US stocks close higher, tech and bank stocks rally

Posted on: February 23rd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Wall Street closed in the green on Friday with gains led by technology companies and banks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 347.51 (+1.39 percent) to finish the session at 25,309.99.

The Nasdaq jumped 127.31 (+1.77 percent) to close at 7,337.39, while the S&P 500 finished trading at 2,747.30, up 43.34 (+1.60 percent) for the day.

Crude oil prices climbed more than 1 percent at about $63.50 per barrel.

Winners and Losers:  Shares of Hewlett Packard Enterprise jumped 10.54 percent after its first quarter financial results beat anaysts’ expectations.

General Mills (-3.57 percent) announced Friday it would buy Blue Buffalo Pet Products (+17.23 percent) for $8 billon.

Shares of Bank of America climbed 1.07 percent.

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Last state to bar Sunday beer, wine and liquor carryout poised to raise a glass

Posted on: February 23rd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(INDIANPOLIS) — Indiana is the only state in the country that bans carryout beer, wine and liquor sales on Sundays, but the prohibition-era laws could change in a matter of days.

Gov. Eric Holcomb is expected to sign a bill that would allow Sunday take-out alcohol sales after state lawmakers passed the measure overwhelmingly this week.

The vote put the Hoosier State on the brink of allowing residents to buy take-out alcohol at liquor stores, grocery stores, drug and convenience stores on Sundays.

State lawmakers approved Sunday sales after a decades-long battle to overturn the ban. But legislators this time gained support from the powerful and influential Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents more than 1,000 small-business package store owners across the state.

In a statement, the association applauded the passage of Sunday sales, calling it a “historic piece of legislation.” “This is only the latest milestone in the long legislative process that we expect to end with Hoosiers being able to purchase alcohol for carryout on Sunday for the first time since Prohibition,” the statement read.

That 13-year nationwide ban on alcoholic ended 85 years ago. Indiana has some of the strictest liquor laws in the country, and although this bill would allow for expanded sales, it still comes with stipulations. The bill limits Sunday take-out sales from noon to 8 p.m. And existing state law that limits Monday-to-Saturday sales to 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. will remain in place.

Despite the new law, Sunday buyers who want a cold one on the go would still have to go to liquor stores. Legally, big-box retailers and non-liquor stores are still not allowed to sell cold beer.

Indiana is the only state in the nation that still regulates the sale of beer by temperature, and it appears that it will remain that way. A bill to upend that measure failed to pass a Senate committee and never made onto the floor for a full vote.

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers strongly opposed the passage of cold beer sales in big-box retail stores out of fear that it would hurt small-business owners.

Instead, the organization formed an alliance with larger retailers in late 2017. Both groups stood together and opposed the expansion of cold beer sales while throwing their support behind Sunday carryout sales.

The new Sunday carryout alcohol sales legislation will take effect as soon as Holcomb signs it, so residents could be buying alcohol on Sundays as early as March 4, just in time for spring.

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Federal prosecutors: ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli should forfeit Wu Tang Clan album

Posted on: February 23rd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Martin Shkreli, the former pharmaceutical executive known as “Pharma Bro,” returns to Brooklyn federal court Friday where prosecutors will argue he should forfeit his Wu Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.

Shkreli bought the rare album at auction for nearly $2 million. Federal prosecutors said he should relinquish it, along with $5 million in cash and other assets, as part of his conviction for securities fraud.

“The court should hold Shkreli financially accountable for his criminal conduct,” the government’s forfeiture request said.

Shkreli, best known for hiking the price of a lifesaving drug when he was a pharmaceutical executive and for trolling critics on social media, was convicted of securities fraud related to two hedge funds he controlled. The $7.3 million the government is seeking in forfeiture “represents a conservative computation of the proceeds Shkreli personally obtained as a result of his three different securities fraud crimes of conviction,” prosecutors wrote.

The government asked the court to order Shkreli to forfeit $5 million in cash, which is currently in an E*Trade brokerage account; his interest in Turing Pharmaceuticals; the album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin; the album The Carter V by Lil Wayne; an Enigma machine; and a Picasso painting.

Shkreli’s attorneys argued that none of what the government wants Shkreli to relinquish was obtained with tainted money.

“Mr. Shkreli was paid a mere $26,000 for two years of work, lived with his parents and often slept in his office,” defense attorney Benjamin Brafman wrote in a letter opposing the government’s request.

The oral arguments on forfeiture precede Shkreli’s sentencing on March 9.

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Snapchat stock falls after Kylie Jenner’s tweet

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

studioEAST/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — With a tweet, Kylie Jenner may have helped cause Snapchat’s stock to sink by about 6 percent on Thursday.

The reality TV star, who has a formidable social following across social media platforms, tweeted about the app’s unpopular redesign Wednesday, saying that she rarely uses it anymore.

“Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me … ugh this is so sad,” she wrote.

Later, she added, “Still love you tho snap,” but it seems the damage may have already been done.

“Our goal with the recent redesign is to make Snapchat more personal for everyone,” a Snapchat spokesperson told ABC News. “This new foundation is just the beginning and we will always be grateful for any feedback from our community as we roll out new products.

At 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Snapchat’s stock was at $19.02, and after Jenner’s tweet later in the day, it plummeted for most of Thursday. According to Bloomberg, the tweet could have cost Snapchat $1.3 billion in market value.

Jenner, 20, is not the only person to take issue with Snapchat’s redesign, however. More than 1.2 million people have signed a petition on Change.org begging for it to be removed, prompting Snapchat to respond, “We completely understand the new Snapchat has felt uncomfortable for many.”

“This new foundation is just the beginning, and we will always listen closely to find new ways to make the service better for everyone,” read the company’s statement, in part. “We are grateful for your enthusiasm and creativity. We are very excited for what’s ahead.”

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Young entrepreneur sews up happiness for kids in hospitals

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) —  There’s something SEW sweet about 9-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist Charlotte Gould.

Charlotte is the brains and creative power behind a company called Stitches by Charlotte. She creates dolls specifically designed for children undergoing medical procedures and surgeries.

As a young child, Charlotte underwent four surgeries herself due to being born with a cleft lip and palette. That’s why she feels compelled to offer comfort to kids who are facing scary surgeries and medical procedures.

Charlotte’s empathy, creativity, and compassion haven’t gone unnoticed. Online donors have generated almost $50,000 dollars to help her company grow.

For Charlotte, the donations are more than just a number. They mean that her dolls can make even more pint-sized patients flash a million-dollar smile when they need one most.

“In my head, I can picture kids holding my dolls in hospital rooms.  The kids are a little less scared because the doll did its job and that means I did my job,” Charlotte said.

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Car features to reduce rear crashes rated by insurance institute

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) —  Light poles, parked cars, shopping carts and running children are just a few examples of the many dangers on the minds of drivers when they throw their vehicles in reverse.

As automakers roll out technology to help minimize those risks, a recent study has analyzed how effective the features are in practice.

“Let’s face it. Some days we all could use help backing up, whether that’s in a garage with pillars that obscure your view, in a crowded mall parking lot or on a busy downtown street,” said David Zuby, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s executive vice president and chief research officer.

“The systems we rate in our first batch of tests will help reduce the chances of a backing fender-bender,” he added.

The IIHS tested six models of cars with rear autobrake and how they performed in a series of car-to-car and car-to-pole tests, with different approach angles, at low speeds. The tests do not evaluate whether the features can mitigate injuries in crashes.

The Cadillac XT5 and Subaru Outback earned “Superior” ratings when equipped with optional rear autobrake, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert.

The BMW 5 series sedan, Infinity QX60, Jeep Cherokee and Toyota Prius all scored “Advanced” ratings from the study.

New models from various automakers commonly offer rear cameras, sensors and alerts that can assist drivers in reverse.

But emergency auto braking, which was key to a high score in the study, is a rare feature. Only five percent of 2018 passenger vehicles include it as an option and only one percent offer it as a standard feature.

When compared to vehicles with no back-up features, cross-traffic alert cut down backing crashes by 22 percent in the study.

When researchers added rear-view cameras and sensors on top of that, the crashes were reduced by 42 percent; and when researchers looked at models that also had rear automatic emergency braking, they saw a 78 percent reduction of backing crashes.

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Tinder usage soars 348 percent at the Olympic Villages during the Olympic Winter Games

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — When the athletes at the Winter Olympics are not competing on the ice, on the slopes or the halfpipe, they are likely swiping left or right on Tinder — a lot.

Tinder tells ABC News that since the Olympics, its app usage in Pyeongchang has increased 348 percent with an uptick in right swipes by 565 percent. Swiping right on Tinder means there’s an interest in that person by the user. And those right swipes seemed to result in quite a few matches, too, as Tinder reports there’s been an increase in matches by 644 percent.

But which sports are the most right-swiped?

For the men, it’s the bobsledders followed by hockey players, snowboarders, alpine skiers and, finally, the skeleton racers. For the female athletes, the snowboarders are at the top of the list followed by the alpine skiers, bobsledders, lugers, and freestyle skiers, Tinder says.

Tinder is giving athletes an opportunity to also find love by “granting users in the Olympic Villages in South Korea free access to their members-only service, Tinder Gold, during the games,” Tinder wrote in a statement.

The features of this service include unlimited likes, rewind, likes you, and passport. When a user has the passport feature enabled, they can match with people all over the globe, Tinder says. The United States and Sweden took the top two spots for people using the passport feature to match with athletes in the Olympic Village in South Korea, the dating app tells ABC.

However, the dramatic increase in dating app usage in the Olympic Village also comes with concerns about sexual safety.

But precautions have been put in place with 110,000 condoms distributed to the athletes by South Korean condom manufacturer Convenience and the Korean Association for AIDS Prevention, according to AFP, which is “10,000 more than at Vancouver in 2010 or Sochi in 2014.”

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In the wake of the Florida shooting, schools using apps to prevent gun violence

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — In the wake of the deadly shooting rampage at a South Florida high school last week, some campuses are now turning to anonymous tip apps as a way of preventing school shootings, urging students to speak up before a tragedy occurs.

“I absolutely know that this app can save lives,” Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was murdered in his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago, said of the “Say Something” reporting app.

Hockley, who co-founded the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization that uses educational programs to help prevent gun violence, told ABC News that the group’s “Say Something” reporting system is “a 24/7 app, website and telephone line that enables any student, or teacher, or parent to submit any tip or threat that they have heard.”

The “Say Something” program also teaches students and educators how to look for warning signs, especially on social media, of what may indicate someone could potentially be a threat to themselves or others.

Before Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at his alma mater, the teen purportedly said in a comment on a YouTube video that he wanted to “be a professional school shooter.”

“Say Something” is currently being used in seven school districts across the country and is in the process of on-boarding at another 23 cities and districts, according to Sandy Hook Promise.

Hockley emphasized that the anonymity aspect of the app is especially crucial because it allows students to report tips without “fear.”

The original campaign urged students to tell a trusted adult if they had concerns, according to Hockley.

“But we know that in some communities telling an adult is not a solution,” Hockley said. “And people feel in danger, or they feel that they’re going to get their friend in trouble or that they’re a snitch.”

“This is about getting people help, so that anonymous gateway — keeping these tips absolutely anonymous — means that someone can get that information out there without fear of any form of retribution,” she added.

As the app and campaign launches at more school districts across the country, Hockley said she knows the tips are going to start rolling in “for school violence and threats of shooting,” but added that “we know that we’re going to be able to prevent them.”

“You won’t necessarily hear the numbers of what we’ve been able to stop,” she added. “But we absolutely know that we’re going to be saving lives.”

Another anonymous reporting app, “Safe 2 Tell,” which is currently used in Colorado schools, said it received 154 tips of planned school attacks since the school shooting last week in Parkland, Florida. It is not clear how many of the tips reported via the app were confirmed by authorities.

“The security protocols we have in place have caught a lot of threats since the Florida incident,” Diana Wilson, the chief communications officer of Colorado’s Jefferson County Public Schools, told ABC Denver affiliate KMGH.

More than sixty students used the “Safe 2 Tell” app to report a single social media post that appeared to threaten violence, according to KMGH. While the threat ended up being a prank, school officials say that this might not always be the case.

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Social media companies block abuse of Parkland shooting survivors online

Posted on: February 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Don Juan Moore/Getty Images(NEW YORK) —  Social media companies said on Wednesday they are moving to address reports of online harassment of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in the wake of a deadly mass shooting and subsequent teen activism on gun policy reform.

Twitter put out a message on its platform that it is taking seriously “reports of targeted abuse and harassment of a number of survivors.”

YouTube said in statement that it has also moved to remove disparaging videos. Facebook similarly removed such content calling “images that attack the victims of last week’s tragedy in Florida … abhorrent”.

The students have also responded on Twitter and in interviews.

Others hit back at criticism that they are paid activists — a claim that circulated on social media in the days after the deadly shooting which left 17 dead and 14 injured.

Others took on their critics directly.

Federal lawmakers have also slammed people who are spreading the idea that some of the students that have been interviewed by multiple news outlets about the shooting are misrepresenting themselves and are actually paid liberal actors.

 Earlier in the week, Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, called the students “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen” in an email to a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday. The reporter, Alex Leary, tweeted a screenshot of the email and it circulated widely on social media.

The Times reported that Kelly was responding to a photo of students David Hogg and Emma Gonzales being interviewed on CNN.

Shortly after the tweet of the email surfaced, Kelly was fired.

In a tweet that has since been deleted Kelly said he made a mistake and meant no disrespect to students or parents from the school.

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Fresh off Falcon Heavy, Elon Musk to launch broadband test satellites

Posted on: February 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Brake/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — As SpaceX’s Elon Musk continues to track his red roadster’s journey into deep space, he’s also preparing to launch something far more practical.  

On Thursday, SpaceX will launch a pair of prototype satellites intended to form the basis for Starlink, a constellation of about 11,000 satellites that would beam broadband internet down to Earth.

Thursday’s launch – originally slated for Wednesday but put on hold because of “high altitude wind shear” – marks the first big step in Musk’s plan for “rebuilding the internet in space,” as he put it in 2015.

In addition to competing with typical internet providers, Starlink could deliver connectivity to rural communities without the lag they’re accustomed to.

Critics – including broadband competitor OneWeb, which has already received FCC approval for its own constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites – worry that all those SpaceX satellites whirring around would pose “danger from orbital debris,” and risk collisions with other satellites already in orbit.

In a letter to the FCC, SpaceX’s attorney said the company is confident Starlink is “more than capable of operating safely” and called OneWeb’s concerns “self-serving and anti-competitive.”

The SpaceX satellites to be delivered to low-Earth orbit this week, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, are scheduled to be carried aboard a Falcon 9 rocket set for launch from Vandenberg AFB in California Thursday morning, at 6:17 a.m. local time.

They’ll be monitored by receivers in California, Texas, and Washington state.

SpaceX still needs formal approval for the rest of the Starlink system, but FCC chairman Ajit Pai has already called on his colleagues to support the company’s efforts to “unleash the power of satellite constellation to provide high-speed internet to rural Americans.”

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FCC expected to repeal net neutrality rules on Thursday

Posted on: February 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Communication Commission could officially repeal the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules by publishing the order to the National Register on Thursday, according to three sources briefed on the matter, inevitably triggering a wave of opposing lawsuits from state attorneys general.

The National Register is the official journal of U.S. federal government regulations, and one source stressed the timing of the FCC’s publication could shift from Thursday.

The reversal is a hallmark victory for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, whose tenure has seen him strongly advocate for reduced regulation in lockstep with the president who appointed him: Donald Trump.

Reversal supporters claimed the rules unnecessarily regulate the industry and impede the free market.

“It is not the job of the government to pick the winners and losers of the internet. … We should have a level playing field,” Pai said on December 14 when the FCC voted along party lines — three Republicans to two Democrats — to roll back the landmark net neutrality rules imposed in 2015 under President Barack Obama.

Those who support the net neutrality rules are more likely to find a resolution in federal court than Congress.

In the unlikely event that Democrats gain enough support in the House of Representatives within the 60-day deadline to overturn the decision, the president has already expressed support for the repeal and is unlikely to sign any opposing legislation.

A coalition of state attorneys general have signaled their intention to sue the FCC and block what they called an “illegal rollback of net neutrality” once the final rule is published by the FCC.

In order for that final rule to take effect, the White House Office of Management and Budget will have to sign off, which is expected to happen quickly.

The Office of Management and Budget did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment.

A number of prominent technology companies have voiced their opposition to the reversal, including Netflix, Amazon, Twitter and Microsoft.

A spokesperson for Pai did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

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Cruise Critic’s picks for best cruise ships of the year

Posted on: February 21st, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Cruise Critic has announced the winners of its eighth annual Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards — naming the most popular cruise ships of the year, based on consumer reviews shared on Cruise Critic over the past 12 months. The site boasts the largest online cruise community in the world with more than 350,000 cruise reviews, covering approximately 500 of the most popular cruise ships.

“What’s fun to see in this year’s list of winners is the wide range of ships awarded as the best of the best,” said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of Cruise Critic. “You have two of the largest ships at sea, alongside luxury yachts and small expedition ships that sail to some of the most far-flung destinations across the globe. As different as these ships are, the common thread is the exceptional ratings they received from actual guests.”

The winners of the Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards are awarded in four size classes, based on passenger capacity (Large: 2,000+ passengers; Mid-Size: 1,200 to 1,999 passengers; Small-Mid Size: 400- 1,199 passengers; Small: fewer than 400 passengers). The rankings are calculated using ratings published with user-submitted reviews on Cruise Critic.

First-place winners include:

Best Cruise Overall

Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises

Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises

Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Best Cruise Ship Cabins

Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International

Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises

Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

Star Pride (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Dining

Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises

Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises

Viking Star (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

National Geographic Explorer (Small) – Lindblad Expeditions

Best Cruise Ships for Entertainment

Allure of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International

Disney Wonder (Mid-Sized) – Disney Cruise Line

Viking Sky (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

L’Austral (Small) — Ponant

Best Cruise Ships for Service

Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises

Amsterdam (Mid-Sized) – Holland America Line

Viking Star (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

Wind Star (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Shore Excursions

Carnival Breeze (Large) – Carnival Cruise Line

Celestyal Crystal (Mid-Sized) – Celestyal Cruises

Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Value

Celebrity Silhouette (Large) – Celebrity Cruises

Celestyal Crystal (Mid-Sized) – Celestyal Cruises

Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises

Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

For the full list of winners, visit the 2018 Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

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Frustrated couple bombarded by Amazon packages they didn’t order

Posted on: February 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(FOLSOM, Calif.) — Michelle Carroll and her husband, Donald, can count nine of the same knee pillows, all in Amazon boxes, spread across their living room in their Folsom, California, home.

In fact, the couple would have had at least 14 knee pillows if they hadn’t insisted that the drivers making deliveries take some of the packages back.

“Yesterday my husband chased down the driver to return two packages,” Michelle told ABC News.

The couple said that they have been receiving Amazon packages since the beginning of February, but they thought the first package was a prank.

“[The first package] was a talking hamster toy and it was pretty funny at first,” said Michelle.

The packages don’t have a return label and all of them were addressed to Donald, she said.

After a call to Amazon, the company assured them that the deliveries didn’t affect their account and they took record of the tracking numbers.

“Our review detection systems are trained to catch this type of behavior and we will continue our ongoing efforts to detect and prevent abuse. Our investigations thus far indicate that there have been few reviews written on these shipments. We have removed these and will continue to remove any we do find immediately. We will hold offenders that have violated our policies accountable,” said a spokesperson for Amazon in a statement to ABC News.

There had been multiple five-star reviews of the product on Amazon, which Michelle claims could be an example of “brushing,” which is when manufacturers send items to random Amazon customers and then use their names to post fake reviews on the retailer’s site.

She said she left a review for the knee pillows calling them a scam.

“Do I feel like I’m a victim of a scam? Yes, absolutely,” she said.

Amazon allegedly put a hold on two accounts associated with different tracking numbers that belonged to people with names that Michelle said she didn’t recognize.

Despite more calls to Amazon and to the local authorities — in addition to a sign posted to the front door asking drivers not to deliver Amazon packages addressed to the Carroll family — the packages keep arriving.

Packages continued to be delivered because they had different tracking numbers, Michelle explained.

“I just want this to stop,” she said. “It’s just really frustrating that someone has our address, and our phone number is on the boxes.”

She also said that Amazon told her that she could keep the pillows and consider donating them to charity.

“I’m waiting to see what Amazon will do and I want to hear from the local authorities,” she said. “So right now I have no plans to do anything [with the pillows].”

She went on to add: “Our concern is what is the next package going to be. That’s scary.”

In a statement from an Amazon spokesperson the company said: “We are investigating inquiries from consumers who have received unsolicited packages as this would violate our policies. We have confirmed the sellers involved did not receive names or shipping addresses from Amazon. We remove sellers in violation of our policies, withhold payments, and work with law enforcement to take appropriate action.”

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How long can cryptocurrencies like bitcoin shine?

Posted on: February 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — One of Silicon Valley’s latest stars isn’t on television or a music mogul. His name is Jeremy Gardner, dubbed a cryptocelebrity.

One source of his riches? Bitcoin.

Gardner, who calls himself a venture capitalist and cryptocurrency evangelist, even lives in a San Francisco house known as the Crypto Castle.

“When my startup first moved to San Francisco, we lived in a dingy two-bedroom apartment with six people and we called it the ‘bitcoin basement,’” Gardner, 26, told ABC News during a tour of the three-bedroom house he now shares with other diehard cryptocurrency believers.

“When we found a new house with spectacular views that really feel castle-like, Crypto Castle made sense. Little did I know it would become such a well-known name,” he added.

Imagine a dorm room combined with a think tank with a revolving door of “cryptonomads.” One notable guest, he says, was Vitalik Buterin, the 24-year-old founder of cryptocurrency Ethereum who’s reportedly worth more than $400 million.

If residents prefer, Gardner will accept rent payment in bitcoin, meaning the $1,600 rent could fluctuate with the volatility of the cryptocurrency.

“I ran out of USD [U.S. dollars] and needed a place to live, so I knew Jeremy would let me pay rent in crypto,” Jinglan Wang, a cryptonomad and executive director of the Blockchain Education Network, said.

What exactly is bitcoin?

The cryptocurrency is a digital currency that uses encryption techniques to control its creation and secure transactions, independent of a central bank. The encryption techniques make it notably difficult to create any kind of counterfeit.

“Bitcoin is pretty much like cash for the Internet,” according to bitcoin.org.

People can purchase bitcoins or fractions of a bitcoin through online exchanges or from an individual and store them in a virtual wallet.

“If you hold a U.S. dollar, the value really comes from a belief that the Federal Reserve, the central bank, won’t print too many other dollars,” finance professor David Yermack of the New York University Stern School of Business said.

“In the case of bitcoin and other digital currencies, you’re really relying on the mathematics and probabilities behind them that provide the basis for security that you believe that there won’t be too many issued because you can see the equations and the criteria for adding more units of currency,” added Yermack, who also teaches a course on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.

There is a finite amount of bitcoin, only 21 million, that can ever be created, which is achieved through a virtual process called “mining.” Mining has been likened to gold mining; the more that is mined, the more difficult it is to find.

Bitcoin mining requires a special computer program that is used to compete with other miners to solve complicated mathematical problems.

Several companies, from Expedia to Overstock.com, have started accepting bitcoin for payment. Every bitcoin transaction is recorded in a secure, public, digital ledger called “the blockchain.”

“The logic of a blockchain is that you have records of data that are stored in blocks, and the blocks are arranged in a sequence such that the prior block is an input to the next block.” Yermack said.

Yermack cited the security of blockchain technology as one of the biggest benefits of bitcoin. The blockchain is “extremely resistant to hacking and sabotage in a way that the current financial system really is no,” he said.

Other benefits, Yermack said, include the speed and low cost of transferring.

“It’s much cheaper and quicker than the financial system that we have now,” he said. “Typically, if you pay for something with a Visa card, there’s a fee in the background, paid usually by the merchant, but it drives up the cost of the transaction about 3 percent. There’s no 3 percent fee like that for bitcoin.”

He added: “It’s also quite quick that in terms of transferring money especially across borders sometimes it can take days just to send money from London to New York. But in the case of a bitcoin transaction, it can occur almost instantly, as quickly as the network moves the traffic.”

At its inception in 2009, a bitcoin could be purchased for less than a penny. Since then, the price has grown exponentially, hitting an all-time high of $19,783 in December. The cryptocurrency has experienced extreme volatility recently, leaving skeptics to question its sustainability.

“Bitcoin wasn’t built to handle the volume of transactions that people are trying to do with it,” Grant Sabatier, who runs Millionaire Money, an investment blog, told “Nightline.”

Its volatility makes it difficult to use as currency and is probably better used as a store of value, like gold, he added.

Sabatier, who made more than $1 million in bitcoin, has been advising people against putting their money in the cryptocurrency.

“If you only have $1,500 [to invest], this is not the best place to put your money,” Sabatier said. “This is speculative … it’s gambling. You could lose money. You could make money. But, overall, you need to have a more conservative, better investment strategy for the long term.

“Keep it in perspective,” he said. “View it as a speculative investment. Why would you put your entire investment in something that isn’t backed by anything?”

Gardner, the cryptocurrency evangelist, understands such skepticism but said he believes bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are here to stay.

“Look at the U.S. dollar,” he said. “It’s backed by our faith in the government to act in our best interest … and it makes sense if you live in the U.S. or E.U. or China. But if you’re in Venezuela, where the bolivar [currency] is going under extreme hyperinflation and the dollar drops every day, bitcoin makes a lot of sense.”

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KFC closes across the UK due to a shortage of chicken

Posted on: February 20th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(LONDON) — KFC has temporarily closed hundreds of locations in the UK and Ireland on Monday night after its shops ran out of chicken following delivery problems.

The fast food chain switched its delivery contract to German shipping giant DHL, which had promised to “set a new delivery standard” after winning the contract with KFC.

On Monday, 575 KFC restaurants were closed. Stores had initially run out of chicken over the weekend.

“Due to administrative issues, a number of deliveries have been incomplete or delayed. We are doing our utmost to rectify the situation as soon as possible and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused,” a DHL spokesperson said.

KFC’s UK division addressed the crisis in a tweet: “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants.”

The company added, “Getting fresh chicken out to 900 restaurants across the country is pretty complex!”

KFC fans across the UK have been sharing their disappointment.

One person wrote on Twitter, “Drove to two separate @KFC_UKI to find one had no chicken and one was closed. What even is my luck. Just want some fried chicken.”

Another tweeted, “Disaster. Took the Grandkids out to dinner at KFC only to see that it’s shut down. Some chicken shortage. Took them to McDonald’s but it’s not the same. Crying in the bathroom. Can’t show weakness in front of them. #KFCCrisis.”

In another example of the sense of national panic gripping the UK, a London-based local politician wrote on Twitter that constituents have written to him to express their disappointment over the KFC Borough High Street closure: “I’ve been contacted by disappointed #KFC customers on Borough High St #SE1 & Walworth Rd #SE17 today.”

 Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

KFC closings across Britain ruffle feathers

Posted on: February 19th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) — U.K. and Ireland KFC restaurant-goers have been disappointed in recent days, as 900 outlets in the countries were closed due to a shortage of chicken. The company first apologized on Saturday, citing growing pains with its new delivery partner, DHL.

Many upset customers took to Twitter to voice their complaints about the chain closing its doors.

“We know that this might have inconvenienced some of you over the last few days, and disappointed you when you wanted your fried chicken fix — we’re really sorry about that,” the company said in a statement.

On Monday, KFC said almost 300 stores were listed as open with a limited menu and shortened hours, and did not say when they rest might join them.

DHL took over as KFC’s delivery partner in October from Bidvest Logisitcs.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Teenagers bake, deliver ‘special’ birthday cakes for children who wouldn’t otherwise get them

Posted on: February 18th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Montgomery County chapter of Birthday Cakes 4 Free(MONTGOMERY, Md.) — Allison Wachen and her team of bakers crowd around the kitchen counter, juggling broken egg shells, flour bags and cans of cooking spray. They’re baking two, two-layer vanilla birthday cakes in her aunt’s kitchen.

No one is celebrating a birthday, though — at least not in her family.

Wachen is baking them for “Birthday Cakes 4 Free,” a non-profit organization that bakes birthday cakes for people — including children and seniors in different communities — who wouldn’t otherwise have them.

Wachen, 17, an avid baker who said she’s always taken an active role in community service projects, was looking for a way to combine her passions when she read about the national charity organization while flipping through a magazine.

“I couldn’t even believe that people do not receive a birthday cake,” said Wachen, co-founder and president of the Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter of Birthday Cakes 4 Free.

It was a thought that didn’t sit right with Wachen, so she founded a local chapter with her brother. Within two and a half years her chapter’s membership skyrocketed from two members to more than 400 members.

“I think people at first, since you’re a youth and you’re starting an organization, maybe assume you’re not as organized,” she said.

Her 15-year-old brother, Robert, who will email with adult volunteers for months, added that grownups are always surprised when they finally meet him.

“I say, “Hi, my name is Robert. I’m the vice president.’ [And] they’ll go, ‘Wait, you’re a kid?'” Robert, the chapter’s vice president of technology, said with a laugh.

“So I think that’s a very humbling experience for me because they are taking me so seriously that they’re not even considering my age; they’re just looking at the organization and saying ‘Wow, this is a legitimate organization and I want to help out,'” he added.

The teenagers faced some difficulties early on like finding members to help bake and deliver the cakes and finding charities that were willing to accept them. Another challenge was that some of the volunteers were too young to drive and had no income to buy supplies.

The group donates more than 100 cakes per month — and each cake container costs $1.50. That’s more than $1,800 a year for the containers alone.

In the past, the volunteers have asked for grants and held fundraisers like bake sales to cover the costs of the frosting, sprinkles and cake containers. Wachen said she believes her charity gains more credibility and legitimacy as more people personally see the impact and the sheer number of donated cakes.

“It’s just such a basic thing but I think on your birthday, the whole idea of having a birthday cake and having the celebration with your friends and family…reaffirms that you really have a community supporting you, but it’s also something just very special,” said Wachen before heading out to decorate this month’s cakes with her friends and other volunteers at the Potomac Community Center in Potomac, Maryland.

Once a month, a dozen or so middle school and high school students get together to decorate the cakes at a local community center or at the home of one of their volunteers. Wachen said she always tries to make every cake as special as possible.

It is for someone’s birthday after all.

“I always tell our volunteers: ‘Make this cake as if you were giving it to someone in your family,'” said Wachen.

For those volunteers who can’t make the cake decorating social, they have the option of baking and decorating the cake from their own home and dropping it off at Wachen’s house. Wachen then collects the cakes and delivers them, with the aide of her mother’s silver minivan, to 17 charities around the area.

Those charities include homeless shelters and Boys and Girls clubs in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region.

“A birthday cake, I mean, yes, it’s delicious, but it’s also so much more of a symbol that the community really cares about them,” said Wachen.

The charity regularly receives thank you notes from the recipients; one included a note from a child who wrote, “Wow! A cake with my name on it! I’ve never seen one with my name before.”

Two girls at a recent birthday cake delivery party shared a similar message.

“It’s nice, that they do it for other kids,” one girl said in between cake bites.

“And they don’t even know us,” the other girl responded.

Tarayra Staton, the program director at the Jelleff Club of the Greater Washington Boys & Girls Club, suggests the idea is so popular because the charity isn’t only for kids… it’s by the kids, too.

“Every month they refer to this as ‘Cake Day,'” Staton explained over the sounds of young children screaming and playing in a nearby games room. “It’s kids that actually make them, so when we have other kids making the cakes and giving it to our members, [our kids] really really think that’s cool.”

All but one of the 64 Birthday Cakes 4 Free chapters are run by adults. The Montgomery chapter is the only one run by teenagers.

“What you realize is these kids are just like you. They have the same passions, they have the same goals,” added Wachen, before explaining she is acutely aware that she could be one of the less fortunate kids in the homeless shelters, a fact that makes the delivery of the cakes all the more significant.

Robert Wachen realizes how fortunate he is, too.

“When I bake birthday cakes every month, I think about the recipients and I think about the connection, and it goes way beyond the birthday cake for me,” he said.

“It’s not whether you’re ‘Cake Boss’ and you can create an amazing three-layer cake. It’s that you took the time out of your day…to make a lasting impression on someone you don’t even know,” he added.

For their 17-year-old cousin, Sawyer Steinmiller, vice president of finance for the chapter, it’s about connecting with someone on their own level.

“I would rather learn from a kid. I would rather hang out with a kid than an adult,” said Sawyer.

“And I think because we are kids and we are teens, that they feel [like it’s] more personable and enjoyable.”

In the fall, Wachen will be leaving for college, which means two new teenagers will be taking over the organization: Robert and their cousin Sawyer. Passing the torch will be bittersweet, Wachen admitted, but she was prepared for this inevitability since the beginning.

Two years ago, she created an executive board made up of middle and high school students from across the county, all from different races, religions and backgrounds.

“Once I leave, there are networks of people that can get their friends involved from different schools and have connections with different religious and community organizations.”

In April, the group is set to deliver its 2,000th cake. The teenagers plan to celebrate it by reaching out to more schools and volunteers, and honoring the seniors who will be leaving them in the fall for college.

For Wachen, who will be trading in her baking apron for college textbooks come August, the journey from start to finish has been incredibly personal.

“The idea that you’re making a cake for other people that otherwise wouldn’t get one shows that people value you and would take their own personal time for someone that they don’t personally know but still think they are important,” Wachen said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

JetBlue to offer free flights to families of Florida shooting victims

Posted on: February 18th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

JetBlue(NEW YORK) — JetBlue is offering free flights to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the families of the school shooting victims.
 
The company, which has a corporate office in Orlando, said volunteers in its Family Assistance Center will book free air travel for victims’ families, according to the Miami Herald. JetBlue will also provide access to free ground transportation with Lyft.

JetBlue is also partnering with the Florida Panthers to hold a blood drive on Feb. 22.

On its company blog, JetBlue wrote, “This week’s events are felt by all of our 21,000 crewmembers, many of whom live in, work from and travel through the Broward County area, home to our Focus City, Fort Lauderdale. We want to do our part to help the community, and support South Florida through this difficult time.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Runaway dog on New York City subway tracks causes hairy situation

Posted on: February 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

@NYPDTransit/Twitter(NEW YORK) — A runaway dog wandering New York City’s subway tracks created a hairy situation for transit officials and commuters Friday afternoon.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) issued a service alert around 3:15 p.m. ET announcing changes and delays to the F train “because of a dog on the tracks” at York Street station in Brooklyn. A and C train riders also experienced delays as transit workers and police spent an hour trying to search and rescue the lost pup.

The dog, named Dakota, had escaped from a dog park in Brooklyn and somehow found its way onto the subway tracks, according to the New York City Transit Police Department. Police officers and transit workers eventually retrieved Dakota to safety.

According to ABC station WABC-TV, the dog was discovered on the tracks at Bergen Street station, two stops downtown from York Street.

Dakota was reunited with its owner, who took her beloved pup to the vet for a “minor injury,” police said.

Normal train service resumed about an hour later.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Belgian court orders Facebook to stop tracking users

Posted on: February 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Photodisc/Thinkstock(BRUSSELS) — Facebook must stop tracking Belgian users who are surfing the web outside of the social network — or face a fine of more than $300,000 a day, a Belgian court ruled.

The court also ordered Facebook to delete data that it has already gathered from these users. If Facebook doesn’t abide by this order, it will face a fine of $312,000 a day, the court ruled.

Facebook “doesn’t sufficiently inform” clients about the data it gathers or explain what it does with the information, the Brussels Court of First Instance said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

“Facebook can follow your surfing behavior without you realizing it, let alone want it, on the basis of those invisible pixels that Facebook has placed on more than 10,000 other websites,” the court said.

Facebook said it is “disappointed” with the verdict and plans to appeal, Facebook’s head of public policy for Europe, Richard Allan, told Bloomberg.

“Over recent years, we have worked hard to help people understand how we use cookies to keep Facebook secure and show them relevant content,” he said.

“The cookies and pixels we use are industry-standard technologies. We require any business that uses our technologies to provide clear notice to end-users, and we give people the right to opt-out of having data collected on sites and apps off Facebook being used for ads.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

How to help victims of the Fla. school massacre and not get scammed

Posted on: February 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(PARKLAND, Fla.) — After the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history Wednesday afternoon in Florida, a number of people and organizations have found ways to extend a hand to the affected Florida communities, including GoFundMe campaigns that state officials vow to shield from any would-be scammers.

“If you think you’re going to scam people during this tragedy, you’re not,” state Attorney General Pam Bondi reportedly warned this week.

The Broward Education Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, has set up a GoFundMe page.

GoFundMe has removed campaigns with no direct connection to the victims in the shooting or their families, spokesman Bobby Whithorne told ABC News via email.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office Thursday tweeted that there have been “several fraudulent @gofundme accounts” created and posted a link to the correct one.

GoFundMe’s Whithorne said, “We guarantee the money raised by those campaigns will be transferred to the right person.”

“We will continue to monitor the platform and will stay in close touch with Florida officials.”

Meanwhile, Premier Family Health and Wellness, a health care center in Wellington, Florida, is hosting a blood drive on Friday until 4 p.m., according to a news release.

Ryan Mackman, the center’s business administrator, is a friend and former classmate of Aaron Feis, the football coach who was among the 17 people killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the news release said.

One Blood, a Florida-based blood center, Wednesday night delivered additional blood to the Broward Health North Hospital, which treated massacre victims.

One Blood said in a news release it is especially interested in donations of O-negative blood, which is the universal type and primarily used to treat trauma patients.

Public Good, an online organization that partners with reputable nonprofits to distribute various donations, is collating trustworthy sites.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

How to help victims of the Florida school massacre and not get scammed

Posted on: February 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(PARKLAND, Fla.) — After the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history Wednesday afternoon in Florida, a number of people and organizations have found ways to extend a hand to the affected Florida communities, including GoFundMe campaigns that state officials vow to shield from any would-be scammers.

“If you think you’re going to scam people during this tragedy, you’re not,” state Attorney General Pam Bondi reportedly warned this week.

The Broward Education Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, has set up a GoFundMe page.

GoFundMe has removed campaigns with no direct connection to the victims in the shooting or their families, spokesman Bobby Whithorne told ABC News via email.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office Thursday tweeted that there have been “several fraudulent @gofundme accounts” created and posted a link to the correct one.

GoFundMe’s Whithorne said, “We guarantee the money raised by those campaigns will be transferred to the right person.”

“We will continue to monitor the platform and will stay in close touch with Florida officials.”

Meanwhile, Premier Family Health and Wellness, a health care center in Wellington, Florida, is hosting a blood drive on Friday until 4 p.m., according to a news release.

Ryan Mackman, the center’s business administrator, is a friend and former classmate of Aaron Feis, the football coach who was among the 17 people killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the news release said.

One Blood, a Florida-based blood center, Wednesday night delivered additional blood to the Broward Health North Hospital, which treated massacre victims.

One Blood said in a news release it is especially interested in donations of O-negative blood, which is the universal type and primarily used to treat trauma patients.

Public Good, an online organization that partners with reputable nonprofits to distribute various donations, is collating trustworthy sites.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Watch out for ‘online romance scams,’ BBB warns

Posted on: February 16th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Those looking for love on dating sites, apps and social media should beware of the “massive number of fraudsters” using so-called romance scams to “gain unsuspecting people’s trust to steal their money,” a new study published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

“People all over the world are being ripped off by these same frauds,” Steve Baker, an internal investigation specialist with the BBB, told ABC News. “We got a real global problem.”

These romance scams have cost victims in the U.S. and Canada nearly $1 billion in just the past three years, and impacted an estimated 1 million victims in the U.S. alone, according to the BBB.

Complaints from victims of online romance scams are also on the rise — up from 21,000 in 2015 to 28,000 in 2017 — according to the BBB. In addition, reports to the FBI about online romance scams tripled in the last five years.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates, however, that 90 percent of victims don’t report the scam, meaning the actual number of victims could likely be much higher.

Romance scams often begin with a “grooming phase” where the scammer learns about the victim’s life and sends text messages or notes that profess admiration, and eventually love.

One victim of these scams, who spoke to ABC News on the condition it not name her or show her face, said that she met a man on Facebook who eventually stole $1,000 from her.

“He said that he was a single father … that he was a widower,” she told ABC News.

“He said … he had a really bad cellphone,” she added. “And that’s when I said I guess I can help you.”

“The second time I sent him money … he said he was having problems paying his car,” she said.

He then asked for her bank information, and she says that is when she called him out and he admitted that he was a “scammer.”

“I said, ‘You are a scammer,'” she told ABC News. “That’s when he said … ‘I am in love with you and that’s why I’m telling you the truth … yes, I am a scammer.'”

Another person targeted by an online romance scam, Donna Rodgers, told ABC News that she met her scammer on the dating app Zoosk, and he pampered her with gifts during the first weeks, but then asked her for more than $1,500.

“It was overwhelming,” Rogers said. She said that she didn’t send the money and immediately contacted authorities.

Both Facebook and Zoosk told ABC News that they try to monitor and block suspicious behavior.

Zoosk says it has photo verification services to help combat online scams. Both companies, however, say that consumer awareness and vigilance are also key to fight and prevent online romance scams.

Baker told ABC News that anyone who may have been a victim of online romance scams and sent money through Western Union may be able to get their money back.

Information on how to get their money back is available on the FTC’s website, he added.

“They don’t even have to have their original Western Union receipts as long as they know how much money they sent, and the location they sent it from, and the date I think,” he added. “There’s a good chance they can get some money back.”

Baker said that the money transfer services Western Union and MoneyGram are making “more efforts to protect people.”

If you were scammed as far back as 2004 all the way through January 2017, he recommends filing a claim on the FTC’s website.

“I don’t know if people will get full refunds we hope that they would, but it depends on how many claims that are filed,” he added.

Baker said that he thinks there are still steps he thinks the dating sites and apps can do to “warn their victims.”

“We would like for them to increase their efforts to try to get the crooks off their websites; in other words to screen profiles of folks before they appear on the dating sites,” he said. “And if the dating sites find a profile they conclude is fraudulent, maybe because its paid with a stolen credit card, we would like the dating site to contact everyone who have been in contact with the profile.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

7 amazing, surprisingly affordable beach destinations

Posted on: February 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Sometimes, you just need a beach getaway. Unfortunately, you also often need a thick wallet to enjoy one properly. But before you convince yourself that you simply don’t have the cash for a vacation to fill-in-the-blank, take a look at our list of seven amazing beach destinations that are surprisingly affordable.

1. Corfu, Greece

It’s no secret that Greece’s economy has been struggling for some time, so the country has found itself on plenty of affordable getaway lists as of late — particularly in the wake of Brexit, which has made all of Europe potentially even more appealing to travelers. But for our affordable beach destination roundup, we’re highlighting the Greek island of Corfu. While most jet-setters head for the better known, more popular and significantly pricier Cyclades (made up of islands such as Mykonos and Santorini), Corfu is a great pick for those on a budget. Travelers can often score relatively inexpensive flights directly to the island by booking through smaller, regional airlines and once there, visitors will find that hotels, restaurants, and activities can be pretty cheap. Be wary of hotels advertising four stars (take a look at our photos first!), but even if they aren’t quite up to a luxury standard, many Corfu beach resorts offer all-inclusive options and feature numerous pools, a range of dining and simple, clean rooms.

Our hotel pick: Mayor Pelekas Monastery

2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Continually ranked as one of America’s best family beach destinations, Myrtle Beach offers visitors one-of-a-kind nightlife, more than 100 golf courses and 60 miles of sandy shoreline — all at affordable prices. Flying there doesn’t put a huge burden on the wallet, and it’s an easy enough drive from cities such as Charleston, Charlotte and Augusta. This locale may be known to get a bit jam-packed, but hotels account for this with massive pools and water park complexes, as well as plenty of meeting spaces and large rooms. In fact, many properties feature condo-style accommodations with kitchens and living rooms.

Our hotel pick: Carolinian Beach Resort

3. Algarve, Portugal

While Lisbon lures tourists looking for a cultural fix, the Algarve attracts plenty of visitors seeking a relaxing beach vacation, thanks to its mild, year-round climate (it reportedly receives 300 days of sun per year) and stunning coastline. Finding itself at No. 1 on the U.K. Post Office’s annual Worldwide Holiday Costs Barometer — a study that takes into account common vacation purchases like the price of a meal for two, drinks in a cafe, and more — the Algarve is one of the best places for a budget getaway in Europe. With mid-range hotels like the Flor da Rocha Apartamentos Turisticos starting below $50/night, the cost of budget accommodations is low right now.

Our hotel pick: Carvi Hotel Lagos

4. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Achieving an affordable vacation to Mexico often mandates sacrificing peace and quiet. Well, this may be the case with Cancun, but if you drive less than an hour from this affordable, party-centric locale, you’ll find Playa del Carmen, its more low-key, less crowded sister that, like Cancun, offers plenty of budget-friendly, all-inclusive resorts. Even though spring break is peak season, many hotels offer deals around this time, and day trips to spots like Cozumel and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum are relatively inexpensive.

Our hotel pick: Hotel Casa Ticul

5. Phuket, Thailand

Getting to Thailand does not come cheap, but once you’re there, you can live like royalty for a shockingly low fee. The beach town of Phuket in particular is home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the world, and yet even the most exclusive properties offer rooms starting around $200/night. The same stunningly low rates can be found at restaurants, shops and spas. Naithon Beach is beautiful, and conveniently close to the airport, while Batok on Racha Yai island is arguably even more gorgeous and unspoiled. Patong Beach is also popular.

Our hotel pick: The Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa Phuket

6. Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Many major airports offer direct flights to Jamaica’s Montego Bay, where a handful of affordable accommodations can be found. But for those who don’t mind a slightly longer airport transfer, Ocho Rios (a couple hours from Montego) is an even more budget-friendly destination. (Some of Montego Bay’s resorts can be quite luxurious, and therefore expensive.) Once a sleepy fishing village, Ocho Rios is now home to numerous all-inclusives nestled among laid-back, local joints offering cheap beers and tasty jerk chicken. It also has beautiful, private white-sand beaches, and a famous waterfall park with swimming and hiking.

Our hotel pick: Moxons Beach Club

7. Dominican Republic

Home to tons of all-inclusive resorts, the Dominican Republic is a solid pick when planning a wallet-friendly Caribbean getaway. Visitors can save by relying on hotels where everything — from activities to food, from entertainment to alcohol — is included, and with eight international airports on the island, it is often quite easy (and inexpensive) to reach. Add in lovely beaches, warm locals, great year-round weather, and a rich history for a wonderful beach vacation. Travelers can choose from hot spots like Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, or head to Samana, on the northeast coast. Samana is the country’s least developed and most serene section. Its beaches, many of them remote and secluded, rank with some of the Dominican Republic’s finest, and the area is characterized by lush tropical forests, verdant mountains with dramatic sea views, waterfalls, and a handful of resorts that take full advantage of these natural wonders.

Our hotel pick: Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

7 amazing, surprisingly affordable beach destinations

Posted on: February 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Sometimes, you just need a beach getaway. Unfortunately, you also often need a thick wallet to enjoy one properly. But before you convince yourself that you simply don’t have the cash for a vacation to fill-in-the-blank, take a look at our list of seven amazing beach destinations that are surprisingly affordable.

1. Corfu, Greece

It’s no secret that Greece’s economy has been struggling for some time, so the country has found itself on plenty of affordable getaway lists as of late — particularly in the wake of Brexit, which has made all of Europe potentially even more appealing to travelers. But for our affordable beach destination roundup, we’re highlighting the Greek island of Corfu. While most jet-setters head for the better known, more popular and significantly pricier Cyclades (made up of islands such as Mykonos and Santorini), Corfu is a great pick for those on a budget. Travelers can often score relatively inexpensive flights directly to the island by booking through smaller, regional airlines and once there, visitors will find that hotels, restaurants, and activities can be pretty cheap. Be wary of hotels advertising four stars (take a look at our photos first!), but even if they aren’t quite up to a luxury standard, many Corfu beach resorts offer all-inclusive options and feature numerous pools, a range of dining and simple, clean rooms.

Our hotel pick: Mayor Pelekas Monastery

2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Continually ranked as one of America’s best family beach destinations, Myrtle Beach offers visitors one-of-a-kind nightlife, more than 100 golf courses and 60 miles of sandy shoreline — all at affordable prices. Flying there doesn’t put a huge burden on the wallet, and it’s an easy enough drive from cities such as Charleston, Charlotte and Augusta. This locale may be known to get a bit jam-packed, but hotels account for this with massive pools and water park complexes, as well as plenty of meeting spaces and large rooms. In fact, many properties feature condo-style accommodations with kitchens and living rooms.

Our hotel pick: Carolinian Beach Resort

3. Algarve, Portugal

While Lisbon lures tourists looking for a cultural fix, the Algarve attracts plenty of visitors seeking a relaxing beach vacation, thanks to its mild, year-round climate (it reportedly receives 300 days of sun per year) and stunning coastline. Finding itself at No. 1 on the U.K. Post Office’s annual Worldwide Holiday Costs Barometer — a study that takes into account common vacation purchases like the price of a meal for two, drinks in a cafe, and more — the Algarve is one of the best places for a budget getaway in Europe. With mid-range hotels like the Flor da Rocha Apartamentos Turisticos starting below $50/night, the cost of budget accommodations is low right now.

Our hotel pick: Carvi Hotel Lagos

4. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Achieving an affordable vacation to Mexico often mandates sacrificing peace and quiet. Well, this may be the case with Cancun, but if you drive less than an hour from this affordable, party-centric locale, you’ll find Playa del Carmen, its more low-key, less crowded sister that, like Cancun, offers plenty of budget-friendly, all-inclusive resorts. Even though spring break is peak season, many hotels offer deals around this time, and day trips to spots like Cozumel and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum are relatively inexpensive.

Our hotel pick: Hotel Casa Ticul

5. Phuket, Thailand

Getting to Thailand does not come cheap, but once you’re there, you can live like royalty for a shockingly low fee. The beach town of Phuket in particular is home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the world, and yet even the most exclusive properties offer rooms starting around $200/night. The same stunningly low rates can be found at restaurants, shops and spas. Naithon Beach is beautiful, and conveniently close to the airport, while Batok on Racha Yai island is arguably even more gorgeous and unspoiled. Patong Beach is also popular.

Our hotel pick: The Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa Phuket

6. Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Many major airports offer direct flights to Jamaica’s Montego Bay, where a handful of affordable accommodations can be found. But for those who don’t mind a slightly longer airport transfer, Ocho Rios (a couple hours from Montego) is an even more budget-friendly destination. (Some of Montego Bay’s resorts can be quite luxurious, and therefore expensive.) Once a sleepy fishing village, Ocho Rios is now home to numerous all-inclusives nestled among laid-back, local joints offering cheap beers and tasty jerk chicken. It also has beautiful, private white-sand beaches, and a famous waterfall park with swimming and hiking.

Our hotel pick: Moxons Beach Club

7. Dominican Republic

Home to tons of all-inclusive resorts, the Dominican Republic is a solid pick when planning a wallet-friendly Caribbean getaway. Visitors can save by relying on hotels where everything — from activities to food, from entertainment to alcohol — is included, and with eight international airports on the island, it is often quite easy (and inexpensive) to reach. Add in lovely beaches, warm locals, great year-round weather, and a rich history for a wonderful beach vacation. Travelers can choose from hot spots like Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, or head to Samana, on the northeast coast. Samana is the country’s least developed and most serene section. Its beaches, many of them remote and secluded, rank with some of the Dominican Republic’s finest, and the area is characterized by lush tropical forests, verdant mountains with dramatic sea views, waterfalls, and a handful of resorts that take full advantage of these natural wonders.

Our hotel pick: Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

How to help victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Posted on: February 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) — After the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history Wednesday afternoon, a number of people and organizations have found ways to extend a hand to the affected Florida communities.

Cox Media, for instance, is hosting a blood drive today at various locations until 7 p.m., the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said.

One Blood, a Florida-based blood center, Wednesday night delivered additional blood to the Broward Health North Hospital, which treated massacre victims.

One Blood said in a news release it is especially interested in donations of O-negative blood, which is the universal type and primarily used to treat trauma patients.

Public Good, an online organization that partners with reputable nonprofits to distribute various donations, is collating trustworthy sites.

And the Broward Education Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, has set up a Go Fund Me page.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

How to help victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Posted on: February 15th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) — After the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history Wednesday afternoon, a number of people and organizations have found ways to extend a hand to the affected Florida communities.

Cox Media, for instance, is hosting a blood drive today at various locations until 7 p.m., the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said.

One Blood, a Florida-based blood center, Wednesday night delivered additional blood to the Broward Health North Hospital, which treated massacre victims.

One Blood said in a news release it is especially interested in donations of O-negative blood, which is the universal type and primarily used to treat trauma patients.

Public Good, an online organization that partners with reputable nonprofits to distribute various donations, is collating trustworthy sites.

And the Broward Education Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, has set up a Go Fund Me page.

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Rose gold foodie treats take over Walt Disney World

Posted on: February 14th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Disney Parks (NEW YORK) — For a sweet treat that’s on trend, visitors to Walt Disney World can’t miss the rose gold cupcake at Sunshine Seasons in Epcot, or the similar versions at Main Street Bakery in Magic Kingdom and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at The Trolley Car Café.Disney ParksAt The Polynesian Resort, saddle up to the Barefoot Pool Bar for a rose gold margarita.

Disney ParksThen, it’s back to the cupcakes. The Polynesian has a rose gold vanilla cupcake with guava pastry cream at Capt. Cook’s and at Kona Café.

Disney ParksAt Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, there’s a rose gold unicorn cupcake with rose gold sponge and hazelnut cream cheese filling at Gasparilla Island Grill.

 Disney Parks

At Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort, you’ll find a rose gold chocolate cupcake with strawberry buttercream filling and topping, chocolate ears and chocolate crispy pearls. These can be found at Intermission Food Court, the Artist’s Palette and the Paddock Grill.

Disney Parks
Contempo Café at Disney’s Contemporary Resort now has a rose gold vanilla cupcake with strawberry filling, vanilla buttercream, strawberry crispy pearls and a dark chocolate rose gold Minnie hat.

Disney ParksABC News is owned by parent company Disney.

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‘Hobby Lobby Challenge’ inspires pretty photos in big chain stores

Posted on: February 14th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Clay Daugherty(NEW YORK) — In an ever-growing list of online challenges powered by social media, the latest trend proves that even amateur photographers can snap a shot in a drab location and make it look fab!

Kelsey Maggart is credited with starting the “Hobby Lobby challenge” after she shared a series of portraits on Twitter that she took of her friend inside the craft store on Jan. 26.

Maggart, who is a professional photographer, said she was surprised and happy about the attention her Hobby Lobby photos received.

“A few weeks ago my friend said he was shooting in Hobby Lobby so we both shot there, in different stores, to compare our shoots,” Maggart told ABC News. “We live in Indiana, so flowers aren’t really an option for a few more months.”

Maggart said that once she posted the photos she was “shocked” to see the reaction on social media.

“My social media has been crazy recently and it’s just so insane to me that I was able to inspire this many people to go out and do this shoot themselves,” she said. “It really does feel amazing.”

The craft store photoshoots have since moved outside Hobby Lobby stores and into WalMart, Michaels, Target and other retailers.

People started sharing their own pictures using the hashtag #HobbyLobbyChallenge and have now moved onto the broader based #uglylocationchallenge.

One participant told ABC News that after several of his friends saw Maggart’s tweet, they challenged him to “do something like it.”

“I asked my friend Samantha to do the challenge with me and she was super excited,” Clay Daugherty said. “We decided to go to Hobby Lobby because we knew they had a flower aisle and we thought that would be an amazing place to do it,” he explained.

Daugherty added that he wishes he had thought to post his photo first to get the same social media traction, but overall he was happy to participate.

“After I posted my tweet, some people had sent me [Maggart’s] tweet of her shooting in Hobby Lobby. I was a little sad that I didn’t post the Hobby Lobby ugly location challenge first, but the pictures turned out great and I had a lot of fun,” he said.

Hobby Lobby did not immediately respond to ABC News request for comment.

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Passengers recall moment when United plane engine fell apart in midair

Posted on: February 14th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Maria Falaschi/Twitter(HONOLULU) — Passengers on a Hawaii-bound United Airlines flight got the scare of a lifetime on Tuesday when a part of the plane’s engine fell apart in midair, leaving metal pieces flapping in the wind.

“I thought we were going to die, and hoped that my kids knew that I loved them,” one passenger told ABC News after the plane made an emergency landing. “It was horrible.”

“The flight attendants were really professional, but they were scared. You could tell from their face,” she added.

United flight 1175 from San Francisco to Honolulu made an emergency landing on Tuesday afternoon after a “mechanical issue” caused the plane’s engine cover to come apart, the airline said in a statement Tuesday.

The plane, a Boeing 777, landed safely and no injuries were reported.

“United flight 1175 traveling to Honolulu from San Francisco landed safely after the pilots called for an emergency landing because of a loss of the engine cowling (the covering of the engine),” the statement said. “Our pilots followed all necessary protocols to safely land the aircraft. The aircraft taxied to the gate, and passengers deplaned normally.”

“The flight landed safely, and all passengers deplaned normally at the gate,” it added in separate statement.

United did not say exactly when the cowling came off, but it said there was no debris on the runway or taxiways.

Horrified passengers shared images from inside the plane, showing what appeared to be the plane’s bare engine, exposed in midair.

One of the passengers said he heard “a big metallic bang” that was followed by about 40 minutes of “shaking” until the plane finally landed.

A passenger, who shared images from aboard on Twitter, referred to the incident as the “scariest flight of my life,” while another said it felt like “people calmly preparing themselves for death” as the plane braced for the emergency landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate the cause of the malfunction.

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