All posts by allylevise

Is Cell Phone Insurance A Rip-Off?

If you’ve just bought an expensive smart phone, you may be considering getting it insured.

Cell phone insurance plans starting at a small amount like $6.99/month might seem like a good idea, but is shelling out for insurance worth it, or is it simply a rip-off?

Financial sources indicate that there are a few circumstances in which cell phone insurance pays off. For example, if you lose your smart phone only a few months after having purchased it, your insurer can help you replace your phone for less than it would cost if you weren’t insured. For this reason, cell phone insurance might be a good idea for someone who has a track record of breaking or losing phones.

Hang on to your old phone in case you lose your break your smart phone
Image provided by flickr creative commons user ellenm1.

However, in most instances it seems that cell phone insurance hurts the consumer’s wallet more than it helps.

Fine Print:

For starters, insurance plans often come with a good deal (sometimes pages and pages) of fine print, which should be read through carefully.

Sometimes this fine print might contain an agreement on the insurer’s part to replace your phone, but with what might turn out to be a used phone or a different model to be determined at the insurer’s discretion. This caveat might apply when trying to replace a new, in-demand phone, or an older model that is no longer manufactured.

Some experts say that these contracts are usually loosely written to give insurance companies ample leeway in dealing with individual cases.

Deductible:

Depending on the insurance plan, the consumer might be responsible for a deductible as high as $199. For that amount, you might be able to find a replacement phone on eBay or a refurbished phone.

Alternatives to Insurance Plans:

Instead of spending money on a cell phone insurance plan, experts suggest:

  • Simply setting aside the money that you would be spending on a plan in an emergency cell phone fund
  • Investing the money that you would be spending on a plan
  • Asking your insurance company about adding a plan onto your existing homeowner’s insurance
  • Use an older or cheaper phone until your contract expires

When buying a new smart phone, be wary of “peace of mind” insurance offers. Read contracts carefully and consider realistic alternatives.

Sources:

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/06/24/the-pros-cons-of-cell-phone-insurance/

http://www.sfgate.com/technology/dotcommentary/article/I-take-it-back-Don-t-insure-cell-phone-3886114.php#page-2

Game of Piracy

Game of Thrones, the HBO series based off of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, is reportedly the most pirated show on television. Downloaders have been setting bittorrent swarm records this season downloading GOT.

So what makes GOT so irresistible to otherwise law-abiding citizens? There are a few different reasons that people pirate television shows:

pirate
Image provided by Flickr creative commons user Criss!

1.) The way that HBO service is set up, users are required, in many cases, to subscribe to HBO on top of their existing cable package. If a user is only interested in one particular show, the cost of an HBO subscription may seem silly, and the user is driven to download the show illegally and for free.

2.) Because of delayed distribution to international markets, many people in other parts of the world resort to pirating the show rather than having to wait long stretches of time, up to six months in some countries, to watch the show after it has aired in the U.S. Finnish actor and director Timo Vuorensola, who directed Disney’s “Iron Sky” publicly declared that the HBO service that he receives in Finland is sub-par, with long delays before the Finnish audience can view the latest episodes. Vuorensola went as far as to say that he may start downloading the show from notorious download site thepiratebay.

3.) This show is so ridiculously good that non-subscribers just do not want to wait for it to come out on DVD in order to purchase the show legally. With several different dynamic story lines evolving at once, and the author’s penchant for killing off main characters willy-nilly, this show has viewers absolutely hooked.

But is pirating really that bad for business? David Petrarca, director of GOT, mentioned that he believed in the benefit of the “cultural buzz” generated by pirated episodes. Martin called the immense levels of piracy a sort of strange compliment, although perhaps not the best sort of compliment.

Even if pirating the show is not as damaging to HBO as it may seem, potential pirates should be aware – especially Comcast users. Earlier this year, Comcast implemented the “six strikes” of copyright infringement on users who download illegally. These users will receive an email alert when Comcast catches them illegally streaming a show – and according to some reports they seem to be paying particular attention to users downloading GOT episodes. Repeat offenders could be cut off from cable or internet access. Comcast has been criticized for not properly using official channels to notify users of this new initiative.

Sources:

Comcast’s “Six Strikes” Email With Infringement Details Surfaces

I’ll Download Game of Thrones from The Pirate Bay, Iron Sky Director Tells HBO

http://winteriscoming.net/2013/03/game-of-thrones-and-piracy-pbs-and-grrm-weigh-in-hbo-responds/

Game of Thrones Director Says Piracy Is Ok While The Copyright Alert System Is Warning Consumers Against It

What in the Heck is Smishing?

You’ve probably heard of “phishing” – when hackers send bogus messages to your email, hoping that you’ll reply or click a link so that they can get their hands on your information. But there’s a new version of this scheme that’s gaining prevalence, and it targets your smartphone. This scam is called “smishing” as in “phishing via your SMS (text) messages.”IMG_1698

One of the most popular smishes takes the form of a “Congratulations! You’ve won X prize from X company! Reply to this message to receive your reward!” text message to your smartphone. Do not reply to messages like this! Even if you figure out that it’s a scam and you really want to reply with something like “Go blank! your blank! you scamming blank!” – don’t do it. Yes, it would be cathartic, but the act of replying will only affirm to the smishers that your phone number is active, and you’ll receive more of this type of message (plus you’ll probably just be replying to a robot anyway, and robots are unfazed by profanity).

These “congratulations” messages, if replied to, may also ask you for your credit card information to allegedly pay for the shipping and handling costs of your prize. Never give out this information in a situation like this. Many messages like these have claimed to be from Walmart or Target. The Walmart messages have been used by smishers so frequently that at one point the company issued a statement saying that they absolutely never send consumers messages asking for sensitive information via text.

Another smish is one that will claim to be from your bank or another seemingly credible or important institution. The message will claim to be urgent and will request a reply. If you receive a text like this, do not reply via text message. Instead, look up the phone number for the bank or company and call them directly.

Other tips related to smishing prevention:

  • If a text message comes from the number 5000, it’s a smish. It’s safest to delete it without even opening it.
  • You may want to set up a text alias with your provider. This will allow you to receive and send texts, but the texts that you send will show up under your “alias” rather than your real number. It’s like having a secret phone number. Then you can block incoming texts to your “real” number and give family and friends your alias. Ask your service provider about how a text alias works.
  • Never give any sensitive information (your social security number, bank account information, etc) to anyone that you don’t absolutely trust.

Don’t let yourself get smished! If you’re receiving any messages that might be from smishers, report them to your service provider. You may also want to report suspicious messages to the Federal Trade Commission.

Sources:

http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/technolog/smishing-text-messages-seek-your-credit-card-info-947348

http://netsecurity.about.com/od/secureyouremail/a/Protect-Yourself-From-Smishing-Attacks.htm

http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/safety-2/family-1/avoid-the-dangers-of-smishing/

Going Back to School? Don’t Get Scammed

Is your dream to go back to school? There are many people out there just like you, who want to better their lives and provide for their families by furthering their education. Getting an online diploma can be a great option for busy people. However, some online schools are far more interested in taking your money than they are in actually teaching you anything.

image provided by flickr creative commons user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/atramos/6479790855/sizes/l/in/photostream/">atramos</a>

Unaccredited Schools:

Almost all employers will only recognize a diploma from an accredited university. Schools are not accredited directly by the US Department of Education, but by recognized authorities and accrediting institutions. Sham schools will often tiptoe around this and use words like “licensed,” or “recognized.” To be absolutely sure that an online school is legitimate, you can contact the better business bureau to ask them about the school’s credentials and whether or not it’s accredited.

Diploma Mills:

To earn a legitimate degree takes a good deal of time and a lot of hard academic work. Online schools dubbed “diploma mills” will offer unsuspecting education-seekers degrees based on “life experience” or a degree earned in a disproportionately short amount of time. These schools may also charge “per degree” rather than per credit hour or semester. Watch out for online schools that have foreign addresses or use P.O. boxes. If earning an online degree seems to require little to no academic work, or there is almost no communication with professors, you might be dealing with a diploma mill. Another sign of a diploma mill is a requirement to take an online exam that seems far too easy to pass, or lets you take it multiple times to ensure that you pass it.

The following online schools have been reported to issue useless diplomas:

  • Belford University
  • University of Berkley (watch out for schools with names very similar to those of real, reputable institutions)
  • Jefferson High School Online (for getting a GED – online school scams can apply to high school diplomas too!)

These fake online schools prey on people who are trying to improve their lives through education. Don’t fall victim to one of these scams. There are some legitimate online schools. Remember to check with the BBB to ensure that the online school you’re considering will grant you a real diploma that will be recognized by the military, employers and admissions offices. Many brick-and-mortar schools also offer legitimate online programs or classes. Also, if there’s a chance that you might transfer to a different school in the future, make sure that the school you enroll in now offers credits that are easily transferable.

Sources:

What Is School Accreditation?

http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/PersonalFinance/online-schools-scam-students-fake-degrees/story?id=8322412&page=2

http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/diploma-mills.html

Your Passport Has Huge Black Market Value

When I was traveling in South America a couple of years ago, the only form of I.D. that I could use to get into bars was my passport. That meant carrying this important document on me while navigating the busy streets of Bogota, Colombia (all in the name of a few mojitos!). My friends cautioned me to be very careful with it, as thieves would be eager to steal a valuable American passport to sell on the black market. Luckily, I encountered no such nefarious characters and I heeded their advice and kept it close to my body at all times, rather than in a purse. However, if someone had stolen my passport, I would have been dealing with more than a damper on my vacation and a bunch of paperwork. The theft of a passport can easily lead to identity theft.image provided by flickr creative commons user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hjl/101443399/sizes/o/in/photostream/"target="passport">hjl</a>

Prior to our current digital age, thieves would simply apply for passports using the information of a deceased person or someone who was very unlikely to apply for a passport themselves. The ability to quickly access databases now discourages this type of passport identity theft, although it does still happen occasionally.

A stolen passport is a wealth of information for an identity thief. It contains the owner’s name, birth date, nationality and place of birth, among other important tidbits, including the owner’s signature. There are passport cases available that hang around one’s neck and easily tuck underneath a shirt for relatively safe travel.

Although, modern passports are embedded with a microchip, which broadcasts a radio frequency. Unfortunately, identity thieves have learned how to “skim” this frequency to get access to your information, without even having to Continue reading Your Passport Has Huge Black Market Value

Identity Thieves Are After Your Tax Refund

It’s tax season! Filing your tax return is a less than thrilling activity, and you may be tempted to procrastinate. However, filing early can help reduce the chance that you’ll become a victim of tax-related identity theft.protect your refund!

In recent years, an emphasis on filing tax returns electronically and receiving tax returns via direct deposit has led to an increase in incidences of tax-related identity theft. Many of these cases involve thieves stealing social security numbers and using them to file fraudulent tax returns early on in the season. The thief will set up a bank account to have the money deposited in, and then close the account after receiving the victim’s tax refund. Then, when the victim files his or her real return, he or she will be notified that the IRS has received 2 filings under the same social security number.

You should be particularly concerned about Continue reading Identity Thieves Are After Your Tax Refund

Job Hunting? Avoid Work From Home Scams

Working from home sounds like a great way to make some extra cash. It means no commuting, and makes you more available to take care of your family’s needs during the day. While some work-from-home employment opportunities are legitimate, (I’m working from home right now, for instance!) job-seekers should be wary of offers that sound too good to be true, because they probably are! Taking the bait could result in financial losses, identity theft, and, perhaps worst of all, crushed hopes.Scammers may target people looking for telecommuting jobs. Image provided by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddi_07/4621283598/sizes/l/in/photostream/"target="telecommuting">Eddi 07 - Free Stock</a>

If you’re looking for work, there are a few things that potential employers might do that should make you suspicious. It might be a scam if:

  • The job you’re applying for offers huge payments with no experience necessary, or large payments for very little time spent working
  • The potential employer asks you to wire money to them for supplies, training materials, or other start-up costs
  • The potential employer asks you for sensitive information related to your identity (social security number, etc) or your finances (bank account routing numbers, etc)
  • The company’s website looks strange or does not function properly
  • The job you’re applying for requires you to process emails, money orders or checks in a way that seems suspicious (some will send you a large check, asking that you take some of the money as payment and send the rest back to them – the check is counterfeit. By the time your bank notifies you of the fake check, you’re out money and responsible to your banking institution for the false check)
  • The job does not require a face-to-face interview
  • The person that contacts you about the position seems nervous, overly aggressive, gets confrontational when asked questions, or seems hesitant to answer questions
  • You are approached to apply for a position that you did not seek out

Some of the most prevalent scams of this nature include the offer of a “secret shopper” position, mailing positions, and information or email processing jobs. If you suspect that a company or employment opportunity might be a scam, do some research about the company. It may be as easy as entering the name of the company into the Google search engine and finding them featured on Rip Off Report to determine that the company is trying to steal your money or identity. You can also call the Better Business Bureau or visit their website to check on the legitimacy of a company or to report a potential scam.

There are, however, a few resources that offer real opportunities to work from home, including Flexjobs.com and workathomemomrevolution.com. Happy job hunting!

Sources:

http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2009/april/workathome_041709

http://www.bbb.org/scam-stopper/ts-employment-scams.php