What the experts say

Cardholders get a hand; Online phishers’ new bait; Refunds for falling fares

Cardholders get a hand

The Federal Reserve recently gave consumers what could be “the gift that keeps on giving” when it issued more stringent regulations for the credit card industry, said Kelli B. Grant in SmartMoney. Among other things, the regulations prohibit issuers from raising rates for customers who pay their bills on time or penalizing customers who make a late payment with another creditor. The changes also make it easier to pay off high-interest debt. Whereas issuers now apply payments to low-interest debt first, the new rules require that payments first go to the “priciest” debt. But banks have until July 2010 to comply with the rules, and the changes mean issuers are less likely to offer super-low teaser rates in the first place. “So if you’re in the market for a low-rate offer, lock it in now.”

Online phishers’ new bait

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Online scammers often steal personal information through “legitimate-looking websites” that seem like those of government or financial institutions, said David Futrelle in Money. More and more, however, these “phishers” are looking to “lure” targets through social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, which they use to find specific audiences. “Spear phishing” sites seem to be personally directed at you, using data gleaned from the Web, “which makes them seem real.” To stay safe, restrict access to your social-networking profiles. Be wary of any unsolicited e-mail asking for personal information. Even if it seems legitimate, check the Web address for misspelled words or superfluous dashes. As an extra measure, when asked for your account information, type in an incorrect password. “If the site accepts it or sends you to a page mentioning technical difficulties, the site is bogus.”

Refunds for falling fares

Ever buy an airline ticket only to see prices for that flight fall before takeoff? said Gary Stoller in USA Today. Believe it or not, “most airlines provide a refund if it is requested before a flier’s scheduled flight.” Southwest Airlines has one of the more generous policies; it will refund the difference on your credit card. Alaska, JetBlue, and United will issue a voucher, free of charge, to be used for future flights. American, Continental, Delta, and Northwest also issue vouchers for the price difference—minus a change fee ranging from $75 to $150. Be sure to ask about the airline’s fare-change policy when you book your ticket, and keep tabs on changing prices. If prices drop, call or go online to request the refund.

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