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BillGuard Review: Personal Credit Card Statement Watchdog

One of the cool companies that I met at Fincon2012 [3] was BillGuard [4]. BillGuard analyzes your credit card transactions and tells you if they find anything deceptive or fraudulent. The beauty if their system is that they collect all this information and they can see trends – companies behaving badly, trying to sneak fees or other charges past you, or clever scammers and thieves stealing in a way your credit card company can’t detect.

What Do They Do?

The part about BillGuard that really caught my attention was the ability to “crowdsource” and identify bad behavior. We all believe that credit card companies are checking for fraud, we’d also like to believe that they’re good at it, but credit card companies:

  1. Aren’t perfect – fraud still gets by and if it’s small enough, you may not even see it.
  2. Aren’t looking for bad behavior – they aren’t looking at a fee someone is charging you or some other legal but “not nice” behavior.

Not only are credit card companies not perfect and not looking for bad behavior, statements aren’t exactly easy to read when it comes to transactions. How many times have you checked your statement and saw a company name you didn’t recognize? How easy was it to research? (I just put the phone number into Google to see if they can find it, sometimes it works, sometimes I have to dig a little deeper) These are the problems that BillGuard is trying to solve.

Service Plans

I met with their CMO, Mary Anne, and we talked a bit about the service and it made perfect sense to me. You can register up to three credit cards for free ($79 a year for up to 10 cards) and if they ever change their program, you get grandfathered in for life. They use Yodlee (same thing Mint uses) to get the data and then they analyze it locally, they don’t store your data, so it’s secure.

Interesting fact that isn’t relevant: She told me that the hardest part was convincing people that the free plan (up to 3 cards) was a good thing because they were used to paying for “insurance” types of programs, like Lifelock. They saw it more like an insurance than a service like Mint or Billshrink.

Unsure Transactions

So what happens when you sign up for it? I signed up, entered in the credentials for my Citi Forward card, and it analyzed it. BillGuard looked at 137 transactions and one came up as “Unsure.” Here’s what BillGuard said of this charge – Marked this transaction as “Unsure” because this recurring charge could not be validated and no customer has marked it as “OK”.

It turns out that it’s a restaurant we frequent, which triggered the recurring part, and they had little data on it. Here’s the fun part, which makes the researching part much easier, you can pull up data about the business including a list of your recurring transactions. In this case, I saw that I’d been to the restaurant four times since May (spending roughly the same amount each time).

I suspect this tracking will improve once more people join from various areas and there’s more data collected about each merchant. I’d rather it be more conservative, asking me for more input, than not.

Overall Impressions

I really like the idea of crowdsourcing data like this and Mary Anne told me they plan to expand beyond credit cards (banking and debit cards seems like the next logical step), so I’m eager to see what they have next and how they’ll expand on this. All in all, I like what I see initially, we’ll see how it grows.