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How to Vacation for Next to Nothing as a Mystery Shopper

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The Chulews -- Mike, Rebecca and 2-year-old Veronica -- recently went on a summer vacation for practically free. Their gas, flight, hotel and even their meals were about 80 percent off.  That’s because the Chulews of Texas are mystery shoppers.

“If I wasn’t a mystery shopper,” Rebecca Chulew said, “I don’t even know how I would pay full price for these things.”

[Click here to learn about accredited mystery shopping companies.]

The Chulews said being a mystery shopper was like going on a secret spy mission.

Mystery shopping companies hire people to grade everything, from free newspapers for guests and towels laid out for the beach to whether the hair dryer in the bathroom works.

Shoppers then document their findings and opinions on a score sheet.

“We’re always looking for mystery shoppers,” said David Lipton, president of the mystery shopping company Sensors Quality Management. “The most successful mystery shoppers are those who are reliable, responsible. They have a keen eye for detail. They can follow the instructions that we provide.”

When the Chulews recently stayed at a hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas, they noted that the pillows in the lobby were messy and that there was sand on the carpeted steps.

At the end of their stay, though, the Chulews gave the hotel a thumbs-up.

The hotel declined to comment to ABC News.

The Chulews said they’d performed about 150 mystery shops this year, saving them about $5,000 in expenses they would have bought anyway.

“My haircut was a mystery shop,” Mike Chulew said. “My clothes. My shoes. My socks.”

“Once you know you can get a half-priced pair of shoes for doing 20 minutes of paperwork, why not?” Rebecca Chulew said.

“[Mystery shoppers] will save a significant amount off of their airfare, their stay at a hotel, a night out at a restaurant,” Lipton said.

But there are scams out there, he added. Be wary of companies that ask you to pay them money upfront.

Make sure you are dealing with a reputable company. Here’s some advice from the FTC on how to avoid a scam. And there’s a mystery shopper trade group that provides web resources.

Mystery shopping is just one way, though, to save big on a vacation as the summer comes to an end.

Christine Partello of Boston and her fiance saved $75 on their honeymoon this summer by using Yapta. The website tracks the price of your flight and sends a notification if it drops.

Gail Presses of New Orleans saved $600 by booking her hotel through Tingo. It tracks prices and automatically rebooks your room when the price drops.

Rahul Razdan of New Jersey used Zalyn to find a car rental coupon, saving his family $246.

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Young Shoppers Are Hot for Hotter Cars

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Who says millennials are turning their backs on car ownership?

Although they may not be as infatuated with the compact cars from their early years, this generation seems to be increasingly enamored with crossover SUVs, according to Maritz Research, which interviewed 122,000 people for its survey.

For instance, 13.2 percent of millennials in 2008 said they were in the market for a compact car like the Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Elantra. However, that figure fell to just under 10 percent in 2013.

Meanwhile, interest in crossover SUVs such as the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V are catching the eye of millennials, with those considering buying larger vehicles jumping from 6.4 percent to 7.5 percent during the same five-year span.

The reason isn’t hard to figure out. Compared to 2008, many millennials are more settled in jobs and are earning more money.

Automakers should be taking notice as well since this age group now makes up 26 percent of new vehicle sales, surpassing the generation of car buyers preceding it.

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Standard Chartered Bank to Pay $300 Million as Part of Settlement for Inadequate Anti-Money Laundering Compliance

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced new consequences on Tuesday related to Standard Chartered Bank's failure to resolve anti-money laundering compliance problems in connection with a 2012 settlement.

According to an independent compliance monitor, SCB, "failed to detect a large number of potentially high-risk transactions for further review." Many of those transactions originated from the bank's Hong Kong subsidiary or branches within the United Arab Emirates.

SCB had, the NYDFS says, created a rulebook to help its branches and subsidiaries to detect high-risk transactions, which was later determined to have errors and other problems. As such, SCB failed to identify high-risk transactions that required further review.

Under the new NYDFS order, SCB will suspend dollar clearing operations for high-risk retail business clients at SCB Hong Kong and will exit high-risk transactions for small and medium business clients at SCB UAE. The company will also pay a $300 million penalty, cease opening new U.S. Dollar demand deposit accounts, provide a new comprehensive remediation plan, and implement other activities to prevent similar issues from continuing in the future.

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Samsung Agrees to Pay $2.3 Million to Resolve False Claims Allegations

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Samsung Electronics America has agreed to pay $2.3 million to "resolve allegations" against the company.

According to the Department of Justice, Samsung had been accused of causing the submission of false claims for products sold on General Service Administration Multiple Award Schedule contracts. The electronics distributor allegedly provided resellers with false information about where products had been manufactured. That misinformation, the DOJ says, caused those resellers to provide inaccurate information to federal agencies, claiming that products made in countries not covered under the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) of 1979 were made elsewhere.

The Acting Inspector for the General Services Administration, Gen. Robert C. Erickson, said in a statement that it is, "unacceptable to sell unauthorized foreign electronics to the United States." According to the DOJ, resellers believed they were offering electronics made in TAA-designated countries, such as South Korea or Mexico, when many of the products were manufactured in China.

The Trade Agreements Act of 1979 generally requires the U.S. to purchase products made either in the U.S. or in designated countries with which the U.S. has a trade agreement.

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McDonald's, Kraft Foods Making McCafe Coffee Available in Retail Stores in 2015

McDonald's(NEW YORK) -- McDonald's and Kraft Foods Group plan to bring McCafe coffee to retail outlets next year, offering consumers a chance to enjoy Mickey D's coffee at home.

According to a press release, customers will find ground, whole bean and on-demand single cup versions of the McCafe coffees in retail stores in "early 2015." Greg Watson, senior vice president of Menu Innovation for McDonald's U.S. said that the decision was made due to, "huge demand for at home options."

Eight varieties of the McCafe coffee will be made available in roast and ground form, including the premium roast, breakfast blend and French roast, Colombian, and premium roast decaf. Single-cup varieties will include the premium roast, premium roast decaf, and French roast.

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Gains for Wall Street Amid Positive Home Construction Figures

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stocks climbed again on Tuesday, following up Monday's gains with slightly smaller leaps on Tuesday, propelled by strong residential construction figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 16919.59, up 80.85 from Monday's close.

The Nasdaq climbed 19.2, up to 4527.51, while the S&P 500 ended the day at 1981.60, up 9.86.

The Commerce Department's report from July indicated that residential construction was up 15.7 percent from June. Housing permits were awarded at a rate of 7.7 percent higher than July 2013 and 8.1 percent higher than the adjusted rate for June.

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Fantasy Sports Champ Breaks Down Lost Workplace Productivity

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Fantasy football-playing employees may cost businesses more than $13 billion in workplace productivity this year, but a competitive fantasy player who has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from his hobby says people aren't as distracted as they used to be.

Jupinka Jupinka, 49, made it to the championship rounds of the four competitive fantasy football competitions in 2012, loosely winning more than $40,000 through tournaments like the Fantasy Football World Championships.

But the Wall Street trader's strength is in fantasy baseball. He ranks third in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship's (NFBC) career earnings list with $203,900. Jupinka was inducted into the NFBC Hall of Fame in 2011.

As for football, a report released this month estimates that the more than 18.3 million people playing fantasy football during the workday spend at least two hours per week managing teams or reading about fantasy sports while on the job, according to outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Over the typical 15-week fantasy football schedule, that can amount to $13.4 billion in lost productivity, using nonfarm average hourly earnings of $24.45.

Jupinka said he isn't surprised by the report's estimate.

"Everybody is working on the computer and you got your browser up and the temptation to read the latest news is just a click away," he said.

But with the proliferation of fantasy sports apps, distractions at the office actually may have decreased, thanks to improved computing mobility.

"You have all this at your fingertips while you’re commuting, whereas only five or six years only you had to have a computer," he said.

Jupinka, for example, can focus on fantasy sports during his one-hour commute each way between New Jersey and Manhattan.

"What’s incredible is that the daily contest for baseball is very advanced technologically: to add your lineup, modify your lineup, check lineups on the fly. They made it very easy for the person on the go," he said, adding that the ease of fantasy football has also improved.

"What’s great is when you were at the tailgate party at the stadium in the old days, you had your laptop. Now, you have it all on your phone to make guys active and inactive. Thank goodness for all this technology," he said.

During the NFL season, fantasy fans primarily focus on the Sunday contests, then Thursday games, whereas baseball teams compete nearly every day.

"It's almost impossible if you have a full-time job," Jupinka said, referring to the grind of daily-contest fantasy baseball.

Fantasy football rules, on the other hand, have become more accommodating and easier for the average person who works during the day, he said. Certain fantasy football deadlines before Thursday games are at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, "so you have plenty of time," Jupinka said.

"The key are the active-inactive lists that come out about 45 minutes or hour prior to the start of the game. That’s your deterrent and determinant for whether to start a game," he said. "By then you’re already at home."

Jupinka said fantasy players should be shrewd about being sucked into fantasy sports at the office.

"The people who play these high stakes contests have to have the disposable income, and if you need that you have to work for it. You have to be smart. You can’t be on the computer looking at this stuff all day long," he said.

One investment manager in Los Angeles says he checks fantasy football at least twice a day at work.

"It's important to check the free-agent pool and what transactions your opponents are making to adjust one's strategy," said Mac, who declined to use his full name.

Mac said fantasy football doesn't typically affect his productivity, as he checks during his office downtime, but it can be a major distraction for other co-workers who actively research teams and try to find "sleepers," or value players.

"We don't hide it from our superiors as we talk about it in the open from time to time, but we are definitely discouraged from concentrating on things for long periods of time that are not business related," he said, adding that it's a form of team building.

Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm, said fantasy football can teach offices about management (by building teams based on strengths), and it opens up dialogue between two employees who may not have connected otherwise.

"Managers, of course, need to be aware if staff is slacking as a result,” Gimbel said. “If it’s causing employees to miss deadlines, then enforce some boundaries, but switching water-cooler talk from office gossip to fantasy football doesn’t seem like a bad thing.”

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Why Steve Ballmer Quit Microsoft's Board of Directors

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(REDMOND, Wash.) -- The Microsoft Board of Directors just got a lot quieter.

Former CEO Steve Ballmer, known for his excitable screaming, stepped down from the company's board on Tuesday to focus on other endeavors -- like being a billionaire basketball team owner.

"I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off. The fall will be hectic between teaching a new class and the start of the NBA season so my departure from the board is effective immediately," Ballmer wrote in a letter to Satya Nadella, who succeeded him as CEO of the tech giant earlier this year.

It wasn't until his final day as CEO that Ballmer said he began to think about life after Microsoft.

In May, Ballmer snagged the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal that was finalized for $2 billion.

Ballmer made his debut on Monday as the team's owner at the Staples Center, where he high-fived fans, clapped and -- yes -- shouted until he was nearly hoarse.

Even though Ballmer will no longer have a voice on Microsoft's board, he noted in his letter that he is still the largest individual shareholder in the company.

"I expect to continue holding that position for the foreseeable future," he told Nadella.

His successor thanked him for his service and wished him well in his next chapter.

"I am sure that you will bring the same boldness, passion and impact to your new endeavors that you brought to Microsoft," Nadella said.

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Who Gets Your Digital Assets When You Die?

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Grandpa's last will and testament is read, it may include his digital assets -- if he lived in Delaware.

A new law allows Delaware residents to bequeath their digital accounts to their heirs, just as they would their financial and physical assets.

That means everything from digital photos, emails and social networking accounts.

Delaware is the first state to pass the law, which has also been championed by the Uniform Law Commission, a nonprofit organization that provides states with non-partisan legislation. Group officials said they hope other states will also adopt the legislation to make dealing with digital remains a much more seamless process.

"In the modern world, digital assets have largely replaced tangible ones. Documents are stored in electronic files rather than in file cabinets. Photographs are uploaded to websites rather than printed on paper. However, the laws governing fiduciary access to these digital assets are in need of an update," the group said in a statement.

Though many tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, are incorporated in Delaware, the law will apply only to the accounts of residents who live in the state, according to ARS Technica.

Twitter currently allows family members to request that a loved one's account be deactivated, however the company does not hand over the password to the account.

Facebook allows users to request that a decedent's account be turned into a memorial or removed, however for privacy reasons, the social network said it cannot provide anyone with login information.

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Home Depot Profits Jump in Second Quarter

Scott Olson/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- The latest sign of U.S. economic revival comes in the second-quarter earnings report by America’s biggest home improvement chain.

The Home Depot announced on Tuesday net sales of $23.8 billion in the three months ending Aug. 3, a 5.7 percent increase from the same time period in 2013.

Net earnings were also up, jumping to $2.1 billion -- or $1.52 per share -- from $1.8 billion ($1.24 per share) last year.

"In the second quarter, our spring seasonal business rebounded, and we saw strong performance in the core of the store and across all of our geographies," Home Depot CEO Frank Blake said in a statement. "I would like to thank our associates for their hard work and dedication, especially at this time of increased demand."

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"Flappy Bird" Creator Returns with New Game "Swing Copters"

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Flappy Bird addicts finally have their new fix.

Swing Copters, the hotly anticipated follow-up to Flappy Bird, comes a little more than six months after creator Dong Nguyen yanked the game from app stores because he believed it was too addictive and had ruined his "simple life."

It appears even Nguyen couldn't stay away for too long. He confirmed that his new game, which bears some striking similarities to Flappy Bird, will be released for iOS and Android on Thursday.

An exclusive preview of Swing Copters posted to Touch Arcade shows the game utilizes many of the qualities that made Flappy Bird such a phenomenon.

First, there's the familiar looking bug-eyed bird, however this one has a propeller.

One-tap game play is also back. What is different, however, is that instead of swiping right, Swing Copters utilizes upward scrolling, providing a new perspective.

The pipes from Flappy Bird have been become swinging hammers -- and they seem just as maddening to navigate.

Swing Copters will be available for free -- or users can tip Nguyen $0.99 for an ad-free version.

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Orange Juice Sales Plummet to Record Low

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Orange juice sales continue to drop as consumers turn to other drinks for refreshment.

The Wall Street Journal reports sales of OJ in the U.S. dropped to the lowest level on record last month.

According to Nielsen data published by the Florida Department of Citrus, consumers purchased 9.2 percent less orange juice in the four weeks ending Aug. 2, compared with a similar period a year ago.

The 34.96 million gallons of purchased orange juice mark the "lowest level for total sales since the four weeks ended Jan. 19, 2002, the oldest data available," the Journal says.

Sales of sports and energy drinks, meanwhile, have grown considerably.

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Ten Ways Google Has Innovated Since Its IPO Ten Years Ago

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When Google made its initial public offering 10 years ago Tuesday, the company set out on a path that has continually redefined how the world interacts with technology.

Raising $1.2 billion from its from its public debut on Aug. 19, 2004, Google was able to charge forward with an ambitious plan for expansion -- attracting top talent, creating jobs and snapping up other companies, such as YouTube, along the way.

While the search still remains at the heart of the company, Google has used their IPO as a springboard for innovation. Here are 10 Google products that have reshaped the business and how we interact with technology in our daily routines.

1. Self-Driving Car
Google unveiled a prototype of its first self-driving car in May, but they haven't been given the green light on the open road just yet.

The company has been testing autonomous vehicles for years and points out that having a self-driving car could remove the burden of travel for many.

The cars could also allow seniors who might not otherwise be able to drive the chance to enjoy mobility. And drunk driving? Not a problem when your car will drive itself.

The cars have logged more than half a million miles, according to Google.

2. Google Shopping Express
Google delivers search results and email, but the company has also branched out into same-day delivery of physical goods, meaning you never have to leave your house again. (Unless you want to.)

Using Google’s Shopping Express site, users can shop inventory from several big-box stores online and then select a delivery time that works for them. A Google Express delivery person will then bring the order to their doorstep.

The downside? It's currently only available in parts of California and Manhattan.

3. Google Maps
What did we do before Google Maps?

Answer: Get lost using a paper map, argue with significant others and ultimately end up asking a stranger for directions.

Google Maps went live in February 2005. Months later, satellite views and driving directions were integrated. Two years later, Google added traffic data, easing the pain of commuting for everyone.

4. Project Loon
Google believes balloons may solve the problem of Internet access in areas without the infrastructure to connect.

The company unveiled a plan in June 2013 to bring internet access to two-thirds of the world's unconnected people.

"We believe it's possible to create a ring of balloons that fly around the globe on the stratospheric winds and provide Internet access to the Earth below. Balloons present some really hard science problems, but we're excited about the progress so far," the Project Loon website says.

5. Google Glass
What if a cyborg could take your photo without you knowing and look up everything about you without ever having to walk away? It's possible with Glass.

Google's futuristic eyewear overlays digital information into the real world -- and the list of uses seems to increase every week.

6. Chrome
Five years after it was released, Google's Chrome browser boasts 750 million users.

The browser allows users offline access to their Gmail, Calendar and documents, winning fans among a crowd tired of Internet Explorer.

7. Google Street View
It's captured someone's now deceased grandma on her porch and an attempted burglar, among a slew of other bizarre images.  Google Street View debuted within the Google Maps platform in May 2007, allowing users to explore five major U.S. cities at eye level.

Today, users can explore all seven continents from their computer screens.

8. Project Ara
Google wants to make affordable phones a reality.

Google's "Project Ara," an affordable smartphone with swappable and customizable hardware, could shake up the market.

According to Google's "Project Ara" module developer's kit, users will be able to build on to a basic structural framework to customize their phone with different modules to design a phone with the look, capability and price that they want.

As new technology comes to market, users won't have to wait for a new phone and can instead just swap in the modules, empowering users to customize their technology.

9. Android
Google introduced Android, the first open platform for mobile devices, in 2007.

The company and outside developers have continued to innovate and expand the platform's capabilities.

In June, Google unveiled Android Wear smart watches at the annual Google developer’s conference in San Francisco.  Users can simply sync the watch with their Android phones and wear it on their wrists.  Using verbal commands, they can then carry out a variety of tasks, including ordering a pizza, scheduling a car service or sending a text message.

With every interaction, Google said Android Wear better understands the context of what you care about, making every interaction even more seamless.

10. Chromecast
Google made a bid for your TV in July 2013.

Google's Chromecast, which is the size of a ketchup packet, simply plugs into an HDTV, connects to the Internet and then allows users to control what's on the screen with an existing smartphone, tablet or laptop.

This includes content from services including HBO, Netflix, YouTube and more.

The technology allows you to do other things on your phone or tablet -- for instance, reading an email -- while still streaming the video on the TV. And the best part? It retails for around $35.

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Taser Shares Jump with Ferguson Unrest

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, is having a dramatic effect on shares of Taser International Inc.

The Scottsdale, Arizona-based company, best known for its electroshock “stun” guns, has seen its share price jump 19 percent in the past five trading days.

Investors are betting that allegations of heavy-handed police tactics, including the shooting of an unarmed teenager, will lead to a big increase in sales of Taser’s “body cameras” that can be worn by officers while on patrol.

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More than a Third of Americans Haven't Saved for Retirement Yet

iStock/Thinktock(NEW YORK) -- Even if retirement is decades down the road, it's never too early to start saving, according to financial planners.

However, a good portion of Americans haven't put a single dime away for their golden years.

The latest survey attests to that fact. An astounding 36 percent of 1,000 adults in its poll aren't doing anything about retirement plans.

As reported by USA Today, nearly seven in 10 Americans ages 18 to 29 had no retirement savings. While the numbers drop considerably per age group after that, even 14 percent of people 65 and older had no retirement savings.

However, the Bankrate survey says that people who are making long-range plans past their working days have gotten the message that it's better to build a nest egg sooner than later.

For instance, of those in the 30-49 age group, a third began putting away money for retirement in their 20s.

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