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Friday
Dec152017

Check out an original 'Star Wars' lightsaber valued at $450,000

Ripleys Believe It or Not! (LOS ANGELES) -- It’s not as clumsy or random as a blaster, and for the first time, "Star Wars" fans can check out an original Luke Skywalker lightsaber prop displayed in a galaxy not so far away.

Starting Saturday, and just in time for the release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," visitors to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in Hollywood, California, will be able to see the iconic prop in person.

Ripley’s purchased the saber hilt for a whopping $450,000 at an auction last June held by Profiles in History. The auction house specializes in Hollywood memorabilia and acquired the prop from the collection of Gary Kurtz, a producer on "Star Wars: A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." It’s the first time the prop has been put on public display.

Ripley’s spokesperson Suzanna Smagala-Potts says the prop appears on screen in "Empire," including a scene where Mark Hamill’s Luke uses the Force to dislodge his frozen lightsaber and makes his escape after partially dismembering a hungry Wampa ice monster.

The original lightsaber hilts, described by Obi Wan Kenobi as “an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age," were crafted out of 1930’s-era Graflex camera flash handles by set designer Roger Christian. In a 2015 interview with CBC Radio, Christian described finding the parts in a London camera shop.

“I brought out an old dusty box that hadn’t been opened for about 10 years,” Christian said. “Out of this box I found these Graflex flash handles. I just took one in my hand and thought, ‘There it is.’”

The Graflex logo can still be seen, etched into the handle on Ripley’s lightsaber.

Lucasfilm and ABC News are part of the same galactic family, owned by parent company Disney.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

How to score the best deals on Free Shipping Friday

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Today is Free Shipping Friday, the annual retail holiday celebrated by nearly 1,000 online shops that offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery before Christmas.

While many online retailers already offer free shipping year-round with a minimum purchase required, on Free Shipping Friday the nearly 1,000 retailers will ship your items for free regardless of how much the total came out to in order to encourage some last-minute holiday shopping.

ABC News' consumer correspondent Becky Worley recommends using the site FreeShippingDay.com to find out what retailers are offering free shipping today, and which ones require special promo codes at checkout in order to access the free shipping.

Retailers offering free shipping today

Here is a list of some of the most prominent retailers offering free shipping, with no minimum purchase, today, according to the site freeshippingday.com:

1. Macy's
2. JCPenney
3. Talbots
4. Old Navy
5. Target
6. Toys "R" Us
7. Kate Spade
8. Banana Republic
9. Asos
10. Levi's

A full list of retailers is available on freeshippingday.com. The roundup above can be used as guidelines and for planning, but Worley recommends always double-checking all the details before making a purchase.

Deadlines in order to guarantee delivery before Christmas

The consumer website BestBlackFriday.com also rounded up a list of the last day you can order from many popular online retailers in order to ensure that your purchase is delivered by Christmas. This roundup is also useful for planning purposes, but be sure to double-check the delivery details of your order before making a purchase. A full list of deadlines can be found on Best Black Friday's website.

Amazon
Dec. 15: This is last day that you can order from Amazon and have your items ship for free -- with a $25 minimum purchase -- and ensure they are delivered before Christmas.
Dec. 18: This is last day that you can order from Amazon and have your items ship with the standard shipping option and still ensure they are delivered before Christmas.
Dec. 22: This is last day you can order with Two-Day shipping and have your items arrive in time for Christmas.
Dec. 23 and 24: Amazon offers same-day or two-hour delivery options in some cities, although the shipping cost may be much higher.

Best Buy
Dec. 19: This marks the last day that you can order large home delivery items and ensure their arrival by Christmas.
Dec. 20: 10:30 a.m. CT on this day marks the last time that you can order most items and ensure their delivery by Christmas.
Dec. 24: If you order your items before noon on this day with same-day delivery you may be able to ensure their arrival before Christmas. In addition, if you order online before 4 p.m. on this day with the in-store pickup option you may also be able to get your items before Christmas.

JCPenney
Dec. 20: This marks the last day that you can order online from the website and have your purchases arrive in time for Christmas.

Toys "R" Us
Dec. 18: If you order online by 11:59 p.m. ET on this day, the toy retailer says they will deliver your purchase in time for Christmas.
Dec. 20: If you order online by 3 p.m. ET on this day with the expedited shipping option your order should arrive in time for Christmas.
Dec. 20: If you order online by 11:59 p.m. ET on this day with the express shipping option, your order should arrive in time for Christmas.
Dec. 24: If you order online by noon ET on Christmas Eve and select the in-store pickup option, you should be able to receive your purchase in time for Christmas.

Walmart
Dec. 13: This marks the last day that you can order from their website and ensure delivery before Christmas with their cheaper, freight, delivery option.
Dec. 19: This marks the last day that you can order from their website and ensure delivery before Christmas with their standard delivery option.
Dec. 21: This marks the last day that you can order from their website and ensure delivery before Christmas with their pricier rush delivery option.
After ordering your merchandise online, Worley also recommends using the app "Slice" to monitor and track your packages after they are shipped.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Dec152017

Top Google searches of 2017: Hurricanes, Matt Lauer and slime

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Google released its lists of trends for the most popular search terms, phrases and questions for the year -- and it turns out a whole lot of people are apparently making slime.

How to make slime, it turns out, was the No. 1 "how" question people were searching. How to buy bitcoin was another common question, while others want to know what DACA and "covfefe" are.

The internet giant unveiled its "Year in Search" alongside a video saying, "This year more than ever, we asked how" with clips of some of the most-searched content.

 As for the top search terms overall for the United States, Google said they were calculated "based on search terms that had a high spike in traffic in 2017 as compared to 2016."

Here's the list of the top 10 searches:

1. Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma hit Florida in mid-September as a Category 4 storm, causing the evacuation of 6.5 million people and a trail of immense destruction that left a number of fatalities in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Before hitting Florida, the catastrophic hurricane struck Cuba as a Category 5 storm and left 90 percent of the structures on Barbuda destroyed.

The cost of the natural disaster could hit multi-billions of dollars in economic impact and losses.

2. Matt Lauer


NBC announced on Nov. 30 they had fired Matt Lauer, one the hosts of the "Today" show, after receiving and investigating an allegation of "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," the network said.

The network later received at least two more complaints related to Lauer, The New York Times reported, citing a person briefed on the matter. ABC News was not able to verify these additional claims and a request for comment from Lauer’s camp and NBC were not returned.

In a statement he released on Nov. 30, he said some of the allegations were "untrue or mischaracterized," but "there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed."

3. Tom Petty

Tom Petty, best known as front man for the band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, died on Oct. 2.

Some of his most well-known hits included “Free Fallin’,” “American Girl” and “I Won’t Back Down.”

Petty, 66, had been rushed to the hospital after going into cardiac arrest, according to his family.

4. Super Bowl

The New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, at this year's Super Bowl in an historic comeback after the Patriots were down 25 points in the third quarter.

Players and pundits have called it the greatest Super Bowl of all-time. The game went into the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

It was Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's fifth Super Bowl win and he was named Most Valuable Player. Lady Gaga headlined the halftime show.

5. Las Vegas shooting

The deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history left 58 dead and more than 520 injured on Oct. 1 at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

The shooter, perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, shot down at the concert.

He was found dead in his hotel room with more than 23 firearms inside.

6. Mayweather vs. McGregor fight


In one of the most anticipated boxing matches of the decade, pro boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. defeated mixed martial artist Conor McGregor on Aug. 26.

McGregor challenged Mayweather to the fight, and Mayweather came out of retirement to accept the challenge.

With a price tag of $99.95, pay-per-view access raked in at least $450 million in revenue in the U.S.

The search "how to watch the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight" was the No. 4 searched "how" question on Google in 2017.

7. Solar eclipse

A rare total solar eclipse was seen in the U.S. on Aug. 21, leaving parts of the country in utter darkness for a few minutes, but a partial eclipse was visible in every state.

The eclipse was particularly rare because it was the first time since June 8, 1918 that the path of totality exclusively crosses the continental U.S. and it was also the first continent-wide eclipse to be visible only from the U.S. since 1776.

Many people purchased or created solar eclipse glasses in order to safely watch the astronomical event.

The search "how to make solar eclipse glasses" was the No. 2 "how" question on Google in 2017, while "how to watch the solar eclipse" was the third.

8. Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, leaving thousands without homes and parts of the state flooded.

Tens of thousands were left with destroyed homes, seeking shelters and rescue from the rising waters, and applying for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Approximately 80 percent of Texans lacked flood insurance, according to data from the Texas Department of Insurance.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said his state will need federal relief money "far in excess" of $125 billion.

9. Aaron Hernandez

Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez was found dead on April 19 after committing suicide in his prison cell.

He was convicted in 2015 for murder and was serving a life sentence.

A week before his suicide, Hernandez was found not guilty in two other killings in Boston in 2012.

His brain was donated to scientists after his death to be tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease known as CTE.

Results of testing showed signs of severe CTE, which is caused by repeated head trauma like concussions.

10. Fidget spinners

This year, kids went crazy over fidget spinners, the 3-inch spinning gadget.

The toy had been around for years but this spring, it created a mania.

Unlike other toys, fidget spinners aren't manufactured by a major company or promoted by commercials. Instead, they were easier found at convenience stores and gas stations.

Some schools banned the toy, citing it as a distraction.

"How to make a fidget spinner" was the No. 8 "how" search for the year, and "what is a fidget spinner?" was the No. 8 most-searched "what" question.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

What Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox could mean for the Marvel Universe

21st Century Fox(NEW YORK) -- The Walt Disney Co. is in the process of acquiring most of 21st Century Fox Inc. for $52.4 billion in stock, Disney announced Thursday.

After the industry-shattering news broke, much of the conversation online and in social media was about what this acquisition could mean for Marvel Studios, which is also owned by Disney.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has intricately assembled a world with a specific set of characters since 2008’s Iron Man, the after credits of which saw Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury teasing Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark about a “larger world” of heroes out there.

But in the past, studios like Sony have owned the rights to some of Marvel's biggest and brightest stars like Spider-Man. Last year, that changed when Marvel made a deal with Sony and brought Spidey into the fold for his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in "Captain America: Civil War."

Earlier this year, Peter Parker was back again in his own film, "Spider-Man: Homecoming," to the tune of $880 million worldwide at the box offices. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 92% Fresh, so fans and critics alike were digging the fact that Tom Holland's Spidey could now fight crime with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, which hadn't been possible before.

Now, enter Fox, which has owned the rights to possibly Marvel's most popular team, the "X-Men," for the past two decades.

In fact, it was "X-Men" in 2000 that really started the genre you see dominating theaters today. The film, starring a relatively unknown Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, alongside Halle Berry and Patrick Stewart grossed almost $300 million worldwide and let studios know that there was an appetite for comic book flicks.

But even with this success and the success of future "X-Men" films, a Wolverine could never team-up with "The Avengers," though the cross-over does happen all the time in the books.

Even Jackman himself has voiced his desire to suit up alongside Downey, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth in a film.

In 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," Chris Evans wasn't even allowed to use the word mutants, which the X-Men are, (he said "enhanced") because of licensing. In next year's "Avengers: Infinity War," the "X-Men" were a big part of that two-decade old comic series that serves as inspiration for the team's battle against the big bad Thanos.

This merger may not affect that movie or even the next one, but it could make way for team-ups that fans have never even imagined on the big screen.

ABC News spoke to Marvel editors Jordan White and Heather Antos on Thursday to get their expert take and see what they are excited to see in the future.

"As a big fan of the Marvel movies, I think Marvel Studios knows the characters so well and does a great job with them," White said. "As much as I've enjoyed some of the Fox films, I think Marvel will do an even better job. I'm very excited to get presumably a new take on the Fantastic Four, even a new take on the X-Men."

Antos pointed out how well the transition of Spider-Man went as he joined the MCU, "having this happen on the tails of the new Spidey movie, just makes me so excited for all of the possibilities to come."

Even Ryan Reynolds, who plays "Deadpool," another Fox star, a tweet of excitement in his usual snarky tone.

"Time to uncork that explosive sexual tension between Deadpool and Mickey Mouse," the actor wrote.

And in the end, FiveThirtyEight's pop culture expert Walt Hickey put it best when he said, "This thing just gives [Marvel] new opportunities to tell stories."

So the question is, what’s next? Will we ever see Hulk and The Thing doing their thing? Will we finally see Deadpool fanboying out for Jackman as Wolverine in the flesh? Only time will tell what those stories will be!

ABC News, Marvel and Lucasfilm are all part of parent company Disney.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

Disney chief Bob Iger signals he won't run for president in 2020

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- It seems President Donald Trump would have one less possible 2020 challenger.

Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said Thursday he is extending his contract with the company through 2021.

The timing would effectively put off any 2020 presidential run, the subject of speculation for some time.

Iger appeared to put that to rest during an appearance on "Good Morning America" Thursday when he announced the planned acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets by Disney, which owns ABC News.

"I'm sticking around until the end of 2021 so you do the math," he said.

Iger's contract had been set to expire in 2019.

"I am going to stay until the end of 2021. You know, I've got one of the greatest jobs in the world; I've enjoyed doing it for 12 years," Iger said, noting the proposed Fox deal "makes it even more exciting and I'm looking forward to the future at Disney."

When asked whether the deal takes a presidential run off the table, Iger said, "I hadn't made any decisions about what my future was going to be. ... I enjoy this job immensely and I'm looking forward to doing it for a few more years."

So Trump appears to be less of a target for now than the likes of Netflix. In light of the proposed 21st Century Fox acquisition, Iger said, Disney "aim[s] to be an able competitor to" that streaming service.

Iger, 66, has fielded questions about his political aspirations for years, but has never given a firm confirmation or denial of specific plans.

In a June 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said that he's "interested in politics... but I'm not exploring a run for governor or senator or anything along those lines."

"A lot of people — a lot — have urged me to seek political office. All kinds of different jobs. Everybody has got a different idea for me, except all roads lead through my wife," he said at the time.

Iger was one of 16 CEOs and business leaders who initially joined the Trump administration's President's Strategic and Policy Forum that was created during the presidential transition, but he resigned from the council in June over Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Dec142017

Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox, after business spinoff, for $52.4B

21st Century Fox(NEW YORK) -- The Walt Disney Co. is acquiring 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion in stock, Disney announced on Thursday morning. Fox will spin off and retain some of its properties, including Fox News, but Disney would own Fox's massive film and TV empires.

"The acquisition of this stellar collection of businesses from 21st Century Fox reflects the increasing consumer demand for a rich diversity of entertainment experiences that are more compelling, accessible and convenient than ever before," Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co., said in a statement announcing the acquisition.

Disney, which owns ABC News, taking ownership of one the country's largest movie studios from the Rupert Murdoch-controlled company is one of the biggest media deals in recent years.

"We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox, and I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry," said Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, in a statement.

The remaining 21st Century Fox assets include Fox News Channel, the Fox broadcast network and the Fox Sports 1 sports channel.

Disney, which is home to family friendly films such as "Frozen" and "Finding Dory," will now also include assets from Fox that target a different demographic, such as FX Networks and National Geographic Channel.

Along with the movie studio and the aforementioned TV channels, Disney will have a majority ownership of Hulu, which airs originally produced series such as "The Handmaid's Tale."

And added to the Disney library will be TV shows such as "The Simpsons" and classic films such as "The Sound of Music."

During an investor's call in November, Iger, who took over Disney's helm in 2005, spoke of the company's long-term growth. "We continue to make significant investments required to drive long-term growth across our entire company," Iger said.

He continued, "No other company in entertainment today is better equipped to meet the challenges of the changing world or better positioned for continued growth thanks to our collection of brands, our strong franchises and our unique ability to leverage IP [intellectual property] across our entire company to maximize value and create new opportunities. We'll continue to invest for the future and take the smart risks required to keep moving forward."

The acquisition of Fox's ownership of Hulu will mesh with Disney's streaming service, slated for a 2019 launch.

During the investor's call, Iger said the streaming service will offer a "rich array" of content from four of Disney's major brands: Disney, Pixar, Star Wars/Lucasfilm and Marvel. Iger also said it will have four or five exclusive feature films per year. There are also original series already in development for the service, including a "Star Wars" live-action series, as well as series based on the "Monsters" film and the "High School Musical" series. The service will also offer thousands of hours of Disney film and TV library product, he added.

But before Disney's as-of-yet unnamed streaming service makes its debut, ESPN's streaming service, ESPN+ will make its debut this spring, Iger announced during the investor's call. ESPN+ will be accessible through a new and fully redesigned app, "which will allow users to access sports scores and highlights, stream our channels on an authenticated basis and subscribe to ESPN+ for additional sports coverage, including thousands of live sporting events," Iger said.

Iger spoke enthusiastically about ESPN+, telling investors, "This one app experience will be a one-of-a-kind product, offering sports fans far more than they can get on any other app, website or channel and immediately propelling ESPN in the new direction."

Iger also spoke of Disney's various acquisitions in recent years, and how they have helped lift the company to new heights.

"The acquisition of Marvel helped drive our studio's performance since 2009," he said, referring to Disney's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. "The movies we release in the Marvel cinematic universe to-date have delivered an average global box office of more than $840 million each."

Igar also spoke about the company's 2006 acquisition of Pixar, the animated studio that was led by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

"As you know our acquisition of Pixar effectively revitalized our entire animation business, which is essential to the health of our company," he said. "Since that acquisition, the average global box office for our animated movies has risen to more than $665 million, and we've captured nine of the 10 Oscars awarded for feature animation."

Lucasfilm, the production company behind "Star Wars," acquired by Disney five years ago, has also been an integral part of the company, Iger said.

"We had big ambitions for the 'Star Wars' franchise when we acquired Lucasfilm five years ago and are already exceeding our expectations," he said. "'The Force Awakens' and 'Rogue One' alone delivered more than $3 billion at the box office revealing the tremendous and enduring appeal of this franchise and establishing a strong foundation for the future."

Iger concluded the call saying, "We remain optimistic about our future in part because quality truly does matter and the quality of our content, our products and our services set Disney apart."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Can digital assistants answer questions about sex?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --   Digital assistants are making life more hands-free -- and, possibly, easier. But can you be hands-off when it comes to talking about “the birds and the bees”?

In the famously cheeky Christmas issue of the BMJ, four researchers in New Zealand put Siri and Google Assistant to the test, comparing the answers that these digital assistants gave to questions regarding sexual health to the answers found using a Google search.

The researchers found that if you are looking for the most relevant expert responses about sexual health, then doing your own Google search is probably your best bet. Google Assistant came in second when it came to producing potentially useful and correct information, and Siri came in last.

The bottom line, according to the study authors, is that there may be a great deal of information is available online and through digital assistants -- but it is important to make sure that this information is coming from “high-quality sites with up-to-date, evidence-based recommendations,” they write.

The findings may become increasingly relevant as more people incorporate digital assistants into their lives. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of American adults currently use digital assistants.

Each researcher asked the same set of 50 sexual health questions based on the U.K. National Health Service’s website and took the best out of three answers. The best answers came from sources endorsed by government and expert medical organizations like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Planned Parenthood and the Mayo Clinic.

Siri seemed to be the biggest prude, the researchers wrote, answering many questions about sex with “I don’t have an opinion on that.” She also misinterpreted “STI” (an abbreviation for sexually transmitted infection) as a stock market code. Google Assistant also had a problem with STIs, providing a website to a popular seaside resort.

The researchers noted that there were multiple factors that go into finding a good answer, like what words are used, how clearly a question is asked and whether the user has an accent -- for them, Siri repeatedly confused “sex” with “six.”

With a majority of the U.S. relying on the internet to find information about health, there could be additional pressure on digital assistants to get health advice right. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, found that responses about mental health, abuse and physical health by digital assistants including Siri and Cortana were inconsistent and incomplete.

Luckily, updates seem to never end in the world of tech. In an interview with Siri this week, she fared much better answering those questions for ABC News than for the researchers. But when asked about her thoughts on sex, she replied: “You’re not supposed to ask your assistant such things.”

ABC News reached out to Apple and Google for comment but did not immediately hear back.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Meet the first tiger cubs ever born at Disney World

Copyright: The Walt Disney Company(ORLANDO) -- Meet Jeda and Anala, the two tiger cubs recently born at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, who made their television debut on Good Morning America on Wednesday.

The endangered Sumatran tiger cubs, born this August, are the first tigers ever born at Animal Kingdom.

"The cubs wrestle with each other constantly and love jumping on plants and logs,” Erin Heavey, an animal care specialist at Animal Kingdom, said in a statement.

She added that the pair have already begun exhibiting their distinct personalities. The name of the male cub, Jeda, means "pause" in Malay, while the female cub's name, Anala, means "fiery" or "sizzling" in Hindi.

"Jeda, in particular, loves ripping the bark off the logs and playing with all the pieces that come off," Heavey said. "Anala is becoming more adept at sneaking and pouncing and loves hiding behind things."

Heavey said Anela loves trying to "surprise attack" her brother or her mother, Sohni.

Sohni has been bonding well with the cubs, and feeds and grooms them throughout the day, according to a statement posted on Disney World's website.

The cubs were bred through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan conservation program, which aims to promote responsible breeding for endangered or threatened species.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Dec122017

'Tech support' scams hit millennials hardest and many don't even realize it

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK)  --  A new study of online “tech support” scams shows that millennial’s – not the elderly – may be hardest hit by the widespread frauds, and their victimization may extend far beyond the initial loss of money.

Scam artists are using the ploy to plant malware in victims’ computers and steal personal and financial information that can be used to commit identity theft later, according to a national study released Monday by Better Business Bureaus in five cities working with the Federal Trade Commission and FBI.

Thousands of Americans have been exposed to the scam, which often appears as a pop-up ad that looks like a legitimate alert about a computer virus.

In other cases, scammers contact people by phone or email, sometimes claiming they are from Microsoft tech support or insisting that the consumer needs to renew a software license.

The FTC and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported getting 41,000 complaints from U.S. consumers losing $21 million in the first nine months of this year.

Experts say that number is probably only a fraction of the real number of victims. The BBB study noted that Microsoft has reported getting about 12,000 complaints per month worldwide about tech support scams.

“The scam is truly unreported,” said Steve Bernas, president of the Chicago BBB.

The scammers ask for payments ranging from about $500 to thousands of dollars to “fix” a supposed problem with the computer.

Often, they will ask the victim to allow them remote access to their computer. Victims have reported spending long periods of time watching the cursor on their screen move as the phony tech says he is fixing the computer; this adds to the consumer’s belief that repairs are actually being made.

Instead, consumer advocates say, the scammer is just pretending to install a fix, or worse, they are installing malware that lets them peer into the victim’s computer files and capture keystrokes that divulge passwords and PINs.

Some victims get hit a second time when the scammers use this information to commit identity theft.

Bernas said many victims don’t even realize they’ve been scammed, because they think they paid a real tech company to fix their computer.

A 2016 Microsoft report showed that consumers aged 25 to 34 were six times more likely to lose money to a tech support scam than consumers who were 66 and over.

“Millennial”s live their life online … they’re most likely to encounter pop-up messages,” said Todd Kossow, Midwest regional director of the FTC.

These tech support scams differ from “ransomware” attacks, in which criminals take control of a system or steal data and demand a ransom to release it. Tech support scams start by fooling the victim into thinking there’s a need to fix their computer, phone or tablet, when in reality nothing is wrong with their device.

If you get a pop-up ad that claims your computer is infected, just shut down your computer without clicking on the ad, Bernas said.

The scams can be quite sophisticated.

Yonah Klem, of suburban Chicago, said she was scammed in September after first getting a notice claiming she had signed up for an online shopping service. She hadn’t, so she replied to the supposed vendor, who told her she had malware on her computer that needed to be cleared. That person referred her to a supposed tech support company, who claimed they could fix the problem for $1.000.

She paid the money and gave the person remote access to her computer.

Later, she and her husband had second thoughts. They asked a friend who was a computer expert, who told them it was a scam.

Klem described the whole process as “slick,” adding, “We’re both smart people and we got snookered.”

The Federal Trade Commission has had some success against the scammers, bringing 17 cases since 2012 and recovering several million dollars in restitution for consumers, Kossow said.

But because the scammers themselves largely operate from overseas – often based in India -- educating consumers is an important line of attack.

The agency has a new web page with information for consumers.

Anyone who gets a pop-up notice, call or email is urged to report it to FTC.gov, IC3.gov and the BBB’s Scam Tracker, even if they didn’t fall for the scam.

The BBB offers this advice:

-- Never purchase software or services from an unsolicited call, email, online ad or bogus website.

-- Don’t give control over your computer to a third party unless you are certain it is a legitimate tech support service.

-- Make sure you have quality, up-to-date anti-virus software.

-- If you get a pop-up alert, call or email that seems suspicious, just ignore it – do not click on anything or call them back.

-- If you think you have been victimized, report the scam to the authorities and have your computer checked by a reputable tech services company for possible malware.

-- Frequently monitor your credit card and bank accounts for any signs of fraud.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.iStock/Thinkstock

Tuesday
Dec122017

CEO of La Colombe coffee company speaks out against new tax bill

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Todd Carmichael is one of the few chief executives in America to publicly condemn Republicans’ plans to slash the corporate tax rate and rewrite the tax code.

Why bash a plan that would be a boon for his shareholders? Carmichael says he’s willing to declare what other executives won’t: the bill may be good for his business, but it’s bad for the country.

Carmichael said he defines his own success by doing right by the people around him. His primary responsibilities as the Chief Executive Officer of La Colombe Coffee Roasters are to scale up his company and make money for his shareholders; he wants to redefine how Americans drink their coffee. He said it wasn’t in his plans to be a voice for political change.

"When events started unfolding the way they did," he said, he realized, "I’m going to have to come out of the boardroom and I’m going to have to use my voice."

Carmichael’s biggest concern over the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” is that it’s giving a large tax break to corporations at a time when they don’t necessarily need it. Drawing on comparisons from the way his grandparents stockpiled goods during The Great Depression, he explains why he believes giving a tax break to corporations now is bad.

"A stimulus package is like a bunker," he said. "It's the soups and crackers and all those things that are in your basement in case something goes wrong. The fact that we're eating that for dinner is dangerous. Because in years we might need it. And it won't be there."

Though he recognizes that it’s his responsibility as a CEO to take any gains from the tax cut and pass them onto his shareholders, Carmichael strongly disagrees with the idea that those gains for investors will eventually trickle down to the American people. He said other CEOs he knows agree.

"CEOs are looking each other and going, ‘What's happening? We didn't ask for this and we know it won't work,'" he said. "And we don't have a choice ultimately either, our shareholders want that money."

It's the long-term effects that concern him most, Carmichael said.

"We realize this is going to damage the economy over time, and it puts us in a very difficult situation," he added.

Carmichael said he didn’t ask for permission from his shareholders to speak out, and that his plan is to "just keep going until someone says something."

He felt compelled to speak out, he said, to help those who want change.

“I've seen this unraveling of a country that I didn't think I lived in," Carmichael said. "I didn't think that this country just favored the rich, and just favored the affluent, or favored the white, or favored the straight. I don't want to live in a country like that. So it's up to me to either move or change it. And I'm not going to move. So I'm going to do what I can to change it."

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