Gasoline prices could be increasing soon, AAA says

Gasoline prices are low, but could be headed back up soon.

Provided.

The estimated 37.5 million Americans who hit the road on Independence Day found the lowest gas prices in more than a decade, according to AAA, whose data is collected from credit card swipes and direct feeds from 120,000 gas stations nationwide, in cooperation with OPIS and Wright Express.

But prices could inch up in the next week or two.

READ MORE ABOUT WHY GAS PRICES ARE SO LOW

 

“Unfortunately the pump price plunge may soon come to an end,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. “We are entering a six-week period where demand is normally the strongest of the year. Plus, oil and wholesale prices made solid gains last week, reaching a level that should cause gas prices to level off. Motorists in some markets may see pump prices climb 5-10 cents in the next week or two as a result.”

YOUR IDENTITY COULD BE STOLEN AT THE GAS PUMP

Palm Beach County’s average for a gallon of regular stood at $2.26 Wednesday, down just fractions of a cent from Tuesday, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

The cheapest gasoline is at $1.95 a gallon for regular at Rocket Fuel, 100 N. Federal Highway, North Palm Beach. The next lowest price is $1.97 at 7-Eleven, 1220 Federal Highway, Lake Park, as reported on GasBuddy.com

About 10 Palm Beach County stations are selling gasoline at $1.99 Wednesday. To search in your area, go to GasBuddy.com

Although the national average of $2.23 was the lowest for the holiday in 12 years, gas prices in the southeastern U.S. were the lowest in 13 years. On July 4 gas prices averaged $2.15 in Florida – 9 cents less than a year ago a year ago, and the lowest price for the holiday since 2004.

Florida’s daily gas price averages are the lowest since November 2016. The state average declined for the 31st consecutive day on Tuesday, for a total of 23 cents since June 3.

The oil market has steadily climbed during the past week after EIA data showed domestic oil production lowered by about 100,000 barrels per day, for the week ending on June 23. Moreover, last week Baker Hughes Inc. reported that for the first time in 24 weeks, the U.S. oil rig count declined by two – bringing the total rig count to 756. Neither of these declines are considered dramatic, but the sudden shift in fundamentals was enough to send oil prices higher. Market watchers will look to today’s EIA data report to see if this trend continues, in hopes it will steer prices higher.

The price of crude rose for the 10th consecutive day Monday, settling at $47.07 per barrel. Crude prices are up $4.54 since reaching this year’s lowest daily settlement of $42.53 on June 21.

 

Gasoline dips to $1.99 at three Palm Beach County stations

At least three Palm Beach County stations are selling regular gasoline at $1.99 a gallon. (Post file photo)

Just in time for Fourth of July travelers, $1.99 a gallon gasoline is being sold in Palm Beach County.

As of Wednesday morning, only three stations have reached the price point coveted by consumers, according to reports on GasBuddy.com

They are Rocket Fuel, 100 N. Federal Highway, North Palm Beach; Murphy USA, 1050 N. Military Trail and Raceway, 288 N. Haverhill Road, both in suburban West Palm Beach.

While GasBuddy showed no stations offering gas at $2 a gallon, numerous stations have fuel priced at $2.01 to $2.02.

RELATED: CHEAP GASOLINE IS HERE, BUT DON’T OVERPAY

GasBuddy warned earlier this week that the price spread between stations will be huge, and that motorists should check prices before venturing out. That can be done on GasBuddy.com.

Fourth of July weekend prices are expected to be the lowest in more than a decade.

Record refinery rates, high gasoline and crude inventory, and less-than-favorable demand this year are among the contributing factors causing the downward price trend, AAA said.

RELATED: IS $2 A GALLON GASOLINE HERE YET?

Meanwhile, the Palm Beach County average for a gallon of regular inched down another penny overnight to $2.28. A week ago the county’s average was $2.34, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

Florida’s average Wednesday stands at $2.18, also down a penny overnight, and from $2.24 a week ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Student loan scam based in Lake Worth, Delray, Boca shut down

The FTC filed federal charges against a student loan debt relief company that it alleges lied to consumers and charged illegal upfront fees.

A federal court has shut down an  alleged phony student loan debt relief and credit repair scheme that operated from Lake Worth, Delray Beach, Boca Raton and Las Vegas.

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday it charged the operators  with bilking millions of dollars from consumers by falsely promising to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt and offering them non-existent credit repair services.

Dave Green, 41, the owner of Strategic Student Solutions and related entities, used corporate funds to pay for personal expenses such as jewelry, casino tabs, mortgage payments, luxury vehicles, clothing, and construction of a pool, the FTC said.

At the FTC’s request, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach has temporarily halted the operation. The agency seeks to permanently stop the alleged illegal practices and obtain refunds for consumers.

“Consumers who paid Strategic Student Solutions for help with their student loans watched their situations go from bad to worse,” said Tom Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The bottom line: never pay an up-front fee to a company promising to deliver debt relief.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, the operators of Strategic Student Solutions and related companies lured student loan borrowers with promises such as “Payments as low as $0 Monthly” or “Save 60 percent or MORE on your monthly payment.”

SSS operators told the student loan borrowers they would be enrolled in a loan forgiveness or payment reduction program, and that their monthly payments would be applied to their loans, the complaint states.

However, in many cases, consumers discovered that the defendants failed to enroll them in any loan forgiveness or payment reduction programs, and found out that none of their monthly payments were applied to their student loan debt.

In its complaint, the FTC also alleges that SSS operators falsely represented that they would provide credit repair services and improve consumers’ credit scores. In exchange for the promised debt relief and credit repair services, defendants charged illegal upfront fees of up to $1200 and monthly payments typically of $49.99.

The defendants named in the complaint, Green and his companies—Strategic Student Solutions LLC, Strategic Credit Solutions LLC, Strategic Debt Solutions LLC, Strategic Doc Prep Solutions LLC, Student Relief Center LLC, and Credit Relief Center LLC—are charged with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Credit Repair Organizations Act.

The FTC  said it appreciates the assistance provided by the Ohio Office of the Attorney General, the Florida Office of the Attorney General, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Washington Office of the Attorney General in bringing this case.

To help make consumers aware of fraudulent debt relief services, the FTC offers advice about student loan debt relief, in English and Spanish. The FTC also offers a list of every company and person courts have banned from selling debt relief services as a result of FTC actions.

Consumers seeking to reduce their student loans should always contact the Department of Education for official guidance.

How much more likely are motorcyclists to die in a crash than other drivers?

Florida Highway Patrol troopers investigate a fatal crash at the northbound exit ramp to Glades Road at I-95 on Feb. 3, 2016.
Lannis Waters, Palm Beach Post staff

 

If you have shaken your head in disbelief as a motorcyclist weaves in and out of traffic on I-95, often wearing no helmet, you may have wondered just how dangerous such behaviors are.

As anyone with an ounce of common sense would guess, it’s terribly dangerous.

It’s obvious that when motorcycles crash, their riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle. Per mile traveled, a motorcyclist is more than 20 times more likely to die than someone traveling in a vehicle, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In fact, Florida’s roads are particularly deadly for motorcyclists.

Florida ranks first in the nation for motorcycle deaths, with 606 statewide  and 34 in Palm Beach County in 2015,  the most recent year available from the NHTSA.  That same year, 9,045 people were reported injured in motorcycle crashes in Florida.

It was the worst year ever for motorcycle crash-related fatalities in Florida,  marking a 30 percent increase from 2014.

Motorcyclists accounted for one-fifth  of motor vehicle fatalities in the state in 2015,  yet motorcycles only account for 3 percent of registered vehicles. AAA said.

Thousands of motorcyclists are in Daytona Beach  for the 76th annual Daytona Bike week that began Friday and ends this coming Sunday.  Drivers should expect an increase in traffic on Florida roadways, AAA said last week.

Florida law allows people over 21 to operate and ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet if they are  covered by an insurance policy providing for at least $10,000 in medical benefits for injuries incurred as a result of a crash while operating or riding on a motorcycle.

“Time and time again the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets has been proven through scientific study,” said Karen Morgan, Public Policy Manager, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “AAA strongly supports a universal helmet law in Florida.”

Hospital charges for motorcyclists – treated in a hospital due to a traffic crash – totaled $675,674,964 in 2015,  according to the Florida Department of Health. The average cost for a motorcyclist involved in a traffic crash who was then admitted to the hospital was $83,676. Helmet use has been shown to significantly reduce the cost associated with motorcycle traffic crashes.

“Wearing a helmet could mean the difference between life and death,” said Josh Carrasco, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Our goal is to make sure all motorists arrive safely at their destination, including motorcyclists.”

Top Counties for Motorcycle Crash Deaths:

Rank County Deaths
1 Miami-Dade 67
2 Hillsborough 48
3 Broward 42
4 Palm Beach 34
5 Pinellas 27
6 (tied) Lee 26
6 (tied) Orange 26
8 Duval 23
9 (tied) Brevard 22
9 (tied) Pasco 22
11 (tied) Polk 21
11 (tied) Volusia 21

AAA encourages drivers and motorcyclists not to drive impaired and to follow these safety tips:

Safety Tips for Motorists:

  • Respect motorcycle riders. Motorcycles are vehicles too and have the same privileges as an automobile. Be sure to give them ample room.
  • Look and Listen. Even if a motorcycle is loud, you may not hear it. Actively look for motorcycles in traffic.
  • Leave room. Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and motorcyclists. Uneven terrain, wet roads, and heavy traffic often require a motorcycle rider to react and maneuver differently than automobiles.
  • Be aware. Take extra caution when making a left-hand turn, because most automobile-versus-motorcycle crashes occur during left-hand turns.
  • Don’t drive distracted. A driver who takes their eyes off the road for two seconds doubles their risk of getting into a crash.

Safety Tips for Motorcyclists:

  • Wear safety gear. Helmets that meet DOT compliance standards, eye wear, closed-toe footwear and protective clothing reduce your risk of injury or death in a crash. Remember, the only thing between you and the ground is your protective gear.
  • Be visible. Keep headlights, marker and tail lights on at dusk and dark, or rainy weather. Wear bright clothing or put reflective strips on your bike to be more visible to other motorists. Avoid being in the blind spots of cars and trucks by following three to four seconds behind the vehicle in front of you.
  • Use sound judgment. Avoid weaving between lanes while riding. Be sure to use your signals and stick to the speed limit.
  • Get proper training. Completing a motorcycle safety course can not only make you a better rider, but save you money on your motorcycle insurance.

FTC: Western Union knew its agents were committing fraud, agrees to return $586 million to fraud victims

Western Union has admitted to criminal violations and abetting wire fraud, the FTC said Thursday.
Western Union has admitted to criminal violations and abetting wire fraud, the FTC said Thursday.

 

Western Union has known for years that scammers were using its system to commit significant fraud. Even when faced with clear evidence that many of its agents were committing fraud, Western Union kept taking people’s money, probably billions in fraud-related transfers, sent since January 2004, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

But Thursday, in a global settlement with the FTC and the US Department of Justice, Western Union agreed to return $586 million to people and create a real and strong anti-fraud program.

Western Union did nothing to guard against fraud and looked the other way as criminals and scammers used its system to defraud consumers of billions of dollars, the FTC said.

The global company has agreed to enter into agreements with the FTC, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices of the Southern District of Florida, the Middle  and Eastern Districts of Pennsylvania, and the Central District of California.

 In its agreement with the Justice Department, Western Union admits to criminal violations including willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, said, “Western Union, the largest money service business in the world, has admitted to a flawed corporate culture that failed to provide a checks and balances approach to combat criminal practices.”

“Western Union’s failure to implement proper controls and discipline agents that violated compliances policies enabled the proliferation of illegal gambling, money laundering and fraud-related schemes. Western Union’s conduct resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in prohibited transactions. Today’s historic agreement, involving the largest financial forfeiture by a money service business, makes it clear that all corporations and their agents will be held accountable for conduct that circumvents compliance programs designed to prevent criminal conduct,” Ferrer said.

Western Union has been on notice since at least December 1997, that individuals use its money transfer system to send illegal gambling transactions from Florida to offshore sportsbooks, the FTC said.

Western Union knew that gambling transactions presented a heightened risk of money laundering and that through at least 2012, certain procedures it implemented were not effective at limiting transactions with characteristics indicative of illegal gaming from the United States to other countries.

FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said, “Western Union owes a responsibility to American consumers to guard against fraud, but instead the company looked the other way, and its system facilitated scammers and rip-offs. The agreements we are announcing today will ensure Western Union changes the way it conducts its business and provides more than a half billion dollars for refunds to consumers who were harmed by the company’s unlawful behavior.”
The FTC’s complaint, filed Thursday in Pennsylvania,  alleges that Western Union declined to put in place effective anti-fraud policies and procedures and has failed to act promptly against problem agents.

Western Union has identified many of the problem agents but has profited from their actions by not promptly suspending and terminating them.

In resolving the FTC charges, Western Union agreed to a monetary judgment of $586 million and to implement and maintain a comprehensive anti-fraud program with training for its agents and their front line associates, monitoring to detect and prevent fraud-induced money transfers, due diligence on all new and renewing company agents, and suspension or termination of noncompliant agents.

The FTC order prohibits Western Union from transmitting a money transfer that it knows or reasonably should know is fraud-induced, and requires it to:

  • block money transfers sent to any person who is the subject of a fraud report;
  • provide clear and conspicuous consumer fraud warnings on its paper and electronic money transfer forms;
  • increase the availability of websites and telephone numbers that enable consumers to file fraud complaints; and
  • refund a fraudulently induced money transfer if the company failed to comply with its anti-fraud procedures in connection with that transaction.

In addition, consistent with the telemarketing sales rule, Western Union must not process a money transfer that it knows or should know is payment for a telemarketing transaction.  The company’s compliance with the order will be monitored for three years by an independent compliance auditor.

Duke Energy has 57,000 customer outages, 146,000 restored

herminedamage

The front of a residence that was destroyed by Hurricane Hermine is seen, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, in Cedar Key, Fla. Hermine was downgraded to a tropical storm after it made landfall. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Duke Energy Florida said today that at  2 p.m. it had approximately 57,000 customers experiencing power outages and more than 146,000 had been restored since Hermine began.

Additional crews are heading to west coastal Florida to focus on Pinellas County, where Duke has the highest concentration of customers, and the largest number of outages.

Duke, headquartered in St. Petersburg, has outages in 31 of the 35 counties in serves in Florida. More than 1,200 workers have been dispatched throughout the state.

Due to the widespread nature of the damage and the geography in some impacted areas, the company is continuing to determine restoration times.

For more information, go to : www.duke-energy.com/hermine

 

Avoid handyman horror story. Take care when hiring.

Hiring someone to do home repairs is serious business.
Hiring someone to do home repairs is serious business. Proceed cautiously.

Home repair experiences don’t get much worse than what happened to a suburban Boynton Beach woman who was allegedly brutally beaten by an air conditioning repairman a week ago.

But every day homeowners open their doors to handymen, electricians, plumber, exterminators and others for work they need done.

Although there’s no way to make sure nothing ever goes wrong, even when dealing with a reputable company recommended by friends or neighbors, there are precautions homeowners can take.

That includes never hiring someone who happens to knock on your door,  someone you happen to meet at the paint store, or who solicits your business by phone.

Read what happened last year to a 97-year-old North Palm Beach woman who fell for a scammer claiming to be with Florida Power & Light.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking with friends, neighbors or co-workers about who they’ve used. If possible, take a look at the work done and ask about experience. What was the quality of the work? Did the original estimate change?  Did the workers clean up or leave a mess?

Look for an established company whose record and reputation you can check out, the FTC advises.

Ask the company if they run criminal background checks before hiring someone, and how long the person they’re sending to your home has worked there. Of course, the company could say it has checked everyone out when it has not, and someone who has never committed a crime could decide to steal something.

If you’re hiring a one-man operator, it should be only someone recommended to you by a friend who used them. Ask for more references and actually check them.

Get a written estimate if possible. Some charge by the job; others by the hour. Is there a minimum charge? Make a list of what needs to be done.

Obtain the worker’s full name and street address so the person can be located later. Ask to see a photo I.D.

Handymen are required to have a “business tax receipt” from the county or city where they are working. Ask for that and ask to see a current insurance liability certificate.

If possible, have two adults present the first time the worker comes into your home.

Look at sites you trust that post ratings and reviews, the FTC advises. Do people seem to have similar experiences,  good or bad? You can also check out a contractor’s online reputation by searching for the company’s name with words such as “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”

Check for qualifications, such as licensing.

Don’t hire a handyman to do major home repairs. For those, you need a certified contractor. In Palm Beach County there are more than 60 construction trades that require licensing. “Handyman” isn’t one of them, but electrical worker, drywall, air conditioning, roofing and many more do require specific licensing.

Go to pbcgov.com/pzb/Constractors to find out whether the work requires certification.

Check to see if any complaints have been filed  with the Better Business Bureau at 561-842-1918 or seflorida.bbb.org/Home.aspx and Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs at 561-712-6600 or pbcgov.com/publicsafety/consumeraffairs.

 

 

 

 

Belle Glade firm takes sweet corn to the next level with new pack

Fresh Life Harvest Sweet Corn, a new product produced in Belle Glade, is available in Publix.
Fresh Life Harvest Sweet Corn, a new product produced in Belle Glade, is available at some  Publix Super Markets.  Provided.

Palm Beach County produces more sweet corn than any other county in the nation, and a new consumer-friendly microwavable whole ear sweet corn pack has sprung from that legacy.

John E. “Buddy” McKinstry, founder and owner of JEM Farms and Rick Roth, president of Roth Farms, formed Next Level Fresh LLC in 2015 to market the product that’s packed at Ray’s Heritage, Roth’s packinghouse.  Both of the Belle Glade farmers have roots in farming going back to the 1930s.

The trademarked Fresh Life Harvest Sweet Corn hit the shelves for the first time in April. It’s available in the refrigerated case at  many South Florida Publix Super Markets at four ears for $4.99. The corn is shucked, washed, sanitized and each ear is wrapped in  a laminated perforated film to keep it fresh for up to 14 days.

Erin McKinstry, McKinstry’s daughter, who works in sales and marketing at Heritage Farms, said the product will be available year-round, even after Palm Beach County’s crop wraps up each spring.

“We will pull from Georgia, then New York, then back to Georgia and back to Florida,” McKinstry said.

Heritage Farms Produce LLC is the sales and marketing arm for Ray’s Heritage.

James Jacks, sales representative at Heritage Farms, said so far roughly 100,000 ears have been sold in the new packs.

“We have it in mind for about three years. We came up with it the first of this year and started trying to promote it,” Jacks said. “It’s some of the finest sweet corn you will ever put in your mouth.”

Jacks explained that  the ears are intact and not cut on the ends. This makes for a safer, cleaner product and keeps bacteria out. It also results in 30 percent more corn than in a tray pack with the  ends cut off.

Erin McKinstry said other convenience products are in the works for other vegetables produced in the Glades, such as celery, leaf items, radishes,  cabbage and green beans.

“Our plans are to go into restaurants and food service,” Erin McKinstry said. “We are pretty excited.”

Palm Beach County produces more sweet corn than any other county in the nation. The crop is typically valued at more than $100 million a year.

 

 

 

 

Verify CPA’s license before hiring, Florida DBPR advises

Florida officials advise checking for credentials before hiring a CPA.
Florida officials advise checking for credentials before hiring a CPA.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation  is warning Floridians of the danger of hiring unlicensed certified public accountants  to assist with their personal and business financial needs. In Florida, CPAs are required to have a professional license.

 

“With tax season upon us, Floridians and businesses across the state are hiring CPAs to prepare their financial documents,” DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson said. “While there are many other accountants and tax professionals who are able to assist with a variety of financial needs, only CPAs are licensed by the state to perform specific services. It’s important to be aware of the benefits of hiring licensed CPAs and to be informed on how to verify a CPA license with the state.”

 

In order to provide advanced financial, business and tax services to their clients, licensed CPAs must have successfully passed the Uniform CPA Examination and are required to meet strict professional and technical requirements mandated by Florida law. They are licensed to perform audits, reviews and compilations, as well as express opinions of financial statements that provide a level of assurance regarding the reliability or fairness of the financial information at hand.

 

Before a licensed CPA is hired, consumers should always verify the individual’s State of Florida professional license with DBPR. Licenses can be verified by visiting www.myfloridalicense.com, calling (850) 487-1395 or downloading the free DBPR Mobile app available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

 

Floridians are asked to report any suspected unlicensed activity to DBPR by emailing ULA@myfloridalicense.com or calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 1 (866) 532-1440.