Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial insight, gathered from around the web:
SEC whistleblower payouts explode
These days it can pay to be a whistleblower, said The Economist. As of 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission has awarded $1.3 billion to 328 financial tipsters since 2010 — most of that in the past three years. "Tips today pour in faster than the SEC can manage: It logged more than 12,000 in 2022 alone, more than quadruple the number it received in 2012." Payouts are reserved strictly for "whistleblowers who provide relevant information about corporate malfeasance that result in settlements or fines of over $1 million." The agency says tips have "helped it collect $6 billion from misbehaving companies." Be warned, though: Less than 0.5 percent of SEC tipsters get all the way to a payout. "About a quarter of all the money dispersed has gone to recipients represented by law firms that have hired former staff from the agency."
The screen thanks you for its tip
"Guilt tipping" has arrived at the self-checkout kiosk, said Rachel Wolfe in The Wall Street Journal. At do-it-yourself screens at airports, stadiums, and cafés across the country, customers are now noticing requests for a 20% tip. For what, exactly? It's not clear. "Business owners say the automated cues can significantly increase gratuities and boost staff pay." Square, which provides a large portion of the self-checkout technology, "says tipped transactions were up 16 to 17% at restaurants in the fourth quarter." But customers say it is "emotional blackmail" when the help-yourself beer fridge at a baseball game pings for a gratuity. Tipping researchers point out that "protections to tipped workers in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act don't extend to machines," so your generosity might not even reach human employees.
Paying more for online returns
Retailers are quietly tweaking their policies to make returns more challenging, said Amanda Mull in The Atlantic. "Kohl's, the suburban mecca of affordably priced clothes and housewares, now charges for return shipping, as does REI." Even Amazon has begun charging customers $1 for dropping off returns at a UPS store. "According to one estimate, a single return can cost a retailer $10 to $20 before the price of transporting it back to the warehouse is even factored in," so it makes sense that stores are tightening their policies. Check the fine print: Many retailers are now saying you can't return items at all if they were bought at a discount.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.