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New Home Sales Up 0.2% in September


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The housing market continues to bounce back.

The Commerce Department reported on Friday that sales of new homes rose 0.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 467,000.

David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, said the numbers are actually better than they appear at first glance.

"August was really high when it was reported in August and that's since been adjusted down, so now we have for the September number, we have the highest number since July 2008," he told ABC News Radio.

Crowe said the market is getting healthier -- albeit at a slow pace.

"We're still at a very good number. It still indicates that we're moving forward in new home sales, although admittedly in a relatively slow pace," he noted.

He said several factors are keeping some potential buyers away.

"It's a whole variety of things. Certainly, mortgage qualification is a big part of it. It's particularly true for younger, first time home buyers who maybe have a ding on their credit, don't have as much down payment," Crowe explained.

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Fire Sale: Why Amazon's Much-Hyped Phone Flopped


Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon's much-hyped Fire phone didn't even create a spark in the smartphone market. Four months after its debut, the device, which featured what Amazon called "breakthrough" technology, is now selling on Amazon for 99 cents with a contract -- placing it at about the same price point as a fast food hamburger.

Where Amazon went wrong was creating a device geared toward drawing in new Amazon shoppers, according to Patrick Moorhead, principal technology analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. He said the smart phone and Amazon were a classic case of a "brand mismatch."

"I think that Amazon was more interested in monetizing its buyers than actually delivering a compelling experience," Moorhead told ABC News.

The Fire phone is equipped with a feature that allows users to identify almost any product -- from a book to a game or a container of kosher salt. It then directs users to Amazon to make purchases.

The 3-D display, ideal for game play, was touted by Amazon as another breakthrough feature of the phone. From Moorhead's perspective, it's one place the company had a chance to shine but executed the technology entirely the wrong way.

"I could imagine on a 10-inch tablet playing some really cool 3-D games, but their display was too small," he said. "It was the wrong platform."

Reviews of the Fire phone, which averages about 2-stars on Amazon, range from "extremely sad and dissatisfied" and "I wanted to love you" to "five stars."

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Turns Out Sunday's the Best Day to Buy Airfare


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Your employer can rest easy knowing that if you're spending work hours shopping for airfare, at least you won't likely get a deal while doing it. At least not compared to if you had taken some time out of your weekend to search.

A study released this week from the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) found that Sunday -- not Tuesday, as is the commonly-held belief -- is the least expensive day to purchase airfare. Saturday is also preferable to Tuesday when it comes to cheaper prices.

And it's not chump change: The average fare paid on a Sunday, the least expensive day, is $71 cheaper than that paid on a Monday, the most expensive day. The average price paid for a domestic flight on a Sunday is $432 compared to $503 on a Monday.

The study examined all airline tickets sold by U.S.-based travel agents and settled by ARC between January 2013 and July 2014 -- nearly 130 million in all. ARC is a technology company providing transaction settlement and data information services. The analysis is based on full ticket price (including fares, taxes and fees) to reflect the amount travelers actually pay for air travel and does not include baggage fees, seat charges or other fees collected by the airlines separate from the original ticket purchase.

Tuesday shoppers can take comfort in the knowledge that that day is still the cheapest of the weekdays to buy airfare.

"Tuesday was considered hot because airlines used to announce their new fare schedules and promotions on a Monday," said Gabriel Shaoolian, digital trends expert and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a company that services the websites of some of the airline industry's major players. "On Tuesday, there was some competitive price-matching as the market adjusted to the latest incentives, so that was seen as the time to jump in."

But Shaoolian points out business travelers, a big chunk of the travel market, aren't generally shopping for airfare on Sundays.

"Seats that haven’t sold earlier in the week to business travel agents are generally put on sale to attract leisure travelers, those who have time on the weekends to go online to all of the travel websites and research fares, stimulated by Sunday newspaper travel sections and, facing another work week, the desire to make a recreation getaway happen. Airlines are wise to this and provide the attractive fare accordingly -- before announcing new fare schemes for the next set of business buyers on Monday," Shoolian said.

Sundays are likely to offer the cheapest tickets for both domestic and international travel. The lowest ticket prices for domestic travel were seen at 57 days prior to departure and 171 days for international trips.

A Texas A&M study released earlier this year also found weekends were the time travelers were most likely to find deals. That study showed ticket prices were 5 percent lower on the weekends than on weekdays.

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How to Find People on Facebook's Pseudo-Anonymous App 'Rooms'


Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Catering to the obscure, Facebook's new pseudo-anonymous app, "Rooms," lets users geek out on niche topics without ever having to reveal their real identities.

Less than 24 hours after the app launched, a slew of new rooms have been created, covering a spectrum of topics that span from "Mormon Living" to "Men's Speedo Lovers."

The chat room and message board hybrid allows like-minded people to create rooms to discuss any topic of interest. A QR code is generated, which the room's creator can distribute to others as an invitation to join the conversation.

While Rooms doesn't have a discovery feature, Josh Miller, product manager for the app, advised users to search Instagram using the hashtag #Rooms to find public invitations for topics that may interest them.

To use the invitation, users must take a screen shot of the QR code by simultaneously pressing the home and power buttons on their iPhones.

Then, they must open the rooms app, choose "use invite," and find the shot on their camera roll to gain access to the room they wish to join.

Once inside, users are treated to a feed of videos, photos and text on the given topic of interest.

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.

Miller 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 on Thursday. "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 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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WOW Air Offers Flights from US to Europe for $99


WOW Air(NEW YORK) -- Could your overseas flight soon cost less than your baggage fees?

Icelandic airline WOW Air announced this week its plan to offer flights from the U.S. to Europe for only $99.

The carrier is taking advantage of the growing sector of budget travelers, catered to by low cost airlines, which generally skimp on traditional amenities in order to pass savings on to customers.

The one-way flights are limited to a few cities at the onset: Boston and Washington, D.C., with transatlantic flights to Iceland, London and Copenhagen, Denmark.

WOW said the deep budget flights could become available as soon as March 2015. Still, many fliers have already secured reservations to fly next year.

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Amazon on the Defensive After Hefty Quarterly Loss


Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon will be on the defensive Friday, as the web giant takes a hit from investors after posting its largest quarterly loss in 14 years.

In pre-market trading, Amazon stock was already down more than 10 percent.

On Thursday, the online retail giant released its third quarter earnings report, which showed a far greater than expected net loss and revenue that did not meet expectations, as well as weak guidance for next quarter’s earnings.

The company has been criticized for many of its expansionist policies, including new products like the Amazon Fire phone, which has generally been seen as an unsuccessful product.

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Airlines Profits Soaring


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The nation's airlines are flying high -- maybe higher than they ever have before.

Several carriers, including American, Alaska, Southwest, and JetBlue Airlines posted record third-quarter profits Thursday. Even United Continental, which hasn't been keeping up with the pack, said they enjoyed an excellent third quarter.

All the airlines expect the good times to continue during the upcoming holiday season, barring setbacks that might include anxiety over Ebola.

As for what accounts for the huge earnings, industry analysts say it has to do with more people flying, higher ticket prices and of course, those extra fees for checked bags and other things that used to be free.

There's one other factor that's putting the airlines in the cockpit seat: lower prices of crude oil, which means cheaper fuel.

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Holiday Shoppers May Be Wary of Compromised Retailers


Target(NEW YORK) -- All signs are pointing to a profitable 2014 holiday season for retailers but an unfortunate sign of the times is that hackers also profit from getting the credit and debit card information of shoppers.

That’s probably not going to be enough to stop Americans from buying gifts this year but as a new CreditCards.com survey points out, those stores that have been compromised might very well see a drop-off in business.

Among the 865 adults surveyed, 45 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” not shop at one of retailers who were victimized by hackers over the past 12 months.

That would of course include Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus, among others.

However, what people say and what they actually do are often two different things and CreditCard.com’s Matt Schulz says that shoppers may just go about their business as usual.

Meanwhile, those expressing the greatest reluctance to shop at breached retailers were people in households earning $30,000 annually while Americans making $75,000 or more were the least likely to be put off by the possibility of having their personal information compromised.

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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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