GAO to look into whether Mar-a-Lago trio inappropriately influenced VA

The Government Accountability Office will investigate whether individuals connected to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida have had inappropriate influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a letter sent to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The GAO’s investigation comes after a ProPublica story in August raised questions about three people with … Continue reading “GAO to look into whether Mar-a-Lago trio inappropriately influenced VA”

The Government Accountability Office will investigate whether individuals connected to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida have had inappropriate influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a letter sent to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The GAO’s investigation comes after a ProPublica story in August raised questions about three people with ties to Mar-a-Lago, Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach-area doctor Bruce Moskowitz and attorney Marc Sherman — all private citizens with no official government roles — and whether they were affecting decisions at the department.Several former Veterans Affairs officials and a current official told CNN in August that an informal council was exerting sweeping influence over the department from the President’s Mar-a-Lago club, corroborating ProPublica’s report, which said the three individuals “prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views.”

    The group of three, led by Perlmutter, was very open about the fact that they had been “anointed by the President and had his full support to influence policy at the VA” despite never being appointed or installed as formal advisers, sources told CNN at the time.CNN reached out to Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman for comment on ProPublica’s report, but they have not yet responded. The three told ProPublica in a statement in August that they “offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis seeking nothing at all in return.” Read More”While we were always willing to share our thoughts, we did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions,” the statement said.Veterans Affairs spokesman Curt Cashour, responding to CNN’s request for comment in August, did not specifically address details about the three men but said in a statement that the department appreciates “hearing from experts both inside and outside VA as we look for better ways to serve our nation’s heroes.””This broad range of input from individuals both inside and outside VA has helped us immensely over the last year and a half — a period that hands down has been VA’s most productive in decades,” the statement said.Following the story, Warren and Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii asked the GAO to investigate the matter. The agency announced in a letter that it plans to do so in several months when it has the staff resources.”GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority,” the GAO wrote in a letter to Warren dated November 19. “At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about five months. As applicable, we will also be in contact with the cognizant Inspector General’s office to ensure that we are not duplicating efforts. If an issue arises during this coordination, we will consult with you regarding its resolution.”It’s not unusual for the GAO, a watchdog congressional agency, to look into issues raised by senators.The trio’s influence at the Department of Veterans Affairs caused “frustration and confusion … for career government employees having to work outside the bounds of what we know is right,” one former department official previously told CNN. “We tried on the government side to keep things appropriate, but senior VA officials were applying pressure to meet these outside demands.”The former Veterans Affairs official noted that in the summer of 2017 some in the organization had been reprimanded for openly discussing Perlmutter’s involvement. Former Secretary David Shulkin was among those who told staff to keep quiet about the fact that the Marvel magnate was so closely involved in the agency under the “auspices of protecting his privacy,” CNN previously reported.In August, the liberal advocacy group VoteVets filed a lawsuit asserting the group violated “federal laws that regulate the ability of private interests to shape federal policy,” which the Veterans Affairs Department sought to dismiss, arguing federal law did not apply to any alleged voluntary and informal advice of the three men.The Veterans Affairs inspector general has declined lawmakers’ requests for an investigation while a private lawsuit on the issue is pending.But the GAO has agreed to take on the investigation, which comes as Democrats plan to turn up the heat on their investigations into the Trump administration with their new House majority in January. Democrats on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have already made it clear that the issue is among those they plan to look into.The committee’s ranking member, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, has been asking for answers about the issue since August. On August 8, he asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to give the committee “any and all communications between VA officials and “Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman as well as travel records to and from Mar-a-Lago.”

      In October, Walz once again sent a letter demanding answers and accusing the VA of stonewalling on the issue. “VA’s refusal to cooperate with this inquiry is absolutely unacceptable,” Walz said. “When the story of VA shadow rulers at Mar-a-Lago first broke, my office immediately reached out to VA requesting information pertaining to the three individuals’ influence over the Department. Since then, we have received nothing from VA except excuses.”

Can this two-year-old startup be Africa’s Paypal – or Stripe?

If you’re making online payments to or from Nigeria, the chances are that a local startup, Paystack is helping you spend your money.

Africa has long has been perceived as one of technology’s final frontiers.Few have felt that perception worse than businesses and professionals who have had to use more traditional methods to make and receive international payments.

    Record-breaking $560m for African tech startups in 2017, says reportIn January 2016, two young techies, Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi came together to solve that problem by launching Paystack, a payments processing company.Just over two years in, the young startup, with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria, could become Africa’s response to Paypal and Stripe.Read More

    Bridging the gap

    When Olubi and Akinlade first approached the idea for Paystack, receiving foreign payments in Nigeria was challenging.”It would take a minimum of 3 weeks for a business to start accepting payments online, from filling paper forms to making up-front payments to going through a complex integration process,” Shola Akinlade, the company’s CEO told CNN.Paystack’s attempt to solve that problem was to provide a website link for secure online payments. “We took it a step further, realizing that most businesses don’t have access to developers and built a simple tool that allows a business [to] create a payment link they can add on their website or share with their customers on social without needing a developer.”Follow CNN Africa on social media

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    Now, according to the startup’s CEO, “businesses can start accepting payments in less than 30 mins.””We started Paystack because we believe that better payment tools are one of the most important things that African businesses need to unlock their explosive potential,” Akinlade says.That aim has helped the company raise over $10 million dollars in funding over the last two years.Paystack says it now processes nearly 15% of all online payments in Africa’s largest economy – Nigeria, with $20 million in transactions paid out to merchants in August 2018.

    Investment potential

    That same month, Paystack announced that it raised $8 million in a round of funding led by Stripe – another payments processing company which processed more than half of all American transactions in 2017.The investment underscores a trend that has seen global technology companies investing into the startup ecosystems in Nigeria and Ghana.”The Paystack founders are highly technical, fanatically customer oriented, and unrelentingly impatient,” said Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, in a statement. “We’re excited to back such people in one of the world’s fastest-growing regions.”Musician Akon is creating a futuristic city and his own cryptocurrency in SenegalAfrica’s immense population holds a huge potential for payment platforms. But according to the World Bank, half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population do not use official financial services.Providing financial services for people without a bank account is Paystack’s next aim.”We’re investing heavily in making available all types of local and regional payment channels beyond card payments to ensure that customers can pay however they feel most comfortable,” Akinlade says.Some of its biggest investors are certain that by exploring offline payment systems like QR codes, Paystack can bring the rest of Africa into global online trade.

      “Our investment in Paystack aligns with the kind of investments we look for — those that will help extend our reach into the global commerce ecosystem as it changes and grows, and that will provide mutually beneficial business opportunities,” said Otto Williams, head for strategic partnerships, fintechs and ventures for Visa in Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA), in a statement. Paystack says it’s looking forward to launching in numerous African countries soon.

Nigerian lecturer in sex-for-grades scandal facing criminal charges

A former university professor caught on tape allegedly demanding sex from a female student is facing criminal charges.

Accounting professor Richard Akindele has been charged with four counts of corruption, including demanding sexual benefits, sexual coercion of a student, misrepresentation of information and evidence tampering, according to court papers seen by CNN.Akindele appeared Monday morning at the Federal High court, Osogbo, southwest Nigeria and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

    He was denied bail and will remain in custody pending further investigation, the court saidHis next hearing is November 27th.Read MoreLecturer demanded sex in return for better grades, Nigerian student saysThe case against Akindele was brought by Nigeria’s Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).They started their investigations after Akindele was sacked for sexual misconduct in June by the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).The sacking came just one month after CNN’s exclusive interview with Master’s student Monica Osagie, who said she secretly taped a phone conversation with Akindele to gather evidence against him.Nigeria’s Senate, in reaction to CNN’s interview, called for a “full-scale investigation” into her allegations and passed a motion to investigate the growing number of cases of sexual harassment in the nation’s universities.The #MeToo stories you haven't heard: Meet the women speaking out in Nigeria

      Osagie’s lawyer Biola-Akiode hailed the decision to charge Akindele. She said it signaled that “cases of sexual harassment will no longer be tolerated in the country.””We thank the Federal Government for not silencing hundreds of women facing sexual harassment. We hope there will be due diligence on this case, and justice will be served,” Biola-Akiode told CNN.

Tanzania’s LGBT community ‘fearing for their lives’

Members of Tanzania’s LGBT community are fearing for their lives, hiding in their homes and even fleeing the country after threats from a powerful politician to round up gay Tanzanians, activists said.

The announcement from the regional governor of Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, has also led to a new travel warning by the US State Department warning US citizens to remove any material on social media that could “run afoul” of Tanzania’s anti-homosexuality laws. “I have closed my office today and we will not be operating for a while,” said James Wandera Ouma, one of the few activists openly campaigning for LGBT rights in the country.

    Another well-known activist, who cannot be named safety reasons, said that gay Tanzanians are in hiding. “We are worried about both those who are known to the community and those who are closeted,” he said.Read MoreThe LGBT community in Tanzania has suffered through community and police harassment before, but last week the regional governor of Dar es Salaam vowed to set up a task force to round up and arrest people suspected of being gay. “I am announcing this to every citizen of Dar es Salaam. If you know any gays, report them to me,” said Paul Makonda in a news conference with local reporters last Monday. The task force was supposed to be launched this Monday. So far it is unclear if the governor’s deadline is being met. Multiple attempts by CNN to reach Makonda were unsuccessful. “It is extremely regrettable that Tanzania has chosen to take such a dangerous path in its handling of an already marginalized group of people,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “The idea of this task force must be immediately abandoned as it only serves to incite hatred among members of the public.”

    Central government not on board

    On Sunday, after intense international pressure, the Tanzanian government tried to distance itself from the controversial governor’s plans.”His views are not the view of the government. The state would like to use this opportunity to assure people that it will continue to respect all organizations that are relating to human rights,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The statement did not criticize the governor’s actions, nor reassure gay Tanzanians of protection.”If the government really means it, then they should stop these actions by Makonda. Otherwise the harassment and fear will just continue,” the LGBT activist said. Ouma said that until they get guarantees of protection, people will just remain in hiding. “I need the government’s assurance that I will not be attacked,” he said. Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s government has tried to distance itself from the regional official’s stance.Tanzania is a deeply conservative country and, unlike in neighboring Kenya, hasn’t seen progress on LGBT rights. On the contrary, under the current administration of John Magufuli, rights groups believe that the situation has gotten worse. Human Rights Watch says the government has shut down LGBT-friendly clinics, prohibited community organizations from doing HIV outreach targeting key populations and arrested activists holding workshops on legal advice. LGBT people face a 30-year jail sentence in Tanzanian for gay male sex, a holdover from colonial-era laws, mirroring severe penalties for same-sex relationships across many African countries. But the prospect of a task force scouring the streets and social media accounts for “evidence” of LGBT Tanzanians has terrified many in the community already dealing with a homophobic community and government.

      But the activists contacted by CNN say they refuse to leave. “I have to help people who are in hiding. The government needs to stop this harassment. We are, after all, all citizens of Tanzania,” said the LGBT activist.

Nearly 80 rescued migrants forced off cargo ship in Libya

Nearly 80 rescued migrants have been forced off a cargo ship after it docked at a Libya port following an eleven-day standoff.

The standoff began on November 10, when dozens of migrants and refugees, who tried to reach Italy on a rubber boat, were rescued and returned to Libya by the Nivin, a cargo ship with a Panamanian flag.Many refused to leave the ship after it docked at the Libyan port city of Misrata.

    Some of them told CNN they would rather die than go back to Libya where they said they had been tortured. They want to be taken to a safe country.Three teenagers on board told CNN they had experienced too much abuse and violence in Libya, and were too scared to go back.Read MoreIn a video taken on the cargo ship and sent to CNN, Tuha, a 16-year-old Eritrean, said he had been in Libya since 2016.”They sold me three times. They punished me. Even I had my brother die in my hands, in Bani Walid. I saw so many things.”How I can go down?” he continued. “If I go down from this boat they will kill me. They can do anything, but I will not go down… This is my decision,” Tuha said in the video.

    Journey in the Mediterranean

    The group of 95 refugees and migrants set out for Italy on a rubber boat on November 6.Two teenagers told CNN they had traveled nearly 200 kilometers across the Mediterranean before they came across the Nivin.The ship’s crew promised to take them to a safe country in Europe, but brought them back to Libya instead.According to them, they could already see the coast of Malta and were out of Libyan waters before they were returned the port in Libya.After they arrived in Misrata, the Libyan authorities repeatedly tried to get the rescued migrants to leave the ship, they said.Humanitarian organizations were kept away from the area as armed Libyans moved in.The last photo sent to CNN, by a teenager on board the ship, appears to show a man carrying a gun while standing on the port.One teenager told CNN by phone that Libyan authorities threatened to burn the cargo ship down after they refused to leave.”We don’t want to go outside until we die here,” Kai Dar, a South Sudanese 18-year-old, told CNN by phone.Dozens of migrants die off Libyan coastOn Tuesday, after the migrants and refugees were reportedly forced off the ship, a man who identified himself as a member of the Libyan coastguard answered one of the phones the teenagers had been using to communicate.”Everything is ok,” he said, though he refused to answer questions about the conditions the rescued migrants were in, or where they had been taken.”I will chuck this phone. For now, I can’t tell you any more.”The man gave another number for CNN to call him on later, but those calls went unanswered.Libya’s Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) did not respond to multiple requests for comment.First they were burned and whipped, then their families were sent the videosLast week, a small group on the Nivin agreed to leave, including a mother and infant child.Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said there were 28 minors on board the ship, and that there were 77 people in total.”For sure there are children on board, and as far as we know the authorities are trying to find a solution for the current situation,” said Unicef Libya spokesperson Mostafa Omar, speaking on Monday.Dar told CNN, some of the officials, who visited the Nivin Monday afternoon threatened to put them in prison in Malta if they refused to leave the ship.Dozens of African migrants rescued in Brazil after 35 days at seaIn a statement released last week, human rights organization Amnesty International said Libyan, European and Panamanian authorities should ensure that those on board weren’t forcibly taken to a Libyan detention center “where they could face torture and other abuse.””It is high time the Libyan authorities put an end to the ruthless policy of unlawfully detaining refugees and migrants. No one should be sent back to Libya to be held in inhumane conditions and face torture and other ill-treatment,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Director.Dar told CNN that several people on board were already injured, after being burnt by oil from the rubber boat, they had initially traveled in.

      He said they were forced to urinate in bottles, because there was no bathroom on the Nivin, though they were grateful international organizations had been delivering food and water to the ship.”We’re so tired, so tired,” Dar said.

Tim Ryan: Trump ‘insulting’ laid-off GM workers with boast about manufacturing jobs

Rep. Tim Ryan said Monday that it’s “insulting” for President Donald Trump to boast about his administration’s effect on manufacturing jobs on the same day that thousands of General Motors employees found out they were losing their jobs.

Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, was responding to comments Trump had made during a late-afternoon campaign rally in Mississippi. The President bragged that his administration had “found the magic wand” for manufacturing in the United States just hours after GM announced it’s closing plants and shedding thousands of US-based workers.”We have a lot of companies moving in,” Trump said, adding that the number of companies making products in the US is “actually going to be increasing.”

    It’s a usual stump speech line for the President, but it didn’t seem to take into account that earlier Monday GM had announced it would slash its workforce and shut production at five North American facilities in Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and Ontario, Canada. Some 8,000 salaried employees and 6,000 hourly workers will either lose their jobs or be reassigned to other plants, industry experts say, and more layoffs are likely coming. Read MoreRyan told Erin Burnett on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that he found Trump’s comments “insulting to the almost 2,000 workers in our factory locally, and almost 15,000 workers in Michigan and Ohio.”

      “He did not lift one finger. Sherrod Brown called him, we sent the President letters to try to get him engaged in helping us figure out what the future of this facility is,” Ryan said. A GM factory in the district Ryan represents is scheduled to close.Ryan added Trump “has no industrial policy” and “no manufacturing policy” for the country.

Newly released filings show Trump company transfers to his charity in 2017

President Donald Trump’s company donated more than half a million dollars to the Donald J. Trump Foundation last year, according to a 2017 tax return made available Monday.

The purpose of $502,400 contribution from the Trump Corp. to the foundation was not disclosed in the filings.The New York state attorney general has accused the foundation in a civil lawsuit of “repeated and willful self-dealing transactions” that violate state and federal charity laws. A judge ruled Friday that the suit, which seeks $2.8 million in restitution and additional penalties, can proceed even with Trump in the White House.

    Marcus Owens, a former director of the nonprofits division at the IRS, said it was impossible to know the purpose of the Trump Corp. donation from the filing, which does not disclose the date of the receipt.”This contribution could be part of the foundation trying to get right with the IRS or state of New York,” said Owens. Read MoreTrump said in 2016 after he won the presidential election that he would dissolve the charity to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. He remains listed as a director alongside his two eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, though his daughter Ivanka, now a White House adviser, resigned her role in January 2017.Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, which tracks nonprofit groups, said the contribution could have helped cover fees or wind-down costs for the foundation, which received no other contributions last year. The foundation listed $1.7 million in remaining assets in the filing. “At the end of the day, we don’t have any indication of how this money will be used,” Borochoff said. The foundation also listed about $271,000 in unspecified “reimbursements” in the filing. Separately, the tax return states that the Trump National Golf Club reimbursed the foundation for a contribution the foundation made in 2012. The foundation donated to a charity that year using funds raised by an auction for a membership at the golf club. The 2017 tax filing, posted online by the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar, states that the foundation intends to dissolve and is seeking approval to distribute its remaining funds to “highly qualified” charities. The Trump Organization, which encompasses Trump’s various business entities, did not respond to a request for comment. In a previous statement, a representative for the Trump Foundation described the New York attorney general’s lawsuit as “politics at its very worst” and said the attorney general has been “holding hostage” the foundation’s remaining assets. The attorney general’s lawsuit argues that a court should supervise the foundation’s dissolution. The foundation gave more than $3 million to various organizations in 2016 and raised more than $2 million from donors such as Ivanka Trump and casino magnate Phil Ruffin. While on the campaign trail, Trump skipped a debate and held a rally to raise money for veterans in January 2016. According to the lawsuit, Trump signed a filing that listed the rally as a fundraiser for the foundation. The New York state attorney general argues that the rally was actually a Trump campaign event. The IRS prohibits charities from participating in political campaigns. The lawsuit adds that the foundation was used to pay $258,000 to settle lawsuits related to Trump properties. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who filed the suit, said Trump wrote a foundation check for $25,000 that was donated to the political committee for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013, though the Trump Organization described the donation as an inadvertent mistake.

      Underwood described the Trump Foundation in June as “little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his business to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.”The Trump Foundation case is being considered by the New York Supreme Court.

Beto O’Rourke leaves door open to 2020 presidential run

Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke is changing his tune about the possibility of running for president in 2020.

Prior to his narrow loss in the Texas US Senate race to Republican Ted Cruz, O’Rourke had repeatedly insisted he would not run for president. Now, he’s leaving the door open.

    He said Monday he will finish his term in the House in January and focus with his wife and children on “being together as a family” until then. “And then Amy and I will think about what we can do next to contribute to the best of our ability to this community,” he said, when asked about a 2020 run by an attendee at a town hall in El Paso that was broadcast live on O’Rourke’s Facebook page.Read MoreHe then turned to his wife and asked, “Was that OK?” Asked by reporters if it was fair to describe his answer as a shift for O’Rourke, who leading up to the midterm elections flatly ruled out the possibility of a presidential run, he said: “Yeah, it is.” “Running for Senate, I was 100% focused on our campaign, winning that race, and then serving the next six years in the United States Senate. That was 100% of our focus,” O’Rourke said. “Now that that is no longer possible, you know, we’re thinking through a number of things. Amy and I made a decision not to rule anything out.”He said that “the best advice that I’ve received from people who have run for and won and run for and lost elections like this is, don’t make any decisions about anything until you’ve had some time to hang with your family and just be human.”Before the midterm elections, O’Rourke had said he would not run for president. “I will not be a candidate for president in 2020,” he told MSNBC the day before the election. “That’s, I think, as definitive as those sentences get.” He also told CBS in an interview aired the Sunday before the election that “win or lose, I’m not running in 2020.””We’ve spent the better part of the last two years not with each other, missing birthdays and anniversaries, and time together. Our family could not survive more of that. We need to be together,” he said.O’Rourke also shot down the possibility of a presidential run in a town hall hosted by CNN in October. “The answer is no,” O’Rourke said at the town hall.

      “Our children are 11, they’re 10, and they’re 7 years old. We’ve told them we’re going to take these almost two years out of our life to run this race, and then we’re devoted and committed to being a family again,” he said.Pressed again, he said, “It’s a definitive no.”

Watch out for these holiday shopping scams

The holidays are the perfect time for shoppers to hunt for a good deal. It’s also a prime opportunity for bad actors to scam consumers.

Hundreds of malicious Black Friday apps and websites will be looking to steal personal data and credit card information this year in the United States and United Kingdom, according to a new report from cybersecurity company RiskIQ. Cybercriminals create fake mobile apps and landing pages with realistic branding, especially around major holidays and events like Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. They want to convince consumers to download bad apps or visit bogus sites and ultimately “phish” for sensitive data.

    A scam circulating on popular messaging platform WhatsApp ahead of Black Friday promises 99%-off discounts on Amazon.com. On Twitter, Amazon’s official help account wrote: “Please don’t share your order/account/personal details in such websites.”Walmart's plan to win the holidays: Faster checkouts and a simpler websiteConsumers are especially vulnerable when shopping on smartphones. Read MoreMobile browsers have a much shorter address field, and consumers may not see the full URL on their phone. This makes it harder to spot a scam.According to marketing firm Criteo, over 40% of all sales in November and December 2017 were made on mobile phones, and the trend is only expected to grow.Steve Ginty, senior product manager at RiskIQ, says to check that the website has a valid “HTTPS” connection with a lock symbol, not “HTTP,” which is vulnerable to attacks. Users should also be careful when downloading apps. Bogus holiday deal apps made by scammers can fool users into typing in their credit card information, while other apps feature malware that can steal personal data or lock a smartphone until the user pays a ransom fee. According to RiskIQ’s recent report, 5.5% out of the 4,324 Black Friday-related apps on global app stores are deemed malicious and unsafe, and 4.6% of Cyber Monday apps are malicious. The firm recommends scrutinizing who developed the app, and only downloading apps from official app stores like Apple and Google. Yair Levy, a cybersecutity and information systems expert at Nova Southeastern University, says to only shop with retailers you trust. “Don’t try to look for offers that are too good to be true. At the end of the day, that’s what they are,” he said. Levy also suggests having a credit card dedicated to online shopping. This makes it easier to track purchases and identify fraudulent activity. Shoppers should be wary of email deals, too. Phishing emails can look similar to those sent by top retailers, and consumers should ignore or delete these emails, no matter how good a deal seems. Cybersecurity company BullGuard says the aim of these fraudsters is to get consumers to click on a link within the email, and enter their personal information.

      Some experts anticipate more scam activity this holiday season than last year.”Every year we see this growing significantly,” said Levy. “Why? Because it becomes more successful. Every year more people shop online.”

Fact-checking Trump’s family separation claims

Pushing back against an explosive “60 Minutes” report about his immigration policies, President Donald Trump revived false claims that downplay his controversial practice of separating immigrant families at the southern border.

The episode of “60 Minutes” highlighted the saga of more than 2,600 children who were separated from their parents after illegally entering the US this year. The report revealed that the policy began earlier than acknowledged and detailed an internal probe at the Department of Homeland Security that found major problems with the plan’s implementation, including that computer systems erased data meant to link children to their parents, complicating efforts to reunite families later on.The centerpiece of Trump’s pushback, which he tweeted Sunday night after the show, is that he “had the exact same policy as the Obama Administration,” regarding family separation. He repeated this on Monday, telling reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, “Obama had a separation policy. We all had the same policy … but people don’t like to talk about that.”

    Trump also suggested former President George W. Bush followed similar practices.Simply put, this isn’t true at all. Trump and former President Barack Obama did not have “the exact same policy.” In some ways, they had opposite policies. The family separation crisis was triggered last spring when Trump tweaked the status quo he inherited from Obama and ramped up strict enforcement of federal immigration laws that were already on the books.Read More”It certainly wasn’t the exact same policy,” said Jessica Bolter, a researcher with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute who has published 200 pages of reports on Trump’s immigration policies.Under past administrations, some border-crossers were occasionally prosecuted, and were thus separated from their families. Children were separated from parents when authorities had concerns for their well-being or could not confirm that the adult was in fact their legal guardian. Prosecution was more common in cases with more severe crimes, like drug-running. The Trump administration told a federal court that more than 2,600 children were separated from their parents during the crisis this summer. Comparable statistics from previous administrations aren’t available because the blanket practice was not in place and separations were more sporadic, according to immigration experts. “There were some instances of parents being separated from their children” in the past, said David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “But no administration has institutionalized the practice of family separation on such a scale, as intentionally and as broadly as the Trump administration attempted over the summer.”The main difference between Trump and Obama, as both experts noted, centers on how they handled immigrants caught near the US-Mexico border. Under Obama, the Justice Department was given broad discretion on who should face criminal charges, and federal prosecutors rarely went after families.But in April, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would prosecute 100% of illegal border-crossers in a policy known as “zero-tolerance.” Adults went to jails and awaited criminal proceedings. Children were sent to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and some were eventually placed in foster care.This specific change “led to the inevitable separation of parents and children,” Bolter said.The internal DHS report mentioned in the “60 Minutes” segment concluded that the agency struggled to accurately maintain complete and reliable data on children that got separated.”This wasn’t a common practice in the past, so records were not well-kept,” Bier said. “That’s the best evidence that we have that this practice was not something in regular occurrence.”In a carefully crafted statement attacking “60 Minutes,” DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman didn’t go as far as Trump did in his tweets. She accurately noted that past administrations separated some families, but never claimed that Trump and Obama followed identical policies.

      “Most significantly, 60 Minutes continued to ignore the reality that at least the last two Administrations had held children separately from illegal alien adults in cases where it was necessary for the welfare of the child or to prosecute a federal crime,” Waldman said.The difference is in the syntax. Waldman is stating the fact that families were separated under Obama and Bush. That’s true. Some families were torn apart. But there was no blanket policy of separation, and the number was significantly lower, according to experts Bolton and Bier.