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Archive for the ‘personal finance’ Category

Three times in one calendar year!

Posted by Chris on January 21, 2009

I commented on this before here.  As a summary, in March-ish of 2008 someone stole money out of my wallet (I think, and I think I know who, and when/how, but can’t prove it).  And in August, someone broke into my apartment and stole cash, a borrowed iPod, checks, my passport (I think), and who knows what else that I’m not missing.  Each time I filed a police report.

 

The latest incident was more fortunate—for me at least.  My credit card was used at five different motel/hotels in town in about one week.  I discovered two of the transactions as I checked my account activity online.  The card was in my possession the entire time.  I reported this to the bank as fraudulent activity and filed a police report.  My goals in writing this post are to do the following: explain (i.e. provide some reassurance as to how the process works) how I took care of this with the bank; talk about working with the police; and my personal feelings/what I’ve learned.

 

Working with the bank

This was the easiest part, and I knew it would be.  As consumers in the USA, we have some really cushy laws protecting us when it comes to credit card fraud.  First, the credit card provide cannot hold you liable to more than $50 in the event of theft, regardless of the amount charged.  Many times, they will waive it completely.  That was my experience.  I’m not a huge Chase fan, but they deserve some praise here.  I have a Chase/VISA Amazon.com card so I will give them all merits in this case.

 

***It is important to know that Debit cards don’t have nearly as much protection.  You are only liable to $50, IF you inform the bank within 48 hours of learning of the fraud.  There may be a limit for credit cards but it is much longer.  This is one reason some people advise people to use credit cards rather than debit/check cards, though there are probably many more reasons to use Debit (primarily, to avoid getting yourself in debt).***

 

I was on the phone with Chase for about 15 minutes over two conversations.  They mailed me something (which showed that there were actually 5 frauds) and had me verify what I did not purchase, I sent it back, and they cancelled the transactions.  They cancelled my card and had me a new one within 1.5 weeks.  I give them an A- overall, my only complaints being the time to wait for a new card (it was around Christmas and some people might really “need” the card so they could put themselves into debt buying gifts :-/) and a letter I received that said to call someone but I never received a call back.

 

A week or so later, I decided to file a police report as well (for more on my motivations, read here).  This was not necessary for self-preservation reasons, and if you’re shaken up or just “want to put it all behind you” then maybe you decide not to do this.  Otherwise, you should, as it can help to prevent this in the future and may have some therapeutic affects as well.  Since it was not a crime that occurred at a specific time and place, I went by the station on a day off.  After waiting about 15 minutes, an officer called me into a room and took my information, what happened, etc… It was very easy, though more time-consuming than speaking on the phone with Chase.

 

About two weeks later, I received a call from another officer who had been investigating.  She told me that one of the hotels were told on the phone that it was a “reservation for a homeless person.”  This is helpful for me, in identifying what I may have done to compromise my information and how I could prevent this in the future. (However, I already suspected such, and will probably not act differently in the future, as far as helping out the homeless goes.  Unless I’m told that a specific action of mine got my credit card # in someone else’s hands, I’m not going to change my whole life and make entirely different decisions).  This makes me think that I may know the person and it may not be random, though the first officer told me that this crime is very common here.

 

Another two weeks have passed and I have not heard anything else.  Is this someone I know?  If yes, then perhaps my ignorance is not good.  Otherwise, I’m not worried.  Hopefully if this happens to you things will work out just as well.

Posted in about me, personal finance | 1 Comment »

Some good links and gas mileage

Posted by Chris on May 24, 2008

Newsweek’s latest cover story,Growing Up Bipolar: Welcome to Max’s World follows a boy first given a bipolar diagnosis as an infant.

I think I found a new hobby.

First Lieutenant Ted Janis tells TrueHoop about playing pickup basketball in Iraq and the role it plays in helping the soldiers enjoy their time there.

The Department of Transportation reports that vehicle miles fell 4.3% in March, over March 2007. In fact, miles driven have been dropping since last November.

I have read/heard some people say that $4.00 is the price that would cause them to start changing their behavior. Well, $4.00 is here. Gas was $3.50 here 3-4 weeks ago… then it jumped to 3.89, then just jumped to $4.08. It looks like, as a country, we are already making some adjustments (although I wonder if the general economic problems have lowered spending enough to change driving habits rather than gas prices).

I’ve done several things. First off, I have been adjusting my driving habits for over a year, walking and biking some last summer, trying to be strategic about taking care of errands in one trip. Now, I walk more and luckily live very close to my current job.

Much of my motivation for these changes was not due to gas prices, but rather a desire to get exercise, reduce my carbon footprint, enjoy the outdoors. Lately, I’ve made further changes- to my driving itself — accelerating slower, turning my car off at long stop lights, coasting to red lights, etc… unbeknownst to me until yesterday, I was “Hypermiling.” It works, I’m guessing that I may end up getting 10-20% better gas mileage. It will be somewhat hard to measure for now because I made an uncharacteristically long trip out into the country, getting better mileage, and my next tank will probably include my drive to the airport in Springfield. But sometime in June I’ll be able to test the MPG I got last year driving around here vs. my current MPG.

What will you do?

Posted in about me, Culture, links of the day, personal finance | Leave a Comment »

Cell Phones part 2

Posted by Chris on October 8, 2007

I wrote over here about my new cell phone and the different structure for cell phone business in India v. America. The US is probably in the minority, actually. I don’t know how Europe or other long developed countries, but the majority of countries and the global population would be using pre-paid system (I could be wrong, this isn’t an academic paper).

Why is this? I can think of several reasons. First, for poor(er) people, it is more affordable. No provider in the US is interested in offering a $10/mth plan with 60 minutes, which would not be profitable here, but in other countries that is what the consumer can afford and it is profitable because of lower costs.

Second, cell phone usage is more practical than social in many cases. When you pre-pay you are less likely to chat away, yes, but I think the causality is the other way around; the usage of cell phones is often for business purposes or to quickly connect and coordinate with someone. Many developing societies are very mobile, but that mobility is often the result of either poverty (migration to urban areas) or war/conflict (refugees). They might wish to call home, if anyone is left there, but don’t have the means and are usually struggling to survive. In the US, we “go off” to college, search nationwide databases for jobs, etc… our mobility leads to us wanting to connect with those who are far away and we have the material prosperity to afford liberal usage of mobile technology.

Third, here in Kolkata at least, there is not a pre-existing widespread landline phone infrastructure. People were not accustomed to paying the monthly phone bill for a set amount. In the US, I think consumers would have been very slow to adopt pay-by-use mobiles and the first company to offer an affordable monthly plan would likely have won many customers. But it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a cell phone is the first phone many people own in a developing nation.

Last, cash flow. I was reading the annual report of Millicom who is operating in countries like Sri Lanka, Laos, and the Congo, and they mentioned that some users recharge the phone balance several times a day, as their business/livelihood gives them the cash. One might spend the same amount, in relative dollars, that I do on my monthly bill but could never afford to pay it all at once. And if they come up short, they have the option to not purchase more minutes and have a liability to pay.

A reason that does NOT explain pre-paid: that different corporations are operating in these countries. At first, that may have been the case, but like any growing industry there is consolidation and entry by the major players. As I said in the other post, my phone is Hutch, just bought by Vodafone which is literally one of the biggest companies in the world. Vodafone has either bought or operates businesses in many countries all over the globe, including Verizon in the US. I don’t know if they started these businesses or acquired them, but the consolidated corporation is employing different strategies in different locales (or allowing its subsidiaries to each determine its strategy).

This has some implications you of which may care to take notice. More and more people are investing their money overseas—these large corporations, whether familiar like Vodafone or unfamiliar like Millicom, are seeing larger growth in developing economies than in the US. I’m reading about some of these corporations now and a few months I had already acquired some shares in an Indonesian company. I am not in the business of making stock recommendations because it is risky, so I won’t name the company, but the only downside of reading more about this will be that you just know more about other parts of the world.

To grow a cell phone business in the US, one must develop more gadgets, GPS, etc… there are not too many new customers to find. And we are seeing that. In fact, Nokia just bought Navteq, a Chicago-based company that supplies the map database information for the map you see on Yahoo or Google or in your car GPS. I don’t need all those gadgets on my phone but was very interested because the rumors of acquisition drove up the Navteq shares I owned.

Cell phones in developing areas are more than a sign of globalization and consumerism that many fear. According to a recent article in Business Week, “evidence suggests that access to communications boosts incomes and makes local economies far more efficient.” An example given was fishermen who call into marketplaces for prices. They go to the place that gives them the best price and the efficiency of the market leads to less fish thrown away which means lower costs for buyers.

Another boon from mobile growth are that these businesses are building up the infrastructure, building towers and laying down fiber-optics cable. The article suggests that this will lead to better broadband internet connections.

A few other interesting tidbits: cell phone hardware is a bit cheaper here but the minutes really aren’t. Not everything is cheaper in India. iPods here are the fourth cheapest in the world; the US is the second cheapest. A lot more goes into cost than the margin the company gets. Anyway, that is not the reason poor people are using these phones, you cannot explain it away merely by price.
India is passing strict laws on driving and talking on mobile. In fact, a court just sentenced people in Mumbai to a day in prison, no joke.
There are 3 billion phone subscriptions today; Nokia estimates that by 2015, there will be 5 billion and that 2/3 of the population will have a phone.
Millicom’s model charges on a per-second basis. They sell plans in some countries that are the equivalent of as low as 20 cents US and these are the most popular. The company reports that these smaller amounts are leading to more revenues per user.

Posted in India, personal finance | Leave a Comment »