Phishing Phor Phun and Prophit

Have you received an email about an overdue parking ticket or a delivery from UPS lately? Have you blindly clicked on the link in that email? Odds are you are now a victim of phishing, and you had better change all your passwords and turn on lots of security settings on all of your accounts.

As I saw with my daughter and her experience with Phishing, the Phishers are getting much more clever and are relying on your false sense of security. If the email looks official most folks will readily click to easily track or fix a simple problem.

Phishing

What kind of emails do they send?

  • Overdue parking ticket reminder. By the way, how did they get your email address for a parking ticket?
  • Income Tax related notices, and no the CRA still doesn’t take iTunes cards to pay your taxes (I checked). Again, how does the CRA know your email address?
  • Your bank or other financial institution has found a problem with your bank account or credit card and you just need to click here to fix it. Worse, they have a new App you can run on your phone, just click here to download it.
  • Fed Ex or UPS has a package that they couldn’t deliver, so you need to reschedule the delivery.

All of these seem straight forward and far too easy to bamboozle you.

What should you do when you receive one of these phishing hooks?

  • Don’t open it, surprisingly, depending on how your email reader is set up, that alone can be lethal (make sure you don’t allow auto-execute scripts on your email reader)
  • If you have opened the email CLICK ON NOTHING.
  • If you are on GMAIL you can contact Google here about the email
  • Delete the email (and then empty your recycle bin)

As we become better at not falling for these tricks, the tricks just get trickier, or as Roddy Piper used to say, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions!”.

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Can I Get a Deal from a Chatbot ?

Given the push by most service companies to replace their customer service folks with AI (i.e. a Chatbot), will we still get up-sold services? Will we be able to get better deals if we say we’d like to talk to the Customer Retention Bot? With storefronts disappearing will we never interact with humans again?

What is a chatbot? Current definition:

a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

This is another weird part of FinTech as well, where you won’t talk to a human, you will interact with a ChatBot. Who gets the commissions if the ChatBot convinces you to buy their Balanced Mutual Funds? An old broken down programmer like me could program something fairly simple that could shepherd customers into the “Balanced Fund Paddock”.

When I speak to a credit card chatbot about how I missed a payment accidentally will it cut me some slack, and rescind the interest rate if I promise to pay off my bill completely? Surprisingly, that could be built into the AI for the system, but will it? The excuse, “sorry, the machine is programmed that way” is an easy cop-out for most firms.

A possible chatbot conversation
A possible conversation with a Chatbot

What Does the Future Hold?

I have said previously the answer is always no, unless you ask, however if you ask a machine will you get help?

I can envision a future where folks will share cheat phrases to use with ChatBots to get better deals, or better services. All technology has cheats in them somewhere, you just need to know where to look.

Do folks even enjoy talking to Chatbots?

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Unlocking Your Phone What Comes Next ?

A little while back the CRTC changed the rules for unlocking cellular phone (s). Note that this is only happening on December 1st 2017, until then what is happening.

I have commented on this before, but I decided to have a close look at my Bell contract (you should look at yours as well). Here is what my current Bell Contract says on the subject (reproduced without Bell’s permission):

“Can I unlock my Device and is there a Fee?  When you purchase a Device from Bell it will be locked and can only be used on the Bell network.  If your Device was provided at a discount as part of this Agreement and your account is in good standing and your Device is eligible, you can unlock your Device after a minimum of 90 calendar days, if you pay an unlocking Fee (plus applicable taxes) of $50, or $150 if your account carries a security deposit or is subject to a credit limit.  If your Device was purchased from Bell at full retail price or you brought your own Device (originally purchased from Bell), your Device can be unlocked upon request and payment of an unlocking Fee of $50, plus applicable taxes.  If your account is past due, your Device will not be unlocked until your account balance is paid in full using a credit card.  Visit bell.ca/onetimefees for details.”

Unlocking Cellular Phone

It costs how much ?

Let’s unwrap some of the zingers in this unlocking cellular phone clause.

  • This will cost me $50 until December 1st 2017. I am not sure if I called and talked to their customer retention team, I might get it for free, but maybe not.
  • If I don’t have good credit or have a credit limit, this will cost me $150.
  • There is an HST charge for the service.
  • I better have my account payments up to date, or they will not do this unless I pay all outstanding costs with a credit card.
  • If I got a new iPhone N (where N is the next great iPhone that just came out), I have to wait at least 90 days to have it unlocked.

My Opinion on Current Unlocking Phone Policy

I am disappointed that Bell hasn’t just declared an amnesty on unlocking, and doing it (for existing customers) for free. Given all phones will be unlock-able (and sold unlocked) in a few months, it seems, vindictive to keep charging for this service (especially to existing customers).

I will be waiting until December 1st to get my phone unlocked (I assume that it will take a while). The battery on my iPhone 5, was replaced for $50 so I will be keeping it for a while. Most likely I will be getting a new iPhone some time soon, however, I will try to find the cheapest price possible.

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Banking is Necessary Banks are Not.

This is a quote attributed to Bill Gates, which resonates with me. Whether the quote banking is necessary banks are not, is the real quote, or it is:

banking is necessary

Both of these quotes petrify banking executives, because they are both true.

Banks continue to claim they are embracing the use of technology, or FinTech as they would have you call it,  but that does not  ring true to me.

The reason I call bovine feces on this statement is my understanding of a few key factors in banks.

  • Banks do not like new things, until they are proven money-making ideas. Adaptation of new ideas is not any banks strong points (unless it makes them a lot of money).
  • The backbone of the #FinTech revolution is ATM machines and point-of-sale systems which are still running on Windows XP. #FinTech is not as futuristic as you might think.
  • COBOL programmers are still making a fortune from Banks , because Banks are afraid to upgrade their existing core system to a language from this millennium. This odd situation which arose with Y2K, where programmers were paid ludicrous sums of money to make the following change in systems:
    • 05 YEAR PIC 99
      * DEFINE A YEAR ONLY NEED 2 DIGITS
    • 05 YEAR  PIC 9999
      * NOW WILL WORK UNTIL YEAR 9999
  • Yes, that was a big money-maker for a few consultants (I am simplifying). These same consultants continue to make bags of money because banks are afraid to use a new language like say C++ or Java?
  • Banks have Fiefdoms and they don’t like playing with each other, thus they typically have very diverse computer systems. This I can guess on the basis of a few observations I have seen at a specific bank, which merged with a large trust company many years ago. The Trust Company still exists in parts of the banks system, which has lead to issues with systems interworking with each other.

There are countless other examples out there, but this belief that FinTech will be changing things for Joe (or Josephine) Six-Pack any time soon is a falsehood.

Automation of systems continues with Banks, but again, these are cost-saving measures, not technological leaps forward. Being able to photograph a cheque to deposit cuts down on the  bank having to archive cheques, mail out cancelled cheques, etc., so it was finally adopted by the big banks.

The applications on Smart Phones are allowing banks to close more branches, and cut down on employees, again a cost-saving measure.

The Future is so Bright?

We need banking services, but, unfortunately the way the banks implement them, leave a great deal to be desired. The business of banking will see many changes over the next few years, but not quite as many as a lot of financial pundits think.

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Fintech is it the Answer ?

What was the Question ?

If Fintech is the answer, are we sure we know what is the question? Fintech started off being about changes to the banking and investing back ends, but not any more. Fintech is now being used to describe new On-line banking and Investing systems, as well as, automated investing systems.  For arguments sake, let us view Fintech, as any new technology in the Banking and Investing world.

Fintech
Fintech, Welcome to the Machine

Savings Passed On ?

With these new technology changes, the main thing will be, will savings realized by financial firms passed on? Some of the savings for financial firms are:

  1. Less employee overhead, which should mean significant savings. If there is less need for tellers, investment advisors, insurance advisors, etc., that will save these firms big money. Less salaries, less benefits to pay, no pensions, these savings could be the biggest Fintech improvement, but will I see savings?.
  2. Less Mortar & Brick locations, this is a follow on to all the on-line services. If Fintech means more services on-line, it could mean less need for as many “regional offices” and the like.
  3. Easier and cheaper transfers between banks and investing firms. These “costs” are hokum any how, but now even harder for the big banks to hide. All of this is comms between computers, no humans involved. Why does it cost $3 to make an Interac Transfer?
  4. Lower Fees for services like costs per trade and such. With on-line trading and banks this was a big promise, that has never really come to fruition (yet).
  5. Faster and better portfolio decisions sound like something that should happen, but that depends on how it is implemented, and faster is a relative statement (same day transactions can be faster than 2 or 3 days lead time, but are worse that within 5 minute trades).
  6. Consolidation of firms might happen in the U.S., but less likely in Canada. Canadians continue are at the mercy of the Big Banks, but maybe Fintech will cause small on-line banks to break through? We can only hope on that one.

Fintech For Everyone ?

Will I be able to take advantage of these great new technologies, or will this simply end up being something that benefits big investors and financial firms? I suspect there will be some advertised Fintech features offered, but my assumption is this will end up being a big money, people and time saver for the big financial firms, but not so much for John Q. Public.

Can I Create a Fintech Edge ?

Can I, as a relatively tech savvy investor, find my own Fintech edge? Not likely is my opinion. That would mean large financial firms would open up their systems to me and other programmers. This will not happen, security concerns would be the biggest issue.

All I can think of is Pink Floyd’s lyrics from Wish You Were Here,

“Welcome my son, welcome to the machine”

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