Payments and Rewards with Your Smart Phone

We love near-field communications (NFC), the technology that enables you to pay for purchases with your smart phone. We love the security factors built into it. Banks and merchants are loving it more, too, because now they launch more loyalty programs to reward themselves – and even you. It’s the logical extension of programs that started with books of trading stamps from grocery stores and gas stations and now extend electronically from purchases at coffee bars to international vacation packages.

There’s a lot at stake for banks and retailers because the citizens of nations with developed economies still spend a lot of money. And while some older consumers dislike waiting for charges to be approved using the more secure chips in their credit cards, millennials and their older siblings are embracing mobile payments. With smart phones almost always accessible, it’s easy to tap a payment station with your phone or hold it close to the station, enter your passcode and keep going with life.

That phone, of course, contains a wealth of information that merchants and banks can tap into with their big-data systems. They can use the data to optimize rewards programs for their customers based on what you and where you buy it. Financial industry research shows that the more affluent you are, the more likely you are to use digital payments whenever you can. And a good number of you are likely to use digital coupons on your smart phone.

You might say a perfect storm is forming. As the use of smart phones grows for all sorts of purchases, merchants and bankers will offer more incentives, and that will draw more people to the technology. That will ratchet up new programs to attract more users in a continuing spiral. The financial industry sees big changes in the next three to five years.

What can our transactional environment look like over the next few years? It’s not that hard to imagine. Your browsing history may show, for example, that you are looking for a new computer in the $1,000 range. With location services turned on for your phone – because you used it to find the fastest route to the shopping mall – the retailer and the bank that supports your credit card can easily deduce that you are entering a store to make a purchase.

Together, the retailer and bank can send a message to your phone to let you know that if you buy a specific computer-and-accessory package today, you are eligible for a discount from the price you saw during your online shopping – or you may be eligible for extra miles from the airline that sponsors your credit card – or you may get extra cash back for this purchase.

Or, your credit card company may have an arrangement with another retailer nearby, and they can offer you rewards to go to their retailer. They can let you know about their specials before you go into any store.

The driver in all of this is likely to be the bank that supports your credit card – or more realistically that has the credit account you access from your phone. They are the ones who “lend” the money when you charge a purchase or collect a handling fee on a debit purchase. The sheer volume of money changing hands creates incentives for them to incentivize you.

In turn, you will need to pay closer attention to the security of your smart phone. You will need to make sure you always have the latest operating system on your phone and that you have all appropriate anti-virus and anti-malware software running – on your computer or tablet as well as on your phone. And you will need to pay special attention to all offers you receive over your smart phone. If a retailer or bank can send a special offer to your smart phone, so can a scammer.

We can help you reap all the benefits of your rewards programs by making sure all of your technology has the latest security software properly set up to match the way you live. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help you make sure you are good to go.


Is Your Phone Prepared for a Weather Emergency?

September is National Preparedness Month, and storms along the East Coast can be extremely dangerous as air temperatures drop faster than water temperatures. We all remember Sandy, too, which wreaked havoc in our entire region in October 2012. Now might be a good time to think about apps for smart phones to give you adequate warnings.

Look first to your city, township or county. Morris County, for example, has a web page where you can register for alerts that you can receive as a text message or phone call on your cell phone. The service will also call you on a landline. It’s not a personal call. Rather it’s one generated as a mass robo call to phone numbers registered for specific locations, such as your home or office. Some communities also use social media channels to notify “friends and followers” about weather emergencies.

The federal government makes weather emergency information available to cell phones through Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).  The system allows customers who own certain wireless phones and other enabled mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. The technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. Governments can target specific areas through cell towers in cooperation with wireless carriers.

Alerts are broadcast only from cell towers whose coverage areas best match the zone of an emergency. That means that if your phone is WEA-enabled, you can receive a warning from a tower in the alert zone if your carrier is participating in the program in that area.

With more of us traveling and reifying on our smart phones for driving directions, Google Public Alerts is a good option. It’s Google’s platform for disseminating emergency messages such as evacuation notices for hurricanes, and everyday alerts such as storm warnings. It’s worldwide through Google Search, Google Maps, and when you activate Google Now on your Android device. Google publishes information in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, India, New Zealand, and Brazil. While Google can’t guarantee that you’ll see every alert, they’re using feedback mechanisms to increase its capabilities. You can learn more from their FAQ page.

If you’re a Twitter user, you can sign up for Twitter Alerts and then manage your alerts.

Your App Store or Google Play has way too many apps available. Some are free, including those from our metro area TV stations, and some require a purchase. We are more than happy to talk to you about the best app for your needs, and we can help you configure apps for your families and employees so that they can all be safe when severe weather strikes. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with any questions you may have.


Cybersecurity Checklist

We doubt the Russians or WikiLeaks are looking into your computer, but there’s a good chance somebody is. Want to get ahead of any possible problems? Try this checklist.

  • Update your software – Security patches are almost always the feature of any software update for your operating system and application software, including Internet browsers. You can set your computers, servers and mobile devices to notify you when an update is available or have it installed automatically. Do it. It’s as simple as that.
  • Limit admin accounts – There are two things to shore up here. First, limit the number of people in your organization – or household – who have administrative rights to your system. The more people who have access to the inner workings of your system, the more possibilities there are for somebody to leave an electronic door open to an invader. As another precaution, always run your PC as a non-administrator unless strictly necessary.
  • Enable your firewall – This should be a no-brainer. It’s the first line of defense against hackers infiltrating your entire IT system or any computer in your system that goes out onto the Internet. Make sure you have it set to manage inbound and outbound traffic.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware – This goes hand-in-hand with enabling your firewall. These programs are designed to stop viruses, worms and other forms of malware. They can also stop pop-ups and other threats. Make sure every computer and device (where appropriate) is regularly scanned by the anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and don’t let licenses lapse.
  • Beware of wireless – Enable encryption, turn off SSID broadcasting and use the MAC filtering feature. Be wary whenever out of the office using Wi-Fi.
  • Protect mobile devices – Always use passwords, screen locks and auto locks on mobile devices, and encrypt data transmissions when possible.
  • Use strong passwords – The latest research shows that longer passwords are stronger, and you should always have a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Change your password often and don’t use anything that can be related to your email address.
  • Backup your files – We can’t emphasize this enough – and we strongly encourage you to back up files offsite, on a cloud-based server. Have an automated backup and recovery plan in place for key data residing on your network vital for every computer user and organization. We’ve talked about ransomware before, and have securely backed-up files is your best protection.
  • Trust your gut – This is worth repeating, too: If a website, email or window on your PC offers you something that’s too good be true, ignore it or delete it. If something looks odd or out place, ignore it or delete it. Most companies, especially banks and credit card companies, don’t ask for personal information in an email. Don’t click a link. Instead, log back on to your browser and go to the website address you’ve used before to see what that company has to say.
  • Train your staff or family – Most cybersecurity breaches happen because of human error. Train your staff or your family members on how to be more secure while using computers and mobile devices on the Internet. Remember how you’ve told your kids not to talk to strangers or get into a stranger’s car? It’s the same in the cyber world.

We can help you with any of cybersecurity concerns and needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to get answers to your questions or to set up a training session.