Internet and email fraud

Posted in General on May 30, 2010 by newideasconsult

Having had enough of people forwarding me yet another email promising free iPhones, iPads, Microsoft cash, Google cash, and whatever, I am writing this post where I hope to summarize enough information and resources for people to inform themselves of what is fraudulent on the Internet and their inbox, and to hopefully wise-up and stop themselves and others from being duped, robbed and impersonated ever again!

Good prevention practices:

1. When you receive an email from any person or place or an email address that you have NEVER seen before, don’t open it even if the email subject line mentions a single word or phrase (usually amongst many) that sounds vaguely familiar. The chances of this email being spam is about 99.99%! Delete it!

2. When you receive an email, often forwarded by someone you know, promising free products or even cash if you would forward it to everyone in your email list as well as to usually a specific person’s address in the corporate or company that is sponsoring the gift, Microsoft, Google, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and so on, please don’t forward it – remember if it sounds to good to be true it is too good to be true!. Delete it!

3. When you do receive an email as mentioned in point 2, and you feel it really is just too good to be deleted, please please please do not email everyone in your address book by including their email addresses in the email TO: field or in the email CC: field. If you must send on this little treasure do so by blind copying everyone you want to email, in other words make sure their email address are only in your email BCC: field, and nowhere else. That way I can delete your email when it comes to me and not be concerned you just gave me up to every spam engine hunting out there!

4. If you do open a marketing email that you realize you never signed up for, mark it on your system as SPAM, and if you use an online or web mail system, marking the email as SPAM will protect many others to whom that email may be forwarded in the future.

5. When opening an email that has an attachment be very very cautious!  Attachments can contain very malicious code that can infect your computer in many different ways and can copy itself through emails to all those friends of yours in your address book within seconds. Ensure your own safety and those of people in your address book by having an active security software tool running on your PC that is up to date as well.  They normally have an email scanning tool that will warn you of any uncertainty as to its source or as to the possibility of it being malicious.

6. Dont trust unsolicited emails from well-known companies or brands!  Even the FBI is currently being impersonated, so be safe by being suspicious of any unsolicited email.

7. Your bank, building society, financial planner, financial advisor, 3rd party payment service, municipality and so on and so on, should NEVER have to reach you via email to ask anything of you!  Emails from any such an establishment should only ever inform you of new products or services, highlight possible downtimes, and so on.  No unsolicited email from these companies or services should contain links that you must click on to update your personal data or ask you to include personal data in your reply to them.  This is a RED FLAG if you do receive such an email that it almost certainly is a fraudster phishing for personal information.

Resources:
1. Bobbear – Closed at the end of April 2010, a sad day for the fight against Internet criminals.
2. http://www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/escams.htm – read this list through very carefully before responding to that one email ‘promise’ that you feel is just to good to turn down!
3. eBook Scams – fantastic and extensive article about the ebook scams doing the rounds since late last year. Relates to any e-shop purchase you wish to make.
4. Top 10 Scams – The Times posted this wonderful ‘TOP 10’ list of scams – sadly I know people who fell for a few of these…
5. Internet Scams – Erick Chang posted this list on his blog – the Nigerian Fraud he is referring to in the first section should read ‘419’, but the list makes for easy and quick reading, hence my including it here.

WARNING – You get to work this morning and there in your inbox is an email from a friend currently travelling, who says to you that he or she has been stranded in London / NYC / Singapore or where ever, without funds after having their wallet and personal belongings stolen whilst traveling.  They inform you either in the original email or subsequent to your response that they can use a ‘loan’ from you, and that you should send them a Moneygram or Western Union wire asap as this is the only way that they can receive funds at the moment.  Quite often they leave a ‘hotel reception’ telephone number for you to call as well, just to help you better understand their predicament.

WHATEVER YOU DO, BE SUSPICIOUS.  IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT IT CONTACT THE CONSULATE IN THE CITY WHERE YOUR FRIEND APPARENTLY IS AND ARRANGE FOR YOUR FRIEND TO MEET A COUNTRY REPRESENTATIVE WHO CAN HELP THEM FIND A RESOLUTION TO THEIR PROBLEM SHOULD THEY TRULY BE IN TROUBLE.  ALSO CHANCES ARE THAT YOUR FRIEND MAY BE BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF THE EMAIL TO HIS OR HER FRIENDS, SO IF YOU HAVE THEIR MOBILE NUMBER FROM BEFORE, PHONE THEM OR SMS THEM TO CHECK.  HOWEVER DO NOT SEND CASH AS YOU CAN BE ABOUT 100% SURE YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED…

This list is not extensive, and has been written more out of frustration than actual concern, as I am still astounded how many of us fall for blatant scams like these every day.  Simply put – if it’s too good to be true it probably isn’t.

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Virtualization

Posted in General on May 30, 2010 by newideasconsult

One of the more exciting experiences I have had the past few years has been the discovery and analysis of virtualization tools, initially through virtualbox on Ubuntu and there after server technologies, with a quick foray in the soon to explode desktop market and the discovery of ‘…the hypervisor…’ (only we geeks could have thought up that term, right…)!

The past few months, whilst finding my technology roots again by dabbling with wireless solutions, I was introduced to proxmox, and boy, did I get excited! The ease of installing appliances with such ease and getting those slices working at an optimum rate, as well as experiencing how fast one can back up and restore servers, gave me such an adrenaline kick I’m still messing with VM’s and VA’s some 2 months on.  With my attention span that’s a miracle…

The heavy weights in the virtualization world may scoff at proxmox when comparing it to their own preferred platform, but for me the opportunities that proxmox offer to those of us who are server virtualization virgins just cannot be ignored. It is a great piece of software and running on Debian it has performed very well for the applications I needed running as VA’s.

Find more about proxmox here.

Debit card terminology

Posted in General, Standards with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2010 by newideasconsult

There are many misleading terms that have been bandied around in the payment card industry that confuses customer and service provider alike, especially these days with so many ‘white label’ resellers marketing their debit cards as ‘credit cards’ and what not!  For example the word ‘prepaid’ does not mean the same to me as ‘pre-funded’ for example, though many card product marketing documents use them interchangeably.  Fixed value versus reloadable makes the ‘prepaid’ card even more confusing for some.  I’m not an expert on such terms, but having things cleared up a bit would make me a much happier consultant.  So if you deem yourself to be an expert on these matters, please feel welcome to comment as much as you like.  I’ll make up a little cards industry thesaurus as it were from all contributions 😉

One business strategy, not two

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by newideasconsult

Over the years I have heard many companies speak of their e-commerce or ‘internet’ strategy as if it is some secret or hidden agenda that has covert operators hacking around in the dark trying to ‘hit’ on the magic SEO numbers that will realize the company huge numbers of online visitors with the accompanying bonus for the coverts of course. I am 100% behind a planned attack when approaching e-commerce or when considering launching an Internet presence as a business, don’t get me wrong.
What bothers me is that the starting point is often so wrong, with the board or management within a company spending their time considering ‘real world’ issues whilst the ‘other’ team focuses on developing some sort of e-commerce strategy often even as a secondary department or company to the main. It bothers me because so many companies in fact should start with one strategy for the whole, one plan to reach their market, grow it and retain its loyalty. We should be encouraging business to talk about their business strategy first and foremost (see my post for SME’s here on a similar topic).
My mantra since Netscape days has been to make company execs understand that there is only room in their budget and planning for one strategy, the core one, the reason why they do business, the core value their customers love, and so on and so on. One strategy as your starting point means everyone, from the tech savviest to the semi retired within such a company, will know exactly what needs to be achieved in terms of their business. One strategy determines how the Internet and mobile channels will be tackled, and what those two channels will be required to deliver to enhance the company’s bottom line and justify their existence.
Too often we react, doing what we think or know our competitors may be doing, and in so doing we dilute our value proposition to the customers and to our shareholders. We invest in serious technology because we are told to or because our IT team has recommended it, regardless the value to our core strategy as a business. As a consultant I try to help and inform my clients for example to consider the line ‘technology should be an enabler to THE goal’ when too often it becomes the goal. An exercise to me that seems to always work is for a management team to re-evaluate their strategies and decisions against the original core strategy that brought their company to where it is. Like Nokia and Berkshire Hathaway have proven, change is good too, if it is a total change.

However this post is not about core strategy re-evaluation, but rather about aligning our e-commerce or internet or mobile strategy to our core plan and to keep reminding ourselves to check how far they have drifted from the middle. Of course right there we have some excellent pointers to discuss in another post – the reasons for such a drift may not always be negative. However, most companies, I generalize here as it is the vast majority in my view that should consider this, should have a single strategy for their business, and they need to study carefully the benefits of implementing any x-commerce project against that strategy before making the call.

One strategy takes everyone within the company along for the x-commerce ride, if it fits, and one strategy creates a framework of achievements such an implementation must reach for to be deemed successful. One strategy also very quickly shows when any x-commerce implementation would not fit, and in doing so a decision can be made quicker and often at a much lesser opportunity cost than usual, as to whether such a venture should be created as a separate department or company apart from the main. When that is done, the creation of a new x-commerce unit will be based on solid business principles that can contribute worth to its parent instead of bleeding out the budget each year.

Payments future landscape

Posted in General, Innovation, technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2010 by newideasconsult

These past few months have been rather interesting in terms of the payments industry and the subtle shift in consumer perceptions.  One of the most amusing to me has been the clear lead Paypal has in the e-venture payment space to any other brand, card associations included.  This may not be a good thing in my opinion, but undoubtably it has happened.  Ask any e-venture owner what payment method they will be accepting on their platform or site, and at least 7 out of 10 will tell you Paypal.  Not Visa or Mastercard, but Paypal, regardless the obvious issues around its regulation and the bad risk prevention policies it employs.

This to me indicates a real challenge traditional payment companies may face during the next few years, which is how they can win back the market from ‘upstarts’ such as Paypal, Moneybookers, mobile networks, and the many alternative payment methods in the market today.  With the strength of the Paypal brand on the Internet, and to me this means their brand strength in terms of the Internet savvy generations, as well as the rapidly growing mobile payment services, what will the PCI (payment card industry) founding members (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Diners and JCB) do to retain their brand strength or for some regain their brand strength?  Seems to me that as one accepts virtual payment instruments and mobile phone based solutions as the way forward, it removes or distances the payment methods used from a card, the base tool used in the credit card growth the past 4 decades.  Once NFP, mobile payments, and the next generation of Paypal type solutions have rolled out, the card brand will be completely hidden, and in my view, forgotten in the not-so-distant future.

Still some way to go before we can say goodbye to the plastic card (magstripe and chip), but it seems to me the subtle shift in market direction may just ring in that future much sooner than many may have thought.  Unlike the media industry’s late wake-up to the power of virtual distribution, the card payment industry may just have enough time to learn the new rules of the payments game, and hopefully apply them wisely to retain their future market share and brand strength.  Some may not be able to transition, as the departure from card may be too big a shift in paradigm for them, but those that do would have their years of payments experience married to new tech solutions that could eat the Paypals of the future for breakfast.

Demand driven mobile solutions

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by newideasconsult

One of the issues we see surfacing during an economic drought is the demand test for products and services, especially in the ICT market.  These are the days of tighter budgets that see suppliers of services forced to shut down some services or products because they’re not being used.  Previously generous budgets allowed free reign in launching service after service, and short of our own egoes we were pretty much untethered in terms of what those offerings were.  To be the first with a service tended to be more important at times than giving the customers what they want.  I think today this type of approach has undergone a radical change and we are quickly starting to see a more realistic picture come to the fore in terms of what customers want.  For example, smart phones have changed many things for the consumer and quite often each model’s launch also causes a wave of goodwill that produces the most elaborate of services, supplied by retailers, content providers, and even banks.  Internet banking was slow in its initial uptake by financial insitutions in the late 1990’s early 2000’s, and I often wonder whether that tied to looser purse strings have seen these same companies now rush to launch mobile services to their customers regardless the need for them.

Nowhere can this be seen clearer than with mobile banking, where solutions have popped up from everywhere by everyone and sold as the ultimate customer service by many, including myself.  Mobile applications are definitely growing in demand , but I believe we may be missing some very obvious signs of what the customers actually want or need.  Today’s mobile banking product range reminds me of the Internet boom years, where everyone, regardless of country or creed, are being sold the most fantastic, high end, feature rich applications you can dream of, from balance enquiries to inter account transfers to P2P payments to 3rd party billing to prepaid MLM sales, and many more.  However the iPhone in the middle of Manhattan delivering the most wonderful financial application to a very appreciative sophisticated market, will fail miserably in Ho Chi Minh City, where an equally sophisticated market would be utterly frustrated by the same application.  A Blackberry service in Johannesburg is equally fantastic in bringing the world to its user, but fails fantastically to do the same for the farmer in Kimberley.  Yet we find that corporations behind these applications keep trying to sell them to everyone, from the East to the West, from the businessman in London to the farmer in Philipines, and time and again they fail to satisfy their customers or revoke the service completely.

Two reasons that jump to mind would be the wrong product for the wrong market, and the other a very crowded market place.  I have had some interesting chats with fellow technologists about mobile applications that may work in one country, but will suffer in another.  Person to Person payments must be one such an example, with the negative press recently caused by Citi Bank’s decision to shelve their P2P mobile service last December, causing quite a few hot debates.  P2PP works, just not in the USA right now and where it does it is not yet profitable and won’t be for some years to come.  Americans (and Westerners in general) have choice, and lots of it, and so thinking that they will rush to their phones to start transferring funds from one to the other, when they have many services in the market already enabling such a transaction, services that are known and trusted by those who would use P2P payments, was ridiculous.  Forcing those same parties (or at least one) to have a Citi bank account to enable the use the service was even crazier and showed a lack of understanding the P2PP early adopters market.  Another reason would be that a crowded market can often delay the take up of a new format of an old offering, which is exactly what mobile phones offer.

P2PP on the mobile platform works fantastically well in a 3rd world environment, minus a lot of Western bells and whistles though.  Banking applications in Vietnam or Zambia or South Africa or where ever, are often so basic in their format that the Western market would scoff at it, but they work and their use is growing rapidly.  This is because they offer their customers just what they need, a quick no-pains way to send money to someone.  They work because quite often they are the ONLY service available to the consumers in these regions that offer such a facility.   They work because they are almost always designed to work on any Java enabled phone, even the most basic models.  SMS banking too is similar in its acceptance in these regions because again it is an unsophisticated service that does what it says it can, and is easy to use.  Again no need for high end smart phones or changes to customer practices.  Mobile phone users can SMS, most do, and basing such a service on this most basic of mobile skills, makes a lot of sense to do.

For me and others in the industry, the mobile phone offers only another channel for the consumer to transact and access their accounts with, nothing more. Mobile applications too are for global markets what horses are for courses, to each its own.  You cannot apply a universal approach in product or service design to the mobile channel, and you cannot launch such services globally simply because it is fashionable in one city, country or region.  One of the most important considerations to make as a mobile service application developer is to ensure local representation or experience in the design team or you may miss the mark altogether.  Doing so for each market you enter, may sound like overkill, but could save you considerable losses in the long term.

There is so much more on this topic and my post has already been hacked to pieces to fit, so for now I will lay this issue to rest for some new post in the future.  Your comments though are most welcome and your opinions equally valuable in the debate about what works and why.

Reporting on alternative payment systems

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2010 by newideasconsult

There is a plethora of  articles on the Web announcing new payment methods or convenient ways to pay for services or similar, that often misleads both consumers and retailers into thinking that they are somehow better than the traditional methods like the banking systems, automated clearing houses, and credit card interchanges.  The traditional models of payment are often aged and frustrating, I will give you that, but the new kids on the block are often gungho, inexperienced or plain expensive for little more than a nicer user interface to an existing bank account.

New or alternative payment methods are exciting and I do not wish to detract from them at all.  I love the fact that we can still think innovatively in an industry dominated by regulation and banking or payment monopolies.  What I do not agree with is throwing caution to the wind when informing others of these new services.  Reporting on technology should not be approached in a similar way as reporting on Paris Hilton’s latest handbag for example.  Consumers especially, and retailers too, often get misled by the cheerleading approach many technology writers take these days when writing about the latest and greatest new services.

It really is up to those very journalists to ensure they report in a balanced, clear and transparent manner so that the choices people make based on their article will be at best done with more circumspection that most do today. We live in an age where there are many people who simply follow trends, whether the latest fashion or the newest payment brand, regardless of the risks involved.  We need to bring the reporting standard back to a place where we relate clearly the issues without advertiser bias, without personal preference, without starry eyed language.  Straight up articles written in a clear and concise manner that educates the uninformed about everything pertaining to the latest and greatest service, so that they can make more informed decisions as consumers and retailers in the future.

Update 1: I chose to change the title of this article to avoid confusion about its content. My apologies to anyone who found ‘Alternative Payment Systems’ misleading, and I hope the edited title is found to be more inline with the post itself.