Consumer Confidential With David Lazarus
Bank's offer of 'free' insurance is dubious way to appreciate customers

Sally Hwang recently spotted a payment of $8.10 on her checking account statement for accidental death and dismemberment insurance. Problem was, she had no recollection of signing up for such coverage.

Worse, it appeared the Glendale resident had been making the payment every quarter for possibly years.

"At first, I thought it was identity theft," Hwang, 47, told me. "But it didn't seem like I'd been compromised. So then I assumed it was a scam."

Those are both good guesses, and I encourage everyone to keep a close watch on their checking and credit card statements for just these reasons.

A little digging revealed that what happened to Hwang was more complicated.

First, let's look at the unholy alliance that the banking and the insurance industries have created to sell accidental death and dismemberment coverage to millions of people.

"The Internet highway is littered with consumer complaints about unauthorized deductions for AD&D policies people didn't remember requesting and didn't know...

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Fresh Produce: Will a bankrupt business honor gift cards?

A reader asks about gift cards for the clothing retailer Fresh Produce, which has filed for bankruptcy protection.

If the company goes down the Chapter 11 rabbit hole, are the gift cards still good?

I get asked this question a lot -- pretty much any time a well-known company goes bankrupt. What happens to gift cards that customers still hold?

Short answer: It depends.

Under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, as Fresh Produce is pursuing, a business reorganizes its financial obligations. The intent is to stay open and to continue serving customers.

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Most of the time, such companies continue honoring gift cards. And even if they choose not to, a bankruptcy court might still rule that gift cards remain good.

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is different. In that case, a company is going out of business and is liquidating its remaining assets to pay off creditors.

Outstanding gift cards almost always become worthless under a Chapter 7 filing. At best, cardholders...

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Federal data-breach bill would replace dozens of stronger state laws

It's called the Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015, and, if passed into law, it would be the first federal rule requiring businesses to let consumers know that their personal information may be in the hands of hackers.

Sounds good, right?

It's not.

Dozens of states, including California, already have similar laws on the books that are stronger and more comprehensive than the proposed federal law. But the federal law would preempt all state laws.

The bill would eliminate existing data-breach protections for pay-TV and Internet customers. Right now, for example, people must be notified if there's any unauthorized access to information on shows or channels watched.

The bill also would require notifications only in instances of financial harm, rather than the broader requirements of many states, such as violations of personal privacy in the form of hacked emails or corporate databases.

"California has some of the strongest laws in the country protecting consumers from identity...

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Disability leave: Is it part of your public records?

Alex is facing the possibility of a disability leave from work. He's wondering if something like that will stay on his public records.

You can see why Alex or anyone else facing a similar situation would be concerned. In a tight job market, you might not want a future employer to know that you had to take time off in the past.

That, of course, is unfortunate. Though there's plenty of fraud among disability claims, there are also many legitimate claims that shouldn't reflect poorly on a person's work record.

ASK LAZ: Smart answers to consumer questions

But I suspect most of us would prefer to keep a past disability leave to ourselves if we were looking for a new gig.

The laws for this sort of thing vary from state to state. In California, you're entitled to some privacy.

Initial workers' compensation claims are not public records. Claims become public only when or if they're appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

The California Labor Code prohibits workers' comp records from...

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Ask.com can hijack your computer using Java updates

We learned this week that more than 317 million computer viruses or other malicious programs were unleashed by hackers last year, according to the Internet security firm Symantec. That's nearly a million new cyberthreats daily.

But not all attempts at messing with your computer are from sneaky, illegitimate sources. Some are from big-name tech companies that don't seem to care what you think of them.

Anyone whose computer has been hijacked by the Ask.com toolbar knows exactly what I mean.

"It's like a bad houseguest," said West Hollywood resident Gary More, who's been struggling for months to get the software out of his computer. "It will not leave."

If you've avoided this especially pernicious program, count yourself lucky. The Ask.com toolbar typically skulks into people's systems on the coattails of some more desirable software. Often, it's included with updates to the Java programming language.

And then it doesn't go away. Ever.

More, 71, estimates he's already paid about $450 to tech...

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Plans to cram more seats in airliners won't sit well with fliers

Airlines increasingly are missing scheduled takeoffs and landings, losing travelers' bags and overbooking flights, according to a report released Monday.

And the bad news: Things will probably get worse.

Even as the latest performance stats showed that major carriers are having trouble with the most basic functions — i.e. getting you and your luggage from Point A to Point B — the outlook for future travel all but guarantees even less-friendly skies.

Boeing is planning to bring its new short-haul 737 MAX aircraft into service in 2017. It will have 189 seats, compared with the approximately 160 seats that now fill the cabin of the 737-800. Budget carrier Ryanair's version of the new jet will have 200 seats.

For its part, Europe's Airbus will unveil its A320neo next year. It was originally intended to have 180 seats, but the company received permission from the European Aviation Safety Agency last month to cram in 15 more seats, bringing total passenger capacity to 195.

What this means for...

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