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Mysterious Grey Charges: are you leaking money?

Grey Charges: BillGuard takes a look at the money people are ignoring that is leaking out of their wallets, you know, those small charges that look legitimate but may not be…

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Fraud and deceptive charging practices

Around this time last year, my husband and I began getting a sudden barrage of text alerts that thousands of dollars were being spent all over the nation, draining our account – someone was buying linens on our tab in New Jersey, filling up their gas tank in Miami, and going on a Wal-Mart shopping spree in Ohio, all within minutes. We realized quickly we were victims of fraud, and although it was a newer card, so only two companies had the number (and we had an idea where the leak was), we didn’t have time to worry about that, we had to scramble to close the card before the grinches stole our entire Christmas.

That was a blatant case of fraud that was well organized, and although we lost a lot of money, we were able to get some of it back. What is less clear is “grey charges,” you know, those $9.99 charges you agreed to a year ago, forgot about, that are still being charged to your card even though you’re not using the product, and now the charges have slowly creeped up $1.99 a month here, and $2.99 there. BillGuard.com’s blog is completely devoted to the fight against unfair charges, and while not all forgotten charges are unfair, BillGuard is shedding light on practices (some ethical, others questionable) that businesses use to bill your card.

“Customers swiping their credit and debit cards this holiday season should beware: one in four people fell victim to a deceptive or unwanted charge within the past six months,” the company said in a statement. “While some of these charges constitute fraud, many are legal – but unwanted – charges hidden in fine print.”

While they say 5.0 percent of unwanted charges constitute fraud, the other 95 percent are “grey charges,” comprised of legal but sneaky tactics, such as hidden fees, unwanted subscriptions, overcharges and unrecognizable charges. “These charges often are the result of companies that are banking on the fact that people don’t read the fine print or verify their transactions as carefully as they should,” the company asserts.

Learning about Grey Charges

Be sure to set up text alerts this season for all spending on your personal and business credit and debit cards, and don’t ignore charges simply because they’re not big ticket line items. As a bonus, we’ve learned that if you see a funky charge, or something you don’t recognize and you question its legitimacy, tweet @BillGuard, and they say they’ll help find answers to unrecognized charges through analysis of millions of billing disputes to help find similar problems with your bills.

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. BillGuard

    December 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    @FinancialHS Thanks so much for tweeting our infographic, Alex!

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Business Finance

Kodak’s cyrptocurrency could save themselves and photographers

(FINANCE NEWS) Kodak’s foray into cyrptocurrency is more than a financial play, it could be their very salvation in some peoples’ eyes.

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Not one to be left behind, Kodak recently announced their decision to hop on the cryptocurrency bandwagon with their own currency for photographers: KodakCoin. It’s not as hokey as it sounds, we promise.

It’s easy to make fun of Kodak, the Blockbuster of film companies, for buying into the cryptocurrency world, but their motive isn’t as bizarre as it first appears.

KodakCoin is actually a virtual token that will be used on Kodak’s new photographer platform, KodakOne. The idea behind the platform is that photographers can register their work and monetize any cases of copyright infringement, all through the KodakCoin system.

KodakCoin itself is based in the same foundation as Ethereum, and the KodakOne platform uses the same blockchain technology that we’ve come to expect when dealing with cryptocurrency.

As far as KodakOne goes, most of the authentication process is autonomous. Once photographers have uploaded their work and records of fair use, KodakOne searches for instances of unauthorized uploads and then requests payment from the uploader. The payment is processed in KodakCoin, and photographers are left with 60 percent of the resulting currency while Kodak and Wenn Digital share the other 40 percent.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this whole affair is the effect that merely announcing KodakCoin had on Kodak’s stock. After revealing KodakOne and the accompanying KodakCoin at CES on Tuesday, Kodak’s stock hit a high point that more than doubled their previous stock value. This goes to show how infatuated our culture is with cryptocurrency at this point, but it also raises some questions about Kodak’s true motives: is KodakCoin a legitimate enterprise, or a Hail Mary pass?

Kodak’s official stance on the matter is that their move into cryptocurrency represents their initial business goal: to provide photographers with a stable, supportive platform that places their needs and concerns above those of similar venues. On the other hand, sources virtually everywhere have been quick to skewer Kodak for what appears to be an obvious bid for relevancy in an era unsuited for the dinosaur of a company.

There’s no telling where KodakCoin will take the aging company, so for now, these speculations will have to do. KodakCoin goes public on January 31st of this year.

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Business Finance

Super-investor Warren Buffett calls cryptocurrencies a mirage

Famed investor Warren Buffett has stated he believes cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin will end badly because they are a “mirage.”

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For many, cryptocurrencies have become an investment well worth the risk, but for many others they are something to vehemently rail against. Try posting something on Facebook about crypto and see if you don’t get lovers and haters instantly weighing in.

One of the most prominent members of the “rail against” group is CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett.

Buffett, while widely respected for his shrewd investment foresight, is not a fan of cryptocurrency and warns potential investors he thinks, “almost with certainty they [cryptocurrency] will come to a bad ending.”

Buffett went on to state to CNBC, that he didn’t really understand how Bitcoin operated but he would never “have a position in them.”

Will Buffett’s word have an impact on cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin? Surprisingly, Buffett’s words have had little effect (so far) on Bitcoin’s value.

Remember a few months ago when Buffett bought Synchrony? The lesser-known stock seemed to take off overnight after Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway’s investment, leading us to believe than many powerful investors take heed of Buffett’s business acumen, which could potentially impact how other investors feel about cryptocurrencies overall.

Buffett told the Washington Post, “there are basically two kinds of assets: one you look to the stream of income it will produce and the other you hope like hell that someone will pay you more for it.” The second type would most definitely include Bitcoin.

Buffett contends that since cryptocurrencies are backed by computer power instead of a national bank, they are unreliable and fluctuate too much to be trusted.

The takeaway?

There is no doubt that Buffett is the go-to man for investments, but how can you repudiate Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies worth if you admittedly do not understand how they work? If you don’t understand how they work, how could you possibly appreciate their value?

I’m not sure if this was meant to be a sarcastic statement on Buffett’s part, or if he genuinely doesn’t understand how they work, but still dislikes them. Back in 2014, Buffett told investors that it was nothing more than a “mirage” and that investors should “stay away from it.”

There’s no doubt, the man is a genius in the business sphere, but is he right about cryptocurrencies?

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Business Finance

Spotify files to go public directly, won’t be the last to buck tradition

(FINANCE) Spotify directly filed to join the stock market late December, forgoing the traditional IPO process. Will other tech companies follow suit?

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It’s official: Spotify, the wildly popular music streaming platform, took a leap and filed with the SEC to become a public company late last year. Many in the tech industry expected this move was in the works, and the news was confirmed by Axios this week.

However, the most noteworthy part of this announcement is how Spotify has chosen to join its competition in the public space.

Instead of entering the stock market through a traditional IPO process, Spotify has reportedly opted for a “direct listing,” which means it won’t need to travel to seek out investors and will bypass bank underwriting fees, among other things. As a direct listing, Spotify could also promote its new business model to the media ahead of its projected Q1 debut, something SEC rules strictly prohibit for IPOs.

The direct listing process could also encourage high stock value sales day-of debut, avoiding a “leave money on the table” situation, which can happen when high net worth individuals and institutional investors get first dibs on IPOs but banks recommend the company only trades up to about 20 percent or so. Under its chosen process, Spotify stock values could debut much higher, driven by demand and what investors are willing – and able – to pay.

By taking this non-traditional route Spotify will, however, forgo potentially millions of dollars they could have fundraised in an IPO. Those dollars could have helped pay down debt or settled lawsuits, but Spotify’s direct listing move seems to be about more than money. Spotify was last valued at $8.5 billion, so it might not need monetary help anyway.

Overall, a direct listing may reduce the hassle of going public. Spotify is just filing paperwork to make it legal for anybody to trade company shares, basically. Direct listing is casual and less structured.

However, some are concerned that chill approach won’t do enough to help Spotify once it’s actually public. Sure, networking with investors to build equity and relationships may be tedious, but those connections could pay off down the road when it’s time for financial reporting and underwriters can help shareholders trade more easily, along with Wall Street sponsorship aids that help buyers and sellers in similar ways, according to David Golden of Revolutions Ventures.

Spotify’s actions could be risky, too, as their stock may not fit customary Wall Street standards and in turn be avoided by some investors, David Menlow, president of IPOfinancial.com, told Marketplace.

For now, all eyes are on Spotify and its decision. Wall Street, industry leaders, and even the SEC are all interested in how their direct listing will play out. As others in the tech space have expressed frustration with the traditional IPO process before (think Uber), more companies may follow suit if Spotify succeeds as a directly listed public company. That could put pressure on Wall Street and the SEC to change the IPO process, too.

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