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Jobless Claims Jump to 287K


iStock/Thinkstoc(WASHINGTON) — Jobless claims were higher last week, increasing by 3,000, according to the latest figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

For the week ending Oct. 25, the number of people filing for benefits jumped to 287,000. The previous week claims stood at 284,000, revised up from 283,000.

The Labor Department said there were no "special factors" impacting that week's figures.

The four-week moving average decreased, however, falling by just 250 to 281,000.

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IRS Announces Tax Guidance Related to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa


MariuszBlach/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Internal Revenue Service issued tax guidelines regarding charitable and other relief related to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The IRS press release notes two tax designations designed to promote donations and aid for West Africa. Employees, the agency says, "may donate their vacation, sick or personal leave in exchange for employer cash payments made to qualified tax-exempt organizations providing relief" to Ebola victims in West Africa. In doing so, an employee would forego leave in exchange for employer cash payments made before Jan. 1, 2016. That donated leave will not be included in income or wages of the employee, and employers can deduct the amount of the cash payment.

The second guideline allows American employees in West Africa to receive reimbursement from an employer-sponsored charitable organization for medical expenses incurred as a result of the outbreak, without the reimbursement being included in the individual's income for federal tax purposes.

The announcement follows similar steps taken following other international disasters, including the Japan earthquake and tsunami and the Haiti earthquake.

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Federal Reserve Ends Bond-Buying Program, Will Keep Interest Rates Low


Cameron Whitman/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday that it would end its recession-era bond purchasing program, noting improvement in the labor market and the financial landscape.

According to a press release, the Federal Open Market Committee found at their September meeting that with the economy growing at a moderate pace and improved labor market conditions, the bond-buying program can be ended this month. "Moreover, the [Fed] continues to see sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment in a context of price stability," the release read.

The Fed did, however, reaffirm its belief that interest rates should remain where they are for the time being.

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Wall Street Dips on Wednesday, Fed to End Bond-Buying Program


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The markets fell on Wednesday, following a strong start to the week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 31.44 to 16,974.31, falling back below 17,000 just one day after it jumped back over the milestone.

The Nasdaq slumped 15.06, closing at 4,549.23, while the S&P 500 slid 2.75 to a finish of 1,982.30.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday announced that it would end its bond-buying program later this month. That decision was made after the Federal Open Market Committee determined that "there has been a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market" since the program was implemented.

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UPS Driver Caught Mishandling $12K Package on Video


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- UPS reps were “horrified” recently when they watched a store’s surveillance video showing one of their drivers treating a package with little care, a store associate said.

“[The UPS driver] just basically threw the thing out the door,” Ray Martel of East Hills Instruments in Westbury, New York, told ABC News affiliate WABC-TV.

On Monday, Martel said the UPS driver -- who was not the store’s “regular” guy -- delivered a box to East Hills Instruments.

When the driver was told that the box needed to be returned to the sender because East Hills did not accept cash-on-delivery items, he became disgruntled, Martel said Wednesday.

“He wasn’t happy to have to bring it back,” he said.

As the driver left the store with the box, containing a sensitive $12,000 pressure gauge, Martel said he went to take a phone call. Later, though, he said the store’s receptionist suggested that he watch the tape.

In the video, the worker flips the box out of the store, not using a cart or a dolly. Martel said the driver didn’t ask for one even though the store has a hand truck.

“It was disappointing to see that happen,” Martel said. “[It was] not the right thing to do. ...If he needed help, he could’ve just asked.”

On Tuesday, a UPS representative came to the store to view the tape.

In a statement, the company said: “UPS drivers are trained to handle every package with care. … UPS does not condone this specific driver’s behavior.”

The company apologized to the customer, saying that the problem would be investigated and that corrective action would be taken against the driver.

Martel said tracking late Wednesday showed that the box was still en route to Pittsburgh.

He said he was concerned about the box and that he and UPS were waiting to hear back from the client on the gauge’s condition.

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Apple Pay Competitor CurrentC Falls Victim to Hackers


CurrentC(NEW YORK) -- CurrentC, the mobile payments solution being tested by Walmart and other retailers, confirmed on Wednesday it has been hacked.

"Within the last 36 hours, we learned that unauthorized third parties obtained the e-mail addresses of some of our CurrentC pilot program participants and individuals who had expressed interest in the app," Linda Walsh, a spokeswoman for Merchant Customer Exchange, told ABC News in a statement.

"Many of these email addresses are dummy accounts used for testing purposes only. The CurrentC app itself was not affected," Walsh said.

She added that the breach was communicated to the app's test users and to the group's merchant partners -- among them Walmart, Target and 7-Eleven.

The mobile payments solution was quietly announced in September, but was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week when it was reported that some retailers involved in the development of CurrentC had taken measures to disable or alter their NFC readers so Apple Pay, a competitor, cannot be used.

A consortium of retailers, including Best Buy, 7-Eleven and Target, are members of the Merchant Customer Exchange, which announced last month that it is working on the mobile wallet, which is expected to be a direct competitor to Apple Pay.

Before the hack was confirmed, Dekkers Davidson, CEO of the Merchant Customer Exchange, posted a blog Wednesday offering new details on CurrentC, user security and why the mobile wallet and Apple Pay will never compete in the same store.

Blocking Apple Pay

Davidson's message is clear: Retailers are either in or they're out.

"When merchants choose to work with MCX, they choose to do so exclusively and we’re proud of the long list of merchants who have partnered with us," Davidson wrote. "Importantly, if a merchant decides to stop working with MCX, there are no fines."

Privacy

While Apple Pay promises to keep your data private, CurrentC is all about letting merchants have more information about what their customers are doing.

Davidson said customers and merchants will be able "to make informed decisions regarding how information can be shared" via a privacy dashboard. MCX may see "limited information" on prescription purchases, such as location and transaction amount, but will "adhere to strict rules regarding the privacy of consumers’ information."

Data Security

CurrentC will store financial information in a cloud vault, according to a release detailing the service. A "token placeholder" will be used to make transaction, ensuring a user's sensitive financial data isn't exposed.

MCX said the mobile wallet will offer "merchant loyalty programs and instant coupon savings, all stored on the phone and available right at the point-of-sale."

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Hewlett Packard Unveils New Sprout Computer


Hewlett Packard(NEW YORK) -- Hewlett Packard unveiled a new computer Wednesday that is so intuitive you probably already know how to use it.

Called "Sprout," the dual-screen computer is being billed as a game changer in the desktop market by seamlessly marrying the physical and digital worlds.

The desktop unit looks like a computer, but where the magic happens is in the "Sprout Illuminator" system, which includes a scanner, depth sensor, high resolution camera and a projector.

The result is dimensional images that are integrated into the digital work space and can easily be shared. Users can create collages, designs and collaborate with friends around the world -- all while using a personal, hands-on approach.

"Sprout is a long-term play at a long-term bet," Brad Short, distinguished technologist at Hewlett Packard and the inventor of Sprout, told ABC News. "It has that 'pour water on the plant and it will grow' spirituality inside the company. It means a lot to us."

Featuring a 23-inch diagonal full HD touch screen and a 20-point touch mat, Sprout is the first product available under Hewlett Packard's "Blended Reality" ecosystem.

Short said the idea for Sprout was born a few years ago when his daughter kept bringing home artwork. They wanted to scan it and share it with family, however a flatbed scanner crushed the projects.

"I was looking for ways to revolutionize the scanning process," Short said. He got to work and created the first prototype of the device, marrying a computer and a small projector.

Five years later, Sprout is making its public debut -- and Short said the possibilities for creation and collaboration are infinite. Potential users include everyone from fashion designers and home decorators to the everyday user wanting a way to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues around the world.

Users can even digitally scrawl on the touch pad making it easy to share notes or even a real-time game of Tic-Tac-Toe.

"It evolved into a way to communicate remotely," Short said. "The idea of using a product and placing things on the desk [touch pad]...that became another really big inventive part of the experience we were trying to achieve."

Sprout is available for pre-orders in the United States beginning Wednesday and will be in select retail stores on Nov. 9 for a starting price of $1,899. Hewlett Packard is expected to announce an international roll out plan at a later date.

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Chrysler Recalls 380,000 Trucks over Fuel-Heater Housing Issue


Chrysler(AUBURN HILLS, Mich.) -- Chrysler is recalling 381,876 trucks worldwide over an issue with fuel-heater housings that could lead to a fire.

The affected vehicles are mostly in the U.S. and include 2010-2014 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups along with 4500 and 5500 chassis cabs equipped with 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engines.

In a statement Wednesday, the automaker says a terminal connector near the fuel heater in these vehicles "may be subject to friction-induced corrosion. This condition may lead to overheating and potential fuel leakage."

So far, Chrysler is aware of two cases regarding this issue. In both cases, the fuel-heater housings showed signs of overheating but no fires were reported. There have also been no injuries or accidents connected to this recall.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified and will have faulty parts replaced free of charge.

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Elon Musk Called Orbital Sciences' Rocket Design a 'Joke' in 2012


NASA/Joel Kowsky(NEW YORK) -- Almost exactly two years before Orbital Sciences' rocket exploded Tuesday during a launch in Virginia, SpaceX founder Elon Musk mocked his competitor, calling its rocket design a "joke."

Orbital Sciences Corp., headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, made the Antares rocket for NASA to supply the International Space Station. Investigators are now trying to determine what went wrong with the launch before a safety officer sent a self-destruct command Tuesday evening.

While discussing a possible SpaceX mission to Mars, Musk discussed the failings of large aerospace firms with Wired Magazine. These included an aversion to risk as well as the overuse of "legacy components."

"The results are pretty crazy," Musk said in the 2012 interview. "One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the '60s. I don’t mean their design is from the '60s -- I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the '60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere."

Musk, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

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Victoria's Secret 'Perfect Body' Campaign Draws Social Media Outrage


Victoria's Secret(NEW YORK) — A recently-launched Victoria's Secret campaign is coming under a social media firestorm for what some consider body shaming.

The company, long known for featuring beautiful models with enviable figures, may have taken things one step too far with its "The Perfect 'Body'" advertisements. On its web site, the campaign features a row of 10 underwear-clad women, at least three of whom have visible ribs. The only model who might be considered a size more typical of a woman who is not an underwear model is also the only one who has her back to the camera.

The perfect body campaign is part of the Body by Victoria line of lingerie.

"The Perfect 'Body'" has ignited a Twitter firestorm and a Change.org petition. The petition calls for an apology and for the company to "take responsibility for the unhealthy and damaging message that their wording ‘The Perfect ‘Body’ sends out to society about women’s bodies and how they should be judged."

 

I don't see why Victoria Secret wants people to think the perfect body is when your ribs are showing and you are just skin and bones.

— Megan Picha (@PICHA_chuu12) October 28, 2014

 

The petition has more than 2,800 signatures as of mid-morning Wednesday. It also calls for people who find the ad objectionable to take to social media with the hashtag #iamperfect.

 

it's the 21st century and we still have to tell big corporate companies to stop body image shaming young girls #iamperfect #victoriasecret

— ThatGirlCalledRuth (@GirlCalledRuth) October 29, 2014

 

Victoria Secret did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Holiday Shoppers Putting Recession Woes Behind Them


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Are holiday shoppers ready to spend like they did before the Great Recession?

A new Gallup poll says that seems to be the case but things could change by Thanksgiving.

When asked how much they expect to spend, the average was $781, still off somewhat from the anticipated budget of $866 in 2007 but a lot better than the $616 estimate a year later.

The figure has been rising steadily since the recession and in one other piece of good news, Gallup says that the number of people who say they won’t spend as much as the previous year is at the lowest level since 2007.

Those who project they’ll spend more than in 2013 is 13 percent -- about the same as it is every year.

All things being equal, Gallup says that if consumers keep to their anticipated budget during November, overall spending could be 3.8 percent or higher than last year.

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Family Business Finds a Pleasant Way to Pick Up Dog Poop


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Anyone who’s ever owned a dog probably knows about the most dreaded part of walking Fido: the clean-up after your pet has done his business, which usually means carrying around a stinky bag afterwards.

Bob Crimmins feels your pain as well as that of his 11-year-old twins, Sarah and Annalise. It was about 18 months ago that his daughters recoiled at the thought of lugging a deposit their dog Lola made when the family came up with a brainstorm.

The Crimmins clan developed the Wise Walker, a bag that masks the odor of dog poo and is completely washable for use over and over again.

The Wise Walker is so functional it can be used to carry other items although why would people do that if its main purpose is to pick up animal waste?

In any case, the Crimmins twins, with dad’s help, have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000. So far, so good. After just two days, they’ve collected more than $3,500.

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Lowe's to Test Retail Service Robots


ljhimages/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Lowe's plans to test out a pair of "autonomous retail service robots" this holiday season in a hardware supply store in San Jose to study how robotics technology can benefit both customers and employees.

According to a Lowe's press release, the robots will help customers navigate stores, direct them to specific products and provide real-time information regarding promotions and inventory. Called OSHbot, for the Orchard Supply Hardware store where they will be tested, it will be able to communicate in multiple languages.

The robots were developed through a partnership between Lowe's Innovation Labs and Fellow Robots, a Silicon Valley technology company specializing in autonomous service robots.

Employees will also benefit from the OSHbot, Lowe's says, noting that they will provide added support for customers, which allows employees "to focus on delivering project expertise."

“Using science fiction prototyping, we explored solutions to improve customer experiences by helping customers quickly find the products and information they came in looking for,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “As a result we developed autonomous retail service robot technology to be an intuitive tool customers can use to ask for help, in their preferred language, and expect a consistent experience.”

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Wall Street Posts Gains Following Positive Economic Reports


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As October, which has been a tough month on Wall Street, nears its end, the markets have picked up, with all three major indices posting sizable gains on Tuesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 187.87, finishing the day back above 17,000 at 17,005.81.

The Nasdaq jumped 78.36 to 4,564.29, while the S&P 500 gained 23.34 to 1,984.97.

The Standard and Poor's/Case Shiller Index indicated that home prices are rising, though by smaller percentages than last fall. In August, the index showed price increases of about 5.5 percent in 20 major metropolitan areas. Last fall, prices jumped by double digits.

Also on Tuesday, the Conference Board released the latest Consumer Confidence Index, which showed that with hiring on the rise and lower gas prices, consumers have a more positive view of the current economic situation.

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FTC Alleges AT&T Slowed Speeds for Unlimited Data Customers


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Millions of AT&T customers who paid for unlimited data plans faced speeds that were slowed by as much as 90 percent, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission.

While the mobile carrier's subscribers cruised down the metaphorical wireless highway marked "unlimited," the FTC alleges their speed were throttled after they used a certain amount of data in a billing cycle, leading to Web browsing, GPS navigation and streaming video speeds that became "difficult or nearly impossible" to use.

"The issue here is simple: 'unlimited' means unlimited," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement.

Starting in 2011, AT&T has throttled the bandwidth of at least 3.5 million customers a total of more than 25 million times, the FTC alleges in its lawsuit, which also accuses AT&T of slowing down customers who used even as little as two gigabytes of data in a single billing period.

Wayne Watts, senior executive vice president and general counsel for AT&T, called the lawsuit "baseless" and said the mobile carrier has been forthcoming with customers from the start about how it planned to handle the increased demand for wireless.

A news release dated July 29, 2011, on the company's website warns that subscribers with unlimited data plans may experience reduced wireless speeds when their usage exceeds a certain threshold in a billing cycle "that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users."

Watts said the notice resulted in nearly 2,000 news stories at the time before the program was later implemented on Oct. 1, 2011.

"We have been completely transparent with customers since the very beginning," Watts said.

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