Category Archives: Big Business

Credit Card Companies Eat New Regulation

Ha!

Regulators have handed down new rules that will curb some of the more abusive practices of the credit card industry.

They also restrict such lender practices as allocating all payments to balances with lower interest rates when a borrower has balances with different rates

Did you know they did that? Think store cards with those various interest rate deals that you have to pay off by a certain time or get slapped with fees. What if the store doesn't apply any of your payment to that PART of your debt? What happens? Yeah… it's not good.

The new rules prohibit:

_Placing unfair time constraints on payments. A payment could not be deemed late unless the borrower is given a reasonable period of time, such as 21 days, to pay.

_Placing too-high fees for exceeding the credit limit solely because of a hold placed on the account.

_Unfairly computing balances in a computing tactic known as double-cycle billing.

_Unfairly adding security deposits and fees for issuing credit or making it available.

_Making deceptive offers of credit.

Good start. Too bad we have to constantly be watching companies to prevent them from ripping us off, but that's capitalism…

Lifelock Partners with Transunion… Sort of

Specifically, the agreement between LifeLock and TransUnion will automate and streamline the processes through which fraud alerts and opt outs are set, confirmed to be in-force and credit reports are provided for LifeLock members. These enhancements will serve to further strengthen LifeLock's delivery of proactive consumer identity theft protection services.

In other words, Transunion has decided to allow Lifelock to place fraud alerts and opt-outs on behalf of customers instead of suing them for abusing the system like Experian did. Wooo.

They advertise this like it's some great thing, but all it does is make life easier for Lifelock and doesn't have any benefit to you as a customer at all.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Gift Cards

It's that time of year when companies are pushing gift cards again. Safeway is even selling gift cards for other companies (how convenient). Here are the top 5 reasons to reconsider before forking out cash for a tiny plastic card:

5) Bankruptcy or Worse

The company may be bought out, declare bankruptcy, or go out of business. A caller at our local radio station was complaining that she had received a $150 gift card to a store that is now going out of business and wouldn't honor the gift card anymore. Ouch. Considering the times, this is probably not that unlikely of an event (Congress isn't likely to bail out any of your given retail stores, even if it's your favorite).

4) Gift cards can be stolen

Granted, no one is likely to pull a knife on you and demand your gift cards (though if they take your wallet, it's the same thing), but the far more common scenario is this: Go to Safeway where they have those racks of various stores' gift cards. Pick a popular store that has mostly high-dollar items. Write down the information on the back of several of the cards sometime in October or November. Just before Christmas, call the number to check the balance of the cards and see if any are active. Go shopping.

Think this is far-fetched? It happens.

3) Fees and Restrictions

Many have fees, expiration dates, restrictions, and other legal snags that make the gift card hard or impossible to use. You find that awesome sale item online only to find out that you can only use gift cards in the stores. If you keep the card in your wallet for too long, you could find yourself with little to no money left due to a declining balance.

2) Gift cards can be lost or forgotten

Keep in mind that by giving someone a gift card, you are giving them a job of getting off their butts and going to the store to find something they want at whatever store you selected. Some people find it hard to find the time or energy to make their way to the store for days and weeks or longer. Eventually, they may forget the card is there or lose it somewhere.

1) It's a damned lousy gift

Even if you pick a store that surely won't go out of business using your telepathic powers, you are a legal whiz and read all the terms and conditions and know it's a good deal, you are driving the recipient to the store as you hand them the card, and they also know exactly what they want, there's still one big problem: Imagine Christmas morning as a kid. You excitedly rip off the wrapping paper to find some wonderful toy or game and can't wait till your parents tell you that you can go off and play with it which you do for the rest of the day and probably the next few as well. Remember how disappointing it was to get clothes or something else practical that you couldn't play with?

Christmas may be about different things to different people (let's not argue that here), but I submit what is and has always made it truly magical was the excitement of fun gifts and toys. Once I finally realized that a few years back, I have made a conscious effort to make sure that everyone I give a gift too has something they can play with. A gadget, a movie, a video game, whatever. If they weren't excited to be done with "present time" and go do something with your gift, you did it wrong.

Nothing says, "I don't know or care about you, but I'm obligated to get you SOMETHING so this seems like a good idea since I won't run the risk of getting you something you won't like" like a gift card.

Disclaimer

I know that there are SOME cases where buying a gift card is a good thing. This is usually only when someone in your family wants something really expensive that no one can afford and everyone knows it so they pitch in with gift cards. I've never seen that go badly so long as it was under those circumstances.

The other thing I know people will beat me up for in comments if I don't say something first is how hard it is to get someone a good gift sometimes. Here's two tips:

1) Get them something AND a gift card. Make a damned effort you lazy bum.
2) Get you and your family on a gift registry. I made one of my own for my family on my website years back and it's been great! I always know what kinds of gifts my family would like no matter how scattered our time together or phone conversations may be. Even if I don't buy them exactly what they have listed on the site, I at least have an idea of what kinds of things they would like.

So with that said, have a happy and gift card responsible season!

Banks’ Overdraft Fees Hurt Young, Low-Income Customers

Duh.

The 18-month survey found that most banks automatically enroll consumers in overdraft programs — some don't allow them to opt out — and then cover overdrawn transactions for a per-item fee of up to $38.

The part many people don't know about is that banks purposefully post all charges to accounts in reverse size-order so that you get over-drawn as quickly as possible and then every small charge left leads to an overdraft fee. Only THEN will they post any deposits meaning that in some cases, people will get overdrafts even if they deposited enough money that day to prevent it.

(H/T to The Consumerist for the link)

Microsoft Malware Scanner Detects Almost 1 Million Fake Virus Scanners

One of the best and most revolting ways to get people to install your nasty software is to tell them that it's actually security software. Thus is the case with many anti-virus products which are actually viruses themselves. The worst part about this scenario is that people won't ever detect the malware because they would need an anti-virus to do that and they think they've already got one.

Fortunately, rather than just push out unwanted software to people through Windows update, Microsoft has added the very useful and surprisingly responsible function of scanning, detecting, and removing known malware from users' systems.

Not only does this help a lot of people, it hurts the scumbags who try to scam them while at the same time increasing the over-all security of the Internet. Nice move.

Beware: American Express Now Debits Your Bank Account

Normally, you choose when and how much to pay on a credit card statement and this is how it should be. People can make mistakes, but that's what late fees and interest are for. The situation is balanced and needs no adjusting. Well, I think it needs some adjusting in consumers' favor, but whether you agree with me or not, it certainly doesn't need adjusting in the credit card company's favor.

The Consumerist has reported that the new changes to American Express usage terms allows them to debit your account in cases of "errors or questions". In other words, they can debit your bank account whenever they feel like it. If they think you did something wrong or they have a computing glitch, you may find yourself suddenly charged for some arbitrary amount.

I don't know about you, but the last thing I need is sudden and unexpected charges to my bank account. If this move is typical of AMEX, then perhaps that's the reason they are such an underdog in the credit card industry.

UPDATE

According to today's post, there may not be as much to worry about as first thought. They say that they will only debit an amount that they may have previously credited which they sometimes do if there is a charge in dispute or what-have-you.

Whether this is true or not, I have very little issue with a company freely depositing money to my account, but you're sure as hell never going to get the right to withdraw at will. No matter what, I think this clause is bad news.

Beware Blu-Ray Surprises

Simply put, media should be media, programs should be programs. Putting code or commands into media like movies, music, e-mail etc allows for viruses or worse and no one should have to worry about that. Well, worry.

If you put the new Blu-ray Iron Man movie into your computer it will try to connect to the Internet and download something (some horrible DRM program probably?).

Washington State and Microsoft Sue Companies for Using Fake Security Alerts

From the "well freaking duh!" department comes a news story that Washington state (and Microsoft) are suing companies that use those fake security alerts to trick people into downloading and using their products. You know the ones. They usually say something like "Warning! Your computer is infected with viruses and you must download a quick security update to stop it".

Your first warning should be when they ask for your credit card number, but I don't hold that mistake against anyone. The real problem is the scumbag companies who utilize this kind of manipulation. It makes you wonder how they've gotten away with it for so long in the first place.

(H/T to Schneier's Blog for the link)

Illegalize Ad Squatting

The same site over and over, many domains I can't have
The same site over and over, many domains I can't have
So I know that to buy a website that either the name of a famous person or business in the hopes of making them pay you bunches of money when they get smart enough to want that site is Cybersquatting and is illegal. Simple enough.

I also know that buying a domain that similar to a major site in the hopes of getting traffic from people who make spelling mistakes is also illegal. For example, if I were to register Hotmial and I got lots of traffic from people who meant to go to Hotmail. Clearly bad.

But here's the important question: what about ad squatters? Ad squatters are what I call those people who buy up every possible domain that consists of words or letter combinations that people would likely buy, park annoying ads on them and leave them there for all time. For you to actually get that site, you would have to pay a lot more money than if the site weren't registered assuming the ad squatter decides to sell at all.

I say ad squatting should also be illegal because if someone like me wants to register a domain name for a new business or website, I'm screwed because every possible good name has been taken. If some real company or individual somewhere legitimately used the site for their own blog or store, I wouldn't mind, but these jerks only have worthless ads and no content and do nothing to add to the Internet as a whole. In fact they make it worse because search engines often list them as relevant due to the domain name alone when in fact they have nothing useful on their pages at all.

I've read the stories about how these people make millions a year on these annoying ad pages, and I say screw them. I don't begrudge someone from coming up with a brilliant idea and making a lot of money, but when you're choking the opportunities of everyone else to do it at the same time, that's not ok.

So question time: Is this already illegal and either way is there anything someone can do to get a domain name away from one of these weasels? If not, does anyone know a senator they can convince to introduce a new bill or modification to one of the existing cybersquatting laws?

Verizon Drops Mandatory Contracts

Brilliant:

First off, Verizon is doing away with contracts under certain conditions. Let's face it, contracts are for cowards. Carriers had to default to them because of the industry's spotty record of customer service. It was their way of preventing you from fleeing.

That aside, the news is that Verizon has decided to no longer force contracts on people who already have a Verizon phone and will only use them when people want to buy a phone at the subsidized rate (in other words, those penny phones that actually cost several hundred dollars).

It's hard to believe that a company like Verizon would do such a thing, but the Wall Street Journal confirms it. They say that there will be an activation fee, but no termination fee. Finally!

Comcast Tries to Use Patriot Act to Take Customer’s SSN

When this guy tried to sign up for Comcast cable without providing his Social Security Number, they harassed him saying that they were required to ask for it under the Patriot Act.

Deal with this by first finding out what they're going to do with it and how they're going to protect it. I would most likely use the '0' trick or just make sure your credit reports are frozen and they wouldn't be able to run credit on you even if they tried.

Disgruntled Employee (Whistleblower) Slams Gamestop’s Rapacious Business Practices

A disgruntled former employee of GameStop calling himself "WhistleBlowerZero" has created a 9-part YouTube video series which explains quickly, but in exhaustive detail, the many reasons why you, Dear Consumer, should not shop at GameStop.

That pretty much sums it up. I listened to a few of them and the best part is that it's both amusing and packed with real world information and math that explains exactly why Gamestop is a huge rip-off.

Beware “Brick in a Box”

Sometimes when you buy something online or at a major retailer, you'll get it home to find out that it's full of bricks or bathroom tiles instead of the product you expected. Sometimes this is due to shifty warehouse workers and sometimes because a customer buys a product, says it's defective and returns it even though they replaced it with bricks. If the customer service counter doesn't check the box before accepting it, it goes back on the shelf and you get stuck with it.

The store's response to this is generally not going to work in your favor, but there are ways you can make sure you don't end up with the brick.

Read the article for full details, but here are the two main tips they cover that I agree with:

  1. Pay with credit card – This will give you many types of buyer protection automatically like the ability to do a chargeback.
  2. Check the item before you leave the store – Make sure you know what's actually in that box before you walk out. It's much harder for them to make the claim that you put a brick in it inside the store.
  3. Policies aren't laws – Just because a story says "it's policy" doesn't mean you should give up. They often have very bad policies and even some that might be considered illegal. You should fight for what's right regardless of what the store says is "policy".