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2018-01-21T00:49:47.294Z
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This is our last post on Consumerist.com. We’re deeply proud of all the work we’ve done on behalf of consumers, from exposing shady practices by secretive cable companies to pushing for action against dodgy payday lenders.

We’ve had a tremendous run as a standalone site. Now you’ll be able to get the same great coverage of consumer issues as part of Consumer Reports, our parent organization.

Update: Since announcing this news, we’ve had many readers reach out to us about the future of the Consumerist site, archive, and more. We appreciate your questions–and here are some answers:

  1. Existing Consumerist content will be preserved on Consumerist for the immediate future.

  2. Some Consumerist stories are already on the Consumer Reports site, and we will be bringing over more in the weeks and months to come.

  3. We will be offering a RSS feed of Consumer Reports content in the next few weeks. In the meantime, visit us to read the latest consumer news.

  4. We are developing a longer-term strategy for the Consumerist brand moving forward. Stay tuned.

And, readers can continue to send us questions via Twitter using @consumerist or @consumerreports.

The trinity of divisive Halloween candies is made up of candy corn, marshmallow peanuts, and of course black licorice — perhaps the treat most likely to elicit either only joy or rage when it’s put into one’s candy sack. But there’s one thing that even those who stand firmly on the “love” side of this unbridgeable, anise-flavored chasm should know: When it comes to black licorice, there is such a thing as too much.

The Food and Drug Administration is reminding everyone this Halloween that while safe in small amounts, black licorice does in fact have things in it that can make you sick or kill you.

The candy contains the compound glycyrrhizin, FDA experts say, which is the sweet flavoring that comes from the licorice root.

But glycyrrhizin (go on, say it five times fast) can alter the potassium levels in your body. If those drop too far, you might experience symptoms like increased blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, or even abnormal heart rhythms or congestive heart failure.

Obviously, those are bad. But the good news is, it takes a fair amount of candy to cause a problem. For consumers who are over 40, the FDA says that eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with heart trouble.

In general, the agency recommends, no matter what your age, you should keep servings of black licorice small, and don’t eat large amounts in one go. If you have been eating...

Smoke in the cabin of a passenger airplane is a scary prospect. That’s why a plane heading from Munich, Germany to Washington Dulles International Airport made an emergency landing at Boston’s Logan Airport instead: There was smoke pouring from the plane’s galley… which may or may not have actually been caused by a fire.

The plane was diverted to land at Logan, where emergency crews arrived to look for the source of the smoke. What they didn’t do was deplane passengers, who waited until after airport firefighters had checked out the galley before departing the plane.

Boston’s fire department reported to the scene, but their services weren’t needed, and firefighters were “turned back.”

A spokesman for United Airlines told NBC4 Washington that no passengers were injured, but the airline wasn’t sure at that time whether the smoke was caused by an actual fire in the galley. An FAA spokeswoman told the Boston Globe that the problem was a “possible fire.”

Passengers on the ground made the best of the situation, taking pictures, since if you don’t tell your Facebook friends about something, it never happened.

Logan airport plane fire pic.twitter.com/vYgjiDARjN — Kevin Sullivan (@ksullboston) October 29, 2017 Boston Fire responding to Logan Airport for a reported plane fire. Sounds like there was a fire in the galley (kitchen area) of plane.

In January, federal regulators announced they had put a stop to an apartment rental scam in which homes (that may not exist) are listed online with the sole purpose of tricking prospective renters into paying for “credit checks” that will never be done. Now, the operators of the scheme must pay $762,000 to put an end to the Federal Trade Commission’s allegations. 

The FTC announced today that it received a court order [PDF] against Danny Pierce and Andrew Lloyd for their part in operating an alleged scheme run by Credit Bureau Center LLC that targeted consumers looking to rent property.

The Alleged Scheme

According to the Commission’s complaint [PDF], since Jan. 2014 Credit Bureau Center — previously known as MyScore LLC, and doing business as eFreeScore.com, CreditUpdates.com, and FreeCreditNation.com — deceptively advertised, marketed, promoted, and sold credit monitoring services to consumers.

When prospective customers responded to the ads, the companies would allegedly impersonate property owners and send emails offering tours if the consumers would first obtain their credit reports and scores.

To do so, the FTC claims, the companies sent the potential renters to websites operated by the defendants. The sites claimed to provide “free” credit reports and scores.

As an extra incentive, the email often stated that, if the consumer’s credit score exceeded a certain level, such as 650, the landlord would waive the security deposit.

However, the complaint alleged that the sites deceived consumers into signing up for a negative...

When you think of the ideal cheeseburger, where is the cheese in the sandwich equation — is it beneath the patty, or on top of it? That is the question Google’s CEO has now promised to address, after someone questioned the company’s cheese placement in its cheeseburger emoji.

Media consultant Thomas Baekdal pointed out on Twitter over the weekend that while Apple’s hamburger/cheeseburger emoji has cheese resting atop a beef patty, Google’s version sticks the slice underneath the meat.

I think we need to have a discussion about how Google's burger emoji is placing the cheese underneath the burger, while Apple puts it on top pic.twitter.com/PgXmCkY3Yc — Thomas Baekdal (@baekdal) October 28, 2017

RELATED: 5 Tips From A Pro Fro Cooking Up An Awesome Hamburger

Of course, Twitter users immediately started taking sides:

Obviously, cheese must be on top of meat. But lettuce must be insulated by the tomato – so both are in the wrong. — Tero Kuittinen (@teroterotero) October 28, 2017 lettuce under meat keeps the bottom bun from getting (as) soggy with meat juice. — DARK ALEX RISING (@alex_insist) October 28, 2017 Monsters. — Ana Milicevic (@aexm) October 28, 2017

Sure, saving $1,000 on a car that may cost you far in excess of $70,000 might seem like a minor victory, but it’s still better than nothing. But now that Tesla is becoming more of a household name and hoping to reach a more mass-market car-buying audience, it’s getting rid of even this relatively small savings program.

Tesla recently announced it will end its referral credit program that provided prospective buyers with a $1,000 toward their purchase Tuesday evening.

Through the program, current Tesla owners could provide five friends with a $1,000 credit to be used on any new Model S or Model X vehicle. These new customers would also receive free unlimited supercharging for their vehicles.

Individuals who don’t make their purchase by end-of-the-day Tuesday won’t exactly be left empty-handed. Instead, the carmaker notes that purchases made after Oct. 31 will still receive free, unlimited supercharging.

If you’ve got a friend with a Tesla, they might just be hounding you over the next two days to finally buy one of the electric cars. That’s because they’re also getting a prize for referring you to the company.

Current owners receive an array of “thank you” awards, including a free Black Wall Connector, a miniature Model S for kids, a new set of (literal) wheels, and Powerwall 2 home batteries.

Tesla first unveiled its incentive program in July 2015, offering both the current Tesla owner and the new customer $1,000 off the list price of a new vehicle, accessories,...

Instead of shrinking in fear from the rising green tide of legal marijuana, the parent company behind booze brands like Corona, Svedka, and Robert Mondavi is jumping right in with a big investment in the legal marijuana business.

Constellation Brands Inc. is shelling out $191 million for a 9.9% stake in Canopy Growth Corp, a Canadian company — known as WEED on the Toronto Stock Exchange — that sells medicinal cannabis products in that country and other markets where it’s legal.

Constellation doesn’t have plans to start selling weed products in the U.S. — or anywhere else, for that matter — until it’s legal “at all government levels.”

In the mean time, Constellation can get a jumpstart on figuring out what will the next big thing in legal marijuana, which is “predicted to become a significant consumer category in the future.”

“Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction,” Constellation CEO Rob Sands said in a statement.

While you won’t be able to crack open a cold can of weed-infused Corona any time soon, there could be some kind of cannabis beverage down the road — again, wherever it’s federally legal — as the two companies will be exchanging “knowledge and expertise.”

Your state’s department of motor vehicles already knows what make and model of car you own, and sends you registration documents every few years that you have to open. Safety advocates have suggested including information about important vehicle recalls in vehicle registrations to make sure more people know about recalls and comply. In an experimental program, Maryland will start sending these notices to vehicle owners.

Recalls can endanger the lives of drivers and passengers, like the notable recent recalls of shrapnel-spewing Takata airbags, or the General Motors ignition lock defect. Yet only around 70% of recalled vehicles get repaired, a figure that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to improve.

While the Repairing Every Car to Avoid Lost Lives (RECALL) Act, a U.S. Senate bill with an excellent name, would have required every state to implement such a program, that specific bill was not passed.

Instead, funding for a pilot program for up to six states was part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a transportation infrastructure bill signed into law by President Obama in late 2015. Only one state applied, the Baltimore Sun notes, and that was Maryland, which recieved a $222,300 grant to test whether such a notification program will work.

“Recalls are serious. Recall repairs are completely free to the consumer. This first-in-the-nation grant will serve as an example to the rest of the country as...

Despite repeated Congressional and Executive branch efforts, the full Affordable Care Act is still in place. That means insurance-shopping season is nearly upon us: Open Enrollment begins Nov. 1 (and ends Dec. 15). But there’s less money being spent on advertising and outreach this year, which means even the basics can be hard to get solid information about. So here’s our when-and-where of getting yourself covered for 2018.

When does Open Enrollment start?

You can begin enrolling in plans for 2018 on November 1, 2017.

When does Open Enrollment end?

If you’re using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, the deadline to get enrolled in a plan is December 15, 2017.

This is several weeks earlier than in previous years, when the open enrollment period ran to the end of January, so anyone planning to shop for coverage should plan to move quickly. You have 45 days, tops.

Deadlines in the dozen or so states that have their own state exchanges vary, however, and some carry through into 2018 — scroll down and keep reading for details on those.

Do I use healthcare.gov, or what?

That depends on where you live.

Residents of 39 states looking for individual coverage use the federal exchange to buy marketplace health plans. However, 11 states and D.C. have their own exchanges and their own open enrollment deadlines. Those are:

If anything is true of 2017, it is this: Confusion reigns. And nowhere do we see that more than in healthcare, where failed repeal attempts, executive orders, sudden, out-of-the-blue policy changes, and general unpredictable chaos have dominated the news.

But the fact remains that Americans still need access to medical care, and for those who don’t have insurance through their employer or the government, the 2018 Open Enrollment period for individual insurance plans officially begins on Nov. 1. So what are the things everyone should know, but which may have been overlooked amid the maelstrom?

We chatted with a half-dozen advocates, policy experts, industry professionals, and navigators about this year’s open enrollment period. Some spoke with us on the condition of anonymity, and some were happy to talk on the record, but all of them agreed overwhelmingly on a huge point: There’s massive confusion in the marketplace this year that they desperately want cleared up.

With budgets for advertising, outreach, and navigators dramatically slashed this year, getting vital messages to...

Dunkin’ Donuts, faced with slipping sales, has undergone a bit of a revamp in recent months, such as dropping the “Donuts” portion of its name at a California store to paring down its menu. Now, the company is focusing on deals, as in, giving customers more of them.

The chain announced its third quarter financials Thursday, noting that for the sixth straight quarter traffic to locations had fallen.

In all, traffic at U.S.-based restaurants declined 2% for the third quarter.

While same store sales increased by 0.6%, overall income for Dunkin’ Brands — which also counts Baskin Robins in its portfolio — fell slightly by about $500,000.

In the face of falling sales, and fewer customers walking through the doors, Dunkin’ CEO Nigel Travis tells Reuters the chain will increase the number of promotions it runs.

“Our franchisees are now seeing the value of value and you will see a lot more in the future,” said Travis.

The company plans to focus the deals on its mobile app, providing loyalty members with personalized ads and perks, Reuters notes.

In the past, the company has run promotions such as “2 for $2” egg and cheese wraps and prize promotions on drinks.

Nigel pointed to the company’s recent “Sip. Peel. Win” promotion as an example of a successful deal, noting it had driven hot coffee sales.

This month is the first in which student loan borrowers enrolled in the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program were expecting to see their student loan tab cleared. But that’s not happening for some borrowers after learning they were never actually enrolled in the programs, despite assurances from the companies servicing their debts. 

The situation is a culmination of problems within the servicing industry and the complicated forgiveness program.

It also further bolsters recent findings from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that highlighted borrower complaints about student loan servicers mishandling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

For those unfamiliar, in 2007 the government began offering a public service loan-forgiveness program that will forgive certain federal student loans for borrowers who work for government organizations and non-profit groups for 10 years and make 120 on-time monthly payments on their loans.

An Unwelcome Surprise

The New York Times spoke with one such borrower who expected to have his debt wiped away via the program this month.

However, that didn’t happen, despite the fact the man had followed the rules; making 120 on-time payments and working full-time as a teacher.

Instead, just two years before his debt was supposed to be forgiven, the man was informed that he hadn’t made a single eligible payment. That’s because he wasn’t enrolled in the correct program.

The man’s story begins back in 2002, when he entered a graduated repayment plan that allowed him to start with smaller monthly payments...

After giving employees more than six months to recover from this spring’s Unicorn Frappuccino, Starbucks has another limited-time novelty beverage that’s made more for Instagram than for human consumption. Yet the good news (perhaps?) for many of the chain’s employees is that supplies for the drink have already run out in many locations. Darn.

The zombeverage consists of a caramel-apple sweet blended base with mocha “blood,” topped with whipped cream that’s supposed to look like brains.

Like the Unicorn frap, the drink is designed more for looks than for flavor, and many employees report that the beverages are going straight in the trash after one sip. Or, at least, after customers snap a photo.

“I think the drink tastes pretty bad so I get it,” one worker observed on Reddit. “But not a single empty zombie frapp at my store yet, figure someone would suck it down.”

What Starbucks wisely did this time, though, was make sure that the drink is only in circulation for as long as supplies last. Business Insider noticed that this means a lot of stores have already sold out, with their staff presumably sighing with relief.

The sparkly color-changing unicorn beverage became an object of nationwide derision back in April, creating a brief and peaceful moment when all Americans agreed on something.

As the saying goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. However, if life locks you in the beer cooler, don’t crack open a few cold ones — tempting though that may be — or you may find yourself charged with retail theft.

According to Marshfield, WI, police, a 38-year-old man entered a walk-in beer cooler at a Kwik Trip convenience store before midnight on Tuesday night, reports WAOW.com.

Although the store is open 24/7, the beer cooler automatically locks at 12. a.m. Thus, at the stroke of midnight, the man was stuck… and it sounds like he was fine with that situation.

“The subject found himself locked in the beer cooler, knew that Kwik Trip would not sell him any beer, so he decided to remain in the beer cooler,” the chief of police told the news station, adding that there were actions he could’ve taken to let someone know he was in there.

Instead, he allegedly drank an 18-ounce bottle of Icehouse Beer and three cans of Four Loko (which yes, still exists), and tumbled over a stack of Busch Light 30-packs.

He was only discovered at about 6 a.m. when another customer spotted him in the cooler. Though he fled the scene, he was later arrested and charged with stealing the beer. He’s in county jail on a probation hold from another case that required him to remain sober.

Kwik-Trip says it will review its security.

“I’ve heard of people being locked inside of...

If you’ve had any doubt that America is in the throes of an opioid epidemic, perhaps a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will hit the point home.

According to the agency’s latest Morbidity and Mortality report, more than half the opioid overdose deaths in 10 states involved the synthetic drug fentanyl.

The CDC’s report [PDF] looked at opioid overdose deaths during July–Dec. 2016 that tested positive for fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, or U-47700, an illicit synthetic opioid, in 10 states participating in its Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) program. It found that Fentanyl was involved in more than 50% of opioid overdose deaths in those states.

A preliminary estimate by...

Are Amazon’s bookstores headed for the same future as struggling chains like Barnes & Noble? It’s possible, according to the company’s latest financials, which suggest the company’s physical bookstores aren’t doing so hot. 

Amazon announced its third-quarter earnings on Thursday. For the first time, it also broke out performance for its physical stores, noting that these entities accounted for $1.276 billion during the quarter.

Physical stores — which Amazon helpfully describes as places where a customer “can physically select items in a store” — include both Amazon’s bookstores and its newly acquired Whole Foods grocery chain.

While $1.276 billion in sales is pretty impressive for a company just jumping into the physical retail world, Amazon notes that a majority of those sales are from Whole Foods.

In fact, the company estimates that net sales from Whole Foods — since it was acquired in August — totaled $1.3 billion, which likely includes online sales of the brand’s products.

Additionally, Amazon doesn’t note exactly how much the bookstores contributed in sales for the third quarter, which means the figure could be so minuscule it doesn’t make a dent in the $1.27 billion in sales. We’ve reached out to Amazon for more information.

So what’s that mean? Mainly, that Amazon physical bookstores don’t ring up much in the way of sales.

Business Insider surmises that there are a few reason for this: There are only 12 Amazon bookstores, and the locations often function as a benefit to Prime members, not...

Would you consider an in-air concert on your next flight an amenity, or something that would make you switch airlines? Southwest Airlines is continuing its series of concerts for captive audiences, partnering with Warner Music to have the label’s artists perform mini-concerts for Southwest’s passengers.

You may not be familiar with the series, but Southwest calls its in-air concerts “Live at 35,” as in 35,000 feet of altitude. They’ve been happening since 2011, and Southwest and Warner Music Nashville recently made a deal to make their midair concert series official.

A recent show on a flight from Nashville to Philadelphia, for example, featured country artist Devin Dawson. Billboard referred to the concert as having a “capacity crowd,” which one could also frame as a “fully booked flight of people forced to attend a concert.”

The audience mostly seems happy about the surprise, if a bit confused at first. You can watch a longer clip on Southwest’s site.

I checked the “Sing ALL ON ME at 35,000 feet in the air” box off the bucket list. Thank you @SouthwestAir #liveat35 https://t.co/SCK1U1PQ0K pic.twitter.com/0lYoSd7frU — Devin Dawson (@zdevin) October 26, 2017

“You know, some people don’t really enjoy flying; some people get very nervous and don’t like it,” Dawson told Billboard. “I hope that something like this [concert] is just a cool surprise for some...

It’s been nearly two years since customers have been able to shop at an FAO Schwarz store. That’s about to change… kind of: Department store chain Bon-Ton will open nearly 200 FAO Schwarz toy departments at stores this holiday season.

Bon-Ton announced Thursday that it will begin selling FAO Schwarz toys online and in newly developed toy departments at 186 of its department stores on Nov. 4.

The new toy department will open in each of Bon-Ton’s department stores, including Bon-Ton, Boston Store, Bergner’s, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s, and Younkers locations in 24 states.

“This cherished brand has been enjoyed by children and families for 155 years and we are delighted to carry this unique toy collection in our stores,” Chad Stauffer, Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer for The Bon-Ton Stores, said in a statement.

The FAO Schwarz toy departments, which will be open year-round, will feature several classic toys from the brand, including the Piano Mat, All Aboard Train Set, Cuddly Plush bear, and other items.

The Road To Resurrection

FAO Schwarz closed its flagship store in New York City back in 2015, marking the first time in 153 years that the store didn’t have a physical retail presence.

At the time, FAO Schwarz owner — and now struggling retailer — Toys “R” Us said the closure was due to the high cost of operating the location on Fifth Avenue, noting that it was looking for other space to house the toy store.

Fast...

We hate to break it to the pumpkin purists out there, but that canned orange stuff you so lovingly scoop into pie shells every Thanksgiving is probably some other kind of squash dressed up as its gourd cousin.

“But the can says ‘100% pumpkin’ right on it!” you may be exclaiming in outrage. It does, and it’s totally allowed to, as MarketPlace pointed out in an August segment that’s been making the rounds recently: The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t make distinctions between pumpkins and its squash relatives, so food companies can slap whatever they want on the label.

“They’re all in the same botanical family, and it’s just a game of semantics,” Serious Eats senior editor Stella Parks told MarketPlace.

Indeed, the the FDA says canned “pumpkin” has been packed from either field pumpkin — Cucurbita pepo — or “certain varieties of firm-shelled, golden-fleshed, sweet squash (Cucurbita maxima), or mixtures of these. Pumpkin and squash are sometimes mixed intentionally to obtain the consistency most acceptable to users.”

To that end, the FDA notes that since 1938, the agency has “consistently advised canners that we would not initiate regulatory action solely because of their using the designation ‘pumpkin’ or ‘canned pumpkin’ on labels for articles prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash, or mixtures of such squash with field pumpkins.”

The FDA’s views on mixed gourds probably won’t change any time soon, as the FDA says the absence of evidence that this designation misleads or deceives...

Back in 2005, you needed a standalone GPS device if you wanted a disembodied voice to yell at you when you made a wrong turn. Before smartphones existed, a pocket-size GPS device that was small enough to be convenient for motorcycle and bike use was novel and useful. However, such a device available on the shelf at Walmart in 2017 isn’t so impressive. It’s also not much of a deal.

Reader Patrick is one of the Raiders of the Lost Walmart, a brave team of retail archaeologists who comb through the electronics sections of big-box stores to find gadgets that aren’t just obsolete or just plain old, but are also comically overpriced.

Reader Patrick noticed the Garmin Quest 2, a device first released in 2005, for sale at Walmart. He looked back at the price stickers, noting the rich history. It had been marked $578.76 in May 2009 and in July 2016, and finally discounted a little bit to $350.00 in June of 2017, a few days before he unearthed this artifact.

If you don’t mind having a used unit and downloading...