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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:
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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.
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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?
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.
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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.
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If 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.
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.
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.
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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:
Reader’s Digest invited readers to share their own extreme money saving tips and here is what some of them shared:
Did you know that your credit score can be a deciding factor on whether your rental application is approved? Often as not, particular with larger apartment management companies, landlords will do a credit check to find out if you present a risk of not paying your rent. Since it cost landlords plenty to try and evict delinquent tenants, it’s understandable why they want to know your credit score.
Not paying your bills on time, missing car payments, mortgage payments or rent can all reduce your FICO credit score. Score too low, and your apartment rental application may be rejected. It’s ironic, because in this economy, with many people losing jobs and losing their house to foreclosure or short sales, a flood of first time renters has hit the market. Second, there are other people who have been in the same apartment for a long time but are now finding themselves forced to move to save money on rent, or because they moved to accept a different job or be closer to family (without moving in with them), and thus are filling out apartment applications, knowing that their score has been reduced.
If you find yourself in this situation, here are some things to do:
- Employment and income level verification
- References from previous and present landlords
- Eviction records
- Credit Report
You may be able to increase your security deposit or pay two or even three months of rent in advance to get into the apartment you want with bad credit.
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.)
Small business owners and the self employed too often run into cash flow problems. This not only adds stress to their lives, but puts them at greater financial risk and can limit their success. Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar blog puts it simply:
If you don’t bill efficiently, you’re not going to be bringing cash in. If you’re not bringing cash in, you’re not going to be making a profit or paying your bills.
What happens, Hamm explains, is that you must still cover your costs (or risk being late in paying your own bills) if you don’t bill as soon as you can, so that you get payed sooner rather than later. Getting paid right away puts cash in your pocket which can help you sleep at night, and help you better manage your business.
This same principal applies to getting paid and paying household expenses. If you don’t deposit your earnings right away, you are extending the period of time where you don’t have that cash available to cover your expenses. You risk being overdrawn with every purchase. You may worry more about your spending, or misjudge your available funds, because in your mind you may think you’ve “got a whole paycheck” sitting there. One way to increase efficiency is to have your pay directly deposited to your bank account, or if you have a prepaid card, to your card account.
On the other end, you are more efficient with your cash flow when you pay bills as they come in rather than letting them pile up and paying them all at once. This is because you will have a better sense of how much money you have available to spend, and you are spreading out the bill paying to align with how your money flows in, most likely weekly or twice a month. If you pay all your bills at once, it’s like the snake that tried to swallow the egg–a big bulge passing through the system. You are more likely to spend money you didn’t need to spend earlier in the month and then finding your bank account running on fumes after you’ve paid all the bills–or worse, left some bills unpaid because you didn’t have the funds.
For the hourly worker that has opportunities for overtime, you can gauge whether you need to take overtime or not, if you have been efficient in both getting paid and paying your bills, as you streamlined how your cash flows through your daily life.
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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.
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.
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.
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