Amazon.com Offers Gift Card Mall

Third-party gift card provider Blackhawk Network
announced its “Gift Card Mall” is now available on Amazon.com.
Gift cards for over 50 retailers — including popular brands such as
Applebee’s, Justice Brands, Regal Entertainment Group Theatres, Sephora,
Subway Restaurants and The Home Depot — are currently available on
Amazon.com/giftcardmall. Gift Card Mall will offer free standard shipping
throughout the month of December for gift cards purchased on Amazon.com.
CA-based Blackhawk Network develops unique products in easy-to-use
formats and delivers them to consumers through an exclusive retail
network of leading grocery, mass, convenience, drug and specialty
retailers. The network reaches more than 165 million consumers each
week. Blackhawk Network is a subsidiary of Safeway Inc.

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Long Recession Impacts Holiday Card Debt

The recession has had a significant impact on consumer behavior and attitudes surrounding holiday credit card debt, with 55% inspired to make a more proactive effort to avoid incurring any or more credit card debt. This has influenced changes in consumer behavior toward holiday credit card debt with 21% expecting to have credit card debt after January 2010 from the 2009 holiday season, a 5% decrease from the year ago period. This, according to LowerMyBills.com survey, a part of Experian, conducted between Nov. 11 and Dec. 8, also shows 24% of the consumers planning to carry holiday credit card debt after January 2010 are planning to pay it off in one to two months, compared to only 18% Y/Y. Additionally, 69% of those becoming more proactive to reducing credit card debt cited higher credit card interest rates as a reason for their proactivity while 38% included the proliferation of information about the impact of carrying credit card debt and 37% cited the potential damage to their credit score.

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SECU and Visa Partner for PCs

North Carolina’s SECU has given 54 laptops to the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy
for at-risk youth. The laptops which will be used to enhance instruction at the
institution, feature links to financial literacy programs, including
SECU’s teen website and the National Endowment for Financial Education’s
NEFE website, as well as Visa’s program, Practical Money Skills for Life
(www.practicalmoneyskills.com). The ribbon cutting ceremony for the
Academy’s computer lab was held on December 7th and attended by North
Carolina Adjutant General William E. Ingram, Jr., numerous Academy
officials and staff, Academy cadets, Shirley Bell – SECU’s Board of
Directors immediate past chair, SECU volunteer Advisory Board member Dr.
Al Wentzy and various Credit Union staff members.
SECU serves over 1.5 million members.

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Six New Trends in ID Theft Emerge

A new report finds six new trends. The Identity Theft Assistance Center found an emerging breed of cyber bank robber; fewer silos and more collaboration on cyber security; expanded use of identity management solutions to address identity theft, data breaches, and cyber crime; a bumpy start for “Red Flag” rules; stiffer sentences for identity theft; and possible federal regulation of breaches of consumer data. ITAC’s victim assistance service – which has helped more than 60,000 consumers recover from identity theft.

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Consumer Spending Continues to Build Slowly

Consumers have increased their retail spending 24% in November and the outlook for planned purchasing in December is strong. The Past 30-Day Retail Index for November is now 11.2 while over the next 30 days it is projected to increase 36%. Consumer sentiment, however, remains low and relatively steady over the past three months at 41.8 in December, down slightly from 42.2 in November. This, according to the “Consumer Reports Index Dec ’09” report, also shows the low but stable consumer sentiment numbers are tied to the Consumer Reports “Trouble Tracker Index,” which has stalled at 62.0 and has been on the decline since September, thanks in part to the 37.2% of Americans reporting one or more financial difficulties up from 35.6% in November. These difficulties include 15.7% unable to afford medical bill or medications; 13.4% facing increased credit card interest rate, penalty fees, etc; 9.4% having missed payment on a major bills; 7.9% experiencing lost or reduced healthcare coverage; and 7.4% having lost their job.

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Consumer Financial Protection Agency Passes

The House of Representatives passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4173) financial regulatory reform at a 223-202 vote. With this, the bill establishes a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate current and future consumer financial products. Politicians supporting the bill do so in the hopes of restoring balanced regulation to the financial industry and help American families save and invest in their own futures with closing the for-profit private loan loophole. They are also hoping to put an end to abusive private loans issued by educational institution and to eventually close the controversial auto dealer loan loophole, which allows documented predatory practices to flourish in a market as large as credit cards.

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PROTIVA SG

Gemalto digital security has been recognized as “Innovator 2009” by the
IT security publication SC Magazine in the Multi-Factor Authentication
category for such authentication products as its “Protiva” Smart
Guardian (SG) smart card-based USB flash storage. Protected by
military-grade encryption and a PIN or passphrase for access, the
“Protiva” PIN-protected USB device combines smart card technology from
Gemalto with secure flash data storage. It is plug-and-play on both
Windows and Mac OS and comes with the built-in option to enable
always-on McAfee anti-malware and anti-virus software. Attempts to
tamper with the device are detectable and intrusion attempts will cause
the token to zero-out its contents.

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UniRush and TSYS Renew RushCard Visa

UniRush and TSYS have renewed their agreement to continue offering prepaid payment and processing
services for the prepaid “RushCard Visa” debit card. TSYS provides comprehensive core processing services for UniRush’s more
than 2 million RushCard holders. TSYS is an industry leader in
developing and processing customized solutions for the prepaid market,
supporting key program elements such as instant issue, account
roll-over, eligibility verification, web solutions and real-time loading
integration. UniRush LLC was created to offer the over
48 million Americans without access to a traditional banking
relationship an array of basic financial services via the Prepaid Visa
RushCard.

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RETAIL LOYALTY

Fourteen representatives from the UK and Europe’s leading banking,
payments, loyalty agencies and consultancies have met to discuss loyalty
in retail financial services in the wake of the financial crisis with
operational cost cutting and greater efficiencies. Cards International
and Retail Banker International welcomed delegates to openly examine the
expanding range of loyalty schemes in retail financial services and
payments. Delegates were from such organizations as HSBC, Tesco,
Barclaycard, Visa, Nectar, PayPal, Egg, Deloitte, Neovia, TenUK,
Loylogic, Insight Consulting and The Mileage Company. They discussed
what effect the credit crunch is having on the industry and what
strategies will be in place in 2010.

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NRF Sees Uptick in Holiday Sales

The National Retail Federation reports that retail industry sales rose 0.6% seasonally adjusted from
October and dipped 0.8% year-over-year, in line with its forecast of a 1% decline in holiday sales. Most categories saw month-to-month gains, demonstrating that shoppers
were gearing up for the holiday season. Sales at electronics and
appliance stores increased 2.8% seasonally adjusted from the
previous month while decreasing 2.9% (seasonally unadjusted)
year-over-year. Sporting goods, book, hobby and music stores also saw a
slight month-to-month increase of 0.3%, though year-over-year
sales dropped 1.3%. General merchandise stores and drug stores, which have been bright spots
in retail, continued to shine in November. General merchandise stores
saw positive gains of 0.8% seasonally adjusted from October and
increased 1.2% unadjusted from November 2008. Health and personal
care store sales rose 0.3% unadjusted month-to-month and jumped
4.5% year-over-year. NRF defines the holiday season as retail industry sales in November
and December.

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OCT VOL

Growth in debit card volume continued to soar in October, soaring to an annual rate of about 31%, as “Gross Rupee Volume” (GRV) hit 25.7 billion rupees. Meanwhile, credit card GRV is declining at an annual rate of 12%, dipping in October to 56.6 billion rupees. After peaking at 64.4 billion rupees in October 2008, credit card GRV growth has been declining each month, in tandem with the global recession. Debit card GRV previously peaked in October at 19.6 billion rupees, but has rebounded to a record 23.3 billion rupees in August. According to the Reserve Bank of India, the number of credit card transactions rose slightly to 20.4 billion as the number of debit card transactions rose to 14.4 billion in October. At the end of October there were 21.1 million credit cards and 144.2 million debit cards in circulation.

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Mintel Reports Consumers Still Focused on Building Savings

A new survey released by Mintel Comperemedia reports that consumers will continue saving money at an elevated rate. In August 2009, nine in 10 adults (86%) told Mintel they plan to be more conservative with their money in the future. Another 75% agreed they’d be more cautious about borrowing money from now on. Mintel analyst Susan Menke points out that this is the first major recession experienced by adults under age 45, giving them real-life experience of the anxiety produced by economic uncertainty. When Mintel asked survey respondents about investing money, 57% of 18-24 year olds said they wanted to learn more, compared to 49% of all age groups.
Another reason Mintel Comperemedia believes frugal ways will stick—at least through 2010—is that the 24/7 news about this recession made it feel “real” to Americans of all ages. Nearly 60% of adults told Mintel that constant media coverage had contributed to their feelings of stress during the recession. In April 2009, only 17% of adults said the economic situation hadn’t impacted their spending.

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