Beware of what you post on your Facebook profile. It can help fraudsters steal your identity. Identity theft is a growing problem because many people don’t realize that privacy settings on Facebook can change, enabling “friends of friends” and companies to piece together enough information about you to steal your identity.

Don’t post your pet’s name. Many websites include a security question, “what is my pet’s name?”

Don’t post your exact birth date (day or year), birthplace or the last school you attended. These are typically the challenge questions posed by bank websites and online retailers to verify your identity. A survey also found that nearly 70 million U.S. adults on social-networking sites include their birthplace on profiles. Incredible but true.

According to the latest research, more than 24 million Americans 18 years old and older are still leaving their social-network profiles set to the “public” setting. This means ANYONE, can piece together a lot of information about them.  “The information people are disclosing is not the entire piece of the puzzle but it’s certainly helpful,” Oscherwitz said. Thieves steal identities in pieces, he said, and layer them on each other for a clearer picture.

There have been stories in the news about burglars checking status updates on Facebook to find out who is on vacation. If you post those pictures of the beach, while you are still away from home, you are advertising the fact that no one is back at your house. Burglars have hit houses and gotten away with it, knowing the owners were out of town

Even listing daily activities can let strangers know your routine and put you at risk. Too much information can hurt you in other ways. Let’s say you complain about a spouse who later sues you for divorce. You are only posting evidence that your ex can use against you in court. You might also be giving a would be stalker with information about your whereabouts.

How to Stay Safe

Here’s some advice from a book called  the “Facebook Safety Survival Guide,” about protecting online privacy on all social-networking sites:

  • Never post your exact date and place of birth. It’s invaluable information to identity thieves, particularly when the two are bundled together.
  • Never post your address, phone number or email address. This is plum information to scammers and marketers who are looking for nuggets of your identity.
  • Control who can see your personal information. Many social-networking sites have privacy features, but they change often. Know what they are, stay on top of them and restrict your page to your real friends, not friends of friends or someone you met in a bar.
  • Limit information about your activities. If you must brag about a trip or a fabulous party, do it after the fact.
  • Remember that what you post is public and permanent. Don’t put up embarrassing photos that you wouldn’t show your grandmother. Don’t complain about your job or your boss. Don’t say something to or about someone that you wouldn’t say to his face. Don’t threaten others.
  • Know the four types of Facebook users: friends, outsiders, businesses and enemies.
  • You should know exactly who wants to be your friend or is asking you to link into their network. Some people will befriend your friends to get to you or your company.
  • Be wary of seemingly harmless quizzes. When someone invites you to take a survey, say, “10 Things Others Don’t Know About You” or “My Favorite Things,” it may be designed to harvest your data. The name of the street you grew up on or your favorite vacation spot could be clues to your passwords.
  • Before you share any information anywhere online about yourself or your workplace, ask this question: What would the consequences be if this information fell into the hands of my boss, competitor or people who don’t like me?
Category : Personal Finance
Paying at the Pump

Paying at the Pump

Everybody by now is familiar with paying at the pump by swiping a credit card, debit card, or prepaid MasterCard card or Prepaid Visa card. What you might not realize is that many gas station pumps are set up to place a “hold” of $50 or even $75 on a gas purchase, which means that your transaction will temporarily be higher than the amount of gas you have purchased. For example, if your gas purchase was $25 at the pump, another $50 might be added to the purchase, making the withdrawal request of funds from your card $75, but only long enough to confirm the actual purchase amount. At that point, the “hold” amount of $50 would be put back onto your card. This process can take a few minutes to as long as 48 hours.  If you aren’t aware of this fact, you could drive away thinking you had that $50 available on your card, and be upset when your card is denied for lack of funds an hour later when you are out shopping.

The bottom line is that the $50 hold amount is returned to you electronically behind the scenes. But you have to have that extra $50 in your account to cover the hold amount, otherwise your transaction could be denied at the pump. For example, if you only had $50 on your card, and go to buy $25 worth of gas, you won’t have the $25 + $50 ($75) to let the transaction go through. So, you could be frustrated.

Why do these holds exist? The reason is that until the transaction is processed fully processed, being electronically transmitted over the MasterCard or Visa network, through a bank, and back to the merchant, there is a delay. Your prepaid card company won’t know exactly how much you spent until the gas station processes its receipts and submits the purchase to the card company for payment. And so the prepaid card company preauthorizes the sale and also adds $50 to cover the full cost of a tankful of gas, and credits it back to your account once it knows the exact amount spent. Again, this could take a few minutes or two days. Until the money is credited back, it’s like you don’t have it in your account.

What can you do? Instead of paying at the pump, take your card into the station first. When you give your card to the attendant inside, the cashier should not preauthorize your card. Because they are holding your card, they don’t need to. After you pump your gas, the attendant will ring up the purchase for the exact amount spent. With no preauthorization of $50 to $100, there won’t be a hold on your funds. To be sure, it is less convenient for you to have to go inside, but if your balance is low on your card, it is worth doing. If you have plenty of funds on your card to cover the preauthorization, then you can benefit from the convenience of swiping at the pump.

Category : Personal Finance | Uncategorized

To combat fraud, credit card companies are much more likely to place a freeze on a credit card account if a purchase falls outside your normal use. What does this look like?

  • You take a trip out of state, say driving across the border and fill up your car at a gas station. The card company has no record of you being in that area, and so it flags this as unusual behavior. Perhaps a thief has your card?
  • You make a small online purchase. For example, to set up a child e-mail account, Yahoo requires the parent to charge their credit card by fifty cents. My account was frozen when I did this recently, and I had to call the fraud hotline to verify that the charge was legitimate.
  • You travel to a foreign country without telling your credit card company in advance.
  • You make a series of purchases for things you do not usually by. For instance, you’ve never bought woman’s lingerie. Until your credit card company intuits this new pattern (maybe you recently got engaged) this may put a freeze on your account.
Fraud protection

A Frozen Credit Card

For debit cards, the issue is the hold that happens whenever you pay for something with a signature purchase in which the vendor does not know in advance exactly how much your purchase will be, but you can access the service or product in advance of payment. The two most common situations are renting a hotel room or gasing up your car. For gas purchases at the pump, typically a hold of $50 or as much as $75 is immediately put through, meaning you need to have that much money in your card account to avoid having the purchase being denied at the point of purchase. If you logged into your card account after making a $20 gas purchase, for example, you would see the charge as $75 perhaps for a few hours or maybe even a day or two before the actual amount was registered and the difference credited back to your account. For hotels, the “hold” would be much higher to cover a night’s room rate, say $150 or $200.

Susan Stellin writing in the New York Times spoke to a credit card company about the freeze she experienced when buying gas out of state:??

I was surprised that a cheap gas purchase in California could also freeze my account, so I called U.S. Bank to find out if travelers need to start alerting their banks about their domestic travels, which seemed like overkill to me.

It probably is, said Dave Leiker, a senior vice president with U.S. Bank. He told me that besides watching for unusual spending patterns, banks also monitor where criminals use stolen cards, places like automated payment kiosks in metropolitan areas.

?We may have been seeing a trend where the bad guys were out there using stolen credit cards at gas pumps,? he said.

Category : Credit

The New York Times reports that of all credit card hacking cases last year 38 percent were the result of breaches in hotel credit card security. This is because hotels lag behind banks and retail merchants in protecting credit card numbers from hackers. And it can take hotels months to discover the fraud, if in fact they ever do.

Fraud experts say that hackers often steal personal data and make multiple small charges to validate a card, probe its vulnerability and test the vigilance of a cardholder before making bigger charges.

Tip: check your credit card and debit card transaction history regularly, preferably online where you can spot a fraudster’s activity more quickly. Report even the smallest transaction that you don’t recognize.  Do this especially if you recently stayed at a hotel or motel. And don’t never leave credit card receipts lying around in your car or anywhere else. As the this article recommends, shred them. Shredders can be had at an office supply store for $20-$40 dollars.

Category : Personal Finance

Summer Travel Savings

Posted by Henry Davis Comments Off

summer road tripIf you are traveling this summer here are some helpful ways to save money in the following categories.


When traveling by car, pull into rest areas and pick up the local hotel guide. They are chocked full of coupons for discounts on hotel rooms. You’ll save 10% or sometimes more on the cost of an advertised room. The discounts can be even greater than the lowest available one at the check in desk, such as the AAA discount.

Book online ahead of time for exclusive online savings. Use sites like Priceline.com, Hotels.com, or go straight to the chain hotel’s website to see what deals are available.

Consider staying at a KOA campground in one of their cabins. While this is not a hotel, it is a way to camp without having to bring a tent or camping gear. But you will have to bring your own bedding. Many KOA campgrounds have all of the amenities of a hotel, such as a swimming pool, restaurants, and even movie theaters!


Stay with friends or family and you will hopefully eat out less. Stay at hotels that offer continental breakfasts. Don’t buy anything from the hotel mini-fridge because the food and drinks are way overpriced.  Do you tend to buy drinks and snacks at gas stations? Why not pack a cooler with snacks such as fruit, trail mix, and water bottles that you fill at home instead of buying? If you aren’t in a rush to get there, order pizza, which is less expensive that even fast food places. Or pack some paper plates and plastic silverware and buy food at grocery stores that you can whip together, like bagged salads and cold sandwich fixings.

Car Travel

Have your tire inflated and you’ll see at least a 5% improvement on your mileage. Drive the speed limit. The faster you go, the worse your gas mileage. Don’t try to save by not running the airconditioning and rolling down the windows, because you will reduce the car’s aerodynamics and cancel out any gas savings, so you might as well stay cool.

While You Are Way

  • Turn off your air conditioning or raise the thermostat before it kicks in.
  • Put your lights on timers. They are cheap and available at hardware stores.
  • Unplug large appliances like TV’s and computers. You’d be surprised how much energy they waste while off. In fact, it’s a good idea to buy those plug strips that you can turn off every night even when you are at home.
Category : Saving Money Tips

In the May 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest an article described some of the extremes people will go to to save money. The ones that leaped out at me were:

  • Save a McDonald’s paper coffee cup to run into any McDonald’s restaurant and get a “free” refill. Another way to think about this is “stealing.”
  • Reuse trash bags–they wait for the garbage man, dump the contents of the garbage bag into the truck and bring the empty bag back inside the house to do it again. Another way to think about this is “gross.”

Reader’s Digest invited readers to share their own extreme money saving tips and here is what some of them shared:

  • Bring your own Tupperware to parties to bring home left over hors d’oeuvres.
  • Reusing: toothpicks, paper towels, floss, plastic sandwich bags, tinfoil, and other things that are meant to be used once and disposed of.
  • Retrieving toilet paper from the trees after someone’s house gets “TP’d.”
  • Diluting shampoo, household cleaners, and liquor.
  • Bring loved ones to the store and read out loud the greeting cards you “would have bought them” if you weren’t so cheap.
  • Bring your own slice of cheese to fast food restaurants to make your own cheeseburgers.
  • Swing by the recycle center or check neighbor’s recycle bins for magazines and the Sunday paper.
  • Walk through fast food drive thrus and pick up the change that people have dropped but not bothered picking up.
  • Look for food that is out of date at the grocery store–including dairy–and get it for half price.
  • When traveling, bring an empty bottle and fill it at a water fountain after you go through airport security.
  • Only put one bulb in a multi-bulb light fixture like a chandelier.
  • Mail out Christmas cards without postage but put the recipient’s address in the return address spot, so the post office will deliver the card to that address stamped “insufficient postage.” (this too is stealing).
  • Bathing only once a week to save water or saving your shower or tub water to flush the toilet or water your garden.
Category : Saving Money Tips

The momentum to roll out “wave and pay” or “tap and go” credit cards have stalled, as consumer acceptance did not take hold as much as the card companies predicted. Such smart cards include a radio frequency microchip that when waved or tapped against a special card reader device accept payments similar to the traditional method of swiping a credit card’s magnetic strip through a card reader. The method is meant to be quicker and easier for cardholders and merchants.

Restaurants that accept contactless card transactions include McDonald’s, Arby’s and Jack-In-the-Box, according to the Smart Card Alliance. Other merchants include CVS pharmacies, Walgreens, Sheetz gas stations, and 7-11.

These quick payments can be used even for small purchases like a cup of coffee. Cardholders are not required to provide a signature for most purchases under $25. Stores and restaurants even don’t have to provide a receipt for these under $25 purchases, unless the cardholder asks for one.? Large banks like Chase have led the charge for contactless payments with their Blink cards that were first rolled out five years ago.

This technology has not been widely adopted by prepaid cards. But that could change as the prepaid card industry adapts to the emergence of micropayments.

Interestingly, the technology now seems to be headed into the mobile phone market. The same microchip can be embedded in a mobile phone, eliminating the card altogether. (But how will the lack of the MasterCard or Visa brand mark be interpreted by consumers?)?? What the mobile phone brings is the power to communicate via text messaging transactional data anywhere. This opens up a wealth of applications. But will consumers feel these transactions are adequately secure? (We’ll explain how this works in another post.)

Category : Credit
save money by getting rid of your car

Flickr photo by Sunfrog1

Here at MiCash several of the staff sometimes bike to work. This is only possible because Washington DC and Northern Virginia have a robust network of dedicated bike paths. In urban areas with reliable and extensive public transportation, including bike paths, subways, and buses, now more than ever it is possible to consider eliminating the need for a car all together, or at the very least, downsizing from two cars to one.

We’re not suggesting everyone can do this, but with some lifestyle adjustments, eliminating a car in your life can benefit you financially.

Cost Savings without a Car

In 2010, The average cost for a typical auto insurance policy, including collision and comprehensive coverage, is $1,031, reports AAA. This figure compared average rates for the top five best selling vehicles averaged nationwide. Of course, insurance rates also depend on the driver’s age, driving record, miles driver per year, and location. Insurance his generally higher in the city and higher for younger drivers who can least afford the costs of a car.

When factoring in other costs, such as car payments, maintenance, and gas, AAA found that the average annual cost to own and operate a sedan is $8,487 . That comes out to $707 a month.? Of course, that number could be much less if you drive a beater, or you only drive a few miles a week.

Still, there’s no escaping the fact that having a car is one of the biggest expenses for an individual after housing and food.

I Can’t Ditch My Car Because…

  • I need it to get to work.
  • I need it to go grocery shopping.
  • I need it to go out on dates.
  • I need it on the weekends to run errands or take trips.
  • I need it to feel good about myself.

What are the Alternatives?

  • Ride a bicycle…use one month of car expenses to buy yourself a really nice bike. Did you know you can even order one on the Web and it will be delivered to your house? Check your local area for bicycling information. Here’s a good information website to get you started.
  • If you are the adventurous type, consider a motorcycle or Vespa instead of a car. The insurance is cheaper and you’ll pay only a fraction in gas costs. Also your cool factor will go up. If you’re single, your date can ride behind you, or just use her/his car when going out. Don’t think this will work? Listen how actor LA-based Tim Coyne has adjusted to life without a car on the Hollywood Podcast.
  • Rent a car (or pickup) those few times a year you really need one. Companies like Enterprise maintain rental locations all across America that are not confined to the area around your local airport but actually in neighborhoods. Increasingly in many cities, like Washington DC, San Francisco, and Montreal, bike rental companies let you rent bikes that you unlock from a public bike rack and re-lock when you arrive at your destination. The more extensive the fleet and pick up locations, the better this works. Montreal just rolled out a huge network of bike rental kiosks, and more and more people are getting by without a car.
  • Modify your shopping behavior… some people, especially busy urbanites, swear by Peapod and other grocery delivery options. Instead of the big weekly excursion to the grocery story, shop farmer’s markets and buy a few items at a time on your way home from work. Shopping locally will likely prove healthier too.

So go ahead and give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you after a little while, you can always go out and get another car.

Category : Saving Money Tips | Uncategorized

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