Archive for October 2011

Alert! ATM Cash Machine Scams

We’ve all heard of ATM cash machine scams; they’ve been around for a long time. But what you may not be aware of is how sophisticated scammers have become; how they make use of mobile technologies and cell phone texting, how quickly these devices can be put in place, and how practically undetectable they can be.

Within mere seconds scammers can install secret cameras, card scanners, key pad covers, and deploy teams to act as decoys, distractions, and card-swappers.  And these have been found everywhere, from gasoline pumps, to inside banks on the bank’s own ATM machines.

There are ways you can better protect yourself, IF…

  • You take a few minutes to check the machine before you use it – every time, no matter where it is located.
  • Always cover the keypad before entering your PIN.
  • Don’t reply to text messages asking for private information, even if it seems like it’s from your own bank.
  • Report immediately if you suspect fraud of any type.
  • Remain up-to-date on the latest ploys and schemes.

Before you make one more purchase or receive money from a bank ATM or cash machine – no matter where it is located – catch these videos giving information on what to look out for and how to protect yourself, your accounts, your money, and your credit or debit card:

  • ATM Scams, Protection Tips – Australia’s Commonwealth Bank instructional video giving common sense steps you can take to help protect yourself against ATM and cash machine skimming scams.
  • ATM Theft, How to Get Your Money Back – How to check for skimmers and fake keypads. Once thieves clone your ATM card and start stealing your money, how can you get it back? News reporter Jonathan Bloom says the key is to act fast.
  • ATM Thieves, How They Do It – A con artist’s hi-tech gadget or just simple distraction at the ATM cash machine can leave you a victim of theft. This video from The Real Hustle TV show shows how they do it and what you can do to avoid being taken.
  • ATM & Smishing Scams – How to avoid getting taken at ATM cash machines and a warning to not return phone calls or texts when it seems like your “bank” is trying to reach you, and more from CBS reporter Rebecca Jarvis.

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Does Buying a Bag of Cheese Puffs Really Matter?

We’re joining in on’s Blog Action Day – drawing attention to FOOD.

One of the tenets of growing personal wealth or trying to hold onto savings, is to try to get the most out of everything. Value does not always mean more expensive, and unconscious wastefulness is equal to throwing money away.

There are two absolute necessities for life: food and water. And yet, when it comes to saving money, food is often one of the first places many people think of to try to cut back to find savings.  Why? Because it’s the one thing we absolutely must spend money on every day.

So, to save what can add up for some to be hundreds of dollars a month, we become aware of how much we are spending or over-spending on food and devise ways to receive the most we can from the fewest dollars spent. Some of the ways we can achieve this is by growing our own food or shopping local farmer’s markets. But we also spend hours researching sales and promotions, using coupons, stocking up and planning menus ahead based on what is going on sale at the grocery store, which can add up to some real savings.  But what foods, exactly, are we saving money on?

Does getting it for less mean we should be getting it at all? Does being able to get it for less mean we should be oblivious to how our food choices affect the world on a broader scale? What does it matter to us if buying a bag of empty calorie, chemical laden, processed cheese-like puffs and tossing the half-finished non-biodegradable bag into the trash may waste fuel, waste water, overtax landfills, promote pollution, affect the climate, impact the world’s food supply, contribute to the destruction of local farms and the undernourishment of neighbors right in our own towns?

It matters for many reasons, but these three simple reasons should be enough for anyone:

1) Saving money. Preparing your own meals, bringing your lunch to work or school, buying from local providers and farmers, and using fresh unprocessed food is cheaper and saves you money. As simple as that.

2) Getting nourishment from as close to the original source as possible (as opposed to a preservative & chemical drenched, nutrient-absent over-processed something-or-other out of a box shipped half-way across the world), is healthier, conserves natural resources, and causes less waste and pollution.

And, 3) Sometimes what is better for our local community may ultimately end up being better for everyone, which includes YOU and ME.

A simple example of how what’s good for a few can ultimately benefit the many is how organic foods and bulk-bin selections are now becoming widely available as a regular feature at conventional supermarkets all over the U.S. and at more affordable prices. This is largely due to shopper demand, stemming back from the little grass-roots 1960’s neighborhood co-op food movements. More vending machines and corner markets have fresh fruits and vegetables available now. More neighborhood farmer’s markets are re-emerging. The food choices you make do make a difference.

But what about the food we waste? What does that matter? Some have been around long enough to remember being a member of “The Clean Plate Club” and hearing parents and grandparents chant at every meal, “Are you a member of the Clean Plate Club? Eat everything on your plate, there are people starving in Europe.” This was not intended to get people to consume more, but rather to be more thoughtful about not wasting food and over-indulging between meals. That campaign was created 94 years ago to ensure that the limited amount of food America had as a result of World War I didn’t go to waste. It re-emerged in 1947 after the Great Depression and World War II, when food was again scarce and resources needed to be conserved as the country tried to help those struggling to recover from the war’s effects overseas. And of course, parents also conveniently gravitated to it as an easy way to  remind kids to be more appreciative of what they had.

In previous posts I’ve written about how eliminating one plastic zipper on rice packages saved thirty-thousand tons of landfill waste a month, and how eliminating or even cutting back on consuming bottled water can save an average family almost three-thousand dollars a year, not to mention reducing the stress on landfills and saving fuel. As I have mentioned several times in the past, I am not a frugal fanatic, but I also don’t like unconscious waste. I wondered, if those two little things could make such a huge positive impact, then what about that “Clean Plate Club – Don’t Waste Your Food” mentality? Does not wasting the food one has purchased really help the world and the food supply at large or not?

Luckily for me, has already done the work, and they summarize just what a tremendous and far-reaching impact wasting food can have in their eye-opening articles: Discarding Food Wastes More Water than Showering, and  The Impact of Food Waste on Climate Change (and just about everything else), and Study Finds Half of All Food Produced Worldwide is Wasted. Here are just a couple of highlights:

  • 2 BILLION people could be fed for a year with the amount the U.S.A. alone throws away each year.
  • Food waste in the U.S.A. accounts for 1/4 of all freshwater consumption.
  • Decaying food in landfills produces polluting methane gas. If we simply stopped wasting food, it would be the equivalent of taking a quarter of all the cars in America off the road.

We know there are both “believers” and “non believers” on the climate and global warming issues – we won’t go round and round on that, but there’s no doubt that a waste-not-want-not attitude will never serve you wrong and won’t hurt your neighbors next door or around the world. That said, sadly, not everyone will be motivated to simply want to do a good thing by wasting less and being more conscious of food sources. The bottom line for many is this phrase used repeatedly by my 10th grade history teacher to describe the ultimate motivation behind just about every political and social decision, “The power of the purse.” Being conscious of the quality of and process by which you receive your daily bread, and what you do with it when you are finished with it, is not only eco-friendly and world-friendly, but health-wise and ultimately wallet-wise as well.

Creative ways to  get the most from your food and budget in our posts:

Why Bank of America Employees are Bringing Their Lunches To Work

The Miracle Money Saving Healthy Grocery Shopping Tip

Vegetables Save You Money

8 Fresh Food Saving Ideas to Stretch Your Produce Dollars

Save More Money – Break the Bottled Water Habit

Use Earth Day Eco Saving Pointers Every Day, and You’ll Save Money

Beware of the Blueberry Scam

And for money-saving shopping, recipes, and serving ideas see our channels:

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How to Avoid Paying Extra Debit Card and Bank Fees

New Rules? Watch for sneaky extra fees on credit and debit cards and bank accounts.

In our previous post we mentioned how Bank of America employees were in dread of B of A’s recent announcement to lay off close to 40,000 workers. Bank of America announced their layoff plan just weeks before this breaking story: Bank of America Plans to Charge Monthly $5 Debit Card Usage Fee. This makes Bank of America the first major bank to attempt to charge customers a monthly fee to shop with their debit cards. The B of A usage fee announcement has pushed a lot of buttons and angered many. And, several other banks considered joining suit.

A month after announcing the fee, which was to start in January, 2012, the bank ended up canceling the planned fee after, according to a Bloomberg news article, “…after listening “to our customers very closely,” David Darnell, co-chief operating officer, said in a statement today. The lender also cited competitive pressure.”

To summarize the proposed Bank of America Personal Debit Card Usage Fee: $5 monthly flat rate during any month you have used the debit card for purchases. Use the card once for a purchase of any amount, or 50 times… it’s a flat rate of $5 for the month. Make no purchases, pay no fee. Transactions that do not incur the extra fee: usage at bank ATM machines, online bill pay, and mobile phone transfers.

It’s not like $5 a month will make or break you. But at some point while you are working hard trying to save and make your way through the constant barrage of sneaky fees and charges infiltrating your every action, you reach your threshold and want to find an easier way or demand a change. Another example of the “extra fee” onslaught: a letter I received just this week from Citibank said they were raising their balance requirements from $2,000 to $6,000, otherwise a $15 monthly fee would apply to my personal savings account.

Due to recently passed U.S. Dodd-Frank Act legislation which imposes a cap on the fees card issuers can charge on debit card, issuers are looking for ways to recoup lost revenue. Though Bank of America has presently canceled their plans to charge a debt card fee, you can be assured they, along with other banks and institutions will be looking very carefully for ways to recoup those losses.  It’s important for debit card, credit card and bank account users to remain aware of those efforts, and check communications and statements for policy changes from their banks carefully.

While it’s almost impossible to avoid every single charge or fee, it is possible to at least keep them to a minimum and to help, we’ve collected some of our best pointers on how to avoid paying extra bank fees.

  • Shop with Cash. Once again, the wise words we’ve heard many times from the personal finance advisors in the videos on SLTV rings even more true now: shop with cash. You’re less likely to overspend in general when you use cash, and you’ll avoid paying those extra debit or credit card fees.
  • Plan Ahead, but… Sometimes, even if you have planned ahead, you may find yourself short on cash and needing to use your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM that will charge you a fee. Consider however, that the  $2.50 ATM fee is less than the $5 the bank will charge you, so make that fee worth your while and take out enough to use over the next month.
  • Ask to Have Fees Waived – Our all time #1 money-saving tip: Just Ask. We have had tremendous success with asking. Ask your present bank if there is a way around maintaining an account with them without having to incur extra fees, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Ask if you have more than one account and/or a credit card or loan with that bank if they might consider all of these together as one bundle to qualify you for no-fee status. Regarding specific incidents, you may receive waivers or have fees reversed if you ask. Personal finance blogger Ramit Sethi writes on how he negotiated out of bank fees in his blog,
  • Switch Banks. Yes, it’s a royal pain, but why throw your hard-earned money away when there are institutions offering the same services for FREE, right in your neighborhood, and/or  virtually over the internet? We would love to provide you a list of no-fee banks, but bank policies are changing so quickly right now, the list  would soon be out-of-date. Try an online search using terms like: best banks no fees 2011 – or – no fee banks.
  • Consider Alternatives, Like Credit Unions. Membership does have its advantages… Credit unions have historically provided great customer service, local community support, and because they are member-owned and not-for-profit, they distribute dividend payments from their “profits” to their “members” (which is you, if you have an account with them!). Deposits are insured. They offer practically everything a “typical bank” does, and many offer no-fee banking. offers a credit union search by zip code. If you are or a family member is in the military or is a veteran check USAA’s free banking services.
  • Always pay on time. This goes for anyone or anything you make payments to, no matter how you make the payments: by check, credit cards, debit cards, money orders, and even cash. Late payments may incur extra charges from all over the place: from the service provider, store or company, from their bank, from your bank, from the credit card company – and all of the above which adds up to big wasted bucks! Know when your payments are due. Consider automating your monthly fixed payments so you’ll never be late. If it’s more convenient for you to make payments on a certain date, ask to have the billing cycle changed. If you do incur a late payment charge, it is worth a call to see if you can have that fee erased… sometimes they will do this.
  • Consider Credit Cards. Credit cards have always come with some form of associated “fees.” There is the interest rate on unpaid balances, late payment fees, balance transfer fees, hefty cash advance fees, “convenience” check fees, and some carry a yearly enrollment fee. Some merchants charge more for purchases made with a credit card; many gas stations do this. If you do decide to use a credit card for purchases, make sure you pay the entire balance every month and on time. Use this for purchases only – not for cash. Cash advances come with big fees. Even if you do pay your balance in full every month, it’s a good idea to try to find a card offering low interest rates, just in case. If you have a credit card now, you can ask to have your interest rates lowered and fees waived. And thereafter, about every 6 months or so it’s well worth a call to your card company to ask if they would lower your rates.  Note on credit limits: Be realistic and know your abilities. It may be tempting to have a huge credit line available to you, but with interest rates as high as 25% on unpaid balances, you could be in over your head in no time. When you call to inquire on having your interest rates lowered, they often will “offer” to raise your credit limit – you can refuse this raise – which is wise. If your credit card is issued from the same place you bank, ask the bank to consider that account along with the rest of your accounts as leverage to receive benefits or fee waivers.

Videos with More on Lowering Bank Related Fees:

Magically Lower Your Interest Rates – Garrett B. Gunderson

3 Ways to Get Free Checking – Money Talks News

Credit Unions Can Save You Money pt.1 – Thomas J. Fox

Credit Unions Can Save You Money pt.2 – Thomas J. Fox

Cut Up Your Credit Card the Right Way –

Erase Extra Fees: Bank, ATM, Debit and Credit – Susan Koeppen

Overdraft Traps – Bankrate

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