Exclusive: Jared Kushner’s White House connection still being used to lure Chinese investors

Jared Kushner’s status as a top aide to President Donald Trump was used to lure Chinese investors to his family’s New Jersey development, even after his family’s company apologized for mentioning his name during a sales pitch in May, CNN has found.

    The promotions are posted in Chinese and refer to Kushner Companies as “real estate heavyweights,” going on to mention “the celebrity of the family is 30-something ‘Mr. Perfect’ Jared Kushner, who once served as CEO of Kushner Companies.”
    One posted online in May by the company US Immigration Fund, a private business based in Florida, also contains a reference to Kushner’s appearance on the cover of December’s Forbes Magazine, under the headline “This guy got Trump elected.” The post was removed shortly after CNN contacted the company for comment.

    From US Immigration Fund’s WeChat page:

      The promotions are aimed at bringing in investors who pay at least $500,000 apiece and in exchange get US visas, and potentially green cards, for themselves and their families if the development meets certain criteria. The deals are part of a legal US government program called EB-5, which grants up to 10,000 immigrant visas per year.
      One webpage posted in March by Chinese company Qiaowai that remains on the company’s page on the popular Chinese social media site WeChat mentions Trump and suggests he supports the program: “Even some members of Trump’s family have participated in the growth of the EB-5 program … the “Kushner 88″ panoramic New Jersey apartment project … The lead developer on the now-completed project was Kushner Companies which is linked to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” It goes on to say, “Given this, in the Trump era, the EB-5 program is likely to receive support and be expanded.”

      From Qiaowai WeChat page:

        A Kushner Companies spokesperson, in response to CNN’s questions about the webpages, said “Kushner Companies was not aware of these sites and has nothing to do with them. The company will be sending a cease and desist letter regarding the references to Jared Kushner.”
        A former White House ethics expert tells CNN the EB-5 program already raises a potential government-backed quid pro quo — favorable immigration status in exchange for investment dollars. And he says any use of the President’s son-in-law as a marketing tool is ethically unacceptable.
        “What is not authorized is any arrangement where someone gets preference for their visa if they give money to a company that is controlled by the family of a United States government official,” said Richard Painter, a former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.
          “And unfortunately,” says Painter, “that implication was made in the selling efforts for this project.”
          Painter is referring to an investment “road show” that Nicole Meyer attended in May in Beijing. Meyer, the sister of Jared Kushner, was speaking at an event in which she was trying to attract wealthy Chinese investors to the 1 Journal Square project.
          During the presentation, Meyer reminded investors of her brother’s recent role in American politics: “In 2008, my brother Jared Kushner joined the family company as CEO,” Meyer told a crowd, adding he “recently moved to Washington to join the administration.”
          The comments coincided with a visual display, which included a photograph of Trump.
            Meyer’s comments led to strong criticism that the Kushner family was using Jared Kushner to attract investment dollars through the EB-5 program.
            The company quickly apologized, and separately, Jared Kushner’s attorney released a statement saying Kushner had no knowledge of the promotion and was no longer involved financially in the 1 Journal Square project.
            “As previously stated, he will recuse from particular matters concerning the EB-5 visa program,” Kushner’s attorney, Blake Roberts, said in a statement.
            US Immigration Fund, a company based in Jupiter, Florida, seemed to blame others for the post, saying in a statement, “The post in question was originally posted by a 3rd party immigration consultancy firm on its company WeChat and was reposted to USIF’s WeChat by the company’s Chinese social media consultant. The post is several months old and hasn’t had any interaction by followers, however, it has since been removed from the company WeChat.”
            Qiaowai, a Chinese immigration company that organized the events where Kushner’s sister spoke, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. The webpage on its WeChat site that references Kushner remained online as of Wednesday afternoon.
            EB-5 investment advisor Michael Gibson tells CNN it makes sense that the companies marketing the Kushner project in China have continued to use Kushner’s name to promote their project, because he says Chinese investors are drawn to developments they believe are backed by individuals with government connections: “They want to make sure they get the green card,” Gibson told CNN. “So if they see a public official associated with the project that gives them the impression that this project is safe enough for them to invest in.”
            The EB-5 program has faced criticism for straying from its original intent. The program was designed by Congress in the 1990s to bring foreign money into rural and blighted urban areas to spark development and job growth.
            After the economic recession of 2008, the program began expanding to become a low-interest source of income for developers who have used EB-5 investment money to fund high-end residential towers and retail projects in areas like Manhattan, Jersey City, New Jersey, and Miami.
            Gary Friedland, a scholar in residence at New York University’s Stern School of Business who has studied the program, said developers have found ways to manipulate census tract data to place their projects within “targeted employment areas,” which legally reduces the amount investors must pay — down from $1 million to $500,000 — to qualify for EB-5 benefits.
            Emails obtained by CNN from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development show a representative for US Immigration Fund in January asked a New Jersey official to issue a letter certifying the Kushner’s 1 Journal Square as within an area with low employment.
            After an official responded that the project did not qualify due to its location within a census tract with an unemployment rate below the national average, a consultant for another company asked that the state combine six census tracts together. Days later, the state approved the Kushner Companies’ project, documents show.
            Friedland says practices like this allow luxury developers to take advantage of incentives meant to lure investments to lower-income areas: “The money flows to affluent areas, not the targeted areas Congress intended to benefit,” he said.
            On June 1, three Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Kushner Companies current president Laurent Morali asking for an explanation on the company’s ongoing use of the EB-5 program and the nature of its relationships with Qiaowai and US Immigration Fund.
            Kushner Companies has not yet responded to the letter, according to the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/20/politics/draft-kushner-visas/index.html

            Trump’s blast of Sessions has ‘chilling’ effect inside West Wing

            Washington (CNN)For President Donald Trump, loyalty in Washington is a one-way street.

            Trump’s trashing of several of his administration’s top justice officials in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is causing deep alarm inside the West Wing, leading some to worry that their loyalty to Trump might not be reciprocated from the man in the Oval Office.
            There’s also a general sense of bewilderment as to why Trump gave the interview. Health care was the focus of the day. He actually got engaged — but then this.
              “It’s chilling,” one White House official said.
              Conversations with the official and one top Republican in frequent contact with the West Wing show a president who has long been angry with Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe, but rather than subsiding and moving on as Trump sometimes does, the anger has grown into a passionate rage.
              “No one was more loyal than Sessions. No one,” a White House official said, speaking confidentially to avoid drawing the President’s ire.
              The thinking goes: If this could happen to Sessions, it could happen to anyone. One official described the President’s blasting of Sessions as only intensifying the already low morale inside the West Wing.
              Trump faulted Sessions for accepting his offer to be attorney general and then recusing himself shortly thereafter due to undisclosed contacts he had with Russian officials during the campaign. The President said those actions were “very unfair” to him.
              “Sessions,” Trump told The New York Times, “should have never recused himself and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
              He added: “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the President.”


              The comments are a stunning rebuke from a president who craves loyalty, demanding it from those who work for him. Trump has written extensively about the trait in his books, as well, touting it as the most critical quality as person can have.
              But as Trump has eased into life in the White House, his demands for loyalty have proven to be unrequited, most recently shown by how he lashed out at Sessions, one of his earliest and most dedicated supporters.
              Sessions declined to hit back at Trump during a press briefing Thursday, telling reporters that he “plan(s) to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”
              Sessions loyalty to Trump has been unflinching for years. The conservative senator was his first Senate endorsement, long before any other Republican heavyweights were on board. The senator also stood by Trump after the Access Hollywood tape controversy, where Trump was heard making lewd comments about sexually assaulting women. And Sessions even helped fill Trump’s inner circle with confidants of his own, including Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy aide, and Rick Dearborn, a top White House legislative aide.
              The acrimony between Trump and Sessions has long been simmering — Sessions tendered his resignation earlier this year but Trump declined to accept it — but Wednesday’s comments signal a shift in Trump’s leadership style, one that former employers used to say rested on unflinching loyalty to the company and, more importantly, the boss.
              Earlier in his career, during a question-and-answer session from The Learning Annex Wealth Expo, Trump was asked for the “key things” a boss should look for when hiring someone and building a team.
              “The thing that’s most important to me is loyalty,” Trump said. “You can’t hire loyalty. I’ve had people over the years who I swore were loyal to me, and it turned out that they weren’t. Then I’ve had people that I didn’t have the same confidence in and turned out to be extremely loyal. So you never really know.”

              One-way street

                Comey: Trump asked to lift ‘cloud’ of probe

              He brought those beliefs to Washington by bringing many of his own employees with him, but his credo now appears to be Trump asking for loyalty, not giving it back.
              Trump asked fired FBI Director James Comey for his loyalty during a January 27 dinner at the White House, Comey said in written testimony to the Senate earlier this year.
              “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Comey recalled Trump saying, adding later that the soon-to-be fired FBI director offered him “honest loyalty.”
              Trump later fired Comey in May, citing his disloyalty as one of the reasons in later interviews.
              The President also asked Republicans in the House to stick with him on health care reform, touting the bill as “incredibly well crafted” during a Rose Garden ceremony after narrowly it passed the House. Weeks later, Trump went back on those comments and called the House health care bill “mean” in a meeting with senators.
              The remark shocked some lawmakers who stuck with Trump on health care, despite the political perils.
              Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was flummoxed when CNN asked him what he thought of the President calling the bill “mean.”
              “The one,” he asked, “that he had us come over and celebrate?”

              Long-held belief

              Those close to Trump have long said loyalty is critical to him.
              Bill Zanker, the president and founder of The Learning Annex who wrote “Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life” with Trump in 2009, put it bluntly in his intro to the self-help book: “Loyalty is important to Trump and is a wonderful trait to have in business.”
              “I try to hire people who are honest and loyal. I value loyalty very much,” they wrote. “I put the people who are loyal to me on a high pedestal and take care of them very well … I go out of my way for the people who were loyal to me in bad times.”
              And former employees, who requested anonymity to speak bluntly, said Trump’s desire for loyalty is the reason why he brought someone like Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard and adviser, into the White House. Schiller is an asset to the White House, many who know him say, but his steadfast loyalty is his biggest asset to Trump.
              Trump’s love of loyalty stems, according to those close to him, to his mentor Roy Cohn, who stood by Trump and his family in the face of housing discrimination and grew into his guide through the rough New York real estate industry.
              “Sometimes I think that next to loyalty, toughness was the most important thing in the world to him,” Trump wrote of Cohn in his 1997 urtext “The Art of the Deal.”
              “He was a truly loyal guy — it was a matter of honor with him,” Trump wrote. “And because he was also very smart, he was a great guy to have on your side.”

              Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/20/politics/trump-loyalty-sessions-white-house/index.html

              Orica-Scott: 24 hours on the road with the Australian Tour de France team

              Kieran Pender joins the Orica-Scott cycling team as they battle their way through the gruelling stage 17 of the Tour de France

              Since its establishment in 2011, Orica-Scott has become one of the leading teams in the World Tour peloton. The only Australian outfit competing at the highest level of road cycling, Orica-Scott has won stages at each Grand Tour and numerous prestigious one-day races.

              In 2017, the team travelled at Tour de France start city Dsseldorf with a different goal in mind: Orica-Scott has come of age, and stage wins are no longer enough. The yellow jersey is the most prestigious prize in cycling, and it is firmly on team owner Gerry Ryans agenda.

              While Ryans team has performed admirably in the overall rankings before last year Esteban Chaves placed second at the Giro dItalia and Adam Yates finished fourth in France the Tours 104th edition is the first time the team is entertaining just one objective: general classification success. Although Orica-Scott has attempted to manage expectations, with this campaign portrayed as a warm-up for an assault on the 2018 maillot jaune, they faced their toughest Tour yet.

              This has nothing to do with luck

              11:36am, Wednesday: Team Bus

              In the scenic mountainside town of La Mure, Orica-Scotts team bus parks at the end of a kilometre-long throng of vehicles, bikes and people. True to form, the Australian-registered World Tour outfit is 19th of the 20 participating teams to arrive. We are not always last, a staff member jokes. But we are certainly never first.

              Stage 17 is one of the toughest in the three-week race, the difficulty of multiple category two or tougher climbs compounded by tired legs. Today is a key stage, says Orica-Scott sports director Laurenzo Lapage. It is no longer a question of being fresh, but of being less tired than the other teams. Every day something can happen one weak moment and your Tour is over.

              Given the challenging climbs ahead, keeping riders fed and hydrated throughout the stage is critical. Each evening the directors devise a plan for the following day, determining the placement of bottle-carrying staff along the course. It is quite the puzzle, Lapage admits. Riders can collect food and water from team cars by dropping to the back of the peloton, but doing so wastes precious energy.

              Orica-Scott by numbers

              With the start time rapidly approaching, head sports director Matt White initiates a pre-stage briefing. His colleague Matthew Wilson offers the weather report light winds, variable temperatures and a chance of rain before outlining each section of the course. White then takes over: I am not going to complicate something very simple. We know what we need to do today.

              That something is to protect Brit Simon Yates, Orica-Scotts 24-year-old general classification contender. Yates is wearing the young riders white jersey and sits barely two minutes behind overall leader Chris Froome. This has nothing to do with luck, White tells his charges. We are here because we have ridden well as a team.

              The likely tactics of rivals are briefly considered veteran Mathew Hayman interjecting occasionally before the days strategy is unveiled. White wants an Orica-Scott rider in the early break, someone who will be available to help Yates over the latter climbs. You are not there to win the stage, he says bluntly. Go as far as you can and then assist Yatesy. With Whites spiel over, the riders exit the bus wearing focused expressions. Yates mumbles some words to the media before riding to the start. I have had a few strong days and I am feeling good, he says.

              Internet access can make or break your day

              1:43pm, Team Bus

              On the bus, driver Garikoitz Atxa winds his way through the Alps as a skeleton crew work away onboard. Most staff are roadside on bottle duty. Communications director Taryn Kirby taps at her laptop, sending out live race updates to Orica-Scotts 520,000-strong social media following, while videographer Anthony Drofenik naps; the teams popular backstage pass daily videos are often not uploaded until 2am, so sleep is at a premium. Reliable phone reception can also be scarce in small French towns internet access can make or break your day, says Kirby.

              Orica-Scott has a well-earned reputation for being the most media-friendly team in the peloton. This is partly the work of owner Ryan, the Jayco caravans millionaire, who has often quipped that Orica-Scott are in the business of entertainment. It is also a by-product of being registered in Australia, where professional cycling lacks the mainstream popularity it enjoys in Europe, and necessitated by commercial imperatives. We do not make money in any other way, explains Kirby, so we need to help our sponsors.

              While the communications director insists she would never prioritise press access at the expense of high performance objectives, it can be a difficult balance. During the Tour de France, Orica-Scott are being filmed for a forthcoming series on Amazon Prime. No other team would commit to that, says Kirby. The cameras are everywhere, even at times traditionally considered sacred by riders: on the bus and at meals.

              After injured forced West Australian Luke Durbridge to withdraw from the Tour, Kirby faced a dilemma. Amazon wanted to film Durbo straight away, she says. It was an uncomfortable moment, but I decided that as he had withdrawn there were no longer any high performance considerations. Orica-Scotts transparency has won them fans and backstage pass now has a cult following. Many of us were initially quite confronted by the intrusion, says Wilson, who rode for Orica-Scott in its first year before becoming a sports director. But then it just became part of the team.

              Orica-Scott mechanic Andrzej Pozak cleans bikes during a rest day. Photograph: Vaz Juchima

              Once the bus arrives in finish town Serre Chevalier, Atxa prepares for the riders return. Orica-Scotts transport has its own infamy in France, after it caused chaos by becoming wedged under a Corsican finish line in 2013. When an inflatable distance marker collapsed on team member Adam Yates last year, Tour boss Christian Prudhomme allegedly joked: Now we are even. With no overhanging metal gantry to navigate, Atxa makes post-race food recovery shakes, rice, pasta and museli and cleans the onboard showers. His colleagues fire up a satellite television to watch the stage.

              This is our dream

              2.07pm, Team Car

              Professional cycling may be a rich sport Orica-Scotts annual budget exceeds A$23m but money cannot buy a decent television signal in the mountains. People imagine we have all sorts of fancy technology to follow the race, suggests Wilson, driver of the second team car. But often we just have our own eyes.

              Each silver Renault has a dashboard-mounted screen, which, signal permitting, would ordinarily show the live race feed. But in Wilsons vehicle, the television is locked on old French dramas and a remote control is nowhere to be found. Race and team radio, a WhatsApp group and eye sight are guiding Orica-Scott through this stage.

              The convoy snaking behind the race is a place of barely-organised chaos. Teams, medics, media, police and race organisers liberally interpret road rules as they jostle for the best position. While convoy order is officially dictated by each teams general classification standing, cars move back and forth to service their riders, so minor accidents are commonplace. As if to emphasise the point, a UAE Team Emirates vehicle rear-ends Wilson.

              But road rage does not inhibit an admirable sense of collegiality, both in the convoy and among the peloton. Team Sunweb sports director Luke Roberts asks Orica-Scott to mind several riders, and he later repays the favour. Teams regularly provide food and water to opposition riders, while the peloton performs pass-the-parcel with bottles.

              After making the breakaway pursuant to Whites instructions, Chaves cracks on the first uncategorised climb. I am done, he gasps through the car window. While the ever-cheerful Colombian battles on valiantly, he struggles to keep pace and eventually drops back. Following strong Grand Tour results last season, Chaves was seen as a potential yellow jersey candidate, but injury troubles and a personal tragedy midway through the Tour have taken their toll. While the diminutive climber can be regularly heard encouraging downtrodden team-mates this is our dream, he reminds them by week three it sounds more mantra than conviction.

              Although tempers often flare in professional cycling, during stage 17 there is a sense that the teams are in this together; the mountains are enemy enough. One early casualty is green jersey wearer Marcel Kittel, who withdraws after being unable to shake the after-effects of a crash. His premature exit is welcome news for Sunwebs Michael Matthews, who takes the sprint classification lead. Notwithstanding their disappointment for Kittel, Matthews elevation is acknowledged warmly in the Orica-Scott car; Bling rode for the Australian outfit until December.

              The brief distraction is soon forgotten when the race reaches Col du Tlgraphe, a category one ascent which precedes the days toughest task: the feared Col du Galibier. Chaves early departure from the breakaway has caused difficulties for Orica-Scott, and Yates is soon riding without support in the general classification group. Despite regular words of encouragement from White over the radio, Yates loses contact with Froome and company. You are right there, exclaims his sports director, but the Englishman cannot recover the distance. Worryingly for Yates, white jersey rival Louis Meintjes remains with Froome.

              It could have been a disaster

              5:03pm, Team Car

              At the other end of the race, 39-year-old Hayman grimaces. He is in a gruppetto 30 minutes behind the leaders, and concern is growing about the time cut riders must finish within a certain percentage of the winners time. The domestique has become a fan favourite since winning ParisRoubaix last year, and there are Australian flags aplenty on Galibiers switchbacks. Hayman you are a God, yells one spectator, eliciting a brief smile from the pained rider.

              As Wilsons car nurses Hayman up the last climb, its passengers frantically seek updates on Yates. With no reception and the radio now out of range, the fate of Orica-Scotts leader is unclear. One fan asks through the window, who won? Wilson sighs: You tell us. After cresting the mountain, a call finally arrives. Yates finished 14th, 90 seconds behind Meintjes. While Orica-Scott retain the white jersey, Yatess lead has been nearly halved.

              Orica-Scott rider Simon Yates on stage 17. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

              For only the second time this Tour, White postpones his debrief until the following morning. With Orica-Scotts eight riders in a state of exhaustion, the sports director decides to leave the evening free. Yates, Hayman, Chaves and their team-mates head for hour-long massages, dinner and an early night.

              There is no rest for the support staff though. Mechanics wash bikes, soigneurs clean cars and Kirby prepares a press release. Despite the tumultuous day, White puts on a brave face. Yatesy rode very smart on that last climb, he says. If Simon went too deep trying to stay with the lead group, it could have been a disaster.

              Ultimately, what can a coach do when the riders are half way up a hill?

              11:32am Thursday, Team Bus

              Orica-Scotts bus does not pull into the stage 18 start town until late morning, but several staff members have already been at work for hours. Danish chef Nicki Strobel woke at sunrise to prepare breakfast, a spread of fresh bread, omelettes, porridge, fruit and juice. The gourmet restaurant-trained chef is also responsible for mid-race snacks; Nutella treats were popular on Wednesday and are again tucked into feed bags.

              The mood in the debrief is surprisingly upbeat. Despite Yatess time losses, White is impressed by the maturity he demonstrated. The sports director canvases his riders, asking each for their positives and negatives from the stage. Hayman, who finished last, quips I didnt see much. The meeting is conversational, the riders discussing the stage, and at times disagreeing with their colleagues. England rugby head coach Eddie Jones, on board as a guest of White, is impressed by their engagement. It is good to see the cyclists taking responsibility for their performances, he says afterwards. Ultimately, what can a coach do when the riders are half way up a hill?

              White has the final word. We are not here through luck, the 43-year-old repeats. With that, the stage is forgotten and attention turns to the day ahead: 179.5 kilometres from Brianonto the infamous Col dIzoard. It is the privilege of the Izoard to distinguish the champion, a Tour de France race director once wrote. Despite Wednesdays travails, Orica-Scott are up for the challenge.

              Kieran Pender is following the Tour de France with the support of Orica-Scott.

              Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jul/21/orica-scott-24-hours-on-the-road-with-a-tour-de-france-team

              Severn tolls abolished by end of 2018, says Alun Cairns – BBC News

              Image copyright Getty Images

              Tolls on the Severn bridges between Wales and England will be scrapped by the end of next year, the UK government has announced.

              Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said the decision would be a major boost to the local economy.

              The fees paid on entry to Wales – currently from 6.70 to 20 a vehicle – have long been a source of contention with motorists and businesses.

              About 25 million journeys are made across the two bridges each year.

              A study commissioned by the Welsh Government suggested the removal of tolls would boost the Welsh economy by 100m.

              However another report, for UK ministers, predicted just halving the tolls would mean a 17% increase in traffic along the M4 and surrounding areas either side of the crossings.

              But it did not indicate the impact on traffic by scrapping the tolls completely.

              “The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy,” Mr Cairns said.

              “I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically.

              “Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business.”

              The move was “right for Wales’ future prosperity”, he added.

              The two crossings are currently owned and run by a private consortium but will revert to Highways England once the cost of building the second crossing, opened in 1996, is repaid.

              Ministers will then scrap the tolls.

              Abolishing the charges was included in every major party’s manifesto in June’s general election.

              Prime Minister Theresa May said during the campaign that their removal would significantly reduce the cost of doing business between Wales and England and help support the Union.

              Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-40671900

              Should children study in the summer holidays? – BBC News

              Image copyright Getty Images

              The summer holidays are under way, but for some children, the studying – and the homework – will continue.

              It was a moment of pure joy: school was out for summer.

              Your school bag was shoved in the back of a cupboard. School shoes went the same way. Ahead lay countless days of freedom, play and sunshine.

              That used to be the case for most children – yet not all youngsters today enjoy the same.

              There’s school work to catch up on; a year’s learning to consolidate. An 11-plus test in the autumn term, perhaps.

              So – some parents argue – why not study over the holidays?

              Vivienne Stiles tutors children aged between four and 16 throughout the summer.

              They attend a class twice a week, and are given between 15 and 90 minutes of maths and English homework every day.

              “Children’s brains need to be stimulated throughout the holidays,” she says.

              “You can’t expect them to pick up in September where they left off.”

              By doing work little and often, says Vivienne, children maintain the stamina and concentration built up during term-time.

              Vivienne – who works for Kumon, a tutor company – says the children learn new skills, develop a strong work ethic and get into a good routine.

              The proof?

              She says her own daughter, now 19, went from a “good C-grade student” at the start of secondary school to getting a place at London’s Royal Veterinary College, thanks in part to extra tutoring.

              Mother-of-two Tanith Carey was also a big believer in tutoring.

              That was until her eldest daughter, Lily, did not want to accept a school prize for science at the age of seven, saying she hated the fuss.

              It was then Tanith found out about the pressure her daughter was under.

              So, the maths tutoring through the holidays stopped, and Lily had more time to spend making up little worlds and imaginary characters with her younger sister, Clio.

              Image copyright Tanith Carey
              Image caption Clio plans to spend the summer holidays taking photos and cooking, says Tanith

              Tanith says that, like many parents, she had been swept along in a “tide of panic”.

              “Competition between parents is contagious – because they fear if another child gets ahead, their child will feel left behind. So it spreads,” she says.

              “I think it’s sad that the summer months are viewed as an extension of the academic year – a chance for kids to catch up or get ahead.”

              In her book, Taming the Tiger Parent, Tanith writes about the concept of a child’s spark.

              “It’s something that every child has and is the one thing they love doing and they lose themselves in and find easy,” she explains.

              “Children can only find it if they are left to their own devices.”

              Over the summer, 12-year-old Clio has decided she wants to take photographs and turn them into an album, and compile and bake some vegan recipes.

              Her sister, Lily, now 15, is going abroad on a music course – despite having GCSEs coming up.

              She will also enjoy the freedom of not having to get up for school, and reading whatever books she wants, Tanith adds.

              Her own summer holidays playing in the garden, making huts, and playing Cowboys and Indians, formed some of the happiest memories of her childhood.

              “I think in their panic and fear about the future, parents are forgetting that some of the best learning is done through play and getting to know the physical world outside in nature.

              “They are forgetting that children used to have two educations. The one they had at school and the one they had from nature.”

              Image copyright Getty Images

              Father-of-three and author of the Idle Parent, Tom Hodgkinson, spent his summer holidays roaming freely round parks and over rubbish dumps.

              He may not prescribe rubbish dumps to children today, but does believe in giving them the space to make fire, climb trees and play with knives.

              “It’s about responsible neglect,” he says. “Leave children alone – you’re nearby but let them get on with it.”

              Life is overscheduled so the summer holidays should be a time to live in the moment, have fun and be creative without an authority figure lurking in the background, he says.

              It teaches you self-sufficiency, the ability to entertain yourself and how to look after yourself.

              “These skills may not be useful in corporate life or if you want to suck on the nipple of the state but they are if you want to be a responsible grown-up human being,” he argues.

              However, this summer he won’t practise what he preaches. His eldest has A-levels next year so it will be Latin every morning.

              “It’s a one-off,” he says. “You do have to work sometimes.”

              Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40666245

              Louis Tomlinson: Arctic Monkeys inspired my lyrics – BBC News

              Image copyright Sony Music

              Emerging from a boyband is a tricky business but, so far at least, the One Direction team has made a pretty good fist of it.

              Zayn Malik has carved a niche in pervy electropop; Harry Styles is prog rock’s new hope; Liam Payne’s plumped for aspirational R&B and lovely Niall Horan is doing lovely pop ballads.

              So where does that leave Louis Tomlinson?

              He was always the underappreciated one – a quiet, benign presence in the world’s biggest band.

              Speaking to The Observer last month, the 25-year-old acknowledged he was seen by some as “forgettable, to a certain degree“.

              What he contributed, though, was songwriting – receiving credits on more One Direction songs than any of his bandmates.

              Appropriately for a former singer in a Green Day tribute act, he was the one who pushed the idea that a pop band could have guitar riffs.

              He might not have been directly responsible for sampling The Who’s Baba O’Reilly in Best Song Ever, but it certainly fitted his vision for the band.

              “Little things like that were really important to me,” he tells the BBC. “It was amazing that we were able to combine the two – absolute pop with guitar music.”

              Image copyright Getty Images
              Image caption One Direction sold more than 20 million albums worldwide

              When One Direction went on hiatus in 2015, Tomlinson admits he went a bit wild – making up for the teenage party years he lost to fame.

              “It wasn’t really me but I embraced it at the time,” he says, looking back.

              The star dipped his toes back into the pop world last December, appearing as a guest vocalist on Steve Aoki’s single, Just Hold On.

              But just as it was released, Tomlinson’s mother died. Johannah Deakin, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia at the start of 2016, was only 43 years old.

              They had been unusually close – she was the first person he told when he lost his virginity – and her death hit him particularly hard.

              Nonetheless, Tomlinson went ahead with a planned X Factor performance of Just Hold On that week (partly at her request), finding solace in people’s reaction.

              “I don’t like to talk about it much, but I will say I’ve never had anything like it in my life,” he says.

              “It felt like the support went deeper than the fans – like people across the nation had my back. That was really nice. My mum would have loved that, definitely.”

              Image copyright Getty Images
              Image caption Louis Tomlinson with his mother Johannah at the Natural History Museum in 2015

              Since that performance, Tomlinson has been hard at work in the studio and, on Friday, releases his first solo single Back To You.

              A duet with US pop singer Bebe Rexha, it’s a brooding pop concoction about returning to a relationship that “stresses me out”.

              The 25-year-old told the BBC how the song came about, what it felt like to leave One Direction, and how the Arctic Monkeys’ lyrics influenced his debut album.

              We’re speaking 12 hours before your single comes out. How do you feel?

              I’m nervous – but less than I was three weeks ago. I’ve got a lot of good feedback from people at the record label and radio stations – but all that does really is ramp up the pressure because you’re hoping what they say is true.

              And now you’ll find out whether they were lying all along.

              I will finally know. Exactly!

              I was curious to find out why your first solo single starts with Bebe Rexha, singing the entire first verse.

              We recorded a version where I sang first – but you’ve got to do what’s best by the song.

              With the emotion she gives it, and the way she opens up the song, it always had to be her, really.

              Image copyright Sony Music
              Image caption The video for Back To You was shot at Doncaster Rovers Football Club – where he has played on a non-contract basis

              The lyrics are pretty gritty. Do you think that might surprise people?

              My whole mission with this album is to not write these Hollywood-esque songs that talk about some unfathomable crazy love story. I’m so bored of that.

              Because I’m from up north, I grew up loving the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and Oasis. And the way they tell stories is such an effortless thing. It’s real, it’s honest and it’s to the point, you know?

              Now, any of the Arctic Monkeys would be devastated to hear me talking like this, but there is a way of incorporating that conversational honesty into pop.

              So what have you been writing about on the album?

              There’s one song I’m really attached to called Just Like You, which is all about this view of celebrities that we’re impenetrable and almost not human, but fundamentally we all have the same problems.

              Heartbreak feels the same, loss feels the same, all these feelings are the same for all of us. Mine just look a load different to, maybe, Tom who works in the chippy from nine to five.

              I noticed that all the artwork was shot in Doncaster.

              Well, we did the video for Back To You in Doncaster, which was amazing. I mean, I’m just the biggest advocate of Doncaster in the world, I’d say.

              OK then, sell Doncaster to me in two lines

              If you’re not from there it’s difficult to explain – but if you wanted to completely embrace a fully fun working class night out, then you go to Doncaster.

              What did Bebe Rexha make of the city?

              She was great. She thought it was cool. I did hear her team ask for sushi at lunch, which struck me as naive in Doncaster.

              Did you not take her for a curry chip?

              I didn’t but I really should have! There’s a great chippy round the corner from where we filmed, as well.

              Image copyright Sony Music
              Image caption The star is reportedly worth 40m

              Your last performance with One Direction was on the X Factor in 2015. Did you wake up the next morning thinking: “I’m free!”?

              Oh no – it was a very emotional time. It was a really weird feeling, because [the break] is by no means definitive, so it leaves you in a place where you’re like, “OK, what comes next?”

              What did you get offered? Film work, modelling contracts, presenting?

              I’m not very good at fashion but there were a few TV opportunities. But unless you are someone like Harry – who is immensely talented in so many different areas – I think it’s really important to stay in your lane and do what you do well.

              Having said that, the idea of acting sounds quite exciting to me. The idea of playing the ultimate rough chavvy – it’s like me being everyone I always wanted to be in Doncaster!

              But I’d rather get the music 100% right, rather than 90% right while trying to dip my toe in something else.

              Image copyright PA
              Image caption The singer says he wants to make fans more appreciative of lyrics

              What are your plans for the album?

              Ideally it’s coming at the end of this year, but I don’t want to put myself under too many time constraints and end up in a position where I have to put two fillers on it.

              How many songs have you written altogether?

              I’d say about 50. It’s a lot of work.

              Have you got them all on a phone somewhere?

              Yeah! There’s a couple of songs that me and my girlfriend [fashion blogger Eleanor Calder] really like that’ll never be used for anything, so they’re kind of just for us. That’s really nice.

              Are they ones you’ve written for her?

              A lot of the album’s about her, really. I wanted to make the album feel chronological, because that’s how I wrote it.

              You can hear my journey as an individual over these three years – leaving the band, then going out on to the really crazy party scene, and then I’ve kind of ended up full circle back with Eleanor, who I love dearly.

              Not many people put that much thought into an album these days. It’s usually just a collection of potential singles.

              Then a lot of people are missing a point.

              Like I said to my best mate, Olly, I want there to be songs on the album that I could play to your mum, and she could listen to it and take something away from it. Maybe she doesn’t love the song, but lyrically she’ll understand something about me.

              This is something that – for me, anyway – it doesn’t feel like we have enough of. A lot of artists use words because they sound nice, or because it works for the science of the song.

              Again, that’s why bands like Arctic Monkeys are so great. They don’t work on any script or any maths or science. They just say what they feel. If it doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t matter. If it sounds awkward, it doesn’t matter.

              I think, especially with being lucky enough to have a big fanbase, I want to say to them, “Look, lyrics actually matter, and I want to show you why”.

              Louis Tomlinson’s single, Back To You, is out now on Syco Music

              Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

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              Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-40666699

              How A Billion-Dollar Internet Scam Is Breaking Hearts And Bank Accounts

              Modern online romance scams are premeditated, organized crimes that steal millions potentially billions of dollars from vulnerable, lonely people over the internet.

              The scammers may just have lit upon the perfect crime: They sit at computers safely overseas, hunting for their prey on social networks, and they rarely get caught. The victims are often left deeply damaged both financially and psychologically and so embarrassed that theyre reluctant to come forward even when they realize theyve been scammed.

              Those in a position to help quash this fraud, meanwhile, treat it like a small brush fire, when actually it is a raging forest fire, said Dr. Steve G. Jones. Jones is a victim too: His name and photos were stolen to create the fake identities used in romance scams.

              In the U.S., romance scams account for the highest financial losses of all internet-facilitated crimes, the FBI reports. The bureaus Internet Crime Complaint Center said it received 15,000 romance scam complaints last year a 20 percent increase over the previous year. Reported losses exceeded $230 million, but the FBI puts the true number much higher, estimating that only about 15 percent of these crimes are even being reported.

              The odds of recovering that money, the bureau notes, are very low. Some of the money scammed by international criminal networks even winds up in the hands of terrorist operations like Boko Haram, according to Interpol.

              HuffPost interviewed multiple women from six continents who had sent money to scammers they fell in love with online and who responded to HuffPosts invitation on anti-scammer and other Facebook pages to talk about it.

              Diana Warnack, 48, of Germany gave $18,000 to a man she met online. Intellectually, she knows she was taken, but emotionally, its a different story. I am still in love with him. This is crazy, I know! He is still in my heart, she told HuffPost. I guess somehow everyone is looking for great love.

              Courtesy of Diana Warnack
              Diana Warnack gave $18,000 to a man she met online. She knows she was scammed, but she’s still in love with him.

              We also talked with members of a cottage industry that has sprung up to support the defrauded: operators of scam-watch websites, counselors for fraud victims and people who self-identify as scam-baiters trying to trap the criminals so the latter can be arrested. And we spoke to FBI investigators, academics and researchers who study cyberfraud.

              FBI Special Agent Christine Beining tells the story of a Texas woman defrauded by a scammer who called himself Charlie. The woman, a devout Christian, has since contemplated suicide, Beining said. Like Warnack, she still struggles emotionally to accept what happened.

              Even though she knows Charlie doesnt [really] exist, there are times when she thinks the two men we arrested acted alone, Beining said.

              The two men in Nigeria pleaded guilty for their roles in scamming the Texas woman in July 2016 and were sentenced to three years in prison. But she didnt get her money back.

              She had openly discussed her faith on her Facebook profile something that gave Charlie a hook when he sought her friendship online in 2014. Their relationship progressed quickly and soon they were praying together online, of course.

              The woman, whos in her late 50s, said in an audiotape provided by the FBI (listen below) that she was in an emotionally abusive marriage, and things had not been good for probably at least 10 years. She was looking for happiness and thought she had found it with Charlie.

              When he first asked for money to help finish a construction job, she said, I prayed about it. Ive always been a very giving person, and I figured if I had money I could send him some. Thats how she came to lose the first $30,000.

              Over the next two years, she sent more money in response to each new story he told her, she said, because, after all, they were in love. Eventually, the womans financial adviser became alarmed about her steadily dwindling accounts and, suspecting fraud, urged her to contact the FBI. By that point, she had sent $2 million to a man she never met.

              The Most Likely Victims

              According to FBI data, 82 percent of romance scam victims are women and women over 50 are defrauded out of the most money.

              Using fake profiles on online dating sites and social networks, including Facebook, scammers troll for the lonely and the vulnerable. They promise love and marriage and build what feels like a very real relationship to the victim.

              Someone who has fallen for a scam before is a favored mark. Once victims send money, scammers put their names on a sucker list, Special Agent Beining said. Those names and identities are often sold to other criminals.

              We have seen victims become victimized again, she said.

              A Federal Trade Commission study published in 2013 found another telling commonality among all kinds of fraud victims: People who had experienced a negative life event in the previous 24 months lost a spouse, divorced, separated or lost a job were twice as likely to become the victim of a scam.

              In her 2008 book, Truth, Lies and Trust on the Internet, psychologist Monica Whitty explained that computer-mediated relationships can be hyperpersonal more strong and intimate than physical relationships. Participants can control how they present themselves, creating idealized avatars that elicit more trust and intimacy than their real-life, face-to-face selves.

              What happens is, you can see the written text and read it over and over again, and that makes it stronger, wrote Whitty, who focuses on how cyber technologies affect human beings and now works at the University of Warwick in England.

              Law enforcement officials say that victims are often embarrassed to let friends or family know theyre sending money to an online stranger. And should they wise up, they may be threatened and blackmailed by their faux lovers. As insurance that their victims will toe the line, scammers may gather compromising information commonly, videos of the victims masturbating at their request.

              The scammer may even admit the crime to the victim, but then swear he has actually fallen in love with her. Those who believe the excuses and stay involved may enter into a new level of danger as the scammer begins to groom them to launder stolen money, deliver drugs or scam others. They may also threaten to release those sex tapes to gain their victims cooperation. More than one woman has wound up charged with crimes.

              Victims live around the globe. HuffPost spoke to women in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Kenya, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States who had been scammed.

              Ruth Grover, who lives in northeast England, runs ScamHaters, a website that posts warnings about online profiles that appear to be scammers. She said that currently women in the Philippines seem to be prime targets, although she doesnt know why. Many victims there and elsewhere are not wealthy and must borrow the money they send to the scammers.

              We warn a lot of women, Grover said of her 14-month-old sites nearly 5,000 posts.

              The Most Likely Scammers

              Currently, the vast majority of online romance scams aimed at the U.S. originate in Ghana and Nigeria, Beining said, although theyre increasingly coming from within West African expatriate communities in Malaysia, Canada and Britain. In fast-developing parts of the world with high unemployment and postcolonial legacies of political instability and corruption, young men and women may turn to the 419 game, a common term for fraud that refers to the Nigerian criminal code.

              Nigerian scammers are dubbed Yahoo boys because of their onetime fondness for using Yahoo email accounts (many have now switched to Gmail). In Ghana, theyre known as Sakawa Boys, sakawa being a Ghanaian term for internet fraud.

              While Nigerian scams targeting an international audience in particular predate the internet, as The Guardian reported in January, the advent of social networks and email has broadened the potential victim list and changed the game.

              These scammers are not just young people set on a career criminal path. Some are students one 2006 study suggested as many as 80 percent looking for cash. Many undergraduates in Nigerian universities have embraced internet fraud as a way of life, wrote researchers Oludayo Tade and Ibrahim Aliyu of Nigerias University of Ibadan. Poverty is certainly a factor; almost half of the 10 million graduates from more than 668 African universities each year cant find a job.

              Whats more, cybercrime can carry a certain cachet in West Africa, according to a research report by Interpol and TrendMicro especially when the victims are foreigners. The image of the successful scammer who owns expensive cars and multiple houses, sports flashy jewelry and earns the admiration of younger wannabes has been etched into Nigerian culture by popular songs and YouTube videos. In his 2007 song Yahooze, Nigerian singer Olu Maintain appears to glorify the Yahoo boys lavish lifestyle although he has denied that was his intent. The video shows luxury cars bearing license plates for each day of the week, beautiful women and expensive liquor on tap, and dollars carelessly tossed on the floor like confetti.

              That image is light-years away from the typical standard of living in Nigeria, where the average annual salary is about $3,600 roughly $10 a day. Home computers and monthly internet connection fees are so expensive that much of the scamming work is carried out in pay-per-hour internet cafes, some of which shut down to the public while the larger scamming operations take over.

              In Nigeria, many of these cybercriminals believe the use of spiritual elements in conjunction with their internet surfing will increase their chances of success, a 2013 research paper explained. They cast a Vodun spell, which is akin to voodoo, to essentially hypnotize their victims into giving up the money. In some cases, this means wearing a charmed ring on the right index finger the one that hits the enter key to send messages and licking a black powdery substance mixed with honey before speaking to maga (fools) on the phone, according to The Guardian and a 2011 research paper on occult rituals involved with cyberfraud.

              Whatever the power Vodun actually exercises, virtually every expert who spoke to HuffPost for this story noted that many victims seem to fall under the scammers spell. When the scam is over, the victims still cant believe the romance wasnt real.

              Doug Shadel, head of AARPs fraud watch team and state director of AARP Washington, said the scammers seek to get the victim under the ether, so that the thinking part of their brain just goes numb. He interviewed a woman scammed out of more than $300,000, who described the experience like this: I felt like something a power outside my control took over my body.

              How victims respond after learning that theyve been scammed when they continue to desire the men who they understand are not actually real is certainly not rational, Shadel told HuffPost. But then again, the whole transaction is pretty irrational when you think about it.

              How The Scam Unfolds

              While the scam story lines vary in detail, they all tend to follow the same trajectory: The victim is identified; a close relationship is rapidly established online; a small amount of money is asked for perhaps for a childs birthday gift to test the victims readiness; a crisis occurs and a larger amount of money is sought with the promise of it being returned quickly; a series of additional bleeds occur until the scammer is exposed or the victim cant get any more money.

              Scammers often work in teams of five or six, with each member playing a specific role, according to experts who study and prosecute online fraud. One person opens communication as the faux lover. Teammates sometimes impersonate a doctor or a nurse demanding to be paid after a medical emergency. Or they pose as work associates or friends of the paramour, to whom the victim can send the money. Young women pretend to be teenage daughters, eager to call the victim Mom. If the victim gets suspicious, an accomplice may reach out pretending to be a private investigator offering to track down the scammer for a fee.

              It is all scripted: the words the faux lover uses, the love poetry he plagiarizes, the events that unfold in the relationship.

              One scammer managed a workload of 25 cases at once, impersonating both men and women, according to AARPs Shadel.

              The criminals can download their scripts off plenty of online sites. Last year, a 55-year-old British woman was sentenced to two years in prison for being a scriptwriter for romance scammers. One script she wrote tried to capitalize on an American tragedy. The scammer was supposed to say: I am a widow. Lost my husband to 9/11 terror attacks in New York. He made it out of the collapsed building but he later died because of heavy dust and smoke and he was asthmatic.

              Even with a script, there can be warning signs for the victims. Sometimes, the scammer may forget what was discussed previously or call the victim by a different name. Most scammers go with the generic honey or babe to avoid the latter mistake.

              When the victim seeks a face-to-face meeting, the script offers creative ways for scammers to say no or to cancel later. Some claim theyre working overseas or on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, where internet and cell phone service is spotty so they cant stay in contact as frequently as they would like.

              These Men Are Collateral Damage

              To build their false identities, scammers steal a real persons photos from dating sites, Facebook or even old MySpace accounts. Sometimes thousands of phony online identities are created from one set of stolen photos. The person whose pictures are taken has no idea anything is amiss until victims start to contact them hoping to get their money back or continue the romance.

              Member of the military are big targets because women gravitate to photos of strong men willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Soldiers represent protection, another appealing trait. Plus, being deployed overseas provides scammers with a great cover for erratic communications and no face-to-face meetings.

              The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) receives hundreds of complaints a month from victims who say they formed an online relationship with someone claiming to be a U.S. soldier. The fake soldier asked them for money to cover needed costs such as transportation, communication fees, marriage licenses and medical care. (There are no circumstances in which a member of the U.S. military would legitimately ask a civilian to pay for transportation, medical care or administrative fees.)

              I get calls every week and it is very troubling to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met and sometimes have never even spoken to on the phone, said Army CID spokesman Chris Grey in a press release.

              When it comes to photo theft, rank offers no privileges. John F. Campbell was the top U.S. general in Afghanistan when his photos were stolen. Campbell, now retired, took to Facebook to warn people after he and his staff uncovered more than 700 fake profiles using his image in the first six months after he took over the U.S. military command in Kabul.

              He wrote: I am happily married and my wife Ann is very much alive and my children do not need money for any medical procedures. I DO NOT use any dating sites, Skype, Google plus, Yahoo messenger or any other account.

              Courtesy of Steve G. Jones
              Without his knowledge, Dr. Steve G. Jones’ photos and identity were used thousands of times by scammers.

              Of course, men who are drawn into these scams come from many walks of life. In the case of Dr. Steve G. Jones, a clinical hypnotherapist based in New York, the scammers didnt just use his photos; they began to pose as him.

              About three years ago, Jones began receiving emails from angry women asking me why I had left them and what I did with the money, he told HuffPost. He said he still receives 5 to 10 notifications a day between Facebook messages and people emailing his customer service department. A good part of his life is spent dodging these heartbroken women, some of whom who think he personally ripped them off. Most of the ladies are frantically attempting to reconnect with me, he said.

              One woman made an appointment for hypnosis with his New York office. She showed up with color printouts of his photos that she believed he had sent her.

              I told her that she is just one of the many victims and she should contact the police, not me, Jones said. That didnt go over well with the woman, who insisted the two of them had a romantic relationship that she wanted to continue. She left upset, but still sent him a silver money clip from Tiffany engraved with the word Dreamy her nickname for the man she believed was him.

              When Jones posted on his real Facebook page that HuffPost wanted to speak with women who had been bilked by scammers using his name, more than 50 responded in less than 24 hours. About half indicated that they are still in love with him. One woman from Russia sent beseeching requests to HuffPost asking that we convince Jones to respond to her messages.

              Its like that every day, Jones said, when told about it. There is not much I know to do.

              Jones has created a Facebook group dedicated to those victims defrauded with his photos. He also posted this public service announcement on YouTube about how to avoid being scammed.

              The Facebook photos of Las Vegas resident Michael Besson were also stolen and used to create hundreds of fake profiles on Facebook and other sites.

              This week I already have eight women who have contacted me, who fell in love with some version of me on Facebook. Trust me when I tell you, this is an insanely huge problem that Facebook is just not owning, he told HuffPost.

              One woman from a small town in Illinois showed up at the door of his home, he said.

              [Scam victims] have a very weird after-effect experience where they still think theyre in love with you. … And yes, thats after they realize youre not the same person. Its almost like it doesnt even matter, Besson said.

              He said his motive in speaking publicly was simple: I hope my name is in the article somehow so Facebook feels the pressure to turn back on the facial recognition warning system that they have.

              The social network giant has facial recognition software that could help identify fraudulent photo use. They turned it on for me for about six months and during that time, every fake Facebook page that came up was caught within five minutes, Besson said. And then, it was turned off he said he doesnt know why.

              A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on Bessons case.

              Courtesy of Michael Besson
              This photo of Michael Besson with his daughter has appeared on hundreds of scammers’ profiles.

              Scammers Play In Social Media

              Social media and dating sites, where people volunteer details about their personal lives, are a natural habitat for scammers.

              Dating sites appear to be aware of the role they play, however unintentionally, in romance fraud. It is standard for such sites to disclaim any responsibility for fake profiles that appear. An industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told HuffPost that some sites fight back surreptitiously. They block users who they suspect are scammers without telling them. They create a simulated user experience by letting the scammers think theyre messaging people who simply dont respond. Any money paid is returned on the back end to the (presumably stolen) credit card.

              Whitty, the cyberpsychologist, had strong words for the online dating industry in her 2012 report about romance scams, calling on sites to post warnings and educate users about what to look for and not to be concerned about scaring users off. Clients need to be made fully aware of this scam before they start using online dating sites, she said. We learnt … that being scammed did not stop victims from wanting to use online dating sites, but they did stop using the one they were scammed on. … Victims need to be told: If the person is not willing to meet them in the first month, move on to find someone who will!

              Some sites do a better job of actively monitoring for fraudulent activity. Zoosk, a dating app with 40 million online profiles and members in 80 countries, lets users make a video of their face with the app that a human moderator will then view and match up with the submitted photos. But scammers can still hide among the majority of members who dont use that option just 7 million to date have made the effort.

              They want a breezy experience, Zoosk spokesman Daniel Mori said. They want to meet people and to date fast. The challenge, he said, is to keep the ecosystem as clean as possible without asking customers to work too hard.

              Facebook, the largest social network by magnitudes, is also a playground for scammers. Many scam victims told HuffPost that they feel Facebook is not sufficiently proactive when it comes to weeding out and blocking the fraudsters.

              Facebook spokesman Pete Voss said the site recognize[s] the risk of malicious actors seeking to mislead people, and for our part, we are taking a multifaceted approach to help mitigate these risks.

              The company has a combination of automated and manual systems to block accounts used for fraudulent purposes, and we are constantly improving these systems to help us better identify suspicious behavior, Voss added. Our security systems run in the background millions of times per second to help catch threats and remove them, and we prevent large numbers of account compromises every day.

              Facebook declined to give any details about its risk mitigation systems or say how many compromised accounts are caught. The site asks users to report posts or messages that ask them to inappropriately share personal information or send money. Voss declined to discuss how many reports it receives.

              The issue of what responsibility social networks, including Facebook, bear for enabling scammers is one that troubles many victims. Grover, of ScamHaters, thinks that Facebook could be more cooperative in policing its site. She said that the social giant sometimes shuts down victim advocacy pages which often post photos of alleged scammers yet leaves up pages for financial middlemen even when they are happily peddling crime.

              We shouldnt be having to fight Facebook harder than scammers, Grover said.

              Facebook declined to respond to questions regarding its general criteria for removing pages or why it has taken down some specific sites, but individuals do appear to be using the site to facilitate financial scams.

              HuffPost found this public Facebook group where people appear to be trafficking in credit card and bank account numbers on June 7. It had grown to almost 1,000 members over the course of several hours. When it was reported, Facebook took it down.


              But as soon as one page is removed, another seems to replace it. HuffPost also found this page called Yahoo Boys, which Facebook has since removed. Fraud expert and educator William Kresse said he was 99.99 percent sure that the guy here is advertising himself as dealing in stolen personal financial information.

              Financial journalist Rodney Hobson, author of The Book of Scams, concurred. It looks pretty blatant to me and if the site was removed after a short time, that is a classic sign, he told HuffPost.


              The criminal exchange of bank and credit card details usually takes place on the Dark Web, Hobson said, where the authorities wont see. But, he noted, sometimes it is done more openly.

              Typically a website will last just a few minutes and then be taken down before the authorities can spot it, he said. It doesnt matter if the fraudster fails to sell the details immediately because they can easily set up a new website and try again.

              Hobson compared the internet to the Wild West and argued that neither the police or the internet giants such as Google have committed the resources to tackle cybercrime.

              HuffPost also found five active Facebook profiles using different names but displaying the same photos. Two of the five were taken down before we could screenshot them; here are the three that remained. Scam victim sites suggested that the man in the photo is actually a singer in the U.K. and that the images were surely stolen.

              Screenshots of Facebook pages
              These Facebook profiles existed simultaneously, all using the same photo.

              Facebook declined to comment on the specifics of these screenshots. In the case of the top one, where WhatsApp account numbers are visible and appear to be used for the buying and selling of stolen financial data, Facebook which owns WhatsApp would not respond to questions about whether it turned this information over to police, removed the profiles of the posters, or even notified WhatsApp that some of its accounts may be being used in what appear to be illegal activities.

              When pressed for additional ways that Facebook proactively prevents the network from being used by scammers, Voss said, Were always looking for irregularities in how different pages and domains behave on Facebook. For example, when someone receives a friend request, our systems are designed to check whether the recipient already has a friend with the same name, along with a variety of other factors that help us determine if an interaction is legitimate. Its an area were continually working to improve so that we can provide a safe and secure experience on Facebook.

              He also pointed to the sites public information page about scams, in particular romance scams.

              The FBI said it does not comment on the policies and practices of private companies, and a Justice Department spokesman said that as a matter of policy, it would not publicly discuss prosecution strategies.

              Jones, the hypnotherapist whose photos are regularly lifted from Facebook, argues however that if the site really tried, it could quash the problem entirely.

              It may be a case of ignorance, he told HuffPost. If Facebook really knew the devastation that is going on these ladies being scammed out of who knows how much money annually, globally I think they would have this fixed by tomorrow.

              But Phil Tully, a senior data scientist for the social media and digital security group ZeroFox, said its impossible for a social media site to detect every scammer because both the tactics and scammers change so frequently. He thinks that the large sites have programs in place that thwart scams pre-emptively and thus reduce the risk to users. Still, ZeroFox conducted a study of money scams on Instagram last year and found that scams were being created at an estimated rate three times higher than the rate at which they were being taken down.

              Tech Helps The Wary Scammer

              Once theyve found their victims, scammers can take apps and other digital tools designed to shield the publics privacy and security and use them as protection against being caught.

              Every digital device connected to the internet has an Internet Protocol address, a unique set of numbers that reveals, among other information, the country in which it is connected. Anyone can check an IP address, though some browser extensions will send an alert if someone is doing that. So savvy scammers use a virtual private network to hide their IP addresses.

              Scammers like to move their conversation with their victims off Facebook or online dating services and onto other messaging platforms where, unbeknownst to their victims, they can organize all their communications. According to ScamHaters Grover and law enforcement authorities, scammers prefer apps such as Viber, WhatsApp and Kik.

              Leaving Facebook as soon as possible also protects the scammer from the risk that their fake profile may be reported and taken down. If that happens, Grover said, the scammer may explain it away to the victim by saying he was hacked or his companys security department forced him to take it down. But if they still have all their victims on Kik, they havent lost them, said Grover.

              Scammers never want to appear on camera in a live video chat, but will sometimes send a prerecorded video that shows what a loving dad they are or how handsome they look captaining their sailboat. (Obviously, these videos are stolen, too.) Sites like Manycam.com allow prerecorded videos to be played on live webcams. There are multiple YouTube videos on how to do it. And it adds one more layer of believability to the scam, said the FBIs Beining.

              Virtual Cam Whores, a service that creates customizable video, can also add a layer of authenticity. A user can manipulate the on-camera avatar so that the image on the other persons screen appears to be responding to what that person is saying. For example, if the victim asks for a kiss, the scammer can command the image on the screen to blow a kiss.

              Still, some would argue, how can so many people mistake what is a prerecorded video for a live webcam? The answer is as nontechnological as it gets: Victims must be willing to suspend disbelief.

              Jonathan Nicholson/NurPhoto via Getty Images
              Scammers have used Western Union’s services to move their ill-gotten money.

              Moving The Money

              Criminals have also used the services of pre-digital age businesses to help their scams flourish. Western Union, for example, was a boon to scammers because it didnt reliably require identification when money was picked up at its offices, particularly in the developing world.

              In January, Western Union agreed to pay $586 million to settle FTC charges that fraudulent payments involving a range of scams, including online romances, flowed through its money transfer system for years and that the company knew about and could have prevented those payments but didnt. Western Union employees have even been accused of knowingly participating in those scams. In 2012, the FTC found that a mere 137 of Mexicos 17,710 Western Union locations accounted for more than 80 percent of reported fraud involving Western Union transfers in that country.

              The terms of the FTC settlement require Western Union to pay back certain people who were scammed out of money in transfers the company handled from Jan. 1, 2004, to Jan. 19, 2017. The Department of Justice will handle the returning of money. The process for filing a claim has not yet been established.

              A statement about the settlement on the Western Union website notes that the company has, over the past five years, increased its overall compliance funding by more than 200 percent and now spends approximately $200 million per year on employee training and security measures.

              The Mysteries Of Love

              The big head-scratcher in romance scams comes when you try to understand the victims thinking in particular those who still profess their love for the man who they know scammed them. They essentially fell in love with a photo and turned a blind eye to their own doubts and suspicions, many told HuffPost. They ignored obvious red flags: spelling and grammatical mistakes from allegedly native English speakers, the rush to declare love sight unseen, the repeated requests for money that was never paid back.

              Victims believe because they want to believe, experts said.

              A 2009 study in the U.K. found that in general, romance scam victims are not poor decision-makers. They may have successful business or professional careers. But the study said they tend to be unduly open to persuasion by others and less able to control their emotions.

              Whitty, the cyberpsychologist, found that many victims were survivors of abusive relationships. When the person who earlier mistreated them was too important to give up say, a parent they learned how to go into denial mode. To preserve the relationship, they became good at explaining away, or simply refusing to remember, the actions that hurt them.

              No one is immune to being scammed. We need to be on our guard both for ourselves and for our friends and family. Stephen Lea, psychology professor at the University of Exeter

              This ability to suspend disbelief is one reason that con artists prefer to focus on people who have fallen for scams in the past. Rather than becoming more guarded, a surprising number of people who have been defrauded before seem to have merely proved their own scam-ability.

              No one is immune to being scammed, psychology professor Stephen Lea of the University of Exeter, who led the research team on the 2009 study, said at the time. We need to be on our guard both for ourselves and for our friends and family. If you have any worries that something might be a scam it very likely is.

              The subjects of romance scams are often blamed for their own victimization. They may appear foolish and even culpable willing participants who bear at least some responsibility for their losses. All the warnings were there, theyre told, and they chose not to heed them.

              Indeed, Dr. Cassandra Cross, who has studied the impact on romance scam victims, noted in a 2016 paper that they are rarely afforded ideal victim status. This kind of fraud is unique, she wrote, in that there is always communication between the victim and offender, and the victims willingly albeit under false pretences send their abusers money and share personal information.

              Victims of fraud are seen to actively violate the notion of an ideal victim and hence, are typically understood as blameworthy and culpable for their own victimisation, Cross wrote. But she added, Do not confuse the word typically in the last sentence with correctly.

              The victim-blaming is something that needs to change, said Jan Marshall of Australia, a victim herself who now advocates for others through her website Romance Scam Survivor. Nobody signs up to be preyed upon.

              Scam Victims Fight Back

              The damage to victims of online fraud, including romance scams, isnt limited to the money they lost. There is a small body of research indicating that fraud victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder on par with those who have suffered from violent crime. They develop depression and psychological trauma. Some have attempted or died by suicide.

              And some get angry enough at having been scammed that they fight back. The internet is ripe with scam-catchers hoping to educate the public about the dangers out there and spare others from being victimized.

              The website RomanceScam.com, for example, publishes links to various fake identities that scammers appear to be using. The best weapon against this crime is education, the site states. The more people that are educated in the way the scams work, the harder it is for the scammers to make money and the more scammers that can be put out of business.

              Some former victims find empowerment in scam-baiting, a practice in which they lure scammers and then play along as if they were being fooled. One person, posting anonymously on RomanceScam, wrote that she baits to waste their time, because the hours that the scammer spends with her keeps him away from another victim. She called it soul satisfying and said she enjoyed watching the scammer get mad and thrown off his game.

              419Eater, which calls itself the largest scam-baiting site, encourages scam-baiters to share their victories and stay up-to-date on the latest scams. It has an active forum where baiters can swap stories, and it has been recommended on Facebook more than 18,000 times.

              Sometimes He Gets Caught

              This past February, a federal judge in Illinois handed down a 27-year sentence to Nigerian national Olayinka Ilumsa Sunmola, a 33-year-old scam boss based in South Africa, for his role in multiple international romance scams from 2007 to 2014. Sunmola and his crew had concocted fictitious online profiles on popular dating websites most notably, Match.com to lure unsuspecting women, said a press release from the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of Illinois.

              After he was indicted in the U.S., Sunmola was arrested by Scotland Yard as he was about to board a plane from London to Johannesburg, South Africa. He pleaded guilty to all eight counts of the indictment on Mar

              Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/romance-scams-online-fbi-facebook_us_59414c67e4b0d318548666f9

              Laughing at ISIS to defeat them

              Mumbai, India (CNN)Deep in the outskirts of Mumbai, India, tucked away in a small conference room among dozens of buildings known as Bollywood’s “Film City,” the US government is implementing a unique, and until now, unknown counterterrorism program aimed at diminishing the online influence of terror groups like ISIS – by making fun of them.

                Standing next to a white board that reads “Fighting Terror With Comedy,” Mathur is joined by East India Comedy, a wildly popular collective of stand-up comedians and sketch writers based in Mumbai, who, like the other comedians in attendance, have been invited by the US government to participate due to their influential social media accounts and online presence.
                They screen and discuss East India Comedy’s latest video sketch, “I Want to Quit ISIS,” which spoofs one man’s attempt to quit the terrorist group. It is set in a boring, run-of-the-mill business office, where the man’s efforts to quit the terror group turn into a bureaucratic nightmare as he’s forced to debate his boss on the tenets of Islam, all while artfully highlighting the contradictions of ISIS’ ideology and methods.
                  “The basic premise was the corporatization of the terrorism process and just the idea of terrorists wearing blue shirts and ties and going to an office to get work done was what the idea was and I think just like every other brainstorming process it just changes and changes,” Kunal Rao, a member of East India Comedy, said.
                  Uploaded to their YouTube and social media accounts just a few weeks earlier, the five and a half minute video had already been viewed well over one million times by their fans and followers in South Asia and despite tackling such a thorny subject, it was one of their most well-received sketches. Compare that to the number of views the State Department’s previous videos garnered in an effort to dissuade those interested in joining ISIS and it’s clear Mathur’s approach has been more successful, at least in terms of getting eyeballs.
                    “There are a few government controlled YouTube accounts that put out anti-ISIS videos, the Global Engagement Center by the State Department has put out about 42 videos in the last couple of years but you know, they’ve gotten a combined total of about 55,000 views,” Mathur said. Most of the State Department videos have hundreds or a few thousands of views, although there are some exceptions. One video that pairs extremely violent and graphic content with irony has close to a million views, but that video is also several years old.
                    “So, if you’re a 16-year-old kid in Islamabad, what would you rather watch: an exciting action movie that looks like “Call of Duty” or a PSA from Uncle Sam? You would watch the action movie,” says Mathur of videos put out by ISIS as opposed to the others from the government. “But what if we could fight back with our own entertaining videos that didn’t look like government PSA’s because they weren’t made by the government, they were made by local, social media superstars that local people actually looked up to and enjoy watching.”
                      The journey from stand-up comedians to counterterrorism advocates began the previous month when East India Comedy members received a mysterious phone call from their manager informing them that officials from the State Department had invited them to lunch at the U.S. Consulate and wanted to have a discussion about counterterrorism. “We had no idea why they were calling comedians,” Rao said. “It was free lunch, that’s why we went,” recalled his colleague Azeem Banatwalla.
                      It was at this meeting that they met Mathur, who had pitched his idea to former counterterrorism colleagues in Washington, DC. Keen to see it implemented, they helped him find funding through the little known, and currently unfilled, Office of the Special Representative to the Muslim Community that existed during the Obama Administration. They’re hoping the success of their video could lead to more videos in other countries through different government agencies.
                      Asked about the program a spokesman for the State Department offered this comment:
                        “The Department of State continues to engage with Muslim communities and leaders both domestically and internationally on key foreign policy priorities through bilateral, multilateral, and civil society outreach. We are in the process of exploring and evaluating ways to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency, including optimizing the impact of available resources.”
                        “It was a really strange meeting because no one in that room ever thought they would ever be in a room with the other people,” Mathur recalled. “I said you guys ought to be working with local social influencers in places like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, where there is a large Muslim populations and create videos that are actually cool and are entertaining that people would want to watch that also, kind of subtlety, counter the narrative of these extremist groups and reveal how absurd their ideologies are. And the State Department, to their credit, was open to this idea.”
                        Home to approximately 175 million Muslims and a population that has the second most cell phone users and the fourth most internet users in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook, the cultural conditions in India made it an attractive location for a pilot program for the State Department to test this idea. But these same conditions are also what makes the Muslim population in India an attractive recruiting pool for ISIS, although Indian officials pride themselves on the country’s pluralism and democratic values that they believe are perfect antidotes for violent extremism.
                        Having already recruited tens of thousands of young Muslims from dozens of countries around the world, ISIS dramatically transformed the strategy of terrorist propaganda. Long gone are the days of Osama bin Laden taping a message for the world to see three months after being filmed in a dimly lit cave surrounded by bodyguards with AK-47’s casually propped up around the room.
                        And while the Muslim community in India has not yet experienced having hordes of its youth eager to go fight in Syria, like many other Asian or European countries, the bullet holes that still riddle the facade of the Leopold Cafe, one of the many targets of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed more than 150 people, are a constant reminder that India will never be immune from terrorist attacks.
                        ISIS knows their target audience and they appeal to it as any other company or brand would hocking their products in the West. By using slick imagery, fast-paced music, and action sequences, ISIS has been able to best government efforts to dissuade young people from joining.
                        “I thought, how are we, the country that invented Madison Avenue and Hollywood and arguably the greatest messaging machine in the history of all time – how are we losing, what is essentially a messaging battle to folks halfway across the world that are operating on a shoe sting budget. And so I think to counter what they are doing, we need to up our social media game,” Mathur said.
                        And while Mathur had the US government on board, he anticipated a hard time getting an influential comedy group to publicly mock ISIS. “This is a risky ask, when you ask someone to make a video that criticizes ISIS or some other terrorist group, that’s a lot to ask because you’re asking them to put themselves out there and put themselves potentially in harm’s way and no one wants to attract the ire of a terrorist group like ISIS,” Mathur said.
                        “I never really found there to be a risk in it because I’m Muslim anyways,” laughed Banatwalla. “And I’ve made all the terrorist jokes about having like four wives, and blowing yourself up, and haram, and not drinking, and pork and all of that and I’ve never really felt any problems.”
                        So, to Mathur’s surprise, none of the comedians had any reservations, despite knowing the inherent risk involved. Mathur even recalled one comedian explaining that, while they usually get approached by brands to sell soda or potato chips, they’ve never had the opportunity to do something as important as fighting terrorism.
                        “I didn’t think what we were most afraid of was the terrorist implication but the fact that terrorism and religion is unfortunately connected. So we were most worried about was the pushback in terms of like ‘why are you generalizing it in terms of this religion.’ That’s where we found it difficult but otherwise a joke is a joke is a joke,” Rao explained. “But it’s cool man, I think it’s great that the government, some government is taking action and trying to do it it in a very different way and that’s what we like about it,” Rao said.
                        “I Want to Quit ISIS” was not the only video funded in India by the US government through Mathur’s program, but the State Department was hesitant to discuss these types of programs further with one official saying, “we fund these types of things all around the world and we don’t always want people to know about them.”
                        While Mathur begins searching for funding to export his project to other countries with large Muslim populations, he’s hopeful the Trump Administration will see the value in continuing this program. “I do think the new administration is uniquely poised to appreciate exactly what we’re doing and that’s because who better understands and who better appreciates how effective social media and entertainment can be in spreading a message than President Trump,” Mathur said.

                        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/21/politics/laughing-at-isis-in-india/index.html

                        This city is a tinderbox, and the US is building a drone base next door

                        Just minutes from the city, faint tire tracks blow away in the wind, and the vast expanse of sand quickly becomes disorienting.
                        The sprawling desert north of Agadez, in the west African nation of Niger, is the size of France — and the search is on for a single stranded truck.
                        We’re lucky; our military convoy is armed and equipped with GPS, along with rough coordinates of which way to head. But as night falls and we begin to burn through our petrol reserves revving through the deep sand, uncertainty spreads.
                        Somewhere out there is a group of terrified migrants, lost in the desert for days, fearing that their hopes for a better future far away from here will end amid the dark and shifting sands that surround them.
                        Best is now at an IOM transit center in Agadez, waiting to return to the uncertain life she left behind in Nigeria. She’s one of the lucky ones.
                        No one knows just how many migrants are perishing in the desert, but Col. Aboubacar Oumarou, commander of Niger’s Armed Forces in Agadez, says rescues by his men are becoming more and more routine.
                        According to the IOM, 600 lives have been saved since April in newly-launched joint operations between it and the military.
                        “The more pressure we put around the migrant routes used by smugglers, the more they divert from the usual roads and more to ones that are riskier with a lot of risk of breakdowns, accidents, and getting lost in the desert,” says Oumarou.

                        Hub for smugglers

                        For centuries, the ancient city of Agadez — a World Heritage site whose historic buildings are constructed from red earth — has profited from its role as a transit hub at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.
                          But far from being an idyllic oasis, its endless dusty alleyways are lined by high mud brick walls, each compound closed off by corrugated iron gates.
                          In recent years, Agadez’s main cargo has been human: hundreds of thousands of migrants from West Africa, loaded into the back of pickup trucks for the arduous journey on towards Libya — and Europe.
                          But late last year, the government of Niger began cracking down on the trade, giving in to pressure from the European Union, in exchange for a hefty package of aid money.
                          The EU’s aim was clear: to stem the flow of migrants before it could reach Europe’s shores.
                          With few other ways to get by, the clampdown has left smugglers like Abalde Aboubakar desperate to make ends meet.
                          Aboubakar apologizes for the swarm of flies, brushing off a rug and offering up a place to sit in his cramped lean-to, as goats graze among the discarded plastic bags and trash on the public dumping ground next door.
                          He says he’s no criminal, just a businessman — a travel agent of sorts — providing a service to the five young men who temporarily call this place home.
                          “All the people that come here, they want to go to Italy,” he says.

                          ‘Tinderbox’ city on edge

                          Agadez is becoming a tinderbox, packed with migrants willing to risk everything, those who have spent all they had and failed to make it to Europe, and an unemployed local population, that is rapidly running out of patience.
                          “Our fear is that these people who don’t have work, who are vulnerable, that they can be recruited by the terrorists, by the Islamists,” says Adam Moussa, a local journalist and Agadez native. “With the fall (of ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, where are these people going to go?”
                          “It’s all around us,” says Zara Ibrahim, a women’s leader and a mother. “What’s happening in Mali, what’s happening in Libya, next to us in Nigeria.” She worries that, without jobs, Agadez’s young people will look outward.
                          The potential for trouble is there, says the US Ambassador to Niger, Eunice Reddick: “Young people can fall into the hands of … jihadist violent extremist organizations, because they don’t have other alternatives to earn a living.”
                          Niger sits in the middle of what the US military refers to as a ring of insecurity.
                          “This is a nexus area, kind of a focus area, for multiple threats to the US. Libya to the north, AQIM to the west or Boko Haram to the south,” says US Air Force Col. John Meiter, US commander of Air Base 101 in Niger’s capital, Niamey.

                          US drone base plans

                          Now the US military is moving its drone operation from Niger’s capital, Niamey, to Agadez. From 2018, at the behest of Niger’s government, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will launch its MQ9 Reapers — “hunter/killer” drones with advanced intelligence gathering capabilities — from Air Base 201, just outside the city.
                          “The move to Agadez is significant because it’s going to increase capability to surveil a larger and more significant area,” says Meiter. “It puts us in a more strategic location.”
                          For now, the new base is very much a work in progress. Massive construction equipment does battle with the desert landscape 24 hours a day, every day, building a runway capable of handling military aircraft. A few hundred support staff oversee the construction work from tents nearby.
                          The $100 million project is a massive undertaking — the Red Horse Engineering Squadron, in charge of the heavy lifting at Agadez, says it is the largest US Air Force-led construction project of all time.
                          And while the instability around Niger will be the focus of operations, it will be the security situation in Agadez that ultimately determines the success of Air Base 201.
                          “The stability is absolutely fragile,” explains Col. Mark Cheadle of AFRICOM. “With the youth bulge that we have here — the median age being less than 15 for more than half of the population — literacy estimated to be at 15% and humanitarian conditions very poor, it is going to affect how we conduct business.”
                          A US Army civil affairs team is already trying to reach out to the local population. At one school, two officers teach dental hygiene to a local women’s group. It is a small gesture — an excuse to engage with the people here.
                          “(The) closer we build a relationship with a local community wherever we are, it helps maintain our safety, it helps to maintain our security,” says Captain Kyle Staron. “It’s always helpful to have friends in case we have to rely on those partnerships in the future.”

                          Migrants stranded in desert

                          Back in the dark nothingness of the desert, ten hours after we left Agadez, the convoy continues to struggle, tires sinking into the soft sand.
                          Out here, with no sense of what lies before us in any direction, it’s clear why Niger’s government values the US aerial presence so highly.
                          It’s also all too apparent just how terrifying the journey must be for migrants.
                          In the distance, up ahead, lights flicker. The group from the lost truck — about 30 people in all, most from Nigeria, and around half of them women, wearing the local Islamic headdress to help them blend in — are huddled around an abandoned well.
                          Stranded out here for three days, abandoned by their smuggler after his truck broke down, they say they had no idea how dangerous these desert tracks could be.
                          They were sold a dream on Facebook, they explain. Like Best before them, they’ve fallen for a scam which aims to get them to Europe and force them into prostitution.
                          The migrants plead with the soldiers to take them onwards to Libya and not back where they came from.
                          “What is out there for us that is better? To harness our talent?” asks one young man who requested not to be named. “If we have the chance to get out of Nigeria, in any part of Europe we know that our star is going to shine brighter than in Nigeria.”
                          Agadez remains a transit point for people’s hopes, dreams and, increasingly, of their despair.

                          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/21/africa/niger-agadez-smuggling-us-drone-base/index.html

                          Working parents face rising holiday childcare costs – BBC News

                          Image copyright Getty Images

                          Working families in the UK face rising childcare costs and a scarcity of council run childcare provision this summer, a survey has suggested.

                          The cost of holiday childcare has risen 4% since 2016 to an average of 125 per week, a Family and Childcare Trust report found.

                          A separate survey estimated the cost of summer childcare would hit 3.44bn.

                          And working families face a general squeeze on incomes as inflation continues to outstrip real wage growth.

                          ‘On the ropes’

                          Shortages of cheaper council-run childcare have increased since last year, the Family and Childcare Trust ‘Holiday Childcare Survey 2017’ found.

                          In England, the majority of local authorities either do not have or don’t know if they have enough summer childcare provision available.

                          And private and voluntary sector holiday clubs are 22% more expensive than those run by local councils.

                          In England the average cost of six weeks of holiday childcare per child is 748, leaving parents “on the ropes” the Family and Childcare Trust said.

                          Image copyright Thinkstock
                          Image caption The biggest gaps in provision are for children aged 12 to 14, and for disabled children

                          “Once again rising holiday childcare costs and increasing shortages will leave parents struggling to keep their heads above water,” said the trust’s chief executive Ellen Broome.

                          “Many working parents who cannot call on family and friends to provide informal childcare may struggle to make work pay or remain in work at all this summer.”

                          But childcare costs in Wales have fallen 5% to about 118 per week. The cost of childcare in Scotland is on a par with England.

                          “High quality holiday childcare is essential for both families and the economy. As well as enabling parents to work, it gives children the opportunity to take part in positive activities that they might not otherwise access,” the report said.

                          The biggest gaps in provision are for children aged 12 to 14, and for disabled children.

                          There are wide regional and national variations in average cost for childcare, with outer London the most expensive at 135 per week.

                          The cheapest was inner London at 112 per week, followed by Wales, and the West Midlands.

                          A separate estimate by the New Economics Foundation think tank pegged the total cost of childcare in England at 3.44bn, with government contributions covering 688.56m of that – leaving a 2.75bn bill to be picked up by parents.

                          However, some parents manage to find ways to ease the cost-burden.

                          Image caption Alison Arlott says she would struggle to do her job without partially council-funded childcare.

                          Alison Arlott, a maternity nurse at a hospital in Leicester, works 12-and-a-half hour shifts which can be overnight or at the weekend. Her husband works in construction full time.

                          She uses a partially council-funded holiday childcare facility in the city to look after her sons Roman and Mateo during the holidays, paying 75 a week per child.

                          Without the facility, she said: “I wouldn’t be able to do the job that I did, because I just wouldn’t be able to fit the childcare around the hours that I do.

                          “It’s as tough as that… I’d have to find a job that was term time only because I just couldn’t manage.”

                          Some private firms have taken it into their own hands to provide childcare for employees.

                          Image caption Staff feel more happy at Manchester-based tech firm UKFast knowing they can bring their children to work.

                          Jonathan Bowers, managing director of Manchester-based technology firm UKFast, said:

                          “One of our team came to me and said ‘I’ve got three children’ – she’s not one of the highest earners in the business – and said; ‘It’s going to cost me 2,000 to look after my children over the summer period – can you do something about it?’ Luckily we’re in a position where we can.”

                          He says his employees feel more comfortable about where their children are, and so can get on with their work.

                          The BBC is looking at the cost of childcare. Find out more at bbc.co.uk/business or follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #Childcare

                          If you’re a parent, how do you manage looking after your children when school’s out for the summer? Send us your top tips to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

                          Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:

                          Or use the form below

                          Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40660355