Category: Shopping (Page 1 of 2)

McBroken

Someone actually devised this little website, to show on a map which McDonald’s restaurants have functioning ice cream machines. And which ones have out-of-service machines. How ingenious!

This tool came about because of the high frequency of breakdowns with Mickey D’s ice cream machines. And there’s a whole story and debacle to read about that, if you have an interest.

Otherwise, just sock away the McBroken website, it may save you a trip and stave off some disappointment someday.

The National Baby Formula Shortage

Some info pertaining to the shortage of baby formula in the USA:

Scams abound! If you find an online vendor for baby formula that seems too good to be true, it may be. When possible, buy your formula from respected, large companies and not sketchy eBay auctions or brand-new websites.

Misinformation about buying from Amazon’s Canada website is circulating, and I want to debunk that before you try it. For the most part, you cannot buy baby formula from Amazon.ca, unless it is from one of their 3rd-party sellers. And those may be risky to use.

Another important resource right now is the Free Formula Exchange. If you have formula that you don’t need, please donate it through this website! And if you need formula, you can sign up and possibly connect with someone nearby who has unneeded baby formula.

And you should touch base with your pediatrician for other trusted resources that can help you get through this tough time.

Chewy’s Pet Portraits

If you’re a patron of the Chewy website, here’s some feel-good news for you: Every month, Chewy surprises random customers with portraits of their pets! You can’t request or buy these portraits, but you can feel lucky if one happens to arrive on your doorstep. Chewy reportedly sends out 1000 of these each week!

All that said, you can’t get a surprise if Chewy doesn’t know what you pet looks like. I recommend you find a favorite photo of your pet and add it to your Chewy account:

  1. Go to Chewy.com and sign into your account.
  2. Go to the Account drop-down menu in the upper-right of the website, and then click Account on the menu.
  3. On the sub-headings bar, click My Pets. If you see your pet listed, click it. Otherwise, click Add Pet and fill out the basic info for your animal.
  4. When you see your pet’s profile page, click the Edit button to the right, to reveal the Profile Icon and Cover Photo options for your pet.
  5. Click the pencil-icon on either to upload a photo of your choice.
  6. Make sure to click Save Changes at the very bottom after adding anything to this page!

If you have any trouble with this, scroll to the bottom of the Chewy website and chat with them. They are super-helpful and you might be able to send them your pet’s photo that way, as well.

Finding the Best Gas Prices

Here are various ways to use technology to find your best price on gasoline:

Dedicated Gas Search Tools

GasBuddy may be the best-known fuel-savings company, and boy howdy have they added lots of options and gimmicks to their site. You can skip all the hoopla, and just use their search tool or app, if you like.

Gas Guru is another search tool, only available as an app. The Yellow Pages is behind this tool and you can download the Android app here and the iOS app here.

GetUpside is a modified search app, that also grants you gas rebates (money back!) at select stations. So if you’re willing to go where GetUpside recommends to fill up, you can get some cash credited back to you.

GPS & Mapping Services

Mapquest is surprisingly convenient for eyeballing gas prices. Use it to view any map, and use the Gas button in the upper-left corner. Gas stations and gas prices will jump up off the page!

The Waze app (Android, iOS) is very quick to use to see local gas prices. Tap the Where To? field, and then tap Gas Stations. You now have a list of all the gas prices local to you.

Other Websites

Autoblog offers a no-nonsense gas price search tool.

Geico Insurance has a handy and uncluttered page for searching out gas prices.


If you have any other amazing ways to suss out the best fuel prices, please leave a comment or shoot me an email with your suggestions, thank you!

JustWatch – The Streaming Guide

If you use various streaming services, JustWatch is a useful tool to consider. Search for any movie or show, and JustWatch will tell you where you might stream it. You can see all of your Rent and Buy options, as well as prices, and click through to any provider you want to patronize.

If you create a free account, then you may also create watchlists and receive recommendations, but I think it’s useful for streamers even without signing up.

Contactless Payments

You’ve probably seen people paying with their phones or watches, instead of using cards or cash. This type of payment is called a “contactless payment”. But despite the boring name, this is a great convenience and security upgrade that I think more people should try.

The Basics

To make a contactless payment, you generally need a smartphone that features NFC. (Smartwatches and tablets may also allow for this!) On your phone, you’ll need to choose and install your contactless payment app. You have 3 choices:

Once you’ve chosen and installed your app, you’ll need to add at least one of your payment card’s info. Many cards are accepted into these apps, but there are some exceptions. If you find your credit card isn’t compatible with contactless payment apps, you can use a different card or talk to the card issuer for other options.

With a card accepted into your Pay app, you are ready to use it at any stores offering contactless payments. Keep an eye out for the universal symbol on storefront doors, windows and payment terminals to know where contactless payments are accepted.

The Security Benefit

I understand that some folks dismiss contactless payments as just a convenience item. “I don’t mind taking a card out of my pocket to pay!” is a common remark. But these Contactless Payments apps protect your account information in a significant way.

When you enroll a payment card into one of these Pay apps, your account number is not stored on your phone. The app builds a secure relationship with your bank, and every time you wave your phone at a reader to make a payment, a unique account number is created for that purchase only. That one-time number makes the transaction go through, and then can never be used again.

The benefit to this is that your true card number is never out in the wild. Criminals have all kinds of tactics for learning your card information, so they can place fraudulent charges. Contactless payment apps defeat a lot of them:

  • If you use Android Pay at a compromised gas pump, the hidden credit card skimmer captures a useless number from you.
  • Let’s say you use Apple Pay at the grocery store, and their servers are hacked the following week. The criminals may get other people’s credit card information, but not yours.
  • If you’re on public Wi-Fi and need to buy something over the internet, using Google Pay or Apple Pay (through your computer) would prevent your true card number from being seen in transmission.

It is true that bank cards in your wallet could still be skimmed and stolen, wirelessly. To help prevent that, I can recommend you also use a RFID-blocking wallet. You can find them as low as $20 on Amazon!

Some Cautions

If you use Contactless Payments, you’ll have to have a screen-lock on your phone. Because otherwise, someone could steal your phone and start buying things with it! As you set up a contactless payment app, it will check and tell you if your phone’s security needs to be improved.

Contactless Payments are not universally accepted (yet). Some stores may not accept them, because it requires newer card-reading equipment, or because it would increase their card-processing fees. But over time, this technology should become more and more widely adopted. Just keep an eye out for the payment symbols:

Costco’s 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

Costco is such a nice company. If you’re a member, you’re probably already familiar with how generous their return policy is. You can bring back almost anything (exceptions listed here) for a refund. They will satisfy almost any reasonable request.

When it comes to big-ticket items, like computers and TVs, you do have to get special permission before returning the item. But I was surprised recently to learn that printers sold at Costco are covered by their 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. So nota bene: if your printer fails you or disappoints you, even after many years of service and expiration of warranty, you may still return it to Costco for your money back! Just carry it in to their Returns counter and ask them to make it right.

This policy likely applies to other technology items (routers, cameras, external hard drives) sold through Costco. So keep good records on everything you buy from Costco, and ask them about a return anytime a technology item fails you. Most of the time, Costco is going to serve you well and save you money!

Why Is My New Computer So Slow?

When you buy a new computer, you probably expect it to be fast! Or at least, faster than the previous computer…. But that’s not always the case. Some new computers disappoint with sluggish performance as they are first turned on. Here are some common causes and solutions for this:

Windows Updates

Microsoft is always updating Windows with improvements and security patches. Some updates are small & light, while others are bulky and take a lot of time and bandwidth to download and install. In most cases, your new computer will begin work on these updates, silently & automatically, as soon as it detects an internet connection.

But how long was your computer sitting on the shelf at the store? A couple of months? Longer? This may mean that your new laptop is now working hard to catch up on dozens of updates, missed during its time in the stockroom. This can bog down even the best of computers, and the problem can be further exacerbated if your internet is slow.

The best solution here is patience. Click Start, go to Settings, and then go to Update & Security (for Windows 10) or Windows Update (Windows 11). Your PC may already be updating, and you can leave this screen open as you wait for them to finish. If Windows is not updating, use any buttons you see here to “Check For Updates” or “Download & Install Updates”.

These updates might take a long time to process, so feel free to leave the computer on and running overnight, and check back in the morning.

Always Restart after any updates appear to finish, and then return to this same Settings area, in case there are more Updates coming. Eventually you will visit this panel and find that there are No New Updates. Then, re-judge your computer’s speed, and you may find it’s ready to do a better job for you.

Shovelware

Every manufacturer shovels on a bunch of unnecessary software before they ship their computers off to the stores. Some of it is just there for marketing purposes. Other shovelware has good intentions (speed up your connection, clean up your hard drive) but it usually turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth. And of course, there’s always a trial antivirus software in there, asking for money and dragging things down even further.

The first solution here is to remove the 3rd party antivirus. Whatever it is, I do not recommend you use it! Home-use computers are protected just as well using the free Microsoft Defender Antivirus as they are with any commercial product. So I recommend you uninstall Norton or McAfee or whatever protection software is present, and then reboot your system. Afterwards, use the white or blue shield icon near the time & date to check that the Virus & Threat Protection is turned on and has a green checkmark.

The follow-up solution is to eliminate the burden of the other shovelware. That differs from one computer to the next, and would be hard to detail in a single blog post. But there is a handy tool that can disable most shovelware, no matter what brand of computer you’ve bought: ADWCleaner. This free download is meant to remove malware after a quick scan, but after that, it will also identify unnecessary apps and neutralize them. I recommend running this tool and disabling everything it targets as unnecessary.

Traptops

I’ve written about ultra-cheap, underpowered laptops before, and how they are essentially traps that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. These “traptops” are deceptively marketed as fantastic deals, but are anything but. Hallmarks of these disappointing Windows computers may include:

  • Price is around $200
  • Storage is listed as 32GB or 64GB
  • RAM is 2GB or 4GB
  • Processor is an AMD Dual-Core or an Intel Silver/Gold/Celeron/Atom

Unfortunately, if you buy one of these types of computers, there may be no solution for its lack of speed. This class of computer is non-upgradeable with its RAM and its storage drive. And the processor is often deliberately throttled to a slower speed, so that it won’t overheat and harm the motherboard. This allows the manufacturer to design and build the computer with fewer (or no) cooling fans.

TL;DR: If you ask me for help with such a computer, we’ll start by determining if you can possibly return the computer ASAP.

The Mystery Shopper Scam

If you receive a letter hiring you to be a “secret shopper” at a big-name store, please understand it is almost certainly a scam. The letter may be extremely detailed, and it may be accompanied by a cashable bank check. But both are illegitimate and you stand to lose a lot of money if you participate. Here’s how this scam works:

The Setup & Instructions

The victim responds to a Facebook post or unexpected text, expressing interest in a money-making opportunity. The scammer sends over this kind of letter, along with a check for a large amount of money:

In short, the letter claims that the job is to pose as a secret shopper. The purported work involves entering Walmart stores and buying $2000 worth of gift cards, while casually taking notes on the store and customer service. The check amount exceeds the value of the gift cards, and the “shopper” is instructed to “keep the remaining money” as their pay.

The victim deposits the check into their bank account and immediately gets to work: Visiting stores, taking notes, buying gift cards. They return home, write out details on the shopping trips, and transmit all of the numbers from the backs of the gift cards to the “boss.”

It all seems like quick and easy work, and the average person will look at the math, and feel like they can make $470 in a heartbeat. But it takes a while for the other shoe to drop…

The Cunning Defense

Many scams use gift card purchases to rob people of their money, everyday, and the big-name stores know all about it. As a result, Walmart trains their employees to watch for questionable gift card purchases. Cashiers are told to gently inquire with any shoppers buying large quantities of gift cards. They truly want to stop this crime and protect their shoppers from losing money. Store workers are ready to explain the scams and save people from themselves.

But the “story” presented in this mystery-shopper-letter grooms the victim to be discreet and not respond to such questioning. If the mystery shopper “blows their cover”, then they will “fail in their mission”. This preps the victim to resist any in-store conversations that might help them spot the scam.

The Payoff & Switcheroo

So the victim has deposited the check, visited stores, purchased gift cards, and sent the info to the person running the show. Everything seems finished and quiet. How does the other shoe drop?

1-5 days later, the victim’s bank will contact them. The bank will inform them that the check they deposited for $2470 was fraudulent or illegitimate. The amount of the check has been reversed and removed from the victim’s account.

It may seem confusing, because right after the deposit, the money appears on the victim’s ledger and is viewable as “available funds” through the bank website or app. But that is not a promise or guarantee of any kind. It can take almost a week for the bank to verify the check and finalize the entire transaction. When a fraudulent deposit is caught and reversed, the person who deposited the check is held liable for the amount.

After the bank explains this to the victim, the scam truly reveals itself: A fake check & letter convinced the person to spend their own money on gift cards, and send them over to a stranger. The scammer emptied the gift cards and now has $2000 in untraceable, nonrefundable money, and the victim has lost $2000 from whatever account they used to buy the gift cards. Or more, if the bank assessed any fees for the bad check!

What To Do

If you’ve encountered this scam, you can report it. The FTC and your state’s OAG would like to hear from you!

If you’ve fallen victim to this type of scam, you may contact your local authorities. But please understand that they probably cannot help reverse gift card or wire transfers, and your money is likely gone.

If you really really want to find legitimate mystery shopper employment, that is possible. But never from a Facebook post or random text. Consider reaching out to the official Mystery Shopping Professionals Association, if you think this is a good career path for you.

Your Local Gift Economy

Freecycle was started some 18 years ago as a way of networking, in order to give things away. No sales or deals permitted, this was a tool for people to give things away with no fees or strings attached. And Freecycle is still around today, with groups spread all over for people to find & use.

But your local gift economy has changed and matured over the years, and there are other ways now to give things away! If the Craigslist-like format of Freecycle doesn’t suit you, check out the Buy Nothing Project.

Buy Nothing is similar to Freecycle, in that you can give away any items or service you want, as long as it is 100% free. You may also post requests for something you want to find, for free. But instead of mailing lists & messageboards, Buy Nothing runs on Facebook. All you have to do is find your region’s Buy Nothing Facebook Group and Join it.

You can go about that two different ways: 1) Go to the Buy Nothing page and look through the lists for what’s closest to you, or 2) go to Facebook and use the search field to hunt for “Buy Nothing”. Once you’ve joined your local BN Group, you’ll be able to see and make posts in your area’s Buy Nothing community.

Check out the Buy Nothing FAQ for lots more details!

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