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Thursday, February 28, 2008

IRS and other email scams

It's that time of year for paying your taxes and getting refunds, but beware - the scam artists are out there on the web. The IRS will never, ever contact you via email about anything to do with your taxes. So, if you get an email claiming to be from the IRS, delete it or report it for free to Spamcop. Just remember, it's not a scam *until* you fall for it. Until then, it's just spam!


The following was excerpted from the book Net Crimes & Misdemeanors 2nd edition





What To Do ...

… if you took the bait and gave away your financial information:*

· Report it to the card issuer as quickly as possible: Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies.
· Cancel your account and open a new one.
· Review your billing statements carefully after the loss: If they show any unauthorized charges, send a letter to the card issuer describing each questionable charge.
· Credit Card Loss or Fraudulent Charges (FCBA): Your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If the loss involves your credit card number, but not the card itself, you have no liability for unauthorized use.
· ATM or Debit Card Loss or Fraudulent Transfers (EFTA): Your liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss. You risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you.


… if you gave out personal identifying information:

· Report the theft to the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion Corporation and do the following: Request that they place a fraud alert and victim's statement in your file. Request a free copy of your credit report to check whether any accounts were opened without your consent. Request that the agencies remove inquiries and/or fraudulent accounts stemming from the theft.

Equifax Credit Information Services - Consumer Fraud Div.
P.O. Box 105496
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496
Tel: (800) 997-2493


Experian
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, Texas 75013-2104
Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)


Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
Tel: (800) 680-7289


· Notify your bank(s) and ask them to flag your account and contact you regarding any unusual activity: If bank accounts were set up without your consent, close them. If your ATM card was stolen, get a new card, account number, and PIN.
· Contact your local police department to file a criminal report.
· Contact the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline to report the unauthorized use of your personal identification information.
· Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of your identity theft. Check to see whether an unauthorized license number has been issued in your name.
· Notify the passport office to watch out for anyone ordering a passport in your name.
· File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
· File a complaint with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC)
· Document the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak to or contact regarding the incident. Follow up your phone calls with letters. Keep copies of all correspondence.


The FTC also advises:

· If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via e-mail. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the e-mail using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address. In any case, don't cut and paste the link in the message.
· Don't e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a Web site that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
· Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
· Use anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date. Some phishing e-mails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones, can effectively reverse the damage, and updates automatically. A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Finally, your operating system (like Windows or Linux) may offer free software "patches" to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.
· Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from e-mails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
· Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to spam@uce.gov. If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Old friends, "The Rachel," Virginia, more

Yesterday was difficult. I had one bass guitar left of my late husband's to sell and one of his friends found someone who wanted it. So I met Bill for lunch yesterday to get the payment. The guitar sold for a lot less than what it cost and a bit less than what I was asking, but beggars can't be choosers, eh? It was nice to see Bill again and he's always fun to talk with.

Over the weekend I got an email from one of my late husband's instructors from the Marines, then yesterday morning from a high school friend of his. They had just found out he was dead. It just brings it all back.

On the way home, I stopped off again at the cemetery (I was there a week ago and try to go as often as I can). I have noticed the last few times that when there is snow on the ground, I'm the only one leaving footprints to the gravestone. That makes me sad. I talked to my late husband and to "dad" and then left for home.

The one bright spot yesterday was when I had my hair done that morning at Freedom Salon and Day Spa. My hairdresser, Christina, is a redhead like me and loves to play with my hair when she's done trimming it. It was freeeeeezing cold yesterday, so she asked if she could blow it out and straighten it. I told her to have at it.

I ended up with "the Rachel" - Jennifer Aniston's hairdo from "Friends." Interesting. Chris told me I looked nice, but he likes me better with my curls. So do I. I ended up putting it up in a ponytail because the hair hitting the sides of my cheeks were driving me nuts.

We watched The Brave One starring Jodie Foster and Terrance Howard. An excellent movie with a bit of a twist at the end. I got it for free through this nifty service called Red Box. It's a DVD vending machine at a lot of grocery and other stores (at least here in the Northeast). I signed up online and get a free rental code texted to my cell phone pretty much every Monday. All I pay is Maine state tax, a whopping five cents. Otherwise, it's actually a good deal, just $1.00/movie/night plus applicable tax. They have all the latest movies and I haven't gotten a scratched DVD yet.

Chris, the dogs and I are headed to Ashland, Virginia next week for my next speaking engagement. A friend is watching the house for us, getting mail, putting trash out, etc., while we're gone, which will just be a few days. On the way back, we pick up two of Chris' kids to spend the rest of their President's week vacation with us, which should be fun.

But, when we get back, I'm in the car the next morning to drive up north for another speaking engagement, which will be overnight. Which will give Chris some "alone time" with his kids. I'm really looking forward to the road trip. I just hope Bandit doesn't start his "yowling." We have some medication just in case he gets out of hand. Because if he starts yowling, Guin joins in and it's not a pleasant ride.

We had no trouble finding a hotel that takes dogs - the Quality Inn in Ashland charges just $15/night for a pet deposit and the room is a reasonable $67/night for a king bed suite, plus we get breakfast for the two of us for free at the restaurant next door. Can't beat that! The cost of gas, tolls and the hotel ended up being a lot less than an airplane ticket to Richmond, plus a rental car and parking, etc.

Thank goodness we have my new iPod Touch. I've put more music on and a couple of more audiobooks.

Road trips are fun!!!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

E J Gallo Winery; Mysterious Crystals; Timberwood; more

The end of December I'd bought two bottles of Timberwood Merlot wine. I opened one in early January, sipped it through dinner and when the last was poured into my glass I noticed something odd at the bottom of the glass:



What the ?????

I went in the kitchen, Chris trailing behind. I poured what was in the bottom of the glass onto a paper towel and we both stared at it:



Broken glass fused by the wine? Gems? I tentatively picked up one and licked it. Chris kind of freaked - what if it was glass and cut my tongue? It didn't. It also didn't taste like anything at all. Very weird.

In the years I've been drinking wine (oh shut up), I have never, ever experienced anything like this. So I checked the bottle - nothing else in the bottom of it, rinsed it out, put the crystals in a baggie (I kept two for myself), took photos and then researched which winery this came from. All the label had on it was Ripon, California and the only match to Timberwood was EJ Gallo Wineries. So I searched for a publc relations person, found a name and sent the bottle, crystals and this letter out the next day:

"By now you’re wondering why in the heck I sent you an empty bottle of Timberwood Merlot and a plastic bag of what look like crystals. I found these crystals at the bottom of the bottle of wine after I poured the last of the bottle into my wine glass recently. I discovered one of the crystals in my mouth when I went to take a sip of the wine and found the rest at the bottom of the glass.

I thought at first it was broken glass, but they appear to be something else – not sugar or salt (yes, I licked one just to see). I am totally stumped as to what these are and why they were in a bottle of your company’s wine.

I double-checked the bottle – there are no chips or broken areas on it. I also checked my wine glass, which is in perfect shape. I did keep some of the crystals and took photos for my records, because I am baffled and wondering if you or someone at Gallo can explain what they are and how they got in that wine bottle.

If they are gemstones, send them back! Seriously, I am very curious as to what they are. Have you had any other complaints like this one? I have another bottle of Timberwood that I purchased the same day as this one (two days before New Year’s Eve) and I am almost afraid to open it, although I did look at it and don’t see anything unusual in it.

I appreciate any insight you can give to me.

I’ve also enclosed photos of the glass I used, one which shows the crystals as they were in the bottom of the glass, and when I put them on a paper towel.

By the way, this wine was good for an inexpensive Merlot."


Two weeks went by and I pretty much forgot about it. Then the phone rang last week and a woman from EJ Gallo was on the other end. She told me that the person I sent the letter to had retired and the bottle and crystals automatically went to their quality control lab. Turns out this Timberwood wasn't from Gallo - Gallo used to make a Timberwood wine. The lab techs said the crystals were sugars from the wine that formed rock crystals kind of like the ones you could make with sugar and water when you were a kid. Weird. She said they all got a laugh out of the part where I wrote if they were gemstones to send them back. And she said she'd send me coupons for some of their wine. Yahooooo!

I'm still waiting for the coupons.

-------------------------

I broke down and bought an Apple iPod Touch at Best Buy. I got a helluva deal - the 8GB as an open item for $235 plus a $20 coupon off, so I only paid $215 for it. It works fine. And it's a fun toy. I can use this on my trips on any wireless network I can connect to, to surf the web, send emails, etc and access iTunes online as well. It does loads of things, from being an MP3 player to a calculator, calendar, with Google Maps, Safari web browser, playing videos and movies and more. I love it! And the battery lasts a long time - it's supposed to last 22 hours, but I haven't tried it for that long yet.

So I gave Chris my iPod mini with a lot of songs preloaded on it from what I listened to. We like the same music pretty much, so I didn't have to delete too many songs (he's not crazy about my alternative music choices, LOL).

While at Best Buy, we bought some CDs to put on our iPods. He shocked the hell out of me when he wanted to get Billy Joel's greatest hits 1 & 2. This from the guy who loves country and classic hard rock. Hmmm.

Got home, I played with my iTouch, he with his new mini and pretty soon I heard him cranking out Billy Joel downstairs. LOL. He surprises me all the time. And in good ways.

-----------------

I meant to tell you all about "storage bay diving." A friend, Howard, has a shop in town where he sells antiques and odds and ends. He goes around buying estates and storage units that haven't been paid up to date. So he called us one day to see if we could use starter wood for the fireplace. We said sure and Chris went over to these storage units that Howard had bought. The guy who rented them hadn't paid for them for a long time, so Howard got a deal on them, went through them for the most valuable things he could sell in his shop, then was looking for people to come in and take away what they wanted. Chris came home, told me to put on old clothese, hooked up the trailer to his Blazer and we went to the storage unit.

There were three bays open. There were literally dozens of boxes filled with used books - there were enough to open a used bookstore. I have no room for them and it kills me that I didn't take them, but I had to be objective about what I could take home. However, we found some "treasures" - Chris got a bunch of tools, garden equipment, a snowblower (which worked fine when he got it home and put all the pieces together), some coins, odds & ends, pottery, and just before we were getting ready to leave, something else.

The guy who rented these bays was way weird. He had boxes filled not only with books, but with empty clear plastic sandwich containers. Empty. Others filled with cleaned out and empty yogurt and tuna cans (minus the labels). I swear to God. It was weird. I thought I was a packrat until I saw what this guy kept. A suitcase filled with brand new, unopened white men's t-shirts. Boxes filled with new neckties; underwear; postcards; and some weird sex stuff - toys, joke things and books. We got a chuckle out of those.

So, just as we were closing the door on the last bay, I noticed some boxes at the bottom of a stack that were those sandwich containers, but these looked like they had something in them. We pulled the top boxes off. I opened the first one and inside were dozens of Beanie Babies in the containers. Chris and I looked at each other, grabbed the boxes and threw them in the Blazer. BONUS!!!!

We loaded up the back of the Blazer and the trailer and went home and unloaded. I plan on selling a bunch of things on eBay.

That night in bed we talked about the guy who hadn't kept up with the payments on the bays. I wondered why someone would collect so much stuff, plus personal photo albums and mail (a lot of the mail was unopened) and never go back for it. I felt weird about it, but like Howard said, if we didn't take any of it, it was going to the dump.

Last week Howard called us to go through the last of the storage bays this guy had. We found some more goodies. I found a Currier and Ives plate I plan on hanging in the kitchen with some other plates I have there. Now we're on Howard's list, LOL!

That's one thing about Chris I love - we have so much in common and one is flea markets and things like this. Just climbing around, digging through boxes, wondering if we're going to find a real "treasure." It was fun doing this with him, getting dirty and all. Just like when we cleaned the yard together this fall. We raked, mowed and got dirty. And I loved every minute of it.

--------------------------

We finally set a wedding date for early June. No big wedding. Just Chris, me, our witnesses (a couple who are good friends of both of us) and the guy who's going to marry us - Dave. He's a retired Kennebunk cop I've been friends with for over a decade. He knew my late husband and when he met this Chris, he was so happy for me and said he wanted to marry us. That meant a lot to me. So he got his notary license and he will marry us while his wife takes photos. We're planning on bringing the dogs if it's not too hot. (We'll hold a huge reception/party at our house soon after)

The ceremony will be at Wells Beach in Maine at the end of the jetty. Chris had picked this spot out right after meeting me for the first time. He was serious when he told me he knew he was going to marry me after he met me in August.



Chris took me to this spot in September to get my approval. It's beautiful. And romantic. When we were walking back to the car, he found a nickel in the sand. The date on it was 1989, the year I married my late husband. Next to it was a heart-shaped rock, I kid you not. Chris handed them to me and told me felt my late husband approved of him. I agreed. And I still do.

It's eerie how compatible we are with each other. We've both been through a lot in our lives and know that life is too short. We plan on being happy together for as long as we can. All I know is this is my fourth and final marriage.

I'm glad I found him.