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Consumer Daily Reports


Trusted reliable news sources from around the web. We offer special news reports, topic news videos, and related content stories. Truly a birds eye view on news.

Consumer News: Kids often prefer their pets to their siblings, study finds

New research highlights the benefits of the pet-child relationship

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
January 24, 2017

PhotoYour kids may share a room and toys, but their best friend may have four paws and a tail. A new study finds that children prefer spending time with their pets over their siblings.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that dogs, in particular, were associated with high levels of satisfaction and bonding and low levels of conflict.

Findings from the new study add to a growing body of evidence that finds that householdpets can have a significant impact on childrens development. The positive influence of animal companionsmay even beseen in childrens social skills and emotional well-being.

"Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people," said lead author Matt Cassells. "We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties.

Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development, he added.

Lowest levels of conflict

While siblings may bicker, the relationship between kids and their favorite pet tends to be more harmonious. The study found that kids often get along better with their pets than they do with their brothers or sisters.

This finding was revealed when the researchers asked 12-year-old children from 77 households with both pets and siblings to talk about their relationship with their pets compared to their siblings.

Responses showed that pets -- dogs morethan other pets-- providedkids with a low-conflict, high satisfaction relationship. And while girls and boys were equally satisfied with their pets, girls were most likely to feel that they had a friend in Fido.

Results showed that girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, while dog owners reported greater satisfaction and companionship with their pet than did owners of other pets, the authors wrote.

Pets don't judge

The inability of pets to talk back to their tiny human friends may even be a plus in the relationship, said Dr. Cassels.

Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings. The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental, he concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

Read more...

Consumer News: Court blocks Aetna-Humana merger

Still pending is a decision on Aetna's takeover of Cigna

By James R. Hood of ConsumerAffairs
January 24, 2017

PhotoA U.S. District Court Judge has blocked Aetna's acquisition of rival insurer Humana Inc. Judge John D. Bates of the D.C. Circuit held that the $34 billion deal woud stifle competition and violate federal antitrust laws.

It was the last major antitrust case brought by the Obama Justice Department. Still pending is a challenge to Aetna's takeover of Cigna Corp. A ruling in that case is expected any day.

Todays decision is a victory for American consumers especially seniors and working families and individuals, said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder, who is currently heading the Justice Departments Antitrust Division.Competition spurs health insurers to offer higher quality and more affordable health insurance to seniors who choose Medicare Advantage plans and to low-income families and individuals who purchase insurance from public exchanges."

Snyder said the merger "would have stifled competition and led to higher prices and lower quality health insurance." He said the ruling would "save customers and taxpayers up to $500 million per year" based on evidence entered in court showing that direct competition between Aetna and Humana led the companies to offer more generous benefits at lower prices.

"Aetna attempted to buy a formidable rival, Humana, instead of competing independently to win customers," Snyder said."Millions of consumers have benefited from competition between Aetna and Humana, and will continue to benefit because of todays decision to block this merger."

13-day trial

Thedecision followeda 13-day trial in December 2016.In July 2016, the Justice Department along with eight states and the District of Columbia sued to stop the merger.The complaint alleged that a combined Aetna and Humana would substantially reduce competition for the sale of Medicare Advantage a form of Medicare coverage provided by private insurers and health insurance to individuals through the public exchanges.

Joining the Justice Department in the lawsuit werethe District of Columbia and the States of Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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Consumer News: 2017 tax filing season is now open

You have a couple of extra days this year to pony up

By James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs
January 24, 2017

PhotoIt's NOT that most wonderful time of the year.

Tax season is officially under way, with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) now accepting and processing 2016 federal individual income tax returns. More than 153 million returns are expected to be filed this year.

"Following months of hard work, we successfully opened our processing systems today to start this years tax season, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Getting to this point is a year-round effort for the IRS and the nations tax community.

You have until Tuesday, April 18, to file your 2016 return and pay any taxes you may owe. The deadline is later this year for a couple of reasons:

  • The usual April 15 deadline falls on Saturday this year, which would normally give taxpayers until at least the following Monday.
  • Emancipation Day -- a Washington, D.C., holiday, is observed on Monday, April 17, giving taxpayers nationwide an additional day to file. By law, D.C. holidays affect tax deadlines for everyone in the same way federal holidays do.

Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 to file.

Refunds abound

The IRS expects more than 70% of taxpayers to get tax refunds this year. Last year, 111 million refunds were issued, with an average refund of $2,860.

A law change now requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until Feb. 15. Under this change required by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS must hold the entire refund -- even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC.

Even though the IRS will begin releasing EITC and ACTC refunds on Feb. 15, many early filers will still not have actual access to their refunds until the week of Feb. 27. The additional delay is due to several factors, including weekends, the Presidents Day holiday and the time banks often need to process direct deposits.

Use e-File and Free File

The IRS expects more than 80% of returns will be filed electronically. Choosing e-file and direct deposit remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund.

The IRS Free File program, available at IRS.gov, gives eligible taxpayers a dozen options for brand-name products. Free File is a partnership with commercial partners offering free brand-name software to about 100 million individuals and families with incomes of $64,000 or less.

Seventy percent of the nations taxpayers are eligible for IRS Free File. People who earned more than $64,000 may use Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms.

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Consumer News: FTC report warns of privacy risks in cross-device tracking

Consumers should be allowed to opt-out of surveillance that follows them from one device to another

By James R. Hood of ConsumerAffairs
January 24, 2017

PhotoPrivacy advocates aren't certain how they'll fare as the Trump Administration gets into gear, but federal agencies are continuing to press ahead with privacy protection initiatives, at least for now.However, they are not able to issue any new regulations under Trump's order that freezes all new rules.

The latest such effort is a staff report from the Federal Trade Commission that deals with what's known as "cross-device tracking" -- stalking consumers as they move from smartphone to laptop to tablet and other devices.

The surveillance is, of course, for the fairly pedestrian practice of targeting ads, but it feels invasive to many consumers and has the potential to be harmful if it's misused, most experts agree.

The FTC report recommends that, at the very least, companies that engage in cross-device tracking have an obligation to tell consumers they're doing it and to offer them a chance to opt out. Those who track such sensitive data as health and financial information should be required to seek permission in advance, the report recommends.

No action now

The report was prepared by the FTC staff and at the moment is just a report. Any new regulations embodying its recommendations would need to be written and adopted by the full FTC, something that's not likely to happen until President Trump nominates some new commissioners.

The FTC is supposed to be made up of five commissioners, but there are at present only three and there will be only two when Chairwoman Edith Ramirez leaves office Feb. 10.

Perhaps seeking to head off critics, commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen -- a Republican who is expected to be Trump's choice to chair the commission -- issued a statement noting that the report does not break any new ground but simply extends the existing principle that consumers should be informed when their activities are being monitored and recorded for marketing purposes.

"[The]report notes that consumers might be surprised if their activity on one device informed advertising on another device. As such, todays report does not alter the FTCs longstanding privacy principles but simply discusses their application in the context of a new technology," Ohlhausen said.

The 23-page report does note that under existing rules, companies that fail to"provide truthful information about tracking practices" may be violating laws against deceptive and unfair conduct.

"History sniffing"

Photo
Ohlhausen (FTC Photo)

The agency has taken such action in the past. In one such case in 2012, it reached a settlement agreement with Epic Marketplace, a marketing research firm it had accused of "history sniffing."

Consumers searching the Internet shouldnt have to worry about whether someone is going to go sniffing through the sensitive, personal details of their browsing history without their knowledge, said then-FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. This type of unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers confidence, and we wont tolerate it.

In the report released Monday afternoon, the staff further advised companies to be careful about making "blanket statements," saying that the information they gather on consumers is "anonymous" when in fact it may not be.

"Often, raw email addresses and usernames are personally identifiable, in that they include full names," the report noted.. "Even hashed email addresses and usernames are persistent identifiers and can be vulnerable to reidentification in some cases."

Read more...

Consumer News: Study finds link between vitamin B12 deficiency and preterm birth

Vegans are especially vulnerable to vitamin B12 deficiency, researchers say

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
January 24, 2017

PhotoAs we previously reported, moms-to-be dont necessarily have to include flesh foods in their diet in order for it to be considered healthful and nutritionally adequate by experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

When meals are balanced and appropriately planned, plant-based eating habits can even impart health benefits. However, some important nutrients -- such as vitamin B-12 -- can be harder to come by for individuals who avoid meat, eggs, and dairy.

Now, a new study finds that not eating enough food from animal sources may contribute to a vitamin B12 deficiency, which could raise a womans risk of having a premature baby by 21%.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked at levels of vitamin B12 in more than 11,000 expectant mothers from 11 countries and found that low levels of vitamin B12 are associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

Vegans at risk

While low levels of vitamin B12 did not appear to affect the babys birth weight, the authors found that having a B12 deficiency did appear to raise a womans risk of giving birth prior to 37 weeks.

Income levels were also accounted for in the study, but the results were the same regardless of whether the country had a high, middle, or low income.

Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient found only in products of animal origin, such as meat, milk and eggs, said study author Dr. Tormod Rogne in a statement. Pregnant women who consume too few animal-derived foods increase their risk of developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Other explanations

Rogne and his colleagues noted that there may be other explanations for the link, including the fact those with a B12 deficiency may be malnourished in general while pregnant. The team also said that there has been little research on the effect of taking vitamin B12 supplements during pregnancy.

Vegetarians arent as likely to have a B12 deficiency because they consume dairy products or eggs, explained information officer Paul W. Thorbjrnsen from the Norwegian Vegetarian Association.

However, because the body cannot produce this important vitamin itself,he advises vegans to consume B12 by drinking products such as soy milk or rice milk with added B12"or to take vitamin supplements."

The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Read more...

Consumer News: Citigroup mortgage units to pay $29 million for giving homeowners the runaround

The companies failed to help troubled consumers who were trying to save their homes, feds charge

By Truman Lewis of ConsumerAffairs
January 24, 2017

PhotoTwo members of the Citigroup Inc. family have been ordered to pay nearly $29 million for giving troubled homeowners the runaround when they tried to save their homes. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced the actions against CitiFinancial Servicing and CitiMortgage today.

The agency said themortgage servicers kept borrowers in the dark about options to avoid foreclosure or burdened them with excessive paperwork demands in applying for foreclosure relief. The CFPB is requiring CitiMortgage to pay an estimated $17 million to compensate wronged consumers, as well asa civil penalty of $3 million; CitiFinancial Services will also be required torefund approximately $4.4 million to consumersand pay a civil penalty of $4.4 million.

Citis subsidiaries gave the runaround to borrowers who were already struggling with their mortgage payments and trying to save their homes, said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. Consumers were kept in the dark about their options or burdened with excessive paperwork. This action will put money back in consumers pockets and make sure borrowers can get help they need.

CitiFinancial Servicing

As a mortgage servicer, CitiFinancial Servicing collects payments from borrowers for loans it originates. It also handles customer service, collections, loan modifications, and foreclosures.

The CFPB said the company:

  • Kept consumers in the dark about foreclosure relief options: When borrowers applied to have their payments deferred, CitiFinancial Servicing failed to consider it as a request for foreclosure relief options. As a result, borrowers may have missed out on options that may have been more appropriate for them.
  • Misled consumers about the impact of deferring payment due dates: Consumers were kept in the dark about the true impact of postponing a payment due date. CitiFinancial Servicing misled borrowers into thinking that if they deferred the payment, the additional interest would be added to the end of the loan rather than become due when the deferment ended.In fact, the deferred interest became due immediately.
  • Charged consumers for credit insurance that should have been canceled: Some borrowers bought CitiFinancial Servicing credit insurance, which is meant to cover the loan if the borrower cant make the payments. Under its terms, CitiFinancial Servicing was supposed to cancel the insurance if the borrower missed four or more monthly payments. But between July 2011 and April 30, 2015, about 7,800 borrowers paid for credit insurance that CitiFinancial Servicing should have canceled under those terms.
  • Prematurely canceled credit insurance for some borrowers: CitiFinancial Servicing prematurely canceled credit insurance for some consumers. Some of those borrowers later had claims denied because CitiFinancial Servicing had improperly canceled their insurance.
  • Sent inaccurate consumer information to credit reporting companies: CitiFinancial Servicing incorrectly reported some settled accounts as being charged off.
  • Failed to investigate consumer disputes: CitiFinancial did not investigate consumer disputes about incorrect information sent to credit reporting companies within the required time period.

The full text of the CitiFinancial Servicing consent order is available online.

CitiMortgage

CitiMortgage is a mortgage servicer for Citibank and government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It also fields consumer requests for foreclosure relief, such as repayment plans, loan modification, or short sales.

Borrowers at risk of foreclosure or otherwise struggling with their mortgage payments can apply to their servicer for foreclosure relief. In this process, the servicer requests documentation of the borrowers finances for evaluation.

However, some borrowers who asked for assistance were sent a letter by CitiMortgage demanding dozens of documents and forms that had no bearing on the application or that the consumer had already provided. Many of these documents had nothing to do with a borrowers financial circumstances and were actually not needed to complete the application.

The full text of the CitiMortgage consent order is available online.

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