Amazon Continues Stealing Gift Cards

On the forums of consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott, another customer, Louis Morgan, has been victimized by Amazon, to the tune of $400:

Amazon Stealing $400+ of Customer Money Again! (Beware of Amazon!)

My take on it: Amazon is brazen. As the U.S. federal government and Florida state government are scaling back their civil asset forfeiture programs due to overwhelming negative publicity, Amazon continues the similar practice of stealing gift card balances, despite having no legal ground to stand on.

Below, is my reply to Morgan’s case, and a reasoned argument that Amazon gift cards should be completely avoided.

The replies Morgan received from Amazon reveal more of Amazon’s hubris, particularly this statement:

Regarding your gift card funds —

We closed your account because you reported an unusual number of problems with your orders. As a result, your unused gift card balance is no longer available.

Let that sink in. Imagine if a bank closed your account and said your bank account balance was no longer available because you were a problem customer. What we are looking at is a different situation, yet it shares similarities. Gift cards have more legal protections than airline miles, which typically have none. Yet, Amazon feels confident in flouting the law and enhancing their bottom line through theft of gift card balances and Amazon Seller account balances.

The recurring theme among Elliott commentators is that we cannot judge Amazon having heard only the customer’s side of the story. Surely, Amazon’s actions are legitimate and Morgan is omitting nefarious activity. However, Amazon is the judge, jury, and executioner. They hold the cards and when they ban you, they cut access to your account history and information while retaining it for themselves. Further, Amazon often declines to articulate its position even to the injured party.

When we read Amazon or Yelp reviews, do we care about the position of the manufacturer, distributor, or business owner? No—typically we look for a concordance of evidence from multiple reviewers (while perhaps using tools like www.fakespot.com). The evidence that Amazon is systematically stealing gift card balances, and that this practice has been going on since 2008, is approaching consilience.

How many stories go untold from customers who were actually doing shady things such as trading Amazon gift cards for BitCoin? As a government practice, the tide is turning against civil asset forfeiture—the U.S. federal government has suspended its equitable-sharing program and in Florida, effective 7/01/2016, Brandes’ bill (SB 1534) takes effect, massively reforming Florida’s civil asset forfeiture practices.

What Amazon does is reminiscent of civil asset forfeiture. In theory, one could apply one bad gift card to their account—perhaps received as a birthday gift or from a web donation—and end up forfeiting their entire gift card balance. Amazon encourages maintaining large gift card balances through offers such as their current “Buy $100, get $5” offer, obviously because resting gift card balances help maximize their free cash flow. Thus, they may be complicit.

Essentially, the takeaway for Elliott.org commentators and others is that the counterparty risk for resting Amazon gift card balances is alarmingly high. Since Amazon gift cards are typically acquired at close to 100% of face value, their counterparty risk needs to be very close to zero for them to be a good medium of exchange in countries with reliable banking systems such as the United States. Since banks typically pay no interest, it would be unwise to keep your money in a bank that had even 0.01% risk of balance forfeiture. Americans do not typically have to worry about bank defaults thanks to FDIC insurance. There is no similar insurance for your Amazon gift card funds. Therefore, Amazon gift cards should be avoided by gift-givers and for online trades. Recipients of Amazon gift cards should warn the sender about Amazon and should redeem their gift cards quickly to reduce risk of forfeiture.

Amazon Jolly Roger

The Components of Credit Scores [PowerPoint]

Presentation Summary: Learners will be informed of the components that make up their FICO credit scores and the factors that contribute to these components. Learners will come away with actionable steps they can take to improve their credit scores.

Download in Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 format (523 KB)
Download in PDF format (166 KB)

Created by Richard Thripp and presented on 4/27/2016 at Port Orange Toastmasters to fulfill Project 1: The Technical Briefing from the Technical Presentations manual in the Toastmasters Advanced Communication Series.

The word belvedere was incorporated into slide 16 because it was the Word of the Day selected by the WordMaster at the 4/27/2016 meeting of Port Orange Toastmasters.

Tags: financial literacy, credit scores, fico, credit cards, personal finance, money management, credit bureaus, toastmasters

Introduction to the Mindset Model [PowerPoint]

A presentation explaining fixed and growth mindsets including applications and implications.

Download in Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 format (1.3 MB)
Download in PDF format (1.1 MB)

Created by Richard Thripp and presented on 2/24/2016 at Port Orange Toastmasters to fulfill Project 3: The Nontechnical Audience from the Technical Presentations manual in the Toastmasters Advanced Communication Series.

References

Burnette, J. L., O’Boyle, E. H., VanEpps, E. M., Pollack, J. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Mindsets matter: A meta-analytic review of implicit theories and self-regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 655–701. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0029531

Dweck, C. S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41, 1040–1048. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.41.10.1040

Gunderson, E. A., Gripshover, S. J., Romero, C., Dweck, C. S., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine, S. C. (2013). Parent praise to 1- to 3-year-olds predicts children’s motivational frameworks 5 years later. Child Development, 84, 1526–1541. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12064

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33–52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.33

Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 26, 784–793. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797615571017

Rattan, A., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). “It’s ok — Not everyone can be good at math”: Instructors with an entity theory comfort (and demotivate) students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 731–737. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.012

Tags: carol dweck, fixed-ability, growth, implicit theories of intelligence, mindsets, toastmasters

Introducing the “Blame Yourself” Movement

Satire.

Are you tired of people not taking personal responsibility for their lives? Do excuses make you say “puh-leeze”? If so, the time has come for you to introduce your colleagues to the “Blame Yourself” movement.

“Blame Yourself” is a movement that solves many of the so-called “problems” and “injustices” of the world. Individuals can use self-blame as a tool to take 100% responsibility for everything that happens in their lives. While the “law” of attraction says that what happens in your life is dependent on the “vibes” you give off to the “universe,” “Blame Yourself” is much simpler. Whatever happens to or around you is your fault. No need to worry about what you are “attracting.”

“Blame Yourself” does not mean you are responsible for other people’s problems. In fact, you are welcome to encourage them to blame themselves. This means that if you allegedly offend someone else, they should blame themselves for feeling offended. While this new system may be rocky at first, once we can get everyone 100% on-board with self-blame, human life will be much simpler and more productive.

“Blame Yourself” can even be applied to problems which have been historically thought of as collective social injustices that affected individuals have no control over. This is great, because it means we can remove the burden of responsibility from social, cultural, economic, and governmental structures and strictures. Now, we just blame alleged “victims” for their problems. This completely removes the need to pursue social justice. In fact, it’s an example of social Darwinism in action, because people will either survive or perish from the pressure of self-blame.

“Blame Yourself” completely eliminates the need for insurance. In fact, it would be paradoxical for insurance companies to exist once self-blame is fully implemented. If something bad happens to your house, car, or body, then you can just blame yourself for not being better prepared or for not avoiding that situation.

One of the potential problems with “Blame Yourself” is that people may commit criminal acts with abandon. Fortunately, the “victims” of these acts can choose to blame themselves for allowing themselves to be targets. Therefore, they may be better prepared next time, such as by obtaining a concealed weapons permit. If a subsequent attacker gets the drop on them, they can just blame themselves for not being more alert.

“Blame Yourself” has already been implemented by the U.S. military. When civilians are injured or killed, they are encouraged to blame themselves. They knew what they were getting into when they went to church or school in a warzone. Collateral damage is always the responsibility of the victims. The simply failed to make wiser choices. This is a smart model, because it absolves warfighters from debilitating emotions such as anger and remorse. This allows them to maintain optimal productivity.

“Blame Yourself” could instantly eliminate the U.S. national deficit. In fact, it eliminates the need for all services entirely. Schools and power plants do not need to function, because if any child or adult lacks for education or electrical power, they can just Blame Themselves™. While this would produce anarchy in our present society, assuming we get everyone on board with self-blame, such a society would be close to paradise.

The one big problem with the “Blame Yourself” movement is that it requires 100% cooperation from the entire population. This would be very difficult to implement, because people tend to not want to Blame Themselves™ unless everyone else is doing it. However, a deeper analyses reveals that this is actually a strength, because it is 100% impossible to disprove that “Blame Yourself” would not work, because such a system could never be implemented. Therefore, “Blame Yourself” is in good company. According to Wikipedia, an authoritative source, 85% of the human population believes in a religion. These religions, like “Blame Yourself,” are based on faith, because they are 100% incapable of being disproved. Therefore, if it’s possible to get 85% of the human population to believe in something that shares this essential characteristic of “Blame Yourself,” then we could surely implement “Blame Yourself” by subtly changing their religions over time.

Thus, it stands to reason that the 15% of people who refuse to subscribe to “Blame Yourself” would be Supermen™ and Superwomen™ in a class unto themselves. Their responsibility would be implementing and ensuring compliance among the proletarians. These 15% would not really need “Blame Yourself,” yet they may find themselves strangely envious of the self-blaming masses…

Designing an Online Financial Literacy Course: Companion Paper for Introduction to American Personal Financial Literacy

The following paper was completed on 2016-04-12 for my online course which is not yet complete, and will probably be finished in June 2016. Please download the PDF version or Microsoft Word 2013 version to read this paper with proper formatting. To view the current course draft, including over two hours of video, please visit www.udemy.com/fin-lit-intro or thripp.org/fin-lit-intro.

*****

*****

Designing an Online Financial Literacy Course:

Companion Paper for Introduction to American Personal Financial Literacy

Richard Thripp

University of Central Florida

April 12, 2016

*****

*****

Abstract

How can we increase financial literacy and encourage beneficial behavioral change, such as responsible spending and avoiding high-interest debt? This companion paper to the online course on Udemy.com, Introduction to American Personal Financial Literacy, reviews the recent literature on American financial literacy and explores how to make an online course motivating and enjoyable. Important issues are covered, such as the effectiveness of existing interventions and workshops, the financial state of the general public and specific at-risk groups, and how the present course implements efficacious frameworks including cognitive load theory, achievement goal theory, expectancy–value theory, and the mindset model. Overall, the focus is on creating a survey course for adult learners that subsumes the Jump$tart Coalition’s National Standards in K–12 Personal Finance Education, while providing targeted strategies to address common financial problems.

            Keywords: financial literacy, online courses, pedagogy, course design, e-learning, personal finance, money management, Udemy, instructional design

*****

*****

Designing an Online Financial Literacy Course:

Companion Paper for Introduction to American Personal Financial Literacy

            This paper serves a dual purpose: first, it provides a framework to educate the learner on a wide range of basic financial issues, based on peer-reviewed financial literature and motivational principles. Second, it explains the rationales and methodologies regarding instructional design, instructional devices, and topic selection for the present course.

Themes and Issues

Financial Literacy Education Issues

            Teacher preparedness. Typically, teachers feel unprepared to teach financial literacy skills, even though they recognize how important these skills are to K–12 students (Way & Holden, 2009). They frequently lack content knowledge regarding more advanced topics such as investing and risk management, and two-thirds of teachers report being unfamiliar with financial education standards put forth by the Jump$tart Coalition or their state (Way & Holden, 2009). This lack of preparation may result in low feelings of self-efficacy for teaching the requisite skills, reducing motivation to make such attempts (Pajares, 1996). In fact, less than one-third of K–12 teachers in Way and Holden’s (2009) survey reported teaching financial topics at all.

            These issues are particularly salient for K–8 teachers, who are less pedagogically prepared than high school teachers at teaching financial concepts. Lucey and Maxwell (2011) identify both teacher education and curriculum development as being deficient areas—textbooks often encourage developmentally inappropriate practices such as teaching decimalized dollar amounts to K–2 students, and exercises often “tack on” dollar figures to math problems without any financial literacy context.

            Adults lack basic knowledge. The lack of K–12 financial literacy education is a potential reason for American adults’ surprising lack of financial knowledge, which leads to predatory exploitation by payday lenders, rent-to-own stores, and used car dealerships (Karger, 2015). However, mandating one-shot financial literacy classes in high school does not appear to improve financial literacy (Roszkowski, Glatzer, & Lombardo, 2015). While integrating financial education throughout the K–12 curriculum (as suggested by Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, 2015) would be ideal, the current generation of adults remains under-educated. This may be remedied through education that demonstrates value (e.g., education provided at teachable moments) and meets adult learners at their current levels of development (e.g., Gredler, 1992). Continue reading Designing an Online Financial Literacy Course: Companion Paper for Introduction to American Personal Financial Literacy

Writing on education, psychology, and philosophy