You could be owed a refund from Verizon and Sprint, but you’ll have to act fast

— Verizon and Sprint customers have a week to claim their refunds for unauthorized charges on their bills.

The two wireless carriers settled with the FTC after allowing third-party companies to charge customers for “premium” text messages without their prior consent — and allegedly burying them in bills. The activity has come to be known as “cramming.”

As a result of the settlements, both companies are now required to get customer approval before charging for third-party messages.

Current and former subscribers who had paid for unauthorized texts since July 1, 2010 can file a request no later than December 31, 2015 to get a refund. Verizon and Sprint both have online claim forms.

The work may not be worth the effort, which is one of the problems with these kinds of settlements.

Verizon says refund amounts may be lower than expected depending on the total number of claims filed. The company also says it may not send out refunds if the total amount due is $3.00 or less.

Sprint said that current and former prepaid customers (Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Sprint Prepaid, and Assurance Wireless) are eligible for a one-time refund of $7.00.

All four major nationwide carriers have gotten in trouble for cramming hidden fees into bills.

In 2014, the FTC filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile alleging the company had charged customers hundreds of millions of dollars for third-party text message subscriptions for things like flirting tips, horoscopes and celebrity gossip.

That same year, AT&T agreed to pay $105 million to settle similar cramming accusations.


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Cynthia Alvarez’s successful career ‘rooted’ in hair care

Celebrity Hair Stylist Cynthia Alvarez’s clientele includes the likes of singer/actress KeKe Palmer and singer, model and actress Tatyana Ali. Her workmanship has graced the red carpet world stages of The Emmys and MTV Video Music Awards. Most recently, the native New Yorker joined Dove as a hair curl expert and celebrity hair stylist.

“I am a free spirit,” said Alvarez. “I have to be creative and mobile. “I feel like hair trends come and go and you have to capitalize on each one. I am also a wig expert. I like to say I am well-rounded. I still pinch myself when I think about this opportunity with Dove.”

As a celebrity hair curl expert and hair stylist for Dove, Alvarez responsibilities include television appearances, and traveling to beauty salons all over the country to use Dove’s Quench Absolute Hair Care Series during their ‘Salon Days’ events.

“Everyone knows Dove for their skin care products,” said Alvarez. “But their hair care products are also great, and I really believe in them. There are a lot of gels, cremes, mousses, and other products out there. However, once your hair is moisturized and hydrated, you don’t need all those products. They become counter-productive. We support styling products, but we also want people to nourish their hair and get control of their curls.”

The Dove brand started in the U.S. in 1957 with the revolutionary new beauty cleansing bar. According to Dove, its iconic cleansing bar is the number one dermatologist recommended brand in the U.S., Canada and France. Today, Dove offers a range of products, which include body washes and hair care products.

Dove’s Quench Absolute Hair Care Series is geared toward naturally curly hair. According to Dove, naturally curly hair is physically different compared to other hair types and requires a higher degree of nourishment, prompting them to create the Quench Absolute series. The series consists of Quench Absolute Shampoo, Quench Absolute Conditioner, Quench Absolute Crème Serum, and Quench Absolute Restoration Mask.

“I feel like with curly hair, people get frustrated and they give up,” said Alvarez. “I encourage women not to give up on their hair. We are beautiful the natural way we are. We have to work with what we’ve got, and not against it.”

Alvarez’s beauty tips and work can be read in Seventeen and other publications. The native New Yorker talked about the growth of her successful hair career.

“I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York,” she said. “I was planning on going into the Air Force after high school. But one night, I ran into a friend who was a celebrity wardrobe stylist. He told me he really loved the way I did my own make-up and hair, and that I had no idea of the bigger picture. That’s how I got started. He was working with rapper 50 Cent and other celebrities. I started assisting, and that’s how it all began.”

She added, “After finishing beauty school, I began working in a hair salon. I eventually got a call from a hairstylist I was assisting. She said singer Alicia Keys was going on tour, and needed a stylist. She couldn’t do it, and asked if I was interested. I said I was interested, and Alicia Keys gave me a test run. She called and offered to take me on tour with her. I left the salon and went on tour with Alicia when I was just 20 years old. All of this has been a dream come true.”

According to Alvarez, her interest in hair care was ‘rooted” in her at a young age.

“When I was growing up, I was always doing hair,” recalled Alvarez. “I was the neighborhood hair braider. I was doing Allen Iverson braids, and would experiment on my cousins’ hair.”

Alvarez, who said she would like to start her own hair care product line one day, shared this advice for aspiring stylists.

“Before I went on tour with Alicia Keys, I assisted,” she said. “Assisting is how I started my career, so you have to be open to being an assistant. You also have to have a foundation. There are always new trends and techniques. You have to be willing to learn new things, and be a student of your craft. You also have to be humble, and connect with the right people,”

The talented stylist talked about one of the most gratifying “parts” of her career.

“I love what I do, because I believe that women are accepting who they are,” said Alvarez. “Everyone is beautiful in their own unique way. By wearing their own natural curly styles, women are embracing their culture and destroying stereotypes.”

High school girls surprised with new coats

Christmas Angel Girlfriends paid a visit to Laurel High School, Bladensburg High School and Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Prince George’s County to deliver 45 new coats to young ladies in need on December 16, 2015. An Annual New Classy Coat Drive was created by Barbara Holt Streeter (MrsPRPRotocol)— a highly experienced public relations and etiquette expert who provides professional services and training to individuals, businesses and faith-based organizations. This year marked the second new coat drive.

“Today, you get a new coat, you get a new coat, you get a new coat and yoooou get a new coat!” Streeter cheerfully informed students at Charles Herbert Flowers High School, while explaining to students who initially were unaware they were about to be surprised.

Streeter, who is a well-respected business and community leader, lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She says that her mother taught her to give back and make a difference in the lives of others. The philanthropist remains guided by the messages that were provided in her youth. Streeter’s heartwarming holiday idea started when she noticed girls without coats walking to school. And now, giving new coats away from a rolling coat rack that is wheeled into schools has become a Christmas tradition for Streeter and her “girlfriends.”

“I was doing some errands every day, driving past Largo Senior High [School] on [Route] 202, and I just kept noticing these girls shivering and just walking across the street with no coat. And I said, ‘Okay, there must be a problem here. Either they’re just fashionable, and just don’t want to wear a coat, or do they really not have a coat?’”

After reaching out to her county council person, Streeter began contacting high schools directly and connected her mission to give to her annual Girlfriend’s Gratitude Tea that she launched in 2012, after one of her girlfriends was killed in a car accident. Also known as “the Girlfriend CEO,” women attend Streeter’s summer tea or winter tea in the D.C. area. During both events, registered attendees reconnect with their girlfriends and meet new ones. They are also invited to show gratitude and support a community initiative to give back to others.

“Every tea, we decided on a group that we want to give to,” Streeter said to students. “In the winter we do an annual coat drive. This is the second annual coat drive, and we decided to give back to high school girls and give them new coats.”

A portion of the proceeds from a recent tea event attended by approximately 140 women helped to buy new coats this year. Volunteers who lend support to Streeter are comprised of women in the Girlfriend’s Gratitude Tea circle. They have been getting together through Streeter’s teas for nearly three years.

“We’ve given back to entrepreneur programs, breast cancer awareness, health awareness, but what is true to my heart are girls, young girls, to help build their self-esteem, and to help keep them warm, so that’s how we started it,” Streeter said.

The cheerful giver recently turned 50 years old and is proud to share her milestone with the world. Streeter shows no signs of slowing down. Along with her “Girlfriends,” she wants to reach every high school in Prince George’s County to expand the new coat program within five years, although Streeter predicts that the goal can be accomplished sooner.

After girls at Streeter’s last stop tried on new coats, some smiled and hugged her a second time. People like Streeter, her “girlfriends” and sponsors can remind others that not everyone has forgotten what the holiday season is truly about.

“Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. It means so much that someone is willing to step outside of their family to help with somebody else that they don’t even know,” counseling department chair at Charles Herbert Flowers High School, Heidi King said. “It takes a community to come together to do something… and so from the bottom of my heart, and from the Jaguars at Charles Herbert Flowers High School, thank you.”

Obituary: Howard Gordon “Gelo” Hall 1927 — 2015

Howard Gordon Hall, best known as “Gelo,” was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Howard Hull and Evelyn Sheridan on April 3, 1927. He was educated in the Baltimore City Public School system. He served in the United States Army and was honorably discharged in 1946.

He married his high school sweetheart, Lillian Stewart, on October 22, 1946. From this union, two beautiful daughters, Janis and Judy Hall were born.

His father was a jockey’s valet and introduced Gelo and his brother, Angelo to the racing industry at very early ages. While working at the racetrack, his brother was known as “Big Gelo” and he was known as “Little Gelo.” Howard later became the one and only “Gelo.”

At 14, he was employed by H.L. Straus to break yearlings at Cherry Hill Farm in Reisterstown. He followed the horses to Pimlico, and went to work for Frank “Downey” Bonsal. Over the years, his career included positions as an exercise rider, licensed trainer, jockey’s agent, and patrol judge. He was a graduate of the Jockey Club School for Racing Officials.

Gelo was a remarkable part of Maryland’s Thoroughbred history and was fortunate to see some of the best horses and races the sport has ever produced. He was at Pimlico in 1938 to witness the match between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, perhaps the most famous race of all-time.

Over his stellar career, Gelo was featured in numerous news articles and documentaries, and received several commendations. Gelo was highly regarded for his institutional memory of the racing industry. For his lifetime achievements in the racing industry, Gelo was given the Joe Kelly Maryland Million Unsung Hero Award on October 18, 2014. The award “celebrates important characteristics that are valuable, but often unrewarded. This award recognizes honesty, hard work and humility- qualities which serve as inspiration to others.” This accurately describes the essence of Gelo.

Gelo’s faith in God guided his life. His mother raised him in the Episcopal faith. He was a member of The Church of St. Katherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church to which he stayed faithful until his passing. He worked with the Race Track Chaplaincy from its infancy and watched it grow into a strong presence on American tracks. He influenced and guided many people to a better path. He always left with the parting words “May the peace of the Lord be always with you.”

His beloved wife of 68 years, Lillian, and his daughter Judy preceded him in death. Gelo leaves cherished memories to his daughter, Janis Hall and a host of relatives and friends.

Ravens have no shortage of motivation battling the Steelers

— The Baltimore Ravens will have plenty to play for when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. The game has been flexed out of NBC’s Sunday Night Football slot because of the Ravens struggles this season.


Ravens WR Daniel Brown on his first Steelers game

There is plenty of pride to play for against the Steelers. Pittsburgh can clinch a playoff berth with a win on the road against the Ravens. There is no way a team led by John Harbaugh will lay down against any team, especially a division rival. Harbaugh said he believes the fans bring the same enthusiasm to the stadium.

“It’s our home game, so I expect most of our fans to be there. I think they’ll be fired up. We have great fans,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t change. It’s one of those games where they’ll say the records don’t matter. I think our fans are going to approach it that way. That’s the type of fans they are.”

The Ravens and Steelers have a long rivalry that goes beyond their AFC North affiliations. Every game is intense and usually has playoff implications for both teams. There is still a lot on the line even though the playoffs are out of question for the Ravens.

Timmy Jernigan is only in his second season, but he already has a chip on his shoulder when if comes to playing against the team’s arch rival.

“They’re not coming in here and just beating us. We’re not going to back down,” Jernigan said. “They’re going to have to take it from us.”

Some of the Ravens rookies are getting their first taste of the intense rivalry game against the Steelers. Daniel Brown has gotten more opportunities to play as of late. His physical style of play is a perfect match for this game.

“I’m excited for this. It’s very physical and gets kind of nasty. The coaches are preparing us for it,” Brown said. “I kind of welcome the physical play. It works to my advantage, being a bigger guy. I’m looking forward to it.”

Za’Darius Smith had his first two sack game of his career when the Ravens played the Steelers earlier in the year. The heated rivalry has an extra meaning to him because he gets to face a former teammate.

“That rivalry is so big in the NFL. Having an ex-teammate in Bud Dupree [from Kentucky] that plays for the Steelers, that’s even crazier,” Smith said. “It’s great to have that energy and intense emotions throughout the game. Preparing for this week is going to be even more intense.”

The veteran players know how much pride is at stake when these two teams meet. As Brandon Williams said, “Whether we’re 0-14 or 14-0, the Steelers game is the Steelers game, no matter what. We’re going to take it the same way every single time. It’s going to be a high-intensity game. We’re going to give everything we’ve got, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to do the same.”

Bank of America nonprofit grants help Baltimore’s needy

— Bank of America has awarded more than $250,000 in grants to 21 nonprofit organizations to help support their efforts in addressing various needs in the greater Baltimore area.

The grants are part of the bank’s broader philanthropic investment in helping individuals and families in Baltimore lead stronger financial lives, officials said in a news release which noted that Baltimore City has one of the lowest median incomes in the country.

“If people can’t put food on the table and find an affordable place to live, they can’t begin to think about their overall financial security and future,” said David Millman, Maryland and Baltimore market president at Bank of America. “Our philanthropic investments are one way that we’re working to connect individuals in our community to the resources they need to lead financially stable lives.”

One of the roles of grant recipient Strong City Baltimore is to make organizations stronger by providing fiscal sponsorships to its nonprofit business service clients, said Michael Cross-Barnet, the media and communications manager for Strong City Baltimore, which recently changed its name from Greater Homewood Community Corporation.

“We handle the fiscal side of things for organizations doing good work all over Baltimore, and one such organization is the Youth Empowered Society (YES),” Cross-Barnet said. “Although we are technically the recipient of this B of A grant, the money will be used by YES in furtherance of their mission to support youths experiencing homelessness in Baltimore.”

Founded and run by former homeless youth and their allies, YES prevents and eliminates youth homelessness through the synergy of youth and ally partnerships. YES provides urgently-needed direct services to youth experiencing homelessness through trauma-informed peer and ally support; develops the leadership and employment readiness of youth who have experienced homelessness; and partners with youth to advocate for systems change.

“On an average day at the YES Drop-In Center, youth experiencing homelessness ages 14 to 25 come to meet their basic needs for food, clothing, hygiene products, laundry, storage, computer and phone usage,” said Lara Law, the program director at YES, which opened its doors three years ago and also provides a safe place to receive mail, clean up, rest, and plan for the future. “The youth are welcome to, and often do, bring their children. As youth access basic need services at YES, peer and allied staff establish supportive relationships with them, and support them to set goals, break their goals into discrete tasks, and make and sustain connections to long-term resources that help them stabilize.”

Also, the support of foundations like Bank of America fuels the success of organizations like the Women’s Housing Coalition— another grant recipient— and its ability to make a real difference for women and children experiencing homelessness in Baltimore, said the nonprofit’s development manager Kristin Danielson.

“The Women’s Housing Coalition houses and works with people who were homeless who want to take control of their lives and need help to lead stable lives for the rest of their lives,” Danielson said.

Because of the coalition, each year approximately 125 women and 45 children have a safe, affordable place to call home, and are able to experience stability and a better quality of life with safe housing, improved health, and access to education and employment opportunities.

“The skills, confidence and support network our residents gain through The Women’s Housing Coalition helps them begin to envision a positive future free from the trauma of homelessness and maintain stability for the rest of their lives,” Danielson said.

Bank of America is a vital and valued partner in the Women’s Housing Coalition’s efforts to provide stability and progress not only for the lives of its residents, but for the communities in which they live throughout the city, according to Danielson.

The grants build on years of philanthropic and employee volunteer support in Baltimore as part of a larger effort to help individuals and families build better money habits and find pathways out of poverty, bank officials said.

“Supporting nonprofit organizations that continue to address Baltimore’s most pressing needs is a top priority for Bank of America,” Millman said. “The organizations we support have had positive impacts throughout Baltimore and will continue to invigorate our community by helping families and individuals regain and maintain financial stability.”

Best-selling author’s true rags to riches story

She went from Welfare to Wall Street and from failing grades to running a successful publicly traded business and now Lisa Nichols is sharing her life story and the secrets to creating a life that is rich in every possible way.

Nichols, the founder and CEO of the training and development company “Motivating the Masses,” is releasing her latest book “Abundance Now: Amplify Your Life & Achieve Prosperity Today.”

“I was so determined to write this book and I wrote it between November [2014] and March,” Nichols said. “I wrote it by the moonlight and the crack of dawn because I didn’t have time during the day.”

Unlike many writers and authors, Nichols says she didn’t have that internal tug of war with her thoughts. She had been interviewed many times and questions about her journey from Welfare to the boardroom usually dominated the discussion so it was easy to chronicle that story and even easier to weave in helpful information to help others get on the path to a life of abundance.

The 336-page tome published by Dey Street Books focuses on the areas of life that must be refined to bring true abundance, including enrichment, engagement and endowment, according to Nichols.

Readers are presented the framework upon which a fulfilled life is built and “Abundance Now” contains thought-provoking lessons, actionable plans, real-life stories, and makes clear what must be done each day to open the door to a life of richness. Nichols also writes candidly about her experience and notes how the course of her life changed forever after taking a long look into the eyes of her son, Jelani.

“When my son was born and even before he was born I was standing in the public assistance line on Century Boulevard in Los Angeles with tears streaming down my face recognizing that I literally couldn’t take care of my baby,” Nichols said.

“That level of pain, humiliation and shame was only beat out by the time when Jelani was eight months old and I didn’t have money to buy Pampers,” she said. “I went to the ATM machine to get $20 and I only had $11 in the bank and I had to wrap my son in a towel.”

That was her turning point, Nichols said.

“That’s when I said ‘I’m done with being here,’” she said. “That was in 1995 and I looked at my son and told him that he didn’t have to worry about mommy being broke again.”

Nichols says she began to hunt for information because she knew that wealth isn’t necessarily limited to just a few, but is available to all who pursue it the right way.

“I wanted to go to the education places, I borrowed books and begged my way into conferences,” Nichols said. “I realized that my human spirit, my tenacity wasn’t measured by the balance in my bank account.”

Now available at and other sellers, the book arrives in stores on January 5, 2016. With its release, Nichols says she is committed to motivational speaking and other tours and engagements to promote the message that everyone can live a life of abundance.

“I’m committed to helping to transform one million lives over the next three years,” she said. “I’ll do live events, free retreats, abundant life commercials and even an abundant life movie.”

Girl Scouts’ holidays made happier with gift of a van

Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (GSCM), after months of fundraising efforts, received a sizeable contribution from the Wheeler Foundation that has allowed the organization to purchase a new van to provide transportation for members of the council’s “Beyond Bars” troop.

The $25,000 donation covered the majority of the $33,000 cost of a new 2016 Ford Transit 15-passenger van.

The Girl Scouts’ Beyond Bars program links girls with their mothers who are incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW) in Jessup, Maryland through troop meetings at the prison. The van will be used to transport girls living with guardians in Maryland to MCIW for their twice-monthly troop meetings.

Troop meeting activities at MCIW facilitate bonding so that trust can be reestablished as the girls work with their mothers to earn badges and learn Girl Scout traditions. GSCM also takes the girls on field trips, where they can explore and learn teamwork and responsibility.

The van will also be used to take the girls on these educational field trips. The previous vehicle used for these purposes was beyond repair.

There are currently 35 girls participating in the Beyond Bars program. On any given troop meeting day, between six and 12 girls are picked up from their homes or from Girl Scouts headquarters on Seton Drive for the trip to MCIW.

The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program began in Central Maryland in 1992 and has been replicated by dozens of Girl Scout councils across the nation.

Research conducted by the National Girl Scouts Research Institute shows that the girls in the Beyond Bars program fare better in school and with relationships than girls who lose connection with their incarcerated mothers.

“We are extremely thankful to the Wheeler Foundation for this gift,” said Violet M. Apple, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. “We are very proud of the programming we are able to offer girls who are often forgotten by society. The Girl Scouts program can make a difference in every girl’s life. Acquisition of this new van ensures that we can continue to serve girls and help them to build relationships with their mothers.”

Glen Burnie Navy Petty Officer recognized for holiday volunteer work

— Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Brendy Carter assigned to Fleet Weather Center (FWC), Norfolk, Virginia, was recognized by the Commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Rear Admiral Rick Williamson, for her holiday season volunteer work and participation in the command’s Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD) chapter and the command’s Junior Sailor’s Association (JSA).

“It was awesome that we were recognized for our hard work,” she said. “It was an honor to receive a command coin from the admiral. Hard work, team work, and dedication do pay off!”

Carter, along with several other members of FWC, and the command’s CSADD chapter and JSA, put up decorations to help raise the holiday spirit and bring joy and cheer to their fellow Sailors.

Carter, who has been in the Navy for 16 years, is a native of Glen Burnie, Maryland. Her father, Louis Moore, resides in Glen Burnie and her mother, Betty Todd, resides in Edgewood, Maryland.

The Coalition of Sailors against Destructive Decisions and the Junior Sailor’s Association was established to bond Fleet Weather Center Norfolk junior Sailors and to create a culture in which shipmate’s help shipmates maintain a course of success through good decision making. Along with this, the chapter provides training material and the promotion of a good work environment for all Sailors to follow.

How to make Christmas

I received a call from an old friend this morning. I’ve known him now for over forty years. When I was twenty years old I lived for four months with him and his family in Dayton, Ohio, while I attended Wright State University.

The call was a simple, Merry Christmas call that caught us up on family and life in general. The call began to wind up with him telling me about all the times that he thinks about me, and how much he loves our family. The sentiment is mutual I expressed and we were able to exchange warm Christmas greetings. The call made my day.

I brought my Army son home from the airport Sunday evening. After a long flight home he relaxed in our family room as we caught up on small talk. Just the fact that he was in our home and was safe made my day.

A couple that works with us at our office came by our home last week bringing gifts. The gifts are beautiful but the effort they made to tell us how much they enjoy working with us and that they love their jobs still after seven years meant a lot.

We often make Christmas difficult. We stress ourselves out. We get into fiascos over gifts, travel, money and how to celebrate the holiday.

The first Christmas was about the birth of a baby. People around the world have tried to find all kinds of ways to celebrate his birth for over 2000 years. It’s amazing how we sometimes mess up his birthday and the holiday.

This week try focusing on enjoying and loving people. It’s often the simple conversations we have along the way that makes Christmas!

Glenn Mollette is an American Syndicated Columnist and the author of eleven books. His column appears all fifty states. For more information, visit: