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Sprint Faces Lawsuit for Alleged 'Cramming'


Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Sprint Corporation for alleged illegal billing of wireless customers for unauthorized third-party charges.

"Today...we are suing Sprint for allowing illegal charges to be crammed onto consumers' wireless bills," CPFB Director Richard Cordray said Wednesday. "Consumers ended up paying tens of millions of dollars in [unauthorized] charges...many of these consumers had no idea that third parties could even place charges on their bills."

The CPFD says that third-party billing involved products such as "premium text messages" or "premium short messaging services." These products involve ringtones or text messages containing love tips, horoscopes or "fun facts." Consumers would be charged either a one-time fee between $0.99 and $4.99 or monthly subscriptions costing as much as $9.99 per month. Sprint received a 30- to 40-percent cut of the revenue from those charges, the CPFB says.

According to the CPFB, some of the third-party merchants even tricked consumers into providing their cell phone numbers to receive "free" digital content, and then charged for that content. Others, the CPFB says, simply placed fabricated charges on bills without delivering any goods.

The bureau is accusing Sprint of allowing third parties to illegally charge consumers, automatically billing consumers for illegitimate charges without their consent, disregarding red flags about third parties and ignoring consumer complaints about unauthorized charges.

The bureau says that consumers incurred millions of dollars in illegitimate charges, while Sprint collected hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Earlier this year, AT&T agreed to pay $105 million in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for cramming.

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Wall Street Gains Back Most of Early-Week Losses, Fed to Keep Interest Rates Low for Now


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street posted gains on Wednesday, largely making up for early-week losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 288.00 to 17,356.87.

The Nasdaq jumped 96.48, closing at 4,644.31, while the S&P 500 rose 40.15, finishing the session at 2,012.89.

Both the Dow and the S&P closed Wednesday higher than they did last Friday, while the Nasdaq was down just slightly.

The Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee reaffirmed on Wednesday its decision to keep interest rates low for the near future. That echoes a decision made in October. In announcing the reaffirmation, the committee said that labor conditions continue to improve, citing "solid job gains and a lower unemployment rate." Still, the Fed believes it can "be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy."

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List Ranks America's Worst Charities


iStock/Thinkstock(TAMPA BAY, Fla.) -- A Florida newspaper is out with a list of which charities are naughty and which are nice when it comes to giving money to the people they claim to help.

Number one on the Tampa Bay Times list of the worst charities is Kids Wish Network -- just 2.5 percent of the nearly $138 million it collects is spent on kids wishes.

In a video, Times reporter Kris Hundley says the money is too often siphoned off by a third party.

"These are charities that let their professional fundraisers keep up to 90 percent of all contributions," she says.

Ideally, according to Watchdog groups, fundraisers shouldn't keep more than 35 percent of what they raise.

Getting good grades was Wounded Warrior Project, which funnels 58 percent of its donations directly to veterans.

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Hotel Industry Sues to Block Minimum Wage Increase for LA Workers


Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The hotel industry is suing to block a new, higher minimum wage for hotel workers -- like housekeepers in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit challenges an ordinance the Los Angeles City Council passed in October raising the minimum wage to over $15 an hour for workers at many hotels with 300 or more rooms.

The suit was filed by two industry groups claiming the ordinance oversteps federal law by influencing the relationship between labor unions and employers.

But the city argues the ordinance is lawful and valid.

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FedEx's Second Quarter Earnings Fall Short of Expectations


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- FedEx released its latest earnings report on Wednesday, showing a 23 percent jump in earnings in the second quarter. The figure falls short of Wall Street estimates.

As Mike Santoli with Yahoo Finance points out, several factors contributed to the disappointing earnings.

"The revenue per package was down. And here's, for an interesting reason, the wrinkle of lower gas and oil prices actually reduced their revenue on some levels because they add fuel surcharges," he says.

Another factor: the growth of gift cards.

"It's gonna be another gift card-heavy holiday season. Obviously you don't ship those; that doesn't help FedEx and UPS," he says.

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Cuba: What You Can Now Bring Back with You


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The new deal strengthening U.S.-Cuba relations now means you can bring back long-forbidden cigars with you -- but there's a catch.

Americans who gain official approval to travel to Cuba will be the only ones able to bring back up to $400 in goods from their trip and no more than a quarter of that can be made up of alcohol or tobacco products combined.

If the protocols are adhered to, the hand-rolled Havanas won't be making an appearance in American smoke shops any time soon.

Americans' love of cigars runs decades back, as historical lore claims that President John F. Kennedy ordered an aide to get as many Cuban cigars as they could in the hours before he announced the embargo in 1962.

The potential influx of Cuban cigars are just one of the ways that President Obama's announced plans change the way Americans will be able to interact with the long-banned country.

The changes come as a result of Cuba releasing Alan Gross Wednesday morning, a deal that had been in the works for some time.

There are 12 different types of licenses that will be available for individuals to travel to Cuba, ranging from diplomatic missions to trips on behalf of charities, education groups and public art performers, according to the White House.

The White House explained the expansion as a way to improve the economic conditions of the Cuban people.

"The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector," Obama said.

Obama also said that it is "clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect -- today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party."

He concluded, "Today, we are renewing our leadership in the Americas. We are choosing to cut loose the anchor of the past, because it is entirely necessary to reach a better future -- for our national interests, for the American people, and for the Cuban people."

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How Dating App Tinder Was Turned into Crime-Fighting Tool


Buildzoom(SAN FRANCISCO) --- After a start-up company in San Francisco was burglarized several times this year, the co-founder took matters into his own hands and turned to an unlikely source to solve the crimes -- the popular dating app Tinder.

David Petersen, co-founder of 3-year-old BuildZoom, which helps people hire remodeling contractors, created a dating profile of one of the suspected thieves using a surveillance photo. He advertised a $5,000 reward. The profile stated, "I rob offices in SF."

Petersen said the idea has worked. He received emails from people with the name of the alleged female thief and her photo.

"Part of the reason I did this entire investigation myself is just because the San Francisco police wouldn't do anything about it, so we will see where it goes," he told ABC News on Wednesday, noting that his company filed police reports on March 21 and again on July 3.

BuildZoom's building was looted of about 15 MacBook Pros worth about $2,000 each, seven tablets and a few other things, Petersen said.

"I'm 100 percent that it's her," he told ABC News.

Petersen even blogged about the thefts on the company website, including surveillance video and photos from the thefts around July.

He has told the police officer investigating his case about the Tinder leads, but the officer has yet to respond, Petersen said.

"But the photo and name I got of this girl matches exactly, including a hairband, hairline, hair color, nose, etc." Petersen said. "And she was arrested a block from my office stealing a bike -- I have the shot of her in cuffs -- but the police never made the connection."

A spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department said police don't have anyone in custody at this time and it's an open and active investigation. When asked about BuildZoom's efforts in using surveillance photos of the suspect on Tinder, the spokeswoman said the police welcomes efforts to assist spreading information.

"We investigate every incident thoroughly," she said.

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Betabrand's Jeans Could Protect You from Identity Theft


Betabrand(NEW YORK) -- In the future, fashion may be at the forefront of fighting cyber crime.

What sets Betabrand's Ready Active jeans apart from the pack is the radio frequency identification fabric lining a front and back pockets.

The jeans are a collaboration between security company Norton and Betabrand, a retailer focused on creating and selling innovative clothing.

The Norton-approved technology blocks radio-frequency identification (RFID) and near-field communication readers, which can be used to scan for credit cards.

"We'd been experimenting with use case for RFID blocking fabric, when Grey, Norton's creative agency approached with the idea of applying it to jeans," Aaron Magness, Betabrand's vice president of marketing, told ABC News in an email. "[We] can't imagine a better partner to work with than Norton on a project like this since they are the known leader in digital security."

The security savvy pants, which met the crowd-funding goal in less than 24 hours, can be purchased for $151.20 while the project is still in crowd funding. The pants will then go up to $168, Magness said.

"Because of the demand we've seen, we've started to move forward with production and they'll be ready to ship in February," he said.

A $198 blazer with an RFID-blocking pocket is also a possibility, however, it still has yet to meet its crowd-funding goal.

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How to Keep Your Connected Devices Safe from Hackers


Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The "Internet of Things" -- the name for the ecosystem of smart devices that can communicate with owners -- are hot holiday gifts this year, but they're also prime targets for hackers.

There's a lot to love about a light bulb that can warn you when it needs to be changed, a thermostat that can be controlled from anywhere or a speaker that can listen to your commands.

Here's the bad news: An estimated 70 percent of "Internet of Things" items contain major vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers, according to a report released in July by Hewlett Packard's Fortify on Demand.

Before plugging in any connected item, Robert Siciliano, a McAfee identity theft expert, said users need to make sure their main devices are secure.

That means updated anti-virus and anti-phishing software, running a sweep using spyware and making sure the device has all of the latest patches and updates.

It's key the main device has a clean bill of health before a new peripheral device is plugged in, according to Siciliano.

"These devices could all be infected already out of the box," he said.

Once the devices are plugged in, Siciliano recommends conducting an anti-virus scan to see if there are any issues.

Another pro tip: When using a wireless connection, make sure it's secure.

"If you're functioning in a wireless environment that isn’t properly protected then bad guys can get in through the actual device you just connected," Siciliano said.

Perhaps one of the most alarming examples of this from 2014 was a Russian website that posted live streams of unsecured web cams in more than 100 countries online for anyone to watch.

The site showed everything from babies sleeping and people relaxing in their living rooms to home exteriors and closed circuit cameras in businesses.

The biggest lesson here: Never use the default user name and password for a device.

"Any external peripheral that you have the ability to change the default password, do so," Siciliano said.

He also advises consumers to register their devices with the manufacturer and to hold onto the box for at least three to six months in case their are any issues.

It's expected the "Internet of Things" will swell to as many as 26 billion devices by 2020, according to a forecast by Gartner, a technology research firm, making it more important than ever for users to be smart about their security.

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Former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney Terminated from Company


Photo by Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel who had previously been suspended for alleged misconduct before being hired as a consultant, has been terminated, the company said Tuesday.

American Apparel's Board of Directors announced that Charney was terminated "for cause" and that veteran fashion executive Paula Schneider will take the role of chief executive officer. She will be the first female CEO in the company's history.

Scott Brubaker, who has been serving as the company's interim CEO, will continue in that role until Schneider joins the company and takes on that title on Jan. 5, 2015.

Charney was suspended on June 18, 2014, for "alleged misconduct and violations of company policy." Charney agreed to an internal investigation of the allegations against him, and that investigation allowed a special committee to deem it inappropriate for Charney to be reinstated as CEO. His relationship with the company as a consultant was also terminated.

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Energy Dept. Predicts Household Gasoline Expenditures to Be Lowest in 11 Years in 2015


nikitos77/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects next year's household gasoline expenditures to be the lowest in 11 years.

According to a report published by the EIA on Tuesday, the average household in the U.S. is expected to spend about $1,962 on gasoline in 2015, down about $550 from 2014. This is partly due to the continued falling price of gasoline.

The EIA's weekly report indicated that gasoline costs an average of $2.55 per gallon as of Monday, down $1.16 from late April 2014. That figure is also the lowest since October 2009.

The EIA notes that the dropping price of gas is also aided by the increased fuel economy of many cars and trucks, which travel further per gallon of gas.

The EIA says that gasoline expenditures represent about five percent of household expenditures, based on data from recent years.

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Apple Halts Online Sales in Russia Due to 'Extreme Fluctuations' in Value of Ruble


ABC News(MOSCOW) -- Apple has temporarily closed its online store in Russia, citing "extreme fluctuations in the value of the [ruble]" for the decision.

The Russian currency fell abruptly Tuesday, part of a year-long decline, despite action taken by the Russian central bank to attempt to stem the tide. On Dec. 16, 2013, 32.90 rubles was worth about one dollar, according to S&P Capital IQ. On Tuesday, that figure was closer to 72 rubles per dollar.

Apple released a statement Tuesday, saying that "due to extreme fluctuations in the value of the [ruble], our online store in Russia is currently unavailable while we review pricing." Apple did apologize for the inconvenience.

Russia's central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to try to slow the ruble's slide, but to no avail.

Analysts attribute the ruble's freefall to a number of factors, including a decline in oil prices, which is one of Russia's top commodities.

Briefly, anyone trying to access Apple's online store for Russia received an error message, which said that the company was "updating the Apple Store for you and will be back soon." Later on Tuesday, the website was restored, while the purchase page brought up the same error message.

 

Apple's Russian website is "updating" ... price hike coming after ruble's fall? pic.twitter.com/h2hNJw3fgR

— Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia) December 16, 2014

 

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More Losses on Wall Street, Russian Ruble Continues to Lose Value


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street experienced yet another day of losses in a month that has been full of them on Tuesday, with all three major indices finishing the day below their opening positions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 111.97, closing at 17,068.87.

The Nasdaq ended the session at 4,547.83, down 57.33, while the S&P 500 closed down 16.88, at 1,972.75.

The value of the Russian ruble continued to fall Tuesday, with Secretary of State John Kerry denying a link to sanctions levied against Russia. Russia's central bank raised interest rates Tuesday morning in an effort to stop the freefall, but the move has done little to stem the tide.

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Instagram Update Includes Five New Filters


Instagram(NEW YORK) -- Instagram delivered the ultimate holiday gift Tuesday to its users: five new filters.

Meet Slumber, Crema, Ludwig, Aden and Perpetua. They sound like characters from The Hunger Games, but are actually the names of Instagram's new filters.

The company rarely rolls out new filters -- the last rollout was in 2012 -- so it makes Tuesday extra special for the photo sharing app's 300 million monthly users.

Instagram iOS 6.4.0 can be found in the App Store and version 6.12.0 in the Google Play Store. The new filters are in addition to the existing selection.

Instagram is also giving users control of their filters, allowing them to re-arrange the order or hide the ones they never use.

After downloading the update, this feature can be activated by swiping right to the end of the filters and then clicking "manage."

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Seven Items Now Cheaper than Falling Price of Gasoline


Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Gasoline has fallen below $2 a gallon at some stations in the country, as the price of oil plummets globally. Now, a Starbucks Frappuccino drink is more expensive than a gallon of gas.

"This is getting downright wild," GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan told ABC News. "We keep sliding, and there’s no end in sight."

The average cost for a gallon of regular is $2.55, down about 69 cents from a year ago and 13 cents from a week ago, according to the Energy Department's weekly price report released on Monday. Gas peaked at over $4 a gallon just a few years ago in 2008.

In 36 states, gas is at least $1 a gallon lower than six months ago on June 16, according to GasBuddy.

Here are seven items that may be pricier than the average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the U.S., from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' average price data in its consumer price index for October (CPI data for November will be released Wednesday morning) and online menu price estimates for fast food chains:

  1. Starbucks Tall Coffee Frappuccino: about $2.95
  2. Burger King Whopper: about $3.49
  3. Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich: about $2.99
  4. Orange juice, frozen concentrate 12 oz. can: $2.61
  5. 100 percent ground roast coffee per pound: $5.03
  6. 100 percent ground chuck beef per pound: $4.29
  7. Whole milk, fresh and fortified, per gallon: $3.77

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