What type of light bulb saves money in the long run? Find out.

Manufacturers now make LED bulbs that resemble traditional light bulbs. Provided.

Confused about which type of light bulb to buy? The Consumer Federation of America recommends purchasing LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs rather than traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs, and says you’ll save money in the long run.

A household using at least 20 light bulbs can save $1,000 or more over  a decade by using LED bulbs, CFA officials said in a Monday conference call.

“We are in the midst of a light bulb revolution that offers considerable savings to consumers, mainly through lower electricity costs,” said CFA executive director Stephen Brobeck.

CFA recently surveyed the price of every 60-watt equivalent, non-dimmable, soft white socket light bulb sold in packages of two or more bulbs in the Alexandria, Va. area by Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Costco, Target, Giant Supermarket, Safety, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Family Dollar.

CFA then computed ten-year costs using requiring disclosures on the packages about annual electricity costs and estimated life of one light bulb as well as the price of the bulb.

Ten-year costs per light bulb ranged from $11.74 to $82.90 with LEDs offering significant savings because of their low energy usage and long life. The average 10-year cost of the LEDs was $13.70, while the average 10-year cost of the incandescents and halogens was $69.49.

“By using LED light bulbs, consumers not only save money, they also curb electricity use, potentially reducing the need for expensive new power plants,” said Mel Hall-Crawford, CFA’s director of energy programs.

LED bulbs typically use about $1 of electricity annually, while Incandescent and halogen bulbs typically consume about $5 of electricity annually. LED bulbs last about 10 years, as compared to the less than one year to two years that the other bulbs last.

Before 2012, consumers had a choice between the 125-year-old incandescent bulb or the compact fluorescent bulb, distinguished by its spiral shape. In 2012 because new federal energy efficiency standards went into effect, a new class of incandescent bulbs known as halogen entered the market.

By the last quarter of 2016, about two-fifths of socket light bulbs shipped by manufacturers were halogen.

But in the last two years shipments of LED bulbs rose rapidly, and they are now the dominant bulb displayed by large retailers such as Walmart, Costco, Target, Lowe’s and Home Depot, though not necessarily by supermarkets, drugstores and discount outlets.

LED prices have fallen considerably, and now 60-watt replacements are available for under $5 at most stores.

Here’s CFA’s advice about how to shop for lightbulbs:

Consumers should purchase LED bulbs but not buy the first LED package they see at a local retailer.  (The CFA consumer survey found that only two percent of respondents said they buy most light bulbs online.)

 

  • First, decide what type of bulb you want in terms of “wattage” (now lumens), type of light color or appearance such as warm yellow or daylight (measured in kelvin), and dimmability.  Purchase a bulb or two of the type you think you prefer and try it out at home.
  • Second, look first to the house brand light bulbs of retailers –  Utilitech for Lowe’s, Ecosmart for Home Depot, Great Value for Walmart, Up&Up for Target – because they tend to be cheaper, and because stores are likely to resolve problems with their own brand of light bulbs more quickly.  Look for those with the ENERGY STAR logo since they meet minimum light output, color quality, and warranty requirements set by the federal government.  Keep in mind that, because LEDs last so long, a $1-$2 dollar difference in the price of a LED bulb represents only a few cents annually in costs during the life of the bulb while savings from lower electricity costs represents dollars.
  • Third, if your bulb does not work properly or burns out quickly, take it back to the retailer and ask for a new bulb. In the recent past, to reduce the price of LEDs, manufacturers have sometimes reduced bulb quality, as evidenced by some complaints made to the websites of major retailers.  Returning the defective light bulb will serve two purposes: 1) The store will almost always provide you a new bulb, and 2) it will also encourage the retailer to complain to the manufacturer of the bulb.

 

 

 

Window covering cord tragedies: Four children dead in last six weeks

One child per month dies of window blind cord strangulation.
One child per month dies of window blind cord strangulation.

Four children have strangled to death from cords on window coverings in the last six weeks.

In light of these tragedies, Thursday, six consumer groups urged parents to be cautious this holiday season and make sure their homes’ window blinds, shades and drapes are cordless.

The warning was issued by Parents for Window Blind Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Kids in Danger, Consumers Union, U.S. PIRG and Independent Safety Consulting.

In a recent twenty-nine day period, four children strangled to death from cords on a window covering: a 4-year-old boy, in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, on Nov. 12; a 4-year-old girl in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 29 ; a 4-year-old girl in League City, Texas, on Dec. 7; and a 3-year-old boy in Cleburne, Texas, on Dec, 10.

In 2016, the groups said, there are 11 known window cord strangulation deaths.

“These window covering strangulations are so complicated but the most important factor is that it happens to the best of parents. Parents who trusted that either tying up cords, cutting cord short or using break away devices would prevent their children from death,” stated Linda Kaiser, Founder and President of Parents for Window Blind Safety. “It is paramount that consumers use window coverings with no pull cords in their homes.”

Kaiser and her husband Matt formed Parents for Window Blind Safety in 2002, after their daughter, Cheyenne Rose, died as a result of being strangled by a window blind cord.

“This holiday season and every day, we urge families to make sure that cords on window coverings are not accessible to children,” stated Rachel Weintraub, Legislative Director and General Counsel at Consumer Federation of America. “When purchasing new window coverings we urge parents to buy cordless products.”

These most recent tragic incidents contribute to the already long list of 293 deaths and serious injuries associated with these products between 1996 and 2012.

Fatality data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reveals that since 1983, 12 children have strangled to death each year when they became caught in loops formed from the cords on window coverings. The rate of injuries and deaths has not been significantly reduced since 1983, despite six industry attempts at revising their voluntary standards.

The seventh revision of the voluntary standard is currently underway and the groups are are hopeful that it will be a step in the right direction.

“It is outrageous that for decades the window covering industry has failed to enact a strong standard to protect kids,” said Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director. “For parents, the recommended fix is simple: Go cordless.”

“These terrible tragedies can happen quickly and silently,” said William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports. “We urge manufacturers and retailers to sell only those products that do not pose a risk of strangulation to children.

The CPSC has long recognized window covering cords as a hidden strangulation and asphyxiation hazard to children and continues to identify it on its website as one of the “top five hidden hazards in the home.” The most vulnerable children are infants through eight years of age.

 

 

 

Cremation on the rise. Some funeral homes fail to disclose costs, options.

cremationsign

Ask what’s included when inquiring about cremation.

Cremation is expected to equal or surpass burial as American families’ choice for their loved ones this year, and a  survey released Monday finds some funeral homes are failing to accurately disclose cremation options and costs.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of American released a survey of 142 representative funeral homes showing that 23 percent fail to tell consumers about their options for simple cremations.

In addition, of  the 142 funeral homes surveyed in 10 metropolitan areas, none of them in Florida, 22 percent are advertising prices for simple cremations that don’t include the cremation itself. Consumers at these funeral homes will face unexpected fees ranging from $200 to $595 above the advertised cost for “Direct Cremation.”

“Countless consumers have told us they were baffled at how a funeral home can advertise a price for a simple cremation that doesn’t actually include the cremation,” said Josh Slocum, executive director, Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Failure to disclose the  information violates the Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule,” which requires specified price disclosures on a list and verbally. Disclosure is not required to be on a website.

Many funeral homes use third-party crematories, and say they don’t tell customers the price because they don’t know what the fee will be. The typical charge to cremate a body is $250 to $400.

A loophole in the Funeral Rule does not require funeral homes to include what are known as “cash advance” charges, Slocum said.

These anti-consumer practices affect hundreds of thousands of American families each year, CFA and FCA said.  The rate of cremation equaled the rate of burial for the first time in 2015. About 1.6 million American families will choose cremation for a loved one who dies this year.

CFA and the FCA are asking the FTC to amend the rule to close the loophole.

Prices for direct cremation, including picking up the body, filling out paperwork, transporting the body to the crematory and returning the ashes to the family ranged from $495 to $7,595 among the funeral homes surveyed. It includes no casket or ceremony.

“You are not going to find that range of prices on the same product in almost any other transaction,” Slocum said. “This indicates funeral homes are not adjusting their prices based on competition.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My company’s had a data breach, now what? Consumer group has advice

Consumer Federation has some advice for companies who have had a data breach.
Consumer Federation has some advice for companies who have had a data breach.

So far this year,  there have been more than 630 data breaches in the U.S., putting 2016 on track to exceed the total of 780 breaches in 2015 and millions of individuals at risk of identity fraud, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

When companies, organizations or government agencies experience a data breach that may have exposed people’s personal information, one of the many issues they must address is how to help those affected. Should they offer them identity theft services?

If so, how should they choose the provider and what features should they look for? Consumer Federation of America and its Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group, which includes consumer advocates and identity theft service providers, have created a checklist, “My company’s had a data breach, now what? 7 questions to ask when considering identity theft services,” to help breached entities make these decisions.

“Identity theft services may not be necessary for every breach, but if you’re going to offer this kind of service, it is important to make sure that that it provides the information and assistance that best fits the needs of the people who are impacted,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA.

One of the questions that the checklist suggests asking is whether the service will provide information to the breach victims about how to reduce the potential damage that may result from the breach – for example, by changing their account numbers and passwords, monitoring their accounts online, and using fraud alerts, security freezes and other tools.

Other general questions include:

Are services available 24/7?

Is there a toll-free number with live operators?

What response times will the provider commit to?

Can the service handle multiple languages?

If monitoring is provided, how quickly are alerts sent?

Are there specially trained personnel to help victims of fraud resulting from the breach, and will that assistance continue for problems that aren’t resolved when the contract ends?

 

 

 

What’s the fastest growing consumer complaint?

Complaints about phony IRS agents and other imposter scams, tax ID theft and energy services were the top three fastest-growing complaints last year, according to a report released Wednesday.

When you answer the phone, how can you be sure the caller is telling you who they really are? (Getty Images)
When you answer the phone, how can you be sure the caller is telling you who they really are? (Getty Images)

Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America, said, “Scammers are always changing their pitches and looking for things that work. The IRS phony agent obviously works. It scares the heck out of people.”

The Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators report is based on input from 33 consumer agencies from 21 states, including the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

To read the full report, which provides additional suggestions for new laws as well as descriptions of agencies’ biggest achievements and challenges and tips for how consumers can protect themselves, click here.

Grant said imposter scams of all kinds have really taken off in the last year. She theorizes that a lot of people are behind on paying their taxes and don’t realize that the IRS does not call people asking them to send money.

“There is an alarming trend. It has gotten to the point that if someone is saying they are from a government agency, or your utility, or it’s your boss, you really don’t know whether in fact that is true. You need to be skeptical and check directly with whom they purport to represent before you send any money or give information,” Grant said.

In a new type of imposter scam, crooks infiltrate companies’ or organizations’ email systems and send messages purporting to be from the CEOs to employees with urgent instructions to wire money somewhere.

Tax and wage-related fraud were the most common forms of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year, so it’s no surprise that tax ID theft was one of the fastest-growing complaints to state and local consumer agencies, the report says.

Aggressive sales tactics for solar power and electricity seem to be at the root of energy services comlais.

“Consumers are misled about the potential savings, locked into long-term contracts, and in some cases, discover that their service has been switched to another complaint without their consent,” the report states.

The top 10 complaints received last year by agencies participating in the CFA survey were automotive, home improvement/construction, utilities, credit/debt, retail sales, services, landlord/tenant, household goods, health products/services and Internet sales.

 

Consumer groups urge federal agency to recall tipping IKEA furniture

IKEA's Malm dressers, such as the one shown here, have caused the deaths of three toddlers.
IKEA’s Malm dressers, such as the one shown here, have caused the deaths of three toddlers.

Three toddlers have died in tip-over accidents involving IKEA’s Malm dressers, and the  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission should issue a formal recall of the dressers, four major consumer groups said Wednesday.

Kids In Danger , Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and the National Center for Health Research wrote a letter to CPSC  Chairman Elliot Kaye, urging the safety agency to take strong, immediate action to better protect children from the tip-over hazard of certain IKEA Malm dressers.

Kaye issued the following statement Wednesday:

“I wholeheartedly agree that more needs to done, quickly, to protect innocent children from the hidden hazard of furniture tip-overs.  Without commenting on any specific case, companies are on notice that even if there has been a public announcement about a remedy to address a dangerous product, the company must take every possible step to prevent further harm.  This is especially the case when a child dies.  Companies need to move fast and work with us on a comprehensive plan that offers their customers every necessary measure required for the sake of safety.  I expect companies to truly put safety first, period.”

Just last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the February death of a 22-month-old boy in Apple Valley, Minnesota, who died when the Malm dresser in his room tipped over on him.

IKEA issued this statement Wednesday: “Raising awareness of the risk of tip over incidents and helping prevent them is a priority for IKEA.  We believe that the best way to prevent tip-over of chests of drawers is to attach products to the wall with the included restraints and hardware per the assembly instructions.   Regarding the recent tragic accident, we are having ongoing discussions with the CPSC staff on additional actions that we can take.”

This is the third confirmed tip-over death from IKEA Malm dressers.  In July 2015, the CPSC and IKEA announced two deaths from tipping dressers, and launched a repair and education campaign for the products, but did not issue a recall.  In the letter sent today, the safety advocacy groups urged a formal recall, including a stop-sale of unsafe products and refunds for consumers who would like them.

“To learn that a tipping IKEA Malm dresser killed yet another child, when the company and the CPSC chose not to do a recall after the first two deaths, is beyond heartbreaking – it is unacceptable,” wrote the groups.

The July 2015 announcement by CPSC and IKEA also did not inform consumers that the IKEA dresser in question fails to meet a voluntary safety standard agreed to by the furniture industry, ASTM F2057-14.  While the voluntary standard is considered by many to be weak, it does require testing to ensure each drawer is able to withstand a 50-pound weight, while open, without the dresser tipping over.  At less than 2 years old, it is unlikely the child in the most recent death weighed more than 50 pounds.  Had the dresser complied with industry standards, he may have survived.

 

“We urge the CPSC to take further action and deem this compliance action a recall,” the groups added.  “We recommend a stop sale of the type of furniture that was involved in deaths and that does not meet the ASTM standard, as well as refunds for consumers who want them. For those who want to anchor the furniture, IKEA should develop a program to provide an incentive for consumers to anchor their furniture.”

The CPSC has stated that injuries from falling furniture occur every 24 minutes. Every two weeks, a child dies from furniture or television sets tipping over.

 

Letter: http://www.kidsindanger.org/docs/news/Letter_to_CPSC_regarding_IKEA_Final.pdf

 

Phone companies overcharging by $75 billion, Consumer group says

Phone overcharging, Consumer Federation.
Phone companies overcharging, Consumer Federation says.

 

Taking on one of the most pressing issues facing the current Federal Communications Commission, the Consumer Federation of America  Tuesday released a study that estimates that large incumbent telephone companies such as AT&T and Verizon have engaged in abusive pricing practices for high-speed broadband “special access” services, with overcharges totaling about $75 billion over just the past five years.

As a result, CFA estimates that the indirect macroeconomic loss to American consumers doubles that damage to a total in excess of $150 billion since 2010.

An incumbent local exchange carrier is a telephone company that provided local service prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which owns most of the local loops and facilities in a service area.

 

The analysis, The Special Problem of Special Access: Consumer Overcharges and Telephone Company Excess Profitsexplores the critical – and often unappreciated – role special access plays in the U.S. telecommunications and broadband marketplace and the impact concentrated market power has on American consumers and the American economy as a whole.

Special access services are critical inputs to a wide range of businesses, including mobile broadband services, anchor institutions like hospitals, schools and libraries, public safety offices, ATM networks, and essentially any enterprise that needs access to secure, dedicated high-speed, high-capacity connections to the wireline communications network. 

 

“This review is both timely and important, particularly in light of the FCC’s historic investigation into anticompetitive conduct in this critical market,” said Mark Cooper, Director of Research at the Consumer Federation of America and author of the study. “The anticompetitive, anti-consumer conduct of the large incumbent telephone providers is a shocking reminder of the immense market power held by these organizations and the consequences this kind of concentration can have on both the individual consumer and the American economy.’

 

“The unreasonable costs that special access impose on businesses are rolled into the costs of the goods and services they sell. They don’t disappear, and the tooth fairy does not pay them,” Cooper said. “Consumers pay them in the price of the products and services they buy.” 

 

 

 

Fla. renters pay $279 more for car insurance, survey finds

car insurance jpegFlorida drivers are being charged an average of 10 percent more, or $279 a year, for car insurance simply because they rent instead of own their home, according to a national consumer group’s survey released Monday.

“To raise people’s auto insurance premium because they can’t afford to buy their homes unfairly discriminates against lower-income drivers,” said J. Robert Hunter, the Consumer Federation of America’s insurance director and the former Insurance Commissioner of Texas. “A good driver is a good driver whether she rents or owns her home. Insurance companies should not be allowed to target people based on home ownership status.”

A difference does not show up with all insurers or in all cities. The difference in Oakland, for instance, is zero because California law does not allow it, the consumer group says. Geico happens not to charge renters differently across the board, officials said.

But nationally, based on quotes for a 30-year old safe driver, the consumer federation found that premiums averaged about $112 more, or 7 percent higher, per year for renters. In a 10-city sampling including Tampa, Liberty Mutual penalized renters the most at $307 per year, or 19 percent more.

CFA officials maintain this is one of several ways insurers discriminate with a backdoor method to set higher rates for lower-income or minority drivers. Median income of renters in the U.S. was $27,800 in 2013 compared with $63,400 for homeowners, officials said.

On the other side of the issue, a consumer with a good driving record who owns a home might not think this is terrible system, if it results in rates that seem fairer to her.

Industry groups say consumers benefit when insurers have the flexibility to set prices that vary in the marketplace, as opposed to one-size-fits-all rates.

Insurers have “found over time home owners are less likely to get into an accident,” said Jim Lynch, chief actuary of the industry-funded Insurance Information Institute. “That’s reflected in the rates.”

Annual difference in car premiums for renter and homeowner
City / Dollar Difference / %
Syracuse, NY $59 5%
Denver, CO $61 6%
Tampa, FL $279 10%
Louisville, KY $185 13%
Difference by insurer in Tampa
State Farm 3%
Geico 0%
Allstate 19%
Progressive 3%
Liberty Mutual 23%

Source: Consumer Federation of America

Consumer Federation adds companies to Identity Theft working group

Check out Consumer Federation of America's advice about how to choose an identity theft prevention service.
Check out Consumer Federation of America’s advice about how to choose an identity theft prevention service.

Consumer Federation of America  has added Equifax, ID Watchdog and Worldwide Benefit Services’ ID Theft Assist to the list of companies that are part of CFA’s Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group.

The working group, which also includes consumer advocates, helped to develop and recently revise CFA’s Best Practices for Identity Theft Services.

“We are pleased to have these companies in our working group,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA. “Working group members are committed to promoting responsible practices in the identity theft service industry and helping to educate the public about identity theft.”

CFA’s Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group has embarked on a new project to develop a checklist with questions that businesses, organizations and government agencies should ask when they are considering providing identity theft services to data breach victims. Advice for consumers, including Nine things to Check When Shopping for Identity Theft Services

Other resources are available on CFA’s www.IDTheftInfo.org website.