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New Year's resolutions: 4 tips for avoiding gym membership scams

The holidays are over and it’s time to get back in shape, but officials are warning consumers about potential gym membership scams.

>> Read more trending news 

In 2017, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office received about 140 complaints involving fitness or health club memberships. Top problem areas included cancellation and billing issues. Under Ohio’s Prepaid Entertainment Contracts Act, consumers generally have three business days to cancel a contract for gym memberships and other “health spa services,” martial arts training, dance studio lessons, or social referral services (such as a dating service).

>> How to keep your New Year’s resolutions this time

“This is a time when many people are thinking about joining a gym, and that can be a great way to get in shape. We just want consumers to understand what they’re signing up for,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “A little bit of prevention can go a long way.”

>> PHOTOS: Most controversial figures from 2017

DeWine’s tips for avoiding scams include the following:

1. Research the gym. Look for complaints on file with your local attorney general’s office or Better Business Bureau, and check online reviews for feedback from current or past customers. Pay attention to how a business addresses customer complaints.

2. Read contracts carefully. Make sure verbal agreements are put in writing. Otherwise, they are not guaranteed.

3. Watch out for extra fees. Determine the total cost of your membership. Find out if there are any extra fees for services like fitness classes or personal training. Also find out if payments will be withdrawn automatically from your account.

4. Check the cancellation policy. Understand what you would need to do to cancel your contract and how far in advance cancellations must be made. Many contracts renew automatically, so be sure to check the total length of the contract. 

Goodbye signatures? Credit card firms make big change

Don’t take this too hard: Your autograph isn’t worth what it once was.

>> Read more trending news

American ExpressMastercard and Discover have each announced that, starting in April, they will no longer require signatures on any U.S. and Canadian credit card purchases.(Actually, American Express is making the change for all its transactions worldwide.)

Visa hasn’t announced any plans to do the same. But there’s speculation it may eventually do so.

That pretty much would fully evaporate what may be the most common reason U.S. consumers still bother writing signatures, which were once the most prominent symbol of our financial integrity and proof of our identity (It’s also another blow to the general use of cursive writing, for those who remember what that is.)

“Signatures may be going the way of the lava lamp,” said William McCracken, the president of Phoenix Synergistics, a metro Atlanta-based consumer market research company focused on financial services.

“They will not be part of Gen Z. Signatures won’t be part of their stored memories.”

The shift away from signatures also hints at the fantasy we all pretended to believe: that signatures actually proved something.

“The industry’s unspoken secret is that signatures on a credit card receipt are relatively worthless from a security standpoint,” McCracken said.

Thieves only had to look at the signature on the back of a credit card, practice it a few times and come up with a fake good enough to pass.

But even that involves some quaint thinking. Because almost no one in places where we shop or dine is even glancing at signatures these days, whether you signed on paper or a glitchy electronic pad using a faulty stylus or your finger.

That would seem to explain why I’ve never been flagged for using my finger to draw a line across checkout signature pads.

Signatures are still used on plenty of legal property documents, government-issued IDs, artwork, acknowledgments of medical privacy notifications, cards to grandma and anything fans can ask celebrities to scribble on.

Yet, in other ways signatures have been slipping from the economy.

Instead of putting his “signature” on new dollar bills earlier this year, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used a handwritten mix of upper- and lower-case block letters that could have been thumbed out on a smartphone.

Signatures became less necessary as check writing shrank. And while credit card use continues to grow — there were more than 37 billion U.S. transactions last year totaling $3.27 trillion dollars — most of that is going unsigned.

John Hancocks aren’t required on typical online purchases.

And credit card firms already scaled back signature requirements on small transactions. More than 75 percent of face-to-face Visa card transactions in North America don’t require people to sign their name, according to a Visa spokesman.

Thar is just as well.

Who hasn’t gone to sign for a credit card purchase using a pen that doesn’t work and “you just scribble anyway,” said Kim Sullivan, the senior director of payments solutions for Georgia-based transactions technology giant NCR.

Dropping signature requirements should speed up lines at retailers, Sullivan said, which is exactly what store owners are seeking.

“It’s going to improve the experience” for merchants and consumers, she said.

“It’s all about faster and frictionless,” she said.

Sullivan guesstimated that eliminating signatures might save an average of three seconds on each credit card transaction. So retailers can increase the number of customers they serve and generate more money, she said.

Some customers may feel a little unsettled with the idea that purchases of hundreds or even thousands of dollars could be made without signing anything.

Security is already the biggest concern people have about using credit cards, said McCracken from Synergistics.

For now, there has been no widespread rush to require use of PIN codes with credit card transactions in the United States. And some consumers are creeped out about the idea of entrusting credit card companies with personal biometric data that could help verify their identity.

Other security measures are already in place, such as checking the cards’ three- or four-digit CVV number, asking consumers for their billing ZIP code, adding computer chips to more cards and monitoring for unusual purchasing activity.

But the cruelest reality of saying goodbye to our signatures is this: apparently they already have so little value there isn’t a sweeping rush to replace them with something new.

Pedialyte for a hangover? Company says yes

Did you party this New Years Eve? If you have a hangover, Pedialyte wants you to turn to its drink for relief.

The hydration drink, usually targeted at infants and children, also aims to alleviate your nausea, dry mouth and pounding headache.

The company says its drink is for both kids and adults for rehydration as part of its “see the lyte” campaign.

>> Read more trending news 

Dr. Robert Swift, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University told NBC News that hangovers are complicated, and no one cure fits all.

“The thing about Pedialyte, Gatorade and things like that, there is an optimal concentration to absorb glucose and electrolytes and fluid from the intestines,” he said. 

According to Nielsen research, adults are now a third of Pedialyte’s users, and adults have increased their use of Pedialyte 57 percent since 2012, NBC News reported.

John Schnatter stepping down as Papa John's CEO

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is stepping down from his role as the pizza company’s CEO weeks after criticizing the NFL for its handling of the national anthem protests.

>> Read more trending news

Schnatter had blamed slow pizza sales on the national anthem protests by NFL players, saying in a Nov. 1 earnings call that “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders” and that the protests “should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

His comments cost him $70 million in one day, according to multiple reports. He eventually apologized.

Papa John’s Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie, who will take over for Schnatter, declined to say if the November comments led to the move announced Thursday. Schnatter will still serve as chairman of the board for the company.

>> Related: Papa John's CEO apologizes for comments on NFL anthem protest controversy

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came to Schnatter’s defense, calling him “one of the great Americans” in this country, NBC Sports reported. Jones is a joint owner of 120 Papa John’s restaurants.

Advertisers have threatened to pull their advertising from the NFL in the wake of the politically charged national anthem protests, but none have taken as drastic a move as Papa John’s.

The company last month apologized for Schnatter’s comments in a statement, saying, “The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not our intention.”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year to protest police violence against minorities. The protest got mixed reactions, but other NFL players -- and players in other sports -- have since followed Kaepernick’s lead to protest inequality.

President Donald Trump in September suggested that NFL team owners should fire players who refuse to stand during the anthem, telling a crowd in Alabama that “that’s a total disrespect for our heritage.”

The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Aldi, Kroger recalls some apples due to possible listeria contamination

Low-cost grocery store chain Aldi and supermarket Kroger have issued voluntary recalls of some of its apples.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, which posts voluntary recalls, Jack Brown Produce, Inc., based in Sparta, Michigan, is recalling Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious apples because of listeria concerns.

>> Read more trending news 

“In cooperation with Jack Brown Produce Inc., and out of an abundance of caution, Aldi has voluntarily recalled an assortment of apples that were available for purchase in stores starting  on December 13, 2017, due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination,” Aldi said in a news release Tuesday.

The recall came after one of Jack Brown Produce’s suppliers, Nyblad Orchards Inc., notified the businesses of the affected products.

The affected products were sold at some Aldi stores in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and North Carolina. 

“To date, no illnesses related to these products have been reported. No other Aldi products are affected by this,” the company said.

Kroger said it recalled lunchbox-size Fuji and Galas sold between Dec. 12 and Tuesday, according to USA Today.

The products affected are sold under the brand name “Apple Ridge” and are as follows: 

  • Honeycrisp apples in 2-pound clear plastic bags;
  • Gala, Fuji, and Golden Delicious apples in 3-pound clear plastic bags;
  • Fuji and Gala apples in 5-pound red-netted mesh bags; and
  • Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp apples that were tray-packed/individually sold.

Products that may be affected can be identified by the following lot numbers printed on the bag label or the bag-closure clip:

Fuji: NOI 163, 165, 167, 169, 174

Honeycrisp: NOI 159, 160, 173 Golden Delicious: NOI 168 Gala: NOI 164, 166 on either the product labels and/or bag-closure clip

Affected customers should immediately discard the products or return them to a local store for a full refund. Customers with questions can callJack Brown Produce Inc. at 616-887-9568, Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

How to avoid FedEx, UPS, USPS email scams targeting some customers

An email scam affecting FedEx, UPS and U.S. Postal Service customers is taking advantage of an increase in package shipments during the holiday season.

KMOV reported that the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center is warning consumers about a fraudulent email scam.

The emails claim to be from one of the three organizations and say that a package cannot be delivered. The messages contain a link that users are prompted to click in order to get an invoice to pick up the package, but the link is spoofed and goes to a website set up to steal the user’s information, according to FBI officials.

>> Read more trending news 

According to the FedEx Customer Protection Center, customers who get fraudulent emails or who come across suspicious websites should forward them to abuse@fedex.com. It also recommends immediately contacting your bank if interaction with fraudulent sites or emails have led of financial loss.

More information on how to report fraud to the company can be found on the FedEx website.

USPS customers can report a phishing attempt by not clicking on any links and forwarding the message to the CyberSecurity Operations Center at CyberSafe@usps.gov. The suspicious message should be deleted right after.

Suspicious emails purporting to be from UPS should be deleted, according to the UPS website. Customers should not follow any links or click any attachments.

“If you’ve accidentally selected a link, you should run a virus scan immediately,” the site said.

Examples of suspicious UPS emails are available on the UPS website.

UPS apologizes after driver caught throwing packages in video

Shipping company UPS is investigating after a woman said she recorded video of a UPS driver throwing packages onto her lawn from the back of a U-Haul truck.

>> Read more trending news

Sandy Bast told KMOV that she started to record the video Monday after she heard a loud crash outside her home. In the video, a person can be seen throwing packages from the back of a U-Haul truck.

Company officials told KMOV that UPS drivers sometimes use U-Haul trucks when things get busy during the holiday season. In a statement obtained by the news station, UPS officials said Monday’s incident was under investigation.

“Mishandling packages is not tolerated,” the statement said. “We will investigate the situation and take appropriate action.”

Bast told KMOV she could tell the man, who she didn’t realize was a UPS driver at the time, was angry.

“To be honest, I was scared to death because I don’t like angry men outside my door,” she told the news station.

As she watched, Bast said she saw the man throw more than two dozen packages to the ground from the U-Haul truck.

“I saw plenty (packages) that bounced off the ground, and, you know, people work hard to pay for shipping, and then to watch it (get) thrown out and bouncing on your driveway is rather discouraging,” Bast told KMOV.

She said that UPS officials later contacted her to apologize for the incident.

“It’s sad because they usually do a good job,” Bast told KMOV. “But one person can really mess up a lot of things for a lot of people.”

RIP AIM: AOL retires its pioneering Instant Messenger app

It’s the end of an era. As of Friday, web company AOL’s groundbreaking Instant Messenger program is no more.

>> Read more trending news

Oath, the entity formed by AOL combined with Yahoo, announced in October that it would retire AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) on Dec. 15.

As of Friday, users were no longer be able to sign into AIM. Officials with Oath said in October that data associated with the app will be deleted and warned that users would have to save their images, files and chat history before Dec. 15, if they hoped to keep it.

People who have email addresses under the aim.com domain name will still be able to access email as usual, according to Oath.

AIM was the first chat application of its kind when it launched in 1997.

“AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed,” said Michael Albers, vice president of communications products at Oath. “As a result we’ve made the decision that we will be discontinuing AIM effective December 15, 2017.”

Company officials said in an FAQ about the change that no replacement app is in the works.

“Thank you to all of our AIM users,” Albers said. “We are more excited than ever to continue building the next generation of iconic brands and life-changing products for users around the world.”

Kim Kardashian West's KKW Beauty open casting call for women sparks criticism

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West's KKW Beauty line sparked criticism this week with a tweet about an open casting call for women in Los Angeles, Teen Vogue reports.

>> Read more trending news

"Calling all faces!" the ad reads. "We are excited to announce an open model casting call in the LA area for several upcoming KKW beauty campaigns."

The ad continues: "The call is open to all women 18+."

>> See the tweet here

But the tweet didn't fly with everyone. In a now-deleted tweet, beauty blogger James Charles wrote: "Sister @KimKardashian! There are thousands of boys in cosmetics who love you & I'm sure would be honored to slay a photo shoot for you! This is disappointing."

He added that Kardashian West "is a legend" and one of his "role models."

Others made similar comments. Check out some of them below:

Parents suing after daughter burned to death in Jeep during crash

Mary “Erica” Scannavino rescued dogs, knit blankets for soldiers and created costumes during her 32 years of life.

The Kennesaw, Georgia, woman managed to do all that before she died, trapped in her 1996 Jeep Cherokee engulfed in flames, stopped at a Cobb County intersection in July.

Her family is suing Chrysler, along with the manufacturer of an after-market hitch on the Jeep and the driver of the car that rear-ended her.

>> Read more trending news

The lawsuit — filed Nov. 9 in Gwinnett County, where Chrysler is locally based — alleges that Chrysler should have known the location of the gas tank behind the rear axle was problematic. The suit called that spot the “crush zone.”

It goes on to say “(the driver) caused the wreck and caused Ms. Scannavino’s injuries, but that Defendant Chrysler caused the fire and ultimately the death.”

Scannavino was stopped on Bells Ferry Road waiting to make a left onto Hartley Woods Drive on July 29 when a Kennesaw driver “failed to stop his vehicle and collided,” the lawsuit said. That casued the hitch on her Jeep to pierce the gas tank of the vehicle, which rolled into a shoulder.

According to the lawsuit, the manufacturer of the hitch — Horizon Global — is at fault for making a product it should have known was dangerous.

A Horizon Global spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment Thursday via phone or email.

When asked for a comment, a Fiat Chrysler communications staff member said the company “extends its deepest sympathies to the family of Ms. Scannavino for their tragic loss in this horrific crash.”

It added: “The 1996 Jeep Cherokee meets or exceeds all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards ... We cannot comment further at this time as this matter is under investigation by authorities and is in litigation.”

Chris Glover, who is representing Scannavino’s parents, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the danger of the Cherokee’s tank is among the worst he’s seen in his nearly 17 years of doing automotive product liability.

Four-year-old Decatur County boy Remington “Remi” Walden died in 2012 after a Jeep Grand Cherokee he was riding in was hit from behind and burst into flames.

The Walden family was awarded $150 million in 2015 after suing Chrysler, the Associated Press reported.

The Jeep model in that case was three years older than the one Scannavino was driving and there was no hitch involved, but the fuel tank was in the same place.

“This was just made worse with the trailer hitch,” Glover said of Scannavino’s crash.

He said Scannavino was a history major a Kennesaw State University with hopes of becoming a seamstress at a museum or historical society who would help with tours while wearing period-appropriate clothes.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial, and Glover said he plans to give the jury a sense of who Scannavino was: she sewed hundreds of blankets for military members over the years and kept a scrapbook of all the dogs she rescued.

The suit says it also wants “the recovery of damages representing the full value of the life of Erica Scannavino.”

When asked what that amount would be, Glover said: “That’s a number that the jury’s going to have to decide, and we trust the jury system.”

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