Patient information released without OK, feds say

AdobeStock_94761244.jpegvia Moak: Patient information released without OK, feds say, clarionledger.com

A company that produces Electronic Health Records has agreed to settle allegations from federal regulators that it allowed sensitive health information to be posted online without letting patients know it would be disclosing the information.

In 2012 and 2013, California-based Practice Fusion, described by the Federal Trade Commission as a “cloud-based electronic records company,” allegedly began posting online patient reviews of doctors it had collected, but failed to tell the patients the details of how they would be used. In some cases, sensitive information allegedly appeared in the reviews.

“Practice Fusion’s actions led consumers to share incredibly sensitive health information without realizing it would be made public,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies that collect personal health information must be clear about how they will use it — especially before posting such information publicly on the Internet.”

Electronic Health Records have been controversial, with advocates promising they will create a more seamless experience for patients who see multiple providers, help lower costs through greater efficiency and reduce the risk of errors. But privacy watchdogs have warned that consumer information could be compromised if the information is not handled with great care. In a 2012 survey conducted by Xerox, just over a quarter of Americans said they wanted their records to be digitized. It should be noted Practice Fusion wasn’t accused of allowing the compromise of EHR data, but of failing to give proper notification to patients before posting the information online.

Federal laws require any business that handles sensitive health information to go to great lengths to protect that information, with stiff penalties for violations. And consumers must be informed of any intent to share that information (that’s why you get those annual notices about protecting your privacy and have to sign separate privacy acknowledgement forms when you visit the doctor).

According to the FTC’s complaint, Practice Fusion began a public-facing, health care provider directory in 2013, including reviews of physicians. To populate the reviews, Practice Fusion began sending emails to patients of physicians who had contracted with Practice Fusion to provide electronic health records services. The emails allegedly were sent to “help improve your service in the future,” and asked them to answer questions about their recent visit to the doctor.

But when consumers discussed their recent visit, they often included details and could leave their name and contact information. For example, one consumer talked about a depressed child, another revealed she was concerned about a yeast infection and another spoke of a “Xanax prescription.”

Although the company didn’t admit any wrongdoing, it noted in a statement that it had discontinued the system in 2013. “The proposed consent agreement is not related to our core businesses, nor how we have operated the survey feature since April 2013,” noted a statement on the company’s website. “The complaint associated with the consent agreement does not allege that anything that we are currently doing is problematic.”

The FTC’s announcement didn’t disclose any monetary penalties, but did note the agreement prevents Practice Fusion from “misrepresenting the extent to which it uses” information. In addition, it must “clearly and conspicuously disclose — separate and apart from a privacy policy, terms of use or other similar document — that it is making such information publicly available and obtain consumers’ affirmative consent.”

Car-train crashes cost lives

Railroad Crossingvia Moak: Car-train crashes cost lives, clarionledger.com

If you’ve ever run over a soda can with your car wheels, things look pretty bad for the soda can afterwards. If you’ve ever wondered how your vehicle might fare in a collision with a 30-car freight train, you can apply pretty much the same force ratio — except that your car is now the soda can. According to some statistics, you’re 20 times more likely to die in a train-vehicle crash than you would be if your car, truck or SUV hit another vehicle of similar size.

Despite those sobering facts, many Mississippians gamble their lives every day as they try to beat oncoming trains at rail crossings, or fail to watch for trains. Makeshift memorials can be seen at many crossings; a grim reminder of the dangers of crossing the rails. Last week, the Mississippi Department of Transportation sent out a news release about railroad crossing safety as part ofInternational Level Crossing Awareness Day, which brings transportation agencies together to address the problem and reduce fatalities.

MDOT oversees safety and traffic control on all public at-grade crossings, defined as those that are level with the road. “Looking at railroad crossings in tandem with diagnostic reviews, MDOT’s rails engineer can determine the kinds of warning devices that should be in place at railroad crossings,” the release noted.

One MDOT focus is adding lights and gates to crossings, which have been proven to reduce the danger. The Federal Railroad Administration notes that car-train crashes have plummeted since the early 1970s, but are still unacceptably high.

MDOT reports that one particularly troublesome crossing in Pascagoula was upgraded in 2013. That crossing (where Mississippi 611, U.S. 90 and multiple rail lines met) has long been listed as being among the nation’s worst for train-vehicle collisions, with anFRA study showing it as 10th-worst in the nation over the past decade with 12 reported incidents and seven injuries. By constructing an overpass at the site (funded by a multi-agency partnership), the danger of a collision was eliminated.

Other projects involve crossings in small towns or rural areas. MDOT cited one example in the northeast Mississippi town of Verona, in which a grade crossing near a school was upgraded with signals and gates. But upgrading can be cumbersome and expensive.

“With federal funding, MDOT is only able to add warning devices to about 10 to 15 railroad crossings each year,” said Melinda McGrath, MDOT executive director. “Last year, there were five fatalities on rail lines in Mississippi, down from nine in 2014. While fatalities on rail lines have decreased over the years, the need for safety at railroad crossing remains extremely important.”

Installing and maintaining lights and gates only address part of the problem; the other piece is in the hands of drivers. Here are a few of MDOT’s tips, which every driver should review:

  • Never race a train to the crossing. Despite what you may have seen in movies and on TV, the car rarely wins. Is it worth your life to make that gamble?
  • The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks, then check carefully — in both directions.
  • Remember that trains require a lot of room to stop. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. Even slow-moving trains can’t stop immediately.
  • Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly.
  • Don’t get trapped on the tracks. Proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
  • If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
  • When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. It isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
  • Finally, don’t assume that because a train wasn’t there at the same time yesterday, it won’t be there today. Schedules vary.

For more information, visit GoMDOT.com. For a map of railroad crossings in Mississippi, visit http://ow.ly/tqSu3017Mfy.

To catch a ‘phish’

via Moak: To catch a ‘phish’, clarionledger.com

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is warning consumers about emails that appear to be from a legitimate business, but are actually designed to commit identity theft.

According to a news release from Hood’s officeWednesday, the so-called “phishing” email message attempted to gain the trust of consumers by claiming to be from a Memphis-based financial institution, but was in reality an attempt to gain access to their banking information. “(T)he scammers in this latest email ruse stole company letterhead and used language in the email that initially makes it appear that the customer is being contacted by the institution,” noted the release. “However, a closer look shows that the email is illegitimate.” And, brazenly, the message included verbiage warning consumers about the dangers of spam email.

“As we rely more and more on technology in our daily lives, scammers respond with increasingly sophisticated ways to use technology to cheat and steal,” Hood said. “Fortunately, there are often some red flags that can help consumers spot these brazen attempts at fraud and identity theft.”

Some of those red flags included grammatical errors and inconsistent fonts that were present in the purported bank message.

Phishing is one of many tactics used successfully by scammers. Although they’re sometimes poorly-executed as this one was, sometimes, the thieves take pains to ensure they look legitimate. They may contain actual logos of known businesses and financial institutions, and often use scare tactics to get consumers to click on links or request a response. For example, they might say your account has been compromised, or that you are in danger of losing money or benefits. By clicking on links or replying, unwitting consumers can open themselves to becoming victims.

Hood provided these recommendations:

  • Never provide personal or financial information in response to any unsolicited email or text. Instead, delete them and don’t respond.
  • Keep in mind that financial institutions themselves will not seek to “verify” such information as bank account or credit card numbers, since that particular information is generated and maintained by the institution itself.
  • Don’t open links or attachments on any unsolicited emails or text messages that request personal, financial or account information. It is likely such links and attachments lead to viruses and malware designed to steal data.
  • Always be suspicious of anyone who emails or sends a text message and asks for money to be wired or placed on a prepaid debit card.
  • If you get a suspicious email or text message, contact the business supposedly sending the message to let the business know its name is being fraudulently used in a phishing attempt.
  • If you’ve been victimized, or think you might be, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s Office at (800) 281-4418.

For more information, visit http://www.ago.state.ms.us/victims/identity-theft/.

Feds warn eye doctors: provide prescriptions

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Glasses on eye chart

Glasses on eye chart

via Moak: Feds scope out eye docs

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160523_A002_0

Did you know that, if you go to an eye doctor for a prescription or contact-lens fitting, he or she is bound by law to provide you with the prescription, and can’t make you buy any products (other than paying for the exam) as a condition of getting it?

I confess I was unaware of that, as are many consumers. And since I’ve dealt with ophthalmologists and optometrists most of my life, I have found this group of people to be among the most caring, competent and compassionate health care professionals out there. But — at least according to some consumers — a few of them may have violated a law known as the Eyeglass Rule.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to 38 prescribers, warning them of alleged potential violations of the rule. While the FTC released the contents of the letter, it didn’t say to which prescribers it was sent, or their locations. Failure to abide by this rule can result in stiff fines and penalties, including fines of up to $16,000 per violation. But in each case, consumers had complained to the FTC that they had not gotten a copy of their prescription.

“We are writing to inform you that such a practice would violate the FTC’s Ophthalmic Practice Rules, 16 C.F.R. Part 456, known as the Eyeglass Rule, which requires prescribers to provide a copy of the eyeglass prescription immediately after the eye examination, even if the patient does not request it, and prohibits prescribers from requiring that patients buy eyeglasses as a condition of providing a copy of the prescription,” noted the lengthy missive from Mary K. Engle, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices.

The Eyeglass Rule not only requires the eye doctor to provide you with a copy of your prescription, it also specifies what must be in the prescription, such as your name; the date of the exam; when it was issued and when it expires; the doctor’s name, address, phone number and fax number. Here in the Magnolia State, the Mississippi State Board of Optometry is tasked with enforcing state law, which gives additional detailsabout what must appear on the prescription. For glasses and contact lenses, the prescription must include a variety of scientific measurements such as sphere power, cylinder and axis power, and other terms that likely won’t be familiar to you unless you’ve worn glasses or contacts.

Once you have the prescription, you can take it and use it anywhere, including using it to buy glasses or contacts from an online provider or discounter. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean the exam has to be free; optometrists are allowed to charge you normal and customary fees, as long as they are charged to all patients, regardless of whether they need a prescription.

Caring for our eyes is a lifelong commitment; if you’re blessed with great vision, be thankful. But the sense of sight is so important to us that it’s worth the time to make sure everything’s OK.

For more information about what to expect from a visit to the eye doctor, the National Institutes of Health has some good advice on its website athttp://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/eyeexam.

Crack down on elder abuse

AdobeStock_69555217.jpeg

via Moak: Crack down on elder abuse, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160521_A002_2

A disgusting trend has been taking place across the globe in the past few years; elderly people are increasingly becoming targets of abuse of all types. Frequently, seniors are vulnerable in every way — physically, emotionally and financially. It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to report elderly abuse on a regular basis in the pages of this newspaper, reflecting a sad reality that as our population gets older, they can increasingly fall victim.

Just last week, Sharon Sallie of Booneville was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a Tippah County jury found her guilty of false pretense and conspiracy after she and two compatriots convinced an elderly resident to “loan” her $15,000, which would be paid upon settlement of a medical lawsuit. However, an investigation found the settlement and lawsuit didn’t exist. Previously, two others, Ahmad Fryar of Ripley and Jessica Plaxico of Booneville had been found guilty on similar charges associated with the case. Sallie will also have to pay $15,518.25 in restitution and court costs.

My own understanding of this problem is largely the result of the efforts of one man. For years, Don Sullivan served as a tireless advocate for stopping abuse of the elderly. This tough-as-nails former FBI special agent and state agency head practiced what he preached, putting his personal time and resources into defending the rights of the elderly. Sadly, Don died in 2007, but not before founding the Elder Justice Center, which helped elderly crime victims, and helping educate many people — including me — about this pernicious and often-hidden crime. He was also heavily involved in the Mississippi Leadership Council on Aging, which equips law enforcement personnel with the tools to help elderly citizens, and brings citizens together with local law enforcement to keep watch over vulnerable adults in their communities.

Don’s legacy is secure, but the fight goes on.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Elder abuse affects about one in 10 people over 60 who live at home. The CDC is quick to point out that’s likely to be a very conservative estimate, because elder abuse often goes unreported. Many elderly victims lack the mobility or knowledge to report abuse, and may shy away from reporting it because of shame, embarrassment, or even fear of their abusers. The National Center on Elder Abuse claims that between one and two million adults 65 or over “have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration on Aging, elder abuse takes many forms, including the following:

  • Physical Abuse — inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means.
  • Sexual Abuse — non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect — the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation — the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse — inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
  • Abandonment — desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect — characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

The Administration on Agring notes there are a few telltale signs of abuse:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns. They may indicate physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may signify emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person can also be signs of abuse.

Mississippi’s seniors are protected by a section of state law called the Vulnerable Adults Act of 1986. This law requires “any person, care facility or professional employee who has knowledge of or reasonable cause to believe that a ‘vulnerable adult’ has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or exploitation” must report it to either the Mississippi Department of Human Services (for home health agency reports) or the Mississippi State Department of Health (for other care facility reports or reports by private persons). The law creates special criminal penalties for elderly abuse, with extended prison sentences and heavy fines. The law also gives immunity from prosecution to those (other than the perpetrators) who report elderly abuse.

Since much of the enforcement of the law comes from the Mississippi attorney general’s office, I asked Attorney General Jim Hood to tell me what his office does to stop elder abuse. “Scams against seniors will not be tolerated, and those who violate our senior citizens in any way will be prosecuted,” he replied. “Whether it is physical abuse by a caregiver or fraud by a stranger over the Internet, our office pursues investigations and prosecutions of all forms of elder abuse. Often, the targeted seniors lose a lifetime of savings in one scam, or they are abused by a loved one or caregiver over a long period of time.”

Since 2004, the AG’s office’s Division of Medicaid Fraud Control and Vulnerable Adults Units have together convicted more than 525 people of abuse, neglect and exploitation of care facility patients or residents, with many of those targeting seniors. And Hood has strong words for would-be offenders: “Those who harm our elderly should take note that we will come after you with the full force of our office to protect those who often cannot protect themselves.”

Don’t fall for ‘grandparent scam’

AdobeStock_61544302.jpegvia Moak: Don’t fall for ‘grandparent scam’, clarionledger.com

“Hi, Grandma. I’m in trouble.”

It’s one of the most resilient scams out there, and crooks know it. If you’re a grandparent, you might be the target of the “grandparent scam.”

It starts with a phone call, often in the middle of the night. The caller says he or she is your grandchild (or a friend of theirs), and your grandchild’s in trouble. They might report being in jail somewhere, stranded, or victim of a crime. And they need money.

Because most grandparents have tender hearts when it comes to their beloved grandchildren, they’ll want to help. Every year, thousands of seniors fall victim to this scam, to the tune of more than $42 million. Before you say you’d never fall for such trickery, many others have said the same thing and still been victimized. What makes the story plausible is the scammers have often done their homework. A little Internet sleuthing can reveal your grandkids’ name, gender, age, where they live, and even what they sound like. In a world in which everything is posted on social media, it’s easier than ever to find ways to make the story believable.

In Chicago earlier this year, 79-year-old Pauline Hunt told a local TV station that she’d gotten a call from someone claiming to be her grandson, and he had been in a car accident because he had been texting. “Jason” was calling to ask for $4,000 to get him out of jail. He even put his “lawyer” on the phone, who instructed Hunt to go to two local stores and buy $4,000 worth of iTunes gift cards. Then, once the cards were in hand, the “lawyer” instructed her to read the cards’ redemption numbers.

But it wasn’t over yet. Hunt got another call from “Jason,” who said he needed another $6,000 worth of cards. She complied, but finally balked at a third request. Calling her grandson at home, he informed her that he wasn’t the one who had called, and that she had been scammed for $10,000.

Sadly, Hunt’s story isn’t unique. According to the Federal Trade Commission, between 2012 and 2014, consumers reported more than $42 million in losses from scams involving the impersonation of family members and friends. What makes it more heartbreaking is the scammers’ targets are often widows or widowers, who may be living on fixed incomes.

Arrests happen, but they’re few and far between. In January, New York officials arrested four Canadian women for preying on seniors in the Albany, New York, area by calling seniors, then putting a “police officer” on the line to instruct them where to send bail money for their “grandchildren.”  In December, police in Missouri City, Texas, arrested five people for allegedly conning a 92-year-old grandmother out of more than $308,000.

“Fraudsters have no problem preying on your goodwill to get inside your wallet,” said Corey Carlisle, executive director of the American Bankers’ Association’s ABA Foundation. “They’re using social media and internet searches to fabricate convincing stories, so be careful, trust your gut and do your best to confirm who you’re dealing with before sending any money.”

Since May is Older Americans Month, the ABA Foundation is offering these tips to combat these persistent scams. If you get a call purporting to be from your grandchild or someone representing them:

Confirm the caller. Hang up, and call your grandchild back on a number you know.

Ask questions. Crooks don’t like questions, and are counting on you to not be clearheaded. “Fraudsters want to execute their crimes quickly,” notes that ABA Foundation. “In this type of scam, they count on fear and your concern for your loved one to make you act before you think. The more questions you ask the more inclined they will be to ditch the scam if they suspect you’re on to them.”

Don’t volunteer information. Unless you know beyond a shadow of doubt the identity of the person on the other end of the line, don’t give up any information. It’s OK to be skeptical.

Never rush into a financial decision. Don’t be fooled — if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. Call other relatives or local police and ask for advice before sending money or cooperating with any requests to send money.

The ABA Foundation has some great tips to combat elder financial abuse athttp://aba.com/seniors.

Retailers hear cha-ching on Mother’s Day

mothers day

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via Bill Moak: Retailers hear cha-ching on Mother’s Day, clarionledger.com

I remember giving my mom a lot of Mother’s Day gifts through the years, from the old standby plaster handprints to ceramic bunnies, to flowers and candy — even an ashtray (!)  with my kindergarten picture in it (she’s not a smoker, and I still have no idea what was going on in my teacher’s mind). My mom accepted each gift with class, despite how silly or clumsily made. She fawned over every gift from my little hands as if it were manna from heaven. She still does, even though I can now do a lot better than plaster handprints.

It takes a special person to be a great mom, and I have been blessed with one. Many of you can say the same.

Mother’s Day, it turns out, has an interesting history. Far from its reputation as a holiday created by greeting card companies, National Geographic’s Brian Handwerk has found that it started as a way to memorialize war dead. Handwerk dug into the history of the holiday and found that Anna Jarvis, who is widely credited with creating Mother’s Day, wanted to create a national holiday to commemorate the crucial role our mothers play in our lives.

After her own mother (who had organized mothers’ groups to help restore peace after the Civil War) died in 1905, Anna promised she would honor her mother’s wishes for a national day devoted to celebrating motherhood. Promoted relentlessly, it began to grow and spread across the country, eventually resulting in President Woodrow Wilson establishing the first national Mother’s Day in 1914. But companies quickly saw dollar signs, and soon the holiday was commercialized beyond recognition as card companies, flower vendors and candy makers cashed in.

Anna, notes Handwerk, was horrified by the crass display of commercialism and spent her fortune and the rest of her life trying to restore it to its roots. “She organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits and even attacked first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities,” Handwerk reports. Many sources report she filed lawsuits against businesses and charities that she accused of taking advantage of the holiday.

But the years of fighting took a physical and financial toll on Anna, and in 1948, she died, broke and sick, in a Pennsylvania sanitarium, never having experienced motherhood for herself.

Nearly seven decades later, Anna’s vision remains elusive. As Mother’s Day approaches, retailers are counting on us to spend. And spend we will, in a big way.

The Mother’s Day of today is one of the biggest events on the calendar of many industries. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $21.4 billion on our moms this year, spending an average of $172.22.

“It’s clear that Americans want to honor their mothers this Mother’s Day,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said this week in releasing the results of its annual survey on the topic. “Whether it’s a special meal at her favorite restaurant, jewelry or a new smartphone, families are planning to indulge mom again this year.”

Here’s the breakdown of just what we plan to buy:

  • $4.2 billion on jewelry (given by 35.3 percent of shoppers)
  • $4.1 billion on special outings such as dinner or brunch (given by 55.2 percent)
  • $2.4 billion on flowers (66.5 percent)
  • $2.2 billion on gift cards (43.2 percent)
  • $1.9 billion respectively on clothing (35.4 percent) and consumer electronics (13.8 percent)
  • $1.6 billion on personal services, like a day at the spa (22.5 percent)

Of course, greeting cards are the most commonly purchased gifts but only accounted for $792 million of that projected spending. Becoming more popular: gifts of “experience,” such as tickets to an event or concert.

The survey also found about a third of consumers will buy their gifts at department stores, about a quarter at specialty stores and about 23 percent at a local small business. Online shopping has skyrocketed in popularity this year, with 27 percent saying they’ll shop online. Mother’s Day has been a national observance for 102 years, and though its traditions are now intertwined with the very things Anna disdained so much, generations have taken the time to stop and honor the woman who has given them so much.

So, this Mother’s Day, perhaps it’s fitting that we tip our cap to Anna Jarvis, who dedicated her life to honor her own mom. And even though buying gifts for our mothers is an established tradition, we can still take the time to let Mom know how important she really is. That’s what Anna was fighting for all along.

Return to Manufacturer

AdobeStock_76996362.jpegOne of the best purchases we ever made was a sleeping bag. Several years ago, Daniel needed a new sleeping bag as he was beginning his adventures as a Boy Scout. His old bag was a little embarrassing, as it was a “kiddie” sleeping bag, in bright colors. That was fine for a backyard family adventure, but not so good for tenting with the guys. So, for his birthday one year, we trekked down to Bass Pro Shops and found a mummy bag. It was a little on the expensive side, but I figured it would be worth it, because the brand had a good reputation.

The decision turned out to be a wise one. For several years, Daniel lugged that bag to campout after campout. One day, though, he came to me and complained that there was a problem with the zipper. “It won’t close,” he explained, and as I looked at it, I saw why. A couple of the teeth had been broken, so the zipper couldn’t engage to close.

We considered replacing the bag; after all, it had been four or five years. But I had heard that this particular company had a lifetime warranty, so I visited their website. Sure enough, I found that that they repair or replace the zipper, free of charge. All I had to do was send it back to the manufacturer in my own packaging. I was skeptical at first; I thought they might refuse to do the repair because it wasn’t a manufacturer’s defect; it was due to rough use, and they would certainly have been justified in saying “no”. But they assured me that they understood that the problem wasn’t any fault of theirs, but their brand was important to them, and this is why their program existed.

I filled out the forms, found a suitable box, and mailed it. A few weeks later, the very same box was sitting by the door. The manufacturer had replaced the zipper, cleaned the bag and it was as good as new.

I love companies will stand behind their brand. Some companies are famous for this. Of course, there are limitations, but if the problem results from normal use – and in some cases, minor misuse – they’ll usually take care of it. But they can’t fix it unless the customer makes the first step. You have to find the manufacturer and ask for help. It has to be costly for the company to do this; they would, of course, like to sell you a new product, but the price is acceptable to them because it’s part of their reputation for excellence.

Recently, it occurred to me that we are a lot like that sleeping bag; we’re broken from misuse. When God created us, we (and the world in which we lived) were perfect. God gave us the world and told us to have dominion over it. Imagine how perfect it was at first; fresh, shiny and new from its Creator. God, the flawless Creator of the Universe, gave it to us that way. Every creature, rock and blade of grass had its purpose in the Divine plan; it was a beautiful tapestry, resplendent in form and function.

He made us perfect, as well. Creating us in His image, he placed in us a Divine Spark of life, and walked with Adam and Eve (and, by extension, us) in the Garden. We could have lived like this forever in perfect peace and harmony. He gave us just one rule: “don’t eat the fruit from that tree.” But you know what happened next: tempted by the lying serpent, the First Couple took the fruit and ate, plunging everything into chaos.

Suddenly, everything changed because of this one willful act. Sin had entered the world, with its putrid corruption of what once was perfect. Ever since, things have been broken. The Earth suffers because of our brokenness, like an infection that spreads to others. Isaiah noted this in Isaiah 24: The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.

If you think about it, nothing works like it should because we have voided the warranty. It’s not a manufacturer’s defect; we know that all of Creation was pronounced “Good” by its Creator, and thus perfect. It would have continued to work perfectly until the end of time, had we not failed. But, remember, he gave us dominion and control over creation; what happens to it is up to us. And, let’s face it; we have done a pretty poor job. Things down here are a mess.

But (much more so than a sleeping bag company which takes the time to carefully craft a product and believes in it so much that it has a “lifetime warranty”) our Creator believes in his creation. God can – and will – restore us to original “mint” condition; we, too have a (true) lifetime warranty. But there is a price to pay: we’ve got to realize our brokenness, seek out the Manufacturer, and return ourselves to Him with a repair ticket. In the process, we must agree to change our self-destructive behavior and return ourselves to him.

If we do so, He will repair us, allowing us the right to become heirs in the ultimate family-owned company. He does this through the most generous return policy in the history of the universe; the Director of Refurbishment happens to be the Son of the Creator; he’s the only one who could handle the immense responsibility. His name is Jesus.

The price for this universal return program is immense; it cost the Son his royal throne as he came to live among us, lived a perfect life, and finally endured suffering on a cruel cross, rejected by the very people he came to save. All that sin and wrongdoing – yours and mine – were heaped on his shoulders as he died. But that wasn’t the end of the story! God raised him back to life, he walked the Earth for a while, then went home, where he is now preparing for our arrival. When his plans are completed, he will restore everything to its original factory condition, and will “make all things new” again. Even now, he still bears the scars as a reminder to us of what he did for us. Because of that incredible, undeserved, selfless act, we can be restored if we chose to accept the undeserved gift of grace.

If you recognize that there is something not right about your life, if you’re being tossed by the waves of happenstance and nothing seems to work out like it should, you are on the verge of uncovering the greatest truth in history. Your Creator made you, loves you, has never stopped pursuing you, and wants you back! But he also gave you the will to choose; you can continue to try to run things your own way, and take your chances that you can get everything right on your own.

Aren’t you tired from running around trying to control everything? Perhaps it’s time for you to send yourself back to the Manufacturer. When you return from that process, you will be different. Sure, you’ll still have to endure life; no one promised it would be easy. You’ll need to make some changes. But your life will have new purpose and direction; as a new creature, you will look at the world with fresh vision, and become a better human being as you carry out your Creator’s work. And one day, when this short existence is over, you can be sure you will be forever with him, as you embark on the adventures of the glorious infinity ahead.

If you are interested in finding out more about this wonderful, free universal return program, a good place to start is to click here, or just ask me or seek out someone at a local church. Whatever you do, I hope you will find the happiness and abundant life that can only come from the one who made you, loves you, plans for you and wants you back.

Mississippi no-call law expands to cellphones

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armonk.dailyvoice.com

via Moak: Mississippi no-call law expands to cellphones, clarionledger.com, 4/7/2016

You’ll soon be able to add your cellphone number to Mississippi’s “No-Call” list, effective July 1. Gov. Phil Bryant this week signed the bill, which will become effective July 1.

Central District Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown noted in a news release that the measure (SB 2366) hopes to control telemarketing at a time when the number of Mississippians with telephone landlines is decreasing and cellphone use is increasing. Mississippi is among states with the highest “cell-only” households, in which consumers have ditched their traditional landlines for cell phones.

Mississippi’s “No-Call” list became effective in 2003, giving consumers much-needed relief from annoying telemarketing calls. Telemarketers must purchase a list of numbers before they start calling, with steep fines for violations. But the service didn’t cover cell phones. A growing chorus of advocacy groups, lawmakers and citizens have been requesting for years that something be done about cell phone solicitations.

“We are very pleased that Mississippi citizens will now be able to add their cellphone numbers to the No Call Registry,” Brown noted.  “Consumers are tired of unsolicited phone calls and are ready for this relief.  I plan to add my cellphone number on July 1.”

Many states have Do-Not-Call lists, as does the U.S. government. Keep in mind that adding your name to either or both lists should protect you from the lion’s share of telemarketing calls, but you can still get calls from exempted causes and organizations, such as nonprofit organizations and political calls.

“It’s important that our laws keep up with new technology, especially as more and more Mississippians cut the cord on their landlines,” added Attorney General Jim Hood. “The passage of SB 2366 is a victory for Mississippi consumers who are tired of picking up their cell phones only to learn it’s an out-of-state telemarketer on the other end of the line. This measure should help curb those annoying and unwanted calls.”

Once you’ve added your number to the list, it can take up to two months before it takes effect. To register your home landline number, or your cellphone number, or to file a complaint, you may call 1-800-356-6430 or visit our website www.psc.state.ms.us.

Millennials are card smart

Chip of the gray credit card, closeup shot.

Stock Image

via Moak: Millennials are card smart, clarionledger.com, 4/6/2016

Most of us have never known a world in which you had other options than cash or checks for paying for everyday items. While the notion of credit has always been around, cards actually didn’t hit the scene until about 1949, when Diner’s Club introduced the first plastic credit card. With the introduction of debit cards much later, consumers had a whole new set of options for paying for most everything.

Up until recently, however, cash was still king for small purchases, such as those under $5. But recent research by Creditcards.com has indicated many consumers are swiping their cards for a pack of gum or other small items. It seems that the long-anticipated demise of cash is now occurring — albeit gradually.

Creditcards.com surveyed 616 adult U.S. credit card holders across a wide swath of demographic categories. They found that, in general, about two of every five consumers will use a credit card or a debit card for in-person purchases of less than $5. The most interesting statistic: 58 percent of consumers prefer cash for those small purchases. That’s down a full 7 percentage points from the last survey, conducted in 2014.

“There will always be a place for cash, but I think the shift to cards in the past couple years has been tremendous as people feel more comfortable using plastic,” said Rachna Ahlawat, founder and vice president of Ondot Systems, a mobile payment software development company.

Creditcards.com noted that — unsurprisingly — younger consumers prefer paying for small items with credit or debit cards. More than six in 10 of Millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they’d prefer to use a debit or credit card for small purchases, while less than 20 percent of those 65 or older preferred to use the plastic.

Among other findings of the survey:

  • College graduates are more likely to use cards for small purchases, while less-affluent consumers still prefer cash.
  • Parents favor cards more than childless consumers. Nearly half (47 percent) of parents use credit or debit cards to pay for small transactions compared to 35 percent of nonparents.

“Debit cards can be obtained at a very young age,” explained Stephen Lesavich, lawyer and author of “The Plastic Effect: How Urban Legends Influence the Use and Misuse of Credit Cards.” “For example, my 17-year-old son has a parent-supervised, high-school checking account at my bank, and a debit card was issued for this high-school checking account, which he tied to a mobile pay system on his mobile phone.”

Overall, Ahlawat notes, young adults prefer plastic for small transactions because they are just accustomed to swiping a card or paying online, not pulling out cash and coins. Ahlawat said her 19-year-old daughter only leaves her house with a phone and maybe one card, not a purse filled with cash. That’s a common story if you are the parents of a millennial. The wallet is becoming less a place to store cash and more of a place for ID, driver’s licenses and payment cards.

Creditcards.com noted there are several reasons for the growing popularity of cards — and the decreasing use of cash:

Convenience. It’s just easier to swipe a card than to open your wallet, deal with change or go to the ATM.

Fees. To avoid paying ATM fees, many millennials are just avoiding the machines altogether. Even though using your own bank’s ATM is usually fee-free, and ATMs are everywhere, consumers are faced with the choice of using plastic for their purchases.

Protection. “If money is stolen from a debit or credit account, there are protections in place to help consumers recover lost funds,” Creditcard.com notes. “Even for small purchases, using a credit card is a particularly safe way to secure money, thanks to the zero-liability fraud protections provided by the major card networks.”

Rewards. Many credit and debit products provide rewards programs, which can add up to cash or merchandise.

For more on Creditcards.com’s study, visit http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/pay-with-cash-poll.php.