MONEY

5 Ways Scammers are Targeting Last-Minute Holiday Shoppers

The baddies perpetrating these crimes ought to get coal in their stockings. But if you're not careful, they might get your money instead.

In the final days before Christmas, holiday scams are haunting shoppers once again. As you finish buying the last of your presents, watch out for these Scrooge-like schemes:

1. Feast of the phishers

Email scams in particular have been making headlines this season. They even earned a spot on the Better Business Bureau’s list of holiday scams to avoid.

“Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer,” the BBB warns. “Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links to package tracking information.”

Also, be wary of any communications received from charities to which you’ve never given money.

To outwit these scammers, don’t open any emails from senders you don’t recognize, and definitely don’t click on any links or download any attachments in these messages.

And if you get an email from a particular retailer and you haven’t recently made a purchase (or signed up for the mailing list), assume that it’s a phishing attempt and don’t click through just in case.

2. $0 gift cards

Gift cards may seem like the perfect gift, but they can also be the perfect scam.

Sometimes, cards that are sold online from sites other than those of major retailers can turn out to contain little or no money.

But gift card scams abound in stores as well. Sophisticated criminals copy gift card information right off cards on the rack, wait for a shopper to activate the card and then swoop in and steal the funds.

For the safest possible purchase, buy gift cards directly from the source. And when buying in-store, remember to check that the scratch-off activation code on the back is untouched before purchase if the card was openly on display.

3. The doggie double-cross

You may be shopping for more than clothes and electronics this season. If you’re hoping to add a four-legged family member, you’ll need to be careful here as well.

In the so-called puppy scam, unknowing prospective pet owners locate a supposed breeder online and wire money for a dog they hope to adopt, but are ultimately left without a furry friend.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends avoiding such scams by adopting Christmas puppies from a shelter, animal rescue group or breeder to whom you’ve been referred by someone you trust.

4. Package pilfering

Ordering some of your gifts online?

The downside of convenience is that the pile of packages that arrives on your doorstep may be tempting to some unsavory sorts. Already people across the country—from Texas to New Jersey—have reported boxes being stolen.

To prevent becoming a victim of box burglars, you could require signature on delivery for anything you order for yourself and ask anyone you expect to be sending you things to do the same. You can ask the shipper to hold your goods at its local outpost, where you can then pick it up.

5. The wallet grab

Criminals may be getting savvier with their online schemes, but the traditional pickpocketing and smash-and-grab techniques still exist.

Crowded malls filled with frantic, distracted eleventh hour shoppers are a pickpocket’s dream come true.

So, as obvious as it may sound, make sure you take precautionary measures, such as holding your purse and/or wallet close to the front of your body, keeping all bags zipped and removing any purchases from plain sight in your car.

Courtney Jespersen writes for NerdWallet DealFinder, a website that helps shoppers find the best deals on popular products.

More from NerdWallet:

MONEY privacy

Security Flaws Let Hackers Listen in on Calls

German researchers say the network that allows cellphone carriers to direct calls to one another is full of security holes.

MONEY holiday shopping

11 Clever Stocking Stuffers They’ll Never Know Cost Almost Nothing

If you’ve ever struggled to get a good gift at the last minute and, like most Americans, ended up spending way too much as a consequence, do not fear. Here’s a list of $25-and-under presents that will impress with their (read: your) savvy—without putting a big dent in your wallet.

  • Citrus spritzer ($5)

    Citrus Spritzer
    Citrus Spritzer

    Whether the goal is keeping guacamole from browning, adding an even mist of lime juice to some (chili!) popcorn, or simply wowing guests, the Quirky Citrus Spritzer is pretty much the coolest gadget you can get someone for $5. Expert tip? Increase juice flow by rolling the fruit in question on a table for a minute before inserting the device—and spritzing to your heart’s content.

  • “Drinks are on me” coasters ($6)

    Set Of Four 'Drinks Are On Me' Coasters
    Set Of Four 'Drinks Are On Me' Coasters Karin Åkesson

    Get these charming furniture-protecting coasters from illustrator Karin Akesson for the pun enthusiasts in your life (or that friend who always picks the most literal responses in Cards Against Humanity). Or anyone, really: Who doesn’t love a good double entendre?

  • Clothespin clip-on reading light ($7)

    Clothespin Reading Light
    Clothespin Reading Light MoMA

    Like any unsung hero, this ordinary-looking clothespin doesn’t seem like much at first glance. But pin it to the corner of a book and it transforms into the (drumroll…) Clothespin Clip Light—casting extra light across text while holding pages in place. It’s a sweet stocking stuffer for bookworms and lovers of modern/contemporary art alike… and worst-case scenario, it can be used to hang laundry.

  • Tetris Jenga ($12)

    Jenga Tetris Game
    Jenga Tetris Game Hasbro

    If you thought Truth or Dare Jenga was bold, give Tetris Jenga a spin. This new take on the game has six different shapes that look like the ones you used to flip around on your Ti-84 instead of paying attention in math class. It’s a lot harder to pull a piece out, but destroying the tower is the whole point anyway, right?

  • Tablet “hands” prop ($16)

    TwoHands E-reader prop
    TwoHands E-reader prop Felix

    In the catalog of first-world problems, having to hold your iPad while you use it might be at the top of the list. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an issue people want solved, and luckily for us, TwoHands E-reader prop is here to help. TwoHands not only props up your tablet so you can read or watch movies hands-free, but its cute little hands will make you smile.

  • Folding cutting board ($16)

    Folding Cutting Board
    MoMA

    Unless you’ve got knife skills like a ninja (or Jamie Oliver), it’s hard to keep all those darn veggie bits on the chopping board and off of the floor. MoMA’s Folding Cutting Board solves that problem with bendable sides that transform into a little chute to help keep chopped food in check and transfer pieces from one place to another neatly. It’s the perfect gift for friends or family members with culinary inclinations but a low tolerance for clean-up.

  • Personalized “magic” mug ($17)

    Walgreen's Magic Mug
    Walgreen's Magic Mug Walgreen's

    This Collage Magic Mug from Walgreens lets you add text and up to 15 custom photos to a mug—with a fun extra twist: Those images appear only when the cup is filled with a hot beverage. Whether you lean more sentimental or silly, a personalized gift like this is likely to mean more than the typical holiday present. One playful idea? Photoshop images of you and other friends so it appears you’re “trapped” in the mug.

  • Smartphone gloves ($20)

    Agloves smartphone gloves
    Joe Coca

    Unless you live in a naturally perfect climate, you might be familiar with the winter misery of trying to type on your smartphone with the useless icicles you once called fingers, as freezing sleet and wind whips around you. Enter Agloves smartphone gloves. Yes, there are even cheaper versions out there, but deep discounts come at the expense of quality and touch-screen responsiveness. These sleek puppies give you the equivalent of BMW performance at Hyundai prices.

  • Foodie Survival Kit ($20)

    Restoration Hardware Foodie Survival Kit
    Restoration Hardware Foodie Survival Kit Restoration Hardware

    For foodies and flavor junkies who can’t tolerate a bland meal, this emergency Mobile Foodie Survival kit is a game-changer, especially while on the road (or camping). With 13 organic spices, your gift recipient can heat up a too-tame Tikka Masala or add herbal fragrance to a mopey pasta Alfredo. Plus, buying the kit supports a good cause: It’s assembled by disabled adults through non-profit Brooklyn Community Services.

  • 10-in-1 bartender tool ($22)

    Restoration Hardware Bar10DER
    Restoration Hardware

    We’re not going to say they’re the best part of December, but holiday cocktails are a delight, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. Hopefully those on your gift list understand the truth, because you won’t find a better gift than this Bar10der tool from Restoration Hardware. Whether one needs to muddle some rosemary, zest an orange, or strain ice, the 10 devices that pop out of this tool have got the cocktail game covered.

  • Dining Table Tennis ($24)

    Dining Table Tennis
    Dining Table Tennis Restoration Hardware

    Here’s a scenario: It’s day two of your family’s holiday celebration. Cookies have been eaten, presents opened, and Netflix queues depleted. Everyone’s trapped together and there’s nothing left to distract from food comas (and bickering relatives). Enter Dining Table Tennis, a kit with all you need to turn your dining room table into a ping pong battlefield. It burns more calories than Scrabble and gives your loved ones something fun to do—even after all the wine is gone.

MONEY Odd Spending

‘The Interview’ Poster Now Listed at $1,000 on eBay

141219_EM_Interview
Would you pay $1,000 for this poster? © Columbia Pictures—courtesy Everett Collection

After Sony cancelled the release of the controversial Seth Rogen movie The Interview, some collectors are thinking posters of the film are worth big bucks.

The Interview may make no money whatsoever at the box office, and it could wind up costing Sony Pictures over $100 million after the decision was made this week to cancel all screenings amid widespread threats to theaters. Still, the film—a comedy that depicts the assassination of North Korea leader Kim Jon Un, and which appears to be the impetus for North Korea’s involvement in a devastating hack of Sony, the production company behind it—could wind up earning some folks a pretty penny.

The Huffington Post noticed on Thursday that posters from the canceled movie had begun surfacing for sale on eBay, with asking prices in the neighborhood of $500. Pop culture experts forecast that these posters will be worth “$15, maybe $20″ in a year, when, presumably, all the hubbub about The Interview and the Sony hack are old news.

Still, this hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs from trying to milk the movie’s moment in the spotlight for quick and easy profits. At last check on Friday, there were around 500 results on eBay for “The Interview Poster.” Some sellers are asking $1,000 or more for vinyl 5′ x 8′ posters of the controversial film.

The highest price paid on eBay for one of the posters appears to be $787 for a 27″ x 40″ double-sided theatrical print that received 59 bids in an auction that ended on Thursday. The market appears to cooling off significantly, however. As of Friday morning, very few posters listed at eBay auction had been bid up beyond $250, and dozens of new listings had no bids whatsoever.

MONEY College

Here’s How the Government Thinks We Should Grade Colleges

Access, affordability, and outcomes are the three most important factors. But how will the government measure them?

The federal government Friday morning released what it’s calling a “framework” to rate America’s colleges on their performance in three areas: how many low-income and disadvantaged students they educate; how affordable they are; and how well their graduates do financially, in the job market, and in graduate school.

The U.S. Department of Education said it planned to issue the ratings “in time for the 2015 school year” — so, presumably, by August of 2015.

But researchers familiar with the government’s plans say that ambitious and idealistic plan will be stymied by an ugly reality: much of the information needed to rate the colleges on these factors doesn’t exist yet.

While describing the government’s plan as “thoughtful,” Terry Hartle, a spokesman for the nation’s largest association of colleges, the American Council on Education, said “It is not clear how they will get it done.” The problem, he and other researchers said, is that there is currently no easy way to mine the government’s data on citizens to find out, for example, which graduates of which colleges go on to graduate schools, how much graduates of each college earn, or how much alumni of each college are paying on their student loans.

In August of 2013, President Obama pledged to create ratings based on which colleges are “offering the best value so students” and giving taxpayers “a bigger bang for their buck.” He said he hoped the government would provide more financial aid to students at colleges that do the best job providing opportunities, educating students, and helping launch good careers.

In its announcement Friday, the Education Department asked for public comments on its plans to judge colleges by the following factors:

Access: The Education Department said it was thinking of judging colleges’ provision of opportunities to all by examining, for example, factors such as the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, which are grants awarded only to low-income students, and the percentage of students whose parents did not attend college. It was also considering looking at the family incomes of students at each college, and giving higher ratings to colleges with more students from the lowest income groups.

Affordability: The government is considering giving poor ratings to schools that provide so little financial aid that families end up having to pay much more than the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) after they fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid is generally in such short supply that 99% of colleges fail to provide enough grants or scholarships so that every student has to pay only their EFC. But currently, colleges are not required to reveal how many students they leave with financial aid “gaps” or how large those gaps are. Additionally, the ratings may ding colleges with high “net prices,” which is the price students (and their parents) pay after all grants are subtracted. The government said it may look at either the overall average net prices, or the average net prices paid by families divided into five income groups, such as those earning up to $30,000, or those earning more than $100,000.

Outcomes: While graduation rates are a commonly used metric for judging colleges, the Education Department proposes adding other gauges such as how many new graduates find jobs quickly, and how much money they earn over the long term. In theory, the Internal Revenue Services or the Social Security Administration might be able to provide the employment and earnings information for graduates of each school, but privacy concerns have stymied efforts to gather that data in the past. The Department says it may also consider what percentage of graduates are paying their loans off, and what percent go on to graduate school. For community colleges, the Department said it may consider what percentage of students transfer to four-year colleges.

To help families gauge the affordability and value of colleges, MONEY hired Mark Schneider, a former head of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, to develop college rankings based on quality, affordability, and outcomes, using the best data currently available, including, for example, a national survey of college graduates’ earnings by Payscale.com. Our rankings of the 665 top colleges in the country were released in the summer of 2014.

Read next: The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

MONEY Autos

Cuba’s Classic Cars May Be Available, But Are They Worth Anything?

Classic 1959 White Cadillac In Veradara, Cuba.
A classic 1959 White Cadillac In Veradara, Cuba. Education Images—UIG via Getty Images

Cuba is home to a trove of classic American cars, but the ingenuity that has kept them running may have ruined their value.

If there’s a product Cuba is famous for—other than cigars—it’s cars. After Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959, he imposed a new law that prevented anyone without government permission from importing foreign automobiles. That turned Cuba into a car museum in the making, sealing the island off from the automotive future.

For the past fifty-odd years, the streets of Havana have famously been filled with what have become classic cars. And now that President Barack Obama is encouraging Congress to remove a ban on Cuban imports, everything from Studebakers to mid-century Chevys could be available to U.S. buyers. The question for collectors is: Are they still worth anything?

“The problem is that, in general, the collectors know these cars have not really been maintained,” says Steve Linden, a vintage car appraiser. “They’ve been actually driven and used as daily cars.”

That’s an issue because a classic car is valued precisely for its classic components. Cubans have been unable to import new parts, so they’ve had to make repairs by creatively mixing and matching what’s available. A particular car might look like an original Dodge Coronet, but under the hood could be a frankenstein mix of pieces from other models. “The ability to keep these things running is what diminishes the value of the car because they’re not original,” Linden explains.

Some collectors might consider buying a car and restoring the original components, but that might not make sense either. A restoration, according to Linden, would cost somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000, depending on the car. Meanwhile, he estimates the same cars in good condition could be bought in America for somewhere between $15,000 and $70,000, with ’50s Chevys—ubiquitous in Cuba—on the low end, and Cadillac convertibles on the high end.

Jonathan Klinger, spokesman for Hagerty, a collector car insurance company, agrees the value of Cuba’s classic cars might be overblown. “I think some people have this vision of a treasure trove of lost cars, but some of the greatest cars from the days of the Cuban Grand Prix have already left through other countries,” said Klinger in a phone interview. “What’s left are a lot of 1950s American cars that have remained through the circumstances, and it took a tremendous amount of passion and ingenuity to keep them on the road.”

Donald Osborne, owner of Automotive Valuation Services, says there are rumors that exotic sports cars were abandoned as their owners fled Cuba, but nobody’s ever seen proof they exist. One of those cars, like a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, could sell for over $1 million. But the average Chevy? “Run-of-the-mill 1950s American cars make no sense as restoration projects,” declares Osborne.

But for both Osborne and Klinger, the value in these cars isn’t their classic nature, it’s in the story they tell. That story could lead some car connoisseurs to pay premium prices for a piece of history. “They’re not overly valuable, but they’re extremely significant,” says Klinger. “Line five cars up at a car show and one of them is tattered looking, but it came from Cuba? That’s interesting.”

Linden isn’t so sure the historic value of Cuba’s cars will be enough to make them valuable. He notes that when former Soviet territories began to open up, they boasted a similar cache of classics, but interest was tepid and few were repatriated to the United States. People might be more willing to import cars from nearby Cuba, admits Linden, but “My opinion is they probably won’t.”

MONEY Holidays

Who Do You Tip Around the Holidays?

The mailman, the haircutter, and the doorman: Who do you tip? What do you give? MONEY's George Mannes asks people in New York about their annual tipping tradition.

MONEY Odd Spending

Top 10 Strangest Things Marketers Tried to Sell Us in 2014

Our look back at some of the year's strangest products may seem laughable or a sad source of embarrassment—depending on whether you actually bought any of them.

Check out 10 of the strangest things marketers tried to talk us into buying in 2014. A few of them, we’re sure you’ll agree, were quite literally hard to stomach.

  • Dewitos

    Doritos and Mountain Dew
    Scott M. Lacey

    Following on the heels of Doritos cheese sticks and Doritos tacos, this fall PepsiCo began doing taste tests of the most frightening Doritos mashup so far: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew, a.k.a. “Dewitos” or “Dewritos.” The innovation has been called a “new frontier for fast food,” with a flavor best described as “liquid cheese,” only with lots of caffeine.

  • Quarters for Doing Laundry

    rolls of quarters
    George Diebold—Getty Images

    Over the summer, a startup launched on the premise that people would pay a premium for a subscription service for quarters, which would be delivered so that you wouldn’t have to go round up up the on your way to the laundromat. The service charged $15 per month for a once-a-month delivery of a $10 roll of quarters. Needless to say, the site folded nicely and neatly—not unlike properly handled laundry—after about one week of existence.

  • Burgers for Breakfast

    Person holding BK Whopper
    Karl-Josef Hildenbrand—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    The battle for fast-food breakfast customers raged in 2014, with Taco Bell and McDonald’s launching ads, special promotions (like free coffee), and new products to beat out the competition. Burger King joined in the fracas with the laziest fast-food concept in recent memory: Burgers for Breakfast, in which BK made Whoppers and other burgers available during early morning hours. The idea reportedly flopped with customers; burgers were not on the restaurant’s national breakfast menu at last check.

  • A Fake “Mona Lisa”

    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood
    Is it real...or is it a Mark Landis? Fine Art Images—Getty Images

    No, no one actually tried to sell the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. But to celebrate the launch of a new documentary about Mark Landis, an infamous and prolific art forger, Landis’s forged version of the Mona Lisa was hung in a coffee shop in New York City with an asking price of $25,000. Apparently, no one wants to pay that much for a fake—not even a masterful fake by the likes of Landis. “After all the hype, there wasn’t much real interest or a sale,” a spokesperson for the coffee shop told us.

  • Derek Jeter’s Used Socks

    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3.
    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3. Tony Farlow—AP

    Throughout the course of Derek Jeter’s final season for the New York Yankees, ticket prices soared when #2 was in town, and an astonishing and varied amount of Jeter collectibles were marketed and sold. Among the oddest pitches: $400+ for one of Derek Jeter’s socks (game used, of course).

  • Seven Weeks of Unlimited Pasta

    Olive Garden pasta
    Joshua Lutz—Redux

    In September, the Olive Garden restaurant chain rolled out one seriously odd food offer: The Neverending Pasta Pass. The potentially cost-effective (also: potentially nauseating and potentially weight-altering) $100 passes gave users as many pasta dishes, breadsticks, and Coca-Cola soft drinks as they could stomach over the course of seven weeks. Only 1,000 of the passes were offered, and they were quickly snatched up by the masses—a few of whom recorded the good, bad, and ugly of eating at Olive Garden week after week.

  • Ebola Fashion

    man in hazmat suit in front of house
    PM Images—Getty Images

    The Ebola outbreak stoked fears around the globe, while also serving as a boost for an array of products, some understandable (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, anti-germ protective gear), others downright bizarre (Halloween costumes, fashionable masks that retailed for $20). Yet another entrepreneur was trying to sell Ebola.com for at least $150,000 this year; he’d purchased the web domain in 2008 and has been waiting for an opportune moment to sell.

  • Pot Edibles That Look Like Hershey’s Candy

    Marijuana leaf
    allOver images—Alamy

    Soon after the sale of recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, shops began selling a range of smokeable and ingestible products. Among the edibles was a brand of marijuana-infused candy called TinctureBelle, which made pot treats like Ganja Joy and Hasheath—with labels that looked eerily similar to traditional Hershey’s candies Almond Joy and Heath. Understandably, family values advocates and Hershey’s didn’t like the imitation versions, and the candy company sued last summer. The case was settled in October, and the pot candies that resembled Hershey bars have been recalled and destroyed.

     

  • Caffeinated Underwear

    caffeinated underwear
    iStock

    File this one under the category of products making outlandish claims that are just too good to be true: In 2014, the FTC ruled that a pair of companies that made and marketed caffeine-infused underwear must stop advertising that its products aided in weight loss. There was no scientific evidence to back up the claims, and customers who were coaxed into buying the caffeinated skivvies were granted refunds.

  • Bigger Butts

    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A.
    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Kevin Mazur—WireImage

    In 2014, marketers were more than happy to help convince women that they should try to enhance their physical assets to resemble Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez in one particular way. Hence the increase in butt implants and lift surgeries, as well as the sharp sales rise of products such as padded underwear, which give the appearance of a larger backside.

MONEY best of 2014

7 Ways Tech Made Your Life Better in 2014

A new reason to ditch your cellphone contract, safer credit cards, and five more bright ideas that can help you save money in the year ahead.

Every year, there are innovators who come up with fresh solutions to nagging problems. Companies roll out new products or services, or improve on old ones. Researchers propose better theories to explain the world. Or stuff that’s been flying under the radar finally captivates a wide audience. For MONEY’s annual Best New Ideas list, our writers searched the world of money for the most compelling products, strategies, and insights of 2014. To make the list, these ideas—which cover the world of investing, retirement, health care, college, and more—have to be more than novel. They have to help you save money, make money, or improve the way you spend it, like these seven tech innovations.

  • Best Side Effect of the Hacking Mess

    Chip and Pin credit card transformed into a lock
    Image Source—Alamy

    Safer Credit Cards…Finally

    Chip-and-PIN credit cards include a special chip that makes them harder for hackers to replicate. Though you’re legally protected from having to pay most charges when a card number is stolen, more-secure plastic can save you a lot of hassle. Card companies had been slow to roll out chip-and-PIN—until millions of credit card numbers were stolen from major retailers such as Target and Home Depot. “The frequency and size of the breaches absolutely are driving more rapid adoption of the technology,” says Paul Kleinschnitz of First Data, a payment technology firm. Here are two more things to know about the new cards:

    They don’t eliminate all your risk. Chip-and-PIN makes it harder to create fake plastic but doesn’t stop numbers from being used at online stores. So you should still check your statement regularly for weird charges. Chip-and-PIN is already common in Europe; the new cards work in automated machines there that don’t accept old-fashioned plastic.

  • Best Smartphone Savings

    No-Contract Plans

    Old way: Commit to a contract and pay $200 for a smartphone that really costs $650. Of course, you still pay for the phone as part of your monthly bill.

    New way: Wireless companies are making it easier to separate the cost of the phone and the price of service.

    You can shop for a new plan with your old phone. Low-cost players and now the big carriers offer no-contract plans, which may be $100 cheaper per month for a family. Check with carriers for phone compatibility; look up network quality in your area at rootmetrics.com.

    Or get a new phone. You can buy a phone outright or on installment, and combine that with a no-contract plan. Sometimes, but not always, the total price beats the comparable contract option, so run the numbers. If you do go contract, mark your calendar: After 24 months, switch to no-contract if you don’t care to upgrade.

  • Best Reason to Rent, Not Own, Your eBooks

    Amazon Kindle

    All-You-Can Read Subscriptions

    As with music, books are moving toward an all-you-can read subscription model.

    The Services: The service you pick will hinge on the device you prefer to read with. Scribd ($8.99 per month) lets you read an unlimited number of books, and it quintupled its library this year to 500,000, with 30,000 audiobooks. The service now includes many titles from the big publishers Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. Works on: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire (but not e-ink readers), Nook tablets.

    Though Scribd is the better service overall, it doesn’t work on Kindle e-ink readers. If you’re devoted to that device, Amazon has its own options. With an Amazon Prime subscription, you can choose from thousands of titles to read for no extra charge (one per month). Kindle Unlimited ($9.99) is like Scribd, but customers and reviewers say it’s hard to find books from the “Big Five” publishers. Works on: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Kindle readers.

    The Gadget: Phone and tablet apps are fine for many readers, but e-ink devices provide a more booklike experience. The new Kindle Voyage has a screen that’s 39% brighter than its predecessor.

  • Best Reason to Rent, Not Buy, Your Music

    Streaming Services

    Why buy songs that you’re rarely going to listen to in a few months? What if you could listen to just about anything—except for a few famous holdouts, like Taylor Swift and the Beatles—for less than the price of one CD per month? (Remember those?) A smart new pricing plan could make 2015 the year you make the switch from buying music to legally streaming it.

    The Service: Spotify lets you listen to any song you want in its vast catalogue. A free version, with ads, works on desktops or allows you to play artists or albums on Shuffle on your phone. Paying up for Spotify Premium ($9.99 a month) gets you no ads and total control on any device. Spotify has rolled out a family plan that lets you add new users for $4.99 each; that way two people in your family can play their own tunes at the same time. Works On: iOs, Android, desktop

    The Gadgets to Listen On: Docking stations are easy to use, with no setup or wires required. The $130 iHome iDL48 works with most iPads and iPhones. A portable speaker lets you get your music off your little earbuds and carry it to any room. The reliable Jawbone Mini Jambox ($130) connects to smartphones, tablets, and most computers through Bluetooth. If your existing stereo has an auxiliary input, an easy fix (in you’re not a hi-fi purist) is to run a cable from the headphone or line-out jack on phone, tablet or PC. Cords are $5 to $10 at Monoprice or Amazon.

  • Best Retro Tech

    2015 Ford Focus
    2015 Ford Focus

    Dashboard Knobs are Back!

    For years cars have become more tech-laden, with systems to let you make phone calls, find local pizza joints, or answer email. Which is nice, unless you prefer to keep your focus on driving. Interiors became a maze of numeric keypads and other control points. Ford says its research shows drivers don’t use or want all that tech. Now it’s retro time. For the 2015 model year Ford Focus, the automaker has eliminated many buttons, and added old-fashioned knobs to systems such as heat and A/C. In the next Fusion, the company is even getting rid of touch screens. — Bill Saporito, Time assistant managing editor, car reviewer at Money.com

  • Best Online Security Fix

    Two-Factor Verification

    Worrying about bank and brokerage hacks is understandable. But money can be replaced—and you have legal protections. What you should worry about is a hacker mining your more vulnerable iCloud photos, Facebook page, or email account and impersonating you. Two-factor verification, a login protocol, makes it vastly harder for hackers to steal your digital life. Here’s what you need to do to set it up:

    Select “login approval” or “two-factor verification” under settings at sites you want to protect. The first time you visit that site on a new computer, you will have to enter a code that’s texted to your phone. (You only need to enter this code the first time you log in from a new computer.) In case you lose your phone, you can print out backup codes, which work once. Once you’ve done this, a hacker would need to guess your password and have physical access to your computer in order to steal your data.

  • Best Apps to Get Before You Travel

    Chi Birmingham

    Taxi Apps

    It’s not always easy to scare up a cab in an unfamiliar city. (Where are the best streets to try to hail one? Should I find a taxi stand? Call ahead?) But smartphones are making it much easier to get around. The Uber app can summon a for-hire private car in numerous cities in 45 countries (though the service has recently come under fire in a few cities). In some big towns, like New York, it will also hail a traditional taxi. Curb and Flywheel also grab regular cabs—check first if they work in the town you are visiting. Want help navigating subways and metros? Hopstop has stop-by-stop directions and travel times, as do the transit directions on the Google Maps app.

MONEY Travel

What the New Cuba Agreement Means for Travel and Cigars

The new deal eases restrictions on traveling to the country and allows Americans to bring home some of those famous cigars.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser