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Prison Phone Profiteer Securus Granted Robocalling Patent

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Readers may recall our story earlier this month about Securus, a leading prison telephony provider, being hacked and how the hackers discovered that the company Patent ideawas recording thousands of privileged communications that lawyers had with inmates. The Intercept had received the tip-off, along with the calls, and reported on the subject. Securus defended itself by saying that these lawyers must not have registered their phone numbers with the “service.”

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Now, in a most trollish move, the company has been granted a patent for contacting your relatives when you’re in jail and asking them if they want to pay for your calls or not. They call this “initiating a campaign to proactively contact” people who are associated with someone after a “campaign triggering event.” Meaning, when you are booked, they use whatever information is at their disposal to robocall your family members and find out if they want to pay for the privilege of talking to you – which can cost up to “$1.65 for a 15-minute intrastate call.”

$1.65 is a recent figure, since the FCC lowered the rate limits for such calls in October. Previously, the same call could legally cost up to $2.96. Overall, the prison communications industry earns around $1.2 billion per year – mostly from underprivileged and impoverished inmates and their families. Indeed, the patent itself notes the poverty of its prey:

Further, by its nature, the market segment of customers whom the prison telephony service provider bills includes individuals that have particularly high-risk credit […] [I]ndividuals in this market segment are very often transient, fraudulent, and/or otherwise untrustworthy. Certain steps may be taken by the prison’s telephony service provider in attempt to evaluate the credit worthiness of the party to be billed […] [B]efore connecting a requested collect call, the prison’s telephony system may access a line information database (LIDB) that contains subscriber information for the called party, and the prison’s telephony system may use information obtained from the LIDB to evaluate whether to connect the collect call to such called party.

The patent (#US9026468 B2) is considered by some to be “obvious,” which is patent terminology for “not original enough.” It usually means a not-so-innovative use of existing technology. Robocalling is nothing new. Probably everyone reading this has received a robocall. The “triggering event” could amount to an invasion of privacy if an inmate had time to sue Securus.

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But nevertheless, after years of processing, the patent has been granted, though not without resistance. The first examiner rejected the patent on grounds of being obvious, but was overruled upon Securus’ appeal. The reasoning was a technicality, which is ironic because technicalities usually work against an applicant to any kind of government office. In the 2012 ruling, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board said:

Although the standard for combining references is flexible, “rejections on obviousness grounds cannot be sustained by mere conclusory statements; instead, there must be some articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.”

One has to wonder if Securus intends to patent troll its competitors who use similar tactics or if it merely wants to protect its “technology.”

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Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 1 rated postsP. H. Madore has covered the cryptocurrency beat over the course of hundreds of articles for Hacked's sister site, CryptoCoinsNews, as well as some of her competitors. He is a major contributing developer to the Woodcoin project, and has made technical contributions on a number of other cryptocurrency projects. In spare time, he recently began a more personalized, weekly newsletter at http://ico.phm.link




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  1. InmateHacker

    December 1, 2015 at 5:38 am

    $1.65 per call? What you talkin’ about Willis??? Check this out…the president of Securus said they charge $14.99 flat per call in his FCC filing: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001326170
    At $14.99 per call, anyone would be credit-challenged to pay that price!

    They basically patented the means to rob poor people, or so it seems.

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First Internet Bancorp: Breaking The Shackles

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Traditional bank stocks have been pretty boring until recently.  Yes, that is changing.  The prospects of a steeper yield curve could make for better earnings in 2018.  But if it weren’t for some of the exciting things to come along in financial technology, the S&P 500 financial index would still be stuck in the rut of underperformance.

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So let’s take a look at one of the early innovators that draw their roots to the small town of Fisher Indiana in 1999.  That was era of landline telephones and dial up Internet.

The Original Internet Bank  

So what makes First Internet Bank (INBK: NASDAQ) different?  For starters, they are the first state-chartered, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”) insured Internet bank.

INBK does not have a conventional brick and mortar branch system. It operates through a scalable Internet banking platform.  That may not sound like a big deal since every bank around has mobile banking.

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Everybody in fintech wants to tap into branchless online banking but getting and FDIC charter isn’t so easy. It takes a huge amount of paperwork and lots of time to get approval.

Many startups like Simple attempted to enter the game acting as a broker for FDIC insured banks.  However, under banking rules growing out of the 2008 financial crisis, this proved a tuff road.  

So little old plane vanilla First Internet Bancorp has the key benefit of being an FDIC chartered and insured bank just like the big boys like Citibank and JP Morgan Chase but without the bricks and mortar branches.

INBK’s structure gives them nationwide reach. The implications for costs and customer acquisition being a major benefit.  Until more recently, however, capital limitations put the brakes on major expansion opportunities.  But now, things have changed.

What To Do With $150 Million

On August 8, 2017 INBK filed a registration statement for a $150 million secondary offering with all proceeds going to the company for “general corporate purposes.” Considering the market cap of INBK at the time was about $250 million, the offering was huge.  It substantially bolstered Tier One Capital.  That means for the first time in a while since the financial crisis that INBK could expand its deposit and lending base.

These days INBK’s balance sheet looks darn attractive with cash and deposits more than tripling since 2015 to $656 million and long term investments more than doubling to $2.4 billion.  INBK is exceptionally lean.  They have no long term debt.  When you add up all the fixed overhead like offices, computers and employees, it amounts to just a little under $15 million.  That, as they say, is chump change.  

Full Service Banking

INBK offers the usual assortment of commercial, small business, consumer and municipal banking products and services. They conduct consumer and small business deposit operations primarily through online channels on a nationwide basis and have no traditional branch offices.

Residential mortgage products are offered nationwide primarily through an online direct-to-consumer platform and are supplemented with Central Indiana-based mortgage and construction lending.

Consumer lending products are originated nationwide over the Internet as well as through relationships with dealerships and financing partners.

Commercial banking products and services are delivered through a relationship banking model and include commercial real estate (“CRE”) banking, commercial and industrial (“C&I”) banking and public finance.

A public finance team was established in early 2017, provides a range of public and municipal lending and leasing products to government entities on a nationwide basis.

Free At Last

In 2017 customers shelled out about $45 billion in fees to the banking industry in account service fees, check return fees, overdraft fees and more.  All of this was needed to cover the overhead of the bazillion bank branches.

In 20 years it is possible that 80% of all branches will be replaced by mobile devices. Perhaps there will be none at all.

With no branch overhead to cover, First Internet and others like them can offer appealing perks like free checking, no overdraft or bounced check fees.  That is a big selling point.

Customer Turnover Is Low In Banking

Customers hate those annoying fees but it takes a lot to get them to move.  Costs are often measured on the amount of marketing dollars needed to attract new customers.  There are many ways of measuring these costs so there is no single guide to the true cost.

One bank, BBVA placed the cost at $100.  Other estimates run as high as $145.  Both numbers include the cost of branches.

A study that I participated in several years ago placed the cost for an online bank as low as $50 per new customer.  The difference in these two numbers is just one reason why you should get excited about pure online banks.  First Internet Bank looks well positioned.

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Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 20 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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USA Technologies: Thinking Small To Grow Fast

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Malvern Pennsylvania is the home of USA Technologies, a town of just 3,000 people. In Malvern it pays to think small.  USA Technologies (USAT: NASDGM) is trying to make it big by thinking small.

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The word small ticket comes up frequently in USAT’s self-description. Here is why they want to be a big fish in a small pond.

What They Do For A Living

USAT provides wireless networking, cashless transactions, asset monitoring, and other value-added services to the small ticket, unattended Point of Sale (“POS”) market.  This sounds super cool, but what does it mean?

USAT developed something they call ePort technology.  When it is installed into things like vending machines, commercial laundries, amusement games, or stand alone kiosks so you no longer have to carry cash.  It is another application of network technology and it is spreading rapidly.

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While thinking small, USAT also developed ePort Connect, which amounts to a Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)-compliant, comprehensive service that includes simplified credit card processing and support, consumer engagement services as well as telemetry, Internet of Things (“IoT”) and machine-to-machine (“M2M”) services, including the ability to remotely monitor, control, and report on the results of distributed assets containing electronic payment solutions.

Competitive Position

Company CEO Stephen Herbert claims the company is a leading provider in the small ticket, beverage and food vending industry.  They are expanding solutions and services to other unattended market segments, such as amusement, commercial laundry, kiosk and others.

Historically, these businesses have relied on cash for payment in the form of coins or bills, whereas, USAT systems allow the acceptance of cashless payments through the use of credit or debit cards or other emerging contactless forms, such as mobile payment.

How Does USAT Make Money

Revenues are generated from the sale of equipment and from license and transaction fees.  It is this last source that helps make USAT most interesting.

During the fiscal year 2017, 73.0% of revenues came from recurring license and transaction fees related to ePort Connect service and just 27.0% from equipment sales.

CEO Herbert believes that a service based business model, will create a high-margin stream of recurring revenues as a foundation for long-term value and continued growth.

Financials: Small Is Getting Big Quickly

USAT strategy seems to be paying off handsomely.  Revenues over the past five years have been growing a better than a 25% pace going from $29 million in 2012 to $104 million in the year ended June 2017.

For the six months ending December 2017 the company surpassed last years total ringing up about $43 million in revenues, a 30% increase.

In their February 8th earnings release, the company raised guidance for fiscal 2018 revenues to $140-$145 million and for adjusted EBITDA to between $13.5 and $14.5 million.

At this time four Wall Street firms cover the company and these folks expect USAT to earn $0.06 per share this year before tripling in fiscal 2019 to $0.18.

Cantaloupe Acquisition

Back in November USAT signed an $85 million deal to acquire Cantaloupe Systems, Inc based in San Francisco.  Just like USAT, Cantaloupe is a provider of cloud and mobile solutions for vending, micro markets and office coffee service.  The two companies tout the deal as bringing together complementary portfolios for the purpose of creating the industry’s top solutions platform.

The acquisition had only minor benefits to reported USAT first half results.  On a pro-forma basis, if the acquisition had occurred on July 1, 2016, first half consolidated revenue would have increased 26% year-over-year.

Management With Beverage Industry Background

CEO Stephen Herbert has considerable history in the beverage industry and has been CEO at USAT for over 5 years. In other words, he needs no on the job training.

For the 10 years prior to joining USAT in 1996, Herbert had been with Pepsi-Cola in their beverage division vending area.

The company believes Herbert’s intimate knowledge and experience with all aspects of USAT for over 20 years and his extensive vending experience at PepsiCo before joining USAT provide the requisite qualifications, skills, perspectives, and experiences to serve.  We would tend to agree.

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Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 20 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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Analysis

Dow Drops As Cryptos Pop

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Inflation is the enemy of stock and bond investors but this is when crypto is coming to the rescue.  The market awoke to a Valentine’s Day present called the January Consumer Price Index.  It was borderline ugly at 0.5%.  After the opening, the Dow was down 142 points. At this time cryptos are going in the opposite direction: Bitcoin + 9 %, Bitcoin Cash +11%, Ether +8 % and Litecoin + 35%.   Is this a one time event or is there there a lasting connection.  Let’s take a look.

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Inflationary expectations drive the stock and bond markets.  It is not how much any one month reading shows, it is the way the market extrapolates a single month into the future. For the last 20+ years, inflationary expectations have been coming down and this has been the fuel that has fired the stock and bond markets.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve has been targeting a 2% rate of price increases.  Most times they have fallen short of their goal. This is no more the case.  The January increase annualizes to 6%.  If this were a one month event it could be ignored.  However, over the last six months since August, inflation has averaged 4% on a yearly basis. That is a troubling sign for several reasons.

Inflationary Expectations Are Growing  

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It is hardly news that the global economy has fully recovered from the financial crisis of 2008.  For the US this means the longest economic recovery in modern history.  The signs of excesses are showing.  Labor markets are much tighter than anytime in the past 50 years.  Costs have to be rising especially for the most highly sought after positions in technology and finance.

Debt financed consumer spending was adding to inflationary expectations even before the $1.5 trillion Trump Tax Cut and plans to increase spending.  Goldman Sachs CEO called this combination like throwing a bit more lighter fluid on a fire that was already going.  His concern is that the economy will get overheated, forcing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster.

Add to this the news that inflation hawk Loretta Mester was being considered for the post of Fed Vice Chair and that is all that is necessary to shake investor confidence.

Storehouse Of Value

In times like this when investors are seeking safety from declining stock and bond prices, gold has been the go to storehouse of value.  Gold investors got their Valentines candy with the price shooting up over 1.5% on the day.  OK that is cool but we can’t ignore the fact that cryptocurrencies had their best day in a long time.  What is that all about?  Against the opinion of all the critics, are cryptocurrencies finally being viewed by investors as their own unique storehouse of value.

Granted recent crypto volatility makes it hard to put Bitcoin or Ether into the same category as other assets like gold.  But today’s price divergence reminds us that Bitcoin’s fixed number of coins was designed and intended to be independent of global government policies that create excess debt or excessive expansion that results increased inflationary expectations.

Blockchain technology in general is showing up more and more as a cost saving mechanism. Of course, Ethereum with its smart contracts and open source platform stand out.  

Separating Fact From Opinion

Are cryptocurrencies gaining believers as a storehouse of value.  That is one opinion. Obviously, it will take much more time to develop enough data to measure the correlation. Several things seem clear.  The massive crypto price correction that started back in December has taken a whole lot of fluff off of crypto markets.  That’s a good thing.

In recent times, prices have been directionless as investors tried to figure what to do next. During this time there was an overabundance of technical analysis but an absence of any fundamental compelling reason the buy.  Valentines Day news that pushed up inflationary expectations may have provided the single most important reason in many weeks. The critics may be right that cryptocurrencies have a way to go before becoming a storehouse of value, but at current levels, they seem to be an attractive value nonetheless.  Stay tuned for more.   

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Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 20 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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