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FindLaw's Common Law

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September 2014

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Warning: Social Security ‘New Benefit’ Email Is a Scam

The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a new email scam involving Social Security benefits.

According to the BBB, scammers are sending emails which appear to be from the Social Security Administration claiming that the recipient is eligible for new benefits. The email provides a link to an online form, instructing consumers to fill out the form in order to obtain the new benefits. However, those who do may be setting themselves up for possible identity theft.

Scammers Use Personal Information to Redirect Benefits

According to a fraud advisory issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration regarding the email scam, thieves use the scam to obtain the information necessary to create accounts on the SSA website. The scammers then use the victim's account information to redirect benefit payments to the scammers' own accounts.

In a variation of the scam also reported to the BBB, scammers may also be calling consumers and asking them to update or verify their personal information over the phone.

How to Identify the Scam

The most telling sign that the emails are a scam is the use of e-mail itself. Government agencies will typically communicate through regular mail as opposed to contacting you by email or by telephone. As in previous scams, any time you are contacted by someone purporting to be from a government agency by phone or email, you should be suspicious.

In general, links and attachments included in suspicious email messages should not be clicked or opened. Even sites that appear legitimate can be used to steal your personal information, and attachments may contain viruses or other types of malware designed to steal your information.

What to Do If You Suspect You're Being Scammed

Here's what the SSA's Office of the Inspector General recommends: If you receive a call or an email requesting personal information from someone purporting to be with the Social Security Administration, contact the SSA directly to verify that person's legitimacy. You can call the SSA toll-free at (800) 772-1213.

You can also report suspicious activity involving your Social Security accounts and the Social Security program at (800) 269-0271 or online via this link.

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FDA Wants Texas Compounding Pharmacy to Recall Products

The Food and Drug Administration is redoubling efforts to crack down on a Texas compounding pharmacy it has repeatedly accused of producing contaminated medicines.

The FDA issued a formal request that Downing Labs, which operates the the Dallas-based NuVision Pharmacy, recall all of its sterile products after an inspection performed this summer found numerous problems with the facility reports The Wall Street Journal.

Inspection Uncovered 'At Least 19' Contaminated Drug Lots

According to a letter sent by the FDA to Downing Labs requesting the recall last week, inspections of the Dallas facility this summer found that at least 19 lots of supposedly sterile drugs produced at the facility tested positive for microbial contamination and three more failed tests for bacterial endotoxin. According to the FDA, this means "there is a high probability that contaminated units from other purportedly sterile drug product lots produced at the Downing Labs facility are currently in distribution."

The FDA warns that being given a non-sterile drug that is intended to be sterile can cause infection, permanent organ damage, or even death.

Compounding Pharmacies in the News

Compounding pharmacies have faced increased scrutiny after steroids contaminated with fungus distributed by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy was linked to at least 64 deaths.

In that case, a pharmacist at New England Compounding Center was arrested and accused of instructing pharmacy technicians to label medication as properly sterilized and tested when it hadn't been. The fungal meningitis outbreak also led to a number of civil lawsuits, which resulted a $100 million settlement reached earlier this year.

FDA's Recall Power

The FDA is requesting that Downing Labs recall its products, but is unable to force them to do so, as it admitted in a news release following a previous warning about the company's products.

Even following the passage of last year's Compounding Quality Act, which implemented a voluntary registration program for compounding facilities, the FDA currently lacks the power to compel a mandatory recall of the drugs produced by NuVision.

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Prescription Drug Disposal May Be Easier Under New DEA Policy

A new effort by federal law enforcement to combat prescription drug abuse may make it easier for consumers to get rid of their old meds.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that in order to combat the "urgent and growing threat" that prescription drug addiction poses to the nation, a new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) policy would allow hospitals and pharmacies to act as "drop-off sites" for unused prescription drugs. The DEA has historically organized collection of leftover prescription meds, but this new policy will make it even easier for these drugs to be tossed.

How does this new federal policy impact your overcrowded medicine cabinet?

Serious Attention Paid to Rx Problem

In a video message, Attorney General Holder noted that more than half of the unintentional overdoses in this country were caused by prescription drugs. He continued by stating that nearly "four in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug have obtained it from their parents' medicine cabinet."

That number may sound surprising, but's own surveys have found that at least one in four Americans admits to abusing prescription drugs. And a large part of that abuse lies in giving away meds instead of disposing them properly.

Building on Current Policy

To answer this serious problem, the DEA's new policy -- which would implement the policy changes enacted in the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 -- will allow "pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and other authorized collectors" to take old prescription drugs from patients.

This would build on existing efforts by the DEA to take back drugs as part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day -- a semi-annual event where collection sites would serve as safe places to dispose of unused prescription drugs. The next Take-Back Day is in a few weeks, but if this regulation is successful, consumers will be able to safely "take-back" their prescription drugs year-round. The DOJ reports that consumers will be able to "mail in" old meds to authorized collectors, and long-term care facilities (e.g., nursing homes) will be able to collect these unused prescription drugs from residents for disposal.

If you have prescription drugs you'd like to safely dispose of, use the DEA's online service to locate a collection site near you.

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IRS Phone Scam Alert: $5M Lost Over Phony Arrest Threats

A nationwide phone scam in which impostor IRS agents threaten victims with arrest or deportation if they refuse to immediately settle tax debts has reportedly already bilked more than 1000 people out of nearly $5 million.

The scheme, which federal authorities have been investigating since 2013, involves callers claiming to be with the IRS. The fake agents demand payment of taxes, often claiming that police are on their way and insist on remaining on the phone while the victim drives to a store to make a payment by loading money onto a prepaid debit card, reports The Arizona Republic.

How to Tell You are Being Scammed

The most obvious red flag that you may be the victim of a scam is the method of payment requested by the scammers. The scammers instruct victims to purchase Green Dot Moneypak cards, a brand of prepaid debit card, then provide the account information over the phone, giving the scammer immediate access to the money on the card.

According to an IRS alert regarding the scam, IRS agents would never demand payments using specific prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, or accept payments over the phone. In addition, IRS agents don't make cold calls to tax payers regarding problems with their taxes; official IRS correspondences will come through the mail. Although failing to pay your taxes may lead to some form of IRS action, generally the IRS does not threaten ordinary citizens with arrest for simple mistakes or omissions on their income taxes.

The scams may otherwise be convincing, according to the IRS, due to several other tell-tale characteristics of the scam, including:

  • Scammers often have the last four digits of a person's social security number;
  • Spoofed caller ID numbers that make the calls appear to be from an official IRS, or law enforcement number; and
  • Bogus e-mails backing up the callers claims.

Scammers also typically make more than one call, often claiming to be local police or DMV threatening enforcement action against the victim.

What to Do If You Get a Scam Call

The IRS advises that anyone who believes they have been contacted by a scammer report the incident to the IRS by calling 1-800-366-4484. In addition, the IRS suggests reporting the incident to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Was Your Car Recalled? Look Up Your VIN to Find Out

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has rolled out a free online tool allowing both used car shoppers and car owners to determine whether safety recall repairs were ever completed on a specific vehicle.

The online tool searches by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), using information supplied by most major automobile and motorcycle manufacturers regarding the status of repairs pursuant to any vehicle safety recalls issued over the past 15 years.

Database the Result of New Rule

In addition to making recall information searchable by VIN on the NHTSA website, individual auto manufacturers are now mandated to have recall information searchable by VIN on the manufacturer's own website. The new federal rules requiring the recall information database were announced last year, reports USA Today.

The information is the same on both manufacturers' and the NHTSA websites, but the NHTSA tool will compile information for all reporting automakers into one searchable database.

Using NHTSA's VIN Search Tool

NHTSA's online VIN search covers all safety recalls issued in the last 15 calendar years, noting whether the repairs required by the recall were completed on a specific vehicle. Users enter the VIN number of a vehicle -- typically found at the base of the windshield on the driver's side -- and the tool displays any repairs that have yet to be completed.

The VIN search will not show information about completed recall repairs, customer service or other non-safety recalls, recalls for international and ultra-luxury brand vehicles, and recalls that may have been recently announced.

2014 Auto Recalls

The rollout of the NHTSA's new database comes as two of the nation's largest automakers deal with sizable safety recalls. As you probably know, General Motors has issued numerous recalls affecting nearly 29 million vehicles so far this year. In July, Chrysler issued a recall for 1.5 million Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler vehicles over a wiring issue that has caused more than 60 fires.

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BBB: Beware Robin Williams 'Goodbye Video' Clickbait Scam

Many fans saddened by the recent death of comedian and actor Robin Williams turned to the Internet for information. This curiosity, however, has turned into an opportunity for online scammers.

Internet users who've attempted to watch the dramatically titled "Robin Williams Goodbye Video," purporting to have been filmed by the actor before his death, have instead found themselves victims of an online scam, reports Wichita, Kansas' KAKE-TV.

Scam Targets Your Personal Data, Facebook Profile

Despite what your Facebook news feed may say, it turns out there is no "Robin Williams Goodbye Video." According to KAKE, links to the video instead direct users to surveys which mine for personal data, or instruct users to download a video player, which is actually a virus or another form of malware.

Clicking on links to the video on Facebook may also compromise your Facebook profile by unwittingly granting scammers access to your account, further propagating the scam.

How to Avoid 'Clickbait' Scams

Consumers who have become proficient at avoiding other forms of online scams such as phishing e-mails and fake job postings may not yet be familiar with this latest form of online scam, which the Better Business Bureau refers to as a clickbait scam.

According the BBB, these scams target users by taking advantage of major news stories with sensational headlines or claims. Clickbait links can be used to spread malware, or even simply to accumulate massive amounts of Facebook likes, which can translate into real-world dollars when the scammer then sells that account -- probably to another scammer.

The BBB advises Internet users to protect themselves by:

  • Not clicking on links that advertise "shocking" or "exclusive" footage that seems too good to be true;
  • "Hovering" over links with your mouse to see where they really lead; and
  • Not trusting links posted by your friends on social media, as their accounts may be compromised by a scammer.

The BBB recommends that Facebook users who see a clickbait scam to report the offending post via Facebook's spam report system.

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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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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: