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August 2014

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Peanut, Almond Butters Recalled Over Salmonella Risk

nSPIRED Foods, a unit of organic food company Hain Celestial Group, has announced a voluntary recall of its peanut and almond butters after testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revealed potential salmonella contamination.

The nut butters subject to the recall were sold under the Arrowhead Mills and MaraNatha brand names, and were also sold as private label nut butters for Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Safeway and other retailers, reports The Associated Press.

4 Illnesses Reported

In its announcement of the recall, the FDA noted that nSPIRED has so far received reports of four illnesses that may be associated with the recalled products.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause those who consume it to contract salmonellosis, a disease that for most people results in diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever symptoms that last less than a week. In some cases, however, salmonellosis can cause severe, potentially fatal illness requiring hospitalization.

A salmonella outbreak affecting peanut butter and other peanut products in 2008 killed nine people and sickened more than 700 across 44 states. In that case, a peanut processing plant was found to have retested batches of peanut product testing positive for salmonella until results were negative, at which point the peanut products were shipped to food retailers.

Recalled Products

The FDA has provided a list of the retail lots being recalled on its website. Recalled products can be identified using the product UPC code and the "Best By" date printed on the top of the jar lid.

The products were distributed in the United States and internationally, including in Canada, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, and the Dominican Republic. The products were also available for purchase online, according to the FDA's press release.

The FDA advises consumers to dispose of any recalled products they may have purchased. For information regarding refunds, replacements, or other questions about the recall, consumers can call (800) 937-7008.

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Buckyball, Buckycube Refund Requests Due Jan. 17, 2015: CPSC

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has set a deadline of January 17, 2015, for consumers who wish to file a refund claim for their purchase of Buckyballs or Buckycubes magnets.

The refunds were made available as part of a settlement agreement between the CPSC and Craig Zucker, the founder of Maxfield & Oberton, the company that produced the Buckyballs desk magnets. The CPSC sued Zucker individually after Maxfield & Oberton was dissolved, at least partly because of an increasing number of consumer safety complaints. The CPSC also filed an administrative complaint to force the company to stop the sale of its magnets.

Injuries to Children

Reports of children being injured by swallowing the tiny magnets first surfaced in 2010, when the CPSC issued a voluntary recall for Buckyballs because of insufficient warning labels.

However, the products remained on the market, and children continued to be injured by swallowing them, including an Oregon girl who swallowed 37 of the magnets, which tore holes in her intestine and stomach.

Settlement Agreement

To settle the CPSC's complaint against both him and his former company, Zucker agreed earlier this year to establish a recall trust to provide consumers who bought Buckyballs and Buckycubes with refunds.

Under the terms of the agreement, Zucker was ordered to provide $375,000 in an escrow fund and to establish a website at which consumers can file refund claims.

How to Get a Refund

If you purchased Buckyballs or Buckycubes, you can file a refund claim at the Buckyballs Recall Website,

In order to obtain a refund, consumers must complete a claim form (either online or mailed) and return their Buckyballs or Buckycubes magnet sets via the prepaid USPS postage available through the website or via their own shipping carrier. According to the recall website, a receipt is not necessary. Packages must be postmarked by January 17, 2015, to be eligible for the refund.

Consumers who have questions about the recall can call the Recall Administrator at (866) 905-8102.

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FindLaw Survey: 1 in 4 Americans Abuses Prescription Drugs

While many Americans worry about the damage done by illegal drugs, a new study reveals just how pernicious legal prescription drugs can be.

According to a new survey, a surprising one in four Americans admitted to abusing prescription drugs. "Abuse" in this case includes using the drug other than for its intended use, or use by someone other than the person on the prescription.

With startling revelations like these about the insidious nature of prescription drug abuse, what can consumers do to legally protect themselves?

Know the Legal Risks of Abuse

Whether you're using prescription drugs to self-medicate, or if someone else is making use of your leftover drugs, be aware of these potential legal consequences:

  • Prescription drug-related DUI. Even if you're taking prescription drugs for their intended purposes, you can be pulled over and charged for a DUI while under their influence. A cop will not be impressed by you telling him that you "only" took two Xanax before getting behind the wheel. If you're driving impaired while taking prescription drugs, you can be arrested.
  • An arrest for buying/selling Rx drugs without a prescription. If you decide to sell a half-full leftover bottle of Oxycontin to your neighbor, you're essentially committing a federal and state drug crime. That includes buying or selling your pills online.
  • Liablity for overdose deaths. If you illegally share or sell your prescription drugs with others, you may be held liable if the recipients overdose and die.

According to's survey, up to 24 percent of Americans admit to taking medicine that was prescribed to someone else or giving their own meds away. That may open one-fourth of Americans to serious legal consequences.

Properly Dispose of Your Rx Meds

Instead of illegally selling or giving away your prescription drugs to a friend or stranger, dispose of them legally. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency holds National Take-Back Day events where you can drop off leftover prescription drugs to be properly disposed at listed collection sites.

The Food and Drug Administration also has compiled a list of drugs you can flush, while many others can be simply thrown in the garbage after being mixed-in with kitty litter or coffee grounds.

Don't contribute to the recent statistics in drug abuse, protect your health and legal wellbeing by being smart about prescription drugs.

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Plastic Pieces Prompt Chicken Nugget Recall

Georgia-based Perdue Farms is recalling over 15,000 pounds of frozen chicken nuggets after discovering that the nuggets may be contaminated with "extraneous material."

Perdue recalled the nuggets after receiving reports from consumers about small pieces of plastic found inside the products, reports Food Safety News.

What Products are Recalled?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture press release, the recall includes eight-ounce boxes of Applegate Naturals chicken nuggets bearing the establishment number "P2617" inside the USDA Mark of Inspection. The USDA has posted pictures of the product packaging on the Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

The boxes of chicken nuggets being recalled were shipped nationwide. The nuggets were produced in February and have a sell-by date of February 5th, 2015. The USDA warns that since the nuggets are a frozen product, consumers may still have the product in their freezers.

Class II Recall

When inspections or consumer reports cause safety concerns regarding a food product, a food recall is initiated. These recalls are typically initiated by the manufacturer or distributor of the products, but can also be requested by the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In this case, Perdue initiated the recall after learning of the possible contamination from consumers. The product was withdrawn from the market on August 8th, and so far, there have been no reports of illness or injury associated with the recalled product.

The recall classification is based on the possible risk of injury presented by a product, so when the probability of injury associated with the recalled product is low, the recall is classified by the USDA as a Class II. There are three classes of recalls, with Class I being the most dangerous -- where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause adverse health consequences or death -- and Class III being the lowest, where the products will not cause any adverse health consequences. Class II recalls, like this chicken nugget recall, are defined as situations where there is a remote, but possible, chance that adverse health consequences will result from use of the product.

The USDA recommends that consumers with questions about the recall should contact Gerry Clarkson, Applegate Consumer Relations Specialist at (800) 587-5858.

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Sexting Extortion Scam Can Be Costly, Fla. Sheriff’s Office Warns

Scammers in South Florida have begun targeting online daters with a sexting extortion scam.

The scammers pose as users of dating website, engaging the victims in conversation. The scammers then request the victim send explicit photographs. If the victim obliges, the scammers then attempt to extort money from the victim by claiming to be law enforcement investigating internet crime against children. So far, reports WPLG-TV, victims have paid between $500 - $1500 each to the scammers.

How Does the Scam Work?

This latest extortion scam is simple, but so far has proven effective with more than 100 victims since March.

When the victim sends sexually explicit pictures, the scammers claim that they are Broward Sheriff's officers. The scammers claim that the sexually explicit pictures were sent to a minor and that in order to avoid federal sex crime charges, the victim must pay a fine via Western Union.

How Do You Know if You're Being Scammed?

According to Broward Sheriff's Office Major Don Peterson -- who told WPLG-TV that his name was being used by the scammers -- no law enforcement officer would ever ask for money in order to avoid an arrest.

How to Avoid Online Dating Scams

In general, there are several ways to prevent being victimized by an online dating scam:

  • Search the person's name and see if you can find any proof he or she is a real person,
  • Run a Google image search on his or her photos to see if they are taken from somewhere else,
  • Ask to meet in a public place, and
  • Never disclose financial information, provide personal information, or give photographs that could be used to blackmail or extort you.

If you believe you've been the victim of an online scam, contact your local police department.

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Ain’t Life a Peach? Cal. Fruit Recall Expands Over Listeria Worries

A voluntary recall issued last month for California peaches, plums, nectarines and pluots that may be contaminated with listeria bacteria has been expanded.

The initial recall was issued July 19th for fruit packed by the Wawona Packing Company in Cutler, California from June 1st through July 12th. The expansion of the recall now includes fruit packed by the company through July 18th, reports USA Today.

No Cases of Listeriosis Reported

Although no illnesses have been linked to the recalled fruit yet, the company isn't taking any chances. A 2011 outbreak of listeriosis -- the disease caused by consuming listeria contaminated food -- linked to Colorado cantaloupes killed more than 30 people and sickened more than a hundred.

Listeriosis typically affects pregnant women, babies, and adults with compromised immune systems, although anyone who consumes contaminated food may be at risk. Symptoms include stomach cramps and diarrhea, followed by fever, muscle aches, confusion, and convulsions. Pregnant women may also suffer miscarriages as a result of listeriosis.

Recalled Products

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the recalled products were shipped directly to wholesalers and retailers to resell the products. The company doesn't know the locations or specific companies or stores who may have received the recalled products, although retailers including Walmart, Costco, and Whole Foods Market have posted warnings to their customers.

Customers can identify the products affected by the recall by the following brand names: Sweet 2 Eat, Sweet 2 Eat Organic, and Mrs. Smittcamp’s. Some of the fruit may also have been sold under private labels such as Trader Joe's. The FDA has provided photographs of the recalled products on the administration's website to help consumers identify potentially tainted fruit.

What Should You Do If You Bought Recalled Fruit?

The FDA advises that consumers who purchased the recalled products can return to the store where they purchased the product to request a refund if they have a receipt or other proof of purchase. Consumers may also contact Wawona Packing’s consumer information desk by calling 1-888-232-9912.

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Don't Fall for ‘eJuror’ Jury Duty Email Scam

A new jury-duty email scam is being reported by federal court districts nationwide.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts issued a warning last week about the scam. It claims to be affiliated with the courts' eJuror registration program, which is used in about 80 federal court districts across the country.

Email Seeks Personal Information, Threatens Jail Time

The scam emails claim that the individual receiving the message has been selected for jury service. It instructs the recipient to fill out a form that asks for an array of sensitive personal information: Social Security number, mother's maiden name, driver's license number, date of birth, and cell phone number. The email also threatens those who fail to provide the requested information with fines and jail time.

Needless to say, providing such information via email can easily lead to identity theft.

Federal Jury Summons Won't Come by Email

The Administrative Office advises that real requests for personal information in connection with federal jury service will come in the form of formal written correspondence sent via U.S. mail.

In districts which use the online eJuror system, potential jurors will receive written instructions on how to access a secure, online connection. "eJuror never requests that personal identification information be sent directly in an email response," says the alert issued by the Administrative Office.

The office also warns that any telephone contact from court officials will never include requests for personal information such as credit card numbers of Social Security numbers. A separate juror scam earlier this year used phone calls threatening prosecution for failing to comply with jury service to coerce sensitive personal information from citizens.

What to Do If You Receive a Juror Scam Email

The Administrative Office advises that anyone who believes they have received a fraudulent email or phone call regarding federal jury service to notify the Clerk of Court's office of the U.S. District Court in their area.

If you're not sure where the nearest U.S. District Court is, you find out using the Office's online court locator.

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6 College Scholarship, Financial Aid Scams to Watch Out For

With back-to-school season looming, many college students and their families are trying to figure the best way to lighten the increasing financial burden of college expenses.

But as more students and parents turn to financial aid, private loans and other avenues for financing college educations, the number of college scholarship and financial aid scams has increased.

Here are six types of college-aid scams you'll want to look out for:

  1. Being charged for free financial aid applications. Applications for federal student aid and state grants are supposed to be free. Companies that charge for "assistance" in filling out these forms frequently promise results, but they have no ability to guarantee success for need-based government programs.
  2. "Scholarship" awards that require you to give out personal information over the phone. College students who received unsolicited offers of scholarship money or financial aid should be wary, especially if the offer requires giving personal information over the phone.
  3. Companies promising to get your student loans out of default for a small fee. If you are behind or in default on student loans, contact your lender. You should never have to pay for information about your loan, and a company that purports to be able to get your loan out of default for a small fee is likely a scam.
  4. Scholarships that charge an application fee. Legitimate scholarships do not typically charge an application fee. Even if the fee is minimal or will supposedly be refunded if the student isn't granted the scholarship, these may be red flags for a scam.
  5. Scholarship services that "guarantee" success. Be careful with services that guarantee that you'll get tons of free money for school. These services often have names that sound official, but may be scamming you out of your money and your personal information.
  6. Financial aid seminars. Another common scam is the financial aid seminar. These seminars often use high pressure tactics and paid shills to pressure students and their families to pay for their services.

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Cell Phone Catches Fire Under Pillow; Samsung Points to Warning

A Texas teen who fell asleep with her cell phone under her pillow woke up to something a little more jarring than a late-night text message.

The teen's Samsung Galaxy S4 phone caught fire, igniting her pillow, bedding and mattress, reports Dallas/Fort Worth's KDFW-TV. The girl escaped unharmed, but her phone was completely melted by the fire. The story was a shocker to everyone, it seems -- except the phone's manufacturer, Samsung.

Here's KDFW-TV's report, which has since gone viral:

Warranty Guide Warnings

Surprisingly, the warranty guide for the company's cell phones specifically warns against covering the device with bedding or other material: “Covering the device with bedding, your body, thick clothing, or any other materials that significantly affect air flow may affect the performance of the phone and poses a possible risk of fire or explosion, which could lead to serious bodily injuries or damage to property.”

The girl's phone was also using a replacement battery, not the original Samsung battery. In its warranty guide, Samsung warns that use of non-Samsung-approved replacement batteries and chargers may lead to fires such as the one in this case.

Still, despite the warnings, the company has agreed to replace the girl's phone as well as the bedding and mattress charred by the fire.

Cell Phone Safety Tips

Samsung's warranty guide offers several tips for avoiding fires caused by overheated cell phones, such as the one in this case. Among these tips:

  • Avoid unapproved or second-hand replacement batteries or chargers.
  • Avoid using batteries or chargers that appear damaged in any way.
  • Do not cover the device with bedding, thick clothing, or other material that may restrict airflow.
  • Never place your device near a heat source, including leaving your phone in a hot car.
  • If your device gets wet or is exposed to liquids, have it checked by a service provider even if it appears to be working normally. Water damage may corrode the internal circuitry and cause a malfunction.

As for the girl whose cell phone caught fire, her dad has a suggestion for Samsung: "They should put a big warning on it, like a cigarette label," he told KDFW-TV.

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Don’t Click on That Picture! It May Contain Malware

Most Internet users are well aware that suspicious links and fishy-sounding emails may actually be attempts to gain access to your personal information or infect your computer with a virus.

But what a lot of Internet users don't know is that even something as simple as an image on your computer screen could contain malware. These programs, when downloaded to your computer, can potentially be used to steal sensitive information, leading to identity theft or at the very least compromised computer security.

How does this image-based malware work?

Steganography Made Simple

The most recent cases of images containing malware used a process called steganography, which hides a message or file inside another file, such as an image.

In a recent string of computer infections, seemingly harmless images of cats and beautiful sunsets, usually sent via email, contained malware which was downloaded onto the users' computers as a JPEG file when the users clicked on the images. This made the file appear to be just another image, perhaps one that may have gotten saved in the wrong place.

But hidden inside this JPEG file, reports digital photography site PetaPixel, was malware. The malware in these images was programmed to bypass security systems on users' computers and steal log-in information entered online, such as the usernames and passwords for online banking websites.

Watch for Double Extensions

Another possible way for image-based malware to infect Windows computers is through the use of double extensions.

According to PCWorld, this method takes advantage of Windows' file-naming conventions by adding two extensions -- the letters that identify the format of a file -- to the end of a file, such as "picture.jpg.exe."

While most Windows computers will display the file as an image using the .jpg extension, it's actually an .exe file, which denotes an "executable program." This means that as you're viewing the image, a malware program is being downloaded onto your computer and likely attempting to mine your sensitive personal data or take control of your computer.

How to Prevent Being Infected by Image-based Malware

Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent being duped by these dangerous images:

  • Don't click on images in suspicious e-mails. Just like links, you should consider any image in a suspicious email a direct digital doorway to infection.
  • Keep your software up to date. Computer companies and software makers are constantly upgrading their products to protect against new threats. Keeping up with these updates will keep you from getting left behind and potentially exposed to dangerous malware and viruses.
  • Change your settings and pay attention to file extensions. If you are on a Windows computer, change your default setting to show you the extensions of files that are being downloaded, to protect against the double extension trick. Any time you see a file ending in .exe, be especially cautious.

Regardless what operating system you use, be aware of the types of files you should and shouldn't download. One picture could be worth a lot more than 1,000 words to an identity thief.

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Common Law Vanguard Panel

The following firms have assisted the FindLaw editorial team in identifying emerging trends in consumer protection law and topics of importance to readers of this blog: