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Megan Schott(NEW YORK) --  Many use the beloved holiday tradition of dressing their kids up as an Elf on the Shelf just for laughs. But one Nashville, Indiana, mom is dressing her son up to raise money to buy toys for kids in need.

Megan Schott started dressing up her 18-month-old son Forest as an Elf on the Shelf last year.

"It was a lot," the mother of one recalled to ABC News.

Schott, 30, noted that she takes anywhere between 80 to 100 photos just to get a single silly shot of her son as an Elf on the Shelf. The process usually takes an hour. But it became so taxing, she didn't want to do it again this year.

"But everyone kept asking, 'Hey! Are we going to see Forest as an Elf on the Shelf?' So I said, 'Let's do a fundraiser out of it,'" she explained. "In order for me to post a nightly picture of Forest, someone would have to donate in the past 24 hours. It's kind of like a pay-per-view."

Schott had an initial goal of $500. But she was blown away by the response, meeting that goal in a matter of days. So she bumped up her goal to $1,000, but she blew past that goal too. She's now raised more than $2,000, which she'll split and donate to the Salvation Army and the Columbus Fireman's Cheer Fund.

Cheer Fund co-chairman Jarrad Mullis told ABC News that the Schott's donations will help the approximately 1,300 kids they serve each holiday season.

A spokesperson for the fund added in a statement, "Having the community be so involved like Forest and his family is what makes the Cheer Fund succeed each year. Without the generosity of volunteers and donations, it wouldn't be possible. Forest's donation will go toward purchasing new toys, bikes and stuffed animals for the over 1,200 children we will help this year."

For Schott, who works in administration at an automobile engine company, she just wants to teach her son how to live a great life.

"I really want to teach my son to be a caring and compassionate person and to be there for others," she said. "When you promote compassion for others, the others will show their compassion too. That’s what our community has done."

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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- A top cyber security firm says it has identified a previously unknown group of Russian-speaking hackers who have allegedly stolen at least $10 million from U.S. and Russian banks over the past year and a half.

The group, named the "The Money Takers" after a software tool they use, allegedly targeted banks across the United States, breaking into at least 15 lenders in Utah, New York and California, and also stole at least $3 million from Russian banks, according to a report from the Moscow-based cyber security firm IB-Group obtained by ABC News.

The group also stole materials indicating it may be preparing to mount fresh attacks on institutions in Latin America, the report said, and could be trying to breach the Swift international banking messaging system that carries a huge number of the world's financial transactions.

Beginning in May 2016, the group mostly targeted card payment systems belonging to small community banks in the U.S., before then striking a transfer system used between Russian banks, IB-Group said. The hackers focused on small U.S. banks with fewer resources to put into cyber defenses, according to the report, succeeding in stealing an average of $500,000 from each.

Having broken into the banks' card payments systems, the hackers would open accounts and remove withdrawal limits on legitimate cards, according to details in the report. So-called 'mules'-- criminals with the cards -- would then go to an ATM and take out money, IB-Group said.

In a statement, First Data said that a number of small financial institutions operating on the STAR network had had their credentials breached for administering debit cards earlier in 2016, leading First Data to implement new mandatory security controls. It said the STAR network was never itself breached.

The Money Takers also attacked the servers of Russia’s AWS CBR interbank transfer system -- a Russian system similar to Swift linked to Russia's Central Bank -- according to IB-group. The criminals succeeded in breaking into an unnamed Russian bank by first gaining access to the home computer of the bank's system administrator, according to the cybersecurity researchers, IB-Group says. They then took control of the bank's AWS CBR system to make payments to themselves. IB Group named the hackers after the tool used in this attack, MoneyTaker V.5.

The scheme allowed the hackers to steal about $1.3 million through attacks in Russia. This autumn, the ring tried again to compromise the same bank transfer system, but were thwarted from stealing any money.

Russia’s government hacking programs, as well as the suspected collaboration between the country’s intelligence services and its cyber criminals, have attracted intense attention since allegations that Moscow used cyber-attacks to try to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russian hackers allegedly used popular antivirus software to steal NSA secrets

Russia has also suffered an increasing amount of serious cyber-attacks, most recently with the "Bad Rabbit" ransomware virus that hit Russia and Ukraine last month, at one point crippling Russia's largest independent newswire, Interfax, that also carries financial news.

IB-Group, which says it has one of the largest forensics computer laboratories in eastern Europe, said that the Money Takers also reflected a broader trend of cyber criminals increasingly targeting banks instead of their clients, as improved security makes fraud against individual customers less profitable.

"What we see in recent years is for targeted attack groups to actually target the bank itself, rather than the client of the bank," Nick Palmer, director of International Sales at IB-Group told ABC News in an email. "As tools to defend against common malware and other types of fraud which target banking customers get better, the return on investment becomes lower."

Criminals are looking more often for larger pay-off from one-off hits.

Palmer's colleague, Tim Bobak, from IB-Group's threat intelligence outreach unit, added, "Its easier to steal 5 million once than 1,000 [dollars], 5,000 times."

The Money Takers used unusually sophisticated malware to conceal their attacks, according to IB-Group. The ring employed so-called file less malware that exists only on a computer’s temporary memory that is deleted when it reboots, making it hard to detect. The hackers also further hid their break-ins with malware that generated encryption certificates from well-known brand names, such as Bank of America and Yahoo.

So far, IB-Group said it had not found any indication that the Money Takers had succeeded in breaking into SWIFT, but warned that it expected the group would likely try to compromise it at some point.

While carrying out their attacks, the ring sought out internal documents within the banks’ systems, including those relating to the SWIFT system, the IB-Group report said. In particular, the hackers stole documents on a product used in money transfers, called FedLink, that has 200 customers in Latin America, IB-Group noted.

"We assume that banks in Latin America may become the next target of this group," the report read.

The extent of the Money Taker's activity is still unknown, the report continued, and the cyber-security firm believes there are more attacks it has not uncovered.

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ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) -- This Christmas has been the season of giving, not getting, for an 8-year-old boy in New Jersey whose home has become a bit like Santa's workshop.

On Dec. 3, Jayden Perez, a third-grader in Woodland Park, New Jersey, held a toy drive at his home to collect toys for children in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

His mother, Ana Rosado, told ABC News Monday that in September, her boss had given Jayden, a New York Giants fan and football lover, one pretty epic gift: tickets to a Giants game. Rosado said it was a gift just because, not for Jayden's birthday or any special reason.

On video, she captured Jayden breaking down in tears of joy after being given the tickets.

Rosado said that also around that time, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. She and Jayden volunteered to help. The two collected donations and helped pack and ship them out. She said the two helped put together more than 40 boxes.

After Thanksgiving, Rosado said Jayden came to her with his own, new idea: He'd been blessed with Giants tickets so he wanted to pay it forward to the children of Puerto Rico.

"He said, 'Mom, I'm concerned kids aren't going to get toys,'" she said. "That really touched me."

Jayden told her that he wanted to donate his Christmas gifts to the children but Rosado took it a step further: have a toy drive.

Rosado posted the event on social media and word spread with help from local media outlets.

She said that so far, the drive had netted more than 1,000 toys but that there were more toys coming this week. Rosado said a man had even reached out to her from Pennsylvania, saying he had a trailer of toys that had been donated from his community.

"I'm so overwhelmed," Rosado said. "I'm so proud of my son. ... I didn't expect so many toys."

She said that a shipping company was also helping them to get the toys to Puerto Rico. Initially, Rosado said, two of her friends had planned to fly to the island to help distribute the toys. But, she said on Monday, she and Jayden would now be going Jan. 4 to celebrate Three Kings' Day.

It will be his first trip to the island, she said.

Rosado said they planned to bring some toys to an orphanage that had reached out to her for help and then they'd travel Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 to several small cities that had been hit hard by Maria.

So far, Jayden has more than 30 boxes of toys packed up and ready to be shipped.

"He has such a great heart," Rosado said. "I know that my son is doing good out there."

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Lego has won its first copyright case in China, according to the company.

The Danish toymaker said the case was against two Chinese companies that manufactured products imitating Legos. This is the first time the Lego Group has filed and won an "anti-unfair competition case" in China.

The company said the China Shantou Intermediate People’s Court decided that the two Chinese companies "must stop copying the packaging and logos of LEGO products in the future, as this constitutes copyright infringement."

“We are pleased with the ruling by Shantou Intermediate People’s Court, which we see as a strong indication of the continued focus on proper intellectual property protection and enforcement by the Chinese courts and responsible authorities. We think this is very important for the continued development of a favorable business environment for all companies operating in the Chinese market," said Peter Thorslund Kjær, vice president of legal affairs for the Lego Group.

“We will continue our efforts to ensure that parents and children are able to make informed choices when they are buying toy products, and that they are not misled by attempts by irresponsible companies to make toy products appear as something that they are not.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(JACKSON, N.J.) -- A Saturday showdown in New Jersey touted as the world’s largest snowball fight was abandoned after a Nor’easter dumped around 6-inches of snow.

Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey teaming up with the Hallmark Channel set up the late morning cost-free rumble on Dec. 9 as an "attempt to break the record for the world's largest snowball fight" and expected thousands to participate in the “family-friendly event executed with kid-friendly plush snowballs while supplies last,” according to a release from the theme park’s website.

According to the same release, Six Flags, which broke the Guinness World Records title in 2016 for attracting 400 people as the "most couples kissing under the mistletow" and boldly stated that Canada rein as snow fight world record holders with an 8,200 count in 2016 was bound to be broken on Saturday as Six Flags "aims to break the record with 9,000 participants," the statement read.

But before would-be participants got a chance to toss their orbs at each other, a warning was added in boldface type informing the public that the icy war was off “due to inclement weather.”

No specific makeup date was released.

Attempts by ABC News’ to reach Six Flags representatives were not immediately returned.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The world's largest music streaming service and one of the most popular social platforms in China are investing in each other.

Spotify and China's Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) are expected to buy minority stakes in one another in cash, though the value of the deal and the shareholding sizes have not been disclosed.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said, “Spotify and Tencent Music Entertainment see significant opportunities in the global music streaming market for all our users, artists, music and business partners. This transaction will allow both companies to benefit from the global growth of music streaming.”

Spotify operates in more than 60 countries, but it has yet to break into the Chinese market.

On the other end, Tencent Music Entertainment CEO Cussion Pang said, “We are excited to embark on this partnership with the largest music streaming platform in the world. TME and Spotify will work together to explore collaboration opportunities, with a common objective to foster a vibrant music ecosystem that benefits users, artists and content owners.”

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moodboard/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A recent study found that Americans spend more time in their vehicles once school starts for their children and will continue to do so in the midst of the holiday season.

A 2017 Back to Driving Survey shows nearly 75 percent of parents resume driving during the course of the school year compared to the summer. A significant amount of that driving time includes school pick-ups and drop-offs, going to daycare, and commuting to other after school activities like sports and clubs.

"When you've got kids playing sports, in different after school programs... we're almost living in our car," says Certified Financial Planner Jeff Rose. Rose recently spoke with ABC News about the survey.

The findings in the survey back up Rose's claim. Thirty five percent of drivers participating in the study think of their vehicle as a second home, especially when they consider how often their families eat and nap in their cars.

Although close to three quarters (71.4 percent) of drivers are generally satisfied with their family vehicle according to the survey, Americans are still in search of an upgrade. Fuel efficiency and overall space are two luxuries people desire when searching for an upgrade.

Putting money towards an upgrade could be a convenient move for families, but Rose warns there are a couple precautions people should take before buying a new car.

"Just make sure you're not buying more car than you can afford," he tells ABC News, adding, "You have to look at your budget and make sure it makes sense."

Rose uses his own family as an example.

"We just went from a family of five to six just last year, and that totally changed the dynamic of our car needs. We went from being able to handle a smaller size SUV, and when we got our daughter, we couldn't fit groceries in there."

He says families considering buying a new vehicle should ensure they are not putting their families in debt for the sake of adding one or two luxuries.

Rose adds that each family has different goals and should consider those goals before making a purchase also, recommending, “If you have a growing family or you're expecting to have more children take that into consideration as well."

The Back to Driving Survey examined 789 drivers licensed in the U.S. who have at least one child 15-years-old or younger living in their home. It is commissioned by the GM BuyPower Card.

Jeff Rose is the CEO and Founder of Alliance Wealth Management, LLC, an investment advisory firm. He is also the founder of GoodFinancialCents.com.
 
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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Companies are improving facial recognition technology and using machine learning to increase efficiency and make their products more user-friendly for consumers, according to CapTech Mobile Fellow Jack Cox.

Cox recently spoke with ABC News about how people are familiarizing themselves with facial recognition following the release of the Apple's iPhone X.

Apple's latest smartphone allows users to unlock their phone with technology that recognizes their faces, rather than having users type in a password or log in with their fingerprint.

CapTech conducted a study on the accuracy of other companies that implement facial recognition and “were not extremely impressed with the accuracy.” Cox contends, however, that "the new technology Apple released is much more accurate… [and] coming into the future, you’ll see it’s becoming more and more accurate and being used in more and more places.”

Like the iPhone X, Cox expects facial recognition to become more prominent and that it will assist in areas of security and surveillance.

Cox says it is not just facial recognition that companies are exploring, but also machine learning.

He says machine learning is being used across different industries to help companies make decisions and makes it easier for customers to use their products.

"We see companies wanting to leverage machine learning," says Cox. In banking, for instance, companies use machine learning to "employ better decision making, identify credit risks and opportunities," among other issues that banks are trying to attack with more efficiency.

Another example Cox points to is the gaming industry. He says companies "use machine learning to identify trouble spots in the game where players were having difficulty and identify that spot to make the game more engaging for users.”

With companies eager to implement both facial recognition and machine learning to improve their operations, Cox expects these devices and technologies to become more apparent in people’s everyday lives.

"We're going to see more augmented reality,” Cox says, adding it will represent “real world objects through the phone, such as seeing a chair in the room."
 
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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine responded Thursday for the first time since it was announced Sunday the New York City institution had suspended Levine as it investigates what it says are "multiple allegations of sexual misconduct" from the 1960s to the 1980s.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the opera noted that the period of when the allegations were made included "the earlier part of his career at the Met."

Levine will not be conducting or taking part in any other activities at the Met, the statement said.

"While we await the results of the investigation, based on these new news reports, the Met has made the decision to act now," said Peter Gelb, Met General Manager. "This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected."

Levine responded to the allegations for the first time on Thursday night in a statement to The New York Times.

"As understandably troubling as the accusations noted in recent press accounts are, they are unfounded," he said in the statement. "As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor."

The suspension comes a day after the opera said it was launching an investigation of the conductor based on a 2016 police report filed in Illinois by a man who alleges he was molested as a teenager by Levine 30 years ago.

The New York Post first reported details of the police report.

According to the police report, the alleged abuse occurred when Levine, now 74, was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Illinois. Levine is now director emeritus at The Met Opera.

The alleged victim, whose name was not published by The New York Post, filed a report with the Lake Forest Police Department in October 2016.

"I began seeing a 41-year-old man when I was 15, without really understanding I was really 'seeing' him," the alleged victim, now 48, said in a written statement to police. “It nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn’t see this. Now I can.”

Multiple attempts by ABC News to reach Levine's representative were not immediately returned Sunday.

The Met Opera's general manager, Peter Gelb, said in a statement that the organization was aware of the accusations.

"This first came to the Met’s attention when the Illinois police investigation was opened in October of 2016,” Gelb said. “At the time Jim said that the charges were completely false, and we didn’t hear anything further from the police. We need to determine if these charges are true and, if they are, take appropriate action. We will now be conducting our own investigation with outside resources.”

And a statement posted Saturday on The Met Opera's Facebook page read, "The Met would like to let our supporters know that we are deeply disturbed by the news articles that are being published online today about James Levine. We are working on an investigation with outside resources to determine whether charges of sexual misconduct in the 1980s are true, so that we can take appropriate action."
 
Neither Levine nor a spokesperson for him has publicly commented.
Levine rose to prominence as The Met Opera's music director. The lauded maestro has been with the Met for 40 years and led "more than 2,500 performances of 85 different operas since his company debut in 1971 leading Puccini's Tosca."

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Starbucks(NEW YORK) -- For a limited time, Starbucks is offering a holiday-themed Christmas Tree Frappuccino.

The coffee chain describes the drink as being "mocha and peppermint...blended with milk and ice, topped with a festive tree made of matcha infused whipped cream, a caramel drizzle an candied cranberries finished off with a strawberry tree 'topper.'"

According to Starbucks' Twitter account, the novelty drink will be available in the United States and Canada through December 11.

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JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After a few days of losses, Wall Street bounced back on Thursday as all three major indices finished in positive territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 70.57, closing at 23,211.48.

The Nasdaq climbed half a percent, ending the session at 6,812.84, while the S&P 500 climbed to 2,636.98, a gain of 7.71 from its open.

The price of crude oil climbed again on Thursday. A barrel selling for $56.62 at the close, about 1.2 percent higher than when the market opened.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that U.S. net worth climbed $1.7 trillion from July to September. The value of stock portfolios rose by $1.1 trillion in that time, while real estate values jumped $400 billion.

Freddie Mac says mortgage rates rose this week, another sign that the Federal Reserve could opt to raise interest rates next week.

And credit card use was a major reason for more consumer borrowing in October. That figure rose by $20.5 billion in October, the largest increase in nearly  a year.

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Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- General Electric Power announced plans to cut approximately 12,000 jobs on Thursday, citing lower demands for coal and fossil fuel.

In a press release, GE said the layoffs would affect both professional and production employees. The move is part of an effort to "reach its announced target of $1 billion in structural cost reductions in 2018."

"Traditional power markets including gas and coal have softened," the company said. "Volumes are down in products and services driven by overcapacity, lower utilization, fewer outages, an increase in steam plant retirements and overall growth in renewables."

GE Power CEO and President Russell Stokes called the decision "painful but necessary."

"Power will remain a work in progress in 2018," Stokes added. "We expect market challenges to continue, but this plan will position us for 2019 and beyond."

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ABC News(LEAVENWORTH, Kansas) -- Christmas is just a few weeks away, but for two tiny towns in Kansas, workers have been preparing for the holiday like busy Santa elves all year.

At the two Hallmark plants in Leavenworth and Lawrence, 1,100 workers are responsible for dreaming up -- and then packing up -- millions of Christmas cards that get signed, sealed and delivered across the world.

"As a Hallmark writer, you kinda get into the spirit a lot earlier than most people do," said Andrew Blackburn, who has worked at the company for eight years.

Blackburn said his parents, Tim and Brenda Blackburn, had inspired him.

The Hallmark company has been celebrating the holiday since 1910. That year, co-founder JC Hall, then 18, traveled from Nebraska to Kansas City, Missouri, and stepped off the train with shoeboxes of postcards.

With help from his brother Rollie Hall, around 1915, JC Hall began making and selling a new kind of card -- a greeting card -- and sending them inside envelopes.

"That was the start," said Lisamarie Soper, Hallmark Gold Crown's district manager.

Hallmark was born.

"From the writing I do to the lettering, the illustration, the design. It all happens right here," said Amy Trowbridge Yates, who's been at the company for more than 12 years.

Kiely Chase, a Hallmark writer for 17 years, drew from her memories with her brothers to help write some cards. She also shared her recipe for writing holiday cards early in the year.

"I'm watching movies, you know, that everybody loves to watch at Christmas time," she said. "I'm listening to favorite Christmas songs, you know, that we all love."

And, with those cards, Hallmark also offers gift-wrapping paper. Every year, 700 million feet are printed and it's all made in America.

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JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stocks lost steam following a mid-session rally as Wall Street got encouraging news ahead of the government jobs report this Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell again, dropping 39.73 to a close of 23,140.91.

The Nasdaq climbed 14.17, finishing the day at 6,776.38, while the S&P 500 dipped to 2,629.27 at the close.

Payroll company ADP released its latest hiring survey Wednesday, finding that many people seeking jobs are getting them. Private employers, the survey says, created 190,000 jobs in November. The government's figures are due out on Friday.

The trade group Airlines for America says 41 million people will travel by plane for the holidays. That figure would be more than three percent higher than last year.

And oil fell more than four percent Wednesday, a barrel selling for $55.95.

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Walmart(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) -- As part of a change designed to reflect its growing status as an multi-channel retailer, Walmart announced plans to change the company's legal name from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to Walmart Inc. as of February 2018.

"Our customers know us as Walmart and today they shop with us not only in our stores, but online and with our app as well," Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement. "While our legal name is used in a limited number of places, we felt it was best to have a name that was consistent with the idea that you can shop us however you like as a customer."

Walmart has more than 11,000 stores and clubs in 28 countries and launched its online shop in 2000. The company will continue to trade on the New York Stock Exchange as WMT.

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LOCAL NEWS

WJTN Headlines for Tuesday Dec. 12, 2017

Most of Western New York is now under a Lake Effect Snow Warning through 7 p.m. Wednesday, including Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties.    That from the National Weath...

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