Consumer Watchdog Accused of Running 'Pay for Play' Scheme

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(ARLINGTON, Va.) -- The Better Business Bureau, one of the country's best known consumer watchdog groups, is being accused by business owners of running a "pay for play" scheme in which A-plus ratings are awarded to those who pay membership fees, and F ratings used to punish those who don't.

To prove the point, a group of Los Angeles business owners paid $425 to the Better Business Bureau and were able to obtain an A-minus grade for a non-existent company called Hamas, named after the Middle Eastern terror group.

"Right now, this rating system is really unworthy of consumer trust or confidence," said Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal in an interview to be broadcast as part of an ABC News investigation airing Friday night on 20/20.

In an official demand letter sent to the national headquarters of the Better Business Bureau Thursday, Blumenthal called on the BBB to stop using its grading system, which he said was "potentially harmful and misleading" to consumers.

"The BBB accreditation and the BBB ratings systems is not about generating money," said BBB national president and CEO Steve Cox. He said the A minus grade for Hamas was given in error. "Plain and simple, we made a mistake," Cox told ABC News.

Errors seem to abound at the Better Business Bureau. As reported by an anonymous blogger the BBB also awarded an A minus rating to a non-existent sushi restaurant in Santa Ana, California and an A plus to a skinhead, neo-Nazi web site called Stormfront.  Each listing cost $425.

"They ran the credit card and within 12 hours they were an approved, accredited member," said the anonymous blogger, who runs a site called

"They're more interested in the money than their credibility," he said.

The BBB's Cox said the three listings were all mistakes made by sales people.

"That's an inaccurate statement that business people are able to buy As," Cox said. "We have more than 500,000 non-accredited businesses who have A ratings," he added.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Cotton Prices Surge; Consumers Warned to Brace Themselves

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The rising cost of cotton, the "fabric of our lives," is alarming textile manufacturers and may soon affect consumers' wallets.

Heavy summer rain and flooding in China and Pakistan, the world's largest and fourth largest producers of cotton respectively, caused shortages across the world.  Fast economic growth and corresponding demand for raw materials from emerging markets have increased the price of cotton and other commodities like gold and soybeans.

"Right now cotton is in unchartered territory," said Matthew Hall, spokesperson for Hanesbrands Inc., which includes underwear and athletic apparel brands like Hanes, Champion and Wonderbra.  Cotton prices began to rise in July as the dwindling supply became evident to commodities traders and the apparel industry, and have risen about 50 percent since then.

Last month, the price of traded cotton commodities reached $1.20 per pound on the IntercontinentalExchange, the highest price since 1870.  Also, the Federal Reserve's bond-buying program announcement last week and lower bond yields have attracted investors towards the higher returns of raw materials trading.

Because the clothes in retail stores are made from cotton bought months ago, consumers will not see price increases until today's cotton makes it down the supply chain.

The actual price increase consumers may see depends on the various players involved in producing cotton clothes, such as farmers, textile mills, manufacturers and retailers.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Boeing 787 Dreamliner Fire Linked to Electric Panel Failure

Image Courtesy - PRNewsFoto(EVERETT, Wash.) -- Boeing said Thursday it is still investigating an incident that occurred Monday, which caused one of its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft carriers to perform an emergency landing.

According to the company's statement, an electric panel failed, which led to a fire involving an insulation blanket.

The damage to the panel is so extensive that it has been removed and will be replaced.  However, the surrounding area inspection will take several more days.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Consumer Watchdog Calls for Google CEO Schmidt to Go to Washington Under Oath in Wi-Spy Hearing

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SANTA MONICA, Calif.) -- After a ranking Google employee gave contradictory testimony at hearings regarding the Internet company's Wi-Spying, Consumer Watchdog Thursday asked the House Energy and Commerce Committee to put a hold on the proceedings.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, sent a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying that a Congressional hearing was necessary even though the Federal Communications Commission is investigating.

"CEO Eric Schmidt and Alma Whitten, director of privacy for engineering and product management, should testify under oath to provide the American public with the answers it deserves," Court wrote.

Court complained that Google had developed a pattern of "changing its story" when explaining why it gathered private information from wireless networks.

Consumer Watchdog has made it a goal to convince Google, the Internet's leading company, of the importance of "giving consumers control over their online lives."  The public interest group hopes that eventually, the Internet giant will adopt privacy policies that could set the standard for the industry.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Website Helps You be Part of a Stranger’s Will

Image Courtesy of Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A new website service could help you become part of a complete stranger’s will or estate plans. connects individuals and organizations to benefactors who may not have living relatives or friends to be their beneficiaries.

Those interested need only fill out an anonymous "Bequest Request" on the site, which tells why you are interested in becoming a beneficiary. The site will then notify potential benefactors of the interest.

The service is often used to connect charities with those who wish to include such causes in their will or estate.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Amazon Removes Pedophilia Book from Store

Photo Courtesy - Amazon[dot]com(SEATTLE) -- After defending sales of a self-published book on pedophilia, online retail giant Amazon on Wednesday night reversed course and pulled the book from its Kindle store.

The electronic book, The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct, by Philip R. Greaves II, went on sale on Oct. 28 and cost $4.79 to download.

"This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certain rules for these adults to follow," the author wrote in the product description. "I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught," Greaves said in the product description.

The book quickly sparked a massive protest online, with thousands of Twitter users and Amazon customers calling for Amazon to remove the book, and some threatening to boycott the company altogether until it did.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


GE to Purchase 25,000 Electric Cars in Largest Order Ever by 2015

Photo Courtesy - Chevrolet [dot] com(FAIRFIELD, Conn.) -- General Electric Co. announced Thursday it will purchase 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015, marking the largest order ever of battery-powered cars.

GE will begin buying electric vehicles in 2011.  Nearly half of their purchases -- 12,000 vehicles -- will come from General Motors Co., including the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The new environmentally-friendly vehicles will comprise at least half of the company's fleet of 30,000 cars and leased vehicles from its GE Capital unit.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the company's order will help "move electric vehicles from anticipation to action."  He added that "wide-scale adoption of electric vehicles will also drive clean energy innovation, strengthen energy security and deliver economic value."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Obama on Debt: "We're Going to Have to Make Some Tough Choices"

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- President Obama refrained on Thursday from addressing specific proposals put forward by his presidential Debt Commission to reduce the debt, but he called on politicians to hold their fire and work in a bipartisan way to solve the momentous problem of the nation’s $13.7 trillion debt.

“I have not seen the final report from the Deficit Commission,” the president said at a joint appearance with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, after a reporter asked him for reaction.  “I have said very clearly until I see the final report that I will not comment on it because I want them to have the space to do their work.  They are still in negotiations.”

Obama pointed out that the two co-chairs of the Commission -- former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson -- are trying to secure 14 out of 18 Senate Finance Committee votes for their recommendations to go forward, “and I want to make sure they’ve got the room and the space to do so,” the president said.

The draft report by the co-chairs presents some painful and politically unpalatable recommendations -- not merely $2 trillion in spending cuts and $1 trillion in tax increases over the next decade, but also means-testing Social Security, raising the retirement age to 69, expanding the payroll tax, closing one third of overseas U.S. military bases and raising the gasoline tax.

There is something in the proposal to offend everyone, whether doctor -- reducing Medicare fees for doctors); lawyer -- enacting tort reform to “reduce the cost of defensive medicine”; or Indian chief -- ending payments to Native American tribes for abandoned mines.

The president said he convened the commission “precisely because I am prepared to make some tough decisions” but noted that he “can’t make them alone.”

 “I need Congress to work with me,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to make some tough choices. The only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Foreclosure Filings Flat in October, Says RealtyTrac

(IRVINE, Calif.) -- Some of the fallout from the robo-signing controversy is starting to become evident, according to foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac.
In their latest monthly release, the company says some 332,000 homes received some sort of foreclosure filing in October -- down four percent from the previous month and flat from the same period a year ago. Bank repossessions fell during the month, possibly the first sign that the foreclosure reviews are slowing the foreclosure process.
“The numbers probably would have been higher except for the fallout from the recent 'robo-signing' controversy -- which is the most likely reason for the nine percent monthly drop in REOs we saw from September to October and which may result in further decreases in November," said James Saccacio, CEO of RealtyTrac.
Nationally, one in every 389 homes had some sort of filing during the month.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Author of Amazon Pedophilia Book Speaks Out

Photo Courtesy - Amazon dot com(PUEBLO, Colo.) -- Thousands of people on the Internet may be protesting Amazon's decision to continue sales of a self-published book on pedophilia, but at least one person stands by its decision: the author.

Philip R. Greaves II, author of the electronic book The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct, said he was aware of the "stinging accusations" online, but argued that his critics are misunderstanding the point of his book.

"They're accusing me of wanting to hurt children. They're accusing me of encouraging pedophilia and all these other things. But that's not why I wrote the book," the 47-year-old from Pueblo, Colo. said. "I wrote the book to establish guidelines so that people would behave in a manner that is non-injurious to each other, for one, and, for two, to communicate the fact that these people who are so different in maturation, etc., that when they develop relationships, they use certain principles that regular people, adults, would be well to attend."

The book, which went on sale Oct. 28 and costs $4.79 to download, has sparked a wave of criticism online, with customers taking to Twitter and elsewhere to ask Amazon to remove the book from its online store and others calling for a total boycott of the company until it does.

"This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certain rules for these adults to follow," the author wrote in the product description. "I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught."

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News. According to the website Business Insider, however, Amazon issued a statement defending the book's place in the online store.

"Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions," the company said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio