With a new iPhone app, users can look over all their credit card charges and easily take care of suspicious activity. With a new iPhone app, users can look over all their credit card charges and easily take care of suspicious activity. With a new iPhone app, users can look over all their credit card charges and easily take care of suspicious activity. (Photo: BillGuard)

Crowdsourced app helps users identify odd charges on credit cards

Hidden fees and suspicious activity become a thing of the past with BillGuard.

It's something we do so often throughout the day, that we rarely even give it much attention: using our credit card. Whether we're swiping it at Starbucks or just paying a bill online, our cards have become an extension of ourselves.

So it's surprising to find out that despite our constant connection to them, companies are still able to sneak in hidden fees as well as overcharges without us realizing it. Financial experts estimate that we spend an average of $356 a year in extra charges and hidden fees.

But what if it was possible to get an alert anytime someone flags a suspicious charge on their bill that also appears on yours?

Enter BillGuard. The app, developed in Israel, bills itself as being "people powered" – joining a growing trend of apps like Waze, Nexar and Moovit that use crowdsourcing for intel to help users.

Here's how it works: Simply install the app on your smartphone. The system makes it easy to flag odd charges on your bill, analyzes millions of bank transactions around the country, and tracks social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as complaints on the Better Business Bureau website to see if others are noticing similar charges on their own bill. The more people use the system, the more knowledgeable the crowd becomes.

BillGuard, with offices in Tel Aviv and New York, was named one of the best Google Android apps of 2014 and is also available for iPhone users as well.

"Our mom told us that when we were growing up: You need to check your bills, but most of us simply don't," says Yaron Samid, the founder and CEO of BillGuard. Indeed, according to BillGuard, only one in 10 of us regularly scans our monthly bills in search of suspicious activity.

Samid said hackers rely on this complacency of most consumers. “Attackers who want to sell the cards will run micro charges, definitely less than $10, on tens of thousands of cards,” Samid told Forbes. Since launching the app, “we have found more than $600,000 in fraud just by checking card activity with BillGuard.”

The BillGuard Apple Watch app. The BillGuard app, now available on Apple Watch.

If you notice an unfamiliar charge on your bill, simply swipe the charge, and a "card concierge" will contact a merchant to inquire about or dispute a charge. Another feature, called "lost wallet restoration," will help you cancel and replace your credit cards and other sensitive items as quickly as possible.

Samid founded the company in August 2010 with fellow Israeli Raphael Ouzan, who knows a thing or two about the mind of a hacker: Ouzan says he's been hacking since he was 13 years old.

Depending on the plan you want, BillGuard's services range from being free for its most basic option to $6.99 a month for its "BillGuard Ultimate" plan. There's even an Apple Watch version of the app in development.

In addition to helping you weed out hidden charges on your credit card, BIllGuard dives deeper: The app will alert you if your personal details, such as your social security number, are being sold on the black market. The app can also notify you immediately if you shopped at a business during a period when that business was hacked – something that would come in handy after recent security breaches at stores like Target and Home Depot. According to statistics, more than 100 million Americans were victimized by data breaches over the last year. That's nearly half the adult population.

"Tracking mobile devices' locations can serve as a very powerful tool to catch fraud at the point of sale," says Al Pascual, the director of fraud and security for California-based Javelin Strategy & Research. "This is a positive development for the financial services industry and a nice sign of where we are. We are on the cusp of real consumer empowerment through the mobile device."

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