Save Money and Protect Yourself with Your Online Purchases

Following the theme of my last LockerGnome article on saving money with tech, How to Save Money with the Best Light Bulb, I continue that theme with this article on how to save money and protect yourself with online purchases using virtual credit card numbers.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers
This is a feature of many credit cards that hardly anyone knows about. I’ve been using them for seven or eight years. They are fantastic! “Virtual accounts” is a free service available on many credit card Web sites. Some may even have an app you can install on your desktop. I don’t know of any mobile apps that support this, but please, if you’re aware of one, let us know in the comments — that would be a game changer! If your credit card supports this feature, you can use either its Web interface or its app, if it has one, to generate a new credit card number on the fly at the moment you need it.

So, suppose you want to buy something from say, (or anywhere else, for that matter, even catalog orders on an 800 number, or your utilities… any card payment by phone works, too). When it tells you the total, you generate a new credit card number, and here’s the cool part: you enter a maximum amount that can ever be charged to that number and you can also enter an expiration date as short as two months from now or as long as your real card’s expiration date.

This comes in really handy when your vendors attempt to charge more than the agreed upon amount. This happens more often than you think and from places you’d think were reputable. For example, when I purchased an upgrade to Quicken, I was charged 50 cents more than the agreed upon amount and the transaction was blocked. You may have to call the vendor to find out the total amount because sometimes they won’t give it to you until after you give them your credit card number. You actually need to know the total when you generate the virtual card number. As a workaround, you can generate a number for $1 (the minimum on most virtual cards), move through the order process (but don’t complete it) to get the total, then you can increase the amount on the virtual card before you submit… as soon as you find out the real total.

Once the vendor charges your card and the max value has been consumed on that virtual card number, that number will no longer accept any more charges. You can, however, increase the amount if you need to. In any case, you don’t have to worry about hackers stealing that vendor’s database and stealing your card number. As an example, here’s a virtual card number I just created:

Virtual Credit Card
Real Life Virtual Credit Card Number

Yep! That’s a real credit card number! But only $1 can be charged to it, and I also just “closed” that number, so not even $1 can be charged to it anymore. It’s now a dead number. It was a valid and active number for about five minutes.

How Do You Get Started with Virtual Credit Card Numbers?
First, you have to find out if your credit card supports it. This will not be easy, because most credit card employees have no idea their company offers such a feature. Feel free to call first and ask. You might get lucky and the employee that answers your call actually knows, but don’t give up even if they say “No, we don’t.” I wish I could give you a list of cards that do support this, but I can only guarantee for certain that Citi MasterCards have this feature. If you have a Citi Card, go to, log in, open the “Tools & Services” menu, and choose “Get a Virtual Account Number” and follow the directions there.

I believe the PayPal Visa card also supports this. If anyone knows of any others, please share it with us in the comments below.

You can also search the Web for credit cards that support virtual credit cards. I highly recommend starting with, the best kept secret of the Internet. If you can’t find the exact answer, at least you’ll find posts in groups related to it, then you can join that group and ask your question and usually get an answer within hours (depending on how active that group is).

Here’s a run down of the benefits of using a virtual credit card number:

No one can overcharge you.

It doesn’t matter if hackers get a hold of your vendor’s database with your credit card number in it. Once your vendor charges the full amount to it, the card number is useless.

You can disable any virtual card number at any time.

You can prevent services from doing automatic charges or “renewals” monthly or yearly, like Xbox Live and XNA Developers Club! When you’re done with a subscription, just disable the card. No need to bother with going through the mess of trying to convince a hard salesman in the cancelation department that yes, you really do want to unsubscribe. All too frequently, they’ll keep you on anyway.

Have a separate credit card number for each purchase.

Have a separate credit card number for each merchant.

Works with all online credit card purchases and all phone orders… anyplace that doesn’t require physical access to your credit card.

By the way, I’m not promoting Citi Cards. Actually, if you can find another card with this feature, you might be better off going with it. Citi tends to have higher interest rates.

Have you used this feature? Are you aware of other cards that support this? Let us know in the comments below.

Using a Combination of Only Six Mixed Case Characters, Numbers and Symbols Can Be Secure

This morning I read an article about using a six combination password, which jogged my memory about a conversation I had with a mathematics guru. The man was a mathematics professor who taught at the local college where I had also been teaching. We were sharing lunch one day in the school cafeteria, when the conversation changed to address the password security issue.

I had mentioned how difficult it was for computer users to come up with a password that was secure and also one they could remember. I also mentioned that it seemed that the more letters you used in the password, the more secure the password would be. As I continued on with my theory, he sat with a small smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that made me immediately realize that this man had a better idea.

He stated that you only needed a combination of six characters, lower and upper case, plus a combination of numbers and symbols. There was only one small issue with this type of a password. He presented this to me in 2001, a time when few, if any Web sites supported this type of a combination. In fact, I tried using this combination to password protect access to my local online banking account, but no joy. My bank does not accept symbols as of yet.

So what would a password look like using a combo of upper and lower case, plus numbers and symbols?:


There is just one small issue using this type of a password and that is trying to remember it. I know I would most likely have to write it down, which would compromise the purpose of using this type of password. So is there a better way to come up with a password that is secure and that we can remember? A simple, easy to remember password that most Web sites would accept without a problem?

Unfortunately there is no standardization for Web sites that will accept what we the user consider as a secure password. I know that some security gurus advise us to use phrases to secure accounts. But if the Web site you wish to use doesn’t accept this type of password, it is a moot point. I believe it is time for this situation to be addressed and that we consumers be allowed to use a password of our choosing that we believe is secure and not to have the Web site operators dictate to us what they believe is a secure password.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.

The Number You Call For Technical Support Really Does Matter

When you call technical support or for information about any company, the number you call really does matter. For the past few months I have written articles about my experience with Straight Talk. Yet when I have needed support from Straight Talk, I have found that either email support for a simple problem, or calling its corporate office, resulted in better customer service than calling the standard technical support phone number. FYI – the Straight Talk corporate phone number is 800-876-5753.

I also discovered that when you call DIRECTV, if you call 800-531-500 and press 0 0 quickly, you can usually cut down on your wait time. I received this tip from a DIRECTV representative when I called before. It seems to work, but like any tip, your mileage may vary.

So if you can stand listening to music for countless minutes on end, or just sit holding a phone to your ear, how do you find the best number to call?

My first step is to do a Google and find out what others are using. You would be surprised at how many recommendations you will find.

There is another trick you can try. When you are prompted to push a number, do nothing. Remember those old rotary phones? The system may be fooled into thinking you have an oldie but a goodie and connect you to a real person. Remember, your mileage will vary depending on which company or business you call.

Give GETHUMAN [link below] a try. This website has a listing of phone numbers for a wide assortment of companies and businesses that others have found useful. They even offer a listing of phone numbers for some elusive companies like Google and Facebook.

What tips do you have? Share your experiences with us.

Comments welcome.

Source – Gethuman

Is Big Media Fudging On The Piracy Numbers? Could Be Says The GAO

This may come as a shock to all of us but the government thinks that the people who provide the piracy numbers for big media, may be fudging a little or lot, depending on ones point of view. You see the government [General Accounting Office] seems to think that the numbers being provided may be inflated. How much are the numbers being inflated? No one really knows. But according to one article it states that:

“Three widely cited U.S. government estimates of economic losses resulting from counterfeiting cannot be substantiated due to the absence of underlying studies,” the GAO said. “Each method (of measuring) has limitations, and most experts observed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts.”

Though there is a general consensus that piracy can cause a drag on the economy and a loss of revenue, there are some folks who were interviewed who provided a positive effect of copying copyrighted materials.

“Some experts we interviewed and literature we reviewed identified potential positive economic effects of counterfeiting and piracy,” The GAO wrote. “Some consumers may knowingly purchase a counterfeit or pirated product because it is less expensive than the genuine good or because the genuine good is unavailable, and they may experience positive effects from such purchases.”

“Consumers may use pirated goods to ‘sample’ music, movies, software, or electronic games before purchasing legitimate copies,” the GAO continued. “(This) may lead to increased sales of legitimate goods.

As I originally stated, even the feds seem confused. What is also disturbing is that the report had no recommendations on how to stop piracy.  Seems kind of strange to me. Oh, I forgot, it is the government I am talking about. LOL

Conclusions: piracy is good and bad, all at the same time. Piracy is only sampling of music, movies or electronic games, before one decides to buy it. It is a crazy world we live in.

Pirates 1 Media 0

Comments welcome.


Google Lays Off 200 – Not Really

It has been confirmed that Google is in fact going to layoff 200 people from their company. But that is not the entire story. First off, Google is giving these folks 60 day notices [Required by law -yes]. But they also have another option. They may apply for other positions in the company as well. Though Google lay offs can be seen as a sign of the economic down turn, are these layoffs because of bad times? Not according to Google. 


On their blog site they state the following:

Google has grown very quickly in a very short period of time. When companies grow that quickly it’s almost impossible to get everything right—and we certainly didn’t. In some areas we’ve created overlapping organizations which not only duplicate effort but also complicate the decision-making process. That makes our teams less effective and efficient than they should be. In addition, we over-invested in some areas in preparation for the growth trends we were experiencing at the time.

So today we have informed Googlers that we plan to reduce the number of roles within our sales and marketing organizations by just under 200 globally. Making changes of this kind is never easy—and we recognize that the recession makes the timing even more difficult for the Googlers concerned. We did look at a number of different options but ultimately concluded that we had to restructure our organizations in order to improve our effectiveness and efficiency as a business. We will give each person time to try and find another position at Google, as well as outplacement support, and provide severance packages for those who leave the company. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone affected for all they have contributed to Google. 

If after the 60 days, none of the 200 have taken other positions within the company, than the 200 number is real. But until that time, these numbers are misleading.

Comments welcome.


Writing Numbers

Did you know that there are actual rules to follow when writing numbers? What I mean is that you should write out some numbers and display others as figures. Some of you are definitely thinking, “Okay, who cares?” However, if you do any kind of writing, and remember responding to emails is a form of writing, you should know how to write numbers.

Therefore, here are a few rules to remember.

  • Spell out numbers that are smaller than 10 (for example, one, two, five, seven) and use figures for double digit numbers.
  • Spell out numbers that start a sentence. Alternatively, rewrite the sentence so it does not begin with a numeral.
  • Use a comma as the thousands separator (for example, 1,250). The comma separator also makes it easier to read, particularly when you get into larger numbers.
  • Spell out centuries and decades (for example, nineties and nineteenth century).
  • Spell out any ordinal numbers (for example, first, second, third and fourth).

Keep in mind that not all writers agree on the same set of rules, so you may come across some variances.


Google Customer Service Phone Numbers & More

Some of you may recall the minor problem I had with my Google gmail account, that took about 5 days to finally get resolved. So when I saw this web site with the phone numbers for Google customer service and other links, I thought I would post the information here.

Google Contact Info:

1. Main phone number – (650) 253-0000, press “5″ for Customer Service or Tech Support, where you will then be directed to the Google website where you can submit an email.

2. Google Adwords Advertising – (866) 246-6453, press “2″ for Adwords questions. You will be placed on hold for a mandatory fifteen minutes before the call is then routed to the advertising bureau–aka socialism, Google style, and you vill comply. When you are finally greeted by a real Google person don’t expect to get anywhere. Depending on your issue you will be directed to the Google website to fill out a form, or placed on hold for five minutes. After being placed on hold the real Google person will then direct you to the Google website to fill out a form.

It is not widely known, but Larry and Sergey review each form submission in the basement of the Google headquarters and secretly make fun of our problems.

3. Google Adwords Support Form

4. Google Trademark Infringement Form

5. Trademark Complaints Email Address[email protected]

There is the impression out there that only “the small guy” gets dissed by Google. This just isn’t true, for the most part. Google is an equal opportunity offender, with the exception of the largest brands (deep legal pockets) and most aggressive cyber giants like Amazon or eBay (deep advertising pockets).

I think the word Form may mean Forum. :-) Anyway, hopefully this information will help someone in the future get a direct answer to a problem they may have with Google.

Comments welcome.


Microsoft's Echo Does Or Does Not Eliminate Phone Numbers?

Interesting subject since we have two different stories covering the same subject, with two different points of view. First over at ZD-Net Mary Jo Foley describes the Echo system, as per Bill Gates, a system that eliminates phone numbers. In her article she states:

Starting with Echoes Wave 1 — the first iteration of Microsoft’s services platform for telco providers that is due out this summer — Microsoft plans to synchronize contacts. In other words, Live Messenger contacts will appear in a mobile user’s address book (if the carrier is using Echoes). The contacts will be synced via Windows Live Messenger, so duplicates are eliminated.


On the flip side of the coin, over at Zoli’s Blog, he says hang on there. Phone numbers won’t be eliminated. He states:

Don’t worry, I am not about to walk through all the technology improvements in such detail, as most of my readers remember the rest. Phones with more memory, LCD screens, directories, cell-phones, PDA’s, PC-based programs..etc all have one thing in common: they still use phone numbers, we just don’t have to remember them. Heck, I don’t know all my own phone numbers (but GrandCentral doessmile_regular)

These devices did not eliminate phone numbers; they just made it more convenient to use them. Just like Microsoft’s Echoes (supposedly) will.


So there you have it. Two different opinions. But there is more to this than just about Echo and whether or not phone numbers are eliminated. One of the prerequisite is that a Microsoft Windows Live ID must be used. Which for some may turn them off.

But what do you think?

Comments welcome.


It can be hard to predict if something is going to become a worldwide sensation, but once it does, you can’t deny it. There are a lot of factors that are involved in making something a hit, but sometimes, the timing is just favorable for it. Take Sudoku, for example. To me, the Sudoku crazy came out of nowhere, and while people kept telling me that I just had to start playing it, I initially resisted. However, now that I’ve given it a try, I find myself compelled by the game, and therefore, the craze has taken another victim. If you’ve also been bitten by the Sudoku bug, then you’ll probably love Sudokular.

This site is all about the famous number puzzle, and you’ll be able to get your fill here whether you’re able to devote some time to the game or just want to jump in and play for a few minutes. You can get a new puzzle delivered to you on a daily basis through RSS, and the Daily Challenge will put you up against other players. However, if you’re like me, then the QuickGame will prove to be a more fitting option. Complete Sudoku neophytes can learn the rules in just a minute or two and use the in-game help to get them started.

[tags]Sudokular, Sudoku, Games, Puzzles, Numbers, RSS[/tags]