Jobless claims at 4-year low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell to a four-year low last week, bolstering the view that the job market is strengthening. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. That's the lowest level since March 2008, just months into the Great Recession. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, dipped to 355,000, matching a four-year low. Applications have steadily declined since last fall. The drop has coincided with the best three months of hiring in two years. From December through February, employers added an average of 245,000 jobs per month. That's pushed down the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years. -- AP

AT&T sued over Nigeria scam

AT&T got more than $16 million from the U.S. government to offer a calling service for the deaf that the company knew was being used by Nigerian fraudsters to steal from American merchants, the Justice Department said on Thursday. The United States alleges AT&T allowed an Internet-based phone system to be overrun by criminals and then improperly billed the United States to reimburse the calls. As many as 95 percent of the calls in AT&T's hearing-impaired program were made by people outside the United States attempting to defraud merchants through the use of stolen credit cards, counterfeit checks and money orders, according to the complaint. "Federal funding for Telecommunications Relay Services is intended to help the hearing- and speech-impaired in the United States," Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, said yesterday. The government is seeking triple damages. AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company followed rules set by the Federal Communications Commission for providing the services and for seeking reimbursement. -- Bloomberg News

30-year mortgage rate tops 4%

The average rate in the United States on a 30-year fixed mortgage rose above 4 percent for the first time in more than three months. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.08 percent, up from 3.92 percent the previous week. A month ago it touched 3.87 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s. The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 3.30 percent, up from 3.16 percent last week and a record low of 3.13 percent two weeks ago. The low rates have been among the positive signs that suggest the housing market could pick up this year. -- AP

Password privacy bill penned

A Democratic senator from Connecticut is writing a bill that would stop the practice by some employers of asking job applicants for their Facebook or other social media passwords. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on Thursday such a practice is an "unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work. These practices seem to be spreading, which is why federal law ought to address them." Some private and public agencies around the country are asking job seekers for their social media credentials. The practice has alarmed privacy advocates, but the legality of it remains murky. -- AP

T-Mobile trimming 1,900 jobs

T-Mobile USA Inc. said Thursday that it is cutting 1,900 jobs nationwide as it consolidates its call centers to reduce costs and remain competitive. The job cuts will affect nearly half the employees at T-Mobile call centers. The company said that workers whose jobs are eliminated will have a chance to transfer to the remaining call centers. T-Mobile will trim the number of call centers from 24 to 17. Those slated for closure are in Allentown, Pa.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Frisco, Texas; Brownsville, Texas; Lenexa, Kansas; Thornton, Colo. and Redmond, Ore. -- AP

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