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A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

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  • Mar 15, 2012
    4:56 PM ET

    iPads Get Faster, More Fragile

    A word of caution for those who like to carry their iPad around like a Chihuahua:  Each new version of Apple’s tablet is getting faster, but also more breakable, a new study suggests.

    Some 10% of iPad 2 owners reported a failure from accidental damage within the first 12 months of owning the device, compared to just under 3% of original iPad owners, according to insurance agent Square Trade, which analyzed data from 50,000 of customers. Though the durability of the new iPad is still untested, Vince Tseng, vice-president of marketing at SquareTrade, says that unless it has stronger glass, the trend of higher breakage rates will only continue with the new iPad. And all those butter fingers are expensive, since Apple doesn’t cover accidental damage without additional coverage.

  • Feb 8, 2012
    3:43 PM ET

    Tweeting from Beyond the Grave


    Those who thought gravestones with barcodes were creepy are unlikely to “like” the latest evolution of digital immortality: Tweeting, emailing and updating Facebook from the other side.

    People can do little to erase their digital footprint after they die, but some are at least trying to have the last word. For 99 cents, the iPhone app “If I Die” could probably be more accurately named “When I Die.” It gives Facebook users one last posthumous status update. The running gag for some gravestones (“I told you I was sick”) could be one option. But might some people who are terminally ill or depressed be tempted to use it as suicide note? Eran Alfonta – CEO and founder of, which created the app – says he created it so people could preserve their legacy and commune with the living in a kind of online séance. “Kings and emperors had the privilege to create monuments like the Pyramids in Giza, the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Temple in Jerusalem, in order to tell their stories,” he says.

  • Feb 3, 2012
    5:44 PM ET

    Why Facebook’s Millionaires May Never Be Happy

    David Geller

    David Geller, author of “Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life,” has over 25 years of financial planning experience and found that helping clients get richer hasn’t always meant they got happier. Seven years ago, Geller went through a divorce, a period of financial instability and questioned his own definition of happiness. “I felt like I was punched,” he says. “I thought, ‘What’s the point of my work?’ And so I became intensely focused – my second wife might use the word “obsessed” – about how to use your wealth to build a better life.” Rule No. 1: Write a book. Pay Dirt spoke to Geller about his secrets to happiness and why Facebook’s new IPO millionaires should be careful about their sudden windfall.

    Pay Dirt: What led you to write this book? Did you have a particularly bad set of clients who were never going to be happy?

    Geller: No, I don’t think so. The “aha” moment didn’t come from my clients directly. It wasn’t like I sat down one week and had four clients who were miserable. As I read more about wealth creation, it became clear that my clients weren’t using their wealth to make their life better.

    At what point should my income start to make me happier?

  • Jan 19, 2012
    9:00 AM ET

    Amazon Soils Diaper Discounts


    Diapers just got more expensive for parents who belong to the “Amazon Mom” club. The online retailer this week emailed customers to say it’s phasing out the 30% discount on selected diapers. According to the email, starting on January 24, 2012, the maximum discount available on diapers and wipes subscriptions will be 20%. However, this breaks down to a 5% base discount for “Subscribe & Save” – a service for selected grocery items – and the other 15% only applies to Amazon Mom members who currently have free two-day shipping, or who pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime.

    The maximum one-year period of free shipping is also being cut back and moms on Amazon’s message boards are not happy. Those who join Amazon Mom in 2012 will only get three months of free two-day shipping. “After three months, Amazon Mom members can join Amazon Prime in order to continue these benefits,” says Amazon spokeswoman Sally Frouts. (She declined to comment on the reason for the changes.) Amazon Prime includes unlimited streaming of thousands of family-oriented videos, including “Sesame Street” and Disney Channel’s “Phineas and Ferb,” she adds.

  • Jan 18, 2012
    3:23 PM ET

    5 Reasons Apple Fans Don’t Care About Its Factories


    Crowds grew unruly outside Apple’s flagship store in Beijing last Friday. But they weren’t there to protest over working conditions at Apple’s Asian manufacturers — they were after the new iPhone 4S.

    That day, Apple released a report stating that 62% of its suppliers failed to comply with working-hour limits and five facilities employed underage workers. There has also been a spate of worker suicides at a major Apple supplier, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. in Taipei, Taiwan. Apple, which declined to comment, has not been accused of any wrongdoing in relation to the suicides. “We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn,” Apple said in a statement last year (Foxconn is the trade name of Hon Hai.) And the company’s 27-page report into working conditions in its factories says, “We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions” and “treat workers with dignity and respect.”

  • Jan 9, 2012
    10:10 AM ET

    Confessions of a Shopaholic: 3 Ways to Curb Spending


    Kit Yarrow is a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and author of “Gen Y: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail.

    A friend recently wanted to get her spending under control, so she decided not to buy anything except groceries. Four weeks later, she clicked on an email link for a three-hour-only sale and purchased a pair of shoes. It was all it took to get her clicking again: This started a spending binge that resulted in even greater debt than what she had when she started her plan to stop. Mall occupancy is up, according to a report Monday, and it’s increasingly easy to shop online with the recent surge in sample sales sites. Here are three psychological tools to help shopaholics in 2012:

    1. Rebrand Yourself, Discard Self-Hating Labels

    It’s not always helpful for anyone to label themselves as a “problem spender.” A better method is to identify with the strength and resolve they have in other parts of their lives and to label previous over-spending as a mistake they will choose not to make in the future.

    It’s a powerful mental shift away from defensiveness and reactivity toward personal power and control. My friend shared responsibility and control with her boyfriend. Because of this, satisfying her boyfriend became the goal, rather than altering her spending. We see this in dieters who sneak treats when their spouses aren’t looking. A better method is to state your intentions and ask others to respect your new frugal lifestyle.

  • Jan 3, 2012
    12:24 PM ET

    Last Year’s 5 Biggest Consumer Snafus

    Getty Images

    It’s difficult to choose the top/worst scandals of 2011 for consumers. There were corporate data breaches, wireless customers left incommunicado, and ill-fated new fees such as Bank of America’s $5 debit card charge. asked a range of experts for the five biggest/worst snafus of 2011, the affects of which will still be felt by consumers in 2012. In no particular order, here they are:

    Bank of America’s $5 Debit Card Fee

    Bank of America announced in September that it would plan to charge a $5 monthly fee for use of its debit cards. Customers revolted. Over 40,000 people joined credit unions as part of a protest that began on Facebook, according to the Credit Union National Association, bringing around $80 million with them. BofA killed the $5 fee in November, saying it had listened to its customers. “The bank was betting that the other mega-banks would follow, making debit cards a thing of the past,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO and co-founder of “That did not happen.” However, it’s not over yet. Experts warn the banks will search for other ways to make up the 50% reduction in interchange fees merchants pay when purchases are made with debit cards.

  • Dec 28, 2011
    3:25 PM ET

    The Top 5 Data Breaches of 2011


    When hackers break into social networking sites, medical records databases or entertainment companies, experts say it’s consumers who often end up paying the price.

    Systems such as Sony’s gaming network, which was breached this year, have become increasingly attractive for cyber criminals, especially now that video gaming accounts contain such valuable personal details, says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, an identity and data risk management company. “The Sony breach last April merely underscores something obvious: Gaming networks and similar sites are delicious targets.”

    Breaches cost organizations millions of dollars, which tends to trickle down to consumers, says Evan Brown, an associate in law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson. “It is inevitable that the costs will be passed on,” he says. Apart from investigative costs, he says, many companies that are the target or victim of a data breach offer credit monitoring services to affected individuals.

    The number of personal files being compromised is also on the rise, though the amount of actual cyber crimes this year is lower than last year. Some 30.4 million records were compromised in 2011 in 535 separate breaches, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. That’s up from 12.3 million in 2010.

    Not all breaches involved sophisticated hackers. Those at Sutter Physicians Services in October and military healthcare program Tricare Management Activity in September were the result of the theft of hardware and software, respectively. They underscore the importance of not forgetting the low-tech protections like encrypting files and not leaving back-up disks unattended, Brown says.

    Others didn’t involve social security numbers, but did have implications for password security. “Capturing a customer list containing thousands of email/password combinations represents a potential threat to online bank accounts and other web-based services,” says Steve Fox, senior security auditor at IT security business Coalfire.

    Pay Dirt asked a range of security experts for the worst breaches of the year. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Dec 15, 2011
    11:20 AM ET

    LinkedIn Members Too ‘Creative’


    Social networkers and job-seekers may need to get more creative in order to buck the weak jobs market – especially when it comes to their overuse of the word “creative,” according to a new survey.

    For those who want to make a good first impression, be warned: “Creative” is the most commonly invoked adjective of the 60 million-plus U.S. members of the social networking site LinkedIn, according to a new report by the company.

    LinkedIn profiles are overloaded with such buzzwords, which sometimes turn off employers, experts say. “As business winds down for the holidays, snag a few minutes to add some sparkle to your LinkedIn Profile and resume,” says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s connection director. “Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward to tackle your professional resolutions.”

  • Dec 8, 2011
    10:22 AM ET

    Will Probe Cut E-Book Prices?


    American regulators this week confirmed that they have joined forces with the European Union in an investigation of e-book pricing – but experts say the inquiry’s impact on prices may be limited.

    Government intervention may encourage the market to act first, experts say. “E-book prices are already pretty low,” says Michael Norris, senior analyst and editor of book publishing for market research and forecasting firm Simba Information. “The market can decide if a book is overpriced.” Seth Rabinowtiz, partner at management consulting firm Silicon Associates. “The government action will encourage the market to find a lower margin solution on its own,” he says.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.