State Government Responds to Hacking

We got hacked a couple of years ago, and it was the weirdest thing. Somebody hacked B*st W*st*rn Hotels, where we had stayed in Ohio a couple of years earlier, and got our credit card number. But the hacker was some kind of weirdo Robin Hood character, robbing from the underemployed to feed the poor. We started getting Thank You notes from the Red Cross and the USO, acknowledging our contributions!

Now, this week in South Carolina, the Secret Service discovered that somebody has hacked the S.C. Department of Revenue! Social Security numbers, tax records… they aren’t even sure what has been jacked!

What is interesting is that the State is reacting by offering free credit monitoring by Experian.

Plenty of S.C. taxpayers were nervous over the weekend, flooding lines set up by Experian, the California-based firm hired to provide ID theft protection for taxpayers. The company added operators Monday, though it still was suggesting the fastest way to register for ID theft protection was to register online. Those who need to sign up for protection can do so until Jan. 31.

The state of S.C., via Experian, is offering a year of free credit report monitoring, which can be used to help even with past problems found in credit histories. But crooks could use the stolen data for many years.  The State (SC)

I guess the lesson for me is this: I always said “Who would ever hack little ol’ me?” The answer is NOBODY. But they would sure as heck would hack the motel chain or the restaurant chain where you use your Visa card. I don’t know if I am even affected but, trust me, I am registering TOMORROW. And maybe you should, too. Other than Experian, names include LifeLock and EquiFax.

Have you or someone you know ever been hacked? What did you do?

Halloween Safety for Nerds and Other People

These two probably won’t get hit by a car. But they WILL get hit by 8th-graders!

This is not so much a consumer piece, other than, as we reported earlier, you’re going to spend $80 per kid this Halloween and you would like to get them home in one piece.

When I was a kid, Halloween safety consisted of my dad telling me not to accept any apples, because hippies were hiding their drug needles in them. “That’s it! Now go run in the night streets in your dark gray Batman costume!”

So, to pay it forward, I will share a few Halloween safety tips from the National Safety Council.

Motorists: BE COOL! Seriously, I don’t even have kids, but I spend half the night screaming at the idiots driving 45mph on my street!

Parents: Basically it’s your job to suck all the fun out of it. Make your kids tell you their precise route. Give them a curfew time. And make them wear bright or reflective clothing, even if it ruins their Zombie costume.

Kids: Use some common sense! Don’t go to dark houses. Don’t eat your stuff until mom inspects it and steals the Kit Kats. Carry dad’s best flashlight, which you will surely break. And stay out of the abandoned mill, even if they dare you!

OK, enough sarcasm. You should download the list. There are tons of great tips to keep Halloween safe. The alternative is a “Trunk or Treat” in the middle school parking lot…and nobody wants that!


Know that Return Policy!

Thanksgiving 2012 is a mere 30 days away. Do you know what this means? Right, Black Friday is only 31 days away!

People have made a sport out of this pre-dawn ritual. Bursting through the doors at 5am, racing to the toy aisle, etc. It’s chaotic and fun, but mostly chaotic. And in the chaos, mistakes are made, and returns become necessary.  And returns can be a drag!

If you fail to read a store’s return policy before shopping there, you could get stuck with an item that doesn’t work out. But if you fail to read return policies before gift shopping, it’s a friend or relative who could get stuck with an unwanted item.

So how do you learn about a store’s return policy? What are some warning signs? Which stores have the best and worst return policies? That’s the subject of this article. But briefly, the author likes Costco, LL Bean, Nordstrom and Zappos. Not so much love for Babies R Us, Macy’s Kohl’s or Toys R Us.

Lots  of detail in the article, so check it out!

Kill Robo-calls, Win Money!

Robo-calls are usually not this cute…

Did you read our piece on robo-calls last month? It’s right HERE. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Anyway, I’m not one who responds to every problem with “There ought to be a law!” Besides, there are already laws on robo-calling, as well as a national Do Not Call registry. They just aren’t working!

So the government is getting smart for once, and asking for your help with “The Robo-call Challenge.” And they are offering a $50,000 prize!

The “robocall challenge” opens to the public on Oct. 25 and will close Jan. 17, 2013. The winner will be announced in April. The money will be awarded to the person, team or small company (it must have fewer than 10 employees) that develops the best robocall-blocking technology. The FTC says a successful entry must work, be easy to use, and be easy to implement and operate in today’s marketplace.

Read the article for more info, and visit the FTC website.

Kill robo-calls, get paid…what could be better?


New and Improved?

I have spent some time in the world consumer marketing, and it’s amazing the amount of time and money that is spent trying to wring out just one more percent of market share. As a MindField member, you also have an appreciation for how much research it takes to decide if a product is a good idea or not.

The pressure to stay on top is huge, and coming up with innovative ideas that people will embrace isn’t easy, as illustrated by the countless number of market miscalculations and abject product failures developed by some of the biggest and most respected brands in the world.  MSN Money

So here’s a look at some ideas that didn’t quite click. Do you remember any of these?

Gerber Singles (1970s.) Ever feed a baby and sneak a bite of their food out of curiosity? Sure. Wouldn’t you like to have an adult-sized jar of mashed bananas for yourself? America said No.

Jimmy Dean Microwaveable Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick (2006.) Just because you CAN mash things together and put them on a stick…SHOULD you?

Heinz EZ Squirt ketchup (2000.) Ketchup in a rainbow of bizarre colors for you to get out of your kids’ clothes.

Ore-Ida Funky Fries (2002.) Apparently, the novelty of cinnamon-flavored, or tube-shaped or BLUE French fries wears off quickly.

Frito Lay’s Wow potato chips (1998.) Who can forget racing to the toilet during the summer of Olestra? An FDA warning on the bag is generally not good for business.

New Coke (1985.) The classic flop. Apparently, EVERY BIT of their research, blind taste tests, etc., told Coke that people preferred the new stuff.

Pepsi A.M. (1989.) It seemed like the dumbest idea ever back in ’89… a super-caffeinated soda to drink in the morning instead of coffee. Now, everybody does it.

Ah well, they can’t all be winners. Can you think of any other food items that missed the mark? There are more in the original article, so check it out!


Walmart vs. Amazon

As they say, business it business. But it sure seems like Walmart has an axe to grind with Amazon! Last month, Wally announced they were no longer carrying Amazon’s Kindle. Now, they are going to compete with Amazon’s experimental same-day delivery.

Called Wal-Mart To Go, the service costs $10 regardless of the size of the order. The products will be shipped from the company’s stores, not from a warehouse or distribution center. Wal-Mart began testing the same-day service last week in Philadelphia and northern Virginia. It added Minneapolis on Tuesday and will add San Jose and San Francisco later this month. The trial will last through the holidays. Wall Street Journal

Amazon has been doing the same-day thing in 10 cities for a few years now. Amazon has about $35 billion in online sales each year, about 7 times Walmart’s take. BUT, Wally’s $5 billion is about 1% of their total sales. So, that kind of capital allows them to experiment to find ways to compete with the established leader Amazon.

Analysts say that Walmart is going to need that cash flow to make it work…

 “It can be three to four times the cost for the retailer to pick items and pack them from a store versus having a really efficient, automated process back in a distribution center.”  Wall Street Journal

So, what do you think? Does this sound like a good move for Wally? Or should they stick to what they know best and leave the online fulfillment game to the recognized leaders? Read the article, and have a great weekend!

Halloween by the Numbers!

My house, every Halloween!

In my house, as a kid and as an adult, we always did it up for Halloween. And, looking back, I don’t remember ever dialing it down very much during hard times. Apparently, that is still the case in the US!

Here are some stats:

  • 70: The % of Americans celebrating Halloween in 2012.
  • 170 million: The number of Americans in the “Halloween market” this year.
  • 8 billion: The amount of $$$ we will spend for Halloween in 2012.
  • 80: The amount of $$$ spent by each person. Up $8 from last year.

So, how does Halloween avoid our belt-tightening?

Halloween has been one of the few annual events that we’re willing to shell out plenty of bucks for, almost certainly because of the escapism we feel by dressing up like Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson. We also have few qualms about dressing up our pets like Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson. Time Magazine

And to illustrate that last point, the article says that we will spend $370 million on pet costumes this year, up about 25% from 2011!

So, how about your family? Is Halloween a big deal? Have you cut back on the spending the past couple of years, or not?

The Fans Speak…Again!

Time once again to update our satisfied Facebook fans shout-out page. Take a moment to read some of the positive feedback from a few of our purt-near 30,000 fans… including this comment from Abbidula:

“I just rolled in another dollar bill and itching for more scratch. This is great with the “any amount” cashout plan. Join now and you can also benefit from these rewards.”

So take a look HERE. Thanks to all our friends, Facebook and otherwise. And have a great weekend!


MindField Milestones!

What does it all mean?

A couple of milestones to mention today.

First, as represented in the totally awesome and NOT lame graphic above: 4MM. That means Four Million, as in MindField Online recently paid out its 4,000,000th credit to our panelists. That’s four million dollars since MindField’s inception in April 2004 – an average of $471, 000 a year. Over the past 5 years, however, our panelists overall have earned an average of $688,000 in credits each year.

To celebrate, we credited $25 to lucky number 4 million: CODY B. of MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA!

Meanwhile, “100K” also happened. That signifies $100,000 in credits our panelists have opted for since we introduced that new cashout method!  That took a surprisingly short 14 months, which means our panelists like the Amazon option even better than we hoped!

So, a big thank you to our panelists, and stay tuned for more excitement ahead. For example, we’re coming reeeally close to 30,000 Facebook fans. But you didn’t hear it from me!