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Consumer Daily Reports

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Consumer News: Holiday motorists reminded to look out for gas pump skimmers

PhotoHoliday travelers should use caution when paying at the pump this week. 

The FBI is warning of an increase in the use of so-called credit card skimmers that can steal card data.

The agency reports the arrests of eight people in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana on charges of aggravated identity theft and says the investigation is still underway.

Credit card skimmers are electronic devices designed to look like real credit card readers. Identity thieves place them over the actual card readers on gas pumps, or in some cases switch the fake readers with the real ones.

When consumers swipe their cards on the skimmer, it records the data, which the thieves retrieve later. It's an old tactic, but one law enforcement is seeing more and more.

“As advances in technology influence almost every aspect of our daily lives, it is important to remember these same advances allow the unscrupulous to prey on unsuspecting members of the public,” said Amy Hess, FBI Special Agent in Charge for the Western District of Kentucky.

Self defense steps

Motorists can protect themselves by being especially observant when they prepare to fill their tanks. Before inserting a card into a gas pump card reader, look at it closely–skimmers are not always that easy to spot.

Blogger Krebs on Security notes that some skimmers are very small and are attached to the front of the card slot. When a consumer inserts a card, the skimmer captures the data, along with the real card reader.

The thieves come back later and remove the skimmer and retrieve the stolen credit card information. They use it to create clone cards that can be used to make numerous unauthorized purchases.

Advances in skimmer technology have made the scam even more dangerous. In addition to capturing the data, newer devices use wireless technology to transmit the data to a remote location, meaning the thieves don't have to return to the gas pump, making them less likely to be caught. 

The FBI says some of the newer skimmers will even text the stolen data to the thieves.

Cheap and extremely common

Sparkfun, an electronics component company, said it was recently contacted by law enforcement to retrieve data from some newly discovered skimmers. These particular skimmers, it said, broadcast over bluetooth as HC-05.

It describes the bluetooth module on the skimmers as cheap and extremely common. It concludes that the electronic components make gas pump skimmers themselves cheap and increasingly common, becoming “more of a nuisance across North America.”

This nuisance is a good reason to always use a credit card–never a debit card–at gas pumps. If your credit card data is stolen, you can limit your liability to $50 by immediately contacting the card issuer.

If your debit card data is stolen, the thief could clean out your bank account. You may get your money back, with limited loss, if you notify the bank immediately. But if your account has no money for several days, you could miss important obligations like rent or bills and potentially overdraft on automatic debits.

With AAA predicting record holiday travel over the Thanksgiving period, the safest course of action is to pay inside when you stop for gas wherever possible.


Consumer News: Ford recalls model year 2018 F-150s

PhotoFord Motor Company is recalling 12,429 model year 2018 F-150s equipped with a 3.3L engine, a 6-speed transmission and a column mounted shift lever.

Quickly moving the shift lever from Park to Drive may cause a loss of gear indication on the instrument cluster display, and a momentary selection of an unintended gear, such as Reverse or Neutral before the vehicle achieves Drive function.

Unidentified or unintended gear selection may cause the vehicle to move in a way that was not intended by the driver, increasing the risk of crash or injury.

What to do

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the powertrain control module, free of charge.

The recall was expected to begin November 20, 2017.

Owners may contact Ford Customer Service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17S35.


Consumer News: Obamacare Open Enrollment bringing higher premiums

PhotoConsumers purchasing healthcare policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are finding higher premiums and, in some cases, fewer options, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Consumers also have less time to make a decision this year. The Open Enrollment Period started November 1 and ends December 15 -- about half the time of the last Open Enrollment period.

In its report, KFF says premiums are going up for two main reasons. The first is that the Trump Administration has ended the government's payments to insurance providers for cost-sharing reductions, which passes more of the burden onto consumers.

The second reason is that some large insurance providers have withdrawn from the Marketplace in some areas, meaning consumers in some counties have only one provider. KFF says the lack of competition most likely boosted premium costs.

Rising costs across all tiers

All ACA policies must provide some coverage of what are deemed "essential services," but some policies provide more coverage than others. The least expensive policies, which generally provide the least coverage, are called bronze policies.

The middle level policies -- more expensive than bronze but with more coverage -- are silver policies. The top tier of coverage is in the form of gold policies.

KFF's cost breakdown shows the premium for the cheapest bronze plan in the ACA Marketplace is going up an average of 17 percent next year while the average premium for silver plans has jumped a whopping 35 percent. The premium for the lowest-cost gold policy has gone up 19 percent.

Why silver plans cost more

“Premiums for silver plans are rising much more than those for bronze or gold plans because in many states insurers loaded the cost from the termination of the cost-sharing reduction payments entirely on the silver tier,” the authors explain.

Depending on location and income, some consumers will receive subsidies to reduce monthly premiums, and the KFF report says these subsidies will help some policyholders offset the much higher premiums.

For many consumers who receive tax credits to help pay premiums, the out-of-pocket cost will be lower in 2018. Since tax credits are calculated using the cost of the second-lowest-cost silver plan in each area, the rising cost of silver plans results in more generous tax credits.

That will make the cost of bronze and gold plans, which are not increasing in cost as much as silver plans, more affordable for consumers receiving subsidies.

“In fact, after these increases, the lowest-cost gold premium is lower than the lowest-cost silver premium in 478 counties,” the authors write.

Market is stabilizing

Despite rising costs, KFF senior vice president Larry Levitt says the individual insurance market has recently stabilized. Insurance companies lost a lot of money in the first few years of the ACA's operation, but premiums rose sharply this year and most insurance companies have made a profit.

However, challenges remain for consumers trying to choose a policy during the shorter Open Enrollment period. Levitt says the Trump Administration has reduced resources to help consumers select health insurance policies. It cut outreach advertising budgets and reduced grants to navigators -- people hired to answer consumers' questions about available healthcare policies.


Consumer News: Drone Nerds recalls self-balancing scooters/hoverboards

PhotoDrone Nerds Inc of Aventura, Fla., is recalling about 700 self-balancing scooters/hoverboards.

The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat, posing a risk of the products smoking, catching fire and/or exploding.

No incidents or injuries are reported.

This recall involves certain Drone Nerds self-balancing scooters, commonly referred to as hoverboards . The hoverboards have two wheels at either end of a platform and are powered by lithium-ion battery packs. They were sold in a variety of colors.

The scooters/hoverboards, manufactured in China, were sold at the Drone Nerds store in Aventura, Florida, and online at www.dronenerds.com from November 2015, through March 2016, for about $300.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled hoverboards and contact Drone Nerds to return the unit to receive a full refund or store credit.

Consumers may contact Drone Nerds toll-free at 888-785-7543 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or online at www.dronenerds.com and click on “Recall Notice” for more information.


Consumer News: Model year 2016-2017 Nissan Rogues recalled

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 4,883 model year 2016-2017 Nissan Rogues.

The recliner joints on the lower seat frame for the rear seats may have improper welds.

The recalled vehicles, therefore, fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) number 207, "Seating Systems," and 210, "Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages."

The insufficient welds can increase the risk of injury to the seats' occupants in the event of a crash.

What to do

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the seat frames and replace any defective lower seat frames, free of charge.

The recall is expected to begin December 4, 2017.

Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.


Consumer News: Tips for having a harmonious Thanksgiving dinner

PhotoThanksgiving is a time for family members to come together, but sometimes holiday reunions can be a recipe for conflict.

The stress of travel, longstanding disagreements between family members, and today’s contentious political climate can give way to arguments that can put a damper on the event.

To keep your family’s Thanksgiving get-together free of quarrels and conflict, experts recommend following a few key rules.

Don’t talk politics

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, gerontologist and professor of human development Karl Pillemer offered a few tips for keeping holiday gatherings from turning into a political debate.

  • Avoid hot-button issues. “Thanksgiving is not the time to try to show your parents, for example, that their political views are all wrong. That’s the idea behind the ‘politics-free holiday,’” said Pillemer.

  • Squash potential conflict early. “When Uncle Bob, a football fan, is gearing up to spout extreme political views, jump it with ‘How about those Broncos/Jets/ Patriots/Bears?’ Lead people away from the hot-button topic.”

  • Find another activity. “If a heated debate starts up, that’s the time to toss the football in the backyard with the kids, help with the dishes, or go for a walk,” Pillemer says.

Spark intergenerational dialogue

Thanksgiving is an event that often brings multiple generations together under one roof, which makes it a perfect opportunity for younger family members to reap the wisdom of older family members.

Younger family members can ask older family members to share their advice for living, says Pillemer. Asking about advice for living can be even more powerful than asking for life stories, he says.

“Don’t just ask: ‘What was it like to be a child in the Great Depression,’ but follow it up with: ‘What did you learn from that experience that would help a young person like me?’”

Avoid bringing up the past

Avoid bringing up a past incident that may upset another family member, such as a divorce or separation, to keep dinner conversations positive.

However, if an elder family member touches on a sensitive topic -- the death of a child or surviving a terrible experience like the Holocaust, for instance -- the best thing to do is to let the elders set their own limits and listen sympathetically, says Pillemer.

“In my hundreds of interviews, I found that older people pick and choose what they will share with a younger person in these ‘wisdom interviews,’ and often steer clear of the most traumatic events in their lives if they can’t handle discussing them.”

Keep it light

Relax your expectations for the event and remember to enjoy your time with family members. If your family isn’t too competitive, you could play a group game like Charades or touch football.

If children will be in the mix, have them participate in small tasks like setting the table or hanging up hats and coats. Expect them to spill or break things and to have loud moments of silly fun.

For guests who will be staying more than one day, consider planning a fun activity to do each day -- but make it optional. Too much togetherness can sometimes create conflict.


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