Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How to prevent check fraud with a $2.48 tool

What is check fraud? Well, there are the cases where a blank check is written on and cashed, but today we're focusing on an even more devious method: The washing of checks you've already written on and signed and the adding on of new information.

Check washing is performed by taking a check that you have filled out, covering your signature with tape, and soaking the check in acetone. The acetone removes almost all types of ink from the paper of the check and the tape that is over the signature leaves your signature intact. Thus, leaving a blank check with your signature on it for any scammer to use for any amount he or she may wish. It's a pretty easy method of attack and there are numerous post on how to do it accessible on the internet.

So why does this work? Well, most pen's ink just applies it's marking to the top level of the check, making it easy to remove and leaving a near intact check behind. It's a scary thought, but it is preventable by using the Uniball 207 pen. The Uniball 207 uses an ink cartridge that embeds itself into the check paper, making it unwashable. There is even a press release by Frank Abagnale, the person the movie "Catch Me If You Can" was based on, stating the secureness of this in available on Uniball's webpage. The statement also goes further into the details of check washing and is definitely worth the read.

A four pack of these pens goes for $9.58 at Amazon.com, which is a great deal when you consider them as a tool for additional financial security. They write smooth w/ their gel cartridge and have a great rubber grip....but to keep from sounding too much like an advertisement, I still prefer my Dr. Grip Gravity pen when doing all of my writing other than checks.

Also, for those of you who use fountain pens, Noodler's ink produces cartridges that have the same properties as the Uniball 207. Click on this link and read the "Bulletproof" section (Section 3) to learn more.

***Post comments have now been activated! Please feel free to add your thoughts!***

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Multiple Cokes for the price of 1 at vending machines

Now I'm in no way condoning this, but you have got to admit this is a pretty neat no-tech scam of a newer Coke machine. This is for demonstrative and educational purposes only.

It pretty much goes like this:

1. Insert change and choose drink
2. When drink enters chute, have hand up drop door ready to stop soda from falling through
3. Hold soda in place until drink chute drops again
4. Your money is then returned into the change slot.
5. Repeat steps 1-4

And here's a video of it in action:



Remember, this is for demonstrative and educational purposes only. What you do with this knowledge from here is on your own accord.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Unplugged: Trading Cable TV for Internet TV

"Unplugged: Trading Cable TV for Internet TV" - This was the headline that struck my attention on dealnews.com today. I've always had an issue with the cable company in general (it would be nice if my internet access would always be 24/7), and I do agree with most peoples view about how most of the channels/shows on TV are pretty much junk. I've considered doing the same thing as the author many times (cable is currently included in my rent though) and love reading about other's experiences.

The first paragraph of the moderately sized article goes like so:

"Having control over 600 cable channels is the greatest thing ever. Having to pay $74 a month for that privilege isn't so grand. As prices for food, gas, and everyday needs continue to rise, we here at
dealnews wondered: Is it possible to save a few dollars every month by replacing our cable service with free, legal Internet content? Has the Internet evolved to the point where cable service is unnecessary? There was only one way to find out, and so on the first week of May I unplugged my cable box and replaced it with my laptop."

Sounds pretty interesting right? Well you can check out the full write up of Louis Ramirez's experiences without cable here.

Oh, and also check out the main site of dealnews.com I try to keep you up to date on some good deals, but keeping up on deals is their job and they do it better than any other site I've seen, been using them for years and still check them daily.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hypermilling: Increase gas mileage with these tips

There's no question about it that the drastic increase in gas prices has almost every one of us looking for ways to increase our bang for the buck when it comes to driving. Well, I have 2 ways for you to do this. One is by checking for the best gas prices in your area and the other is hypermilling, which doesn't have a set definition, but is known as a way to increase your MPG in the super-fuel efficient crowd.

There are numerous ways to do this, and instead of rehashing what has been already written I'll point you over to this list of 105 hypermilling tips at ecomodder.com.

This list contains some known tips such as: Close the sunroof at higher speeds, avoid peak traffic, and combining errands into one trip.

There are also some lesser known tips like: Drafting a vehicle in a crosswind and avoiding idling upon startup.

Then there are some of the crazier tips: Listen to slower music, avoid parallel parking, and driving shoeless.

It's a pretty interesting read, some tips you may use, some you probably won't. Odds are though, you'll learn a bunch of new ways to get better mileage. Tips that might come in very useful once the pumps hit the $5/gal. mark, if not already at the $4/gal. mark.

Check out the 105 hypermilling tips to decrease your fuel consumption!



Apple Store Online

Thursday, June 12, 2008

30% off coupon at all Ann Taylor stores and online this weekend

Once again, it's Friends and Family weekend at Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft from today, June 12th, until June 15th. This time around they're offering 30% off instead of the 25% off offered last time. Ladies, now's the time to buy..and fellas, most girls I know love both gifts and Ann Taylor clothing, so you might want to check it out as well. Click on the pic below for the full-size coupon, it is printable for in-store use and also has the coupon code for their online store.



Air_Make it to Ireland this Autumn! One-Way Flights From $310+ w/ Aer Lingus > Expires 6/30/08

Monday, June 9, 2008

Free internet at Starbucks..and that's just the beginning


Just this week Starbucks announced the Starbucks Card Rewards program. Even if you drink there only occasionaly, this is definitely worth jumping on.

The perks are as follows:

- Free beverage coupon if you join by July 14th
- Free refill on regular brewed coffee
- Free select syrup and milk options to add to your drink
- Free tall beverage with every purchase of 1 lb. of beans
- 2 hours of free WiFi access per day (must use card every 30 days to remain valid; it is good for one session daily up to 2 hours worth)

So how do you get these perks? It's incredibly easy, all you need to do is purchase a Starbucks giftcard and register it online here. That's it!

I'm not a regular at Starbucks by any means, but w/ free refills and free internet I may be frequenting the one at my local Barnes & Nobel's a little more often.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

How to prevent identity theft in 8 easy steps

I picked up a book the other day entitled Scam Proof Your Life by Sid Kirchheimer. Pretty good read with alot of decent tips in it covering a wide range of topics. One of the main ones I read over was the Identity Theft section that I'll cover and add my own two cents on.

1. Be sure to shred all documents and mail that concerns any personal or financial information. Be sure to use a cross-cut shredder. I personally own a Fellowes Powershred DM-12C, which I love, but may be a bit more heavy duty than you need. Any cross-cut shredder will do.

2. Review your credit history at least once a year to make sure everything on it is the way it's supposed to be. Earlier I wrote about how to get free credit reports from all three bureaus courtesy of the US government here.

3. Mail your bills and other items with personal or financial information from a locked postal box. A home mailbox with a flag up is a target for identity thieves, but tampering with a locked USPS mailbox is a federal offense and most ID thieves don't want to risk that.

4. Opt out of all pre-approved credit card mailings and other offers. I wrote about this and included the information on how to stop these mailings here.

5. If any telemarketer ever asks for your social security number, bank account information, or any other sensitive personal data, just hang up on them. It may seem rude, but your bank account will thank you.

6. Be sure to never carry your ATM PIN code or Social Security card on you when you're outside of the house.

7. When you receive email from someone or a group you don't know, delete it. There are many scams running on the internet that involve this in one way or another, so it's best to just avoid the situation. If you get an email from a bank or company you deal with requesting an account number or other sensitive data, contact that company via a phone call first asking if they sent the email. Most companies do not ask for this information due to security risks, so be sure to check via a phone call first.

8. Always be sure to check your monthly account statements for your bank and credit accounts. If you find something wrong, report it immediately. I was once taken for a monthly charge of about $40 by a company that had a clause in their fine print. It took me 4 months to notice it and I was out $160, don't let this happen to you.

Apple Online Store

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Apple Store: Refurbs = Incredible savings and same warranty as new products

I'm not an Apple evangelist (actually I have both PCs and Macs at home), but I'm a huge fan of their customer support in comparison to all other computer companies, that's why I'm putting this up. Tomorrow is Tuesday and Tuesday is when Apple restocks their refurbished section of the Apple Store (around 8 a.m. EST).

Refurbs usually have a bad rap and for the most part it is rightfully so, but Apple has been the exception and I'll explain with my personal tale:

Years ago, while I was on a small enlisted military salary, I needed to get a new computer and was interested in the iBook. I couldn't afford a new one, but the refurbs were in my budget. Now, I've had bad experiences with refurbs in the past, but since I was set on getting an iBook, I decided to roll the dice.


Apple Store Online

Why? Well, the refurbished items from the Apple Store all come with the same 1 year warranty as new items (and you can add the AppleCare extended warranty if you wish), so I figured it was a safe bet. Little did I know that at the 1 year expiration date of my warranty my motherboard would die (a flaw in the design of that iBook model). Hoping for the best I brought it into the Apple Store hoping that I could get it fixed for a minimal cost. As it turns out they extended my warranty (the same as the iBooks purchased new) for an additional 2 years because of the known fault in the board. They sent it off, replaced the board as well as the keyboard (would have cost over $100) and the footpads.

This sold me on the service as well as reaffirmed that I had made the correct decision purchasing a refurb. I currently have a MacBook refurb that has been running perfectly for a little more than a year. Working in IT, I've told many of my coworkers about my experience and they've gone on to experience the same high level of customer support, so now on Monday, the eve of the refurb store restocking, I'm doing the same for you.

If you've been considering an Apple computer (or iPod) or just want to see the price differences, check out the Apple Store refurbished section tomorrow at 8 a.m. EST. As the items sell out they disappear, so this way you can get first dibs. I guarantee that you can trust the refurbs to be as good as new. Your wallet will thank you as well.



Apple Store Online

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SCAM ALERT concerning your Economic Stimulus Check!!

This may be coming a little late, but I'm pretty sure that this e-mail is still going around. It was reported by the Internet Crime Complaint Center on May 8th with a warning date of May 10 in it, but alot of us (myself included) still have not received their checks yet so this may still be a very lucrative scam for those that are doing it.

Remember: The IRS will never email you asking for your bank account information. Those that are receiving their check via direct deposit already have their account information on file, the rest of us are receiving paper checks in the mail.

This is the Alert Bulletin direct from the Internet Crime Complaint Center website:

PHISHING RELATED TO ISSUANCE OF ECONOMIC STIMULUS CHECKS

The FBI warns consumers of recently reported spam email purportedly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which is actually an attempt to steal consumer information. The email advises the recipient that direct deposit is the fastest and easiest way to receive their economic stimulus tax rebate. The message contains a hyperlink to a fraudulent from which requests the recipient's personally identifiable information, including bank account information. To convince consumers to reply, the email warns that a failure to complete the form in a timely manner will delay the issuance of the rebate check.

One example of this IRS spam email message is as follows:

"Over 130 million Americans will receive refunds as part of President Bush program to jumpstart the economy.

Our records indicate that you are qualified to receive the 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund.

The fastest and easiest way to receive your refund is by direct deposit to your checking/savings account.

Please follow the link and fill out the form and submit before May 10th, 2008 to ensure that your refund will be processed as soon as possible.

Submitting your form on May 10th, 2008 or later means that your refund will be delayed due to the volume of requests we anticipate for the Economic Stimulus Refund.

To access Economic Stimulus refund, please click here."

CONSUMERS ARE ADVISED THAT THE IRS DOES NOT INITIATE TAXPAYER COMMUNICATIONS VIA EMAIL. IN ADDITION, THE IRS DOES NOT REQUEST DETAILED PERSONAL INFORMATION VIA EMAIL OR ASK TAXPAYERS FOR THE PIN NUMBERS, PASSWORDS, OR SIMILAR SECRET ACCESS INFORMATION FOR THEIR CREDIT CARD, BANKD, OR OTHER FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS.

Please be cautious of unsolicited emails. It is recommended not to open emails from unknown senders because they often contain viruses or other malicious software. It is also recommended to avoid clicking links in emails received from unknown senders as this is a popular method of directing victims to phishing websites.

If you have received an e-mail similar to this, please file a complaint at www.ic3.gov.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My favorite (and highest paying) survey site - Opinion Outpost

I know that alot of you are looking for sites like Pinecone Research and today I've got one that I hold in even higher regard than Pinecone, Opinion Outpost.

Why would I make such a statement when Pinecone Research is so highly regarded. Easy, I've made alot more money in alot less time with them. I've averaged around $1.50 - $2 per survey, but have received and completed invites of up to $15 for a survey. Add that to the fact that I receive on average invites to take 3 surveys a day and it's a clear moneymaker.

I also really like how Opinion Outpost includes the dollar amount and estimated time it will take to complete in their emails. For example, this is an invite that I received today:

SURVEY HOSTED BY:
Survey is hosted by an outside company

LENGTH:
This survey should take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

OPINION POINTS:
If you qualify and complete this survey, then you will earn 25 Opinion Points!


Opinion Points will be rewarded immediately. This survey will resolve back to our site automatically awarding Opinion Points if you qualify and complete.

Opinion Points are the way that Opinion Outpost pays out. 10 point is equal to $1, so in this case a 5 minute survey would pay out $2.50..not too shabby. You must have a minimum of 50 Opinion Points to cash out ($5), which as you can see is pretty easy to do. The payout takes longer than Pinecone, a matter of weeks instead of days, but you can have a pretty nice size check coming to you within a matter of weeks of taking surveys.

I posted a scan of my first check I received from Opinion Outpost awhile back and here it is again (click for very high resolution). This time around should be even more impressive (I'm currently at $76.50 in my account...holding out until I reach $100).



If you've been looking for a survey site similar to Pinecone Research and with bigger payouts, look no further and start doing surveys with Opinion Outpost!

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Amazon deals of the Week added

Sorry for the downtime with no updates, I was out enjoying the beautiful weather over this holiday weekend and I hope all of you were too!

As promised, here's week 2 of my Amazon deals of the Week at my Amazon aStore. Some new ones that are great for the summer weather including:

Grill Zone 2 inch Square Charcoal Grill With Cart

Eagle Claw Spinning Rod and Reel Combo

JBL On Tour Portable Speaker System


And the one premier offer that they have this week (with a price too low to show on their site...don't worry, there's a link to click to see it):

Linksys CIT400 Dual-Mode Internet Telephony Kit with Integrated Skype


If you are considering this incredible deal on the Linksys phone, check out my previous post where Skype is now offering unlimited long distance for only $3 per month! Together it's an incredible deal.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Feed your family healthy and cheap - $45 and $70 a week mealplans for a family of four

Most of us have been there before. When you're either behind on bills or right about to get into that bad spot, you know that you're going to need to change your shopping habits . Don't make the same mistake I did and depend on Ramen and boxed macaroni & cheese as your primary source of food. I ended up losing 13 lbs. during my 4 month stretch of hard times and anybody that knows me will tell you that, as a slender guy, I can use every pound I have

Instead of going down the alley of malnutrition, check out these $45 and $70 a week diets provided by hillbillyhousewife.com. They are designed to feed a family of four, so if you live by yourself or less than 3 others, you should have leftovers that can stretch your dollar even further.

It may not be up to gourmet standards (or even close), but it's definitely more nutritious than the ramen & macaroni diet. Be sure to check out her recipes as well for some other food ideas.


Blockbuster Total Access - FREE Trial

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Be smarter than a computer and get paid with Amazon's Mechanical Turk

Named after the famed chess-playing "robot" that supposedly beat Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte, Amazon.com offers another way for humans to prove they're smarter than machines..and to get paid for doing so. The site that Amazon has set up for doing this is mturk.com, or The Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Now, just as a forewarning, you won't get rich by doing tasks on this site, but it is a great time killer if you need something to do and the payouts do quickly add up. A good review of this point can be found in this article from Salon.com a few years back (although the title is in a negative context, you can easily make much more if you want).

How do you become smarter than a computer? Well, you already are. Many of these tasks involve simple things that a computer cannot figure out. One of these things, an example of what I was working on last night, is finding pictures of items based on product descriptions (I was working on this project for Pricegrabber.com through this site). With a payout of $.02 per picture, it's nothing extravagant, but while you're sitting through commercials it gives you something to do that can quickly add up to a few bucks within a day or so.

I've seen projects ranging from $.01 to $7.50 depending on what you want to do, so the amount you can make from this is all up to you. Projects range from picture finding, to posting on blogs, to commercial transcription, and many other assorted projects (right now there's one that involves drawing a picture of a fork and submitting it, how's that for random).

Cashout points are at only $1.00 if you choose Amazon.com credit (great for using at The Ethical Grifter's Amazon Store!!) or $10.00 if you want a cash payout. There's always interesting items on here to do to make a little bit of money, and signup is free and non-binding so check out Amazon's Mechanical Turk and check out the variety of ways to be smarter than a computer and make some extra cash!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Deals of the Week now added to the Ethical Grifter store!

Well, it was promised, and now it's finally here! I've added the Amazon Deals of the Week page to the front of my Amazon aStore!

I've scoured through many of the deals that they are currently offering and handpicked the ones that have the best percentage discount or are a good mix of price and quality so that you can use it as a weekly consolidated resource. My store page will update weekly on on Mondays with the weekly deals on the front, so bookmark it now and keep an eye on it, you never know what kind of bargains you might find!

Check out the store here.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Video Time: Be vigilant when using ATM machines

I've received many briefings from various law enforcement agencies concerning this scam. It is a prevelant in the US as it is in the UK, so please be wary when using ATM machines. The reader in the video is more high-tech than some of the other methods, so also pay attention to those behind you and shield your PIN when entering it. Those without the video camera device will try to capture your PIN by shoulder surfing, watching you enter it from behind.

Not only is the facade card entry point a main method, but there are also smaller card readers that can be attached. These readers will make the card entry point stick out more on one side, so if you notice a reader that is not symmetrical, avoid it, there's usually always another ATM close by.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Make money with your digital camera


Here's a good one for all of you amateur or professional photographers out there. There are many sites that will allow you to upload your photos you take and pay you a commission each time the photo is downloaded. All that you need to do is create an account and upload your pictures. Add the appropriate tag (caption) and sit back. Most of these sites average $.20-$.25 per picture download so upload as many as you can and keep taking photos. The more you saturate the market, the more of a chance you have at earning more commission.

Sites that pay you for your pictures:

Shutterstock
BigStockPhoto
Usphotostock
Dreamstime
Scoopt
iStockPhoto

So dust that camera off and get out there for some photo taking if you haven't already. There's money to be made!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Skype is now offerrering unlimited long-distance calls for $3 per month




Skype is at it again, now offering unlimited long distance phone calls througout the US and Canada for only $3 a month. This is by far the best deal they've offered in a long time so I'd hop up on it while you can. On top of this offer, if you buy 3 months of service before June 1st, you get one of those months for free (3 months of unlimted calls for only $6!!).

For those of you not very familiar with Skype, it's a VoIP service that allows you to make phone calls from your computer over your internet lines. The only equipment required is a computer, internet service, and a microphone/headset for use. There are actual telephone devices that they offer here
if you don't like the idea of wearing a headset or need to purchase one.

The clarity of the calls is now up to par with tradtional telephone landlines (and trust me, as an early adopter I know how bad it used to be) and the price is much, much better. As a note, this $3/month plan only includes calling out to landlines, if you want to be able to recieve calls to your Skype number from landlines you'll need to purchase the SkypeIn plan as well, available here.

Give it a shot, I've been happy with their service for years and this new $3/month offer they have going is a steal!



Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Get from 1 to 25 GB of free online storage

All respect to Louis Ramierez for this great summary on dealnews.com:

"Hard drive prices have taken a serious tumble, but despite the notable price drops, many people still don't want to splurge on a new internal or external drive. Fortunately, the Internet is bursting with online storage sites like Box.net and MediaMax, which offer you anywhere from 1GB to 25GB of free online storage space. Most of these sites are platform-independent, so all you need is a computer with a solid Internet connection and you're good to go. While there are many sites available, we chose to check out four of the most popular, ranging in space from 1GB to 25GB. We neither recommend storing your sensitive data on these sites nor think it's wise to use them as your only means of backup. However, if you're looking for a spot to house your summer vacation photos or a place to store your non-essentials, these sites will do the trick.

Box.net
Need to access your files from the road? Box.net makes it easy by offering its members 1GB of free storage space. The site's Windows-based interface is simple to maneuver with tabs that let you organize and browse through your data. If you have a clutter of documents or pictures, Box.net lets you perform searches so you can track down files by name. You can even share selected folders with up to three people by entering their email addresses in your account settings. The amount of storage space you get is somewhat paltry and SSL encryption is only available for paying members, so you might want to use Box.net for storing non-essentials only. Box.net offers monthly subscriptions, but pricing starts at $7.95 per month for 5GB, which comes out to $95.40 a year (which is about the price of a 500GB external hard drive). We recommend sticking with the free option.
Likes: Simple, icon-based interface. Easy to share files.
Dislikes: Just 1GB.

MediaMax
If your video and music collection is outgrowing your hard drive, chances are you're going to need more than just 1GB of free space. That's where MediaMax comes in. A boon to digital pack rats, this site offers a whopping 25GB of free storage space. There is a big restriction, however. You can only download up to 1GB per month from your account. Otherwise, the site operates much like its competitors, letting you upload individual or batches of files. Shared files are sent via email from your MediaMax account. You can choose to send them as attachments or as links. As an added bonus, Windows customers can download MediaMax XL Beta, a small application that automatically backs up the contents of your computer's hard drive to your MediaMax account. Simply select the folder you'd like to back up and the app will do the rest. It's worth noting, however, that the site can be buggy when uploading to it. On one occasion, we had to upload the same file twice before it was recognized and stored.
Likes: 25GB of space. Easy to back up with MediaMax XL.
Dislikes: Buggy. MediaMax XL a Windows-only application.

openomy
For a no frills approach to online storage, you'll want to head to openomy. Offering 1GB of space, openomy has no pretty graphics, no fancy interface, and practically no features. In fact, the site doesn't even let you create folders. However, it's this bare-bones interface that makes openomy easy to navigate. Instead of relying on folders, openomy categorizes your data using tags, which you assign for each file you upload. All of your tags are then listed in the dashboard when you sign in. openomy plans on offering additional storage space in the future (along with paid subscriptions), but for now the cap is at 1GB. Developers take note: openomy has an open API and encourages member-created apps that integrate with the service.
Likes: No frills interface. Infinite potential uses via its API.
Dislikes: Just 1GB. No drag and drop support.

DivShare
With 5GB of free storage space, DivShare has a slight advantage over some of its competitors. Interface-wise, it's easy to use, with a clean, uncluttered dashboard that automatically categorizes your uploaded content into image, video, audio, or document folders. DivShare also offers its members the added convenience of online streaming. Its built-in Flash player lets you play your media files straight from your Web browser, so if you have a folder full of MP3s you can stream them while you're logged in. To share a file, just click on the "Share" link and DivShare provides you with URLs for sharing your items. They also offer a handful of plug-ins that integrate the service with Facebook, Wordpress, and Apple's iPhone. Need to know how much memory you have left? DivShare was the only site to feature a small counter keeping track of your available storage space.
Likes: 5GB of storage. Online media streaming. Counter keeps track of available memory.
Dislikes: Site can be slow at times.

Box.net
MediaMax
openomy
DivShare
Free Storage
1GB
25GB
1GB
5GB
Drag & Drop Support
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
SSL Encryption
None
None
None
None
Pricing Plans
5GB @$8/mo
100GB @$5/mo
N/A
10GB @$8/mo

Box.net, MediaMax, openomy, and DivShare are just a small example of what's out there. Google Mail subscribers, for instance, can download GMail Drive, a freeware extension that lets you tap into your Gmail's 6GB of storage space and use it as a virtual hard drive on your Windows PC. This app isn't supported by Google, so if you go this route be warned that any changes to the Gmail system could lock you out of your data. Otherwise, the sites mentioned above might help you save money or keep you from purchasing a new hard drive."

Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features editor.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stop theives from stealing your laptop (or at least make them think twice)


Today I came across this summary products that PC World recommends to prevent laptop thefts. Some products overlap, but all have been proven devices when keeping your laptop in your possession. It covers devices such as locks, motion-sensors, tracking tags, and lojack-like software to locate a stolen laptop. Reading about the lojack-like software that reminded me of a story I read of a MacBook that was taken awhile back and it caused the built-in webcam to take pictures while in use. Well, the pictures were of the thief sitting on the toilet, so I don't know if I'd want it back afterwards, but it was proof that this software does work.

Another good source that I found was put out by Microsoft. Some of the information was pretty basic, but one that stuck out was the encryption of your data. Of course they recommend their products for encryption, but myself and lifehacker.com prefer the free, open-source TrueCrypt (a very nice encryption program). To take your personal data encryption even a step further, check out the IronKey USB stick. It's pricey for the size of data it holds, but it's mil-spec ruggedness makes it stand alone on the market. That's not even to mention the fact that all data is encrypted and after entering 10 wrong passwords (you can reset the count via a web interface and answering some questions you set) the chip self-destructs...very Mission Impossible-like.

That's just a few of the options that are available, but they are some of the best and easiest to implement.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Video Time: Penn & Teller - cashier/change money scam

First off...if you're offended by off-color language or at work, Penn & Teller might be something you'd rather not watch. I am including this because it shows an excellent example of how the miscounting of an exchange of money (usually from change as shown in the video) can leave your wallet or purse a little lighter than intended. Now, don't get so worried that you no longer give change for a $5 out (I've asked people for $1's on a few needed occasions), but be mindful of the count of bills.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Great cost of living calculator for those planning on moving


For those that have been considering moving to a new area you've probably wondered about what the difference in the cost of living will be between where you live now and where you want to go. Homefair.com has an excellent cost of living calculator on their page that makes it easy to find out what that difference is.

The steps are as simple as it can be:

1. Select the state that you currently reside and the state that you are moving to.

2. Enter your current salary then choose the city you live in and the city that you are moving to (the list is quite thorough). Also choose if you prefer to rent or own (it doesn't seem to change the results).

That's it! It will show you what you currently make and what you will need to make in the city you're planning on moving to in order to keep the same standard of living.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The best way to get started in stock investing

This post came about from an experience I had at work today showing the coworker I share my office with the best way to get your feet wet in stock trading. I've dealt with many online traders and even after their merger with ING (which turned out to be a change for the better) I led her to Sharebuilder.com

This wasn't because of any kind of kickback I would receive (actually, there's a better $50 added to you account kickback you can get that's much better than I can offer you, check the article at hustlermoneyblog.com), but if you're planning on making reoccurring transactions and don't have a limitless budget, this is definitely the way to go.

First, with the market state right now I'd definitely recommend the dollar-cost averaging that the monthly reoccurring transactions will provide. If the market falls, you'll gain more shares so when the market turns around, you'll be in a good position to make a lot of money. I'm not one of those "the sky is falling" market pessimists, but I do have my doubts about what will happen in the next year or so. If you're looking for short-term gains this isn't the approach for you, but if you're looking long-term, i.e. retirement, you might want to give this a serious look.

Next, for the budget that can't afford purchasing 100 shares of a stock flat out, this is where Sharebuilder won me over. If when you sign up you choose the automatic investment plan (required for the $50 bonus btw), not only are your stock purchases only $4, but you can buy fractional shares. This means you can buy by dollar amount and not share price amount. How do they do this? Well, they pool all of the money from those investors that want to purchase the stock and then split the stock evenly by the purchase price. This way you can purchase a fractional share of even Berkshire Hathaway (currently $133,600 a share) and be a true shareholder.

You can still do trades on the fly ($9.99 since the ING buyout, used to be $14.99) and options trading, but if you're getting started I'd stay away from both...they'll come at a later time.

I may put out some of my stock picks in the future, but incase they fall through I'm not comfortable doing so at this time. I will follow Warren Buffett's tip and tell you that index funds are the best way to get started. Kiplinger's is a great magazine for indications on what funds to look at and general personal finance information, so I'd highly recommend checking it out if you're looking for some funds to invest in.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Preparing for an extended recession with I Bonds


***Ethical Grifter Note: The fixed interest part of these bonds will change May 1, 2008....if you are planning on buying, do so tomorrow! The Fed's interest rate cuts are sure to lower the interest rates on these bonds!***

Well, I finally got back into the US bond market today due to concerns about my portfolio in the next year or so and the lackluster savings account rates that I'm currently getting due to the Fed cutting interest rates. I've been searching for a stable place to put my money and still get a decent return rate and after reading numerous articles I think I bonds are the way to go. Funny thing is, over the weekend I visited my father and brought it up. It seems that he's doing the same approach, guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Why the I bond? Well this article at mymoneyblog.com sparked my interest. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for, a stable, medium-term investment with a decent interest rate. I signed up at treasurydirect.com to purchase some, but unfortunately they needed me to validate further and in order to make the interest rate deadline I couldn't mess with that. Luckily, mymoneyblog followed up with this article describing how to buy them at most banks.

What interests me most about the bonds is:

1. You are set with the fixed interest rate (currently 1.2%, but most likely going to drop further on May 1.)
2. You receive a variable interest rate on top of that which adjusts with inflation. The more inflation (including gas and food prices...and those are getting out of control), the more interest it earns.

It was as easy as stopping into my local bank (which I do not have an account with), asking if they sold the bonds, and filling out the form and turning over the cash (make sure you pay in cash to avoid any chance of bank fees). I received a date stamped copy of the form I filled out which assures me of getting the fixed rate that is currently offered and the bonds should be coming in the mail in the next three weeks.

Sounds like a pretty good place to stash some cash to me. Currently the fixed+variable interest rate is earning a total of 4.28%....spanking my ING and HSBC savings accounts.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Refill or create a planner for free at D*I*Y Planner

Planners can help you get organized in more ways than you could imagine. The problem is, refills are expensive, almost as expensive as the planner itself. DIY Planner has come up with the best solution to this issue....make them free. Offering different size templates, DIY Planner can refill your traditional planner or you can even create your own Hipster PDA, a 3"x5" card based answer to the Palm and other electronic PDAs.

The beauty of creating or refilling your planner this way is that you can choose the exact type and quantity of sheets that you want to carry in your planner. Some of the choices are:

- Agendas
- Potential Projects Charts
- To Do Lists
- Product Idea Breakdowns
- Finance Checklist
- Job Search Information
- numerous others, including the basic calendars, contacts, etc.

All of the different sized templates can be found here in both .pdf and .zip formats (the .zip files unzip into .pdfs).

So next time you need to refill your traditional planner or if you're trying to get organized and don't own a planner yet, this should be you're one-stop shop to finally getting a planner custom tailored for your tastes. The price is right too.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sunday Fun - Free and legal music and movies


Just wanted to provide some quick links to some free entertainment for a nice, lazy Sunday.

1. Amazon Free Music Downloads - Pretty decent selection for my tastes (A lot of the mid-90's punk), but kind of thin in some of the other departments.

2. Public Domain Movie Torrents - A lot of the old black and white movies you see for sale in those "50 movies for only $19.99" sets. These films are actually not copyrighted anymore and you can get them for free here. My top picks are: Night of the Living Dead, the old Flash Gordon series, and all of the old cartoons.

*Note* You can watch some of the movies on the site, but to download you will need a torrent client. I recommend uTorrent, (Windows) and Transmission (Mac) they're the least obtrusive clients I have used. There is also have a beginners guide for anybody who is new to downloading torrents on the uTorrent site.

3. gHacks Free Music List - Very good looking portal for many free music download sites. I haven't checked this out much yet, so there may be some gems.

Enjoy!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Ethical Grifter's Amazon aStore - Grand Opening!


Today is the public Grand Opening of my Amazon aStore! I've been populating it with books and magazines that I'd recommend for reading, as well as the Amazon Kindle eBook reader.

Come check it out! It's a work-in-progress so it will be changing a bit within the next few weeks. One of the main pages that I want to add will be a "Deals of the Week" page where I'll have the best percentage-off deals that Amazon has for the week it's posted.

Come check out The Ethical Grifter's Amazon aStore today!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Video Time: Distraction Theft Techniques..Keep Your Guard Up!

It's been awhile since I've had a video up and with the warmer weather coming around I've been thinking of vacations...just as the targets in this video are on. Even though the video highlights these type of thefts being done while out of town, they're easily done in any public place so it's ok to carry with you a healthy level of paranoia.

The highlighted techniques in this video both show a leanining in technique that will invade your personal space for just a split second or so. This is hard to avoid in many situations, i.e. my sardine can packed subway ride to and from work every day, but these are those times where checking to make sure you have everything should be occurring a little more often than usual. Even if you don't catch the thief in the act, you'll know about the missing item sooner and can take preventative action against the thief running up the bills on any accounts you have.





And speaking of vacations, Travelocity is having a deal on Virgin America flight until the end of Friday this week. I've heard great things about the airline (bigger TV screens than JetBlue at each seat and mood lighting throughout the cabin of all things), so if you're planning a trip soon it might be worth checking out:
Why Drive When You Can Get One-Way Flights from $46+ w/ Virgin America! (Expires 4/25/08)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Don't want to be turned down for a credit card? Find one to match your FICO score

Nobody likes it when they apply for a credit card only to receive a letter in the mail a few weeks later stating that their application has been rejected. With the amount of junk credit sites that turn up with every web search engine it's difficult to know which cards are best suited for your FICO score and which ones you have the best chance of being accepted for.

Financeglobe.com has an excellent tool called Score Match that allows you to input your FICO score and select a score range (Your FICO score +/- 0 to 30 points). With that information they will search their databases and instantaneously show you which cards are the best choices within that score range.

Less credit inquiries equal a better credit score so make use of this tool to keep from getting those dreaded rejection letters

You don't know what your FICO score is? Get it straight from the source at the link below:

30-Day Free Trial

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thinking of starting a business? Here's some great How-To info!

If you're at this site there's a good chance that at least once you've considered starting and owning your own business. Whether it is a small home-based venture or a large corporation that you intend to have there are certain steps that need to be followed.

Our friends at CNNMoney.com were nice enough to create How To Build A Bulletproof Startup - a step-by-step guide on finally making that dream of your own business a reality. This guide mainly focuses on how to get your product idea to take off, but there are excellent tips that can be used for service-based business as well.

Be sure to check out some of the other links on CNNMoney.com's page. There is a lot of good, free information provided through that site.

Another great source of information is Entrepreneur Magazine. I have had a subscription to it for over a year now and each issue has new insights on how to make your business reach it's maximum potential. There is also much information concerning purchasing and owning a franchise-based business. I still don't have the funds to get into this yet, but it is interesting to stay on top of the trends. Also be sure to check out their site at entrepreneur.com for some more free insight to starting and running your own business.

Hopefully, with sources of information like these, it will give you the motivation to make your dreams of owning a business for yourself a reality.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hot Deals on Amazon.com

Today's a nice, lazy (and rainy) Sunday. Perfect time to do some online deal hunting. Here are some of the best deals going on at Amazon.com right now, but hurry, most of these prices are expiring within the next few days!

First up is the Invicta Men's 10 Collection Watch #3280 It's only $34.99 (usually $125.00) and qualifies for Free Super Saver Shipping. That's 72% in savings...deal ends April 26th though!



Next is a Sterling Silver 3mm Round Cubic Zirconia Tennis Bracelet, 7.25" Priced at $23.99 it's a 60% savings in comparison to its normal price of $60. This deal expires at 2 am EST April 21st, so act quickly. Free Super Saver Shipping on this item as well




For those of you that don't already own it, or just need a new set, the Star Wars Trilogy (Widescreen Edition with Bonus Disc) is currently just $34.99 (50% savings, regularly $69.98). Expires April 29th and comes with Free Super Saver Shipping.



Also, they are also offering a deal where you can Buy one television DVD set, get one free From the ones I clicked on it looks like they all have the Free Super Saver Shipping. Expires April 21st though, so don't delay if there's something you want!