Nov 232017
Free standing ATM machines

Steven Seamark |

Part 1 Part 2 | Part 3

Freestanding, non-bank ATMs are one of the riskiest places to use your debit card. You know those ATMs you see at gas stations, convenience stores, airports and even sometimes at hotels and restaurants? Those machines are extremely vulnerable to hacking. Because of the high volume of traffic, it’s easy to for thieves to install skimmers unnoticed. And the staff at these places are typically not trained to spot skimmers or to notice if something is off or different about the ATM machine.

Using the external ATMs at the bank itself also presents a risk (though not as great a risk) for two reasons. One, because these machines are not supervised at all times, they are susceptible to being hacked / skimmed. The FBI’s fraud division suggests checking for signs that the ATM has been tampered with or damaged in any way, such as loose parts or screws, or parts that seem added on or mismatched. If you see such signs, don’t use the machine, and report it to the bank.

Second, there is the risk of being robbed if you use the machine after hours or at night.

For these reasons it’s safest to use the ATM inside the bank whenever possible.

3.50 avg. rating (69% score) - 4 votes
Nov 022017
Gas station

Steven Seamark |

Part 1 Part 2

Gas station pumps are the mother lode for hackers and scammers. Why? Because they have constant traffic and no supervision. It’s all self-service, so no one is paying attention to what anyone else does at the pump, and no one from inside is monitoring customers’ activities, especially at busier stations. I visit a very busy Arco station near my house, and though there are four workers inside, I literally have never seen any of them inspecting the pumps.

One common strategy thieves use is to install a skimmer device on the gas pump. The skimmer is a hidden electronic device that is placed over the card reader’s real slot. It is designed to look just like the surrounding machine, so you can’t tell the difference. The skimmer scans and records all the information on your card’s magnetic strip. The thieves then copy this information onto a counterfeit card that will draw money from your account.

However, the thieves still need your PIN number, so they install a hidden camera somewhere nearby, to video you as you enter the PIN. After a few days they remove the skimmer and camera, and they have all they need to hack multiple debit accounts.

Considering the high risk of using your debit card at the gas pump, it’s smarter to either use a credit card, or to actually go in the gas station and use your debit card at the register. Or of course you could pay cash.

Next: Part 4 – Non-Bank ATMs

3.50 avg. rating (68% score) - 2 votes
Sep 152017
Internet shopping

Steven Seamark |

Part 1

We live in a brave new world. Online shopping has captured a huge percentage of the consumer marketplace, and that percentage only grows every year. I admit that I buy hundreds of products online every year, including books, DVDs, web hosting services and memberships to online services like Netflix.

Naturally a lot of online purchases are made with debit cards. If you don’t have a credit card or prefer not to use one, then debit cards are really handy for online purchases. I personally have not had a credit card since the recession (2010 or so) when I got in over my head with credit card debt and had to negotiate a settlement. Since then, I use only my debit card for all online purchases. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Maybe you know the feeling.

Sadly for me and possibly for you, using a debit card online is extremely risky. In fact, it is possibly the riskiest of all places to use your card. You might have strong antivirus software installed on your computer, and you might trust the merchant. That’s all well and good.

The problem is that an internet transaction is susceptible to interception or hacking at multiple points. Data could be stolen at the endpoint, meaning at your end, the consumer’s, especially if your computer or mobile device is not secure and is used by other people.

Data could also be stolen at the midpoint, where someone might be hacking into the wireless network.

Lastly, as we have seen in several high-profile breaches, data could be stolen at the start point of the transaction, meaning the seller. We see examples of this all the time, where hackers break into the computers of large-scale retailers and steal thousands or millions of debit card and credit card numbers.

Next: Part 3 – Gas Stations


5.00 avg. rating (83% score) - 1 vote
Jul 082017
Where not to use your debit card

Steven Seamark |

Debit cards look just like credit cards and can be used in much of the same ways, so we sometimes make the mistake of thinking they are the same in all respects. They are not. There’s an important risk that comes with debit cards that is not present with credit cards: it’s much harder to recover your money in case of fraud.

With a credit card, if you find a fraudulent charge on your statement you can dispute it and refuse to pay, and the charges will generally be removed after a cursory investigation.

In the case of debit cards, however, the fraudulent charge draws directly from your bank account. Even if you dispute the charge and eventually get reimbursed by the card issuer, the process can take two or three months, and in the meantime that money is gone from your account, and that could cause some hardship.

So it’s best to be careful where you use your debit card. Here are four places where the risk is especially high:

1. Restaurants

The absolute riskiest place to use your debit card is at a sit-down restaurant.

If you use a debit card to pay your bill at a sit-down restaurant – the kind where the server takes your card away and returns with a receipt – you might well be ordering a side of debit card fraud with your steak and potatoes. During the time the server is gone he/she could make an impression of your card or copy the information.

Even if it’s not a sit-down restaurant – say you call in a delivery order and pay by debit card – some restaurants will keep your card info on file for ease of ordering with future orders. The problem with that is that many small businesses do not have security measures in place to protect your card information.

I consider major chain fast-food restaurants to be an exception. At the drive-in, you hand them the debit card, they swipe it and hand it back just a few seconds later. And major chains will likely have security measures in place. And if you dine-in, of course, you insert the card into the reader yourself. The point being, your card is never really out of your sight.

Next: Part 2 – Internet Shopping

5.00 avg. rating (83% score) - 1 vote
Apr 112017
City of San Diego Tax Collector

Steven Seamark |

When you’re cutting close to a deadline and have to pay a government bill, you can’t always rely on a government bill pay website, especially when thousands or even millions of other people are trying to pay at the same time.

We all remember the Obamacare website debacle of October 2013, when – the Affordable Care Act’s official health insurance shopping website – launched. As millions of Americans flooded the website to shop for healthcare plans, the site crashed. This unfortunate debut left a sour taste in the mouths of Americans and destroyed Obamacare’s reputation.

More recently, the San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector’s website crashed just as the deadline for payment of property taxes approached. On April 10th, 2017, residents of San Diego were trying to pay their property tax bills online, through

In California, property taxes are due twice a year, on November 1st and February 1st. For the February payments, the last day to pay without incurring penalties is April 10th.

As residents of San Diego hurried to make their payments online before the deadline, the Tax Collector’s website went down.

The problem was fixed later that day. One would think that bill pay websites would anticipate periods of high demand and increase server resources accordingly. I’m guessing that there is insufficient communication between the people who process the payments and the IT department.

So if a deadline is coming up for an important payment, make alternative plans in case the online bill pay website is down. Don’t put all your eggs in one bill pay basket, or leave yourself enough time to pay the old fashioned way – by check, typically – if the bill pay website crashes.


3.33 avg. rating (66% score) - 3 votes
Aug 102016
EZ Pass lane

I live in the Central Valley of California now and we have no toll roads or bridges; but when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had to pay a toll every time I crossed the Bay Bridge or San Mateo Bridge. If you’re familiar with toll booths, sixteen U.S. states have several lanes where you can pay cash, and a few lanes where you can speed right through, paying with something called EZ Pass.

EZ Pass uses the same technology in all states where it operates. You sign up and they give you an RFID transponder that you keep in your car, ideally mounting it above the dash or inside the windshield. It comes preloaded with funds. You can buy it at various pharmacies and grocery stores. Then, when you pass through the toll booth in an EZ Pass lane, you don’t even have to slow down. The transponder sends a signal to the toll booth and the toll payment is deducted automatically from your account.

You can also link your credit card to your EZ Pass account so that when your account drops below a preset amount – typically $20 – it automatically gets replenished from your credit card.

Third Party Payment Services for EZ Pass

There are also online payments services and online bank accounts where you sign up, create an account, and can pay your EZ Pass tolls from there. In Maryland, for example, thousands of drivers use an online service called Doxo to pay their EZ Pass.

It’s important to be aware with such services that there can be a delay between the time you make the payment, and the time it goes through to EZ Pass. This delay can be as long as several days. If you go through the toll, then add money to pay for it through a third party service it will be too late, and you’ll get fined.

Then why use such services? Many people like them because they allow you to pay online (rather than going to a retail location) and to track all your bills in one place. Just be careful to have funds deposited at least a week in advance before trying to use these online bill pay services for EZ Pass tolls.

3.27 avg. rating (65% score) - 15 votes
May 112015
Power lines

Automatic bill payers consume more electricity.

The Wall Street Journal reports that electricity consumers who use automatic bill pay actually use more electricity each month, and pay higher bills. Dr. Steven Sexton, an economics professor at Duke University, conducted a huge study in which he evaluated the electricity bills of Santee Cooper customers (a South Carolina electric company) over sixteen years. He found that automatic bill payers use between 4% and 9% more energy each month.

Automatic bill pay is safe and obviously convenient. Millions of people pay their electric bills automatically each month, sight unseen. And therein lies the problem. With regular snail-mail bills, you have to open them up, look at the bill amount, and write a check. You know how much you pay each month. If the bill seems high, you might scrutinize your energy usage and work on bringing it down.

With automatic bill pay you don’t even see the bill, so you’re not in tune with how much you’re paying each month. You end up using more each month because you’re simply not aware.

Sexton found that the biggest rise in consumption with automatic bill payers came with new customers and commercial users. The new customers are presumably young and not financially experienced.

I’m not suggesting that automatic bill pay consumers go back to using dead trees (paper bills). But you should make it a point to look at your bill online and review your electricity consumption. You might save more than a few dollars each month.

3.04 avg. rating (60% score) - 26 votes
Dec 082014

Smartphones have become powerful devices that enable users to do more and more with them. Each day, new abilities are heard of and each day, expectations of the users increase. In the bill payments space, a strong player can make use of this opportunity and grab the market. TIO MobilePay is striving to make this true with the launch of their mobile bill pay app.

The app is available on Android and iOS devices and has a simple and easy to use interface. It is a one-of-its-kind app in the United States that allows users to make expedited, same day and last minute payments using credit cards to thousands of billers. According to them, users can pay any bill with this app at affordable rates.

TIO MobilePayReminders can be set up, which prompt the app to send reminder emails, right on the phone. The app has bank level security and is bank independent. It has personal finance management tools as well. Over 6000 billers across the US are supported, which covers most billers in the country. Unlimited number of billers can be added and multiple bills can be paid with the app.

It is so easy to pay a bill with TIO MobilePay; it is a 3 step process, which involves selecting a bill, entering the amount and verifying/finalizing the payment. At present, payment methods supported are Visa and MasterCard debit/credit cards. There are plans to include PayPal, direct debit and many more methods. Bills paid are processed in real time and information is stored securely.

Payment history is stored in the app, as well as in the user’s email, helping them manage their money efficiently. Prices are between $2.99 and $3.99 for regular payments, that take anywhere between 1 and 4 business days to complete. For same day payments, prices are between $5.99 and $6.99. Users who want to try this service can download the app from Google Play or iPhone App Store.

2.74 avg. rating (55% score) - 19 votes
Dec 072014

When you logon to the website of SimpleBills, you will see that it has options to pay bills for roommates or parents in the main page. The reason this company began was sharing bills, a bill combining, splitting and paying service, primarily meant for students. Their main focus, their target market are people who share a common accommodation; in other words, roommates.

The challenge of dividing bills, including utility bills is made simple with their solution. Among the methods employed are timely reminders, creating accountability and timely communication with roommates and parents. They aim to make bill payment easier and convenient by offering this service.

Share Bills

Share Bills

Using this service, each roommate/participant pays only their portion of the bill to SimpleBills, though one bill with one due date is received; all utility bills are received as one bill with one due date. The payment of bills is done by SimpleBills, the participants have to pay to them to cover this payment. Payment options include online and mobile. Many university students have recommended this service, it surely deserves a trial at least.

So, no worrying about different due dates, sharing expenses and all other challenges roommates face. The roommate market is not just limited to universities, but also property management firms. SimpleBills have included them in their target market and have positioned themselves well there. Property managers can offer SimpleBills to their tenants

They are informed via multiple modes of communication including email, text and phone to notify of events such as non-payment of bills and so on. Interested persons can sign up for their service here and give it a try.

4.10 avg. rating (80% score) - 10 votes
Nov 222014

By Mohammed Waseem

TD Bank is known as America’s most convenient bank and it tries to be just that by offering services that make the lives of their customers convenient. One of the problems Americans face is the payment of bills; it is one of the most inconvenient tasks in their lives. TD Bank has made it easy and convenient by offering a 3 step bill pay service.

To pay a bill, a customer just has to select the company or biller to pay the bill to and then enter the billing information before choosing the amount and time of payment. Any company or individual in the US can be paid with this service and this can be done anytime on any day except weekends and national holidays.

TD Bank Bill PayThey also guarantee on time payments, provided it has been scheduled accordingly. The earliest date the biller can receive the payment is displayed, which can be changed to schedule a future payments. E-bills can also be received, which is a move to save paper and do some good to the environment. Billers with a US address can be added at any time, to make payments to them.

It should however be noted that not all TD Bank accounts have this service available. It is available only with checking and money market accounts. Payments are completed either electronically or using paper checks. Electronic payments are completed just the next business day, paper checks typically take 4 business days.

Payments can be scheduled up to 1 year in advance, while the minimum number of days it can be scheduled varies from biller to biller. Typically, it is between 1 and 4 days. Notifications can also be setup to know when a bill is due. Same day payments are currently not supported, but they may offer it in the future.

Like I said above, one has to be a checking account or money market account holder with TD Bank to be able to use this service. Interested individuals can enquire further at 1-800-493-7562.

3.33 avg. rating (66% score) - 6 votes
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