They’ve Gone Phishing

Okay, check this out. This spam-scam is too funny.

Subject: Strictly for you

My name is larry Johnson, Director of Inspection here in Atlanta airport Georgia USA. During our investigation i discovered two consignment with your name tagged of them. when scanned it revealed an undisclosed sum of money in a Metal Trunk Box weighing approximately 110kg each. I want to use my good office to bring them to you for mutual benefit. only on the condition that we will share it 50% for 50% for me. Get back to me now with your full name, address and direct telephone numbers on my private emial: as soon as i hear from you, i will forward all the details of the delivery to you including the time frame.

Larry Johnson 404-6477526

Gee, could this possibly be a scam? Let’s see: No “To:” header so it wasn’t addressed to me. The sender’s email address is shown three times, all not matching. It shows that it originated in Germany and this is supposed to be an official with the Atlanta International Airport. Then, according to the message which claims there is a consignment in my name at the airport, he wants to split it between us when I could simply claim the entire thing, or he could just as easily steal it. YET, he also asks for my name when he just told me that I had a consignment in my name. Let’s just ignore the fact that his caps key apparently doesn’t work with the letter ‘i’ on his keyboard when he refers to himself in his ‘emial.’

The other day I got an email saying that my direct bank deposit had failed and the message asked me for my bank’s name and account number. I guess it didn’t occur to him (or her) that they probably should know the bank they worked for and the account they were informing me about. Of course, I get emails that tell me that my PayPal account has been limited and asks me to log in, yet the return email address domain is .ru, which is Russia. Or the notice that my Netflix account billing credit card is expired and asks me to go to a website that has nothing to do with Netflix to enter new credit card information.

The really scary part about these ‘phishing’ attempts to get people’s banking information is that we see so many of them because one out of a few hundred of the thousands of these that get sent out are successful. If everyone would just LOOK at the emails they get which refer to financial information, they would see a scam immediately and brush it off. But the sad truth is that about 5% of the recipients are stupid enough to reply and give the identity thieves the information thay’re asking for. Everyone has to know by now that when the letter from the lawyer arrives explaining that someone wants to deposit a few million free dollars into their bank account that they’re looking at the old Nigerian shuffle. Yet enough people get snookered to keep the scam alive and well and living in luxury on mail servers all over creation.

The other day I was chatting with friends about Newt Gingrich and his being thrown out of Congress while he was Speaker of the House for ethics violations, had abandoned former wives when they became inconveniently ill, and had just recently been on television saying that anyone who quoted his statements during a televised interview was lying. There was more, but you get the idea; his character is demonstratably flawed. Seriously flawed. Yet he happens to be the current forerunner in the GOP race for president.

It’s spooky to a guy like me who totally depends on the government for my health care and my income. It doesn’t matter that my entitlement comes from a contract with the government and isn’t dependent solely on compassion. But I watched what Mr. Gingrich did with his Contract With America, namely getting chucked out of office so I feel I have good reason for trepidation. Given that President Obama recently tossed veterans benefits on the bargaining table, political party has nothing to do with my concerns. I don’t trust anyone anymore. Sadly, that has to include the voting public who, in spite of his clear and continued failings has garnered a 42% in recent polls. What on earth can these people be thinking?

Then I think about just how many people fall for phishing scams and realize that a lot of people aren’t very smart and have the common sense of two pounds of granite. Watching interviews on television I see interviewers asking Gingrich supporters why they have support for him in spite of his obvious integrity bankruptcy and hear them say that his words strike a chord –they ‘resonate’ with those voters. Just like the obviously bogus offers of multi-million dollar windfalls resonate and strike a chord with people desperate to be a part of the so-called one percent. It akes me back to my college days and logic classes, now referred to as Critical Thinking. My profs hammered us with the old “If P, then Q” until it came out of our ears. One example I recall was:

Premise: A good man is hard to find. Conclusions: John is always difficult to locate therefore John is a good man. Actually, John is hard to find because his photo hangs in the Post Office on a wanted poster for numerous heinous crimes. My classmates and I thought that was a riot because at the time “A good man is hard to find” was the US Marines recruitment tagline. The point here is that a lot of people who’re actually pretty intelligent can also be incredibly stupid. I include myself in that group because I could easily fill a lot of pages with the stupid things I have done –and thought. It turns out that, to my benefit, I’m one of those folks who are ‘once bitten, twice shy’ and I have learned to apply life’s lessons. That’s why today I have no political party affilliation, instead vote for those whose record demonstrates good character, wise decisions, and the ability to compromise for the good of the nation. See? There’s no way I could arbitrarily support a party line. To do so is self defeating and reckless because a party agenda operates exclusive of anything out of step, regardless of what the nation might so desperately need.

As a disabled person of very limited resources, I have to be vigilant and do my duty as a voter. Which is to take the time necessary to study up on candidates so I know what to expect from whoever gets elected. To do otherwise is non-survival and if Multiple Myeloma has shown me anything, it’s that I very much want to survive. Then again, I’m just one guy and there are a lot of voters, so it’s something more than disappointing to see people who, for their own reasons, refuse to research the candidates and think critically about them. To me, cavalier voters are not much different than the intellectually challenged cretins who answer the phishing emails and give away their life savings in the doing. Except in this case, it’s my future that political phishing victims are playing with.

If you’re going to vote then for heaven’s sake, and the sake of the rest of the country, suffer the effort of doing it right. After all, voting is all about suffrage.

Character Correction

The voice on the other end of the phone was terrifying. It wasn’t the voice though, but what it was saying that manifested so much fear. There were threats of lawsuits and and harassing actions, there was talk about losing credit ratings and employment opportunities. It was all quite horrific and left the listener shaking in her shoes. She had written a review of a pest control service, a service that was peskier than the insects she wanted removed.

She had contracted with a famous company in pest control to come out and get rid of a number of hornet nests. The year had produced a record nine of them, and all were sizable and well populated with petulant insects. Her cat had been stung multiple times after a hapless investigation of a nest, and she’d been chased into the house by her fears of the clouds of the black wasps that dive bombed her when she went outside. Enough was enough and so she called the company whose advertisements she’d seen many times.

The technician arrived a day earlier than was scheduled, which threw her off of her own plans for the day. Then, instead of buckling down to work, the technician had spent a long time trying to convince her to sign up for an annual service against any number of different pests like mice and termites and bed bugs and spiders. Thank you, no, she’d replied, she just wanted the hornets dealt with. And the technician told her that she needed to buy a greater set of one time services which included the removal of the hornets, and for only twenty dollars more. She’d replied no and no again and again in the face of his persistence until he finally insisted on payment in cash before he began. She had expected to pay with her credit card and the expense would put her at a disadvantage for the month, but she found the money and paid him. The technician went out and sprayed something on the hornet nests and then climbed in his truck and left. The following day, the hornets were still alive and overbearing so she called the company and was informed that they had provided the contracted service and if she would like, at another full charge, the technician could return and spray again.

Commenting on her experience to a neighbor, he went to the hardware store and purchased a can of wasp and hornet killer and sprayed the nine different nests built on the woman’s home. He waited until dark, when the majority of the vicious creatures would be inside, and then gave a spraying soak to one nest after the other. The can fizzled a bit and emptied as he drenched the final nest. In the morning, hundreds of little black corpses lay beneath the nests, and the neighbor came with a spade and scraped each of the nests from the building and threw them in the garbage. $130 dollars to the famous company, but the man refused the $7 he spent on the poison to help out his neighbor. She wished she’d spoken to him first, rather than following the reassuring patter of television commercials.

She told of her experience to the online group she shared interests with. The would chat about family and friends under the guise of conversations about needlepoint, knitting and crochet. They all said to her that the situation was terrible, outrageous and unforgivable. They said that the world needed to know about this big fancy pants company and their lousy practices. And a few suggested that she write up a review about the company on a services and contracting community website people used to find services and people they need. On the website people could look up and see who offered what they needed and then see the reviews of customers. One could see what the customers of these providers had to say about them. And so she wrote a review of this company which simply related her experience and gave the company zero rating stars out of five. Her online friends flocked to the website to see their compatriots review, and congratulated her on her fairness. Some said she should have given then what’s what, but she chose to simply explain why she couldn’t recommend the company to others.

Here it was, eight months later and the man on the phone had been very threatening. She had, he said, committed libel against his client and that, by God, would not be stood for. She’d protested that she merely told the truth, but it didn’t matter. The man wouldn’t listen; he just kept threatening her over and over again. In tears she had agreed to go remove her review of the company. The man had thrown so much information at her that her head began to spin. Perhaps she had been too critical, that perhaps she had not done the necessary research before entering into a contract. Perhaps she’d been wrong. But none the less, she removed her poor review of the company from the website.

This is all BS, of course. I’m telling the story in response to seeing a television commercial for a company whose product is your improved online reputation. They claim they will clean up bad comments and reviews, making no mention as to whether correction was deserved. I can envision a deep pockets company putting their weight or resources against some hapless man or woman who got screwed over by someone offering a product or service. Just the mere threat of retaliation is chilling to the idea that people can use word of mouth to applaud or boo the actions of someone they hired.

Sure, there are people out there who will write scathing reviews that are undeserved. But they will always be surrounded by more moderate reviews, making the sour grapes reviews easy to identify and dismiss. I think the last thing society needs at this point is for corporations to be able to muzzle the opinions of their customer base by hiring administrative thugs to frighten people into silence. Literally everybody who wished to express an opinion would need to be able to document and prove every scintilla of their comments and opinions, and even then not feel safe.

Needless to say, I was saddened by the appearance of the commercial that promised reputation clearing to its customers. In the first place, it’s a false offering of security. Displaced from one location, a person who’s been discarded has a tremendous number of forums and social networks in which to unleash even more vitriol about the offending company or person. Better to let the few people have their say, and if one occasion is particularly troublesome, then use your God given right to sue. It is always better to deal directly with the hornet’s nest than to hire some entity to strike glancing blows that do more harm than good. We already have companies that offer to watch over your credit, to verify the backgrounds of everyone you know, find people who may or may not wish to be found, and on and on. We hardly need another way to muddy the waters, especially by muzzling victims of deceptive, wrongful, or insulting treatment.

Buckle Up for The Medicare Labrynth

I’ve spent the last two days on the phone with the friendly folks at Medicare. Seems I’ve been on disability long enough that I’m eligible and — unless you tell them, “no thanks,” — they sign you up automatically.

So I spent a half day wading through Part A, Part B, and the exceptionally confusing Part C, and a day and a half on Part D, which is prescription drug coverage. It has got to be the greatest shame ever foisted on the American public, and I defy any Congresspig to explain it to their grandchildren. Of course, they couldn’t. How on earth did this debacle, this tragedy, this bloody abortion of a prescription drug plan ever get passed? It boggles the mind.

There are prescription-drug-only plans and prescription-drugs-plus plans (which may include vision or other coverages.) After providing a list of my daily meds, the Medicare Rep told me about what the computer says is the best plan for me. But one drug was in dispute: I said there was no generic equivalent, the computer insisted there was. Many phone calls later, I prove I am correct, but the computer won’t let the agent (a different one, of course) override the generic option. Of course, there has to be a way, I insist ten times. After the eleventh plea, Ms. Helpful finally talks to a supervisor and finds there is, indeed, a way to do so. And the chip on her shoulder grows exponentially.

Now I have a new price for the recommended plan but, she explains, it’s only good until I hit the infamous “donut hole.” (I won’t even try to explain this to you, even though I finally understand it, although I still don’t understand whether the criteria for reaching it is based on what I’ve spent or what Medicare has spent.) But yesterday, I say, I was told this plan has no donut hole. Every plan has a donut hole, Ms. Helpful insists, and not five minutes later, she’s trying to explain a different plan which has no donut hole. I just don’t have the stomach to point it out.

After getting off the phone and doing lots of calculations based on information that may or may not be correct, it appears that my DieSuckah Health Insurance policy is actually very close to my true cost of Medicare. And at least I’ve met my deductible for the year, and at this point I know what is and isn’t covered — including that disputed prescription which I take daily, which doesn’t have a generic, and which, until I hit the deductible, costs me $500/month.

(This is true now, but I will be getting my annual premium increase in April, which has been running close to 20% per year, in which case, Medicare probably will be the better option. But — get this — if you don’t sign up as soon as you become eligible, the Part D premium goes up every month. Sooo… it’s impossible to know which will be the better value in 60 days.)

I’ve wasted two days of my life just sorting it out and coming to this conclusion, although as I said, I don’t have much faith that I’m basing my calculations on correct data. Oh, boy. Who would have thought — it seems our friends in the federal government may have provided me a raison d’etre after all.

My new goal is not only to campaign for health care reform, but to strip our Congresspigs of their gluttonous plan, which includes donations to their election campaigns, luxury travel, and complete health, vision, dental, botox, shoe shines, massages and prescription coverage for themselves and their families, staff, neighbors and acquaintances, for their whole lives and at least one afterlife. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?