The Checkout

Archive: September 2006

Putting the Fed in Sudafed

Despite an endless stream of news reports in recent years about the rise of methamphetamine addiction, I was blissfully ignorant a few months back when I ventured to my local Rite Aid for some Sudafed. I walked out with what I thought was a box of those trusty little red pills, only to find out when I got home it had been swapped with a nearly identical looking package containing something called phenylephrine. When I went up to the pharmacy on my next visit, I saw all the decongestant and cold meds containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were behind the counter...

By Annys Shin | September 29, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Saving Private Ryan from Bankruptcy

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a story about the Pentagon and Congress going after payday lenders that target military personnel. A payday loan, in case you're wondering, is typically a two-week loan of $500 or less that doesn't require a credit check. To get one, all you need is a checking account and a pay stub. Fees can be high, adding up to an annual percentage rate of 390 percent or more. Department of Defense brass and consumer groups are convinced such high fees help trap service members in debt. Payday lenders say they're just helping people who...

By Annys Shin | September 28, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (55)

NYC to Restaurants: Get an Oil Change

In what could be a bellwether move, New York City's Board of Health yesterday took the first step in requiring restaurants to sharply limit the amount of trans fat in their foods. Trans fat--a.k.a. partially hydrogenated vegetable oils--has been found to significantly increase the risk of heart disease. Public health advocates have likened it to bacon grease in your kitchen sink and lead in paint. Americans eat, on average, six grams of trans fat a day. A single fast-food meal can contain as much as 10 grams--far higher than the American Heart Association recommended limit of about 2 grams per...

By Annys Shin | September 27, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

But Can I Bring My Jelly Doughnuts?

Today, new Transportation Safety Administration rules on what liquid, gels and aerosols are allowed on board airplanes take effect. The rules--or "refinements," as TSA prefers to call them--are an improvement over the original ban on liquid substances imposed August 10, after British authorities uncovered an alleged plot to hijack planes flying from Britain to the U.S. Airport trash cans immediately filled with discarded lattes, $50 bottles of perfume, and countless tubes of toothpaste. With enforcement left up to the discretion of screeners, parents found themselves sipping breast milk to prove it wasn't an explosive, and cream cheese was eyed as...

By Annys Shin | September 26, 2006; 9:40 AM ET | Comments (55)

CSPC on ATVs

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission called in with a clarification on the agency's decision last year not to ban the sale of adult ATVs. The original petition by several groups including the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) had asked the agency to ban the sale of adult ATVs for use by children. Hence, the agency's response that it couldn't control people's behavior, he said. The thrust of CPSC's new educational outreach effort, Wolfson went on, was to get children under 16 to stick to ATVs designed for them. "Limited weight and limited speed are positives...

By Annys Shin | September 25, 2006; 3:24 PM ET | Comments (2)

Making ATVs Safer

In the midst of the Deadly Spinach Outbreak last week, the battle over ATVs took another twist. Consumer Product Safety Commission Acting Chairperson Nancy Nord took to the airwaves to encourage the public to "take knowledge to the extreme" and learn how to more safely enjoy ATVs. To help get the message out, the agency enlisted some minor celebrity wattage: National 4-H Council chief executive and president Donald Floyd, NASCAR racing legend Richard Petty and ATV racing champion John Natalie. Not the most potent antidote for Johnny Knoxville, but then again, what is? Then there's the campaign itself, an odd...

By Annys Shin | September 25, 2006; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (7)

Watch Out for The Credit Watchers

Before I begin, a little housekeeping. Thanks to the reader who clarified that "ein lo sechel" is Hebrew for "he has no sense." Lots of expertise out there on ads for FMNV in schools. Thanks to reader DJV9973 who tried to explain why the payoff is so small for schools that allow ads for FMNV. "I suspect that advertising for FMNV is largely comprised of signs on vending machines and advertising distributed through other media such as newspapers, magazines and closed-circuit television broadcasting equipment. Schools don't receive money for the vending machine advertisements, but they do receive money for the...

By Annys Shin | September 22, 2006; 7:14 AM ET | Comments (14)

Ads Add Pounds, Not Programs

Today, I'm taking a break from the Deadly Spinach Outbreak to go back to school. (For those who can't get enough of the E. coli hunt, check out today's installment.) No, I wasn't inspired to switch subjects because of the seemingly random comment from reader Ein Lo Sechel, who wrote: "I live in 33135 Las Vegas, Nevada. Have you been here before?" in response to a previous post by Caroline titled "Say Goodbye to Sugary Soda in Schools." Instead, what caught my attention was a paper by a crack team of researchers at Arizona State University who looked at in-school...

By Annys Shin | September 21, 2006; 8:42 AM ET | Comments (7)

What's In Your Gullet?

We're almost a week into the Deadly Spinach Outbreak. And it's good to know not everyone is filled with panic. Reader CyanSquirrel has just one thing to say about E. coli, that nasty intestinal lining-attacking bug: Bring it on! "Gee, if I had to choose between poop exposure, something that may harbor bacteria a healthy well-maintained body can fend off or handle, and pesticide/hormone/unnatural substance exposure, which causes a host of cumulative effects the human body is not designed to endure...I'd pick poop any day." Reader Erika says E. coli is giving pesticides a good name. "I think it shows...

By Annys Shin | September 20, 2006; 9:04 AM ET | Comments (10)

Food Product's a Wash

Ever since E. coli was found to have hitched a ride on some spinach last week into the digestive tracts of scores of unfortunate people, I've found myself wondering about food wash. Before we begin, a brief primer on E. coli: There are hundreds of kinds of this bacterium that is found in the intestines of humans and animals. The kind involved in the outbreak is E. coli O157:H7. It produces toxins and within a couple days of exposure can cause abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and a fever. Healthy adults usually get better within a week. Young children and the...

By Annys Shin | September 19, 2006; 9:05 AM ET | Comments (15)

Spinach Tales

So it's Day Four of the Spinach Alert. (If you're just joining us, and wondering why you can't find fresh spinach at the grocery store, on Friday the FDA notified the public that a deadly E. coli outbreak has been traced back to fresh spinach.) Over the weekend, my editor Kathy tried ordering a sandwich that normally had spinach in it. Rather than make the sandwich without spinach, the restaurant refused to make it at all. Also: Despite Giant's claim that it was pulling spinach from its stores, Kathy found spinach in the salad bar and in salad mixes at...

By Annys Shin | September 18, 2006; 1:24 PM ET | Comments (20)

Are you there God? It's Me, Lashexact Mascara

This month, "Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233," hits bookstore shelves. And some fear young adult novels will never be the same again. The publisher of Cathy's Book, Running Press which is part of Perseus Books Group, has forged a marketing partnership with Cover Girl Cosmetics, owned by Proctor & Gamble, to mention Cover Girl products such as Lipslicks lipstick in the book. P&G is not paying Running Press, but it plans to showcase the book on a Web site aimed at teenage girls. P&G wasn't as bold as jewelry maker Bulgari, which in 2001 actually contracted novelist Fay...

By Annys Shin | September 18, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Who Should Regulate Cellphone Carriers?

There's a new Mr. Smith in the Metro station ads around town; this time he's a lobbyist for cellphone companies. (Check out the ad at http:\\www.mywireless.org.) MyWireless.org is a non-profit bankrolled by the wireless industry and the ads try to persuade consumers they would be better off with a "national wireless policy." Why now? Because there's a Senate bill that is pending on the Hill that would switch wireless regulatory authority from the states to the federal government. "The freedom, choice and value wireless consumers enjoy today are threatened," the group's Web site says, because "a confusing tangle of costly...

By Annys Shin | September 15, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (14)

Segways Recalled

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled about 23,500 Segways because they can "apply reverse torque to the wheels, which can cause a rider to fall." If you own a Segway, read here for more information. You can find a full list of Segway dealers by Zip code here....

By Stacey Garfinkle | September 14, 2006; 2:09 PM ET | Comments (0)

Buy Your Way to Enlightenment

Now you can be One with your credit card. New age publisher and yoga video distributor Conscious Enlightenment LLC and Visa have teamed up to bring you the Enlightenment Card. Its motto: Changing the World with Every Point You Earn. The card is imprinted with different soothing images, including the face of Buddha, a.k.a the man who gave up his wordly possessions in pursuit of spiritual salvation. Priceless. "We figured people are going to have the credit cards no matter what. This is a solution that allows people to earn yoga classes or yoga retreats, make a difference in them...

By Annys Shin | September 14, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

The Elusive Escalations Office

After reading of Lisa Newman's battle with MCI, reader Gary Goldberg had an excellent question: "And the phone number to the MCI Executive Escalations office would be...?" I posed that very question to Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap. I also asked what exactly is the Executive Escalation Office and what triggers its involvement. Reap's answer: "The bottom line is customers should work with the customer service representatives to attempt to get their issues resolved. Period. Any information beyond that is proprietary." Next time you find yourself stuck in a phone tree, or better yet, if you crack the secret code to...

By Annys Shin | September 13, 2006; 2:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

Message to MCI: It's NOT Me!

In this age of identity theft and hijacked MySpace identities, proving you're you is not always easy. Just ask Lisa Newman of the District. Lisa has been fighting just such a battle against MCI, which keeps trying to get her to pay someone else's bill. About three years ago, Lisa began receiving long distance phone bills for a phone number she never had. At the time, she hadn't been an MCI customer for many years. Lisa quickly called MCI about the bills, customer service workers and supervisors assured her the mix-up would be fixed. Several months later, though, another MCI...

By Annys Shin | September 13, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (35)

A Pretext of Vulnerability

The story of Hewlett-Packard hiring private eyes to pull the private phone records of its board members has the makings of a great corporate soap opera. But who can enjoy it when it's also a depressing reminder of the vulnerability of our personal information? A brief recap: The non-executive chairman of the giant computer maker authorized an internal probe into whether her fellow board members were leaking information to the press. The company hired a guy who hired a guy who used "pretexting"--setting up phony e-mail addresses and impersonating account holders on the phone--to obtain the phone records of HP's...

By Annys Shin | September 12, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

My Name is Annys

This marks my first appearance as the voice behind The Checkout. A brief introduction: I come to the consumer beat after covering a motley assortment of topics for the business section, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Dan Snyder's proxy fight for Six Flags Inc. and local media companies. (In case you're wondering, Annys is pronounced ANN-is, like Janice without the J. It's from a name dictionary--a last minute substitution for Peter.) If you're faithful readers of this blog, you know that I have some big shoes to fill. Caroline--we're all on a first-name basis here in blog land, aren't...

By Annys Shin | September 11, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (28)

Valiant Verizon

One last note before I leave--I have to do this, as anyone who's read my previous items on Verizon will understand. The FiOs installers came again to my house today--begin at 8:30 and just left--at 4 P.M. It was a hard job, with many complicated parts. They did a great job!!!...

By | September 8, 2006; 4:10 PM ET | Comments (0)

This Clerk's Last Sale at The Checkout

It's time for me to check out from The Checkout. This blog will continue--under the very able hands of Annys Shin, who has also taken over the consumer beat at The Washington Post. As a Post reporter, Annys has wrestled some pretty tough alligators, including Dan Snyder and Fannie Mae, so her armor's already tough enough to take on all the consumer issues that come at us. As for me, I've had a great time at The Checkout. From the very first day the blog launched last January, you've been great readers, and I've enjoyed chatting with you. I've...

By | September 8, 2006; 6:50 AM ET | Comments (7)

Cookie Monsters

Years ago, my youngest daughter's favorite expression was "Toss Your Cookies." I'm not sure what prompted her to say that phrase again and again--and why we always laughed when she did. But earlier this week, I was reminded of that phrase when I tried to sign up for a Wall Street Journal subscription. As a result, "toss your cookies" has now become one of my favorite mottos, at least for online shopping. Here's why: A month ago, I decided I wanted to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. I went online and found I could buy the print and...

By | September 8, 2006; 6:48 AM ET | Comments (10)

Fat Wallets, Slim Satisfaction

Reader Ken Roberts of Arlington recently wrote to complain about his fat wallet. The problem: It's gotten unwieldy thanks to all the customer loyalty stores from several grocery stores, the bookstore, pet store, drugstore, shoe store, sports-equipment store. etc. As Roberts said: "My wallet isn't that big." Besides, he added, "I'm always trying to simplify my life, so even one extra card bothers me." Roberts asked: "Wouldn't it be nice if they could all be combined onto one card. Rather than handing out new cards, stores could gather your card information and add the info to their database--maybe give...

By | September 7, 2006; 6:30 AM ET | Comments (43)

Verizon FiOS Fiasco

I would love to write a nice item about Verizon. Really. And I was hoping I could do so when I got my FiOS TV installed. Alas, I can't. Here's my sad installation tale. First, the Verizon technician was supposed to arrive between 1 and 5 p.m. He came at 5:10. That, it turns out, was the least of the problems. I had planned to get two TVs hooked up to FiOS; one was already hooked up to cable, one was not. When I signed up for FiOS TV, the Verizon sales agent said I could have three TVs...

By | September 5, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (106)

 

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