When your TV spies on you



Source: When your TV spies on you, clarionledger.com

PDF: vizio

The novel “1984” by George Orwell was required reading for a generation of students. This dark 1949 novel tells the story of government functionary named Winston Smith, who lives in a dystopian world full of surveillance equipment, run by a brutal government bent on controlling every aspect of life. Every home and many public spaces have “telescreens,” large television sets that not only carry government propaganda, but have cameras documenting everything that happens. Nothing is off-limits to “Big Brother’s” prying eyes.

While the world Orwell describes might not much resemble the world we see every day, some privacy experts have been increasingly concerned in recent years about the way our activities are being monitored, not only by the government but also by private corporations. We’ve known for years about companies that collect and sell information about nearly everything we do online. But a recent revelation has many privacy advocates wondering just how far this can go.

Vizio, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and sellers of internet-connected “smart” televisions, last week signed a $2.2 million settlement of charges by the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey’s attorney general that it installed software on its TVs to “collect viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs without consumers’ knowledge or consent.”

According to the complaint, in 2014 Vizio and a subsidiary company used the sets to collect data from various attached devices and services and paired it with demographic data supplied by Vizio owners such as age, sex, income, marital status and household income. Then, the company sold the information to third-party companies, who used it to market products and services to Vizio customers.

The complaint alleges Vizio’s data tracking — which occurred without viewers’ informed consent — was unfair and deceptive, in violation of the FTC Act and New Jersey consumer protection laws.

Of course, it’s common knowledge that nearly all our online activities are subject to eavesdropping. Sometimes, it’s with our knowledge and consent; other times, it’s sneaky and illicit, and sometimes, is valuable in unexpected ways. For example, law enforcement agencies have sought to collect data from such devices as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home to help provide evidence of crimes.

And such activities are increasing. The “Internet of Things” — in which even common household devices such as thermostats and refrigerators are becoming “smart” and connected through the web — has become a reality before our eyes. “Smart-house” technology promises to make things more convenient for us, but it also comes at a price that may include our privacy.

It’s worth noting that Vizio didn’t break the law by collecting the information in the first place, but rather by not informing consumers it was tracking and using it. And it’s not the first; CNET reported in 2015 that some Samsung TVs equipped with certain voice-activated commands might happen to catch conversations occurring in the room, but Samsung was quick to note this capability was clearly disclosed.

Regardless, it’s clear the electronic devices available on the market today come with a lot of interactivity, which some argue makes for a better experience for the customer. Others, though, worry that all these interactive technologies could be creating a world in which someone’s watching our every move. For consumers trying to balance convenience with privacy, the best solution might be a balancing act between the two.


MS gets cut of payout from wire service scam

ftc-stop-payday-loan-scamSource: Mississippi takes cut of payout, clarionledger.com


For years, wire-service scammers have been successful by convincing well-meaning people to wire money to people they’ve never met. It may take the form of a “lottery” you’ve won, a loan for which you have to pre-pay fees, “mystery shopper” scams or dozens of other variations.

But consumers who wire money quickly find they’re left holding the bag for thousands of dollars. Many of these scams use established wire-service companies like Western Union or MoneyGram. Although it’s important to note these companies are just providing the means to transfer the money, advocates have for years argued they’re not doing enough to stop fraudsters from using their services.

Soon, though, Western Union will be sending money to 48 states, the District of Columbia and federal enforcement agencies, and it is being forced to bolster its efforts to stop fraud and inform consumers about the danger of sending money to wire scams.

Mississippi will get $53,180 for its part in the settlement, Attorney General Jim Hood announced last week, and Mississippians may also get part of a $586 million payment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which Western Unionagreed to pay to reimburse consumers who were victims of wire-service fraud. The news release didn’t state how much money individual Mississippians would be getting from the larger settlement.

 “Criminals continue to craft all kinds of schemes to try to convince consumers to wire them money,” Hood said. “Among these common scams are those where consumers have been told they’ve won money or prizes but first must wire money to pay required taxes or fees before they receive their winnings.”

In addition to the financial payout, Western Union has agreed to major changes in its anti-fraud program, including:

  • Anti-fraud warnings on forms that consumers use to wire money.
  • Monitoring, mandatory training and checking up on Western Union agents, to help them recognize and stop fraudulent wire-service transfers.
  • Heightened anti-fraud procedures, to respond to increased fraud complaints.
  • “Prompt and appropriate” disciplinary action against Western Union agents who fail to follow required protocols to stop fraudulent transfers.

“These criminals try to exploit our instinct to protect our family members through scams saying a loved one is in immediate danger and needs money right away,” Hood said in his news release. “Most importantly, consumers who receive solicitations from someone they’ve never met in person should be cautious about wiring money.”

For some tips on spotting, avoiding and reporting wire-service fraud, visit https://www.consumer.gov/articles/1019-money-wiring-scams. For more information about this settlement, visit https://www.justice.gov/criminal-mlars/remission.

Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner



Source: Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner, clarionledger.com

PDF: breathometer

Getting behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking is never a good idea. But many people would pay good money to know if they’re legally impaired before they drive or do other tasks. And, it turns out, many have. After debuting on the hit show “Shark Tank” in 2013 (the first time all five “sharks” invested in a new product), the Breathometer hit the market and brought in millions in sales.

The Breathometer is a little pocket-sized device that uses your cellphone’s headphone jack, and it is used with a companion app. After drinking, the user breathes into the device, which then gives you a reading of your blood-alcohol content on the phone’s screen and informing you of whether your blood-alcohol level is within legal limits. The company marketed two devices, the Original (sold for $49), and the Breeze ($99).

While the “Shark Tank” investors were impressed and immediately saw the potential in the device, the reviews about its effectiveness were mixed. CNET reviewer Wayne Cunningham remarked, after testing the device, that the Breathometer “makes for a fun party game and a potential way to meet people in bars, but its testing results should not be taken as proof of driver safety.”

The product also caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which announced last week that the company had settled charges that its claims about the Breathometer’s accuracy weren’t backed up by scientific evidence and could endanger both drivers and the public by giving false reassurance to drivers.

 Breathometer was sold with the assurance that it had undergone “government-lab grade testing” and that it was a “law-enforcement grade product,” both claims the FTC says were unsubstantiated. In some cases, the device “regularly understated BAC levels,” and the company continued to market the devices even after it learned of the issues in late 2014.

“People relied on the defendant’s products to decide whether it was safe to get behind the wheel,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Overstating the accuracy of the devices was deceptive — and dangerous.”

The settlement requires the company and its founder and CEO, Charles Michael Yim, to cease from “making future accuracy claims for a consumer breathalyzer product unless such claims are supported by rigorous testing” against National Highway Traffic Safety Administration protocols. The company must also provide refunds to consumers who bought devices.

In a statement on its website, Breathometer noted it had settled the case and was moving on. Its next product, Mint, analyzes your breath for compounds that could indicate poor oral health. “We feel it is important to clarify that this settlement does not undermine our achievements in creating quality consumer health devices,” the statement read. “We proactively stopped manufacturing Original and Breeze in 2015 prior to the FTC’s inquiry. We stand behind our current product, Mint, and its quality and pioneering technology.”

We’ve seen a lot of cases come up in which companies claim their products are effective at doing some task or other, and back up those statements by saying their products have been tested (or even endorsed) by official agencies and reputable testing labs. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case, and sometimes the results can be dangerous. A wide range of products can cause potential harm or even death if a user trusts marketing claims, often in lieu of getting real medical or safety advice from experts.

“Representations about safety are of great significance to consumers,” the FTC said in its Deception Policy Statement, which gives guidelines about how companies should verify their advertising claims. “It’s usually hyperbole to suggest that companies substantiate their claims as if lives depend on it, but it’s an accurate statement for a product that promises to accurately test the BAC of a person who is deciding whether to drive after drinking,” added the FTC’s blogger Lesley Fair.

Since 950 Mississippians died in alcohol-related crashes in 2015 (according the Mississippi Department of Transportation), it’s a serious safety issue. Ultimately, deciding to drive after drinking is taking an incredible risk, one that might have catastrophic effects on your future and those of others. So, while such devices may be fun at parties, it’s far too big a decision to entrust to a smartphone.

Fake charities scam Mississippians

Image: Image: Stock picture of a check


via Fake charities scam Mississippians, clarionledger.com

If you donated money to “charities” called Children and Family Services Inc., Mississippi Children Services Inc. or Mississippi Children and Family Services from 2008 to 2012, federal investigators would like to talk to you. The organizations are fake, and according to a Thursday announcement from Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, are part of a far-reaching scam broken up with the October indictment (and recent conviction) of a Florida man.

Hosemann’s office has been cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s north Florida office to investigate the case involving Gary R. Tomey, who  was arrested last fall with an alleged co-conspirator after an investigation found the pair had allegedly “instructed employees to fraudulently tell potential donors living in other states that the employees were volunteers and that all proceeds helped children in the state where the potential donor lived.” Some of those calls went to victims in Mississippi.

“Scams like this will not be tolerated in Mississippi,” Hosemann said.  “I commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their work and support in this case.”

In a news release from October, the U.S. attorney’s office stated that the pair “intentionally used a charity name that was similar to a state agency and failed to disclose that their organizations had been previously sanctioned in other states for fraudulent solicitations.” The scheme allegedly reaped more than $1.2 million in proceeds, which went to pay salaries, business expenses and Tomey’s personal expenses. Hosemann noted the organization “fraudulently solicited charitable donations via calls and flyers through his telemarketing company to donors in many states, including the State of Mississippi.”

As part of their continuing investigation, Hosemann said, the U.S. attorney’s office is trying to reach as many potential victims as possible, and if you have donated to any of these organizations, contact Victim/Witness Specialist Gretchen Busbee at the U.S. attorney’s office at 850-444-4000 or email her at Gretchen.Busbee@usdoj.gov.

It’s important to note that, although the names of these organizations are similar to well-known and reputable Mississippi agencies and organizations, don’t be confused. Fake charities often use the names of known organizations to break through our natural defenses of skepticism, and may even misrepresent themselves by using the name of the actual legitimate charity being impersonated.

Before agreeing to donate to any organization over the phone, check it out thoroughly. Ask them to send you more information in the mail before making your decision, and never give your checking account or credit card number to anyone who calls you. (If they won’t agree to send you information, consider it a red flag.) With any telemarketing solicitation, it’s a good idea to keep a notepad nearby, and note the caller ID information, including the number, along with the date and time of the call, the name (if given) of any representatives. If you feel pressured at any time, just hang up. No legitimate charity will pressure, harass, threaten or frighten you; if you feel any of these are occurring, your best ally may be introducing the caller to “Mr. Dial Tone.”

Online obituary donations get a hard look



via Online obituary donations get a hard look, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160725_A002_0

If you’re reading an obituary and it contains a request to submit donations to a particular charity in lieu of flowers, it’s a really nice thing to consider. Giving to charity in someone’s name is a wonderful way to honor them, and in supporting causes the deceased person cared about, you are helping further their legacy. But it’s also a good idea to make sure your money goes where the obituary says it will go.

On Tuesday, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced his office had levied a $30,000 fine against Legacy.com and Tributes, which comprise much of the nation’s online obituary business. Sorrell charged the websites had not only failed to register with his office before soliciting donations in Vermont, but that they also had directed donors to a (now defunct) website called Givealike, which then deducted fees from the donation before sending it on to the specified charities.

He also alleged neither the families of the deceased nor the named charities were informed about the scheme, in which Vermonters were charged fees ranging from $10 to $535.50. In some cases, the names and logos of charities were allegedly used without the consent of the charities.

“We are pleased to end this practice, which has cost Vermonters unnecessary fees at a time of vulnerability,” Sorrell noted. “This is a good outcome for Vermont donors and nonprofits alike.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Legacy.com and Tributes agreed not to allow software in the obituary of any Vermonter, or in any obituary where a Vermont nonprofit is listed without disclosing that a third-party’s website will be used and disclosing all fees. They also agreed not to solicit donations on behalf of a nonprofit, or use its trademark, without consent. Further, they agreed to register as paid fundraisers before soliciting Vermonters on behalf of a nonprofit.

This action may have occurred in Vermont, but it highlights a nationwide issue. When someone claims to be raising funds for charity, they often get the benefit of the doubt that the money will go where it’s supposed to go.

Here in Mississippi, charitable fundraisers must register with the secretary of state’s office. If you are planning to include a memorial gift request in your obituary, if you are writing one for someone else or planning to donate to a charity in lieu of flowers, here are a few things you need to consider:

  • Check out the charity. Not only will this help you determine if the charity is a worthwhile steward of donor money, it can help you avoid confusion. “Sound-alike” charities have confused many a donor because their names are similar to well-known organizations.
  • Contact the charity before including them. While charities are unlikely to turn down a monetary donation or to have a problem with including them, it’s important to notify them. Call or email them to let them know you are planning to include the request, and ask for permission and advice. Keep in mind it’s illegal to use their name, logo or other intellectual property in a solicitation without their permission.
  • Include a direct path to the charity. If the charity accepts donations on its own website, include that address (rather than a third-party website). Include a mailing address as well. Even better, just dropping a check in the mail or delivering it in person helps avoid your donation being diluted by fees. (Be sure to include your return address and a description of your gift; it will make it easier for the family to send their thanks.)
  • Be generous. If you can only afford to give a small donation, it will certainly be appreciated. However, “In lieu of” literally means “in place of,” so if you are giving something in place of flowers, the Emily Post Institute advises in a blog post that you try to give at least as much as you would have spent on flowers.

Nutritional supplements company agrees to shape up


via Nutritional supplements company agrees to shape up, clarionledger.com

PDF: herbalife

A group of companies affiliated with the iconic Herbalife brand have reached a settlement with federal regulators over alleged deceptive practices, and will pay $200 million to compensate consumers and former associates. The action was announced Friday by the Federal Trade Commission and culminates a years-long saga in which the FTC and other agencies accused the multi-level marketing company of incentivizing representatives to recruit others, rather than encouraging product sales.

“This settlement will require Herbalife to fundamentally restructure its business so that participants are rewarded for what they sell, not how many people they recruit,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said. “Herbalife is going to have to start operating legitimately, making only truthful claims about how much money its members are likely to make, and it will have to compensate consumers for the losses they have suffered as a result of what we charge are unfair and deceptive practices.”

The settlement between the FTC and Herbalife International of America Inc., Herbalife International Inc. and Herbalife Ltd. requires the companies to “fully restructure their U.S. business operations,” in addition to paying the $200 million fine to provide “redress” to customers and, in some cases, to reimburse former associates for their losses. In addition, Herbalife is settling a $3 million case with the Illinois attorney general.

Herbalife, while denying any wrongdoing, noted that it’s ready to move on. “While the company believes that many of the allegations made by the FTC are factually incorrect,” the company said in a press release, “the company believes settlement is in its best interest because the financial cost and distraction of protracted litigation would have been significant, and after more than two years of cooperating with the FTC’s investigation, the Company simply wanted to move forward. Moreover, the company’s management can now focus all of its energies on continuing to build the business and exploring strategic business opportunities.”

In its complaint, the FTC also charged the multi-level marketing company’s compensation structure was unfair because it rewards distributors for recruiting others to join and purchase products in order to advance in the marketing program, rather than in response to actual retail demand for the product, causing “substantial economic injury” to many of its distributors.

In its announcement, the FTC alleged the company had lured in people with claims they could quit their day jobs, earn good money and even get rich by signing up to sell Herbalife products. “But the truth, as alleged in the FTC complaint, is that the overwhelming majority of distributors who pursue the business opportunity earn little or no money.”

As evidence, the agency pointed out that, in 2014, Herbalife paid more than half of its “sales leaders” an average of less than $300. And, citing the company’s own survey results, the FTC alleged that owners of Herbalife “Nutrition Clubs” spent an average of about $8,500 to open a club, and 57 percent of club owners reported making no profit or losing money.

And, for those who did succeed in making large amounts of cash, the FTC noted those representatives are “compensated for recruiting new distributors, regardless of whether those recruits can sell the products they are encouraged to buy from Herbalife.” Many distributors, the agency concluded, “abandon Herbalife in large numbers. The majority of them stop ordering products within their first year, and nearly half of the entire Herbalife distributor base quits in any given year.”

The settlement requires Herbalife to revamp its compensation system so it rewards retail sales to customers and eliminates incentives that reward distributors primarily for recruiting. In addition, the company must create a new compensation structure in which success depends on whether participants sell Herbalife products, not on whether they buy products.

“This scheme preyed on people looking to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “Herbalife created an incentive structure that made it easy for people to invest, but impossible for most people to make any money.”

Perpetual care cemetery owner busted



via Perpetual care cemetery owner busted, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160708_A002_1

“Forever” is a long time, but it seems that it’s harder than you might imagine to get a place where your remains can remain undisturbed that long. Many churches and old community cemeteries throughout Mississippi provide peaceful resting spots that have been maintained for generations, but even these may eventually be lost to the years as current generations die out and new ones emerge.

While in reality, management of any cemetery carries with it the obligations of maintaining it for an unlimited term into the future, many people have been for years trusting in “perpetual-care” cemeteries. When you agree to purchase a burial plot, you should be reasonably confident the grounds will be well-kept, roads and infrastructure maintained, and markers maintained and repaired as needed. In fact, all new cemeteries built after 2009 (except those operated by churches, religious societies, governments and those in a few other categories) must be considered “perpetual care” cemeteries, and subject to the law.

Here in Mississippi, perpetual-care cemeteries are required by state law to hold back 15 percent of all ground burial sales and five percent of mausoleum and niche sales to a special account called a perpetual-care trust. The fund is then to be used to defray the expenses involved in maintaining the cemetery. They’re required to file a report every year with the secretary of state’s office to include —among other things — how much money is in the trust fund and how funds have been spent.

But occasionally, the secretary of state takes action against cemetery operators for alleged failure to adhere to the law. Last week, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemannfiled an action against the operators of Magnolia Cemetery and Meridian Memorial Park, and the owner of the cemeteries, William E. Arlinghaus, in Lauderdale County Chancery Court. In a statement from Hosemann’s office, he noted the cemeteries house the remains of former U.S. Rep. G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery and “numerous Meridian families.”

In the complaint, Hosemann asked the court to appoint a receiver for the properties, which will take over the assets and ensure compliance with state law. “Upon obtaining ownership of both Magnolia Cemetery and Meridian National Park in November 2011,” noted Hosemann in the release, “William Arlinghaus has completely failed to remit to trust the collections for his sales for ground burials (15 percent) and mausoleum/niche sales (5 percent).  After examinations were conducted by the Regulation and Enforcement Division of the Secretary of State’s Office, Mr. Arlinghaus failed to trust a total of $33,349.83 through October 2015.” Hosemann also noted several consumer complaints had been received, alleging “maintenance neglect” and failure to deliver markers that had been purchased by families or estates.

Hosemann’s office also applied for a temporary restraining order preventing Arlinghaus from continuing to sell pre-need policies to consumers. “Care of the final resting place of our families is critical to us as a society,” says Secretary Hosemann.  “Citizens need to know the funds they place in trust today will provide their care in perpetuity.”

To find out more about buying funeral and related services, the Federal Trade Commission has a special series on the topic, entitled Shopping for Funeral Services, at http://1.usa.gov/1ox8byi.

Be careful refueling your A/C

AdobeStock_514814.jpegvia Moak: Be careful refueling your A/C, clarionledger.com

As the weather heats up here in the South, our air-conditioning units will be getting busier and busier. The invention of air-conditioning has without a doubt created fundamental changes in how we live. Since its introduction in 1902, air-conditioning has not only changed the way we build structures (and even entire communities); it has also changed the way we interact (or don’t) with our neighbors and how much time we spend outdoors.

The rapid spread of air-conditioning (for which I, like most Southerners, am eternally thankful) has also led to rising concerns about the impact this technology has on the environment. Some refrigerants used in air-conditioning units (known as HCFCs or Freon) are being limited or banned outright by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of concern they’re damaging the ozone layer. (Which — in case you weren’t paying attention in your high-school science class — protects us from being fried by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.)

The EPA is in the middle of an aggressive phase-out of some HCFCs, which will force companies to stop making them by 2020. Since the phase-out targets the widely used R-22 or HCFC-22, it’s forcing the industry to find new ways to adapt. Although R-22 use is still legal, the phase-out means the cost is rising and will continue to rise due to decreased supplies. (It’s important to remember you can still use R-22, and if you have it in your unit, it’s perfectly fine.) You’ll only have to pay higher prices if your A/C unit needs to be “recharged” due to a leak.

As costs rise and R-22 stockpiles dwindle, however, people have tried a lot of ideas for replacements. Unfortunately, some of those ideas aren’t so smart; some alternatives to R-22 are being sold that could be dangerous because they contain highly flammable propane. Yes, the same propane that you use to light your campsite or cook your hamburgers is a primary component in a substance being sold as “R-22a.” The EPAissued a news release earlier this month warning about the products and how they can cause an improperly equipped air-conditioner to explode or catch fire.

“Using an unapproved, flammable refrigerant in a system that wasn’t designed to address flammability can lead to serious consequences, including explosion or injury in the worst cases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “As the summer cooling season gets started, we want to make sure consumers and equipment owners know what is going into their system is safe.”

The EPA has already conducted several enforcement actions about R-22a and related products, including the arrest of a Metairie, Louisiana, man who earlier this year allegedly sold a product called “Super-Freeze 22A” but didn’t warn his customers it could catch fire. In two additional cases, companies in Kansas and Illinois faced huge fines and were forced to stop selling similar products.

“EPA encourages technicians and contractors to consult our website for more information and recommends homeowners confirm that air-conditioning service providers follow manufacturers’ recommendations,” the EPA said in the news release. “Homeowners should be aware that recharging their cooling systems with the wrong refrigerant can void manufacturers’ warranties.”

The EPA has a list of questions and answers about R-22A atwww.epa.gov/snap/questions-and-answers-about-r-22a-safety.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about R-22 or alternatives, talk to your HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) technician to make sure you know what’s being put into your unit. Most experts recommend having a qualified HVAC company take a look at your system at least once a year anyway, especially since our Mississippi summer is going to give your system quite a workout.

Feds warn eye doctors: provide prescriptions


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.

Amazon’s in-app payout pending


Reed Saxon, AP

via Moak: Amazon’s in-app payout pending, clarionledger.com

Back in 2014, I wrote about how the Federal Trade Commission had sued Amazon.com over allowing children to charge things on smartphone and tablet apps without their parents’ consent. The online commerce giant was at that time accused of not only allowing kids to rack up charges on their parents’ accounts, but profiting from it. The tech website CNET.com estimates 2015 in-app purchases (known as IAP) were expected to reach $5.6 billion across the industry.

Just last week, a federal court granted the  FTC’ request for summary judgment in the case, which mirrors similar cases against online giants Apple and Google. The judgment allows the parties in the case to proceed with determining just how much the company is going to have to hand over to regulators, as well as figuring out how much (if anything) consumers will be refunded.

In the Apple and Google cases, charges were settled some time ago and cost the companies about $50 million in refunds to consumers.

The original complaint alleges Amazon.com knew about the issue for years, and cited internal documents warning the situation could easily escalate out of control.

According to the FTC, many parents complained that their kids had been racking up charges in the “free” apps, without giving them enough information to learn how to prevent it. Amazon argued it gave sufficient notice that in-app charges could occur, and that parents could forestall charges if they wanted.

At issue is the practice of granting users of smartphone, tablet and computer apps the ability to get upgrades, or to purchase game incentives. For example, a user of an online role-playing game called “Ice Age Village” could buy virtual “coins” and “acorns” once their free supply had run out. The items could be charged to a linked account, and the owner of the account (usually a parent) would get the unwelcome bill later. Charges for some games can reach hundreds of dollars or more. (That’s in real money, not virtual cash).

Companies marketing these games understand how to lure customers, often offering “free” versions with limited expansion. But once you’ve played all the levels in the free (“freemium”) version, you’ve got to pay up if you want to continue. CNET noted one popular game called “My Little Pony” allowed users to initially  play for free, earning experience points and unlocking six “ponies” as they went. But CNET’s Michelle Starr, after playing the game, noted, if they wanted access to higher levels, they would have to pay up.

“It is, quite simply put, the most blatant demonstration of sheer greed that I’ve ever seen in a freemium title,” Starr reported. Gameloft and Hasbro knew the legions of ‘My Little Pony’ fans would flock to the title, and that they would want that last pony unlocked. They also, presumably, knew that children would gravitate toward the game as well.”

Cyberspace is full of horror stories about shocked parents who got the bill for their kids’ in-app purchases. One notorious example was detailed in December, when a British child allegedly racked up more than $5,800 playing an iPad game called “Jurassic World,” at one point charging $2,200 in a single hour.

“We are pleased the federal judge found Amazon liable for unfairly billing consumers for unauthorized in-app purchases by children,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “We look forward to making a case for full refunds to consumers as a result of Amazon’s actions.”

Parents aren’t powerless when it comes to controlling their kids’ online purchases, but it requires a little knowledge and an understanding. The site digitaltrends.com has some great advice. Keep in mind that the options for controlling in-app purchases may differ with the brand and type of device. For example, iPhones and other Apple products have different options than Android and other types of devices.

If you’re not sure whether your kids can charge in-app purchases on your device, it’s a good idea to find out now, before it becomes a problem. Here are some links to advice: