Reuters Money

Will retailers give debit cards a new life?

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A sign for wine supplied by John Ulzheimer. REUTERS/handoutAs an expert on the credit industry, John Ulzheimer spends his days thinking about credit cards, debit cards and credit scores. So imagine his surprise when he picked up lunch at a restaurant near his house in Atlanta, then later went on a beer run, and was directly confronted with the consumer fallout from the hot-button issue of the day in his profession: new fees for debit card purchases imposed by government regulations.

“The liquor store has an entirely new pricing structure – the cash/debit card price was 5 percent less. And, at the restaurant, for the first time ever, they asked me if I was paying by cash or debit card or credit card, even before I ordered my meal,” he said, and sent along picture at right from the liquor store.

Since the start of October, the credit industry has been focused in on debit cards, as the Durbin Amendment kicked in federal limits on how much card issuers could charge merchants per transaction, and which last week translated into some major banks imposing monthly fees on users for using their debit cards for purchases. Bankrate.com also released a new study that showed reward offers for debit card usage declined 30 percent in the past year.

It seemed as if the industry was conspiring to turn those cards from a popular payment method back into a piece of plastic you only use to get cash from the ATM. And some said good riddance. “There’s absolutely no reason that consumers need to use a debit card. And I was in that camp before this legislation,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of credit card comparison site Cardhub.com, which just released its own study on how the new fee limits will affect consumers.

Online privacy leaks worsen; “Do not track” gains steam

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People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. REUTERS/StringerAre you being tracked right now? If you thought you were just browsing aimlessly, doing a little shopping or checking sports scores without identifying yourself, you could be mistaken about your level of privacy.

A new study from a Stanford University researcher has found that a lot of  the little bits and pieces of supposedly anonymous data being deposited by your web browser are actually being gathered and reassembled by dozens of companies and sold. And stopping that from happening takes more than a little bit of effort, helped by a growing movement for “do not track” legislation.

Borders fire sale stirs controversy over selling customer data

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A Borders book store is shown in San Diego July 18, 2011.  REUTERS/Mike Blake When you sign up for services with many retailers, you’re often asked to opt in to marketing programs with the express promise from the company that they will respect your privacy and never sell that information to a third party. So what happens when they go ahead and do that anyway?

This is the battle going on right now with the assets from the bankruptcy of Borders. The liquidation of the company involves much more than bargain sales on books and re-leasing real estate. Last week, the defunct chain sold its intellectual property to Barnes & Noble for $13.9 million, and included in that was a ream of customer data. What information do they have? A list of videos, DVDs and books you bought at Borders and Walden Books stores as well as from Borders.com. They have your name, your address, your email, your phone number. They don’t have financial information.

Back-to-school spending tests your wallet and your patience

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A child watches from a school bus in New York January 6, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton Remember when you could outfit a kid with roughly $20 in school supplies? Now there’s a lesson in ancient history, folks.

In present-day Chicago, the list of required items for two public school students can easily top $200. And the author of this article, a father of two, has a fresh receipt to prove it: The total at Office Depot last week to outfit a fourth-grade boy and a second-grade girl came to $196.13 before cashing in a $20 coupon.

Pssst, wanna buy a stolen Rolex or diamond?

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Wanna deal on a diamond? Time to get a new Rolex? Sure, they might be stolen goods, but it’s all perfectly legal.

Seriously.

Say what?

Police departments nationwide recover all sorts of stuff when they arrest bad guys and there are some real gems amidst the eclectic array of goods that gather in evidence rooms. Enter PropertyRoom.com, a site that has grown exponentially over its dozen years of life.

Royal flush: 5 luxury bathroom items to boost your home value

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While $250,000 could land a vacation home in some markets, these days, you could also spend that amount on the most amazing bathroom money can buy. Think of the re-sale value that could add to a home!

It’s long been standard real estate advice that updating kitchens and bathrooms increases the value of a home.  G. Stacy Sirmans, a real estate professor and department chair at Florida State University who co-authored a report on “The Value of Housing Characteristics” for the National Association of Realtors in 2003, says this is still true today, but that what now constitutes and “upgrade” on an upscale house is like describing bathrooms on steroids.

Complaints surge over group coupon deals

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Deal hunters are consuming deep discounts on everything from restaurant meals to boat tours, but they are also starting to complain about troubles with these offers in increasing numbers.

Both the Consumer Federation of America and Web watchdog SiteJabber.com have noted the surge in this relatively new genre of deal offerings. Consumers get lost in the marketing gimmick of the daily deal and don’t see what’s actually involved, including short expiration dates or requirements for additional purchases.

In the world of high-priced purses, beware quality fakes

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Lan Tran, a systems analyst in Boston, wanted a Louis Vuitton purse which retails for about $1,500, but thought the price was a little too steep for her. So when she saw one listed on eBay for $300 from a top seller with only good feedback, she struck.

“With all those years shopping on eBay, I had my mind rest that it was truly a real deal,” Tran says.

The Viking refrigerator saga: When high-end went awry

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Under federal law, companies are required to self-report to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission any product defect that could cause serious harm. Most seem to.

Every now and then, a company that doesn’t do this gets punished by the agency. It’s usually termed an “agreement,” in which the company disputes the allegations and then agrees to pay a penalty anyway.

Consumer product database in jeopardy

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You may think the government’s wheels always grind slowly, but they can spin fast when a government action runs afoul of business.

After years and years of providing but an iceberg’s tip of the information possessed by the agency, the tiny U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in March opened the door to a new world for its constituents: American consumers. The agency launched a publicly searchable database that catalogs product incidents experienced in homes across the nation.