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.

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

May 152013

By W. Abdelgawad for

Everyone seems to want you to put your money on autopilot. Employers and banks encourage you to set up direct deposit of your paycheck. The gym, the phone company and subscription web services all encourage you to set up automatic billing. Online bill pay services let you turn on automatic bill pay, so that your bills get paid instantly from your checking account or by credit card as soon as they come in.

Even many finance experts recommend automating your financial processes. Doing so, they say, can help you stick to your budget, and prevent you from paying late on important bills.

Direct deposit

Automating your finances is not a good idea.

I’m going to have to be a contrarian on this one. Setting your finances on autopilot can have unintended and dangerous consequences:

1. You might miss extra or accidental charges on bills. Maybe your phone bill has suddenly jumped for no good reason. Maybe your bank has signed you up for some extra paid service you didn’t want. The sad reality is that most companies are looking for ways to take more of your money. They’re not looking for ways to give you money, that’s for sure.

If you receive paper bills and take a moment to look them over, you will almost certainly catch any inappropriate charges. Even if you pay your bills online, those few minutes that it takes you to log on and review the bill will probably be enough to spot anything that doesn’t belong.

Check out the story of Chris Bovis of the UK, who was hit with a £19,000 phone bill because of a glitch in his iPhone that caused it to send and receive internet data in error. The phone company tried to take the money out of Chris’ bank account but the bank blocked the transfer. If Chris had signed up for automatic billing who knows what might have happened. The phone company might have been allowed to take the money, resulting in overdraft charges returned checks.

2. Encourages overspending. Just having a credit card is known to encourage people to spend more than they can afford, since everything happens “out of sight”, so to speak. So how about when the credit card bill gets paid automatically and you don’t even have to review it?

You could very easily get careless with your spending and end up in serious debt.

3. Greater chance of overdrawing your checking account. If you’ve got different services auto-billing your checking account and you’re not keeping an eye on it, there’s a good chance you could become overdrawn. Maybe someone doesn’t cash a check you wrote right away, and you don’t notice it. Maybe a service bills you quarterly instead of monthly and you get hit with a bigger bill that you expected.

Build Good Financial Habits Instead

Instead of setting your finances on autopilot, develop good money management skills. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing with direct deposit – I use it myself – or with online bill pay. But scrutinize your bills before you pay them. Review your credit card statements,  and bank and brokerage statements. Use a debit card rather than credit card (or pay cash, or write checks). Every month compare your income against your spending.

These habits will serve you well over the long run, in your personal life and in business as well.

Apr 082013

By Renee D. for

Having the ability to pay bills online has been made life easier for millions of people. While there was some concern initially, online bill pay services have become so popular and commonplace that most people never give any thought to security.

Online security

Online security – how secure is your bill pay account?

Most companies and financial institutions offer state-of-the-art protection for the different types of services offered. Unfortunately, however, there are still a few that depend on older security systems that do little to protect personal and financial information.

For anyone interested in paying bills online, it is important to choose a reputable service but also one with the highest level of security available. The biggest challenge is that most consumers know little about security, which makes it difficult to know which companies and institutions are actually safe opposed to those that pose some degree of risk. Knowing what to look for would make it easier for an individual to choose a service for paying bills online but without worrying about personal or financial information being stolen, shared, or sold.

Security Measures

There are actually several different levels of security available to keep consumer information safe. The following are a few of the most important security measures to look for in any online bill payment service.

o User ID – In addition to setting up an initial user ID, customers of any bill pay service should have the ability to change this identification whenever wanted

o Password – As with the user ID, an individual would choose a unique password that no one else would have but another critical security measure a system that allows a user’s password to be reset. However, not only should the password be something chosen by the customer but validated with unique security questions for which answers would have to be provided.

o Customer Service – Consumers should have the ability to reach a live customer support representative whenever there are questions or concerns about an account or transaction. Therefore, any service being considered for paying bills online should also have support 365-day, 24-hour support.

o Terminology – Another challenge when trying to separate online bill pay services from those that could lead to information being compromised is terminology.

Unless a person has a technical background, it would be difficult to know what security terminology means. Although not every term used should be researched, it would prove beneficial for a person to gain a general understanding of online bill pay terminology.

o Gateway – The gateway is very important for someone who wants to send or receive money online but also pay bills. Although many online bill pay services use only a payment gateway, some of the more reputable sites utilize this gateway in conjunction with the payment handoff option. The three main types of gateways are described below:

o Payment Gateway – With this gateway, messages are sent via an API to authorized networks, which in turn receives an approval or denial response. This particular gateway is deeply embedded within the company or organization’s software, which mandates a diligent PCI certificate but in some instances, certification for PA-DSS as well.

o Virtual Terminal – In this case, a site that offers payment services would be replaced with an actual terminal connected to a workstation used with a swipe device for swiping credit and debit cards.

o Payment Handoff – This is actually a combination of a payment gateway and virtual terminal. For payment approval, only a small portion of the virtual terminal would be required and for payments being captured and authorized, a third-party would be involved. Depending on the setup, paying bills online would be done in real time or scheduled batches.

o Collected Information – The type of information gathered by online bill pay sites varies but in general, this type of service should be most interested in a person’s name, email address, physical mailing address, and phone number. This information would be used for two primary purposes to include processing financial transactions and sending out informative or alert emails. If additional information is requested during the registration process, more research should be performed on that particular company or organization.

o Information Protection – For the personal information that is provided, a secure server is needed. Using SSL (Secure Socket Layer) technology encrypted into the gateway database would make this information accessible only to someone with specific authorization. As a result, any information provided would remain confidential.

o Stored Information – While personal information would be stored on the server, any financial information to include bank account information, credit card numbers, social security number, and so on should never be stored on the online bill pay company or organization’s server.

o Cookies – Most people are aware that cookies are often used by hackers as a means of gaining information about the types of sites visited or transactions completed. Specific to paying bills online, it is common for cookies to be used but only to get a better understand of what customers prefer to the bill pay site. However, if the latest technology is used for security, enabled cookies should not cause a problem.

o Information Sharing –When first registering with an online bill pay services, it is common for an “opt-in” box to appear. There would be a brief description of what happens if checked, which is critical. If not careful, a person could accidentally choose to opt-in, which means to give that company or organization permission to sell or share personal information. Sometimes, the Terms and Conditions will also provide key insight into whether the bill pay service offers customer information to third-parties. Obviously, information should never be sent, shared, or sold to anyone.

o Redirects – The last thing we wanted to mention about security for online bill pay sites has to do with redirects to third-parties. Although third-party references or even affiliate links might be provided on a bill pay website, at no time should there be an automatic redirect. Only consumers should have the authority to visit another site, which adds to security when paying bills online.

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