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‘I Feel Like I’m Failing Them’: How Low-Income Parents Struggle Over The Holidays





Jasmine, 32, is looking forward to Christmas, a rare opportunity to spend an entire day with her twin 8-year-old boys. But she’s also anxious ― anxious that she’ll disappoint them because she can’t afford to buy them the few gifts they asked for this holiday season.

“Some days I feel like I’m failing them,” Jasmine, a single mom who works two jobs, told HuffPost. “It almost makes me feel like I’m not trying as hard as I think I am.

The holiday season is in full swing. According to seasonal ads and movie classics, this should be the most joyous, magical time of year, when families exchange nice gifts and enjoy festive meals. But for low-income families and those living paycheck to paycheck, it can be the most stressful time. There are concerns about how to scrape money together to buy gifts and pay for holiday meals. Then there are worries about lost wages for taking time off or child care costs if parents work while the kids are at home. There’s anxiety about the basic expenses, too. When school or day care is closed, that also means children don’t have access to meals they typically get during the day.

“If you think about low-income families, there are really ongoing financial pressures throughout the year,” said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research group. “Those financial pressures can intensify during the holidays,”

For these families, it isn’t about making more sacrifices or working harder. For many of them, there are no more frills left to cut and there are no more hours in the day available.

Veronica and her 2-year-old daughter receive a holiday meal box at Open Arms Mission Food Pantry in Antioch, Illinois, in 201

Northern Illinois Food Bank

Veronica and her 2-year-old daughter receive a holiday meal box at Open Arms Mission Food Pantry in Antioch, Illinois, in 2016. The Northern Illinois Food Bank’s meal boxes are packed with a turkey or ham, potatoes and other traditional holiday foods for a family of eight.

According to Julie Yurko, CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, 77 percent of the clients who use the organization’s service are part of working families.

“It dispels a myth, this preconceived notion that these are not hard-working families and aren’t doing everything they can to provide for themselves,” Yurko said.

Most weeks, Jasmine doesn’t take a single day off. During regular working hours, she’s a phlebotomist at a lab, where she earns about $30,000 a year. At nights and on weekends, she doubles as a liquor ambassador. She educates customers about a particular wine or beer at stores or at sporting events. That earns her about $2,000 more a year. Jasmine makes too much money to qualify for government benefits, but it’s not enough to cover her expenses.

“You need so much of certain things. It costs so much,” Jasmine said. “When you don’t have it, you just don’t have it.”

Many families face the same issue. Even though the unemployment rate has fallen, wages have remained stagnant. 

One of the biggest expenses Jasmine struggles with each month is food. Ideally, she’d like to spend about $400. By shopping at multiple stores to get the best deals, and getting some help from a food pantry that’s operated by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, she’s able to shave that expense in half. The food bank she visits is run out of her sons’ school and is going to be closed over the holiday.

Not having access to the food pantry was another consideration as Jasmine tried to budget and prepare for Christmas.

Like most parents, Jasmine wants to make her kids feel special over the holidays. According to a recent report from Bankrate, a website that provides financial advice, 54 percent of polled parents said they felt pressure to overspend during the holidays. 

Jasmine can’t consider overspending. Instead, she’s being extra resourceful and has to accept that there will be some disappointment.

The twins handed her a pretty reasonable wish list this year. They asked for new shoes and clothes. They each wanted a crucifix necklace.

She was able to find the necklaces at Marshall’s for $15.99. The rest of the requests will have to wait.

To save up for gifts and Christmas dinner, Jasmine didn’t buy a single thing for two weeks. Instead of paper towels, they used hand towels. Jasmine made meals with only what was available in the cupboards ― a lot of canned goods and pasta. She drove just as far as she had to go and not a mile more to save on gas. She’s been stretching her toiletries and doing larger loads of laundry so she doesn’t waste detergent.

In a recent Bankrate survey, 54 percent of parents said they felt pressure to splurge on gifts over the holidays. To come up

krisanapong detraphiphat via Getty Images

In a recent Bankrate survey, 54 percent of parents said they felt pressure to splurge on gifts over the holidays. To come up with money for gifts, many low-income parents have to ration food and toiletries to come up with extra cash for presents.

Rationing and making hard decisions is common among families who are struggling to get by, Yurko said.

Clients who visit the food bank will stock up on oatmeal and peanut butter, because those are filling foods They water down juices to make them last longer. Parents will often go without food so that their children won’t go hungry. They’ll pay half an electric bill one month to have some extra money to work with.

“They will make tough choices as they’re stretching,” Yurko said. “They’re buying what’s most important at this moment.”

But the holidays are just a symptom of a bigger issue. Most struggling families don’t have any sort of savings to cover something more dire, like a major medical issue. About a quarter of families have no non-retirement savings, said Ratcliffe. She added that having just $250 to $750 set aside for emergencies could help protect families from financial ruin because once an unexpected bill arises, families can fall prey to predatory loans that can hurl them into a cycle of debt.

As for Jasmine, she remains upbeat and is as honest as she can be with her young sons about their finances. When they ask for food or gifts she can’t afford, she’s straightforward with them.

“I tell them we have to wait until later because I have other responsibilities. Every now and again, they will cry or get a little frustrated. What can I do?”


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U.S. Charges Chinese Tech Giant Huawei, Top Executive





WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is filing charges against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

A 13-count indictment was unsealed Monday in New York charging Huawei, two of its affiliates and a top executive at the company.

The charges include bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A separate case filed in Washington state charges Huawei with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1. Prosecutors allege she committed fraud by misleading American banks about Huawei’s business deals in Iran.

Prosecutors charge Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies.

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24 Million Mortgage And Bank Loan Documents Leaked Online





A trove of more than 24 million financial and banking documents, representing tens of thousands of loans and mortgages from some of the biggest banks in the U.S., has been found online after a server security lapse.

The server, running an Elasticsearch database, had more than a decade’s worth of data, containing loan and mortgage agreements, repayment schedules and other highly sensitive financial and tax documents that reveal an intimate insight into a person’s financial life.

But it wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access and read the massive cache of documents.

It’s believed that the database was only exposed for two weeks — but long enough for independent security researcher Bob Diachenko to find the data. At first glance, it wasn’t immediately known who owned the data. After we inquired with several banks whose customers information was found on the server, the database was shut down on January 15.

With help from TechCrunch, the leak was traced back to Ascension, a data and analytics company for the financial industry, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company provides data analysis and portfolio valuations. Among its services, the Ascension converts paper documents and handwritten notes into computer-readable files — known as OCR.

It’s that bank of converted documents that was exposed, Diachenko said in his own write-up.

Sandy Campbell, general counsel at Ascension’s parent company, Rocktop Partners, which owns more than 46,000 loans worth $4.4 billion, confirmed the security incident to TechCrunch, but said its systems were unaffected.

“On January 15, this vendor learned of a server configuration error that may have led to exposure of some mortgage-related documents,” he said in a statement. “The vendor immediately shut down the server in question, and we are working with third-party forensics experts to investigate the situation. We are also in regular contact with law enforcement investigators and technology partners as this investigation proceeds.”

An unspecified portion of the loans were shared with the contractor for analysis, the statement added, but couldn’t immediately confirm how many loan documents were exposed.

TechCrunch has learned that the vendor is New York-based company OpticsML. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful. Its website is offline and its phone number was disconnected from service.

In a phone call, Campbell confirmed that the company will inform all affected customers, and report the incident to state regulators under data breach notification laws.

From our review, it was clear that the documents pertain to loans and mortgages and other correspondence from several of the major financial and lending institutions dating as far back as 2008, if not longer, including CitiFinancial, a now-defunct lending finance arm of Citigroup, files from HSBC Life Insurance, Wells Fargo, CapitalOne and some U.S. federal departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of the companies have long been defunct, after selling their mortgage divisions and assets to other companies.

Though not all files contained the highly sensitive and personal data points, we found: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and bank and checking account numbers, as well as details of loan agreements that include sensitive financial information, such as why the person is requesting the loan.

Some of the documents also note if a person has filed for bankruptcy and tax documents, including annual W-2 tax forms, which are targets for scammers to claim false refunds.

But the database stored documents in a random order, and were not easily followable or presented in an easy to read or formatted way, making it difficult to follow from one document to another, said Diachenko.

We verified the authenticity of data by checking a portion of names in the database with public records.

“These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” Diachenko told TechCrunch. “This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

Although the documents originate from these financiers, one bank — Citi, which helped to secure the data — said it had no current relationship with the company.

“Citi recently became aware that a third party, with no connection to Citi, was storing certain mortgage origination and modification documents in an unsecure online environment,” said a Citi spokesperson. “These documents contained information about current or former Citi customers, as well as customers from other financial institutions. Citi notified law enforcement, initiated a thorough forensic investigation and worked quickly to ensure the information could no longer be publicly accessed.”

Citi confirmed that “third party is a vendor to a company that had purchased the loans and we have found no evidence that Citi’s systems were compromised.”

The bank added that it’s working to identify potentially affected customers.

Dozens of other companies are affected, including smaller regional banks and larger multinationals.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said the data was obtained by Ascension from other entities that purchased Wells Fargo mortgages. HSBC said it was investigating if any of its customers’ data, including past customers, and confirmed it had “no vendor relationship with Ascension since 2010.” When reached, CapitalOne did not comment at the time of publication. A Housing and Urban Development spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The department is currently affected by the ongoing government shutdown. If anything changes, we’ll update.

It’s the latest in a series of security lapses involving Elasticsearch databases.

A massive database leaking millions of real-time SMS text message data was found and secured last year, as well as a popular massage service and, most recently, AIESEC, the largest youth-run nonprofit for working opportunities.

Updated at 5pm ET: with comment from HSBC and additional details regarding OpticsML.

Got a tip? You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755–8849. You can also send PGP email with the fingerprint: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

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Brandon Truaxe, Founder of Deciem Skin Care Company, Is Dead At 40





Brandon Truaxe, the former CEO and founder of the skin care company Deciem, has died at age 40.

An executive at the company confirmed Truaxe’s death in an email to Vox, which also obtained the email sent by acting CEO Nicola Kilner to Deciem’s staff.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling,” read the email, which also indicated that the company’s “offices, warehouses, factories and stores” would all be closed Monday to “take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder.”

A spokesperson for the Estée Lauder Cos., a minority investor in Deciem, told HuffPost: “Brandon Truaxe was a true genius, and we are incredibly saddened by the news of his passing. As the visionary behind Deciem, he positively impacted millions of people around the world with his creativity, brilliance and innovation. This is a profound loss for us all, and our hearts are with Nicola Kilner and the entire Deciem family.”

Representatives of Deciem did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, but they did post a heartfelt message about Truaxe on their Instagram page.

“Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM,” they wrote.

The Toronto-based company, nicknamed “The Abnormal Beauty Company,” was called Deciem after Truaxe’s intention to launch 10 lines under the brand’s umbrella, though the brand has now exceeded that. Arguably its most famous line, The Ordinary, has gone on to achieve near-cult status for its affordable prices and ubiquity. The line is currently sold at Sephora.

As for Truaxe, he has had a multitude of highs and lows with the company. On the heels of a near-rave review in The New Yorker in early 2018, Truaxe began to appear erratic on social media and use the company’s pages to post bizarre messages and videos. By the end of the year, Estée Lauder took legal action against him, and Truaxe was ousted by a judge as CEO. Kilner has been the acting CEO ever since. Additionally, Truaxe was issued a restraining order by several executives at Estée Lauder.

While the cause of Truaxe’s death is currently unknown, a report published in Canada’s Financial Post in December 2018 indicated that he’d been previously hospitalized for mental health issues several times and had problems with drug use. 

The response on social media has been widespread, as many fans of his skin care brand mourn his death:

This article has been updated with comment from Estée Lauder Cos. and a message posted by Deciem.

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