Quizzle Review: Free Equifax Credit Score and Credit Report

Quizzle logoQuizzle.com is a website that offers a free credit score and your official Equifax credit report every six months. You can now monitor your credit scores from all three credit bureaus for free. It has been six months for me, so I just grabbed my 2nd credit report of 2014 and took the opportunity to provide a brief review of this service.

(Fun fact: Quizzle part of the Quicken Loans family and owned by Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and soon-to-be employer of Lebron James.)

Here are some website screenshots:

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Your free Equifax report lists all your credit lines including credit cards and other loans, recent credit inquiries, public records, and other personal information. This is the same report that you would get if you bought one from Equifax directly or got your free government-mandated one from AnnualCreditReport.com. Get your timing right and that is three free Equifax credit reports a year.

Your free Equifax credit score is specifically the newest VantageScore 3.0 which was unveiled in 2013 and has the same scale as FICO 300-850. A little background – VantageScore was actually created directly by the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to compete with the best-known FICO score from Fair Isaac Corporation. I don’t think they’ve overcome FICO, but it appears they are the 2nd-most widely used score out there and supported by some big bucks. Unlike some FAKO scores, it is actually used by lenders in their loan decisions. However, the numerical value will probably not map directly to your FICO score. From the Quizzle site:

Quizzle features the VantageScore credit score. The VantageScore credit score is used by thousands of lenders, including the nation’s largest banks, in their credit card, auto lending and mortgage businesses.

Some additional details:

  • Yes, it is really free. No purchase or credit card required. No trial subscriptions either.
  • There is no effect on your credit score because you are checking your own credit. It is a soft pull, not a hard pull.
  • You will see advertising of various financing offers based on your information (mortgage, auto loans, credit cards, personal loans). As part of Quicken Loans, so they will likely pitch you for a mortgage. However, they state that they don’t sell your information to others.
  • Free 24/7 credit monitoring of my Experian account was also offered to me. I am not sure if this was targeted only to select users as I had to opt in, but it was clearly marked as free. I just signed up for this so I haven’t gotten a chance to see how it works.
  • Paid upgrade options. Quizzle Pro gets you monthly Equifax credit reports and scores for $8-$11 a month. The pricing appears to be customized for each user. Quizzle Pro+ gets you all that plus $1,000,000 in Identity Theft Protection and 24/7 Victim Assistance for around $18 a month. I did not purchase either option.
  • The site states you can get a free report and score every 6 months (180 days), but I was able to get mine after just 168 days (I didn’t try every day, I just remembered today and it worked… shrug). I checked on January 27, 2014 and again on July 13, 2014. It would be more competitive with other sites if they could start offering score updates every month and keep the reports every 6 months.
  • Prior to early 2014, Quizzle used to give out Experian-based credit scores twice a year, but Credit Sesame already gave Experian-based scores for free every month so it wasn’t very appealing. The change to Equifax was a welcome one.

In summary, I am glad this service exists and I don’t mind being pitched a mortgage loan consultation every six months in exchange for a free official Equifax credit report and credit score. It is another step closer to gaining better access to what I consider our personal information. Credit Sesame and Credit Karma are similar services that use the other two major consumer credit databases:

Cash Is Still King, But Most People Prefer Debit Cards Over Credit Cards

The Federal Reserve recently released a report about about consumer payments [pdf], and it had some interesting results (at least to me). Via Business Insider. Here are the distilled highlights.

Cash is still the most frequently used form of payment, as measured by number of transactions. This is partly due to the fact that cash totally dominates for payments less than $10. In terms of value, electronic payments (online billpay and ACH payments using bank account numbers) have the largest share.

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This next chart shows that debit card use is actually growing faster than any other form of payment:

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Overall, debit cards are also the most preferred form of payment… but it does vary with income. 55% of consumers with household incomes less than $25,000 per year prefer cash over anything else, while 66% of households making more than $200,000 per year prefer credit cards over anything else.

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People seem to have an either/or relationship with debit cards and credit cards. You either use one or the other predominantly.

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Initially, I was surprised by the popularity of debit cards. (I prefer credit cards and am one of those people who haven’t used a debit card in years.) My hunch is that people think of debit cards as the closest thing to electronic cash. The money gets zapped out of your checking account and your balance decreases instantly. As long as you decline overdraft “protection”, if you hit zero your purchase will be declined. I admit it does have the appeal of simplicity.

Although I treat my credit card purchases the same as cash and always pay in full each month, credit cards do come with more complexity and the knowledge that the credit card company is lying in wait in case you feel like taking on a little debt. But in return I earn cash back rewards, get better consumer protection against fraud, and enough sign-up bonuses to fly me around the world once in a while.

Limited-Time Offer: 60,000 Bonus Points For Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus, $300 For Ink Cash

myinkboldUpdate: This LTO is now EXPIRED

Chase has just boosted the sign-up bonuses on their Ink cards. The Ink Bold Card and Ink Plus Card cards now offer 60,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending $5,000 within 3 months, which are worth 60,000 United miles, $600 cash, or $750 towards travel. That is 20% or 10,000 points higher than the standard offer. I believe this matches the highest bonus ever for these three cards.

The Ink Cash Card with no annual fee and 0% interest for 12 months is offering a $300 bonus (up from $200) after spending $3,000 within 3 months.

Chase Ink Bold Card bonus link

  • For a limited time, earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • No interest charges because it’s a pay in full charge card.
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs with no transfer fees.
  • Direct access to a live service advisor anytime.
  • Free Employee Cards.

The 5X rewards on office supply stores from these two cards are handy as you can buy a wide variety of gift cards at Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot from prepaid cell phone reloads to Amazon gift cards to Home Depot and other retailers. This effectively gets you back 5X Ultimate Rewards points on a lot of your everyday spending.

Chase Ink Plus Card bonus link

  • For a limited time, earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • With Ink Plus, you have the cash flow flexibility with the choice to pay over time or pay in full.
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 1:1 point transfer to participating travel programs with no transfer fees.
  • Free Employee Cards.

The major difference is the Ink Bold is a charge card that you must pay in full each month and Ink Plus is a credit card where you can carry a balance. The good thing about this is that you can get both cards for the same business and thus both bonuses.

Chase Ink Cash Card bonus link

  • For a limited time, earn $300 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 in 3 months from account opening.
  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services.
  • 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent annually at gas stations and restaurants.
  • 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn.
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers.
  • No annual fee.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and you may be a consultant, freelancer, or other one-person business. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card – 50,000 Bonus Points + $50 Statement Credit

citihilton180emvUpdate – This offer is now EXPIRED

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is their no-annual fee co-branded card and comes with the following perks:

  • Limited Time: Earn a $50 statement credit after spending $50 on your first stay at any hotel within the Hilton Portfolio during the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Earn 50,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton portfolio.*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.*
  • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No annual fee.*

This card is really only ideal for people who at least occasionally stay at Hilton hotels (as this card is also giving you a bunch of points and complimentary Silver status to try and get you to become more loyal). Hilton HHonors points are worth the most when redeemed for a hotel stay, as there aren’t really that many great cash-equivalent redemption options. You can use this search tool to see how much a hotel will cost in any specific area (i.e. Honolulu or Paris).

This card has no annual fee. If you are willing to pay an annual fee in exchange for a bigger bonus and better ongoing perks, check out the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card.

American Express AmEx Everyday and Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card Review

amexeverydayAmerican Express has just introduced two new rewards credit cards called the AmEx Everyday and AmEx Everyday Preferred. Note that these are NOT the same as the Blue Cash Everyday and Blue Cash Preferred cards. They are worth a look as they offer a unique rewards structure, although it can be a bit tricky to maximize their value. Here is my review and comparison with similar cards.

Both are credit cards that let you carry a balance, as opposed to charge cards that make you pay in full each month. However, they both earn “real” Membership Rewards points just like the traditional Gold or Platinum charge cards. This means the points can be transferred to 17 different airlines including British Airways, Delta, and Hawaiian Airlines and 5 hotel loyalty programs. Otherwise, you can get about 1 cent per point when used with their “Pay with Points” feature or if converted to gift cards (Home Depot, Gap/OldNavy/Banana, Zappos, etc). Here’s how they differ:

AmEx Everyday Credit Card

  • Sign-up bonus: 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • 2x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (up to $6k in purchases per year), 1x points on other purchases..
  • Possible 20% bonus on points earned. Use your Card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 20% more points on those purchases (less returns and credits).
  • No annual fee. No annual fee for additional cards.

AmEx Everyday Preferred Credit Card

  • Sign-up bonus: 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • 3x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (up to $6k in purchases per year), 2x points at US gas stations, 1x points on other purchases.
  • Possible 50% bonus on points earned. Use your Card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 20% more points on those purchases (less returns and credits).
  • $95 annual fee. No annual fee for additional cards.

In order to maximize your rewards earned, you’ll need to makes 20 purchases on the no annual fee version or 30 for the Preferred version. For most people, that means this card has to be your primary card. Otherwise, you may have to work a little to meet that hurdle. You might buy some small Amazon.com gift codes, take a few extra trips in that self-checkout line, spend some extra time pumping gas, or pay your cell phone bill in small chunks. The good news is that you can track your purchase count easily with the AmEx mobile app designed to work with this card.

Both cards also have a EMV smart chip, but unfortunately foreign transaction fees are not waived. I’m guessing that is because this is an “everyday spending” card and not a “travel rewards” card.

The problem is that in order to maximize the total value of this card, you’ll have to get more than 1 cent of value out of a Membership Rewards point. Because even with the boosts, at 1 cent per point the most value you could earn with the is 2.4% back on groceries (Everyday no annual fee) or 4.5% back on groceries and 3% back on gas (Everyday Preferred $95 annual fee). Yet the existing Blue Cash Everyday card already gets you 3% cash back on groceries and 2% cash back on gas with no annual fee, and the Blue Cash Preferred gets you 6% back on gas and 3% back on gas with a $75 annual fee.

However, if you can get around 1.5 cents of of value out of a Membership Rewards point by converting it to airline miles, this card becomes better than the Blue Cash cards. The numbers then work out to 3.6% back and 6.75% back on groceries, respectively. That’s pretty solid. (Break-even value is 1.25-1.33 cents per point.) So while it is not marketed as a travel rewards card, it is really only best for people who can redeem their points efficiently via airline miles. Make sense? :)

Discover It Double Cash Back your first year Review: Improved, 10% Cash Back Categories, Free FICO Score

Discover it 14 ImageScrappy little Discover is trying something bold. They’ve chucked everything and started fresh with only one card – the new Discover it® Double Cash Back your first year. (Yes, lowercase, don’t ask me why.) No longer promoted are the Discover More, Motiva, Open Road, Escape, and Miles cards.

In fact, you may want to convert your old Discover card to this one. The new card is a definite improvement over the old products, with many positive changes in direct response to the competition. Here are the highlights:

  • 0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 12 months-then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% – 22.99%. A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance.
  • Exclusive offer: Double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your 1st year-automatically.*
  • 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter like gas, restaurants and more-up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up.* 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • New Freeze It(SM) on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.*
  • Free FICO® Credit Score on statements, online & by mobile app.* And 100% U.S.-based service any time.
  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on first late payment & paying late won’t raise your APR.*
  • Each Discover purchase is monitored. If it’s unusual, you’re alerted by e-mail, phone or text and never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card.
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms & other info by clicking “Apply.”

Is it really a game-changer? Well, no. It’s not quite “one card to rule them all”, but it does combine the good bits from several other popular cards (Chase Sapphire, Chase Freedom, Citi Simplicity) to create a competitive offering. I like the 10% categories that are usually pretty broad and useful.

Discover is still the underdog to American Express/Visa/Mastercard, but it has its own perks. There are bonuses above cash back value for certain gift card redemptions. Their ShopDiscover cashback portal also often has the highest percentages for online shopping merchants, like 10% at Sears, better than eBates and such. Finally, Discover card has a lot of consumer features like return protection and an extended warranty that extends the manufacturer’s warranty for up to an extra year.

Basically, this Discover card is certainly improved and a worthwhile addition to your wallet, although rewards geeks like myself probably won’t it the only card in our wallets. 😉

Existing cardholders. I have not gotten any communication from Discover that my existing cards will be converted to an “it” card automatically. Readers report that if you call them up, they will convert you to the new card manually for free. You get to keep your same card number and thus credit history. Certain people with annual fee miles-type cards or those doing a 0% balance transfer promotion may prefer to stay, but again I think this card is definitely better than the plain Discover and Discover More cards.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Navy Federal Credit Union No Balance Transfer Fee Promotion 2014

navyfedlogoNavyFed Credit Union has a limited-time promotion going on until Sunday, April 20th where if you do a balance transfer from an external financial institutions to your existing Navy Federal card, you’ll get a fixed 0% promo APR for 12 months with no balance transfer fee. It is unclear if this offer is targeted to specific e-mail recipients as it is not mentioned on the home page, but I’d definitely call in and ask if interested.

Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to military personnel including Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force – including retirees and family members – but also includes some civilian employees in the Department of Defense. Similar previous offers from NavyFed have used “existing” in their terms to suggest that new credit card applications are ineligible, but that wording does not appear on this offer.

There has never been a better time to consolidate your high rate balance to your Navy Federal Credit Card. You’ll save more, thanks to no balance transfer fees1 and a 0% fixed intro APR2 on balance transfers for 12 months. After that, a variable rate between 7.99% APR and 18% APR applies.1

This is a solid offer as it has been harder to find a no balance transfer fee 0% APR offer these days even though interest rates are still relatively low. However, you’ll note that Chase is not mentioned in their little balance transfer fee comparison chart as the Slate® from Chase is also currently available with a 0% introductory APR on both balance transfers and purchases for 15 months with $0 balance transfer fee and $0 annual fee. All you have to do is initiate your balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account.

Either way, both cards are good opportunities to lower the interest rate on your existing balances and accelerate any debt payoff plans.

Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express Card Review – 2% Flat Cash Back

fidoamexIf you’re looking for a solid cash back card and are willing to open a Fidelity account (or are an existing customer), then you should really consider the credit card offerings from Fidelity, especially the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express Card.

This card earns a flat 2% cash back on purchases, as long as you deposit the money into an eligible account at Fidelity:

  • Fidelity Cash Management Account
  • Fidelity Brokerage account
  • Fidelity-managed 529 account
  • Fidelity Retirement account (IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA)

Once your 2% rewards balance goes over $50, it will automatically deposit into your linked Fidelity account. I used to have my money go into a Fidelity 529; I think their investment options are okay but not the best, but this way you won’t spend your rewards on something frivolous. However, these days I just have it deposit into my brokerage account so I can invest it. An IRA would be too confusing for me due to the stringent IRS contribution limit rules. (If you’ve maxed out the limit, they say that they will automatically defer the rebate until the next year. But what if you have a partially phased-out limit due to income, and your limit is reduced to $2,350? How would they know that?)

In terms of catches, it’s mostly that you have to open an extra Fidelity account if you don’t have one already. It appears that the Fidelity Cash Management account has no opening minimum, but if you want to make some trades the Fidelity brokerage account you will need $2,500 to open that (no ongoing minimum balance requirement). I would open your Fidelity account first to make sure you have no issues.

Note also that the rewards only come in $50 increments:

Customers earn 2 points for each $1 in net retail purchases. Once you reach 5,000 points, they can be redeemed automatically or on demand for cash at a 1% exchange rate into an eligible Fidelity account (i.e. 5,000 points = $50 deposit).

So a $49 rewards balance = $0 in your pocket. It will roll over each month until the balance goes above $50, when the entire thing (i.e. $62.54) will arrive in your Fidelity account. Then the $50 hurdle kicks back in. So it is a little harder to time a cash out of your remaining balance if you wanted to close the account (but why would you?).

Finally, it is an AmEx and not a Visa/Mastercard, but I’ve found the number of merchants accepting American Express much improved since 10 years ago although there are still gaps in areas like utilities, insurance, and small mom & pop restaurants and stores.

But really, with no annual fee, this card and the Citi Double Cash card have raised the bar for a “basic” rewards card to 2% cash back at the very minimum.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: $400 Bonus Value + 2.2% Cash Back Towards Any Travel

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The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a new premium travel rewards card with a nice sign-up bonus and also works out to 2.2% cash back towards travel. This results in card that may be the best option for people who like to travel but aren’t loyal to any specific airline program.

Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 miles = $400 off your next trip

There is a limited-time sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after you make $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!

Rewards Structure: 2.22% Cash Back Towards Any Travel
With this card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases; no special categories. These miles (easier to think of them as points, really) are then redeemable towards travel booked from any merchant or retailer classified as Airlines, Travel Agencies & Tour Operators, Hotels, Motels & Resorts, Cruise Lines, Passenger Railways and Car Rental Agencies. That means you have the flexibility to redeem towards any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates.

On top of that, the card gives you a 10% miles rebate when you redeem for any travel. So in that 40,000 redemption example above, you would actually get you 4,000 back for a net cost of 36,000 miles. Getting $400 of value out of 36,000 miles at 2X miles/$ spent works out to 2.22% cash back towards any travel. That is very high in terms of easy conversion to cash value.

Card Summary

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit.
  • 0% intro APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR currently 14.99% or 18.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases – Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Chip card for increased confidence and convenience to pay abroad as easily as you do at home
  • Redeem your miles for travel statement credits – redemptions start at 2,500 miles for $25 toward travel purchases made in the last 120 days
  • Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers

There is a $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. Balance that with the $400+ opening bonus + 2.22% cash back the first year, and the ongoing 2.22% cash back past the first year. There is also a Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® with no annual fee that is similar but has a lower 20,000 bonus miles but only 2X miles on travel and dining purchases as opposed to all purchases (the rest get 1x miles). I will likely try to downgrade the card to the no annual fee version after a year if I don’t think the 2X miles is working out for me. Barclays does offer instant approval; if you don’t get it call their credit analyst line at 1-866-408-4064.

  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard®

Square Cash: Send/Request Money Via Debit Card For Free + $1 Carrot

square1Square, known for helping people accept credit cards with smartphones, has expanded another feature called Square Cash. Yes, it’s yet another attempt at simplifying person-to-person payments, but this time all you need is e-mail and a debit card number. No accounts to open, no passwords to remember, and no fees either.

To request money, just send an e-mail with the following fields:

To: [one or more email addresses]
Cc: request@square.com
Subject: You can write whatever but include $ [amount]

To send money, just send an e-mail with the following fields:

To: [one or more email addresses]
Cc: cash@square.com
Subject: $ [amount]

That’s it, the Square website walks people through the rest. I found it pretty interesting that you can both deposit and withdraw money via debit card. If this stays fee-free then I could actually see myself using this between friends and family. iPhone/Android app also available, but not necessary (it just helps you compose the e-mail).

Right now, Square Cash will give you $1 to try it out. Your debit card number will then be associated with the e-mail address you provided from then on for future payments (unless you change it).

Discover Card 5% Back at Chevron and Texaco Gas Stations

Just saw this today while filling up at a Chevron. Discover cardholders can get 5% cashback at Chevron and Texaco gas stations from now until March 31st, 2014. Subject to a cap of $250 in purchases. Must sign up first by going to Discover.com/chevron and then logging into your online account. The next screen should look like this:

discoverchevron

This is in addition to the standard 5% back categories on the Discover it card, currently 5% back on up to $1,500 in purchases at restaurants and movies for 1st quarter of 2014. The Chase Freedom card also has gas stations as one of their 5% back categories for Q1 2014 if you have that card (good for up to $1,500 in purchases).

Beware Recurring Preapproved Payments on PayPal – Skype Account Hacked

Tonight, I got several email confirmations for separate €25 Paypal payments to “Skype Communications Sarl”. Thing is, I haven’t used Skype in years. At first I thought it was just another phishing attempt. But the domain on the e-mail checked out. I logged into my account (manually) and saw that multiple $35 charges did indeed go through. How? Was my PayPal account hacked? I changed my password, and then another unauthorized payment went through!

paypalpre2

Long story short, it was my Skype account that was hacked. I didn’t even know this, but PayPal has a program of “preapproved” payments where a merchant can repeatedly charge your account without the need to type in your PayPal password. This is meant for monthly subscriptions and the sort. Although I have bought credit from Skype before, I don’t ever recall signing up for any of these subscription-style plans at any merchant. My suspicion is that it was buried somewhere into a default checkbox that I didn’t undo, or worse it was just hidden in the terms and conditions fine print. (I am usually really careful about this sort of thing, so I am quite mad at myself!)

Lesson #1: If you use PayPal at all, check your preapproved merchant list immediately. To find this list, log into your account and then go to My Account > Profile > My money > My preapproved payments. You should see a screen like this:

paypalpre

My recommendation is to make every single one inactive immediately. If not, you should treat your accounts at those merchants as carefully as your bank accounts, because they literally have access to every linked bank account and credit card at PayPal. I had no idea that buying one joke bumper sticker from Zazzle in 2009 could be the equivalent of an open wallet.

Apparently, I’ve been vulnerable for years but I never noticed until now. I bet there are a lot of abandoned Skype accounts with simple or unsecure passwords. The criminals gain access, change the linked e-mail and password so the original owner has no access, and can then sell or use the Skype credit. There are also several other reports of unauthorized Skype/Paypal charges on the Skype forums.

Lesson #2: Never use PayPal to buy things online instead of a credit card unless absolutely necessary, usually for eBay. The big thing is that Paypal is NOT regulated like banks or credit cards. There is no federal law that says you are not liable for unauthorized PayPal charges. Instead, they just claim that you are “protected” when in reality they have all the power to decide if you ever see your money again. I had to open a dispute with PayPal online as they don’t have 24/7 customer service (again, unlike credit cards). If I had just used a credit card, even if the number was stolen, I could be confident that I would get my money back in a timely manner. I’ve already had other bad experiences with PayPal, but we’ll see what happens.