BillGuard: Epic Anti-Virus for Credit Cards

Cross-checking credit card statements with your receipts is like checking a lottery ticket: you feel like you should do it, but it rarely bears fruit in the end. I can’t recall a single time I’ve ever been able to find a fraudulent transaction on any of my credit card statements. Likewise, I’ve never won the lottery.

And yet, you can bet your last dollar that once the end of the month rolls around I’ll be hunched over my desk, brow furrowed, crosschecking crumpled receipts with crisp bank statements, almost daring some fraudster to have scammed me. I’m already plotting my revenge in anticipation.

BillGuard, a startup having just recieved their second round of funding, aims to stop the loose-cannon cop in all of us by doing the legwork. Think anti-virus for your credit card – only bigger.

BillGuard: Antivirus for your money

In theory, BillGuard works like a big neighbourhood watch scheme for credit cards, where participation in flagging suspicious charges adds to the ‘intelligence’ of the appliocation and alerts others. A good idea on paper, but how does it stack up in the real world?

Some bad news at the first hurdle I’m afraid. Well, bad news depending on where you call home. Unfortunately BillGuard is only operating in the US. There’s probably technical reasons for this held together by miles of red tape, as is the way with any app to do with banking or finance. We soldier on.

A quick call to a relative in the US and I was set up with their Visa, ready to catch some scammers.

How Does it Work?

I’m glad you asked. Within a minute or two of completing the fairly straight forward sign-up procedure and logging in, your recent transactions are analysed and any suspicious activity is brought to your attention. This is where BillGuard has got it right. I find that with many apps in the ‘financial’ area tend to be dull, tedious and above all else, complex. BillGuard is simple and uses a basic, three-stage rating system for each transaction: OK; Unsure and Flagged.

The way in which BillGuard works is even better. Instead of some ‘official’ database of fraudulent transaction similar to databases used to scan for viruses on your computer with many of the main anti-virus packages, BillGuard uses community provided information to run through your credit card and bank charges.

When a few users flag suspicious charges on their cards you’ll be alerted to similar charges on your own. Similarly, if you flag unapproved charges on your cards your fellow community members with similar charges will receive a warning.

A Quick Summary Report

A Quick Summary Report

Upon logging in you’ll be greeted with a simple summary report letting you know if all is well. If not, you can proceed to check out each transaction individually.

In theory this all sounds great, right? But what if it’s just a small fledgling community? Even the most meagre of databases could trump that. Well, it’s not. Over the past few months BillGuard has grown a lot and now there’s thousands of user all over the US contributing to the real-time information that constantly check our cards for indescrepencies.

BillGuard also scan social networking sites such as Twitter to listen out for complaints about merchants ripping people off, adding more valuable information to “the brain that scans your card activity 24/7”.

BillGuard isn’t just for the stereotypical credit card scammer operating from behind several proxies in his mom’s basement. It also keeps an eye on that coffee place on the corner that’s reluctant to hand you back your card receipt. Believe it or not, many established brick and mortar companies often throw in extra hidden ‘service charges’ onto your bill without telling you. The same is true for websites that charge reoccurring fees and unauthorised ‘upsells’ to your account. And that public WiFi you had to pay a dollar to connect to? You better believe BillGuard is all over that.

Other Functions

Flagged Transactions and Reports

Flagged Transactions and Reports

Of all the additional functions of BillGuard, the ability to scrutinize each individual transaction is my favourite. On our bank statements, transactions normally appear as a series of coded numbers and words such as “4776VerizonBill22/7/11RE-MONTHLY”. Or Something. With BillGuard they’re all displayed in plain English as you can see in the screenshot above. This, for me anyways, was actually a much bigger problem than the threat of credit card fraud. Hey, at times I’ve felt like a top class code hacker for deciphering my monthly statements.

Clicking on a transaction displays more information such as merchant location and information, details of the transaction and feedback from other users about that merchant. This makes it much easier to recall transactions when you lose reciepts. It also alerts you to transactions outside of any area you might have been. For example, ‘Starbucks449508CA’ appearing on a statement will likely make you think of the latté you had a few weeks ago. But that charge might be for some other dude’s latté in a completely different city, that’s scammed his way into your account. Replace latté with 42 inch HDTV and you’ve got a serious financial hemorrhage!

BillGuards interface is spectacularly designed in so far as its simple. They understand that the chore of checking credit card statements is just that, a chore! I don’t want endless list of tools. I want an app to tell me when I’m being robbed blind and they’ve hit the nail on the head.  The whole site feels less like Internet banking and more like a fun game. There aren’t really many more features of BillGuard worth going into as it’s core principal is one of simplicity which shines through in the applications straighhtforward nature.

Final Verdict

In reality, BillGuard is either going to be a flop or a major success. This kind of ‘movement’ against fraudsters is the kind of thing that only a third-part company could do, as banks and credit card companies don’t like to work together. That said, without some form of backing from the financial word, I think BillGuard may struggle to get past the honeymoon stage.

This same model could be expanded to include services such as PayPal, online banking, and online customer accounts such as loyalty schemes. Hopefully BillGuard has plans for that in the future. On top of that, we can only wait and see if they’ll enter the international market.

BillGuard is growing in usage and with that comes a growth in effectiveness. For that reason I can only recommend that US users who value their personal privacy sign up and start contributing to what is a simple yet ingenius way of combating credit card fraud.


Summary

BillGuard is a giant community watch scheme for your credit cards. Every person watches out for fraudulent transactions an alerts the whole community. The applications aims to put a stop to fraud amongst scammers and merchents alike.

8