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FTC Announces Cramming Settlement with T-Mobile


Terroa/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Trade Commission announced on Friday a settlement with T-Mobile for charges that it engaged in "cramming," or the practice of placing unwanted third-party charges on its customers' bills.

T-Mobile will pay at least $90 million in the settlement, plus $18 million in fines and penalties to the attorneys general of all 40 states and the District of Columbia and $4.5 million to the Federal Communications Commission. "Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said Friday, "and I'm pleased that this settlement will put money back in the hands of affected T-Mobile customers."

"Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more," Ramirez added.

The FTC filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile accusing the company of placing millions of dollars of unwanted third-party charges -- such a horoscopes, love tips and celebrity gossip -- on customers' bills. The company, the FTC said, received 35 to 40 percent of every charge placed.

In recent months, the FTC has brought multiple cramming cases in recent months, including a settlement with AT&T and a recently filed case against Sprint.

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Wall Street Continues Climb, Labor Department Notes Positive State Unemployment Data


tarabird/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Coming off of the strongest two-day trading in over a year, Wall Street closed the week on a positive note Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 44.02 to 17822.17.

The Nasdaq climbed 20.91 to 4769.31, while the S&P 500 closed at 2072.05, up 10.82 from its opening price.

On Friday, the Labor Department released data on state unemployment rates for November, noting that 41 states and the District of Columbia saw their unemployment rates decrease from October, while just three states saw increases in unemployment. The largest improvement came in Illinois where the unemployment rate dropped 2.6 points.

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Amazon Fire Phone Gets Major Updates


Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon is refusing to give up on its Fire phone and the users who snapped up the device, despite its lackluster debut over the summer.

Six months after its release, Amazon has rolled out a software update for the phone that brings with it a number of new and smarter features.

Among those are text translation in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. The upgrade also enables the phone's much-hyped Firefly feature to be able to recognize 2,000 famous paintings.

Another new feature is "best shot," which takes three versions of a photo, allowing the user to choose their favorite.

In September, the Fire phone, which featured what Amazon called "breakthrough" technology, was being sold for 99 cents with a contract.

Amazon revealed in its quarterly earnings call in October that it took a charge of $170 million for "inventory evaluation and supplier commitment costs" for the Fire, after it failed to create a spark in the smartphone market.

Critics have said the Fire is less a phone and more a "shopping machine" designed to capture more Amazon customers.

If you're still intrigued by the Fire phone, it's not too late to order one in time for Christmas.

Amazon announced on Friday it will give free two-day shipping on most Amazon devices, including the Fire phone, through Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. ET.

After that, the retailer will provide free one-day shipping on those devices until Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

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Verizon Lets Users Text Message the Gift of Coffee


Verizon(NEW YORK) -- There's nothing worse than being crunched for time while holiday shopping or realizing you forgot someone on your list.

Verizon is aiming to solve its subscribers' gift-giving nightmares by allowing them to give anyone a Starbucks gift card by sending a quick text message. The gift will be added to the subscriber's Verizon bill.

Here's how it works:

Download the Verizon messages app and compose a text message. Next, click the sign and choose the gift icon. From there, users are prompted to choose whether they'd like to send $5, $10 or $25. Choose a background image, enter a festive message and press send.

The recipient will immediately get a text message letting them know they've received a Starbucks credit, along with a bar code that can be used to pay at the store.

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Top Year-End Money Tips for 2014


Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With less than two weeks to go before the end of the year, both Santa and the "tax man" will be checking their "naughty or nice" lists.

To start, remember that you'll get a better sense of where your money is heading if you know where it's been.

"If you’ve gone a little overboard on holiday gifts or eating out, it might be time to revisit your budget," said Holly Perez, Mint.com spokeswoman and consumer spending expert.

Here's how to enter 2015 without a holiday hangover:

1. Develop a debt payoff strategy.

"If you have extra cash in the bank, it’s worth making a large payment toward cutting down you debt. If you can’t pay down a debt you accumulated this year, create a debt payoff plan that will get it down next year," Perez said.

If you discover you can't pay off your unsecured debt in five years or less, you may need to talk with a credit counselor or even a bankruptcy attorney, said Gerri Detweiler, a credit expert with Credit.com.

2. Automate everything.

"The more you can automate, the easier your finances will be in 2015," Perez said. "This is also a good time to review and cancel any automatic subscriptions you aren’t using, such as music streaming services, magazines, newspapers, premium subscriptions, etc."

3. Spend your FSA.

Flexible spending accounts allow employees to set aside a portion of earnings tax-free to pay for qualified expenses, most commonly medical expenses and dependent care.

"So if you have a FSA for qualifying expenses, now is the time to submit any outstanding claims," Perez said. "You can carry over only $500 into 2015, so get those claims in now. This is the perfect excuse to make those doctor appointments you’ve been putting off all year."

4. Review your insurance plans and rates.

Look over your health, life, homeowners, renters and car insurance plans.

"It’s easy to 'set it and forget it,' then end up with the same insurance carrier for years," Perez said.

If you have any changes coming in 2015 that you need to plan for, including getting married, having a baby or buying a home, shop around for some new insurance plans and rates.

5. Tidy your tax tasks.

First, pull out your credit card for tax deductions. Whether it’s a charitable purchase you want to make sure gets counted in 2014, or a business purchase you want made by year end, go online and use your credit card for the transaction, according to Detweiler.

"You’ll have a receipt for this year, but the bill won’t be officially due until next year. And if you get credit card rewards for the purchase, all the better," Detweiler said.

Offset any capital gains by taking losses on positions that are in the red, suggested Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. In addition to the ability to offset capital gains completely, you can also offset up to $3,000 in income with capital losses.

6. Make charitable contributions by Dec. 31.

And be sure to get a receipt, notes McBride.

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Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal Casino Safe -- For Now


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Atlantic City, New Jersey will not witness the shutdown of another of its famed casinos -- at least for now.

Despite failing to negotiate on a $100 million settlement deal to save the floundering boardwalk fixture, billionaire investor Carl Icahn assured Taj Mahal employees on Thursday that they could keep the lights on, as he committed a $20 million investment to keep the casino operational throughout its bankruptcy proceedings.

The Taj Mahal casino was slated to shut down at 6 a.m. EST on Saturday.

In an open letter to Trump Entertainment Resorts CEO Bob Griffin, Icahn proclaimed that he took “great pride in [his] ability to successfully rebuild failing businesses,” while subsequently calling the casino operator “one of the most distressed companies I have ever come across in my 50 years of investing.”

Ultimately, while a wider deal could not be reached to save the casino, Icahn committed in his letter to work with the union and the state-local government on a new deal, but made no assertions that such a deal was formally in the works.

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Why Some Celebrities Lost Millions of Instagram Followers


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Call it the great Instagram purge of 2014.

Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian, both celebrities who are active on the site, were among the A-listers who lost millions of Instagram followers, but by no fault of their own.

Chances are you may have even lost a few followers as well.

Instagram said last week it was in the process of fixing a glitch that counts fake or inactive accounts in a user's follower/following count.

The problem is most pervasive for public accounts where users do not have to approve their followers.

"As we remove these accounts, some people may notice a decrease in their follower/following counts," Instagram said on its website.

The photo sharing service, which is owned by Facebook, began fixing the issue in April and said they expect it to be completed by the end of this month.

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Sony Suspends Studio Tours


AFP/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) — Thanks to the Sony hack attack, tours of the studio have been suspended.

In the wake of the hack, Sony says tours are suspended indefinitely, meaning tourists in Southern California this holiday season are out of luck.

Sony won't officially say the hack is the reason for the decision, but last year at this time you could check out the lot. After the holidays, the studio will re-evaluate when to start up the tours again.

The hack attack resulted in the leak of Sony films, personal emails and other information.

Sony on Wednesday cancelled the Christmas Day release date of its Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview -- which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- in light of threats made by hackers against theaters planning to show the film. A number of theater chains pulled the film from its holiday schedule before Sony made its announcement.

Oddly, Sony Pictures Entertainment's YouTube page on Thursday posted an Interview promotional clip that still touts a Christmas Day release. It's titled, "In Franco & Rogen We Trust." Still, the studio has removed billboards of the movie in various cities.

A White House spokesperson says there is an ongoing investigation into the hack, but he stopped short of pointing the finger at North Korea.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday, "There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor."


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Uber to Implement New Policies with Eye on Safety


QUIQUE GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a blog post on Thursday, ride-sharing company Uber announced that it would implement new policies in an attempt to increase safety.

In the post, titled "Our Commitment to Safety," Uber says it will implement technology in ways that will "ensure the safety of riders and drivers." The company mentions plants to research and develop "biometrics and voice verification" to enhance driver screening. They also hope to give riders the ability to communicate both with Uber and with their loved ones in the case of an emergency.

Uber also says it will explore new methods of screening drivers, including the use of scientific analysis and technology. Similar methods, the company says, are being undertaken in India, where earlier this month a woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver.

Tim Collins, a former executive at Amazon, will join the company to lead their Global Support department, the company announced. The goal of that department will be to continue to evolve customer service and build Safety Incident Response teams around the world.

Finally, the company "will be working with partners that have deep expertise in issues like women's safety, conflict resolution, and road safety" and incorporate their recommendations into the Uber plan.

In addition to the India case, in November a New York woman claimed she was harassed by a driver for canceling a ride.

Uber also faces a lawsuit filed by prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles alleging the company is breaking rules and made false and misleading statements about background checks conducted on drivers.

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A Look at the Best Apps of 2014


Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — What makes an app great? Something that makes our lives easier or allows us to stay connected in innovative new ways.

The year 2014 was a great year for apps. Here are a few that stood out from the pack:

Hyperlapse

Instagram's spin-off app allows users to take amazing time-lapse videos that look worthy of being on the big screen. What would have required expensive equipment can now be achieved with an app.

Swarm

Splitting the atom paid off for Foursquare, which spun off its social component into a separate app called Swarm, which allows users to share their location with friends and make plans.

Foursquare was transformed into a turbocharged app for discovering and exploring new places, whether by name, location, a friend's recommendation or a user's tastes.

Microsoft Goes Mobile

Productivity got even easier in 2014 when Microsoft released its suite of Office apps for free to users on iOS and Android, making it easier to create and edit documents and presentations while on the go.

Facebook Groups


It's been a year full of spin-off apps for Facebook, but Groups is the one that stood out above the rest.

Groups is designed to be a complementary experience for the most frequent users of the service and people who want another avenue for engagement.

In a matter of just a few taps, users can create new groups, post to existing ones and discover new communities to join.

"The Tinder of"

Forget a match made in heaven. How about a match made with a mutual right swipe?

Following on the success of Tinder, swipe right/left apps are having quite a year. Among them are Strut, which is like Tinder for shopping, and Jobr, which matches job seekers and recruiters.

Google Inbox

Goodbye, clutter!

"Inbox," a super-powered app for Gmail users that provides organization and context to existing emails, began rolling out in October on an invitation-only basis.

Inbox is so smart that it will even add real-time information from the Internet to your emails, such as letting you know if your flight is delayed.

Dumb Ways to Die 2

What started in 2012 public service announcement for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia, has turned into two wickedly successful games.

A follow-up to last year's "Dumb Ways to Die" game was released this year -- and users can't get enough of the simple and addictive game that effortlessly fills the void left by Flappy Bird.

RIP Flappy Bird


Let's take a moment of silence for "Flappy Bird."

The enormously addictive game that has been downloaded millions of times was pulled from app stores in February after creator Dong Nguyen said the game's stunning success had upended his "simple" life.

Nguyen returned in August with a follow-up, Swing Copters, that left many gamers still missing their Flappy Bird fix.

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Consumer Study Reveals Gift-Giving Gaffes


Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Since this is the season of giving, Consumer Reports recently conducted a survey and discovered that the most often committed blunder when it comes to the exchanging of gifts is leaving the price tag on an item. Eighteen percent of respondents admitted doing so.

Five percent regifted an item to the person who gave it to them, and another five percent put the wrong name on a package. Three percent committed the seasonal faux pas of giving too many people who know one another the same present.

Some respondents admitted they have been caught giving people defective or discontinued products, expired foods, and luxury-brand knockoffs.

The survey also found that three-quarters of respondents said they would rather receive a practical present than a luxury splurge. And if they had the choice of getting cash or a gift card, 60 percent said they would take the cold cash.

According to the survey, the number-one worry among people shopping this holiday season is not having enough money to cover expenses. Not enough time to buy gifts was a distant second.

When it comes to gifts this season, 57 percent say they’re buying clothes, shoes, and fashion accessories for people.  Fifty-one percent are planning to give a gift card.

Here’s a ranking of the items Americans plan to give this holiday season:

  • Clothing, shoes, fashion accessories - 57 percent
  • Gift cards - 51 percent
  • Toys - 44 percent
  • Cash or check - 30 percent
  • Books - 27 percent
  • Food or wine - 25 percent
  • Jewelry - 20 percent
  • Electronics accessories (headphones, cases) - 19 percent
  • DVDs or Blu-ray discs - 19 percent
  • Video games - 18 percent
  • Personal electronics (smartphone, tablet, ebook) - 16 percent
  • Pet toys - 15 percent
  • Major electronics (TV, computer, video game system) - 12 percent
  • Home furnishings/décor items - 12 percent
  • Small appliances (coffeemaker, toaster) - 10 percent

The online survey of 1,500 adults was conducted in early December 2014 by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

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Nicki Minaj Becomes the Face of Roberto Cavalli


ABC/Lou Rocco(LOS ANGELES) -- Nicki Minaj has landed a new endorsement. The rapper has become the new face of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli's spring/summer 2015 advertising campaign.

In tribal-inspired images shot by photographer Francesco Carrozzini, Minaj exudes the "strong sensuality" that Cavalli was seeking for his campaign.

"I chose Nicki Minaj because she embodies the exuberant and modern femininity of the Cavalli woman. In recent years we have become accustomed to women castigated in clothes that hide their body shapes," Cavalli said in a statement. "With this campaign, I wanted to send a strong countertrend message. I wanted a sensual woman who is aware of her body -- who is not afraid to show her curves. Instead, she makes them her strength."

The rapper expressed her gratitude on Instagram. "I am so honored to be the face of the new #RobertoCavalliSS15 campaign. #NickiForCavalli," she wrote.

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50 Cent Inks $78 Million Underwear Deal


Charles Sykes/Bravo(NEW YORK) -- 50 Cent says he has signed a $78 million deal with Frigo Revolution Wear to promote a brand of upmarket men's underwear.

The rapper announced the news via Instagram earlier this week posting a picture of himself with a caption that read, "I just did a deal for $78 million for underwear. What did you [expletive] do today?"

He followed up with an image of himself sitting on his kitchen counter, eating toast with a stacks of cash on his plate. "For the life of me I can't figure out why someone wouldn't like me. All I'm doing is minding my business," he wrote.

During an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, the mogul explained more about the deal.

"It’s $100 at Neiman Marcus. These $100 underwear were actually hand-created and actually hand-stitched," 50 Cent said. "They have a technology in ‘em where you can put your man apples."

The multi-million dollar deal is not the rapper's first big dollar non-musical business move -- he reportedly earned approximately $100 million from the 2007 sale of his stake in VitaminWater.

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Takata Takes Out Open Letter, Won't Expand Recall


bizoo_n/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Takata Corporation placed an open letter in U.S. and German newspapers on Thursday, defending its products and explaining the steps it will take to replace the faulty air bags while declining to expand some recalls nationwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had urged the company to expand its recall from only high-humidity regions to a full nationwide recall. The company, however, did not say that it would do so.

Instead, Takata says it is working to "increase the production capacity for replacement airbags to support all safety campaigns or further recalls announced by the automakers." Additionally, it will continue "working with our customers and other airbag producers to produce more replacement units" and "exploring whether other producers' current airbags can be used in replacement kits."

Finally, Takata said, it will work with the NHTSA and automakers to solve the problem expediently.

That letter was published in papers including The Detroit News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Detroit Free Press, among others.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman on Thursday announced that Ford has sent notice that they will comply with the request for an expanded recall of all vehicles in the U.S. containing the problematic front driver's side air bags. Ford joins Mazda and Honda as the three automakers to comply with NHTSA's request thus far. Chrysler and BMW, as well as Takata, "have failed to take the same action and, if necessary, we are prepared to force them to do so in the interest of public safety."

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Thursday Close Marks Strongest Two-Day Run Since 2013 for Wall Street


tarabird/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street recorded back-to-back days of gains, with the major indices rebounding somewhat after a rough beginning of the month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 421.28 to a close of 17,778.15.

The Nasdaq jumped 104.09 to 4,748.40, while the S&P 500 closed at 2,061.23, up 48.34.

After Wednesday's strong gains, Thursday's finish marked the strongest two-day run for the markets since January 2013. The Dow posted consecutive sessions with 200-point gains or better for the ninth time ever, and the first time since December 2008.

Initial unemployment claims last week were down 4,000 from the previous week, the Department of Labor said Thursday. The four-week moving average was down 750.

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