Beware Buying Gift Cards From Online Auction Sites

Do you have a retail gift card you don’t want? Maybe there are no stores near you, or the amount won’t cover any of the store’s merchandise, or you just don’t shop there.

If you’re a frequent visitor to eBay and other online auction sites, you’ve probably seen an increase in gift cards for sale. Before you throw one of these enticing discounted cards into your “shopping cart,” realize it could be part of a cyberscam, according to USA Today.

Security experts are calling it cyber money laundering, or e-fencing—yet another way thieves are converting stolen data into cash.

Here’s how it works: A thief steals someone’s credit card number and purchases a gift card online. The thief then turns around and sells it to the highest bidder on an online auction or for a discount at a so-called gift card exchange Web site.

Though it’s tempting to take advantage of this so-called bargain, your best bet, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is to purchase gift cards from sources you know and trust, and to avoid buying cards from online auction sites.

Beware of Food Fraud

You may think you’re looking out for your family’s health and budget as you make your way through the grocery aisles, but be careful—all is not necessarily as it seems.

Food fraud—the practice of mislabeling, adulterating, and otherwise misrepresenting a food product—is a real and growing problem.

Here are some telling examples:
• A Virginian was convicted in 2009 of selling 10 million pounds of Vietnamese catfish as red snapper, flounder, and grouper.
• More than half of the “wild salmon” sampled in a Consumer Reports study was actually farm-raised.
• In Connecticut, officials found samples of “extra-virgin olive oil” that were actually 90% soybean oil.

Dr. John Spink, associate director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program (A-CAPPP) at Michigan State University in East Lansing, says the key factors behind food fraud are profit, unmet demand, difficulty in detecting fraud, lack of laws against it, and limited enforcement. But now, a globalized economy and widely available technology are fueling its growth.

There are three basic types of harm from food fraud, Spink says, and they’re not mutually exclusive.

1. Direct—It’s toxic, and if you eat it, you’ll get ill right away.
2. Indirect—The absence of a benefit, like a low dose of vitamin C. Indirect harm also can result if a troublesome substance builds up in the consumer’s system.
3. Technical—For example, when the country of origin is mislabeled.

When food fraud gets downright dangerous, Spink says there are effective systems in place to deal with it, similar to the response a salmonella outbreak would provoke.

If you’d like to avoid an identity crisis with your grocery list, Spink suggests patronizing merchants with a vested interest in keeping you as a repeat customer.

Buying local isn’t always better, Spink says—the key is relationships.

“And if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he adds. “There’s a difference between inexpensive and cheap.”

What Was Grandma’s Password?

It’s a realization many people are coming to in this digital age. You read stories about soldiers killed overseas whose families can’t access their e-mail accounts to read and save their last messages. Or spouses who have to hire lawyers to get access to and delete their deceased partners’ Facebook pages. We tend to plan carefully for the disposition of our physical assets at our deaths—homes, cars, and the like—but many people forget to plan for loved ones’ access to their digital assets.

It’s important to create a financial inventory that lists your financial assets, how they’re structured—investment specifics, beneficiaries, what documents are on file—and how to contact the institution holding the assets. Don’t forget automatic payments for things like utilities, cell phones, and newspapers that you’ve set up through financial institutions or directly with businesses. Include your social media and other account types too—anything with a log-on.