Why You Should Rethink Buying Gift Cards This Year

(Patrick Carlson)

Yeah, about that Borders gift card… (Patrick Carlson)

Giving people gift cards has many advantages: you can take a loved one out to dinner from hundreds or thousands of miles away, or you can buy someone new clothes or shoes without guessing at their size. However, gift cards and prepaid debit cards aren’t always the one-size-fits-all gift option that they seem to be, since they can have some serious drawbacks.

Our merry elf colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports put together a list of reasons why you should reconsider giving gift cards this holiday season, and here we’ve combined their advice with some of our own.

People don’t want ‘em. In a poll, only 37% of Americans said that they really want to receive gift cards this year. Me, I like gift cards, but that’s because I feel obligated to spend cash gifts on useful things, and a gift card to Sephora is, by definition, permission to go buy something frivolous. Maybe it depends on the retailer: a card to your favorite local sandwich shop is more personal than a card to, say, Subway or Walmart.

The funds aren’t protected. If a company goes out of business, you’re left with a nice scraper to remove frost from the outside of your car, and that’s about it. Readers holding KB Toys gift cards, for example, failed to notice that the company was going out of business, and lost their money. Your Borders, Circuit City, and Sharper Image cards? Useless. Also, if a store employee fails to activate a card correctly, you could be stuck with the blame, or at least in for an embarrassing gift-giving experience and a fight with Walmart.

They’re limited. Even if a company is still in business, do your research and make sure that a store is actually available where the recipient lives. Drugstores where I live sell AMC gift cards even though there isn’t an AMC movie theater within 150 miles, because gift card selections are standardized.

There are fees. This applies to prepaid debit cards more than store gift cards, but beware of loading fees for prepaid gift cards, and dormancy fees on all types of cards.

No dispute protection. Credit cards and many debit cards offer you extra warranty protection and the right to dispute a charge within two months if something goes wrong with your purchase. Gift cards do not.

Why gift cards shouldn’t top your holiday shopping list [Consumer Reports]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Amazon Signs 17-Year Lease On Manhattan Building That Is Totally Not A Store

Amazon's new neighbor. (Joel Zimmer)

Amazon’s new neighbor. (Joel Zimmer)

More than a month ago, there were reports that Amazon planned to rent space in Manhattan across the street from the Empire State Building to expand its own empire into brick-and-mortar retail. While Amazon has signed a lease on space in that building that includes ground-floor retail, the company says that it is not going to use that space. Nope.

An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg News that the space does not represent an expansion of Amazon into real-life selling. “We have leased this building primarily as corporate office space and we intend to sublease to other tenants the ground-floor retail space,” she explained. The building was once a discount department store called Ohrbach’s, and is now mostly office space. There are currently clothing stores in the retail spaces: if the speculation about Amazon opening a retail store was false, presumably they would stay and sublet from Amazon.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have an Amazon Store in such a high-traffic area. Maybe if tourists and influencers could get their hands on a Kindle Phone, the company could sell the rest of them. Saying that the space won’t be a store doesn’t rule out using some of the building as warehouse space for popular items to help the company pull off same-day delivery.

Amazon Leases Office Space on Manhattan’s 34th Street [Bloomberg]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Los 10 mandamientos del Hipster #infografia #infographic


Una infografía con Los 10 mandamientos del Hipster.

Un saludo

Archivado en: Curiosidades, Infografía Tagged: Curiosidades, Humor, Infografía

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Top 20 Medios Tecnológicos más relevantes en redes (España) #infografia #socialmedia


Una infografía con el Top 20 Medios Tecnológicos más relevantes en redes (España). Vía

Un saludo

Top 20 Medios Tecnológicos más relevantes en redes (España)

Top 20 Medios Tecnológicos más relevantes en redes (España)

Archivado en: Infografía, Redes Sociales, Sociedad de la información Tagged: Infografía, internet, redes sociales, tic, Web 2.0.

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There’s A Bus In England That Runs On Human Feces – And Food Waste

bio bus If you’re looking to take part in an adventure not unlike one you’d see on The Magic School Bus, then you might think about hitching a ride on the bus fueled by bio-methane gas, which is produced using materials most of us can’t get rid of soon enough — fecal matter and food waste.

The Bio-Bus, which made its first trip this month, seats 40 passengers and can travel up to 186 miles on one rooftop tank of waste fuel.

“Not everything we flush goes to waste,” a YouTube video of the new bus explains. “The Bristol sewage treatment works uses food waste and sewage to power 8,300 home everyday.”

While producing power for homes is an admirable concept, GENeco – the company behind the initiative – decided to take things a step further by hitting the road.

GENeco’s video explains that the amount of biomethane gas it takes to produce one tank for the bus is roughly the same amount produced annually by five consumers.

A one-way trip to Bristol Airport from Bath city center – the bus’ dedicated route (about 20 miles)– is estimated to take the biowaste produced by one person annually.

Do we smell a new payment system for public transit? Okay, probably not, but it might be something to consider down the road.

And while a ride on the “poo-bus” sounds unpleasant at first, riders don’t have to be worried that their commute will be stinky. The process to create the biomethane gas actually removes impurities, including odors.

[Via Mashable]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Kitten Escapes New Mexico Home On Halloween, Shows Up 2,300 Miles Away In Maine

(Portland Press Herald)

(Portland Press Herald)

There is nothing more suited for a Friday afternoon than a heartwarming tale involving a lost kitten finding her way home against all odds, so I will go ahead and accept your thanks in advance. The starring cat of today’s story escaped her home in New Mexico during Halloween trick-or-treating, only to reappear in Maine a few weeks later.

Because cats can’t talk, it’ll likely forever remain a mystery how six-month-old Spice traversed the 2,300 miles between her home and Portland, ME, where he was found in a duffel bag outside a thrift shop, reports the Portland Press Herald.

He’s now safe at a Portland animal refuge after her three-week odyssey, after she was identified by her microchip. A passerby helping a man lift furniture he was dropping off at the thrift store noticed the duffel bag on the street. He brought it inside and set it down, and saw that the bag moved.

When he opened it, Spice popped out, as well as kitty litter and cans of food. He didn’t know what to do so he took him home on Nov. 5. Spice acted up, and her adoptive family brought him to a local shelter, where her microchip revealed her true home.

The shelter says the woman was confused when they called her to let her know Spice had been found in Maine.

“She said, ‘I don’t know anyone in Maine. I haven’t visited Maine,’ ” a shelter rep explained.

Spice is in fine health after whatever ordeals she may have gone through, but it’s unclear when she’ll go home, if at all — her owner wants her, but can’t afford to have her flown across the country. The shelter can’t afford to foot the bill, either, so Spice will stay put for now.

“We’re going to do everything we can to reunite her with her owner,” the shelter rep says.

Furry mystery pops out of duffel bag: A feline from (far) away [Portland Press Herald]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

FCC Proposes Some Consumer Protections As They Inch Closer To Killing Off Copper Landlines

Phones are wireless, consumers are cutting back, and copper is expensive: all are reasons why the big phone companies want permission from the FCC to walk away from old-fashioned landline networks and to keep moving toward an internet-based future. The FCC tentatively agrees, and voted 3-2 today to take another baby step in the process that will end up making the nation’s century-old copper landline network obsolete.

Formally, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that sets down the broad strokes of the commission’s requirements for the next steps in what’s known as the IP transition (where voice service moves from copper wires to internet protocol). The key areas the FCC’s proposal addresses are:

  • Protecting consumers’ ability to call 911 from their home phones in a power outage

  • Requiring transparency to consumers about the transition to new tech

  • Making sure new tech actually works before old tech is allowed to be discontinued

  • Preserving competition among services that use and rely on copper networks when those networks are shut down

The commission also clarified that carriers will need to seek approval to discontinue “legacy” service based on “the practical impact of its actions,” rather than based on existing regulatory fine print. The declaratory ruling “ensures that there will be a public process to evaluate a proposed discontinuance,” or, in English, guarantees that companies like Verizon and AT&T can’t just disappear landline phone service overnight all at once because they said so.

The specifics of the proposed rule put forward today address several areas of consumer concern. Verizon in particular has been accused in the past of permitting their copper-wire networks to degrade in order to push consumers into adopting VoIP services whether they want to or not.

The FCC and consumer advocates have also voiced concern about the ability to contact emergency services in a power outage. Copper-wire landline phones still work in most outages, but internet-based phones need to rely on a backup battery with a much shorter lifespan.

Today’s vote was the latest step in a long process that the FCC has been moving through for some time. In January of this year, the commission approve limited regional tests replacing old-fashioned landlines with new tech to see how they went. That process is still underway.

The NPRM adopted today doesn’t change anything yet. First, like every FCC rulemaking, it has a pleading and public comment period to go through. Then the commission gets to work crafting and voting on a final version of the rule.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the two dissenting votes against the NPRM, said that “The commission has no business micromanaging each change a carrier makes to its network,” and argued that concerns about consumer harm are a “Chicken Little” baseless, unproven claim that the sky is falling.

However, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler disagreed, pointing to Verizon’s response to rebuilding — or rather, not rebuilding — damaged service in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“This is not a hypothetical issue,” said Wheeler. He added, “Technology transitions will be speeded up by technology neutral rules that promote, preserve and protect … the set of values that consumers have rightly come to expect from their networks.”

by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Hurto en el Comercio en España #infografia #infographic


Una infografía sobre el Hurto en el Comercio en España. Vía

Un saludo

Hurto en el Comercio en España

Hurto en el Comercio en España

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Pizza Hut Thinks That Old Italian People Hating Its Pizza Is A Good Thing

pizza_dudePizza Hut is trying some new crusts and toppings in an attempt to coax Americans back under its formerly red roofs. We sent a colleague to try them out, and she reported back that the 21 varieties of new toppings and crusts she tried were nice, but not spectacular. Therefore, Pizza Hut has apparently turned to reverse psychology to sell their new offerings.

That’s the only logic that we can see in this marketing campaign based around a taste test with the elders (who may or may not be acting) of an unnamed Italian village. The message to take home seems to be, “These old farts don’t like the idea of jeggings, mobile pizza ordering, or the idea of pretzel pizza crust, so you probably will, because they are old and you are nothing like them!”

We will find out soon enough whether Pizza Hut’s flavor explosion is successful in reaching young, sriracha-loving consumers. The footage with the elderly Italians has also been sliced down into smaller ad chunks, so get ready to see this campaign on television or on streaming sites, where young people actually are.

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

New DoD Protections Aim To Keep Shady Businesses From Taking Advantage of Military Members


Members of the military — particularly younger members from lower-income backgrounds — are too often the target of shady, predatory businesses looking to take advantage of their youth and inexperience with finances. The Military Lending Act offers some protections, but these operators find ways to get around the law. On Friday, the U.S. Dept. of Defense took steps to eliminate some of those exploitations by creating reforms to the current military discretionary allotment system.

According to the Department of Defense, the policy changes [PDF] will prohibit servicemembers from using new allotments to purchase, lease or rent personal property, including vehicles, appliances and consumers electronics, effective January 1, 2015.

Currently, the military discretionary allotment system allows servicemembers to automatically direct a portion of their paycheck to financial institutions or people of their choosing. But often military personnel using the allotment system instead of other automatic payment options end up losing out on certain legal protections.

Existing allotments and those made for the purpose of savings, insurance premiums, mortgage or rent payments, support for dependents, or investments will not be affected. The changes do not apply to military retirees or Department of Defense civilian employees.

The new regulations are intended to eliminate the aspect of the allotment system most prone to abuse by unscrupulous lenders that prey on servicemembers.

Consumerist reported on one such company earlier this year, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action to stop USA Discounters from taking advantage of underpaid soldiers by charging exorbitant fees, suing them when they feel behind on payments and skirting the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which gives active duty servicemembers the right to defend themselves but does not specify where lawsuits must be filed.

The retailer, which has locations near 11 military bases, advertised its always-approved credit offers to members of the military with bad credit or no credit history as a way to entice them to purchase items such as computers and televisions.

Officials with the Department of Defense say the new rules will significantly improve protections for all servicemembers and their families, while not significantly reducing the flexibility to use allotments for a number of legitimate purposes.

The changes were directed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel following an interagency review conducted in response to major enforcement by the CFPB, the Dept. of Defense says in a new release.

Officials with the CFPB called the reforms a “critical new protection” for military personnel.

“In recent years, the allotment system has been used by unscrupulous companies that prey on servicemembers as a quick and secure way to get paid. Many of them have even required payment by allotment,” explains Holly Petraeus, CFPB director for servicemember affairs. “Today’s announcement will help prevent future abuses by addressing the problem at its source.”

Since its creation after the recession, the CFPB has recovered more than $98 million for thousands of consumers through multiple enforcement actions against entities whose businesses were largely premised on receiving payments from servicemembers, often through the military allotment system.

Earlier this week, the CFPB issued a reminder to service veterans of their rights to have some of their student debt forgiven, but warned that if they pursue the option they must be vigilant in checking their credit reports for inaccurate information.

Under federal law, veterans can seek federal student loan forgiveness if they receive a 100-percent disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the CFPB reported.

“We are concerned that, in some circumstances, when veterans are able to discharge their student loans due to their disability, they may experience damage to their credit report if their student loan servicer provides incorrect information to the credit bureaus,” the blog post warned. “These mistakes, if uncorrected, can result in a negative entry on their credit report that makes it harder and more expensive for these disabled veterans to get credit, buy a car or take out a mortgage.”

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Pear Industry Super Psyched That Rick Ross Is Sharing His Love Of The Fruit With The “Young And Hip”

While you might not have seen a Vine from last month wherein rapper Rick Ross praises the pear for its contribution to his recent weight loss, sending a shoutout to “all the pear,” there’s one group that pays close attention to all things pear, and it is pretty darn excited that such a cool guy is talking about the fruit.

Modern Farmer says that while a USA Pears spokesperson says there hasn’t yet been an uptick in sales from Ross’ endorsement — shoppers often react to trendy products in pop culture by running out to buy them — the group is pleased as punch by the fact that it’s social media impressions are on the rise. Since the Vine was first posted, Ross’ fans have been touting the power of the pear and giving USA Pears props on Twitter especially, with people competing to outdo Ross’ show of affection.

Getting young, cool people to pay attention? It’s a marketing dream.

“On behalf of our 1,600 pear growers from the Northwest region, we are pleased that Rick has mentioned the health benefits of pears,” the USA Pears spokesperson told Modern Farmer. “Overall, we could not be more pleased with our message being delivered to a new, young and hip demographic.”

Your move, prunes.

Here’s the Vine (turn sound on at the bottom), but spoiler alert — Ross says a naughty word:

Shoutout to All The Pear: U.S. Pear Farmers Thankful to Rick Ross [Modern Farmer]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Court Bars FCC From Diclosing How Much Comcast, DirecTV Pay Broadcasters

Last week’s last-minute legal battle between just about every major TV broadcaster and the FCC came to quietly disappointing conclusion this morning, with a federal appeals court refusing to allow the government to share confidential details about the mergers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and DirecTV and AT&T.

For those coming to this story late, here’s the “previously on…” version:

The FCC is currently scrutinizing these two mergers and had decided to make confidential information — most importantly, the contracts that the pay-TV companies have with TV networks — available for private viewing by lawyers for parties with a direct interest in the deals.

The broadcasters asked the FCC to please rethink its position, arguing that this data is highly confidential and could damage their businesses.

A slim majority at the FCC said no, arguing that the disclosures “will aid the Commission in the expeditious resolution of these proceedings.”

And so the broadcasters — CBS, Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Viacom, Univision — asked a federal appeals court in D.C. to issue a stay preventing the FCC from going through with its plan. The court agreed last Friday, but gave the FCC the chance to make its case before ultimately deciding on whether to make the stay permanent pending judicial review.

Thus, on Monday the FCC filed its response [PDF], arguing that the broadcasters had failed to show that they would be likely to prevail in court on the merits of its claim.

The Commission points out that the networks are not challenging that this information is relevant to the merger review process or that the FCC should have access to it. They just want to block participating third parties from seeing it.

“Given the need for access, Petitioners’ challenges to the protective orders are doomed to failure,” writes the FCC.

One major concern by the broadcasters is that the confidential information would be shared with people beyond the scope of the FCC order, but the Commission claims that its directives “contain multiple safeguards against unwarranted disclosure” and that the broadcasters’ “fears are without any basis.”

The networks offered to provide anonymized documents that would omit the most sensitive data, but the FCC says it determined that this would result in too many redactions and would be “unrealistic and inappropriate.”

Finally, the FCC tried to make the claim that the broadcasters had failed to show that they would suffer irreparable harm by revealing this confidential information to select individuals under controlled conditions. If anything argued the response, a stay would harm consumers and slow the review process.

“Staying the order pending appeal will materially disrupt the current schedule for the Commission’s expeditious review and resolution of the proposed mergers,” concludes the response, “and by itself, could impact the outcome of these applications. Delay would inevitably prolong the regulatory uncertainty associated with the applicants’ business plans, and thereby disserve the public interest.”

In the end, the court settled the matter with only a couple of sentences.

“Petitioners have satisfied the requirements for a stay pending court review,” reads the order [PDF]. “The agency has access to the relevant documents at issue in this matter and can continue to evaluate the proposed merger during the stay.”

This last sentence is of significant importance as it means that the FCC is allowed to use the documents for its own investigation without having to wait until the appeals court rules on the case. Had the court kept the Commission from these docs while the appeal was pending, a decision on these mergers may have been delayed.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Texas Postal Worker Accused Of Delivering Meth On His Mail Route

While it might be convenient to tweak one job to allow for working a second at the same time, delivering methamphetamine while out on the postal route is the kind of thing that gets you arrested. A Texas postal worker attempted that kind of illegal multi-tasking, police say, dropping off drugs while doing his mail rounds.

The 39-year-old veteran mailman is facing felony narcotics charges after state investigators and the Drug Enforcement Administration looked into his doings for the last 10 months, reports the Smoking Gun.

Law enforcement received tips that narcotics was being sold from the mailman’s home as well as from the USPS truck he drove on the job. Investigators say he was in his mailman uniform and driving his route in that vehicle, while they watched him delivering meth as part of their surveillance operations.

A raid on his home last week resulted in police seizing $17,000 worth of meth.

Mailman Charged With Distributing Methamphetamine While On His Texas Delivery Route [The Smoking Gun]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Square CEO Says Company Will Accept All Forms Of Payment, Even Apple Pay


While Walmart and other major retailers are deliberately holding off on accepting Apple Pay because they are developing a competing mobile payment system, there are plenty of small businesses who want to offer Apple Pay but don’t want to invest too much in the equipment required to accept it. The folks at Square, which turns your smartphone into a card reader, hope to remove that roadblock early next year when they start enabling clients to accept Apple Pay.

CNN Money reports that Square founder Jack Dorsey announced the move as a way to help businesses accept all forms of payment, even the newest kid on the block.

“We’re not building a credit card,” Dorsey tells CNN. “We’re not building a payment device. We’re building a [cash] register, and this register accepts all these forms of payments.”

Before Square can begin accepting the payment option, it will have to rework its hardware. Square allows businesses to accept credit card payments on iPads and iPhones with the help of an attachable device, but isn’t comparable with Apple Pay just yet.

Square’s inclusion of Apple Pay comes after some retailers including Walmart and CVS have said they won’t accept the payment method. Instead they’ve chosen to stick with CurrentC, the retail industry’s own payment system.

Square will soon accept Apple Pay [CNN Money]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist