Preventable pet diseases can be costly if not treated early

via Preventable pet diseases can be costly if not treated early, clarionledger.com

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Any pet owner knows that taking care of a pet comes with its financial responsibilities.

Since taking “Bella” or “Max” to the vet is likely to put a crimp in your wallet, many people have begun taking out pet insurance on their furry friends. But many more pet owners just pay for the expenses out of pocket, and Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on veterinary bills.

Just as with humans, keeping your pet healthy can help you avoid the costs of having to pay later. Recently, Nationwide Insurance (the nation’s largest pet insurance provider) combed through its records of more than 600,000 covered pets to determine the cases that cost the most, but which could have been prevented or mitigated if pet owners had taken preventive measures.

The search provided some interesting data to underline what many pet owners already knew: neglecting your pet’s general health needs can cost you more in the long run, and your furry (or scaled, or feathery) companion will have to bear the cost in pain, discomfort and possibly a shorter life.

Nationwide noted the five most costly conditions, which could be treatable if caught early. (Keep in mind these are just averages; what you pay will vary depending on a number of factors.):

Dental disease. Just as you and I need to see the dentist regularly, your pet’s teeth need care, too. The average cost to treat dental diseases, such as tooth infections and cavities, is about $391, and can cost much more, depending on the condition. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, or having your vet do it, costs less than treating advanced — and often painful —dental problems.

External parasites. Conditions transmitted by ticks and fleas such as Lyme disease and skin allergies carry an average cost of $244 to treat, and just $121 to prevent. Using preventative flea and tick medications, and regularly inspecting your pet for infestations, costs a lot less than having to have these conditions treated later.

Internal Parasites. Getting your pet treated for heartworms, roundworms and other internal parasites costs on average $207 to treat, but just $35 to prevent, according to the Nationwide data. Heartworm infestations, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, can cost $400 to $1,000 to treat. Annual exams and preventive medications can greatly reduce the chances of infestations, and medications can cover a range of parasites in one pill or treatment.

Infectious diseases. Dogs and cats can get some serious and life-threatening diseases, such as Parvovirus and feline leukemia. Treatments can be very costly, averaging $841, according to the Nationwide data. But getting your dog or cat vaccinated costs much less and can help prevent many diseases.

Reproductive organ diseases. While perhaps lesser known to many pet owners, diseases of the reproductive system can be costly, costing an average of $609 to treat. But early spaying or neutering is cheaper and can prevent some problems. “Early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer,” notes the American Veterinary Medical Association. “Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate gland) and testicular cancer.”

Respiratory infections. Diseases such as kennel cough and feline upper respiratory virus averaged about $190 to treat, but generally less than $25 to treat with a vaccination.

“Seeking a veterinarian’s recommendation for wellness care not only saves pet owners money but also helps prevent our pets from unnecessary, painful ailments,” noted Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide, who in addition to a veterinary medical degree has a master of business administration degree. “The cornerstone of good veterinary care has always been catching diseases early. I strongly recommend that pet owners schedule routine wellness examinations with their local veterinarian. Being proactive is in your pet’s best interest.”

For more on Nationwide’s study, visit http://prn.to/2fDsm4x.

Interesting side note: I chose “Bella” and “Max” as pet names for a reason. A search of the web found a lot of pet owners like the name “Bella.” There are numerous (and conflicting) sources of the most popular dog and cat names, but Findcatnames.comsays its users ranked Bella as the most popular name for female cats and Simba the top name for male cats. Dog-sitting company Rover says its users ranked Bella as the top female dog name and Max the top male dog name.

Negative option contracts keep you on the hook

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via ‘Negative option’ plans keep you on the hook, clarionledger.com

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This sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? For only $1.03 plus shipping, you could try a new product that promises “visibly whiter teeth.”

Teeth-whitening products have soared in popularity in recent years, and anything that promises to deliver a brighter smile is bound to get attention. But many consumers who signed up for one particular “trial” offer found themselves on the hook for hundreds of dollars per month until they were finally able to cancel their subscriptions.

The Federal Trade Commission last week got a federal court to put the brakes on a wide-ranging scheme involving 78 companies, at least 87 different websites and dozens of bank accounts. The agency accuses the operators of the plans with “using deceptive claims, hidden fine-print disclosures and confusing terms” to lure customers into providing billing information, and began charging them about $100 a month if they didn’t cancel within eight days. In addition, they allegedly used an “order confirmation page” to trick customers into signing up for a second subscription, leading some customers to pay more than $200 a month until cancelling.

Now, any reasonably-intelligent person would know there’s always a catch to an offer that starts out costing so little. Many of us remember the “buy a record for a penny, get 10 more free” plans that became common in the 1980s (and which still exist today). For a ridiculously small, up-front payment, you could get 11 albums for “free.” But if you signed up for this offer, you found yourself getting a shipment every few weeks, for which you had to pay full price, until you cancelled. (Of course, the terms of most of these offers were pretty clearly stated, even if you had to look at the fine print, and even if you had to wait on the phone awhile, you usually could cancel.)

This type of operation (legitimate or scam) relies on what’s known as the “negative option.” If you sign up for the offer, you’re obligated until you cancel. If they don’t hear from you, the assumption is that you are agreeing to continue the service. (If that’s what you want, it’s not a problem.) In reality, most recurring services are provided on a negative-option basis. But what distinguishes a scam from a legitimate offer is that scammers go out of their way to make it difficult for you to cancel, or trick you into more obligations.

Negative-option subscription plans (and their cousins, automatic-renewal contracts) are more common today than ever, and companies find them attractive because they don’t have to go to the expense of trying to get customers to renew. It takes a lot of expense and trouble to lure new customers or to try to persuade existing ones to renew their commitment.

But the problem for consumers is that, even if they try to cancel, it can be difficult. You’ve probably notice that most subscription services (there are some notable exceptions, such as Netflix) don’t readily supply you with an easy way to cancel, and make you call and explain why you’re trying to cancel.

For negative-option or auto-renewing contracts associated with subscription offers, the FTC requires the following information be provided clearly and conspicuously, and these are good questions to ask before you sign up for any subscription service or trial offer:

  • What is the minimum purchase requirement, if any?
  • How and when can I cancel my membership?
  • How many notifications will I have to respond to, and how often will you receive them?
  • How do I reject merchandise, and who pays for returns?
  • How much time do you have to reject merchandise?
  • Is postage and handling included in the product price?

Finally, it’s a good idea to keep copies or information for all transactions and conversations you have with the company or its representatives, and keep track of any dates required to cancel services. While a free trial should give you the chance to try something you might (or might not) end up wanting, it shouldn’t be a ticket to a customer-service nightmare.

For more info on buying plans and negative-option agreements, visit http://bit.ly/2fpP14s.

Be safe when watching eclipse

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NASA

via Be safe when watching the eclipse, clarionledger.com

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Around midday on Aug. 21, much of the nation will be looking to the skies as a total solar eclipse will be visible across a wide swath of the country. It’s a big deal because solar eclipses rarely cross the U.S. where they can be seen by the masses. Marketers have jumped onto the eclipse bandwagon with total abandon, selling everything from signs and banners to special glasses guaranteed to enhance your viewing experience.

But, sun-gazers, be warned: Some products may not provide enough protection for your eyes when looking directly at the eclipse.

In case you missed that day in science class, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the sun and earth, causing near-total darkness in a narrow “path of totality” and a dimming elsewhere, depending on your location. Here in central Mississippi, we will see a partial eclipse that day (weather permitting), and if you want to see the maximum effect, the closest viewing spots will be just to our north in middle and eastern Tennessee. But while we won’t witness “totality” here, it will still be spectacular, with the moon chomping nearly 90 percent of the sun for a few minutes. (For an animation of what we can expect to see, visit http://bit.ly/2flwWUW.)

Of course, your mom probably told you never to look directly into the sun, and it’s good advice as doing so can cause severe injury to your eyes. But many people think it’s OK to do so during an eclipse, as the sun is darkened. Actually, many people have suffered permanent eye damage as a result of trying to look at the partially darkened sun during an eclipse or using ordinary sunglasses, telescopes or binoculars.

NASA, medical associations, and others have warned that we need to be extra-careful when choosing how we’re going to look at the eclipse. “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers,” notes NASA in a post on its website. “Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.”

Here are a few of NASA’s other tips for safe viewing:

Inspect your viewer. If your eclipse viewing device is more than a couple of years old, or if it’s scratched or damaged, don’t use it.

Avoid devices that concentrate the sun’s rays. Looking at the eclipse through a camera lens, binoculars, telescopes or other optical devices can be dangerous because they concentrate the sun’s rays onto a narrow point, potentially damaging your eyes.

Don’t assume your sunglasses will protect you. While most sunglasses do provide protection from UV rays in ordinary cases, they’re not designed to handle the brightness of looking directly at the sun. Check to see if your sunglasses are marked with the ISO 12312-2 certification. If not, get some that are.

Buy from reputable vendors. The American Astronomical Society has published a list of vendors selling products that provide adequate protection at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.

Some welding glasses are OK, but not all. NASA suggests, if you have access to a welder’s glass with a No. 14 rating, it should be safe. But not all welding glass meets this standard, so if you’re not sure it’s No. 14 or better, don’t try it. “Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number,” NASA warns. “Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe.”

And if you can’t be outside during the eclipse, don’t worry; another total event will occur in 2024 to our north and west, and if you’re still around in 2045, mark your calendar for Aug. 12 of that year, when the path of totality will pass right over us in central Mississippi.

FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun

Baby-in-the-sun

Nashvilleparent.com

via FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun, clarionledger.com

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In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Ukraine on numerous occasions to support the work of local churches. Most who visit Ukraine find it’s a vast, beautiful and hospitable country, with its Delta-rich soil and generous people.

During one July outing in which we were helping a local church hold a vacation Bible school, we conducted several activities outside. It was summer and a bit hot (just like an average late-spring day for any Mississippi native, but practically a heat wave for the locals).

I thought it was curious that most of the kids wouldn’t emerge from the shade of the trees to take part in activities in the bright sunshine. When I asked a translator, he told me that it’s because Ukrainian parents don’t believe it’s healthy for their kids get a lot of direct sun, so they train them to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. Internationally, this attitude is becoming more and more common, as many countries deal with high levels of UV radiation and awareness of skin cancer risk is growing.

Maybe they have a point. We know exposure to some direct sunlight is beneficial to a point and helps the body produce essential vitamins, as well as having a number of other proven health benefits. But being out in the sun for extended periods also carries its own risks in the form of sun-damaged skin, skin cancer, and eye problems. While the use of sunscreens and protective clothing has been shown to reduce the skin’s vulnerability to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, many health experts say it’s best to limit our exposure. And that goes double for smaller children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued some new guidelines for sun exposure in younger kids, recommending that infants under 6 months old avoid sun exposure entirely. “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun,” noted FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, “and to particularly avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are most intense.”

That may come as a shock to some parents, many of whom grew up in the sun. Sachs explained that, although sunscreens are fine for older kids and adults, babies’ skin (since it covers less surface area and is less mature) is likely to absorb the numerous chemicals contained in most sunscreen products, with unknown possible side effects.

In addition, she adds, babies can overheat faster than older kids and adults and can become dehydrated more easily.

“The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible,” she adds. “If there’s no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller.”

As for dressing your baby for a day in the sun, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck. Avoid baseball caps, which (while cute) don’t adequately protect the neck and ears.

Here are some of the FDA’s other tips:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Consult your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s so sheer you can see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
  • Give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.

To read the FDA’s article in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2vu4FBS

States passing laws to save kids, pets trapped in cars

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motortorque.com

via States pass laws to save kids, pets trapped in hot cars, clarionledger.com

PDF: Kids and Pets in Cars

Every year, with the hot weather comes tragic stories of how someone left a child in a hot vehicle, leading to death or serious injuries. Especially here in the Sun Belt, where we’re used to long, hot summers, cars can be a death trap if a child is left inside.

In the past three decades, nationally more than 800 children have died after being left in hot vehicles, and the organization Kidsandcars.org has documented 23 cases so far this year.

In one of the latest cases, a Tennessee couple was charged with murder after their 2-year-old son died. The couple allegedly left the child in a vehicle overnight and into the next day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Cases abound, as an internet search will attest.

While the outside temperature can be tolerable, inside a vehicle it’s a different story. An enclosed vehicle acts as a greenhouse, with the sun’s rays warming the interior as their energy is trapped inside. The website heatkills.org reports that, even on a mild 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes. And at 90 degrees (we’ve seen those temperatures in the last week in central Mississippi), temperatures inside the car can soar to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, and after a half-hour to 124 degrees. Some studies have reported temperatures as high as 172 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Even at the lower end of that scale, heat-related deaths can easily occur. And although many people continue to believe that cracking the window for your pet helps, most experts disagree. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2005 that opening a window a few inches does little to alleviate the temperature rise.

The spate of child deaths has rightly led to increased calls for action, as well as additional laws and demands for new technologies to keep these tragedies from occurring. According to kidsandcars.org, about half of the states have laws specifically making it a crime to leave a child or pet in a hot vehicle (Mississippi, regrettably, does not.) Hopefully, as states around the nation take legislative action, these laws will also include language to protect pets.

Frequently, an endangered pet is discovered by passersby. Bystanders who see a potentially deadly situation have a decision to make. While many courageous people have risked lawsuits and even personal harm by breaking into an unattended vehicle to rescue a trapped pet, others might fear the repercussions of taking action.

Recently, several states have passed laws to protect people who must break into a vehicle to save a pet trapped inside. For example, in Colorado and other states, would-be rescuers must take a number of other steps before they start breaking windows, including making “every reasonable effort” to locate the vehicle’s owner and call law enforcement. They must also be able to demonstrate the pet is clearly in danger of suffocation or extreme heat or cold. Many state laws specifically limit the term “animal” or “pet” to cats and dogs and specifically prohibit the law from referring to livestock.

Most state laws, according to a study earlier this year by Michigan State University, require that the rescuer be a first-responder (such as a police officer, EMT or firefighter), or a representative of a humane society. Ordinary citizens in most states are not offered any protection or immunity. Of course, many pet lovers will take action anyway, disregarding the potential risk of a nasty confrontation or being charged with destruction of property.

But until we have better laws protecting kids — and pets — left in vehicles, perhaps the best response is to leave your pets at home if possible. And if you see an animal in obvious distress in a vehicle, the Humane Society of the United States suggests you try to locate the owner, and if that fails, call the non-emergency number for the police to report the situation.

Mobile companies responding to call for more scam protections

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T-Mobile’s Scam ID – tmobile.com

via Do scammers have your number?

PDF: Carriers and Phone Scams

Scam calls have become so common many people don’t even bother to answer the phone anymore unless they recognize the number. While Caller ID is overall a great invention that has saved countless people from having to engage in unwanted conversations, spoofing technology now allows scammers to make it look as if the call comes from pretty much any location they want.

In the “old days,” pretty much everybody who had a phone could be found in the phone book. Technology to autodial thousands of numbers at once was still in its infancy, and the risk of being contacted by a scammer was pretty low. Long-distance charges made it expensive to call from outside local areas, and it was hard to make a lot of money this way.

On the other hand, since we had no way of knowing who was calling, most of us picked up the phone and answered. “Screening” consisted of the person who answered the phone asking who was calling, and then deciding whether or not to talk to the individual. (Frequently, the result was a lot of bewildered parents who had to decide how to handle the caller when their teenager was in a spat with their significant other.)

But that was then. Today, a scammer sitting in a Third World slum or well-equipped “boiler room” operation in a big city can place a call to you from the other side of the globe at little cost. Once they’ve got you on the phone, they’ll spin a yarn about how you’re about to be arrested by the IRS or claim to be your grandchild who’s been arrested in the Virgin Islands as he was helping a friend renew his wedding vows. If they’re successful in getting past your defenses, they’ll get you to wire money you’ll never see again.

It’s a big problem, since most of us use our cellphones and a lot of us have ditched our old-fashioned landlines. Crooks know this, and cellphones are now taking the brunt of the scam traffic. The Federal Communications Commission, in calling on cell providers to do something about the problem, noted that Americans received 29 billion robocalls last year. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai convened a “robocall strike force” last year, consisting of 33 telecom and tech companies.

And the industry appears to be responding. AT&T rolled out its free Call Protect app in December, which it claims has blocked a billion robocalls already, and Verizon and Sprint have announced fee-based services to provide some protection. T-Mobile announced July 24 that customers of its MetroPCS prepaid service now have access to Scam ID and Scam Block, which flag calls from numbers reported to be scams. The services were originally rolled out for T-Mobile customers in April, and in a news release, the company claimed to have flagged 243 million calls as potential scams and saved its customers from potential $130 million in scam losses. (The company says it got those numbers by figuring the average phone-scam victim loses $274, with about 0.2 percent of all calls being successful scams.)

With Scam ID, customers who get a call from a likely problem number will see a “likely scam” alert beside the number, and you can choose to accept or deny the call. With Scam Block, numbers from known scammers will be automatically blocked before they ever reach you.

T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert noted studies of the data since the April rollout have revealed scammers usually work a standard 8-to-5 workday, with far less activity at night and on weekends. You’re most likely to get a call in the late afternoon, and most scam numbers are used only once.

For consumers, these services could potentially cut down on the number of scammers who actually reach their targets, but that’s only part of the problem. Until everybody learns that scammers are really good at using the phone as a way to steal and they stop talking to unknown people on the phone, the scourge of phone scams is likely going to be harder to eradicate than kudzu on a Mississippi farm.

Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes

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360.here.com

via Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes, clarionledger.com

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A few months ago, I wrote in this column about how pedestrian deaths are becoming increasingly common on our roadways, with some of the alarming increases blamed on our being distracted by the ever-present devices we have with us constantly. While reading through on the findings of a study of the phenomenon, one statement, in particular, caught my eye: The number of pedestrian deaths might be higher still, if not for the installation of automated collision-avoidance systems now on many vehicles.

Our cars and trucks are steadily becoming self-thinking robots. Today’s cars can automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slows or stops; sound an alarm if you’re nodding off at the wheel; alert you if you’re about to hit a vehicle in your blind spot; keep you from backing into an object, animal or person behind you; enable your vehicle to parallel-park itself and many others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 35,092 people who died in vehicle crashes on American roads in 2015, the vast majority (94 percent) were at least partially caused by human error or poor decisions.

All these technologies are paving the way toward a future in which the vehicles will be doing much — if not all — of the driving. Depending on your point of view, that could be comforting or alarming. It’s an established fact that humans are just not very good at making decisions all the time, and we can suffer from fatigue, distraction, poor judgment and lack of impulse control. On the other hand, we know computerized systems are subject to security flaws, equipment failure, and poor programming.

But in labs and research facilities around the world, engineers are working towards a more automated future, and are watching as these features are tested on a massive scale on today’s roads. The results, Consumer Reports noted recently, can be found in saved lives and happier drivers. Consumer Reports asked its subscribers to report on their experiences with some of these technologies and found most of them reported they were not only satisfied with these systems but also, in some cases, credited those systems with avoiding crashes.

More than 57,000 vehicle owners responded to the magazine’s request to provide information, reporting that their vehicles included such features as automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and lane-departure warning. Consumer Reports noted that drivers were most appreciative of blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic warnings (although these systems have been panned in the past; the American Automobile Association in 2015 cited high error rates for RCTA systems).

In particular, for vehicle owners who said these features had saved them from accidents, blind-spot warnings were cited for preventing 35 percent of potential crashes. Even experienced drivers can fail to see a car that’s in their own vehicle’s blind spot and sideswipe neighboring vehicles when changing lanes. A blind-spot warning system sounds an alarm when it senses you’re about to change lanes into another vehicle.

While many of these features simply give you a visual, auditory or even tactile warning that a collision is imminent, others actually take control of the vehicle if the system senses a dangerous situation. For example, lane-keeping systems use cameras to detect lane markings and will steer your vehicle back to its lane if you’re drifting out of the lane. AEB will automatically apply the brakes if it senses you’re about to rear-end the vehicle in front of you.

Of course, with all of these technologies comes the potential for errors, which can annoy drivers and cause them to lose faith in the technology. For example, owners of vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning reported the highest number of false alerts. About 45 percent of these drivers reported getting at least one false alert.

Still, Consumer Reports (and many consumer advocates and regulatory bodies) think these technologies are a great idea (even with the occasional error) and recommend more of these technologies become standard equipment in the future. “Consumer Reports believes that FCW and AEB should be standard equipment, even with occasional false alerts,” noted the survey authors. “The latest study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supports this: Rear-end crashes are cut by 27 percent when a vehicle has FCW and by 50 percent when it’s also equipped with AEB.”

To read Consumer Reports’ full article, which includes more results about each of the technologies covered, visit http://bit.ly/2twfCBc. For more on each type of feature and videos to explain them, visit the NHTSA’s site at http://bit.ly/2oCBSVM.

Getting the most from your car’s A/C

edmunds ac

edmunds.com

via How to get the most out of your vehicle’s AC, clarionledger.com

PDF: ACTips1ACTips2

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the old “4/40” system for keeping cool while driving in the summer months. Driving around at around 40 miles per hour with all four windows down got the air moving in the torrid heat of a Southern summer, and provided a welcome escape for generations of Mississippians.

While most of us consider air conditioning to be a necessity in our vehicles, it wasn’t always so. Early automobiles were uncooled, even as the new air-conditioning systems (if you could afford them) made homes and businesses feel like a crisp March morning even in the dog days of August. In 1933, Popular Science reported that a New York company had installed an air conditioning unit in a commercially available vehicle for the first time.

Although not commercially successful at first because of the unwieldy equipment required, cost and danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, the idea took off, and the technology made steady improvements. In the years after, Packard and Cadillac experimented with various technologies. But in 1953, the new Chrysler Imperial featured an optional air conditioning that would be recognizable as a modern system.

Since then, many more innovations have made air conditioning a staple on most vehicles. But many drivers still are probably not getting the most effective use of it. Recently, Consumer Reports’ Patrick Olsen wrote a great column with five tips:

Don’t pre-cool. Olsen explains that your car’s air conditioning works much better when you’re actually driving, because the faster the engine turns, the faster the compressor runs, which lets the system cool more effectively. Don’t waste time and gas by letting your car run before you go.

“If the interior is really hot, crank up the fan when you start driving, and open just the rear windows for 10 to 20 seconds,” Olsen advises. “This forces all the hot air out of the cabin. Don’t open the front windows — that only moves the heat out of the front of the car, and it will leave the air in the back of the cabin hot and stagnant.”

Go low. Since most vehicle air-conditioning systems cool the air to about 38 degrees, if you set the temperature higher, you can be making the system work harder since it must re-heat the air. Olsen advises setting the temp to the lowest setting, then using the fans to adjust the temperature.

Don’t recirculate. Most cars have a “recirculate” button, which takes air from the front of the cabin and pulls it back through the system. But while using this feature might make the driver and front-seat passengers comfortable, it can make rear-seat passengers hotter.

Turn off stop/start mode. Some newer vehicles have a system that stops the engine when idling, to cut down on fuel use and emissions. Olsen suggests turning it off, because it can make the compressor stop running, making your car hotter when stopped or in stop-and-go traffic.

Clean the filter. A dirty cabin air filter (just like the one in your house) can reduce the efficiency of your system and make it work harder. If your filter is easily accessible, clean it often.

And as for the age-old debate about whether using the air conditioner uses more gas than riding with the windows open, most expert sites I consulted noted, “it depends.”

Conventional wisdom says the air conditioner uses more gas, and that’s usually true. Car and Driver did a study in 2008 in which they tested this theory and recommended turning the air conditioner off and opening the windows (at lower speeds) to save a few miles per gallon. But at higher speeds, the engine is running faster, making the air-conditioning system use less fuel. Automotive site Edmunds.com notes, “in our experience, it’s not worth the argument because you won’t save a lot of gas either way. So just do what’s comfortable.”

Churches, charities hit in office supply scam

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via Churches, charities hit in office-supply scam, clarionledger.com

PDF: OfficeSupply1OfficeSupply2

If you run a small business or nonprofit organization, you already know it’s tough out there. Besides working in a tough economic environment, charities and small businesses find themselves having to look for ways to save a buck every way they can. Unfortunately, that can make them targets of scammers, promising amazing deals that never pan out or even trying to collect money for orders that were never made.

This week, federal regulators announced they’d put a stop to an office-supply scam that allegedly swindled child care centers, educational institutions, churches, hospitals and other nonprofits by calling them and tricking them into paying for overpriced supplies they never ordered.

The Federal Trade Commission got federal courts to freeze the assets of several companies based in Maryland and California that are accused of using a variety of tactics to get companies on the hook for unordered merchandise. The agency announced the action in a news release this week.

“The defendants lied to small businesses, charities and churches to get them to pay for overpriced supplies they didn’t order,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “That’s not only shameful, it’s also illegal.”

In the California case, Beverly Hills-based Telestar Consulting Inc. (also doing business as Kleritec and United Business Supply, and Karl Wesley Angel) allegedly used a variety of tactics to persuade consumers to pay for unordered merchandise. For example, the FTC alleges the defendants called the consumers to offer supposed deals on, or free samples of, items like art supplies and cleaning products.

They also asked consumers to accept an additional shipment by falsely calling it a ‘backorder’ that was supposedly part of an order the consumer had already paid for, and then billed them for the so-called ‘backorder,’” noted the FTC. In other instances, the defendants claimed consumers had agreed to multiple shipments, when at most they had agreed to only one shipment. In addition, in instances in which consumers agreed to make a purchase, the defendants allegedly failed to disclose the total cost and quantity of goods, and the terms of the sale.

If the invoices were ignored or not paid promptly, the companies allegedly threatened to send the organizations to collections agencies. “Consumers who paid under a mistaken belief that they had to do so — some paid thousands of dollars more than what they were legally obligated to pay — often received more unordered merchandise and bills for payment,” the release noted.

In the Maryland case, the FTC charged six companies and three individuals around a scheme involving light bulbs and cleaning supplies. The scheme allegedly hired telemarketers who “falsely indicated that they had done business with the consumers earlier and that they were offering a free sample or catalog, without properly disclosing that they were making a sales call.”

The scheme allegedly relied on the fact the person ordering merchandise and the person processing invoices didn’t know what the other was doing. If invoices were paid, the company received future shipments of unordered merchandise.

This type of scheme is successful for several reasons. For one, many people believe unordered merchandise must be paid for (the law says that, in most cases, you don’t have to pay for anything you didn’t order). Secondly, scams use smooth-talking telemarketers, who trick people (on a recorded call) into answering “yes” to an unrelated question, doctoring the recording and using it as evidence the order was made. And finally, there is often a lack of good communication between those making purchases and those paying the invoices.

To read the complaint in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2utdLhC.

Wary widow thwarts grandparent scam

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US News Money

via ‘Grandparent’ scammer fails to hook Miss. victim, clarionledger.com

PDF: Warywidow1Warywidow2

A wary Mississippi widow has thwarted efforts by a crook whom she believes got information from an obituary, then attempted to use it to rip her off with the “grandparent” scam.

This story proves that scammers are not above taking advantage of people going through some of life’s greatest trials, but also how quick thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism can help you avoid becoming a victim.

You may recall that I recently wrote about this pernicious scam, in which the scammer calls an elderly person pretending to be a grandchild or other relative who’s in trouble and needs money fast. But they met their match when they called this 81-year-old Flowood widow one morning a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t want to share her name but wanted to tell her story to help others who may be at risk. “If I could save just one person from being taken in, it would be worth the trouble,” she told me.

Our potential victim, who lost her husband of 63 years in March, believes the crook used information gleaned from an online obituary for her husband. When she got a call recently purportedly from her grandson Brad in Omaha, Nebraska, she immediately sensed that something wasn’t right.

“It’s bad when they start using the obituaries,” she told me. “I can see where people in a bereaved state could be taken in by this scam.”

Her internal alarm bells began to ring immediately as she got the call, allegedly from Brad (but in a different voice than usual) who said simply, “This is Brad. The reason I’m talking like this, my nose is broken.” But that set off an immediate red flag, since Brad would never just start talking to her without addressing her as “Mom-maw.” But she went with it anyway, to see where the story would lead.

“Brad” went on to tell the potential victim that he had been in a “bad, bad wreck,” describing a situation in which a friend named “Sam” had asked for transportation to the doctor’s office. On the way, they had been in a car accident. “Sam,” the story went, was taken away in an ambulance, and “Brad” was charged with reckless driving. “Sam’s lawyer says if I can get the bail money he can get me out of jail,” he continued. “So, I thought maybe you could send me some money.”

But the wary widow wasn’t having any of it, and told the caller that all her money was tied up. “Why haven’t you called your dad?” she asked, then the caller hung up abruptly. She knew that, if Brad had really been in an accident, his first call would be to his dad, who lives nearby. “Brad would have called his dad before he even got out of the wrecked car,” she noted.

This is a textbook version of the grandparent scam, in which the caller lays out a potentially believable story, then asks for money — throwing in a few details along the way to make the story sound legit. Since obituaries contain a lot of details about the deceased person’s family, locations and interests, they can be a potential treasure trove of information for would-be scammers.

And, if our suspicious senior had not been skeptical about the call she got that day, she might have been taken in. But it’s the details that gave the scammer away: subtle differences in the words he used, departures from normal behavior and facts that just don’t add up. Unfortunately, many people each year fall victim to scammers using these tactics, sending millions via Western Union or GreenDot, never to be seen again. These crooks know their devious craft and do their homework.

This lady’s story illustrates the fact there is danger from these scams, and how having presence of mind can help you detect when a story is not all it’s being claimed to be. If you get a call like this one, exercising a bit of skepticism can keep you from making a costly mistake if you fall for it.