diarrhea and life-threatening complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that its investigation of the outbreak is over, but that people will keep getting sick.

That’s because flour has a long shelf life, and people tend to pour their flour out of the original bag and into a canister, disposing of important information like the flour’s brand and any production codes.

Ultimately, 63 people in 24 states became sick, and new cases have been reported into September of 2016. It will continue for as long as the flour remains on shelves and people keep eating or playing with raw dough. 17 patients who were sick from the flour were hospitalized.

This is just the total of known infections: patients who didn’t visit a health care professional and have samples of their feces (yep, that’s how it works) tested aren’t counted in the outbreak numbers, and may never find out what made them sick in the first place.


If you bought flour and put it in a canister before this recall happened back in May, the CDC recommends that you throw it out just to be safe, washing the canister out with detergent and hot water before re-using it. One private-label flour brand was also part of the recall, so knowing that you never buy Gold Medal brand isn’t enough.

The CDC also took the opportunity to ruin our fun and remind consumers not to eat raw batter or dough, since there’s always the possibility that flour could be contaminated with E. coli or another pathogen.

The symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea and abdominal cramps, and the diarrhea can be bloody. Symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially deadly complication of E. coli infection, include fever, abdominal pain, pale skin tone, fatigue and irritability, small, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth, and decreased urination.

O121 & O26 Infections Linked to Flour [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Scammy, Bankrupt “USA Discounters” To Pay $96M For Targeting, Then Suing Armed Forces Customers

Two years ago, we told you about the not-at-all a discount retailer called USA Discounters that targeted active-duty servicemembers, and not only trapped a number of them in high-cost installment payment plans but then sued customers who fell behind, knowing it was highly unlikely the customer would ever be able to defend themselves. Since then, the company has changed its name, only to go bankrupt, but that hasn’t stopped prosecutors from coming after it. Today, the defunct retailer reached a multi-state settlement deal that could result in USA Discounters customers receiving millions of dollars in forgiven debt.

To recap: USA Discounters was a Virginia-based chain of stores — also doing business as USA Living and Fletcher’s Jewelers — with locations that were frequently found in close proximity to large military and naval bases.

In spite of the name, many of the items sold through USA Discounters were marked up above their retail price. For example, back in 2014 an iPad Mini at USA Discounters was listed at $699, more than double the cost of buying the same device new directly from Apple at the time.

To give the appearance of savings, the store would offer monthly installment payment plans. We found a Samsung 60″ TV on the USA Discounters website being advertised as a “special” with twice-monthly payments that start at $47 each, for a term of 24 months. While $94/month might seem a more affordable alternative to plunking down $960 at once to buy the same set new from Amazon, by the end of the two-year installment plan, you’ll have paid $2,256.

None of this is unique to USA Discounters; a number of rent-to-own or installment plan retailers mark up prices and ultimately charge customers many times what a product is worth. But even among that sketchy niche of the retail world, USA Discounters managed to stick out as particularly egregious.

In addition to the overpriced products and wallet-sucking installment payments, the chain would slap on a variety of fees and other costs that would further increase the amount the customer had to pay.

ProPublica reported in 2014 on a servicemember who purchased a laptop that was worth $650 at most stores, but which had a heavily inflated price of $,799 at USA Discounters. On top of that, there was a $191.56 warranty fee, $17.57 in “credit life insurance,” $248.22 in “credit property insurance,” and $16 for filing and “Specialist” fees, plus taxes and a finance charge of $561.47 — for a grand total of $2993.22.

Shortly after that story ran, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined USA Retailers for charging that Specialist fee, which was marketed as a charge paid to a third-party company that would represent them in matters involving the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law that protects active-duty servicemembers during some collections proceedings.

Thing is, that “independent” service that received the fee had no other customers than USA Discounters and paid back nearly every dime it collected to the retailer. Additionally, the CFPB said the store was using information obtained by this fee to identify active-duty servicemembers as part of USA Discounters’ most controversial practice: debt-collection lawsuits.

The retailer sued customers who could not keep up with the rate of installment payments on their purchases, but again that’s not terribly sinister. What raised concerns was the way in which USA Discounters filed those suits.

Regardless of where the customer lived at the time of the lawsuit, the complaint would likely be filed in a court in Virginia, which is often too far for customers — especially if they are active-duty military — to travel to dispute.

The SCRA requires that there be a court-appointed attorney to represent servicemembers who aren’t there to represent themselves, but Virginia courts allow the creditor to suggest which attorney should be appointed. According to the ProPublica report, USA Discounters requested the same lawyer to represent servicemembers in each of the 11 cases the reporters looked into.

And that lawyer appeared to have little interest in actually representing the customer’s interest. “I have not been appointed by the court to defend you on the merits of this case in any way,” he would explain in letters to defendants after being selected to represent them.

As the retailer’s business was collapsing, dozens of attorneys general from around the country filed legal actions, accusing USA Discounters of engaging in variety of unfair, abusive, false and deceptive acts and practices, including:

• Making misleading statements about the total price or cost of a good;
• Attempting to evade state usury laws;
• Misleading customers about the characteristics, availability, source, or quality of goods;
• Selling warranties that violated state laws;
• Unlawfully contacting third parties in debt-collection efforts;
• Unlawfully garnishing wages in some states;
• Holding itself out as a discount store when it was not.

Colorado recently settled with the store over allegations that USA Discounters violated state law by filing these non-payment lawsuits against Colorado residents, but in another state’s court.

And today, attorneys general for more than 30 states and the District of Columbia announced a massive settlement agreement [PDF] with USA Discounters that totals nearly $96 million.

In terms of redress for customers, USA Discounters — which does not admit any wrongdoing as part of the deal — will write off all accounts with balances for customers whose last contract was dated June 1, 2012 or earlier. All accounts dated after June 1, 2012 that haven’t been discharged in bankruptcy will have a $100 credit applied. In either case, the company will correct the credit reports of affected customers. In total, that will account for around $74 million in debt being written off or credited.

USA Discounters currently has around $21.2 million in judgments against customers that it obtained in the wrong state. Those too will be written off with credit reports corrected.

“Our servicemembers are not bank accounts for predatory businesses,” says New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “We will not tolerate companies with unlawful business practices and deceive consumers, especially veterans and current members of our military and government.”

“Our military servicemembers give their all to protect our country and our interests around the world, and yet USA Discounters gave its all to fleece them with deceptive marketing and unlawful debt collection practices,” adds California Attorney General Kamala Harris. “This agreement holds USA Discounters accountable for its illegal conduct and compensates servicemembers and veterans for the harm it caused.”

While the settlement specifically lists nearly three dozen states, any state (other than Colorado) can elect to join in on the deal.

Starbucks Is Now Testing Curbside Pickup

If you’re the kind of person who would rather fall asleep at your desk than venture inside a Starbucks during rush hour, avoiding the crush inside the store could change everything about your morning routine. To that end, the Seattle-based chain is testing curbside pickup.

Because not every Starbucks location includes a drive-thru lane, the company is testing the new system at one store in Snoqualmie, WA, Business Insider reports, citing a recent research note from Nomura analyst Mark Kalinowoski.

“Customers using the Starbucks mobile app to order and pay (apparently for this store only) can choose to have their order delivered to them curbside by a barista, so that they don’t even have to get out of their car to get their order,” he writes.

It’s unclear at this point whether Starbucks is, or will be, testing the curbside pickup option at any other locations. We’ve reached out to Starbucks for more information, and will update this post when we hear back.

“We’ll be curious to see how this one-store test fares and if other non-drive-thru Starbucks stores test out curbside pickup,” adds Kalinowski.

Other retailers have been trying out curbside pickup these days, with varying levels of success: in June, Target said it would be putting the kibosh on its pilot program.

Starbucks is testing an entirely new way to bring you your iced latte [Business Insider]

Chipotle Giving Loyalty Program Members More Than $20M In Free Catering

Chipotle customers who joined the chain’s temporary loyalty program — a program aimed at winning back customers after a spate of food-borne illness outbreaks at its restaurants — are finally getting a reward, in the form of free catered food.

About 85,000 Chiptopia members who completed the program’s top tier of requirements will get free catering for 20 people at a value of $240, which shakes out to about $20.4 million, company spokesman Chris Arnold told CNBC.

Chiptopia’s three levels — mild, medium, and hot — rewarded customers who visited the restaurant since June. To get to “hot” status folks had to buy 11 or more entrees every month for all three summer months. They earned nine free meals already for hitting that tier, so the free catering is just the guacamole on the burrito (this time, it doesn’t cost extra).

They sound pretty hungry after all that hard work:

CNCBC notes that Chiptopia is paying off for the company, the chain said in July, and it’s now planning another loyalty program. It’s unclear if it would be a permanent thing or another limited-time promotion.

Chipotle to give away more than $20 million in free catering [CNBC]

Target Launches Website To Gobble Up Startups’ Ideas

Best Buy isn’t the only retailer looking to work with hot new startups, Target was just a bit more quiet about the whole thing. Last week the big box retailer stealthily launched a website aimed at collecting ideas from startups interested in working with the company. 

The website solicits pitches from early-stage companies that are looking to run pilot programs that would enhance customers’ experiences with the retailer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

Unlike Best Buy’s recently announced plans that would put new products on shelves, Target’s “Pitch to Pilot” initiative isn’t a way for companies to hawk product ideas, but instead to provide insight on services the retailer could one day offer in stores or online.

Pitch to Pilot is Target’s way of dealing with an influx of information from startups, that are apparently dying to work with the retailer ever since it launched its Techstars accelerator program last year.

That program, which recently graduated its first class of 11 startups — has received interest from more than 500 tech-based startups with ideas about how to impact retail—from supply chain to data analytics to new ways to integrate digital and in-store experiences.

“A lot of it was people reaching out over email or through LinkedIn or if they knew somebody at Target,” a spokesperson tells the Tribune. “And you never know if you’re reaching out to the right person.”

Target’s new website — — will formalize the process for these companies, as they will fill out a pitch form. Target claims it will respond within 30 days.

Target sets up website to invite pitches from startups [Minneapolis Star Tribune]

More Than A Year After Corinthian Collapse, Students Still Waiting For Financial Aid Help

Eighteen months after Corinthian Colleges Inc. completed its collapse – closing the remaining Heald College, Wyotech, and Everest University – tens of thousands of former students are still waiting to received some form of relief from the mountains of student loan debt they incurred to attend the defunct college. 

Nearly 80,000 former CCI students are facing some type of debt collection related to the loans they took out to attend the schools, despite the Department of Education’s ability to provide defense of repayment discharges — a process that would wipe away the debt based on the company’s alleged fraudulent actions.

This debt relief delay is unacceptable, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) wrote in a letter [PDF] to Secretary of Education John King, urging him to immediately provide relief for students of the now-defunct schools.

The road to obtaining discharges has been mired with issues, most stemming from the fact that the process has seldom ever been used, and certainly never to the extend it is needed for CCI students.

According to the Dept. of Education, under the law, students may be eligible for loan forgiveness of any federal Direct Loans taken out to attend a school if that school committed fraud by doing something or failing to do something, or otherwise violated applicable state law related to the loans or the educational services paid for.

While numerous investigations from federal prosecutors, attorneys general, and agencies have found evidence of fraud by CCI — such as using inflated job placement rates and pushing students into high cost loans — and the Dept. previously announced that it would “fast track” relief by using findings from a joint investigation with state attorneys general to expedite the CCI claim process, only about 4,000 of the 23,000 students who filed claims have been unable to receive the discharges they are entitled to.

Instead, the majority of former students — even those who have applied for relief — continue to send monthly payments to the Dept. of Education, Warren writes.

“It is unconscionable that instead of helping these borrowers, vast numbers of Corinthian victims are currently being hounded by the department’s debt collectors — many having their credit slammed, their tax refunds seized, their Social Security and Earned Income Tax Credit payments reduced, or wages garnished — all to pay fraudulent debts,” Warren wrote in the letter.

The report compiled by Warren’s staff, and based on data from the Dept. of Education, found that there are 79,717 people who are eligible to apply for loan forgiveness, but are instead dealing with debt collectors.

Of those borrowers, 30,000 have had tax refunds, tax credits, and other benefits seized, while 4,000 have had their wages garnished.

During a press conference on Thursday, reported by the Washington Post, King addressed Warren’s letter, noting that many of the borrowers she references aren’t eligible for discharges.

“Some are eligible if they seek to apply for closed-school discharge or borrower defense, others would not be. It’s worth pointing out that some of those students attended programs where there were findings of fraud, others did not,” King said.

In addition to King’s statement, the Post reports that Education under secretary Ted Mitchell released a statement saying that the Dept. has conducted “ongoing, extensive direct outreach” to former students who may be eligible for debt relief.

He also noted that the Dept. of Education will conduct a “targeted effort to reach Corinthian borrowers who have loans in collections or subject to Treasury tax offsets or wage garnishment” this fall.

Questions about the Department’s use of the defense of repayment rule and continued collection of debts from potentially eligible students comes a day after a former Everest University student used the Education Dept. and Department of Treasury for seizing his tax refund, the Post reports.

The man claims that the funds were seized despite action from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office that included submitting a group defense claim that detailed CCI’s fraudulent actions against students, including the plaintiff.

Feds found widespread fraud at Corinthian Colleges. Why are students still paying the price? [The Washington Post]

Want A Sandwich From NYC’s Carnegie Deli? You’ve Got Until Dec. 31

If you’re the kind of person who visits New York City just for the sandwiches, you’ll probably want to pay attention: the famed Carnegie Deli announced it’ll be closing its flagship location by the end of the year.

The midtown restaurant’s owner told staff today that she’s keeping the deli open through Dec. 31 so workers can make good money through the holidays, but the delicatessen will shut its doors after that, ABC 7 reports.

“Moving forward, Marian Harper hopes to keep her father’s legacy alive by focusing on licensing the iconic Carnegie Deli brand and selling their world-famous products for wholesale distribution,” a spokeswoman said.

The family has owned the deli since 1976. It first opened in midtown Manhattan in 1937. In 2015 it shut down for nine months over an illegal gas hookup, opening its doors again last February.

There’s still hope for pastrami lovers, however: there is a hope that the flagship location could reopen under new management. In the meantime, there are licensed Carnegie Deli locations in Las Vegas; Bethlehem, PA; NYC’s Madison Square Garden; and at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.


Leaking That Movie Where Leo DiCaprio Dances With A Bear Will Cost Former Dr. Phil Show Staffer $1.12 Million

Every awards season, the internet fills up with pristine, pirated copies of Oscar-contending movies, many of them ripped from screeners sent out by the studios to promote the films. One staffer on the Dr. Phil Show who has admitted to leaking a copy of The Revenant online was recently sentenced to fork over $1.12 million to the studio.

Prosecutors say the man, using the screen name “clutchit,” uploaded a digital copy of the movie to the torrent-tracking site Pass The Popcorn on Dec. 19, 2015 — nearly a week before the film hit U.S. theaters.

TorrentFreak reports that an FBI investigation ensued, eventually identifying the uploader as a 31-year-old California man in the TV industry whose account had also apparently been used to leak a copy of The Peanuts Movie, which we didn’t see but we’re pretty sure doesn’t include a scene of Linus being mauled by a bear.

In Feb. 2016, two days before The Revenant‘s Best Picture hopes were slammed against a tree by Spotlight, the Department of Justice accused clutchit of felony copyright infringement for uploading a copyrighted work being prepared for distribution. Clutchit was fired from his gig on the pop psychology talk show as a result of this allegation.

The form entered a guilty plea to this charge on March 31, as part of a deal with prosecutors. The question is: How much should he be punished?

He could have been sentenced to between 21 to 27 months behind bars, based on the calculated level of the offense, but prosecutors eventually recommended a total of 12 months in custody. Earlier this month, clutchit’s attorneys argued that there were additional reasons to reduce the possible prison time, including the defendant’s family obligations. His wife has been out of work since 2013 and she must care for four young children. Making matters worse, claimed the court documents, clutchit will likely never be able to find another job in the entertainment industry because of his crime, meaning he’d have to embark on an entirely new career path.

In the end, the court came down this week with a sentence that was light on confinement, but heavy on financial penalty. The uploader must do eight months of home detention (during which time he’ll probably watch The Revenant on HBO a few thousand times), followed by two years of probation.

The big bill will come from Twentieth Century Fox, to which clutchit owes $1.12 million. That is a lot to you and me — and to the defendant, who was making around $40,000 a year according to court documents — but it’s only about .6% of the studio’s $183 million domestic box office revenue from the movie, and about .2% of its global ticket sales (not to mention pay-TV and home video licensing fees).

NC Mall Wants To Evict Sears For Low Sales, Lack Of Effort

Sears had a deal with the Holly Hill Mall in Burlington, NC that isn’t unusual: the retailer gave the mall a small percentage of its sales instead of paying a fixed rent. That amount has evidently fallen over the years as the popularity and business prospects of Sears fell, and now the mall has sued Sears for failing to keep up its end of the lease.

The Times-News reports that Sears has been part of that mall for about 40 years, and it last signed a new lease in 2013. That lease spelled out that the retailer had to pay 2% of its net sales, and provide the mall with monthly sales reports.

According to a lawsuit that the mall filed, Sears failed to file those reports for some of the months between either 2010 or 2014 and this year, and that the department store chain also hasn’t been promoting its business enough to justify a net-sales rent agreement.

The mall seeks a $25,000 settlement, and to kick Sears out so it can rent that 65,000 square feet to another tenant.

Meanwhile, the Times-News reports, business is just great at the Kmart down the street, since the store announced its going out of business sale. The parent company of both Sears and Kmart, Sears Holdings, owns that building, but a company spokesman wouldn’t say whether the company plans to just move the Sears store to that building.

It’s pretty unlikely, though: renting or selling the building would most likely make the company more money than moving the Sears. The existence of the lawsuit shows that the store probably isn’t a high-performing location to begin with.

As Kmart closes, Sears faces eviction [Times-News]

New Teddy Ruxpin: Adorable Or The Blinking Demon Of Your Nightmares?

When you hear the name “Teddy Ruxpin,” perhaps you’re hit with a wave of nostalgia tinged with a lingering wariness of the animatronic talking teddy bear that read stories off a cassette tape shoved in his back. But now that there’s a new Teddy Ruxpin on the scene with bright blue, lidlessly blinking LCD eyes, your nightmares may have a new face.

The Teddy Ruxpin update comes from a company called Wicked Cool Toys, and is the fifth version of the bear that was first introduced in 1985, Gizmodo reports.

Instead of jamming a cassette tape in the toy’s back, there’s 4 GB of onboard storage that can hold about 40 stories at once. And of course, this being the internet of things era, he can wirelessly connect to a free accompanying app via Bluetooth to download new content and let kids read along with an interactive book.

And then there are those eyes…


While the original Teddy Ruxpin’s lidded eyes and moving mouth might have creeped you out a little bit as a kid, there’s something about this iteration that has some among the Consumerist staff reduced to whimpering puddles of fear.

Stare into Teddy’s eyes, and then vote:

Look at the New Teddy Ruxpin’s Expressive LCD Eyes [Gizmodo]

AT&T Ends Snooping Program, Stops Charging Internet Users Extra For Privacy

AT&T offers GigaPower subscribers in several cities two options: pay $70 for your connection and get your data snooped on, or keep your privacy and pay $99. The company has regularly defended the program from critics, and claimed that it’s basically the wave of the future. And yet today, seemingly out of nowhere, A&T has suddenly announced that it will be dropping the option nationwide, and charging all consumers the same — lower — price.

Ars Technica reports today that AT&T has confirmed it is, indeed, scrapping the program.

We have to admit, we’re pretty surprised — in a good way, to be sure. As recently as yesterday we were writing stories about AT&T executives lamenting the uneven playing field if they are not allowed to do as they like with your data.

The company first launched Internet Preferences in 2013. When it brought GigaPower service to the area, it told customers they could get service for as little as $70 per month — if subscribers let AT&T snoop on their internet use history and sell that data for targeted advertising. Customers who opted to keep their private data private were charged $99, about 40% more.

AT&T continued to offer Internet Preferences as it expanded GigaPower to new cities through 2014, 2015, and this year. Although charging an extra $30 per month for privacy is basically as literal and clear an example of pay-for-privacy as you could come up with, AT&T has always objected to that framing, instead saying that the lowered price in return for data was a “benefit to the consumer” and in fact opened up access by dropping price points. (As to the counter-argument — that doing so makes privacy a luxury for higher-income subscribers only, and screws over lower-income folks — AT&T didn’t seem to have an answer.)

AT&T told Ars that it will “sunset the Internet Preferences program beginning in October,” but didn’t add much more explanation after that. We checked in with an AT&T representative, who confirmed the October deadline and that customers will drop to “the current lowest price available for their market.” That price is lower in cities with competition than in cities without, granted, but it does mean that customers who want to keep their privacy will see their bills drop sometime soon.

As to why, AT&T only said that it has been trying to make things “more simple for customers, and this is being done in the spirit of that.” A cynic could be forgiven, though, for wondering if it has something to do with the ISP privacy rule the FCC is considering.

That rule, if approved, would basically a set of restrictions on what data internet providers can collect, store, and share about their customers’ use of the service — similar to existing restrictions on telephone and cable companies. The rule is wildly unpopular among ISPs, which claim, among other things, that limiting their ability to charge consumers for privacy actually hurts consumers.

AT&T’s program was the first high profile pay-for-privacy scheme among ISPs. If it no longer exists, that may grease the wheels that help it avert oh-so-hated regulation.

American Airlines Flight Attendants Say New Uniforms Are Giving Them Hives, Headaches

It’s got to be hard enough working on an airplane — serving drinks thousands of feet in the sky, smiling at strangers when you maybe want to scream at them — without having to deal with uncomfortable clothing. But some American Airlines flight attendants say they’re breaking out in hives and suffering horrible headaches from their brand new uniforms.

The airline just debuted the new uniforms on Sept. 20 and already there are reports coming in that they’re causing physical discomfort among staff: Chicago Business Journal cites inside sources who say more than 400 flight attendants have informed their union and company management that they’re itchy and breaking out into hives, and experiencing headaches since they’ve put on the new uniforms.

An American spokeswoman confirmed to the Journal that the airline has gotten some complaints about the uniforms, which are believed to be related to a wool allergy.

She said anyone feeling uncomfortable in the uniforms has been given the option of getting new clothing made out of a polyester material — but some attendants say there are also issues with the garments made from cotton.

The union that represents the flight attendants is now sending the uniform out for more testing, after American management reportedly had it tested by a British product testing company.

In the meantime, people in the know say AA management asked any flight attendants having issues with itching, rashes, or headaches to file injury on duty paperwork.

Another issue with the new duds has already been addressed, at least: some female pilots didn’t like the new shirts because the fabric was a bit too see-through to be professional.

American Airlines’ new uniforms causing hives, headaches [Chicago Business Journal]

Veterans Who Attended Shuttered ITT Tech Schools Still Waiting For Financial Assistance

Shortly after ITT Educational Services announced it would close all of its ITT Technical campuses across the country, the Department of Education swooped in to try to placate students’ concerns by announcing that it would forgive currently or recently enrolled students’ federal student loans. While the process to wipe out that debt will no doubt be complicated and take time, former students who used veteran benefits — like the GI Bill — will likely be waiting longer and have more hurdles to jump through. reports that there were about 7,000 veterans attending ITT Tech schools when the company collapsed.

While federal student loans can be discharged through the Department of Education, any additional aid provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs is currently in limbo.

That’s because, under VA rules, once veteran education benefits are used, they’re gone, you can’t get them back. And legislation that would have changed that stipulation — at least for ITT students — failed to pass muster Wednesday evening, reports.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), would have directed the VA not to count VA funds used for ITT against a veteran’s student aid limit.

However, to do that, the VA would have to pull funds from other programs, and some legislators didn’t see that as a viable option.

“We can say that we’re authorizing the VA to pay for it, but what are they going to do?” Sen. Thom Tillis (NC) said. “We haven’t provided them with any funds to do it, so what potentially suffers as a result?”

When ITT Tech closed its doors, the Dept. of Education noted that veterans should have received a letter from the VA outlining their options.

One such resource is the Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund, which provides an array of potential options for these students.

For example, if students acted quickly to transfer to a new school, they may have preserved their remaining months of GI Bill eligibility and avoid the possibility of any break in housing allowance.

For now, any actual legislative action will be put on hold as Congress leaves for a break. Still, proponents of the bill believe it could be discussed and voted on in December.

Veterans harmed by ITT Tech’s closing can’t get congressional help yet []

Man Smashes Apple Store Merchandise, Yelling About Consumer Rights

We don’t know how Apple wronged this customer in Dijon, France, but he caught everyone’s attention when he walked calmly around a store, smashing iPhones and at least one computer with a heavy metal ball. During his smashing spree, he told employeees and shoppers about his grievances with the company, then tried to leave the store before mall security caught up with him.

This is not a recommended way to get Apple’s attention about your dispute with the company, in case you were wondering.

A local news report said that the man wore a single glove and held a hollow steel ball used for the game pétanque (the most similar thing we play in the United States is Bocce).

The total carnage was ten to twelve iPhones and one MacBook Air, and of course a bystander captured the attack on video.

The man was rather calm throughout the smash attack, even if his anger at Apple is what originally prompted it.

He then tried to leave, and seemed surprised when mall security wouldn’t let him walk away from the store.

Destructions chez Apple avec une boule de pétanque : une vidéo mise en ligne [Le Bien Public] (via The Verge)

How Much Might Cord-Cutting Actually Cost Big Cable?

Cord-cutting is, as we know, a real trend. It’s not what the majority of viewers do — huge numbers of consumers subscribe to cable, satellite, or fiber TV service — but it’s definitely on the rise. And one new analysis thinks the cable industry could be losing at least $1 billion a year in revenue from customers who say “so long.”

A new study, the Wall Street Journal reports, estimates that in a 12-month period, at least 800,000 subscribers are going to cancel their pay-TV service, or cut the cord.

Cord-cutting is more of a trickle than a flood, other surveys — and, for that matter, quarterly financial reports — have shown. Companies each tend to lose a few tens of thousands of viewers per quarter, but tens of millions of households still subscribe to something.

Still, those small quarterly losses for each individual company add up across the board. And analysis firm cg42, which ran the study, estimates that pay-TV companies can lose about $1,248 per cord-cutter per year.

Every subscription is different, of course, and each cord-cutter has to look at their own bill, do their own math, and decide what their content budget is going to be.

But cg42, surveying more than 1,000 U.S. customers, found that the average cord-cutter is saving more than $100 a month as compared to what they paid for cable. The average pay-TV subscribe in the study was paying about $187 before they gave up and cancelled services; after cutting the cord, that becomes a monthly average of $83. Meanwhile the “cord-nevers” — mostly younger adults who go out and form households without ever paying for TV, and so who can never cancel it — spend about $71 on the combination of broadband access and streaming services.

More: Does cutting the cord always automatically save you money?

Do the math on those assumptions — $1,248 times 800,000 — and you do indeed come out just shy of $1 billion that the cable industry no longer gets.

“The consumer is discovering they don’t need the mean, evil cable company to get the content that they want, and they can get it for a better deal,” cg42 said. And no, live sports are not alluring enough to change anyone’s minds. 83% of the cord-cutters the company surveyed said they can get most or all of the content they want without a pay-TV subscription; for the cord-nevers, that was 87%.

Also a bad sign for cable: the longer consumers go without, the less they miss it. Especially as workarounds — like next-day viewing online, or purchasing a season of a current show from a service like Amazon or Hulu — become easier, cheaper, and more prevalent.

And yes: Netflix remains the giant elephant in the streaming room. 94% of survey respondents who don’t pay for cable said that they have Netflix subscriptions; Amazon Prime was the next-most-used paid service, hitting about half.

Cord-Cutting Could Cost Pay TV Industry $1 Billion in a Year, Study Says [Wall Street Journal]

Mom Sues JetBlue After Airline Flies Unaccompanied 5-Year-Old Son To Wrong City

September began with news of a New York City mom whose unaccompanied 5-year-old son somehow ended up on the wrong JetBlue flight, and now the month comes to an end with that mom filing a lawsuit against the airline that misrouted her child.

If you’re coming into the story late, here’s a quick catch-up: On Aug. 17, the 5-year-old was supposed to fly home on JetBlue from Cibao International Airport in the Dominican Republic to JFK International in New York City. The boy’s family had booked him an unaccompanied minor ticket for the trip, meaning JetBlue staffers were responsible for making sure he arrived safely at his destination — which, again, was supposed to be New York.

The mom says she waited at JFK for her son to arrive, only to have JetBlue present her with a child that, well… it wasn’t her son.

Thirty minutes of confusion pass, and the mom says the airline told her they had located her son and he was waiting near the baggage claim. But, once again — not her son.

According to the mom, it was another three hours until JetBlue successfully located her 5-year-old, several hundred miles, and a completely different accent, away at Boston’s Logan International.

Mother and son were eventually reunited, but in a lawsuit being filed today in a state court in Queens the mom alleges that JetBlue’s “outrageous and shocking” behavior resulted in severe emotional distress.

The complaint claims the mom “became sick and suffered… extreme fear, mental shock, mental anguish and psychological trauma.”

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, also accuses JetBlue of negligent supervision of the minor child, and negligent hiring and supervision of employees.

While the FAA has asked JetBlue to investigate how this mix-up happened, the mom’s attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, says this lawsuit will serve the purpose of providing the public an “independent inquiry” that he claims will use the “sworn testimony of JetBlue employees to shine a light on what occurred to prevent it from happening again to other children.”

The New York Daily News was the first to report on this lawsuit.

Wells Fargo On The Hook For $24.5M Over Servicemember Abuses

Wells Fargo’s bad month has just gotten worse. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) have fined the big bank $24.1 million for allegedly violating the law by repossessing military servicemembers’ cars.

Wells Fargo on Thursday agreed to pay $4.1 million to settle a Justice Department investigation and $20 million to settle allegations from the OCC that it repossessed vehicles from servicemembers without proper court orders.

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) a court order is required to repossess a vehicle if the servicemember took out the loan and made a payment before entering military service.

According to the DOJ settlement [PDF], from 2008 until the middle of 2015, Wells Fargo lacked that court documentation when it repossessed 413 vehicles owned by servicemembers.

The bank’s alleged actions came to light when the DOJ received a complaint in March 2015 claiming the bank had an Army National Guardsman’s used vehicle while he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army’s Legal Assistance Program alleged that after Wells repossessed the vehicle it was sold at public auction, and then the bak attempted to collect a deficiency balance of over $10,000 from the servicemember.

A National Guard attorney asked Wells Fargo to produce the court order allowing the repossession, but says the bank failed to respond. The lawyer then contacted the DOJ, which opened an investigation into Wells’ practices.

That investigation found similar issues with servicemember vehicle repossession spanning at least seven years.

The DOJ settlement covers repossessions that occurred between Jan. 1, 2008 and July 1, 2015, and requires Wells Fargo to pay $10,000 to each of the affected servicemembers, plus any lost equity in the vehicle with interest.

In a separate, but related, order from the OCC, Wells Fargo will provide refunds and pay penalties totaling $20 million to resolve allegations it violated several aspects of SCRA.

The OCC claims in a consent order [PDF] that from 2006 to 2016, Wells Fargo violated three provisions of the SCRA, including failing to provide the 6% interest rate limit to servicemember obligations or liabilities incurred before military service, failing to accurately disclose servicemembers’ active duty status to the court prior to evicting those servicemembers, and failing to obtain court orders prior to repossessing servicemembers’ vehicles.

The OCC’s order also requires the bank to take corrective action to establish an enterprise-wide SCRA compliance program to detect and prevent future SCRA violations.

Google Expands Waze Ride-Sharing Test To San Francisco

What’s that sound? It’s Google knocking on Uber and Lyft’s doors to tell them it’s come out to play: the technology giant is taking one step further into providing transportation by expanding its pilot ride-sharing program to San Francisco.

Anyone in San Francisco with a smartphone — surely, there must be a few people — can now download the Waze Rider app and request carpooled rides to and from work, The Wall Street Journal reports. Drivers on the platform use Google’s Waze navigation app.

Last May Google launched a test of the service for workers at some area employers, but Waze Rider has been slowly rolling out to San Francisco users for several weeks, Google confirmed to the WSJ.

As for how well the service works, a WSJ reporter went on a Waze Rider trip this week and said there were a few hiccups, like the app’s failure to show the rider where the driver’s car was before it arrived, and the driver had trouble using Waze’s navigation service. All told, he gave it a thumbs up.

There are some limits on the program, as Google’s goal is to make the service simply a way to connect drivers and riders headed in the same direction: drivers and riders have a two-trip daily limit as the service is intended for carpooling to and from work.

It’s also too cheap right now for drivers to make a living from the app. For example, on the reporter’s test ride, the driver — who doesn’t work for Lyft or Uber because she has a full-time job, she says — made $6.30 for the 20-minute ride, and the rider paid a special discounted price of $3.

She said she signed up to be a driver because it was “hassle-free,” and that she’ll likely do it again as an easy way to earn a few extra bucks on her commute.

“I think it’ll catch on,” she told the WSJ. “It’s cheap and it’s easy.”

Google Quietly Expands Ride-Sharing Service [The Wall Street Journal]

jeudi 29 septembre 2016

Instacart Replaces Tips With “Service Amounts,” But Are Workers Being Stiffed?

Since its launch in 2012 Instacart has offered consumers a way to shop at their local grocery store without actually going to the store. Instead, hired shoppers would be sent a list of products, grab them off shelves, and drive them to a customer’s home or business where they often — but not always — receive a tip. But starting next month, the company is changing the way it handles tips, leaving some contractors and customers up in arms.

Instacart announced last week that starting Oct. 1 it would no longer collect tips online, but would collect a service amount from customers instead.

The company says that customers can choose how much of a service amount they want to provide and Instacart will then pass those funds along to its contractors — the driver or shopper handling orders.

Instacart claims that the change was intended to create “more consistent pay with fewer variables” and provide “higher guaranteed delivery commissions.”

TechCrunch reported that Instacart COO Ravi Gupta characterized the change as providing drivers with somewhere around $10-$12 per delivery, rather than the current $5/delivery plus tips.

• Instacart Drivers & Shoppers: Tell us what you think about this change. Send an email to We will not identify you publicly.

While the increase seems pretty straightforward, shoppers and drivers have expressed concern that the new service amount wouldn’t actually go to just the driver responsible for the trip, but be split between all of those working for the company.

One recent blog post argues that the language used by Instacart is vague about who exactly receives the new not-a-tip.

The article includes a screengrab of a note sent to Instacart workers about the change. In response to the question “Who receives the service charge?” Instacart claims that 100% of the money goes to shoppers, but that the fee is spread out among the entire fleet of shoppers; not just the ones at a particular store or in one region.

Critics of the change question whether this is an appropriate way to allot this additional charge.

“Sure, the driver or shopper you just interacted with did get some money—but not directly,” writes’s Jon Hendren. “It’s folded into part of the flat, standard fee, and that’s it.”

Without directly acknowledging the claims in that particular article, Instacart today posted a response to critics, maintaining that the change will indeed benefit its workers.

“Ever since we announced that we’re going to make changes to our shopper payment model, we’ve heard some misconceptions that we want to address,” the company says.

First, the company says that all of the funds provided in a service amount will go to shoppers/drivers. The company also clarified why it made the change and that Instacart will not keep and of those funds.

Instacart says that under the previous model it noticed that about 20% of the customers did not tip at all. And, around 40% of the customers tipped provide very small tips, around less than $2.

“This was a problem because shoppers were reliant on tips as a major source of pay,” the company writes. “At Instacart, we believe that shoppers should not have to rely on tips and instead just make fair, guaranteed and predictable pay. So, we decided to change that.”

The company provided an example of the pay change for a driver in San Francisco:


Additionally, Instacart says it will provide the top 25% of all shoppers with a $100 weekly bonus based on their five-star ratings.

In the end, the company claims that a driver in San Francisco could earn between $15 and $20/hour of work.

• Instacart Drivers & Shoppers: Tell us what you think about this change. Send an email to We will not identify you publicly.

Instacart Renames Tips To “Service Amounts,” Keeps Them []
Instacart raises guaranteed delivery payout rates, removing tipping option [TechCrunch]
Clearing Misconceptions About the Shopper Payment Model [Instacart]
We’re Making Updates To Improve Our Shopper Experience [Instacart]

Food Trucks Win First Legal Battle Over Rule To Keep Them Away From Restaurants

A restaurant might already have enough competition from other eateries next door, across the street, or even in the same building, so they probably don’t want yet a competing restaurant on wheels parking on their block. But when restaurants and food trucks share a similar menu, can a city require that they not share the same general space?

Earlier this year, we told you about Baltimore food truck owners who were challenging a new city ordinance that prohibits these rolling restaurants from operating within 300 feet of “any retail business establishment that is primarily engaged in selling the same type of food product, other merchandise, or service as that offered by the mobile vendor.”

A pair of truck owners sued the city, claiming that the so-called “300-foot rule” violates their rights to equal protection and due process under the Maryland state constitution.

The city responded by filing a motion to dismiss [PDF], arguing that the rule is a “wholly local economic regulation that does not interfere with a fundamental right” that serves the legitimate interest of advancing the general welfare of Baltimore.

“Brick-and-mortar restaurants are essential to the local economy. Unlike food trucks, restaurants are permanent fixtures in a local community,” explains a memorandum of law filed with the motion. “A restaurant can serve as an anchor business in a commercial district that attracts other complimentary [sic] businesses. The immobility of a restaurant forces it to be accountable to the local community that it serves… Encouraging economic development in the City’s commercial districts, which will in turn provide economic stability, is a legitimate exercise of a legislature’s police power.”

The city maintains that it’s within its discretion to “determine what may have a deleterious effect on the local economy,” and theorizes that “It is wholly possible that by parking directly in front of a pizzeria or a barbecue restaurant the Plaintiffs could harm local businesses.”

The food trucks fired back with a response [PDF], saying the case should not be dismissed at this early stage because they had already pleaded sufficient facts and a valid claim for relief. They also claimed that legal challenges to similar proximity-based restrictions at least proceeded to the evidentiary hearing stage.

“[T]he motion to dismiss stage is neither the time nor the place for Defendant’s factual disputes and imagined justifications,” reads the response. “Dismissal is only appropriate if the facts and inferences arising from Plaintiffs’ Complaint itself would, if proven, still not afford them relief.”

The plaintiffs also say the city ignored a number of the facts that underly the original complaint, such as the argument that the 300-foot rule does not merely restrict where food trucks can operate, but effectively determines which kinds of food trucks can operate where.

One plaintiff operates a pizza food truck; the other sells barbecue. The pizza truck is barred under the rule from setting up shop near an existing pizzeria, but the other plaintiff could park in that 300-foot zone (assuming no one nearby sells barbecue).

Likewise, while the city contends that the purpose of the rule is to protect established bricks-and-mortar restaurants, the plaintiffs counter that there is nothing in the ordinance to prevent a new pizzeria opening up down the street from an existing pizza shop.

“These facts together demonstrate that the 300-foot proximity ban (1) arbitrarily discriminates between food trucks; (2) arbitrarily restricts where mobile vendors, like Plaintiffs, may operate; (3) bears no rational relationship to any legitimate government interest; and (4) serves only to protect the private financial interests of brick-and-mortar businesses from mobile vendor competition,” argue the plaintiffs.

This morning, the judge issued an order [PDF] denying the city’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs had indeed pleaded sufficient facts and stated a valid claim for relief.

The food trucks still have a long road ahead of them before this matter is resolved, but today’s decision gets them through the first big legal roadblock.

“Contrary to the city’s argument, Maryland courts take seriously the right to pursue one’s chosen profession free from arbitrary and irrational regulations,” said attorney Greg Reed, who argued the case.

Volvo Planning To Sell A Fully Self-Driving Car In 5 Years

Another day, another major auto manufacturer announcing plans for a self-driving vehicle: this time it’s Volvo, which says it will offer a fully autonomous car to luxury buyers in five years.

The vehicle will be sold to individual buyers, who can fork over about $10,000 extra to purchase autopilot features, Bloomberg Technology reports.

The feature will allow occupants to completely disengage from driving but there will still be a steering wheel for when the owner feels like using it, according to Chief Executive Officer Hakan Samuelsson, speaking to reporters at the Global Mobility Leadership Forum near Detroit on Thursday.

“To make a car even more premium, one of the most interesting things is a full autopilot,” he said. “Not a supervised version, but really the one that you can sit back and watch a movie or whatever. That will make the premium car even more premium.”

He says Volvo’s autopilot features will be different from others like Tesla, because those require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel in case they need to take control.

Uber is currently using Volvo self-driving vehicles in a test in Pittsburgh that lets customers order a driverless car, but Uber engineers are also present to grab the wheel when needed and make notes about the trip.

Volvo Plans to Offer Fully Self-Driving Car to Luxury Buyers [Bloomberg Technology]

Watch Out For Card Skimmers On Gas Pumps In Arizona (And Everywhere Else, Too)

Going to an actual attendant and paying cash for gas is something fewer and fewer of us do every year. But for all the problems of cash, it might be less risky than sticking your credit card in any old gas pump, where a skimmer can grab and steal your data with very little effort. And those skimmers are everywhere. Case in point? Arizona.

Security expert Brian Krebs this week delved into the scourge of pump skimmers showing up in The Grand Canyon state of late.

Why Arizona? Well, for two reasons. One, because the state has kept accessible records handy for researchers like Krebs to read, and from which he could create a cool map of incidents.

But also because gas stations there have proven to be super-easy targets, Krebs writes: the vast majority of stations that have been hit are missing fairly low-tech counters. They don’t have security cameras, nor do they have tamper-evident seals on the pumps. That means basically anyone can mess with the pump’s payment system, and nobody will notice or be able to track who.

And messing with those pumps is painfully easy, Krebs continues, because most of the stations where skimmers have been found are still using the factory-default locks on the pumps — meaning basically anyone with a master key could pop ’em all open.

It’s easy to pick the lowest-hanging fruit, basically. The thieves are targeting smaller, independent stations likely to have fewer resources than a massive chain, and worse security practices. They tend to be near highways, for a quick getway.

And since more and more skimmers use bluetooth wireless techology, nobody has to come back suspciously to the scene of the crime to collect the data. They only have to pull up, as if pumping gas, to download it from nearby.

In short, Krebs says, the available data point to “a clear trend of fraudsters targeting owners and operators that flout basic security best practices.” And Arizona, he adds, is just a microcosm — this is happening everywhere (like Dallas and New England and…).

As for what you can do, well, the answer is probably not all that much. By all means, have a good look at any credit card slot before you put your card in, and don’t ever use one that seems suspicious. But skimmers are getting smaller and easier to hide all the time so in the long run, your best bet is always going to be keeping a tight eye on all your statements and reporting any fraudulent charges to your bank ASAP.

Inside Arizona’s Pump Skimmer Scourge [Krebs On Security]

Southwest Passengers Recall Three-Day Nightmare Travel Experience

There are travel hiccups that keep passengers from getting to their destination by a few hours. And then there are ordeals that keep people in limbo for days. Case in point: a Southwest Airlines flight from the Dominican Republic to Atlanta that turned into a three-day real life nightmare. 

Southwest Airlines flight 1239 was set to take off from Punta Cana on Sunday night with its 160 passengers when travel plans went out the window, 11 Alive reports.

According to passengers, they had been waiting inside the plane for about an hour when the pilot announced there was a mechanical issue and they would have to spend another night in paradise.

“They told us that we were gonna have to stay they night and they would put us in a hotel,” one passenger recalls. ”We were fine with that. We thought, safety first.”

Except, it wasn’t paradise, as the passengers quickly found out. Instead, they tell 11 Alive that the hotel was dirty and all around unacceptable.

“It was so filthy. There were bugs everywhere. There was blood on the sheets, feces on the walls,” one passenger alleges.

Others say that the hotel tried to accommodate as many stranded travelers as possible by putting strangers in rooms together.

“They wanted four people per room, so whether you knew each other or not, they wanted you in a room,” another traveler tells 11 Alive.

Several of the travelers decided they couldn’t stay in the hotel, and chose to relocate to another resort at their own expense.

One couple tells NBC Chicago that their bill quickly reached $500 for the hotel and transportation back to the airport on Monday.

On Monday, the passengers, ready for the trek home, faced more issues

“So they board us but the minute we got on we knew something was wrong because it was hot on the plane,” a passenger tells NBC DFW. “I mean it was hot.”

Unimpressed with the travel accommodations and continued plane issues, the passengers created a Facebook page “Stranded in Punta Cana” to air their grievances.

After spending another hour on the hot plane, the pilot once again canceled the trip because of a mechanical issue.

Passengers tell 11 Alive that after complaining to the airline about the previous night’s accommodations, Southwest agreed to move travelers to another hotel Monday evening.

Tuesday’s travel plans were also mired with issues, NBC DFW reports. When passengers arrived they were told the crew tasked with flying them home had met their maximum number of hours allowed, and a second crew had to be brought in. That translated to a few more hours of waiting.

Eventually, the plane took off on Tuesday evening, with passengers applauding.

Southwest Airlines apologized for the inconvenience in a statement to NBC Chicago, noting that it “offered a gesture of goodwill to each customer in the amount of two $200 vouchers to use as travel credit for future travel, arranged hotel accommodations for two nights in Punta Cana, and are in the process of offering a one-way refund.”

However, the airline says it will not pay for other expenses, including food, taxis, and hotels that were booked by passengers.

Despite the efforts at a mea culpa, some passengers say they won’t be traveling with the airline again.

“I think it should be more than that,” one traveler said. “A lot more.”

Southwest Airlines Flight Became Three-Day Ordeal [NBC DFW]
‘It Was Disgusting’: Dream Honeymoon Turned To Traveling Nightmare, Newlyweds Say [NBC Chicago]
Southwest Airlines strands passengers for days in Punta Cana [11 Alive]

Dunkin’ Donuts Planning To Sell Bottled Coffee Drinks Starting Next Year

Joining Starbucks bottled beverages on store shelves next year will be Dunkin’ Donuts, which says it’s teaming up with Coca-Cola to launch ready-to drink iced coffee products.

Dunkin’ apparently timed the news to National Coffee Day, announcing that Coca-Cola will be in charge of manufacturing, distributing, and selling, but the products will be branded by Dunkin’.

The iced coffee drinks will use the same Arabica coffee blends Dunkin’ uses in its other coffee offerings, and will be available with milk and sugar in a variety of flavors in grocery and convenience stores, by mass merchandisers, and inside Dunkin’ restaurants across the U.S.

Dunkin’ is hoping its first foray into the ready-to-drink coffee category will give it a chunk of the $2.3 billion a year market. Also: millennials.

“This new product introduction will increase consumption of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and increase our brand relevance with existing and new consumers, including many younger customers, which we believe will in turn, drive incremental visits to our restaurants,” Dunkin’ Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis said in a statement.

The company adds that it will equally share net profits from sales of the drinks that happen outside restaurants with “qualified” U.S. franchisees.

Student Loan Default Rates Decline, But A Record Number Of Borrowers Are In Default

While the number of borrowers defaulting on their federal student loans didn’t increase this year, the number of consumers who remain in default hasn’t really change either, creating a stand-still of sorts. 

A new report from the Department of Education found that for the third consecutive year, there was a drop in the percentage of borrowers who are defaulting on their student loans within three years of entering repayment. This is known as the cohort default rate.

According to the report, among the 5.2 million borrowers who entered repayment in 2013, 11.3% (or 593,182) had defaulted on their loans by 2015.

That figure is down slightly from the 11.8% of borrowers who entered repayment in 2012 and subsequently defaulted in 2014. In 2013, 13.7% of borrowers who began repaying their debts in 2011 had defaulted.

In all, the default rate dropped for two of the main college sectors. The default rate was 11.3% for students at public schools; 15% for students at for-profit colleges. Conversely, defaults actually increased slightly at private institutions, with 7% of student defaulting on their 2013 loans. Previously, the rate for private schools was 6.8%.


While the continued decrease in defaults is likely good news for borrowers and the government, there’s also some not so stellar news in the report: there are a record 8.1 million borrowers currently in default, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.

“It’s great that recent borrowers are entering default at a slower rate,” Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). “Yet the escalating number of people in default demonstrates that more must be done to help students avoid and get out of default.”

While the Dept. of Education offers repayment plans to assist students in making monthly payments, it also has in place rules that would penalize schools that graduate students unable to meet their debt obligations.

The Dept. of Education uses the cohort default to determine a school’s eligibility to receive federal financial aid funds. If a school’s CDR is too high, then students of that school are not allowed to participate in the programs.

Any school with a default rate of 30% or more for three consecutive years, or a 40% rate for one year, faces the loss of access to those federal programs.

This year, the Department identified 10 schools that had default rates high enough to lose eligibility for federal aid programs. Of those schools, nine were from the for-profit sector. Each school will have an opportunity to appeal the loss of funds.

Affected schools are:
• Cr’u Institute of Cosmetology and Barbering in Garden Grove, CA
• Capstone College in Pasadena, CA
• Florida Barber Academy in Plantation, FL
• Total Look School of Cosmetology and Massage Therapy in Cresco, IA
• Larry’s Barber College in Chicago
• Crescent City School of Gaming & Bartending in New Orleans
• Aaron’s Academy of Beauty in Waldorf, MD
• United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, ND
• New Life Business Institute in Jamaica, NY
• Jay’s Technical Institute in Houston, TX

These schools, of course, do not represent the entire 8.1 millions student currently in default, but TICAS suggests that many of those borrowers have attended for-profit schools that are either in operation or have recently closed.

“While the Department does not release school-level default rates for closed schools, the 8.1 million borrowers currently in default include students who attended schools that have now closed,” TICAS said in a statement. “Many of the schools that closed recently, such as Corinthian-owned Everest, Wyotech, and Heald College campuses and Marinello Schools of Beauty, are known to have committed widespread fraud, putting their former students at greater risk of default.”

TICAS, along with The Association of Community College Trustees – which reported a decrease in default rates among community colleges — called on the Dept. of Education to increase transparency and accountability for loan servicing as a way to better provide relief for burgeoned student loan borrowers.

“The reality is that default penalizes not only students, but our communities,” J. Noah Brown, president and CEO of ACCT, said in a statement. “It is incumbent upon the Education Department to likewise make adjustments to existing policies so that students who do falter won’t continue to suffer undue consequences.”