Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Credit Card

Skimmer Scanner app for android

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Real security requires vigilance, even for consumers. One issue we have been hearing a lot over the last couple of years is credit/debit card skimmers.

A skimmer is a cheap hardware device that blends into the credit/debit card processing machine of a retailer. When processing your transaction, the skimmer copies your card information and somehow makes it available to the "bad" guys.

An open-source Android app, called Skimmer Scanner, is promising to help consumers win this battle. The company behind this project, SparkFun, explains why thieves love gas stations. The skimmer equipment costs $10 or less and the master key to open a gas pump is typically easy to get (since there are only a small number of variations). After a couple of days or weeks, the thieves drive by the modified pump and wireless dump all of the credit/debit card information via Bluetooth.

It is this feature that the app leverages to find these skimmers. It looks for a particular kind of Bluetooth signal, attempts to connect to it and thus verifies if there is a skimmer in the area. 

Believe it or not, thieves are lazy so most often they leave the default skimmer configuration on devices.

SparkFun has a great blog post talking about gas station skimmers you'll enjoy reading.

I will be trying this our at local retailers. Download Skimmer Scanner yourself from the Google Play store here

7 airport lounge access secret you need to know

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

1 - Buy day-passes online

Most airlines will allow passengers to buy a lounge access day-pass online.

Toronto Air Canada Airport Lounge

Toronto Air Canada Airport Lounge

As an example, you can buy a day-pass from Air Canada for access to their own lounge for $25 if you are travelling on a Latitude fare. 

United Airlines offers airport lounge access day-pass for $50 here.

2 - Buy day-passes at the airport

Check directly with your airline. If if your airline doesn't own its own named lounge at the airport, they often have deals with private lounges offering them at competitive prices. As an example, Canadian airline Westjet has partnered with private lounge operators in the various regions it travels (Canada, Europe, Caribbean) to. Westjet offers airport lounge access at very competitive prices.

3 hour access to the Plaza Premium lounge costs $40 - 20% (Westjet discount) = $32. 

3 hour access to the Plaza Premium lounge costs $40 - 20% (Westjet discount) = $32. 

Some vacation package wholesalers also offer (add-on) lounge access to their customers. As an example, Signature vacations (in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton & Winnipeg) sells lounge access to all vacation pass holders. 

3 - Buy access to an independent airport lounge

Some airlines do not offer any type of (direct or indirect) lounge access. Other times companies buy the cheapest ticket they can find which means you may fly 10 different airlines and therefore not gain priority privilege access on any one particular airline. These are the times you may need to buy access to one of the independent lounges. 

If you travel to different airports, you may want to join one of the independent airport lounge access networks like:

As an example, Priority Pass offers access to 1000 airport lounges worldwide. Priority Pass (sold in Canada) offers 3 levels of membership:

  1. Standard($99 a year). Every access will cost $27 for the member or guests.
  2. Standard Plus ($249 a year). Member receives 10 annual visits. Additional visits or guests cost $27 each.
  3. Prestige ($399 a year). Member receives unlimited lounge access and guests can buy access for $27. 

Some credit cards have standing agreements with these lounge access  wholesalers and allow you to buy access without having to pay an annual membership fee. As an example, Diners Club Canada offers members access to worldwide lounges at affordable prices.

Here is an example of their Canadian airport lounges you can buy access to. Access to a lounge in Toronto is about $US30.

4 - Get a credit card with lounge access

If you travel a lot, it may make sense to use a travel credit card that includes access to airport lounge (either free or a pay per use without requiring an annual membership to a lounge network).

Credit Walk (Canada) has published an interesting article comparing various credit card lounge access programs.

Sleeping in Airports (USA) also has an article about credit cards offering lounge access.

5 - Buy a refundable business class ticket

Some travel forums (e.g. maphappy, boarding area, view from the wing ) recommend that you buy a full price refundable business class ticket for travel the same day as your regular discounted ticket, use the lounge and then refund the ticket. 

I have never used this technique and you should make sure the ticket is still refundable if you use the lounge. I know airlines like United have started implementing lounge access software that will help curb this type of abuse but I know this still works on some airlines. 

6 - Buy lounge access from other passengers

You can sometimes buy lounge access from other travelers on classified type sites at discounted rates (eBay, Craigslist, etc). Make sure you check any restrictions that may apply.

Someone selling 4 Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge access on eBay.

Someone selling 4 Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge access on eBay.

7 - Use a Smartphone App for lounge access

There are travel smartphone apps like Loungebuddy (IOS & Android) . 

Loungebuddy offers on the spot lounge access purchased on your smartphone without requiring an annual subscription.

Credit Card breach at Mandarin Oriental

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Sean MacEntee  used under Creative Commons License

Image by Sean MacEntee used under Creative Commons License

We have seen claims that the luxury hotel chain has suffered a credit card breach (some outlets are now confirming it). 

 

The last confirmation I received was that the chain is working with its banking partners to investigate the claims. We don't know yet if the breach impact some or all of its global properties. Unnamed sources say the breach goes back to just before christmas 2014. 

It is too soon to speculate how they were stolen. Some outlets jumped the gun and claimed the chains main reservation system was breached but it is important to remember that the breach could be on a Point of Sale terminal in the hotel (store, restaurant, etc).

Since the chain is made up of luxury properties, its patrons typically have high value credit cards that could fetch a premium in the credit card sale black market. 

If I am made aware of any developments, I will update this post accordingly.

For the record, I have stayed on many of their asian properties and I love the Mandarin Oriental chain.