Review Category : Top Stories

Walmart Sends Chills Through Money Transfer Business

Walmart(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) — Big changes are coming to the money transfer business. Walmart announced on Thursday that it’s entering the market, leaving competitors shaking in their boots.

Walmart-2-Walmart will be available to customers on April 24. The world’s largest retailer says the money transfer service will allow customers to “transfer money to and from more than 4,000 Walmart stores nationwide for up to 50 percent less than similar offerings on the market.”

Walmart teamed up with Euronet Worldwide’s Ria Money Transfer for the new service. It will have two pricing tiers: customers will pay a fee of $4.50 for transfers up to $50 and $9.50 for transfers up to $900.

Shares of MoneyGram fell nearly 18 percent after the announcement. Western Union shares, meanwhile, are down more than 5 percent.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Prosecutors Seek Arrest Warrant for Ferry Captain

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) — Divers entered the doomed Sewol ferry in waters off South Korea’s coast Friday, hoping to find additional survivors as prosecutors seek an arrest warrant for the ship’s captain and two crew members.

West Maritime Police told ABC News that the captain — identified as Lee Joon-seok, 68 — left the bridge before the vessel sank on Wednesday, leaving the steering and command to the ship’s third mate, someone with just over a year’s worth of experience.

Transcripts of a ship-to-shore exchange and crew member accounts show that the captain delayed the evacuation for half an hour after a South Korean transportation official told the ship it might have to evacuate.

As the ferry tilted before its watery descent, the passengers were told to put on life jackets and stay where they were. Some of them huddled together. That’s how search crews found several bodies on Friday, some of the 28 confirmed dead. The death toll is expected to rise much higher.

Coast Guard officials say 268 of the ferry’s 475 passengers remain missing. Most of the missing — 239 — were students on a class trip from Danwon High School.

The school, located in Ansan, near Seoul, has become a place of grieving. Relatives waited inside the school’s gym as authorities arrived, sharing dreadful updates — another body discovered, another young life cut short.

A vice principal at the school was found dead on Friday, hanging from a pine tree near the gym, authorities told ABC News. He was a passenger on the ship, one of the survivors.

Strong currents and rain hampered Friday’s rescue efforts. Rescue crews pumped compressed oxygen into the ship Friday, in the desperate hope that someone needs it.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Wedding Registry App Lets Couples Add Items from Anywhere

Zola(NEW YORK) — Couples heading to the altar can now add items from multiple stores to one simple registry.

Brides-to-be can use their smartphones to scan the bar codes of products in any store or add links from online retailers with the new app from Zola, which launched Thursday. And users aren’t limited to products — they can also add dance lessons, wine tasting tours, cooking classes or honeymoon funds to their registry.

“We want couples to be able to register for anything they want — products, honeymoon cash, experiences,” Zola founder and CEO Shan-Lyn Ma told ABC News.

More than 10,000 couples have signed up since Zola launched its website in October. The new app, only available on iOS, adds a fun feature called Blender.

“It’s a quick and easy way to browse and add products to their wedding registry,” Ma said. “You swipe right to add and left to dismiss — similar to Tinder.”

The feature pulls products and experiences from multiple vendors, all sourced directly by Ma’s team.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide all the things someone might love to have with their fiancé, to create their lives together,” she said. “Whether that’s stuff for the kitchen or the home or a honeymoon.”

The app is also more interactive than a traditional registry. Couples can create collections to group similar products together and also add comments to let friends and family know why they want a particular item.

Instead of posting a link to Bloomingdale’s or Bed, Bath and Beyond, couples share their Zola link.

“We found the vast majority of couples today have a wedding website of some kind,” Ma said. “So they post the link there.”

When friends or family find a gift they want to purchase, they pay through Zola’s website and the couple gets an alert those funds are in their account.

The couple makes the final purchase.

Ma acknowledged it’s an extra step, but says that way the couple can control when the product gets shipped.

“Couples said this was a big problem,” she said. “It was hard to plan when your gifts would arrive or manage the returns process. We found people were having boxes arrive unexpectedly. They weren’t sure if they wanted to open them, or keep them or return them. We developed a tracker so you can device when and what will be sent to you.”

The app is free and will expand to other mobile platforms within the next few months.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Anti-Semitic Leaflets in Ukraine Raise Suspicions

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The reports circulated like wildfire: fliers surfacing in the eastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk ordering Jews there to register with the local government or face deportation.

U.S. officials quickly condemned the leaflets, with Secretary of State John Kerry mentioning it at the beginning of his remarks in Geneva, Switzerland, after emerging from an eight-hour meeting on the situation in Ukraine.

There is a concerted disinformation campaign going on, with all sides of the conflict trying to paint the other as extreme. But it’s not clear where the leaflets came from and how many were distributed. Still, the reports raised an outcry.

“This is not just intolerable, it’s grotesque. It’s beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engaged in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or ideology or whatever place they crawled out of, there is no place for that,” Kerry said.

The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, added on CNN, “It’s chilling. I was disgusted by these leaflets.”

“Reports of Jews being forced to register by pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine are chilling, outrageous and must be universally condemned,” Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser, tweeted.

The Russian government has previously floated the specter of anti-Semitism in eastern Ukraine and Crimea as one of the reasons why its intervention in the region was necessary. And there have also been isolated incidents of various types of religious intolerance throughout Ukraine.

“I don’t have more details on where the leaflets are coming from, but I know we’re looking into it,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said shortly after Kerry spoke, adding that the United States would take any instance of anti-Semitism in Ukraine seriously even if, as one reporter put it, “it turned out that it’s just some dude running around with a mimeograph machine throwing these leaflets around.”

Representatives of three separate Jewish organizations in Donetsk told ABC News that they didn’t even know whether the flyers existed beyond images that appeared on news sites.

“Just let us live normally, we live normally, we have a normal life,” an exasperated member of one of the Jewish groups said.

Reporters from the Daily Beast visited the room in the government building where Jews were told by the pamphlet to go to register, and found it empty.

Even still, rumors of the leaflets were enough to elicit responses from members of Congress, like Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

“I urge you to do everything possible to ensure that Jewish and other minority communities throughout the country are protected from any form of prejudice,” Lowey wrote in a letter to Kerry.

And the word “Jews” quickly became a trending topic on Twitter.

But even if the flyers do not represent the official policy of what pro-Russian activists now call the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” U.S. government officials and Jewish groups remained vocal in their condemnation of anti-Semitism in any form, organized or otherwise.

“The ADL today condemned the appearance of anti-Semitic fliers in Donetsk, Ukraine, and called on all parties involved in the political conflicts in Ukraine to refrain from ‘cynical and politically manipulative’ exploitation of anti-Semitism,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, in a statement to Mashable.

“We are skeptical about the flier’s authenticity, but the instructions clearly recall the Nazi era and have the effect of intimidating the local Jewish community,” he said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Calif. Hotel World’s First to Crowdfund

Courtesy Cary Brazeman(PALM SPRINGS, Calif.) — Turns out crowdfunding can be used for way more than the creation of a hands-free cookie dunker.

For the first time, a hotel is using crowdfunding to make guests partial owners and, in the process, expedite improvements the property wants to make. Since announcing the crowdfunding platform on Wednesday, the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs has received hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of which will be used to add a nightclub and update the pool area.

The minimum investment is $10,000. But whether a person invests at the rate, or ten times that amount, the VIP benefits of being a partial owner are the same. Hotel investors will have free use of the hotel owner poolside cabana, 25-percent discounts off the best available room rates, free room upgrades and priority and prime seating at the hotel restaurant.

Hotel crowdfunding, said Andy Carpiac, the hotel’s majority owner, is a “winning formula.”

Sophisticated investors are looking for a home away from home, he said. “They come and visit and spend money and the more they visit, the more their investment appreciates. It attracts the exact kind of customers we want.”

He called the crowdfunding concept “cutting edge” and said that’s why it’s the perfect fit for his hotel.

“We’re a destination hotel, an entertainment destination,” he said.

The crowdfunding for the hotel is being handled by Realty Mogul, a real estate crowdfunding company. Jay Samit, executive chairman, said it’s a way for people to pool investments and diversify, plus get access to something that was previously reserved for the “big boys.”

“It’s going to fundamentally change the hospitality industry,” he said. “The [hospitality] business is perfectly suited to [crowdfunding]. “You go to Palm Springs, go to ‘your’ hotel, and you’re spending money that’s going back into your own pocket.”

Samit predicts this is the next trend in hospitality. Since making the announcement on Wednesday, Realty Mogul’s been “flooded” with inbound calls, from “the biggest chains you can think of” to “famous boutique hotels.” He’s fielding calls from hotels in Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles. He said he imagines this working especially well for a place with a loyal following and repeat visitors, like a hotel in a college football town that people tend to visit repeatedly anyway.

“It’s another way to diversify and make money from your desktop.” And from your travel.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Lowe’s Settles EPA Lead Paint Violations by Its Contractors

Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Home improvement giant Lowe’s Companies Inc. has agreed to pay $500,000 after federal investigators found its home renovation contractors in nine states had violated safety standards for lead paint. The retail chain was also unable to provide documentation proving some contractors employed by the company were certified to work with the toxic substance, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said Thursday.

The investigation by the EPA stemmed from tips and complaints from homeowners who had used Lowe’s renovation contractors. In reviews of company records the government found contractors had not used EPA-approved lead-test kits on projects, or lacked proper training to work with the hazardous element known to cause developmental problems in children and kidney and cardiovascular illness in adults.

The EPA also found contractors had failed to properly clean and contain work areas in three homes, although the agency emphasized they had not found any direct cases of bodily harm in the course of their investigation. The punishment sought against Lowe’s was more cautionary, they said. Officials also stated the violations were not company-wide, but isolated to certain brick-and-mortar stores discovered in their investigation.

“This is not to send an alarm signal that people who have had work repairs done should be alarmed about this,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said it sent a clear message to companies to comply with the toxic materials standard.

“Lowe’s is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same,” she said.

The officials pointed homeowners to the EPA website for fact sheets on protective measures and red flags to watch out for when working with lead-based materials.

Lowe’s says they have always sought to comply with the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule standards since they were enacted in 2008, and have “resolved all issues alleged by the EPA.”

“Lowe’s hires thousands of independent, third-party contractors and the EPA identified only a few who failed to meet certain record keeping or work practice requirements regarding lead-based paint,” a Lowe’s spokesperson told ABC News. “There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors.”

Lowe’s declined to provide an estimate on the total number of homes that may have had renovations performed by the violating contractors, or whether the company had sought disciplinary action against them.

The EPA discovered the infractions through review of Lowe’s stores in Alton, Ill.; Kent and Trotwood, Ohio; Bedford, N.H.; Southington, Conn.; South Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, N.Y.; Savannah and Lebanon, Tenn.; Boise, Idaho Falls and Nampa, Idaho; and Muldoon, Alaska.

Thursday’s settlement also mandates the home improvement chain create a new compliance and training program at its more than 1,700 stores in the U.S.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Lowe’s Settles EPA Lead Paint Violations by Its Contractors

Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Home improvement giant Lowe’s Companies Inc. has agreed to pay $500,000 after federal investigators found its home renovation contractors in nine states had violated safety standards for lead paint. The retail chain was also unable to provide documentation proving some contractors employed by the company were certified to work with the toxic substance, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said Thursday.

The investigation by the EPA stemmed from tips and complaints from homeowners who had used Lowe’s renovation contractors. In reviews of company records the government found contractors had not used EPA-approved lead-test kits on projects, or lacked proper training to work with the hazardous element known to cause developmental problems in children and kidney and cardiovascular illness in adults.

The EPA also found contractors had failed to properly clean and contain work areas in three homes, although the agency emphasized they had not found any direct cases of bodily harm in the course of their investigation. The punishment sought against Lowe’s was more cautionary, they said. Officials also stated the violations were not company-wide, but isolated to certain brick-and-mortar stores discovered in their investigation.

“This is not to send an alarm signal that people who have had work repairs done should be alarmed about this,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said it sent a clear message to companies to comply with the toxic materials standard.

“Lowe’s is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same,” she said.

The officials pointed homeowners to the EPA website for fact sheets on protective measures and red flags to watch out for when working with lead-based materials.

Lowe’s says they have always sought to comply with the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule standards since they were enacted in 2008, and have “resolved all issues alleged by the EPA.”

“Lowe’s hires thousands of independent, third-party contractors and the EPA identified only a few who failed to meet certain record keeping or work practice requirements regarding lead-based paint,” a Lowe’s spokesperson told ABC News. “There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors.”

Lowe’s declined to provide an estimate on the total number of homes that may have had renovations performed by the violating contractors, or whether the company had sought disciplinary action against them.

The EPA discovered the infractions through review of Lowe’s stores in Alton, Ill.; Kent and Trotwood, Ohio; Bedford, N.H.; Southington, Conn.; South Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, N.Y.; Savannah and Lebanon, Tenn.; Boise, Idaho Falls and Nampa, Idaho; and Muldoon, Alaska.

Thursday’s settlement also mandates the home improvement chain create a new compliance and training program at its more than 1,700 stores in the U.S.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Stocks End Mixed Ahead of the Holiday Weekend

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Wall Street stocks rolled to a mixed finish to end the short week before a holiday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 16 points at 16,408.54. The Nasdaq Composite finished up 9 points at 4,095.52. The S&P 500 ended the session up nearly 3 points at 1,864.85.

Google, IBM and insurer UnitedHealth were among the biggest losers Thursday, while General Electric and Morgan Stanley were among the session’s winners.

The markets will be closed for Good Friday.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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NATO Commander Offers Evidence of Russian Troops in Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Professional gun handling, well-trained maneuvers, and military-spec arms are among the reasons NATO’s top commander says the uprisings in eastern Ukraine are clearly “being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

In a blog post entitled “Who are the men behind the masks?” the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, offered the most detailed Western evidence to date that, despite Russia’s claims that the unrest there is an organic, local movement, it was instead the work of Russian troops posing as locals that orchestrated the apparently coordinated takeover of government buildings in eastern Ukraine that has plunged the fragile country into chaos.

“The pro-Russian ‘activists’ in eastern Ukraine exhibit tell-tale military training and equipment and work together in a way that is consistent with troops who are part of a long-standing unit, not spontaneously stood up from a local militia,” Breedlove wrote.

He specifically cited how the forces handled their weapons, used tear gas and stun grenades, and even how they man checkpoints as evidence that the troops are well-trained, not a civilian mob.

“The way these forces target government buildings, hit them in coordinated strikes and quickly secure the surrounding area with roadblocks and barricades is similar to what we’ve seen in Crimea. Again, indicative of a professional military force, acting under direction and leadership, not a spontaneous militia,” Breedlove wrote.

His comments confirmed what U.S. officials have privately told ABC News, that a well-oiled team of elite troops appeared to storm the building ahead of the local mob. That team did the heavy lifting, seizing the buildings before melting back into the population and leaving the buildings in control of the pro-Russian crowd.

It’s a textbook example, the officials said, of the military art of deception that Russia calls “maskirovka,” or masking their appearance to blend in with local forces. The Russians have historically been very good at it and are proud of their capabilities. Last year, Russian state-run television news aired a story about the elite teams that train for exactly this kind of cloaked missions abroad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday again vigorously denied Western claims that Russian forces were operating in eastern Ukraine. But he also finally confirmed what had long been suspected and that he had repeatedly denied: that the well-armed forces with no insignia on their uniforms that took control of Crimea last month were in fact Russian troops.

Breedlove suggested that was reason to doubt Putin’s denials about Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine.

In recent days U.S. officials have also circulated unconfirmed photos of forces in Ukraine that appear to show them armed with Russian military-issue weapons. ABC News reporters in Ukraine also spotted similar equipment on the separatist fighters, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers that appeared to be brand new.

Breedlove also cited this as evidence of Russian meddling.

“The weapons and equipment they carry are primarily Russian army issue. This is not the kind of equipment that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers,” he wrote on his blog.

Members of the militias have insisted to journalists for days that they are locals and are now instructed or bankrolled by the Kremlin. Many, they say, are former riot police or army veterans.

Still, U.S. officials point to leaked calls, like one released this week by Ukraine’s security services, known as the SBU, that claims to show evidence of Russia guiding the separatists. The SBU also claimed to have captured several Russians it alleges are agents sent to foment unrest in Ukraine. Those claims have been impossible to verify.

“Any one of the points above taken alone would not be enough to come to a conclusion on this issue, but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear,” Breedlove wrote on his blog.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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‘Deeply Ashamed’ Ferry Captain Among First to Abandon Ship

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) — The captain of a ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing, is under investigation as a possible criminal, and was one of the first people to escape the doomed vessel, Coast Guard officials said.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, left the ferry on a lifeboat 32 minutes after reporting an accident, officials said.

The captain appeared on Korean television Thursday, his face covered by a gray hoodie.

“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” he said, as he was being questioned at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office.

It’s unclear which of his actions could be considered criminal.

About 270 people remain missing, with 25 fatalities confirmed and the death toll expected to rise. Hundreds of Navy and Coast Guard divers are battling murky conditions Thursday, searching for survivors. But as the hours pass, relatives of the missing passengers are losing hope.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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