Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Consumers Union launches Valentine's Day campaign against unfair credit card fees!

Consumers Union is launching a campaign for Valentine's Day to let Congress know that despite overwhelming evidence that credit card companies seem to be gouging a lot of people, very little has been done to correct the problem.

From their website:

Just before the start of this holiday season, the GAO released a scathing assessment of the credit card marketplace and its regulation. Click here for the report itself. See Consumers Union's response to the report and to the problems faced by Consumers. With a national spotlight on an out-of-control industry, its time now to push this to the top of the agenda as a new Congress reconsiders its priorities for Americans.

Many more examples of a LOT of evidence that consumers are due some relief, here.

In their own words, here is a description of the campaign:

Kiss them goodbye--send the Valentine's Day card at right to each of your lawmakers, asking them to pass real reforms for you. As the economy tightens, you need fair credit, not "gotchas." Our goal: 100,000 cards ready for delivery by February 14th.

I'll provide a link to the campaign (in case anyone is interested in an easy platform to voice their opinion), here.

There is no doubt that we are facing an impending crisis with bad debt. Please note that this doesn't only apply to credit card debt. In case you haven't noticed, a lot of people are facing the loss of their homes because of what many consider irresponsible lending practices.

Part of this is caused by fraud, which is what I normally write about. Fraud has been enabled by extremely loose marketing procedures designed to drive selling credit cards, as well as, other financial products.

Whenever a company has losses they have to pass it on in their cost of goods to the people buying their product.

I've often suspected that there is a direct correlation between all the bad debt caused by not very responsible lending practices and some of these hidden fees that keep getting charged to people, who are trying to be responsible and pay their bills.

Is it fair for the people trying to pay their bills to subsidize a lot of bad debt caused in part by irresponsible marketing practices?

Here is one of my favorite posts, which shows how bad debt is enabled by a rush to market a credit card in a not very responsible manner (my humble opinion):

Ever wonder how well you are protected from credit card fraud?

Previous posts, I've written about Consumers Union and their efforts to bring a little sanity to this problem, here.

If you take time to look at these previous posts you will notice that effective action keeps getting blocked before anything is done about this problem. This is probably the best reason (I can think of) to let politicians know that this is an important issue to the people, who will be deciding whether they should remain employed in their current positions.

My guess is that these fees can pay for a lot of special interests to block any meaningful legislation from being passed.

USA Today did an interesting editorial about how much money (an estimated $74 million in the past two decades) has been donated by the card issuers to political campaigns, which might point to the reason why legislation keeps getting blocked.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Has the European Union become the primary point of origin for spam and scams?

Today, Kelley Conley (manager, Symantec Security Response) announced on their blog that the February State of Spam Report had been posted.

An interesting trend showing that the European Union was now the number one origin point for spam was noted:

The February State of Spam Report highlights an interesting trend in the shift of spam moving from North America to EMEA. The percentage of spam originating from EMEA has surpassed that of North America, which represents a significant shift in where the bulk of the world’s spam is “supposedly” sent from.
Well "supposedly," most of the spam is coming from the European Union. Here is the reason why:

Although it appears that way the very nature of spam distribution makes it difficult to accurately pinpoint the true geographic origin the sender. Spammers often take advantage of tricks that allow them to mask their real location and bypass DNS block lists.

Spam doesn't seem to be decreasing, either. January analysis by Symantec revealed that 78.5 percent of all e-mail sent is spam.

Other notable results from the report are that spammers a.k.a. scammers are busy taking advantage of a rumored tax rebate to steal people's identities and using Valentine's day deals to lure men to a dating site.

My guess is that we will see Valentine's day e-cards bearing malicious software pop up in the near future, also. Clicking on one of these normally turns your system into what I refer as a "spam spewing zombie." It's also a good way to have a keylogger implanted (dropped) on your system, which is capable of stealing all your personal and financial information.

Another persistent trend is spam offering too good to be true job offers, which entail tricking someone into laundering the proceeds of Internet crime. If anyone is considering getting involved in this activity, please be aware that I hear people are getting arrested after getting involved in one of these schemes.

Even when people don't get arrested, they end up being responsible for a LOT of money. Their identities are often used to commit more crimes without their permission, or immediate knowledge, also.

In case anyone wants more information on this, I've written a few "tidbits" about this type of scam (spam), which can linked to, here.

Spammers are also exploiting the global immigration issue by offering "too good to be true" offers of visa help in Europe. So far the targets are Russians and Ukrainians, but if this spam (scam) proves profitable, I'm sure it will be marketed (spammed), elsewhere.

Other notable trends noted in the report are new variations of porn scams, weight loss scams involving a promise to alter your genes and offers to turn a "ton of manure" into biofuel.

I found this especially ironic since it describes a great way to describe most spam, "manure." And if 78.5 percent of all e-mail being generated is spam, we are facing tons of "manure" on the Internet on a daily basis!

I guess that means that most spammers are full of "manure."

The full report, which I highly recommend reading can be seen, here.

(Picture courtesy of Josh Bancroft at Flickr)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Push poll favoring Clinton reported in California

(Photo courtesy of EYASU.SOLOMON at Flickr)

I try to stay on the subject of Fraud, Phishing and Financial Misdeeds, but every once in awhile I stray a little off subject.

Although, technically push polling is slightly off subject for this blog, it is similar to what I normally write about. "In the broadest sense, a fraud is a deception made for personal gain," according to Wikipedia.

Substitute personal for political in the Wikipedia definition and some might consider push polling a form of fraud.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, "push polling," here is Wikipedia's definition:

A push poll is a political campaign technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning.

With Super Tuesday coming up tomorrow -- and the fact that the great State of California has a lot of delegates at stake -- I wanted to help bring attention to some push polling tactics that are surfacing.

Andrew Malcolm reported on the LA Times blog that a push poll is being conducted in California that appears to favor Hillary Clinton. A former news producer, Ed Coghlan, "played" along on an unsolicited call he received, which supports this contention.

From the blog post:

Ed, who's a former news director for a local TV station, was curious. He said, "Sure, go ahead."

But a few minutes into the conversation Ed says he noticed a strange pattern developing to the questions. First of all, the "pollster" was only asking about four candidates, three Democrats -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, who was still in the race at the time -- and one Republican -- John McCain.
Going a little further into Coghan's deduction that he was being push polled:

Also, every question about Clinton was curiously positive, Coghlan recalls. The caller said things like, if you knew that Sen. Clinton believed the country had a serious home mortgage problem and had made proposals to....freeze mortgage rates and save families from foreclosure, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for her?

Ed said, of course, more likely.

Every question about the other candidates was negative. If Ed knew, for instance, that as a state senator Obama had voted "present" 43 times instead of taking a yes or no stand "for what he believed," would Ed be more or less likely to vote for him?
The LA Times did try to nail down the Clinton campaign as to who was behind this poll and here is what happened:

Phil Singer, the spokesman for the Clinton campaign. was contacted by e-mail last night. He answered that he was there. He was asked if the Clinton campaign was behind the push-poll knew who was behind it or had any other information on it. That was at 5:27 p.m. Pacific Time Saturday. As of this item's posting time, exactly eight hours later, no reply had been received.

So far as me personally, if I get a pesky (what I consider) telemarketing call from a candidate, I plan to just say "no" and hang up.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone got a do not call list going for political interests that use tactics that are just as seedy (my opinion) as the most deceptive telemarketing tactics the list was designed to protect us from?

Full post about this matter from the Los Angeles Times, here.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Truston Identity Theft Services wins 2008 Hot Company Award

(Tom Fragala, CEO of Truston and Identity Theft Victim Advocate)

The identity theft protection/prevention industry is enjoying double-digit growth in what many believe is a faltering economy. Everyone seems to be jumping into it, even the big three credit bureaus and a LOT of members of the financial services industry.

Critics of the identity theft protection industry say the services they provide are available for free and the proponents say they are making a difficult process easy for busy people.

Tom Fragala, CEO of Truston, introduced a product awhile back that addressed another concern, which is how well is a person's information is protected after it is turned over to an identity theft service and maintained somewhere it might be compromised all over again.

Some of these services ask their customer's to provide them with a power of attorney -- which is something people should consider carefully before handing over -- especially to someone they really don't know.

Tom feels rather personally about this. He has been a victim himself, spent thousands of hours advocating for victims and blogs to make people aware of the problem, also.

In real terms, Truston allows a person to protect their identity effectively without handing over any personal information. It's also cheaper (even free for the protection part of it) than the competition. Using Truston's platform a person is guided through the sometimes difficult process of preventing and recovering from identity theft. The platform even provides reminders if you forget to finish one of the steps.

Because of this, Truston has now been named a winner in the 2008 Hot Company Awards. The announcement was made in a press release and on Tom's personal blog, where he wrote:

On Tuesday, at the Technosium Conference in Silicon Valley, Truston was selected as a winner of the 2008 Hot Company awards by the Network Products Guide, published by Silicon Valley Communications. This comes after being named a finalist in November. All finalists were required to give presentations to a panel of judges prior to the winners being determined.

Having followed the evolution of Truston (I helped test the software), I found this pretty impressive since they were up against companies like "Cisco Systems, Inc, IBM, Juniper Networks, Intel, HP, and Oracle. Other winners of the 2008 Hot Company awards include Blade Network Technologies, Engate Technology, Insightix and Vericept."

When I stated that a lot of players are jumping into this industry, I want to remind everyone that some of them have been the source of information for identity thieves for years. Buying and selling personal information is another highly profitable industry. Problem is that when it is bought and sold numerous times, it's pretty hard to determine where it might end up.

The less places you allow your information to be stored has a direct correlation to how likely it is your information will be stolen.

I guess it all boils down to how valuable a person considers their identity? Truston provides an economical and easy way to protect your personal information.

And if you have an identity worth protecting, it's probably valuable to a "wannabe evil twin" lurking somewhere out there in the shadows, also.

Tom's blog post about Truston being named as a "Hot Company of 2008," here.

Currently, Truston is running a 45 day free trial where you don't have to worry about canceling their service and finding out months later you were still being charged for it.

Previous posts, I've written about Truston, which include some work we've done together on educating people, here.