Pokemon Go, Iron Man Play-Doh, Game Of Life: Empire Among 2016 Tasteless Toys Nominees

Many of us will be out shopping (or at least rolling over in bed to shop on our phones) this holiday weekend, and more than a few of us will be picking up toys for the youngsters we love (or are obligated to be near at least twice each year). In advance of this retail rush, the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood has put out its list of kids’ toys that will warm the cockles of marketing executives around the world, and make other folks long for the days of wooden trains on pull strings.

Once again the CCFC has released its nominees for the TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) Award for the Worst Toy of the Year, and this year the list is filled with familiar faces — from the year’s biggest name in mobile gaming, to superheroes from both Marvel and DC, to a board game that not only teaches your kids about important brands but also uses actual branded playing pieces.

Let’s just get to it, shall we?

Pokemon GO ($0)

While the wildly popular augmented reality mobile game has been credited with getting at least some kids off the couch and outside, the CCFC reminds folks that it’s all “under the watchful eye of marketers.”

“Pokemon GO prepares kids for a future where games are so fun, players don’t even realize they’re being lured into sponsored locations,” writes CCFC. “And if you’re worried about your little one exploring the world on their own, fret not: with Pokemon GO’s constant location tracking, you can rest assured that Niantic and its corporate partners can find them at any moment!”

View-Master Batman: The Animated Series Virtual Reality Pack ($44.99)

batmanmask While it might call itself a “View-Master” this is not the classic kids’ stereoscopic slideshow viewer. In fact, it’s just a $45 virtual reality smartphone headset with a Batman logo on it. Like the many less-expensive, non-branded VR it’s worthless without the phone.

Beyond those concerns, the CCFC has concerns about the fact that parents can’t see what their kids are looking at — and in the world of Batman things can get a bit violent — “not to mention motion sickness and ER trips when they run into walls, furniture, or fall down stairs. Insert your smart phone and forget about it—until they wake up with nightmares!”

Game of Life: Empire ($19.99)

Remember a few years back when Hasbro combined the utter boredom of playing Monopoly with the awesome of consumer branding? Now they’ve done it again, with a version of the company’s classic “Life” board game that includes awesome ads for Xbox, Transformers, Yahoo, Polaroid, Heinz, Burger King, Skype and much, much, oh lord too much more — all for only $20. No, that’s not what you get paid for having to look at ads for two hours; you pay Hasbro for that privilege.

Writes CCFC: “Is your little philosopher struggling to understand the true meaning of life? Good news! The Game of Life Empire shows kids what it’s really all about: owning the world’s top brands, and collecting judgmental fans and followers along the way!”

Shopkins Tall Mall Playset ($34.99)

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Malls may be dying, but you can help preserve that vital piece of Americana with a $35 toy that teaches your kid how to shop like it’s 1986!

“It’s a terrific deal for kids and toy sellers both: once you buy one, you’ve got to shop, shop, shop til you collect ‘em all!” writes CCFC. “They won’t simply add oodles of clutter to your living room… your kids will soon be after you to get the display case. And what a case… it’s a replica of the temple of consumerism: The Shopping Mall!”

Play-Doh Hulk and Iron Man ($12.99)

Writes CCFC: “Looking to limit your child’s creativity this holiday season? Hasbro’s got you covered! Play-Doh Smashdown Hulk and Iron Man sets transform good old-fashioned modeling clay into angry PG-13 rated superheroes – no imagination required. Just push small amounts of clay into tiny hand and foot molds, and the branded can-heads do the rest.”

lulus

Lulu’s 11-Piece Makeup Set ($14.99)

“With a recommended age of 3 – 20, the Pink Fizz 11-Piece Makeup Set makeup set is the ultimate in age compression,” says CCFC, which points out that disclosures on the box state that some of the makeup products might “irritate skin, make kids sick, or even catch on fire. Small prices to pay for perfecting your preschooler’s pouty poses and teaching her the important truth: beauty is pain.”


Source: Consumer Reviews

Debt Relief Scammer Will Spend Two Years In Prison, Pay $1.2M In Refunds

Four years after federal regulators shut down a debt relief operation that promised to help customers pay down credit card debt, but in reality only relieved customers of their cash, a man who worked for the scheme has been ordered to spend two years in prison and to refund $1.2 million to his victims.

The Department of Justice, along with the U.S. Postal Service, announced Monday that John Vartanian, 57, recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for his part in operating the debt relief scam through firms Nelson Gamble & Associates and Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight.

According to the DOJ, beginning in Feb. 2010 Vartanian and his associates portrayed Nelson Gamble and Jackson Hunter as law firms or attorney-based companies that could negotiate favorable settlements with creditors.

The man and other sales associates allegedly contacted prospective consumers by phone, promising to help reduce their debts.

A previously settled lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission further alleged that the defendants called phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, called consumers who had told them not to call, failed to transmit caller identification to consumers’ caller ID service, delivered pre-recorded messages without prior written consent, repeatedly called consumers to annoy them, and delivered pre-recorded messages that failed to identify the seller, the call’s purpose, and the product or service.

Customers who enrolled in the services made monthly payments expecting the money to go toward settlements, the complaint states. However, the operators took at least 15% of the total debt as company fees, with the first six months of payments going almost entirely toward undisclosed up-front fees, the DOJ claims.

At some point in 2011, the company changed its name to Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight. At this point, the DOJ claims that Vartanian and others claimed Nelson Gamble had gone bankrupt and that the new company, Jackson Hunter, was unrelated and had taken over the accounts.

The company blamed past issues on Nelson Gamble and refused to issue refunds of money paid to the now-defunct company.

Monday’s sentencing comes four years after the Federal Trade Commission brought a civil case against the companies and two others owned by Jeremy Nelson, claiming the operations made false and deceptive claims and caused consumers’ bank accounts to be debited without their express. That case was settled in 2013.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Zombie Circuit City Pushes Back Relaunch Again

For those in our audience who don’t remember, Circuit City was once a large and thriving chain of electronics stores. It filed for bankruptcy and liquidated in 2009, then returned as an online-only brand just a few months later. When the new owner liquidated in turn, the new owners made a shocking announcement: they planned to revive the brand as a retail chain of brick and mortar stores. Now the opening of those stores has been pushed back again.

When a brand rises from the dead, we call it zombie retail. Today, most zombie brands only roam the internet, trading on familiarity, like Filene’s Basement or Linens ‘N’ Things. You might remember, though, that the re-zombified Circuit City announced plans to open a prototype store in Dallas in June, then expand across the country.

That store still isn’t open, and the company’s CEO told TWICE that they’ve hit the snooze button on opening physical stores again to work on the store concept. The company has hired “generational consultants,” who have apparently not yet told executives that millennials tend to shop online.

Still, as Best Buy has learned, shoppers do like having a showroom to check out gadgets in person, and can be persuaded to make actual purchases there.

The planned stores have grown from mini stores of 4,000 square feet to mini big boxes of 20,000 square feet. That’s the size of a smaller Circuit City store in the original iteration of the chain.

Dallas might not even be the site of the relaunch: other proposed sites are the New York metropolitan area or California. At this rate, maybe by the time the stores open, they’ll change the concept from electronics to scented candles.

If you’re yearning to shop Circuit City, you can check out the company’s Amazon storefront, which opened earlier this year. Will the real-life stores ever materialize? Don’t bet against this especially tenacious zombie just yet.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Financial Regulators Race To Finish New Rules, But Congress Can Still Try To Roll Them Back

The wheels of government turn slowly, especially when it comes to rulemaking — the process by which a federal agency proposes, drafts, and finalizes new rules. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years for this process, but with the incoming Trump administration giving every indication of having a light-touch on regulation, financial regulators have reportedly kicked things into high gear to finish up pending rules in the next two months, even though Congress may be able to roll them back.

Among the most controversial rules still waiting to be finalized is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s effort to limit how financial institutions can use arbitration to prevent customers from bringing class action lawsuits against them.

The CFPB issued a draft of the rules for public comment in May, but has yet to finalize them. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Bureau is now in a mad dash to finish this ruling before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.

This would not be such an immediate concern if a federal appeals court had not ruled in October that the CFPB’s single-director structure is unconstitutional. That ruling, which the CFPB is currently challenging, would give the Trump administration the authority to remove CFPB Director Richard Cordray from office, rather than letting Cordray stay until he finishes his current five-year term.

The Journal notes that other agencies where challenges in leadership are definite, like the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are also hurrying to finalize rules before the late January deadline.

However, even if the agencies do finish these rules, they are not set in stone. In fact, Congress can deploy a rarely used federal law — the Congressional Review Act — to try to roll back any rules that were finalized in the last few months of the Obama White House.

The CRA, passed in 1996, requires that agencies provide Congress with a copy of each new finalized rule along with a written, relatively plain-language summary. Congress has 60 legislative days to either do nothing about it or issue a joint resolution of disapproval. Much like other legislative actions, a President can veto that resolution and Congress — with votes of 2/3 in both the House and Senate — can override that veto.

Additionally, any rules that were finalized in the 60 legislative days before Congress formally adjourns get a fresh 60-day CRA review clock when the new session starts. That means that any rules finalized since May 2016 may be ripe for rolling back through the joint resolution process.

In the 20 years since the CRA went into effect, Congress has used it a number of times to express their distaste with a new rule, but only one rule — a 2000 Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation on ergonomics — has ever been overturned in this fashion.

However, we’ve got a new President who has repeatedly expressed his dislike of the Obama administration regulations and a majority in both the House and Senate that fought many of those rules during Obama’s second term.

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released a long list of major rules that Congress and the Trump administration could roll back through the CRA process (which ones, if any, lawmakers will actually try to roll back remains to be seen). This list, while extensive, does not include pending rules that have yet to be finalized.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Customers Accuse Chipotle Of Lying About The Calories In Chorizo Burrito

Most people probably understand that the calorie counts on a fast food menu aren’t 100% precise, but an approximation of what you’d expect to consume. But there’s a big difference between being a few calories off and being off by hundreds of calories.

Three California Chipotle customers filed a class-action-seeking lawsuit against the burrito chain last week, accusing the company of breaking the law by inaccurately promoting the calories of its chicken and sausage Chorizo burrito, Business Insider reports. 

According to the lawsuit, menu boards in at least three Chipotle restaurants in California state that the burrito has just 300 calories, when in reality the meat blend has 300 calories alone.

 

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“[B]y providing false nutritional information for their menu items, consumers are lulled into a false belief that the items they are eating are healthier than they really are,” the suit reads.

While customers can reduce the calories of their meal by opting for a salad and fewer toppings, the photo clearly shows a burrito.

And as one Twitter user pointed out recently, if the tortilla itself has 300 calories, how does one stuffed with chorizo, salsas, and other toppings only come out to 300 calories?

That’s the same question the three customers are asking in their lawsuit. The customers, who ate at three separate locations in November, say they were prompted to order the meal after seeing the signs promoting the supposed low-calorie burrito.

In one case a plaintiff notes that he felt “excessively full” after finishing his meal and “realized that the burrito couldn’t have been just 300 calories.”

The remaining two plaintiffs reported coming to similar revelations after feeling extra full.

A rep for Chipotle tells Business Insider that the company couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but did note that the company is working on a “more clear menu panel,” without saying whether or not the company stands by the 300-calorie count posted at these restaurants.

A handful of Chipotle customers are suing the chain over misleading calorie counts [Business Insider]


Source: Consumer Reviews

Which Stores Are Open On Thanksgiving & When Do They Open On Black Friday?

Thanksgiving is usually the big day on the calendar in November, but this year the holiday took a backseat to Election Day — so much so that many people say they delayed the start of their holiday shopping until after the votes had been counted. Now here we are, with only a few days to go before Thanksgiving (and, more importantly to some folks, Black Friday); you’ll need to know which stores are opening when in order to maximize your shopping efficiency.

Below is a list of more than three dozen of the nation’s most popular retailers, along with information on whether that store will be open or closed on Thanksgiving, and when you can expect it to open on Black Friday.

Note that some of these — especially the stores that are most frequently found inside of shopping malls — have hours that can vary greatly depending on location. Additionally, some of the data is based on information we’ve been able to cobble together from store websites or by calling around to multiple locations.

If we get more precise information about the retailers with vague holiday hours, or if we hear from additional retailers about their hours, this list will be updated right up until we call it quits for the long weekend on Wednesday afternoon.

Store Thanksgiving Hours Black Friday Hours
Ann Taylor Closed 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., may vary
Apple Store Most Stores Closed 8 a.m. – 10 p.m., may vary
Banana Republic Some Locations Open Varies
Barnes and Noble Closed Extended hours, varies by location
Best Buy 5 p.m. – 1 a.m. Fri. 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
BJ’s Closed Opens 7 a.m.
Costco Closed 9 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
CVS Closing at 2 p.m.; 24-hour locations open Regular hours
Dollar General 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Regular hours
GameStop Closed Opens 5 a.m.
Gap Some Locations Open Varies
Home Depot Closed Opens 6 a.m.
IKEA Closed Regular hours
JCPenney 3 p.m. — Overnight Overnight – 5 p.m., may vary
Kmart 7 p.m. — Overnight Overnight – 10 p.m., may vary
Kohl’s 6 p.m. — Overnight 24 Hours
Lowe’s Closed Opens 6 a.m.
Macy’s 5 p.m. — 2 a.m. Fri. 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Some will be open overnight TH-FR)
Meijer 24 Hours 24 Hours
Menards Closed Opens 6 a.m.
Michaels 6 p.m. – Midnight 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Neiman Marcus Closed 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Nordstrom Closed Varies by location
Office Depot Closed Opens 6 a.m.
Old Navy 4 p.m. — Overnight 24 Hours
PetCo (& Unleashed) Closed Most open 7 a.m.
PetSmart Closed 7:00am – 9:00pm
Rite Aid Most Closed Opens 7 a.m.
Sam’s Club Closed Opens 7 a.m.
Sears Most Open 6 p.m. – Midnight 5 a.m. – 10 p.m., may vary
Staples Closed Opens 6 a.m.
Target 6 p.m. — Overnight 24 Hours (some stores close earlier)
TJMaxx Closed Opens 7 a.m.
Toys R Us 5 p.m. — Overnight Overnight – 11 p.m.
Ulta 6 p.m. – 2 a.m. 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Walgreens 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. 7 a.m. – midnight
Walmart 6 p.m. – Overnight 24 Hours

 


Source: Consumer Reviews

Google Restores Accounts To Users Banned For Reselling Their Pixel Phones

Earlier this week, we told you about a handful of Google users who found that the internet giant had suspended their accounts, apparently because they had violated Google’s terms of service by daring to resell their Google Pixel smartphones. Now the company has made good on its pledge to let these users back into the Google fold, but with a warning to not do it again.

The Guardian reports that Google has emailed at least some of the affected users to let them know that their ban had been lifted and they were free to once again use Gmail and other Google services.

However, the email wasn’t all hugs and fist-bumps, with Google noting that it “takes violations of our terms very seriously” and warning that “Repeated violations of our terms may lead to account termination.”

The bans, first reported on Dan’s Deals, affected around 200 Google users who purchased their Pixel phone through the company’s Project Fi. These folks then resold their devices to a phone dealer in New Hampshire — a state with no sales tax — who pledged to split the profits.

A rep for Google told Consumerist that the company believes many of the suspended accounts had been created just as part of a “scheme in which consumers were asked to purchase Pixel devices on behalf of a reseller, who then marked-up the cost of those devices in order to resell them to other customers.” The company also said at the time that it would consider restoring access for these users.


Source: Consumer Reviews

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Challenges Ruling That Its Structure Is Unconstitutional

Last month, a split three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional as it puts too much authority in the hands of one person. Now the CFPB is challenging that ruling, petitioning for a review of the matter by the full D.C. Circuit, in what the Bureau claims “may be the most important separation-of-powers case in a generation.”

To backtrack momentarily, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms — has a single Director who is appointed by the President. However, unlike other federal agencies with single directorships, the CFPB Director can’t be removed by the President without cause, so even a change in the White House would allow the Director to stay in charge at CFPB until the end of their five-year term.

Conversely, there are a number of federal agencies — the FCC, Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Product Safety Commission — where the President can’t remove a commissioner before their term, but where the authority is spread out among multiple commissioners with equal votes.

There are no laws requiring that a federal agency have either one structure or the other, and in fact there are other agencies with a single director that can’t be removed at the President’s discretion, like the Social Security Administration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Office of Special Counsel. Yet in October, a two-judge majority of the appeals court panel ruled that the CFPB’s peculiar structure flies in the face of tradition and poses a “threat to individual liberty” that runs afoul of the Constitutionally prescribed set of checks and balances.

To make the CFPB’s structure constitutional, the court said that the President must be able to remove the CFPB Director at the Oval Office’s discretion, rather than having to show cause. Thus, if this ruling stands, when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, he’d be able to remove current CFPB Director Richard Cordrday without having to show cause.

The Appeal Of The Appeal

This afternoon, the CFPB officially petitioned for an en banc review by the full D.C. Circuit, arguing [PDF] that the majority’s rationale in making its ruling is contrary to Supreme Court precedent.

In the D.C. Circuit ruling, the majority stated that independent agencies — even those with multiple commissioners — are “unaccountable to the President” if the leaders of those agencies can’t be removed at the President’s will.

However, the CFPB contends that the Supreme Court has plainly held that the President can “create independent agencies run by principal officers appointed by the President, whom the President may not remove at will but only for good cause,” and that the Constitution did not give the President illimitable power of removal over the officers of independent agencies.”

Instead of looking at the mere issue of how many directors an agency has or whether they can be removed at will, the Supreme Court has stated in Morrison v. Olson that “the real question is whether the removal restrictions are of such a nature that they impede the President’s ability to perform his constitutional duty.”

The appeals panel addressed this question by concluding that the independent status of an independent agency “erects a high barrier between the President and the independent agency regardless of how many people head the independent agency on the other side of the barrier,” but the CFPB contends that this is not in keeping with the Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison.

In that ruling, the court held that so long as the President has the opportunity to give a director the boot for “good cause,” the structure of the agency “retains ample authority to assure that the [official] is competently performing his or her statutory responsibilities.”

As mentioned above, there are three other federal agencies with a leadership structure similar to the CFPB’s, but the appellate panel brushed them aside as irrelevant for lacking “deep historical roots,” even though all of them predate the existence of the CFPB.

In its petition, the Bureau points out that the Federal Trade Commission — formed in 1914 — was still relatively young when in 1935 the Supreme Court upheld the restriction barring the President from removing an FTC commissioner without cause. Five decades later in the Morrison ruling, SCOTUS upheld a removal restriction on an independent counsel without considering tradition or historical antecedents.

The CFPB points out what it believes is a contradiction in the appeals panel’s thinking.

“The underlying premise of the panel’s opinion is that, regardless of the number of individuals who head an agency, for-cause removal renders the agency ‘unaccountable to the President.’ So how did the panel conclude that an agency headed by a multi-member commission will nonetheless pass constitutional muster, whereas one headed by a single director will not?” asks the petition. “The panel’s answer had nothing to do with a lack of presidential accountability. The panel opined that ‘multi-member commissions or boards … reflect a deep and abiding concern for safeguarding the individual liberty protected by the Constitution.’ The panel thus rested its ruling on criteria that lack definition or boundary and have no foundation in Supreme Court precedent or separation-of-powers principles.”

The panel had found that having multiple commissioners with differing viewpoints helps to keep things in check, but the CFPB notes that this still doesn’t address the issue of the President’s ability to remove an agency director.

“[E]ven if fellow commissioners can keep an eye on one another, they cannot remove one another,” argues the petition.

A number of consumer advocacy groups have come out in support of the CFPB petition, especially as the Bureau’s future does not look terribly bright under a Trump administration.

“We need a strong and independent CFPB agency and director now more than ever. If the 2008 financial crisis showed us anything, it’s that people need an independent regulator to look after the interests of consumers,” says Mike Calhoun, President of the Center for Responsible Lending. “Director Cordray has led the Bureau with a steady hand and worked tirelessly with his staff to return billions of dollars back to hardworking people across the country harmed by abusive financial practices.”

Adds Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, “We can’t afford to have the crucial work of the CFPB interrupted. Its current structure and leadership has helped save countless people across the country from abusive financial practices.”


Source: Consumer Reviews

The Limited Starts To Explore Options, Maybe A Sale

Since all of its buddies in the mall are filing for bankruptcy, maybe it’s time for The Limited to do it, too. The mall clothing chain is currently exploring its options, including sale to a competitor, to a new large investor, or restructuring.

The company in question here is just The Limited, not the mall juggernaut Limited Brands (now called L Brands) that still owns Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, and once owned but has sold or spun off brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant, Express, and New York and Company.

As you may have noticed after the bankruptcies of chains like Aeropostale, PacSun, Wet Seal, and American Apparel, clothing chains aimed at the young and trendy aren’t doing very well financially. A Limited representative told the Wall Street Journal that the company is looking for “greater financial flexibility” during a crappy time in the industry.

The Limited began in Columbus, OH in 1963, and it and many of the Limited Brands spinoffs are still based in the area. The chain now has 243 stores in malls across the country.

Retailer Limited Stores Hires Financial Adviser to Help Explore Possible Sale [Wall Street Journal]


Source: Consumer Reviews

Volvo Launches Concierge Service To Fill Up, Wash Vehicles On Demand

Owning a car means you have to wash it, take it in for needed maintenance, and of course fill it with gas if you want to actually go anywhere. But those pesky chores no longer have to be part of the equation if you own a Volvo. 

Volvo unveiled a new smartphone service — dubbed Concierge Service — during the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, aiming to take over all of the mundane tasks for car owners.

The service, which is an expansion of the carmaker’s On Call smartphone app, will be beta tested in San Francisco and connect about 300 owners of Volvo’s XC90 and S90 vehicles with local service providers.

Once a customer summons a service provider to their vehicle — either for a service call, fill-up, or wash — the technician will be able to access the vehicle with a single-use digital key that is time and location specific.

When the service is complete, the vehicle will lock and the digital key expires.

Volvo says that its own research has shown that customers are open to such services, noting that 70% of customers want services at their fingertips, while 56% want their car picked up for routine maintenance, and 49% would like to be able to have their car moved to another location when desired.

“Our approach is a simple one – we aim to make life easier by employing the latest connected technology in an easy-to-use smartphone app,” Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, Vice President Consumer Connectivity Services at Volvo Car Group, said in a statement.

[via CNet]


Source: Consumer Reviews