Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry

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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

Toys “R” Us Is Officially Back in Business

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For people who grew up roaming endless rows of action figures and testing go-karts at Toys “R” Us, the news of its closing last year felt a little like the official end of childhood.

But we have good news for kids—and kids at heart—everywhere: Toys “R” Us is back in business. And it just opened its first new store at the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jersey. A similar store will open in Houston, Texas in early December.

According to NJ.com, Tru Kids Brands purchased the company’s liquidated assets at an auction last October, and they’ve teamed up with “experiential retailer” b8ta to create smaller, more creative brick-and-mortar stores. At about 6500 square feet, the Paramus store is much more streamlined than the former 40,000-square-foot warehouse-like models.

“Much smaller, but this store is packed with product, packed with amazing brands, packed with innovation, great technology,” Tru Kids Brands CEO Richard Barry said at the grand opening.

That innovation comes in the form of eye-catching toy displays, touch screens, a “Play-a-Round Theater” space for kids to entertain themselves while their parents shop, and even “Geoffrey’s Tree House,” a playhouse at the center of the store, complete with a winding staircase.

In addition to classics like LEGO, Nintendo, and Nerf, the store also features some newer brands, like Paw Patrol, that you won’t recognize from your original adventures as a Toys “R” Us kid.

The experiential establishments aren’t the only way Tru Kids is trying to revive the former toy store—they also recently relaunched the Toys “R” Us website, which now reroutes consumers to Target’s website, where they can complete their purchases.

Inspired to pull your old Hot Wheels and Furbies out of storage to relive their glory days? Not a bad idea, since some of them could be worth a fortune.

[h/t NJ.com]

Warning: That $75 Costco Coupon Circulating on Facebook Is a Scam

AntonioGuillem/iStock via Getty Images
AntonioGuillem/iStock via Getty Images

The promise of $75 to spend at Costco—especially mere weeks from Thanksgiving—is understandably hard to pass up, so it’s no surprise that a coupon advertising just that has been circulating on Facebook for the past several days.

However, ABC7 reports that Costco took to Facebook to set the record straight: It’s a scam. “While we love our fans and our members,” the company said in a post, “this offer is a SCAM, and in no way affiliated with Costco.”

According to Snopes.com, users who click the link to get the coupon are taken to website pages, which are not operated by Costco, that ask them to share their name, address, email address, date of birth, phone number, complete several surveys, and register for “Reward Offers,” which might entail filling out a credit card application or signing up for a subscription service.

With hindsight bias, the operation definitely seems suspicious—but the information it requires really isn’t much different than what we’re used to sharing on the internet. Plenty of companies offer similar coupons that you can claim through social media, and you’ve probably entered your credit card information for at least a free trial or two. Plus, when you’re accustomed to scrolling through your Facebook feed about as fast as your thumbs can go, it’s not hard to overlook the misspelled words or shoddy logos that should be red flags.

If you’ve already clicked on the fake Costco coupon or think you’ve been targeted by phishing or scamming, the company recommends that you contact costcocare@costco.com or report the attempt to the Federal Trade Commission here.

Worried you might be an easy target for cyber scams? Check out these seven pieces of personal information you should think twice about sharing on social media.

[h/t ABC7]

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