Comcast Reportedly Agrees To Buy Time Warner Cable For $45 Billion

Comcast-TWCLogo A month after Time Warner Cable laughed off Charter’s $37 billion merger offer, the cable company has reportedly reached a $45 billion deal with Comcast that would make its nearly 15 million customers permanent citizens of Kabletown.

Citing the always-reliable “people familiar with the situation,” the Wall Street Journal reports that the deal will be officially announced in the morning.

Of course, just because two of the most-hated cable and Internet providers in the country have agreed to get hitched doesn’t mean it will ultimately happen. The merger would need pass regulatory muster with both the Justice Dept.’s antitrust folks and the FCC.

Back in 2010, the regulators took a lot of heat when they signed off on Comcast’s acquisition of NBC, allowing the nation’s cable company to purchase one of its largest broadcasters and content producers.

Almost immediately following that approval, then-FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker fled her government gig to accept a job… at Comcast, as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.

In the years since, the FCC has been more skeptical of major mergers in already uncompetitive markets. First, both it and the DOJ shut down AT&T’s attempted acquisition of T-Mobile USA, and more recently has reportedly warned Sprint leadership that it probably wouldn’t approve that company’s planned bid to buy T-Mobile.

The big question is whether or not the regulators will view a Comcast/TWC merger as hurting competition.

On the one hand, it would mean the removal from the marketplace of the second-largest terrestrial cable provider (DirecTV has significantly more satellite TV subscribers, but does not really compete with TWC and Comcast for Internet service).

On the other side of the argument, there is little to no overlap of TWC and Comcast markets, as most consumers have no option to choose between the two providers for service. So it would mean that affected consumers would go from have no choice… to still having no choice.

One likely important factor that would not be as consumer-facing but would still have a huge impact on consumers is the leverage that a combined Comcast/TWC would have with regard to bandwidth. With the recent removal of net neutrality regulations, Internet service providers have the ability to charge whatever they want to — or to block or slow down traffic for — online content providers.

As part of the Comcast/NBC deal, the company agreed to abide by net neutrality rules through 2018, but after that it will be able to leverage its size and customer base to charge premiums to competing content providers like Netflix and Amazon while simultaneously giving priority access to its own content.

It will be months until the review process begins in earnest, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Móviles y medios de pago #infografia #infographic

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Las 8 máximas del SEO #infogafia #infographic #seo

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Police: Headphone Thieves Dressed Up As Target Workers, Choked Employee

If you saw someone at Target wearing a red shirt and khakis, would you pay attention to what they were carrying? Probably not, since they’d just appear to be hard-working employees. According to police, that’s how two men were able to infiltrate a Colorado Target store, steal pricey headphones, and escape through an emergency exit.

The planning and execution of this heist were actually rather impressive. The pair clearly passed as Target employees. They asked a real employee to unlock the display case containing Beats headphones, then kept him in a chokehold until he lost consciousness. (That employee had no lasting injuries.) With him out of the way, they took several pairs of headphones, which are sell for hundreds of dollars each. Who would question two employees carrying merchandise around the store?

They might question employees heading out the emergency exit and into a waiting car, though.

Sophisticated’ Robbers Dress Like Target Employees, Choke Worker [CBS Denver]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

The FBI Reminds You That The Supermodel Wooing You Online May Just Be A Scammer

I'm pretty sure I sent this woman $60 and a bus ticket back in 2003. (ShotBySusan)

I’m pretty sure I sent this woman $60 and a bus ticket back in 2003. (ShotBySusan)

So that woman who began writing to you the other day — you know, the one whose photos look suspiciously like she’s a member of the Russian Ladies Curling team? The FBI says she might not be the leggy answer to your romantic dreams, but may just be looking to scam you out of your cash.

In the spirit of the upcoming why am I still single? Nobody loves me Valentine’s Day celebrations, the wet blankets at the FBI issued a reminder to the public that the people you find online are not always who they claim to be, and we don’t just mean the ones who post their roommates’ photos instead of their own.

“Here’s how the scam usually works,” writes the FBI in its best tough-love tone. “You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts.”

Sounds good so far; certainly better than most of my relationships.

“But ultimately, it’s going to happen,” continue the feds, their voice deepening with gravitas. “Your new-found ‘friend’ is going to ask you for money.”

Okay, my friends ask me for money all the time. I don’t understand why, as I’ve got less cash than a retired NFL player, but they do. Aren’t friends supposed to help friends in need?

The FBI all but dares you to send this online entity that initial bit of money, warning, “rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts.”

Since this wallet-draining virtual paramour is outside of the U.S., he or she may also send you checks to cash, may ask you to forward a package.

This all sounds like things I’ve done for actual flesh-and-blood girlfriends over the years. Is the FBI telling me they were just scamming me the entire time?

Quoth the agency:

“So what really happened? You were targeted by criminals, probably based on personal information you uploaded on dating or social media sites. The pictures you were sent were most likely phony lifted from other websites. The profiles were fake as well, carefully crafted to match your interests.”

In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas and by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package).

Any guy (this seems to happen to men with much more frequency) who has spent more than a day on has invariably been hit up with one form of this scam in which a woman will express some level of interest, but will almost immediately request that you move your back-and-forth off the site to e-mail or to another social networking site.

In some cases it’s just so that the paper trail is harder to trace for when the scammer hits the victim up for money, but the FBI warns of a particular variation of the ruse wherein the scammer takes their chat transcripts and post them to yet another website for everyone to see. The scammer then demands money in exchange for removing the content.

The FBI says that, in addition to local law enforcement, victims of online scams like this should file a complaint with the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Finally, here are the FBI’s protips on how to suss out whether that sexy man or woman wooing you online is a scammer or just a future disappointment:

Your online “date” may only be interested in your money if he or she:

•Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;

•Professes instant feelings of love;

•Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine;

•Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas;

•Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or

•Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).

•One way to steer clear of these criminals all together is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations.

We take issue with that last one as we’ve found that, while some dating sites are better at filtering out scammers than others, all of them are still constantly bombarded by fakers looking to cash in.

You can now follow Chris on Twitter: @themorrancave

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

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Blame Nature, Not Your Lover, If Valentine’s Day Flowers Don’t Show

Friday is Valentine’s Day, the annual Festival of Pink and Red Dead Plants and Sometimes Chocolate. This year, the timing of the holiday poses a special challenge to florists and other gift-deliverers: The 14th falls on a Friday, and the next business day is a federal holiday when many workplaces close. That’s tricky enough, but what about the blast of ice and snow currently threatening much of the country?

We’ve already established that no Consumerist readers are going to have flower-delivery complaints due to choosing a wire service instead of the finest local florist they can find. None of us controls the weather, though. (If you do, our Mid-Atlantic-based staff would like to chat with you.)

With the holiday falling on a Friday, there will probably be fewer flowers to deliver: people don’t want to take the chance that the delivery will be late, leaving the blooms behind in an empty office all weekend. Florists are hiring extra drivers, though. Drivers with four-wheel-drive vehicles, the Boston Business Journal tells us. At least in New England.

We’re still happy to listen to your stories of floral horror. Just remember that the weather and the timing of the holiday pose special challenges to florists. If there’s no bouquet on your desk for your co-workers to fuss over, don’t be mad at your significant other. Save your anger for the atmospheric conditions.

Most importantly, if you were depending on a flower delivery for your Valentine’s Day celebration, make a backup plan.

Florists prep for pre-Valentine’s storm [Boston Business Journal]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

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People Doing All Sorts Of Things With Bacon At Casino’s Weeklong Festival

What do you do if you’re an Atlantic City casino and want the crowds to come running through your doors, drool bubbling and eyes frantically searching? Why, just use that old familiar siren — bacon. Because people just love eating it, smelling it, rolling around in it and whatever else you can do with the stuff.

The Tropicana Casino and Resort has a full on bacon hoopla going on with its Bacon Week festival, reports the Associated Press, with all the bells and whistles (mmm, a bacon whistle):

Bacon milkshakes. Chocolate-covered bacon shaped like roses. Bacon-flavored toothpaste, dental floss and lip balm. Bacon bourbon, margaritas, beer and vodka. Bacon ice cream sundaes. A BLT sandwich with a full pound of bacon.

What, no bacon trampoline? A bacon gingerbread house? A bacon genie that grants you three wishes before disappearing back into his smoker for all eternity or until someone else conjures him? Pfft. Amateurs.

Despite the potential risk to a person’s cardiovascular health, bacon is a popular bit of meat — Americans chow down on about 1.5 billion pounds of bacon every year, the National Pork Board boasts.

And the fans have spoken.

“Bacon is like heaven,” said one Bacon Week attendee. “If you’re going to die, die with bacon on your lips and a BLT in each hand.”

“I love me some bacon!” another guy tells the AP. “I don’t even know what this is, but it’s got bacon in it. And it’s good!”

Of course, there are going to be skeptics, even among the non-vegetarians among us.

“There are people that are just crazy for bacon,” said another festival goer. “But bacon toothpaste or floss? I’m not that crazy.”

Full disclosure: I love bacon, but when it comes to personal hygiene products… well let’s just say I’ve got a container of bacon-flavored shaving cream collecting dust in my apartment that I bought on a whim and it smells like a bacon diaper. A full one.

NJ festival lets you eat, drink, floss with bacon [Associated Press]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

FTC Approves Oversight Program For Compliance With Kids’ Online Privacy Rules

The FTC announced today that the agency has approved a new “safe harbor” certification program for websites that handle childrens’ personal data. The kidSAFE program will certify websites and programs that meet the standards of the the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

COPPA is the rule that governs how websites are allowed to collect and use childrens’ personal information. Even adults encounter COPPA pretty regularly, in the form of that little tick box on many sites asking the user to verify that they are 13 or older.

COPPA doesn’t completely prohibit websites from collecting kids’ personal information, but it does require sites to obtain verifiable parental consent and to outline how and when any personal data data will be used. Mainstream or all-ages sites like Facebook find it easier not to allow accounts for the under-13s, but obviously a site aimed specifically at grade-schoolers operates differently.

The kidSAFE seal doesn’t change any element of the existing standards, but instead creates something of a voluntary certification process. Sites receiving its seal of approval meet standards at least as exacting as those required under the law. The FTC explains:

The Commission determined that the kidSAFE safe harbor program provides “the same or greater protections for children” as those contained in the COPPA Rule; effective mechanisms used to assess operators’ compliance; effective incentives for operators’ compliance with the guidelines; and an adequate means for resolving consumer complaints.

A certified safe harbor program, because it is found to meet those standards, basically supplants direct involvement from the FTC in most (though not necessarily all) circumstances. The FTC says that participating websites, “will be subject to the review and disciplinary procedures provided in the safe harbor’s guidelines in lieu of formal FTC investigation and law enforcement.”

KidSAFE is not a universal program; it’s run by a private company. And it’s decidedly opt-in: according to their website, “The kidSAFE+ Seal is only available to companies who first become members in our program and who specifically request and qualify for this level of certification.”

However, for sites that do choose to join, the FTC now agrees that kidSAFE certification is in compliance with the law. To be marked as kidSAFE+ and COPPA-compliant, a site must have:

  • Safety measures for chat and community features (if applicable)

  • Rules and educational info about online safety

  • Procedures for handling safety issues and complaints

  • Parental controls over child’s account

  • Age-appropriate content, advertising, and marketing

  • Neutral age questions

  • Parental notice and consent procedures (when applicable)

  • Parental access to child’s personal information (when applicable)

  • Data integrity and security procedures

  • COPPA-compliant privacy policy

  • COPPA oversight and enforcement by the kidSAFE® Seal Program

No seal of approval by itself can make the internet safe for anyone, let alone for kids, but parents can at least rest assured that if they see this one on any site their children are using, the FTC thinks it’s legit.

by Kate Cox via Consumerist

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Why Sprint’s Case For T-Mobile Merger Is Logical But Bad For Consumers

sprint-logo Japanese telecom giant SoftBank owns a controlling share of Sprint and has made no attempt to hide its desire to acquire T-Mobile USA and merge the two companies into one. It’s a plan that makes sense from a business point of view, but could be a disaster for consumers.

“Without industry consolidation, for Sprint alone to become No. 1 in the U.S. is literally just a dream,” SoftBank President Masayoshi Son said in a quarterly earnings call this morning.

And he’s correct. It’s highly unlikely that Sprint, as things currently stand, could leapfrog both AT&T and Verizon to take the market leadership position without acquiring T-Mobile’s customer base.

But even then, the two entities would still not have the most wireless customers in the U.S. So all that would be accomplished is the removal of T-Mobile.

That would be one thing if T-Mobile were just another clone of the other players in the industry, but since its failed merger with AT&T in 2011, T-Mobile has shaken up the industry — from a distant fourth place, mind you — by getting rid of phone subsidies (a move that AT&T recently began to follow) and the creation of early upgrade plans (that all four competitors have since tried launched).

That doesn’t mean that T-Mobile is a good wireless provider; customers tell Consumerist that the T-Mobile network is still slower and has more coverage gaps than what they’ve experienced with the other providers. But the company’s disruptive presence in the marketplace can not be denied, and the fact that a fourth-place competitor can exert this much influence over much larger competitors demonstrates how desperately this industry needs to keep its last shred of open competition.

Son contends that a larger Sprint would actually be a good thing for consumers.

“I’m not content for Sprint to remain No. 3 because if we could grow bigger, we will offer aggressive discounts and services, just like we did in Japan,” he explained.

A merged Sprint/T-Mobile would have to offer up these discounts and services because so much money will have been invested in the acquisition that the company would need to do anything to cut away at AT&T and Verizon’s market share.

But the fact is that simply offering cheaper service isn’t going to cut it. If it did, T-Mobile and Sprint would be the top two players in U.S. wireless, as they both offer plans that are significantly less expensive than what the current leaders sell.

It would also require a huge investment in network infrastructure to play catch up to the bigger players, much more than the $16 billion pledged by SoftBank over the next two years. Let’s not forget that the T-Mobile and Sprint networks are not compatible, meaning that customers with single-band phones would not enjoy the benefits of a combined network, and that the company would need to spend even more to make this change. Heck, Sprint is just now finishing up the winding down of the ancient Nextel network it acquired nine years ago.

The question then would be how long a combined Sprint/T-Mobile could hope to offer deep discounts and make large capital investments in its network (not to mention the massive marketing effort that would be required to convince the public to switch to Sprint)? And what happens if Sprint does become the #1 or 2 wireless provider — do the prices go up to the point where the company earns back its investment?

There is also the prospect that a merger could backfire in glorious fashion, driving millions of disgruntled T-Mobile into the more expensive arms of AT&T and Verizon, if only out of spite. Thus, SoftBank would have spent billions to acquire not that many customers, leaving the company in a tenuous third-place position.

In 2011, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse was an outspoken critic of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger, saying that the deal needed to be blocked so that “wireless competition will thrive and competition, in turn, will continue to drive investment, innovation, consumer choice, and U.S. global leadership in wireless communications.”

Guess this only applies to when other companies want to acquire T-Mobile.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

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Snapchat Hack Attack Hitting Users With Spam Photos Of Delicious, Frothy Smoothies

This is not spam. It's an innocent smoothie. (Jeannette E. Spaghetti)

This is not spam. It’s an innocent smoothie. (Jeannette E. Spaghetti)

While there’s no ideal way to get spammed, and being hacked is an unpleasant experience overall, the latest attack on Snapchat looks kind of delicious. Users are reporting receiving photos of tasty smoothies with a spammy link from their friends, who are definitely not sending said drinkalicious photos.

Wired’s Joe Brown says this happened to him yesterday — where his friends were texting him to see what his deal was with sending all those smoothie photos. Thing is, he didn’t send them, he writes.

“Honest mistake; I get weird on Snapchat. But this smoothie was not mine, and I was not trying to sell discounted supplements through a fruit-themed scamsite; my Snapchat account was hacked, and I am not alone.”

Anyone who clicks on the link is just taken to an smoothie recipes, notes Business Insider, so it appears to be a relatively harmless attack. The hacker or hackers could somehow be trying to steal a chunk of referrals for that page, perhaps. Or they just really, really like smoothies.

Snapchat has confirmed this has been an ongoing problem in the last few days (probably because they’re sooo popular). It appears to be a small scale kind of thing where someone has your email address and is guessing your password, so it’s a good idea to go ahead and change that.

“It’s mostly cases where someone has your email address and password and gets in on the first try,” a spokesperson told Brown. “We’re not seeing any evidence of brute-force tactics.”

Here’s where we have to remind you not to use your password for multiple sites, and make sure it’s got all kinds of numbers, capitalized letters and punctuation in it. Oh, and don’t use “password.”

Now time to make a real smoothie, sans spam, because I’ve suddenly got a hankering. And now I can’t send anyone a photo of it when it’s done. Darn you, hackers!

A Snapchat Hack Is Sending People Pictures of Smoothies []

A New Snapchat Hack Sends Pictures Of Smoothies To People [BusinessInsider]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Staples Offers $5 Check To Take Stupid Survey, Won’t Give Me $5

STAPLES_CHECKGuy received an invitation from Staples to take a survey. Surveys can be tedious and not very fun, but five bucks is five bucks. He followed the link and completed what he calls a “long, redundant, poorly designed survey.” He kept going because there was a check for him at the end. Then he reached the end, and learned that there would be no reward for him.

Wait, what? Turns out that Staples already had enough responses to this survey, and there was no $5 check for Bob. Why did they put him through it, then?

Here’s the message that he received at the end of the survey:

Your opinions are extremely important to us. Unfortunately, we have reached the target number of completes from your group today. However, your time and efforts are greatly appreciated.

Thanks again for your support and participation.

“Your time and efforts are greatly appreciated” is nice and all, but it’s not five bucks.

We sent the survey e-mail and Bob’s account of what happened over to Staples HQ to find out what the deal was. Do they make a habit of putting customers through surveys and then refusing to pay out? No, a spokesman told us.

Staples values the input of our survey respondents. All respondents must qualify and complete the survey to receive any potential reward. Qualifications and target number of completes are confidential business information and unfortunately, some individuals may have completed the survey before we could validate their qualifications or after we had met our required number of completes for any specific target groups. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused any of our valuable customers.

That means that if, say, they need 500 small business owners to fill out the survey and 499 have already done so when you start it, the next five to finish get the money. If that’s not you, well, that’s too bad.

Staples did offer to reach out to Guy and give him the survey reward that he missed out on. He appreciates that, but the money isn’t really the point. “Not so much about the $5 as it was the misleading promise,” he wrote to us. “Seems like a really bad process to promise an incentive and not deliver.”

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Sinkhole Under The National Corvette Museum Swallows 8 Cars That Probably Weren’t Cheap

This Corvette was not involved, so far as we know. (Tjololo Photo)

This Corvette was not involved, so far as we know. (Tjololo Photo)

If you’re a car enthusiast planning a trip to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. in the near future, you might want to consider postponing your visit. Unless of course, sinkholes underneath car museums are of particular interest to you.

The Kentucky museum suffered quite a blow today when sinkhole 40 feet wide and 25-30 feet deep opened up this morning underneath the skydome section of the museum, CNN reports, swallowing eight cars in the process.

That part of the museum houses Corvettes that are on loan from private owners, collectors and others that were “made famous by magazines and auto shows the world over,” the museum’s site explains.

It’s also where 30 unique Corvettes live, including a 1983 model that is the only one of its kind. It’s unclear if that one fell, but we do know that six were donated by Corvette enthusiasts and the other two are owned by General Motors, the cars’ maker.

Included in the fallen vehicles were a 1962 Black Corvette, a 1984 PPG Pace Car, and a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder. And while no price tag has been put on the total value of the damaged cars, considering this is a museum and these are Corvettes, we’re not surprised to hear the executive director put the amount at “substantial.”

Stupid sinkholes, always showing up where you don’t want them, like Florida resorts or at the Sonic drive-thru. Never where you need them most — like under your feet when you realize there are no more episodes of Sherlock on in the near future. Seriously, just swallow me up, cruel world.

Cars fall into sinkhole at National Corvette Museum [CNN]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Sports Illustrated To Feature Actual Barbie Doll On Swimsuit Issue

This will go over well...

This will go over well…

Sports Illustrated will have a difficult time living down accusations that the models featured in its annual Swimsuit Issue are too plastic, after it was announced today that the magazine will include photos of an honest-to-goodness Barbie doll.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the annual issue for people who haven’t yet figured out how to find free pictures of attractive barely clothed women online.

Reuters reports that the special cover, which is supposed to be unveiled on Thursday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live but which we found in this Slate article, shows Barbie in the same swimsuit she first sported back in 1959.

“Barbie is a legend in her own right, with more than 150 careers and a brand valued at $3 billion,” said a Mattel spokeswoman, presumably before having a mental breakdown after realizing that she gets paid a lot of money to put on a straight face and say these kinds of things about little plastic women.

Because nothing can be done these days without an accompanying hashtag, the toy company is deploying #unapologetic in an attempt to fight back against claims in recent years that Barbie presents young girls (and young boys) with an idealized image of a woman that could only be achieved through an insane cocktail of engineered genetics, eating disorders, constant exercise, and significant amounts of cosmetic surgery.

However, as McDonald’s recently learned, it’s incredibly easy to turn a hashtag against its creator, and there are already a number of Twitter users employing #unapologetic to express their disappointment with the SI cover.

You can now follow Chris on Twitter: @themorrancave

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

‘Dead Rising’ Comes To Life As Chainsaw-Wielding Man Robs Store While Wearing Flower Pot Helmet

This is a screengrab from actual CCTV footage of the teen attempting to rob a 7-Eleven with a chainsaw and, yes, a flower-pot helmet.

This is a screengrab from actual CCTV footage of the teen attempting to rob a 7-Eleven with a chainsaw and, yes, a flower pot helmet.

I can’t tell you the hours I’ve spent chainsawing paths through hordes of undead, or bashing them over the head with flower pots, in Dead Rising on my Xbox, but I never imagined that someone would manage to make this over-the-top game a reality by combining the two objects and using them in the robbery of a convenience store.

The Queensland Times in Australia reports that a teenager entered a 7-Eleven store around 4:30 a.m. on Monday, carrying a chainsaw and wearing a flower pot on his head.

The man allegedly lunged at the two employees with his turned-on chainsaw, driving them into the store’s back room. He then turned the saw on the 7-Eleven’s poor, innocent window and random shelves while drunkenly demanding cash… all before mooning the employees and fleeing the scene and only making off with a stolen soda.

Police responded to the employees’ call for help and spotted the teen on their way to the store. He was arrested and a police dog was able to sniff out the chainsaw hidden in a nearby bush.

The chainsaw-wielding punk, whose name is sadly not Nick Ramos, was charged with one count of armed robbery, two counts of willful damage, one count of going armed to cause fear, one count of public nuisance and one count of possessing suspected stolen property, reports the Times.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the Xbox controller is calling my name.

If he'd had an oar and some tape, the teen would have been able to increase this awesome weapon from Dead Rising 2.

If he’d had an oar and some tape, the teen would have been able to increase this awesome weapon from Dead Rising 2.


You can now follow Chris on Twitter: @themorrancave

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Let’s Go Ahead And Call “Pre-Valentine’s Day” What It Is: Any Calendar Day Before Feb. 14

Nice try, businesses attempting to create something out of nothing that people will nevertheless spend money on, but “Pre-Valentine’s Day” is not a thing. Or at least it shouldn’t be, unless you’re simply referring to say, Feb. 13, Feb. 12 or even Jan. 17. Or heck, any of the 44 days that fall before Valentine’s Day on the calendar. But don’t think that means we need to rush out for a romantic dinner under the pretense of yet another so-called occasion.

Because apparently, couples who find themselves unable to celebrate their love on a day designed specifically for that romantical purpose are panicking and wondering what in the heck they can do to mitigate such a date disaster, businesses this year have been pushing Pre-Valentine’s Day as a way to alleviate any pain caused by scheduling conflicts on the big day.

This week has seen a push for things like Pre-Valentine’s Day dinner specials, reports Quartz, as a romantic alternative to the brouhaha over Valentine’s Day itself.

Even President Obama and his wife Michelle aren’t safe from the marketing machine — they went out to dinner earlier this week because they’ll be apart on Feb. 14 so of course, the press is calling that a Pre-Valentine’s Day date. Instead of simply, “a nice dinner with a loved one.”

“More and more folks recognize that doing something thoughtful for your significant other the week of Valentine’s Day is okay, avoiding the crowds and waiting times associated with that day,” the proprietor of a Pittsburg establishment tells Quartz. His restaurant is hosting a five-course Pre-Valentine’s Day dinner on Feb. 13.

“Many folks consider leaving dining out on Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve to the ‘amateurs’ who do not dine out on a more regular basis,” he said.

Many folks also consider Valentine’s Day just another day of the week that’s pretty good for ordering pizza, doing laundry and watching Total Recall with their roommate. What? It’s totally a romantic movie. Coincidentally, those are all perfectly acceptable Pre-Valentine’s Day activities.

Valentine’s Day isn’t enough: Businesses worldwide are pushing “Pre-Valentine’s Day” [Quartz]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

3,250 Flights Canceled Today, Another 4,000 Delayed

FlightAware's Misery Map shows how bad the weather has affected travel in the Southeast. With the storm headed toward the Northeast, expect the map to show a lot more red around D.C. and NYC.

FlightAware’s Misery Map shows how bad the weather has affected travel in the Southeast. With the storm headed toward the Northeast, expect the map to show a lot more red around D.C. and NYC.

As ice and snow once again socks the Southeast and makes its way northward, thousands of flights are being canceled or delayed, leaving travelers around the country stranded and unsure of when they will be able to fly again.

According to the latest data from, 3,259 flights had already been canceled at U.S. airports by 12:30 p.m. ET today, with 4,039 flights delayed.

The two airports most directly impacted by the weather are Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta — the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic and Delta’s largest hub airport — and Charlotte/Douglas in Charlotte, NC, the home hub for US Airways.

As of right now, 832 flights out of ATL had been canceled today, with 807 incoming flights called off. In Charlotte, 392 outbound flights have been canceled, along with 408 inbound flights.

So not surprisingly, Delta and US Airways are among the airlines with the most cancelations, with 1,199 and 216 flights canceled, respectively.

Passengers booked to travel to the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic or Northeast in the coming days should check with their carrier now to see what flights are being canceled and what, if any rescheduling relief is being offered to impacted customers.

Delta’s website says travel booked through Feb. 13 to these Southeast cities — Asheville, NC; Atlanta; Charlotte, NC; Greensboro, NC; Greenville, SC; Huntsville, AL; Norfolk, VA; Raleigh, NC — can be rescheduled without a change fee, so long as the rebooked flight departs no later than Feb. 17.

For travel scheduled on Delta to these Northeast cities on Feb. 13 or Feb. 14 — Allentown, PA; Baltimore; Bangor, ME; Boston; Harrisburg, PA; Hartford, CT; Manchester, NH; New York JFK; New York LaGuardia; Newark; Newburgh, NY; Philadelphia; Portland, ME; Providence, RI; Washington Dulles; Washington Reagan National; White Plains, NY — can rebook without a change fee if the rescheduled flight departs no later than Feb. 19.

US Airways is allowing passengers with travel booked in the coming days to reschedule, depending on the date of travel and the destination city.

US Airways passengers scheduled to fly to any of these Southeast airports — Birmingham, AL ; Huntsville, AL ; Atlanta, GA ; Augusta, GA ; Salisbury, MD ; Asheville, NC ; Charlotte, NC ; Fayetteville, NC ; Greensboro, NC ; Greenville, NC ; Jacksonville, NC ; New Bern, NC ; Raleigh/Durham, NC ; Wilmington, NC ; Charleston, SC ; Columbia, SC ; Florence, SC ; Greenville, SC ; Johnson City, TN ; Knoxville, TN ; Charlottesville, VA ; Lynchburg, VA ; Newport News, VA ; Norfolk, VA ; Richmond, VA ; Roanoke, VA — today or tomorrow (2/12) are being given the option of rescheduling their trip to Feb. 13,14,15,16 or 17. No change fee should apply if the destination city remains the same, but the airline isn’t offering a firm guarantee that you won’t have to pay any additional money.

For US Airways travelers heading to these Northeast cities — Hartford, CT ; New Haven, CT ; Washington, DC (Dulles Int’l Airport) ; Washington, DC (Reagan National) ; Bangor, ME ; Portland, ME ; Baltimore, MD ; Boston, MA ; Manchester, NH ; Newark, NJ ; Albany, NY ; Binghamton, NY ; Islip, NY ; New York, NY (JFK Airport) ; New York, NY (LaGuardia) ; White Plains, NY ; Allentown, PA ; Harrisburg, PA ; Philadelphia, PA ; Scranton, PA ; State College, PA ; Williamsport, PA ; Providence, RI — on Feb. 13 or Feb. 14, the airline is making the same vague no-change-fee offer to those willing to reschedule to Feb. 15,16,17,18 or 19.

Though American Airlines is now merged with US Airways, there is slightly different info on its website.

American is waiving change fee once (so don’t expect to make multiple revisions to your itinerary without being charged a fee for people heading to these Southeast cities through Feb. 13 — Asheville/Hendersonville, NC; Atlanta, GA; Augusta, GA; Birmingham, AL; Charlotte, NC; Charlottesville, VA; Columbia, SC; Fayetteville, NC; Florence, SC; Greensboro/Highpoint, NC; Greenville/Spartanburg, SC; Greenville, NC; Huntsville, AL; Jacksonville, NC; Knoxville, TN; Lynchburg, VA; New Bern, NC; Newport News, VA; Norfolk, VA; Raleigh / Durham, NC; Richmond, VA; Roanoke, VA; Salisbury, MD; Tri City, TN; Wilmington, NC.

The same policy applies to travel booked to these Northeast destinations on Feb. 13-14 — Albany, NY; Allentown / Bethlehem, PA; Baltimore, MD; Bangor, ME; Binghamton, NY; Boston; Harrisburg, PA; Hartford Springfield, CT; Islip, NY; Manchester, NH; Newark; New Haven, CT; New York LaGuardia; New York JFK; Philadelphia; Providence, RI; Portland, ME; Scranton/Wilkes Barre, PA; State College University Park, PA; Washington Dulles; Washington Reagan Nat’l; Westchester County, NY; Williamsport, PA.

Here is info from the Southwest website:

Cities eligible for flexible accommodations Wednesday, February 12:

Atlanta (ATL)

Birmingham (BHM)

Charlotte (CLT)

Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP)

Jackson (JAN)

Nashville (BNA)

Raleigh/Durham (RDU)

Cities eligible for flexible accommodations Wednesday February 12 and Thursday, February 13:

Baltimore (BWI)

Charleston (CHS)

Norfolk (ORF)

Richmond (RIC)

Washington Dulles (IAD)

Washington Reagan National (DCA)

Cities eligible for flexible accommodations Thursday, February 13 and Friday, February 14:

Albany (ALB)

Boston (BOS)

Hartford (BDL)

Long Island/Islip (ISP)

Manchester (MHT)

New York (LaGuardia) (LGA)

Newark (EWR)

Philadelphia (PHL)

Portland (PWM)

Providence (PVD)

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Police Catch Phone Thieves Who Robbed Girl Scouts Selling Cookies

girl_sproutsWhat kind of monster robs Girl Scouts selling cookies out in front of a grocery store? Teenage boys, apparently. Police in Florida have made an arrest in the theft of a smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy S3, if you keep track of these things) from the sales table. The suspect is a 15-year-old boy.

Unlike the Great 2013 Girl Scout Cookie Crime Wave, only the phone was taken in this theft. The suspect left the cookies and cash undisturbed. He’s being charged with grand felony theft because the stolen item was a pricey smartphone.

“We see this as your victimizing these children that are here trying to, you know, better themselves and the community and you’re going to take something from them,” a police spokeswoman told the media.

Always be alert when you’re out selling things to the public, especially if you’re in charge of cash, merchandise, and your personal electronics.

Hungry for Girl Scout Cookies? The online Cookie Locator shows you where you can find them in your area. There’s also a mobile app.

Arrest Made In Girl Scout Phone Theft [CBS Miami]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Family Of Deceased Amazon Worker: No One Noticed Her Lying In Parking Lot For 7 Hours

The family of a Delaware woman who died after she was found lying outside in the parking lot of the Amazon distribution center where she worked has a lot of questions this week: Namely, how could no one have seen her lying there for at least seven hours, with her car running?

Police are investigating the death of the 46-year-old woman who was found early Monday morning, after she’d finished a Sunday shift around 6 p.m.

“She got off work, and it appears she was clearing off her vehicle from the snow and ice and must have collapsed between her car and the one next to hers,” the police chief tells The News Journal. An autopsy ruled that she died of natural causes.

But her sister is wondering how no one saw her body or noticed that an empty car was running with door open — isn’t that what surveillance cameras are for? Well, they are, but it sounds like Amazon’s weren’t working.

“Apparently, Amazon was having problems with their camera system from 5 p.m. onward, and no one saw her out there,” the police chief explained.

An Amazon spokeswoman had no insight into the non-operational cameras, saying only: “We are deeply saddened, and our thoughts go out to [the worker's] family and loved ones.”

The woman’s mother finally discovered her after going out to find her daughter when she hadn’t come home, and another family member who works for Amazon as well directed her to the area where the woman usually parked. She found her on the ground between two vehicles and called 911, but emergency responders were unable to revive her.

“Her car wasn’t parked that far from the door,” her sister said, adding that no one told the family why the cameras didn’t see anything.

“The car was running from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. If I saw a car running that long, I would have investigated it.”

Family: Amazon worker outside seven hours before body discovered [The News Journal]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

‘You’re Not Bankrupt? Our Bad’: Fifth Third Bank Accidentally Reports Customers As Bankrupt

5:3 How does go about accidentally being listed as bankrupt? Doesn’t seem possible, what with all the paperwork and such, right? Unless, of course, your bank takes the initiative and does it for you. And that’s just what happened for several Fifth Third Bank customers recently.

A number of Fifth Third Bank customers received letters notifying them of an error in which the “bank inadvertently reported that you had filed for bankruptcy” to the major credit bureaus, including Equifax and TransUnion, Cincinnati News Channel WLWT reports.

The problem occurred late last fall during a systems change and affected a “limited number” of customers, officials at the Cincinnati-based bank say.

The error was corrected in December through updated reporting to credit bureaus and steps have been taken to insure the problem does not recur. Bank officials say customers do not need to take any action on the issue.

“The accuracy of our customers’ credit history is important to us and we will insure that no customer will suffer negative impact,” bank officials said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Although the bank said there was no impact on customer’s credit scores some Fifth Third Bank customers are still worried.

“It would have been nice if they automatically sent off for my credit report so that I would have had the peace of mind at the same time because at this point there’s no proof that it’s been fixed,” a bank customer tells WLWT.

5/3 Bank accidentally reported some customers as filing for bankruptcy [WLWT]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Be Proactive: Keep Track Of Your Auto-Payments Before You Lose Them All

Sure, being able to set up automatic payments is the salvation of people who are financially forgetful. If you lose track of which payments you have set up on which card, though, you’re in for some serious problems if you have to change your credit or debit card numbers.

We should say: when you have to change your credit or debit card numbers. If the widespread Target card breach didn’t scare you, it should have. Many consumers whose cards were caught up in that net of crime now suddenly have new card numbers to deal with. The card numbers aren’t really the problem: it’s tracking down which accounts you have set up to auto-pay which other accounts that can be a headache.

Whether your cards were caught up in the Target breach or not, take this opportunity to get your auto-payments in writing so you know which cards are signed up where, and which payments to change in case of a card number breach.

Our financial wizard colleagues over at Consumer Reports suggest making a comprehensive list of all auto-debits you have set up, whether they use plastic or electronic funds transfer. If the account does use a card, make a note of the expiration date, and make sure to update the account before your card expires. (If you’re really organized, make a note of this in your calendar.)

Some bills let you set up backup funding sources: consider this in order to avoid interruptions in service or late fees for key bills.

Target breach shows why you must keep track of your automatic payments [Consumer Reports]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Groups Call On Walgreens To Stop “Evaluating” Cigarette Sales And Just Stop Them Already

Last week, Walgreens responded to the news that CVS would stop selling cigarettes by saying it was “evaluating its tobacco line.” That didn’t sit well with some advocacy groups who have called on the nation’s largest drugstore chain to give up its nicotine addiction.

In a letter to Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson (not to be confused with Nightmare On Elm Street 3 star Craig Wasson), representatives for the National Consumers League, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Change to Win Retail Initiatives, ask the retailer to follow the lead of CVS and stop selling and advertising tobacco products.

“[R]emoving tobacco products from your stores would be consistent with Walgreens’ mission statement to help consumers ‘get, stay and live well,’” reads the letter. “We know that your company understands the devastation caused by tobacco… Selling tobacco products is therefore at odds with Walgreens’ stated mission to promote health.”

The letter cites the positions of organizations like the American Pharmacists Association and the American Medical Association who support bans on tobacco sales in pharmacies.

What the letter doesn’t mention is that Walgreens response to the CVS announcement was to tout its smoking-cessation program, which happens to be sponsored by Merck, the huge drug company that just happens to have the license on Nicorette products in the U.S. To some, it creates a conflict of interest for a store to simultaneously sell cigarettes and a program to help people quit cigarettes.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Wedding Dress Switcheroo Ends In Happy Reunions For Two Women 9 Years After Mix-Up

In the life of the average wedding dress, there’s really only one shining moment: The Big Day. But because dresses often cost a pretty penny, many brides will lovingly pack them up and preserve them, just in case they want to pull them out again some day. One bride was devastated when she went to pull out her dress for an vow renewal ceremony only to find a stranger’s gown in her storage box.

Her eight-year-old son had suggested his parents get married again, reports the Tampa Bay Times, because he had seen all his parents’ pictures and wanted to be in them this time. So the couple decided to have a vow renewal ceremony on their ninth anniversary, complete with the dress she wore the first time around.

About a month before the ceremony, she broke the seal of the preservation packaging and pulled out what was supposed to be the dress her husband had sent to the dry cleaner almost a decade before. But alas, it wasn’t her dress.

She canceled the ceremony and stopped all the plans, and said she was heartbroken over the loss of her ivory gown.

But instead of moping, she went on the hunt: She tracked down the dry cleaners where the dress had been dropped off, and was told that the preservation had been outsourced to a company in New York. She launched a Facebook campaign and contacted the media to raise awareness of the dress, in the hopes that at least someone might recognize the dress she had in the box.

“I figured I could at least get back her dress even if I couldn’t find mine,” she said.

Finally, after her story aired on her local news, the preservation company was able to find her dress and shipped it back to her.

“I think it’s a miracle,” she said. “I can’t believe I got my dress back.”

Apparently when the company received her dress, they’d also lost track of another bride’s gown and mixed up the invoices. The owner says it’s the first mix-up they’ve had in the business’ 13 years.

And in another twist of cosmic fate — the woman whose dress was in that box lived only three miles away. She figured her dress was a lost cause and come to terms with it. When the newspaper tracked her down and told her there was a woman who had her missing dress, she was happy to get back a piece of her past.

“Several people at that wedding are not with us anymore,” she said. “It will be really nice to have something special from a time when they were all in our lives.”

As for the first woman? The couple’s renewal ceremony is back on. And even better — the dress still fits.

“They say it’s bad luck to wear your dress twice,” she said. “But I don’t believe any of that.”

Two brides find missing wedding dresses 10 years later [Tampa Bay Times]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Don’t Ask The Teen Taco Bell Employee To Hold On To Your Bottle Of Booze Until Tomorrow

There’s asking a fast food employee to do you a minor favor — like asking for extra condiments or having a dirty booth wiped down — and then there’s asking that employee to do something against the law — like stashing your bottle of booze in the eatery’s fridge for a day or so.

The Express-Star in Grady County, OK, has the story of an area man who faces charges of providing alcohol to a minor after he was caught handing a bottle of spirits to an unwitting 19-year-old Taco Bell staffer.

According to police, the man first asked the employee for a cigarette, then handed her a bottle with the request that she stash it in the Bell freezer overnight. He then ambled off toward a nearby Arby’s.

Not sure what to do, the teen took the bottle to her boss. Believing the bottle to contain alcohol, the boss contacted police, who tracked the man down to the Arby’s bathroom.

The man admitted to the officer that he’d just been to Taco Bell, but angrily denied giving away his joy juice to the teen employee. The officer detected the classic signs of intoxication — bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, slurred speech, and presumably the fact that he was wandering around from fast food joint to fast food joint — and arrested him on allegations of public intoxication and providing alcohol to a minor.

The lesson to be learned: If you’re going to ask a Taco Bell staffer to hold onto your booze for the night, at least make sure she’s an adult before doing so. Then don’t do it and just go home and sleep it off.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Don’t Want To Be Depressed By Walking Into Sears? Retailer Now Trying Curbside Pick-Up

searsgrab2 Over the last few years, a number of former Sears customers have said that one of the reasons they no longer shop at the once-great department store is that it’s just depressing to walk around inside the store and see empty shelves, run-down conditions, and disarray. How can Sears fix that? By keeping customers in their cars!

Perhaps taking its cue from last year’s ad in which Sears admitted that it’s only value is available parking, the new curbside order pick-up procedure seems to work a lot like Sears’ current 5-minute guarantee for in-store pick-ups, though it requires the use of a mobile app, rather than just waiting in line at a counter.

You place the order online, select the curbside option after you checkout. Your supposed to give Sears some specifics about your car — make, model, color — so it can identify your car. The service is free to Shop Your Way members.

When you arrive at the store to get your order, you pull into one of the reserved parking spots for in-car pick-up customers and check in using the Sears Shop Your Way app on your smartphone. This starts the 5-minute countdown clock.

Before that timer hits zero, a Sears employee is supposed to have your order in your car and get you on your way. If the store fails to meet that deadline, then the customer is entitled to a $5 coupon.

Let’s just hope that Sears employees don’t try to manipulate this 5-minute guarantee by stopping the clock prematurely. In 2012, a Consumerist reader put rumors of clock-manipulation to the test and the results were not pretty.

[via Washington Post]

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Toyota Recalling 1.9 Million Priuses To Fix Software Glitch That Could Slow Or Stop Cars

The computers have won. At least the computers in about 1.9 million Toyota Prius vehicles have won, as the company says it’s recalling that number of vehicles to fix a software glitch that could cause the cars to slow down or completely stop.

That’s not an insignificant number, points out Bloomberg News — it’s more than half the Prius cars ever sold, and includes cars made around the world since March 2009, according to a Toyota spokesman. About 700,000 of those recalled Prius vehicles are in the U.S.

Since the cars were first released in 1997 there have been about 3.6 million vehicles delivered worldwide .

The glitchy software can also cause some parts to overheat in certain scenarios like when you’re accelerating from a stopped position, a spokesman said. The car then goes into a failsafe mode that allows you to drive but at reduced power. Sometimes this system can totally shut down and stop the car.

In an announcement on the corporate site, Toyota says there haven’t been any accidents or injuries reported due to the software issue.

Separate from the Prius recall, Toyota is also recalling about 260,000 other vehicles in the U.S. to address a different issue with the 2012 and 2013 model years of the Toyota Tacoma pickup, the Lexus RX 350 sport utility vehicle and the 2012 Toyota RAV4 SUV.

Owners of affected vehicles will receive a software update free of charge and will be notified by first class mail when the dealers are ready with the software updates. Check out or call the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 for more information.

Lexus customers can visit or call the Lexus Customer Satisfaction Center at 1-800-25-LEXUS (1-800-255-3987).

Toyota to Recall 1.9 Million Priuses to Update Software [Bloomberg News]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist