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Three Ways Your Smartphone Can Help You Get Out of Debt


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thomas and Megan Sneed’s daughter, Nora, is growing fast, but so are their bills.

“We’re like a lot of people. We graduated with college debt, we put our honeymoon on our credit card and then a year after being married, we had a baby,” Thomas said. “We found ourselves in debt, just like that.”

With the holidays around the corner, they had one unique wish: to be free of debt by Christmas.

With $14,000 in debt left to go, the Sneeds said they knew it would take discipline. To cut the biggest bill — housing — Thomas, an IT specialist, and Megan, a nurse, moved back in with their parents.

To help them address the rest of the debt, the “Real Money” team connected the Greenville, South Carolina, couple with Will Parker, another Greenville resident who climbed out of his own $20,000 debt in just nine months.

“I’m just a guy with a smartphone,” he said. “Anybody can do it!”

Parker shared the following tips with the Sneeds to help them on their way to a debt-free Christmas:

  1. Reach for your phone rather than your wallet. Track what you’re spending on groceries, gifts and entertainment. Parker suggested using apps like Simple, WalletUp or Mint to see exactly where your money is going.
  2. Eliminate late fees and higher interest rates. Average overdraft fees are at a record high of $32.74, so set notifications on your phone to warn you when you’re getting close to your limits and deadlines. If you’re late on a payment just once, some banks can hike their interest rates from the average 15 percent to 30 percent. If you make only the minimum payments, it would cost you an extra $18,586 in interest to pay off a $5,000 debt, according to Bankrate.
  3. Be careful about where you get cash. ATM fees have risen 23 percent in the last five years to an average of $4.35 for out-of-network transactions, no matter how little cash you take out. Use locators on your phone to find the nearest “no-fee” ATMs in your area.

Parker said it was all about setting a budget and sticking to it.

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Nasdaq and S&P Have Best Day Since January 2013


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Strong earnings helped the markets soar on Thursday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up 216.58 points, closing at 16,677.90.

Thursday was the best day for the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 since January 2013. The Nasdaq gained 69.94 points, closing at 4,452.79, and the S&P climbed 23.71 points to 1,950.82.

After falling to a 14-year low, more people filed for unemployment last week. The Labor Department says despite the increase of 17,000, applications are still at historically low levels, which suggests hiring is strong.

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Facebook Launches Pseudo-Anonymous App 'Rooms'


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- What happens when a bunch of people gather under the cloak of pseudo-anonymity in a virtual chat room? With the launch of Facebook's new "Rooms" app, the world is about to find out.

The chat room and message board hybrid allows like-minded people to create rooms to discuss niche topics of interest. That could mean everything from nerd culture to that delicious bagel you ate this morning.

While Facebook has a real name policy, Rooms lets users choose any username they want, and their handles can differ for each room they're a member of.

Josh Miller, one of the co-founders of discussion site Branch, which Facebook acquired last year, said Rooms allows people to revel in the sides of themselves that they may not get to show their friends.

"One of the things our team loves most about the internet is its potential to let us be whoever we want to be," he said in a blog post. "This can be liberating, but only if we have places that let us break away from the constraints of our everyday selves. We want the rooms you create to be freeing in this way."

Rooms is available Thursday in the Apple app store for users in the United States and United Kingdom and other English speaking countries, Facebook said.

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How Google's New 'Inbox' Could Change Email Forever


Google(NEW YORK) -- Google is rethinking email with "Inbox," a product that promises to keep users from drowning in an overflowing inbox.

Working as a complement to Gmail, the product is geared toward a mobile audience and is designed to bring peace and order back to cluttered inboxes everywhere.

However, it's not available to everyone just yet. Google sent out its first round of invitations on Wednesday to users who will have the privilege of inviting their friends to download Inbox.

No hookup? No problem. Users can also email inbox@google.com to join the wait list for when more invites become available.

Once you've scored a coveted invite, here's what to expect from Inbox.

Important Information at a Glance: 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.

Easy Organization: Similar emails, such as receipts or bank statements are grouped together, making it easier to find the information you need.

It's Easier to Step Away from Email: Need an email detox? Inbox can take care of that. The app lets users hit snooze for away emails and reminders, allowing you to designate a time or specific location when you'd like them to come back.

Reminders: Never forget a birthday or date ever again. Inbox also makes it incredibly easy by providing relevant phone numbers, maps and addresses, just like a good personal assistant.

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How to Get Away with Identity Theft


Courtesy AARP(NEW YORK) -- There’s no better way to ask how someone’s identity can be stolen than by asking an identity thief.

So that’s exactly what Doug Shadel did. He’s a former fraud investigator and current Senior State Director for AARP in Washington and he has interviewed dozens of convicted identity thieves and scam artists to uncover just what makes them tick and how they go about the business of ripping people off.

Driving around Seattle with "Alice," a convicted ID thief who didn't want her own identity revealed, was an education.

“She knew where all the places where to go...the easiest cars to break into,” Shadel said.

Driving around a parking lot, Alice pointed out the cars she would likely target. “Out-of-state plate, so we are probably going to hit that car because it’s parked over in the corner," she said. "It’s easy to get into without somebody seeing."

The out-of-state license plate signaled to Alice that the driver had probably traveled with lots of personal information.

She also pointed out seemingly unlikely targets, like work vans. “They usually had like full on credit cards to bill companies,” she said.

And cars with backpacks that are sitting out in the open. “It’s just full of goodies. It always is,” she said.

In just a few months Alice and her colleagues stole $900,000, Shadel said, noting that "she had a little group."

"One guy who could make IDs. Another who knew how to swipe all the laptops and put them up in the cloud. It was quite a little posse of identity thieves,” Shadel said.

Identity theft affects more than 16 million Americans each year to the tune of $24.7 billion, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It is the single largest type of property crime.

“What they are trying to do is use your good credit worthiness for themselves,” Shadel said. “Most of the time what they are doing is taking over your existing accounts and using them to buy stuff for themselves and they either fence it or they sell it."

Almost every week news breaks about large companies such as Staples, Home Depot and Saks Fifth Avenue being hacked for their customer information, leaving millions vulnerable to possible identity theft.

But as the tour with Alice showed Shadel, not every successful thief has to resort to high-tech means. Alice said she brazenly and compulsively hit people’s unlocked mailboxes.

“I would walk up to the house and take mail out of mailboxes,” she said. “I’d walk up like I’m selling something or like I was lost, because I don’t look like a criminal.”

But she was in fact incredibly successful at taking over another person’s identity. “At the time I laughed about it because I was her and she couldn't prove she was her,” she said of one of her victims.

That surreal state of affairs is exactly what happened to Amy Krebs. She wasn't one of Alice's victims, but the identity thief who went after her eventually opened up more than 50 accounts using her information.

“Utilities were very popular. We had heat established at an apartment. We had stores where goods were purchased online,” Krebs said. “Phones were very popular for this criminal to get. Really, there is no threshold for where a criminal with your social security number will go.”

Krebs said she doesn't know how her identity was stolen, but police were able to track down the person who did it in a nearby town. That person eventually pleaded guilty to identity theft, but Krebs is still cleaning up the mess.

“I have yet to pull my credit card reports and not see some fraudulent activity on them,” she said.

She’s also frustrated and angered by the effort involved in clearing her own good name and credit history. “You have to prove to them you are who you say you are to a greater extent than the criminal ever had to,” she said.

The AARP maintains the Fraud Watch Network to help anyone learn more about identity theft and other scams and con games that are out there, and how to protect oneself.

“Put a lock on your mail box," Shadel advised. "Secondly, don’t leave anything in your car that could be used to steal your identity. That includes laptops, that includes wallets, purses, ATM receipts.” He also advised people to change passwords frequently and have passcodes for accessing smartphones and laptops.

Shadel said driving around with Alice and hearing her confessions about how she operated made him change his own behavior.

“I make sure that I have online access to every single credit card, every single bank account, and I have an online relationship with the credit bureaus,” he said. “This is another thing we've learned. They will take over and create their own online access to all of those things if you don’t.”

Watch the full story on ABC News' Nightline Thursday night at 12:35 a.m. ET

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What's Different About the New iPad Mini


Apple(NEW YORK) -- The new iPad Mini has arrived.

The device comes equipped with Apple's Touch ID, allowing users to take advantage of the new Apple Pay feature. It also comes with a gold finish option and the brand new iOS 8.1.

Other than that, there's not much different between the $399 device and the older iPad Mini 2, which retails for $100 less.

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Mark Zuckerberg Puts the Rest of Us to Shame by Speaking Fluent Chinese


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(BEIJING) — How do you say "wow" in Chinese?

If you ever need shaming into keeping up with a New Years' resolution, look no further than the example set by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

While many spend hours each day scrolling through Facebook, the 30-year-old billionaire has been busy running his company and learning Mandarin, something he chose as his "personal challenge" in 2010.

Zuckerberg impressed the crowd at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Wednesday when he participated in a 30-minute question-and-answer session entirely in Chinese.

He later posted his Chinese-speaking debut to his Facebook page, drawing raves from some of his 30 million Facebook followers.

"Wow, just wow," one commenter wrote. "Speaking Chinese for an entire Q&A is already beyond mind-blowing. But then cracking jokes in Chinese and getting the whole room to erupt in laughter?? That's seriously taking it to a whole new level!"

While this may be the most public showing of the payoff of his famous personal challenges, Zuckerberg has previously tasked himself with other ambitious goals.

In 2009, he gave his trademark hoodie a break and vowed to wear a tie every day to work.

In 2011, he announced on his Facebook page that "I just killed a pig and a goat," keeping with his goal to only eat meat from animals he personally slaughtered. Zuckerberg said at the time he would appreciate his food more if he learned the process of killing the animal and cooking it.

In 2012, Zuckerberg set a goal to return to coding -- something he hadn't had a chance to have much involvement in as he grew the business of Facebook.

The next year, Zuckerberg made it a point to meet someone new outside Facebook every day -- something he said in interviews turned out to be easier than he expected.

This year, the tech titan has been busy practicing gratitude. He told Business Week his goal for 2014 has been to write one thank you note every day.

Not too shabby for a guy who runs a multi-billion dollar company with more than 1.3 billion daily users.

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Jobless Claims Climb to 283K


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Jobless claims were higher last week, increasing by 17,000, according to the latest figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

For the week ending Oct. 18, the number of people filing for benefits jumped to 283,000. The previous week claims stood at 266,000, revised up from 264,000.

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

The four-week moving average decreased, however, falling by 3,000 to 281,000.

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The Very Very High Price of Traffic in the US


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- You think traffic has gotten worse than it used to be? You're absolutely right, according to a survey by the traffic data company INRIX.

But it's not just time Americans are wasting sitting stuck on the roads, it's money -- a lot of money.

INRIX estimates that the annual and cumulative costs of congestion in the U.S. were a whopping $124 billion in 2013. That's $1,700 per household in wasted time, gas and the higher price of goods because delivery trucks can't arrive at their destinations when they're supposed to.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles alone accounts for 20 percent of lost revenue because of gridlock.

INRIX also predicts things aren't going to get better: the losses for 2030 due to traffic are projected at $186 billion.

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Are Overweight Women Disadvantaged in the Workplace?


Creatas/Thinkstock(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- Overweight women may have a compelling case about being mistreated and discriminated against in the workplace based on a disturbing study out of Vanderbilt Law School.

Study author Jennifer Shinall, assistant professor of law, says that women employees who are viewed as overweight are not as likely to wind up in jobs involving personal interaction with customers.

Another one of Shinall’s findings is that the heavier the woman, especially those who are morbidly obese, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be relegated to jobs that are the most physically demanding.  These types of employment include nursing and childcare.

Furthermore, overweight and obese women will generally earn less than all men or women who care considered normal weight.

In terms of what legal recourse these alleged victims can take, Shinall says rather than the Americans with Disabilities Act, a potential lawsuit could fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

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Why Kids Keep Getting Stuck in Claw Toy Machines


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Like a moth attracted to the flame, kids just can't seem to keep their tiny bodies out of toy claw machines. The latest incident started when 18-month-old Colin Lambert climbed into the game in Maryville, Tennessee, while his grandmother wasn't looking.

The fire department quickly retrieved the toddler from the toy machine at Browns Creek Coin Laundry.

States including Wisconsin have regulated claw machine games as they do gambling activities -- limiting the value of prizes -- but not as safety hazards.

Claw machines are designed to be tantalizing, said Barbara Eldredge, design researcher and writer for creative agency Real Art, which made the world’s biggest claw machine, according to Guinness World Records. It is being re-installed and opens this week at Proto BuildBar in Dayton, Ohio. The claw game is 17-by-8-by-12 feet and costs $5 to play.

"The prizes are so close but they are also just out of reach. The appeal of going inside is like entering a magic land. It’s kid-sized and if the kid can fit, why not?" she said.

Only about a foot away, Colin had been playing with the machine's door, which made a loud sound when it was pushed open, then closed.

"He likes things that go 'bang' and climbing. He’s just at that age," Colin Lambert's grandmother Diane O'Neill said. "I was listening to the 'bang bang.' I personally think he was hitting it with his head then he realized he could get through."

O'Neill said in the seconds that she looked at a message on her phone, the toddler had climbed through the game's door, which she estimates at about 8-by-10 inches. The only thing she saw was his feet through the door, but when she grabbed his feet, he kicked her grasp away.

The laundromat worker didn't have the key to open the machine, so O'Neill called 911. The fire department swiftly removed the boy.

"They literally popped the glass part where the toys were, took him out and gave him a toy," O'Neill said.

Other incidents include the teary 2-year-old in Kentucky rescued from a claw machine, also in a laundromat, in 2012.

In April, a toddler in Nebraska wandered out of his home to a nearby bowling alley and climbed into its claw machine. Both the mother and the bowling alley had called 911. 

Last year, another boy was rescued from a bowling alley claw game, because the machine's key was handy.

In 2010, a Pennsylvania toddler with a pacifier climbed into the toy machine in a mall, to the horror of her mother.

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How Police Say Two Women Almost Got Away With Stealing at Least 6 Houses


iStock/Thinkstock(PRINCE GEORGES COUNTY, Md.) -- When Laverne Green and her husband divorced, she moved out of their Prince Georges County, Maryland, townhouse, but she still stopped by weekly.

In May 2013, Green was shocked to discover that someone had stolen her house and moved strangers in.

When Green arrived at the home, she found that her key didn't work in the door. Green told ABC News' 20/20 that a woman answered the door. "She said that she was renting the property. I'm like, 'How can you rent this property-- this is my house?'"

The renters said they procured the house through broker Shannon Lee. According to Green, Lee said, "'Well, I bought this property through a tax sale.'"

"I asked her, '[Do you] have the deeds and everything to the house?' She said, 'Oh yeah, I've got everything.'"

Police say Lee had actually taken control of her house with forged documents and then rented it out.

"Nobody suspected that someone would actually advertise a property they didn't own and collect rent on it," prosecutor Angela Alsobrooks told 20/20.

Alsobrooks said this type of scam only works if the real homeowner isn't around to notice. Luckily, Green not only visited her house often, but she also was a secretary for the Prince Georges County Police. Instead of calling 911, Green asked co-worker Lt. Charles Duelley for help.

Duelley got a search warrant for Lee's home and discovered a stack of deeds he said were forged for other homes. He also found evidence that 15 to 20 other properties had been targeted.

Police say Lee, along with her alleged partner, Qiana Johnson, gained control of at least six houses and planned to steal 15 to 20 more.

Duelley believes Lee scouted the area for houses that appeared vacant and were pending foreclosure. He said she compiled meticulous house-by-house reports of potential targets, even breaking in to take photos.

Lee then used blank deeds, according to Duelley, adding her name as the new owner, a fake notary seal and a bogus lawyer signature. She then simply walked into the county records department to officially enter that counterfeit into the public record.

Charrise and Michael Stewart answered an advertisement Lee posted when she was looking to rent one house she had taken over. The Stewarts said Lee represented herself as a respected broker, gave them a tour and got them to sign a lease. It seemed legitimate to them, despite some suspicious red flags, they said.

"From the outside you can see the damage done to the locks of the door, as if someone busted in the door, changed the locks on the door," Charles Stewart said. Lee claimed that the scratches were from when she had trouble changing the locks.

The couple also wondered why they were not receiving electric bills from the local utility, Pepco. The Stewarts called the utility, but were told they couldn’t find them in the system as the owners.

Meanwhile, authorities said, Lee and Johnson were collecting rent from the house and other properties they’d stolen. They allegedly even sold one for a pile of cash.

"She had had herself convinced that the paperwork was of good enough quality on the forgeries that she…thought she was in the clear," Duelley said.

Police said that Lee and Johnson kept the bigger properties to live in themselves, including a sprawling five-bedroom colonial house that Donnie and David Small lived in in Cheltenham, Maryland.

The Smalls had been forced to leave their beloved home when Donnie Small’s job was transferred to California. Struggling to carry two homes, they fell behind on the payments. Police said that was when Johnson used a faked deed to move her whole family in.

Donnie Small's former neighbors said Johnson claimed to be family members of the Smalls. But some neighbors became suspicious and called Donnie Small's husband.

"[They said], 'Did you sell the house?'" Donnie Small said. "And he's like, 'No.'"

The Smalls called police, who evicted Johnson's family. But Johnson moved back in hours later, and in an outrageous twist, Johnson sued the Smalls for false eviction.

Lee and Johnson were eventually arrested. Lee pleaded guilty to burglary and forgery. She is facing multiple counts of theft, forgery and burglary. Johnson was charged with multiple counts of theft, burglary and forgery, among other charges.

Donnie Small and Laverne Green had to file expensive eviction proceedings to get their houses back, and the Stewarts spent thousands of dollars when they had to quickly move out and find a new home.

When confronted by 20/20, Lee said, "The truth will come out…I didn't steal any houses." Johnson has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Lee later missed another court hearing, claiming she'd been in the hospital. She gave the judge hospital admissions records to prove it, but even the records were proved to be forged. She was sentenced to six months and may face additional charges as well.

Johnson is currently awaiting trial.

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After Two Days of Gains, Dow Falls Over 100 Points


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After two days of gains, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 100 points on Wednesday.

The Dow lost 153.49 points, closing at 16,461.32.

The Nasdaq went down 36.63 points to 4,382.85, while the S&P 500 dropped 14.17 points, ending the day at 1,927.11.

After reporting one of its worst quarters in years, McDonald's is outlining a plan for what it calls fundamental changes to its business. A big part will include simplifying the menu and removing low-selling products.

Boeing is reporting strong earnings, with profits up 18% for the quarter.

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Feds: Our Bad, Millions More Air Bags Could Be Dangerous


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Federal officials say a previous count of the number of vehicles that could be loaded with defective air bags came up short by more than three million, and the government website drivers could use to see if their individual car is on the list is currently down due to “intermittent network issues.”

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published an urgent plea on its website for more than 4.7 million owners of vehicles with Takata air bags to immediately get the air bags replaced, as the owners had been directed in previous recall notices over the past two years.

Auto safety expert Sean Kane told ABC News that the renewed warning is related to the potential for the air bag’s inflator to explode when deployed, sending “shrapnel” into the face of the car’s occupant -- a phenomenon allegedly linked to gruesome injuries and a small number of deaths.

“This is literally like having an IED [improvised explosive device] in your car,” Kane said.

Late Tuesday, the government revised the number, however, saying actually 7.8 million vehicles have been subject to the air bag recall since 2013.

“The list below corrects the list that accompanied our October 20 advisory, which incorrectly included certain vehicles,” the NHTSA website says, noting that the numbers could change again.

Beyond the list of make and models on the NHTSA website, the federal agency says concerned vehicle owners can contact their manufacturer’s website to search by the vehicle identification number (VIN) to see if the vehicle they drive is one of those under recall. NHTSA has its own VIN lookup website, but as of this report, that function was unavailable due to “intermittent network issues,” according to a posting on the site.

The recall reminder is “especially” urgent for vehicle owners in warm climates like the southern U.S., Hawaii and American island territories. Toyota, a maker of some of the recalled vehicles, said on its website Monday said the “influence of high absolute humidity” in the air bag malfunctions is under investigation.

Earlier this month, Florida woman Hien Tran was killed in a mysterious auto accident that police initially treated like a homicide due to the apparent stab wounds on her neck. Later, however, investigators determined her fatal wounds were “consistent with…exploding airbags,” according to The Orlando Sentinel. If confirmed, auto safety experts say Tran’s death would be the fourth linked to the dangerous defect.

NHTSA opened an investigation into the issue back in June, at which time air bag supplier Takata published a statement on its website saying the company “is committed to the highest standards of safety for our customers -- and their customers.”

“For the past several months, we have been consistently cooperating with NHTSA, and we will continue to do so during the defect investigation that the agency recently opened, but we also stand by the quality of our products,” says the note, which was reposted on Takata’s website earlier this week. “Takata is committed to ensuring the safety and functionality of its airbag inflators, and we strive to avoid any malfunction.”

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What You Need to Know About Health Care Open Enrollment


Steve Hamblin/Fuse/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The stakes are higher for picking your health care insurance this year, whether choosing employer-sponsored plans or health exchange coverage.

An individual must have some kind of coverage or pay the individual mandate penalty. For 2015, this will be $325 per adult in a family and half that much for each child under 18, up to $975 per household.

"Everyone should get some kind of coverage," said Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Here are things you should know about open enrollment:

1. Deadlines

Know your employer's open enrollment period.

Open enrollment for all health care exchanges is shorter for 2015: Nov. 15 to Feb. 15. Individuals may qualify for special enrollment periods beyond this time frame if, for example, they get married, have a baby or move.

2. Employer-sponsored vs. exchange coverage?

Some employees can decline employer-sponsored insurance and instead pursue tax credits on public exchanges. Employer-sponsored insurance must be affordable and offer adequate coverage, said Andrea Riggs, director of communications for GetInsured. If the employee's contribution toward a plan is less than 9.5 percent of the employee's household income, then it is deemed affordable.

An employee with low enough wages may also be eligible for Medicaid, Jost said.

3. Research a plan’s total cost

Don't just focus on the premiums, Riggs said. A few employers, for example, do not cover hospitalization, Jost said. What's the out-of-pocket limit? Does your employer offer a Health Savings Account (HSA), which can roll over and is yours to keep?

4. Vocabulary and mechanics

Healthy people who need less care should be more comfortable paying lower premiums (the amount paid for your health plan by you and/or your employer) with less coverage, Riggs said. This means higher co-pays (fixed amount paid for a service) and higher deductibles (the amount paid out of pocket before an insurer will pay up). People who need more care should opt for richer benefits (lower co-pays, lower deductibles) with higher premiums.

5. Don't forget about providers and drugs

Make sure any doctors and specialists key to you are in a plan's network, that there are enough providers near your home or work and that your prescribed drugs are covered.

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