Practical Tips at the ATM

Automated Teller Machines (or ATMs) are among the most popular methods for people to get cash out of their checking accounts. Naturally, this has attracted a number of criminals that are interested in gaining access to such cash quickly and easily. There are many ways that criminals can do this, but practical security measures can help you avoid running into any problems.

The most popular form of theft is through a technique known as skimming. This involves inserting a device into the card slot of ATMs that will steal the data right off your card’s magnetic strip. The highest risk machines for this type of practice are convenience stores that are allowed to maintain their own ATMs as they can be easily tampered with without the bank knowing. The best way to prevent this is to use bank ATMs as much as possible.

Other thieves have gone through more extreme measures and actually installed software on a banking server that can capture the electronic encrypted PIN number as it passes through, but such instances are very rare. Again, this can be avoided by simply using the ATM machines located at your bank’s branch. These are closely watched with security cameras and never tampered by criminals.

Ultimately, a criminal will need your PIN number in order to access your account. As a result, one great way to reduce your risk is to change your PIN number often and keep it as random as possible. People that use the same number for multiple accounts can see more than just one of their accounts drained. Meanwhile, those that have a PIN number equal to their birthday or house number see a higher rate of crime.

One final piece of advice deals with making online purchases. It is always best to use your credit card whenever possible because they are required to assume nearly 100% of the liability in most cases. Debit cards, on the other hand, often assume little or no liability and you can be stuck footing the fraud bill. Also, you will never be required to enter your PIN number online – anyone that asks you to do so is trying to rip you off!

The bottom line is that there are basic measures that you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of ATM fraud. Using your local bank’s ATMs and changing your PIN often can reduce your chances to nearly zero while making online purchases with a credit card can protect you in that arena. Remember these tips your next time using an ATM!

More Fees on the Radar for Airlines

Airlines are having trouble these days staying afloat amid higher jet fuel prices and tighter consumer spending. Some have grounded planes and cancelled routes, but the universal solution seems to be increasing fees. Many airlines are now charging for baggage and snacks while sodas, seating and clearning could be just over the horizon. Meanwhile, fares continue to rise as passengers continue to travel.

Fare Hikes on the Radar

During the past year, basic domestic fares have been nearly unchanged, but the fuel surcharge has at least doubled or tripled. Fares for non-stop service, for example, are up some 365% higher than a year ago. Companies like American Airlines have successfully hiked their prices more than 10 times in the past couple of months alone.

The hikes are disigned to help offset fuel-related losses. The Amex Airline Index is down nearly 47% since hte start of the year while airlines are expected to lose some $6.1 billion this year alone. Meanwhile, a dozen or so carriers have already folded in the past six months and many others could follow if income cannot be increased.

Nickel and Dimed to Death

Airlines have a captive audience and no real competition, so charging fees is a relatively easy proposition for them. So far, checked bags have been the primary driver of additional fees. American Airlines has even began to charge $15 for the first checked bag each way, and while nobody else is following suit it probably won’t be long.

Meanwhile, US Airways has said it would stop offering free snacks to domestic coach passengers while most of the major carriers are already charging for snacks and meals. Many airlines are also considering charging for beverages. Currently, Southwest charges $3 for energy drinks, but nobody charges yet for soda or juice.

Often times, one airline will start a practice and take all the bad press until the rest follow. To date, American Airlines has tended to take the lead before being followed by others like United, US Airways, Continental, Delta and Northwest. In the end, they all feed off of each other at the expense of captive consumers.

In the End

There is very little consumers can do about these problems as airlines clearly need to do something. In the meantime, investors and airline executives will have to wait and see just how much these hikes hurt consumer travel.

Do Lawmakers Need to Interfere?

Students have been increasingly targeted by credit card companies and lawmakers are finally starting to notice. Times may be difficult for homeowners, but teenagers with no credit or job history are finding it easier than ever to get approved for a credit card and start spending like there is no tomorrow. The House Financial Services Committee is now holding hearings to address these problems and affect changes.

The legislative panel is led by Representative Carolyn Maloney and will be hearing from the credit card industry and consumer advocates including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Research has shown that students are targeted and bombarded by credit card company solicitations in the mail, phone and while walking on campus. The research group found that 80% of students said they received direct mail from credit card companies and 22% received four phone calls a month.

Credit card companies are also offering freebies like t-shirts, pizzas or beach chairs to get students to apply for credit cards without thinking about what they are doing. This combination of strong marketing and lack of financial experience on the part of the students leads to many of them finding themselves in serious debt. Worse, many of these students are then unaware of how serious their problems will become in the future.

The average outstanding balance on an undergraduate’s credit card stands at around $2,169, according to Nellie Mae which provides student loans. Nearly 56% of undergraduates get their first credit card by age 18 and 91% of students have at least one credit card by their final year. And by graduation, 56% of students carry four or more credit cards. Clearly, this is a problem that should be addressed now before these adults run into real problems.

Credit card companies like students because they are a relatively untapped market. Many of them hold onto the same credit cards into adulthood while college graduates typically earn enough money to eventually pay off their debts. So, all of the interest being accrued while in college is paid off and they keep the card longer – the perfect customer. Indeed, many students handle their debt much better than the average adult population.