Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Retailers Honor Sleuths Who Smashed $100 Million Organized Retail Crime Ring

The National Retail Federation is recognizing a couple of individuals, both from law enforcement and within their own ranks, for their contributions in smashing a $100 million organized retail crime ring. These crime fighters are being honored at the NRF Loss Prevention Conference & EXPO in Orlando, Florida.

The two being honored are Detective Ostojic, of the Polk Country Sheriff's Department, and Ron Averette from the loss prevention department at Publix Supermarkets. In June 2007, the two began comparing notes on a group that was stealing large amounts of merchandise. Subsequently, Detective Ostojic was able to tie in cases at other retailers and Averette (along with Ostojic) presented the pattern of activity to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida State Attorney's Office. This led to a task force being formed under the leadership of Special Agent Telly Sands from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.The result of the task force's efforts were that 18 people were identified as being involved in the ring and subsequently arrested.

The FBI estimates that organized retail crime costs retailers an estimated $30 billion dollars a year. To date, this is the largest documented case where organized retail crime was identified as being the cause.

These rings use flea markets, Internet auction sites like eBay and Craigslist, rogue e-commerce sites, and even seedy merchants to sell their goods. Some retail loss prevention departments have dedicated personnel to investigate stolen merchandise on auction sites.

In this case, a lot of the stolen merchandise were health and beauty aids. Some of these products have expiration dates, which might lead to health and safety concerns for the end user.

Mark Albright wrote an article about this case in the Saint Petersburg Times, where he mentioned specific brands the group deemed desirable for resale. By doing a search on eBay, I found a wide selection of Gillette razor blades, Prilosec, Crest WhiteStrips, and Oil of Olay available on the site. Please note that I have no way of telling if these items were the result of organized retail crime or obtained legitimately. I do know that large companies generally frown on having their products sold on auction sites and I saw some extremely good prices listed for these products.

According to the article in the Saint Petersburg Times some of the shoplifters (boosters) involved have rap sheets (criminal records) ranging from sex crimes to armed robbery and attempted murder.

A recent survey indicated that retailers are seeing an increase in organized retail crime activity. The cost of this type of crime is eventually added into the cost of the product being stolen, which means we all end up paying for it.

This activity has been known to run smaller businesses bankrupt. Even at larger retail organizations, out of control losses often dictate that operating budgets need to be trimmed. Since payroll is often the largest operating cost in an organization, this leads to reductions in hours and positions to keep a company afloat. Simply stated, activity like this can cost people their jobs.

Legislation has been passed in many states and more is forthcoming to make organized retail crime penalties stiffer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Inside CRM publishes 50 ways to protect your privacy!

I got a tip from Fiona King at InsideCRM magazine about an article they published that lists fifty tips to protect your privacy, personal and financial information. InsideCRM represents the customer relationship management industry.

The article intended to provide useful tips to protect the average person from fraud, phishing, and all the assorted financial misdeeds facing the average person in today's world. The tips provide information on how these scams originate and emphasize how a person can take back control of their personal and financial information.

The article covers how to protect yourself both on and offline and how you can track your personal information on the Internet. Although I've seen many of these tips before, putting them all in a one-page format makes this article a useful tool. Along with the fifty tips are useful links, which direct the reader to the source material about the particular tip.

The CRM industry has a stake in fighting the battle against scams that are being made easier by technology. Consumer trust is a key factor in any type of business involving customers.
One growing concern that can give the industry a bad rap (even though the legitimate CRM center had nothing to do with it) is a phenomenon called vishing where personal information is stolen by calling people up on the telephone. This type of activity is a growing phenomenon. In most cases, the crooks impersonate a legitimate organization when doing this.

My personal tip on how not to get caught in a vishing expedition is to remember that no reputable organization will ever call (unsolicited by you) and ask for personal or financial information. If this occurs, a red flag should go up in your head and I recommend verifying the number via a known third party source and calling them back. Do not rely on caller ID; spoofing services (which fake caller ID) numbers are available to anyone with the capital to purchase them on the Internet.

The article lists some useful tips when dealing with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, which many believe is the cause in the recent surge of vishing activity. The reason for this is that it has made calling long distance cheap and vishing scams now come from all over the world, making them hard to investigate or trace.

Additionally, CRM centers often deal in personal and financial information. One of the biggest consumer trust issues that faces the industry is when information is breached from within a CRM center. Recent reports of information being stolen at CRM centers have made internal security at CRM centers a priority.

Please note that CRM centers are not the only places personal and financial information are compromised. This is becoming a sad reality and any business that deals in "information" needs to be aware of the potential risks of having this valuable commodity stolen from under their noses.

Most technology scams involve healthy does of social engineering (human trickery) to make them work. Education is the best defense against social engineering and InsideCRM has provided all of us with a valuable tool to do this with!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yes we can protect the citizen from the Big Oil Scam!

Recently, I've written a couple of posts about energy speculation and why it's part of the reason for the current energy crisis. This occurs when speculators buy oil on paper with credit, the oil is never delivered and then we are told that supply and demand is driving the prices up.

Then all of a sudden, I read a story that Barack Obama is calling for an end to the speculation many believe is the cause of the out-of-control prices. Some think these high prices are being enabled by a law known as the "Enron Loophole." One would think that after studying all the fraud and financial misdeeds in the Enron scandal -- anything they pushed through Congress would have had action taken on it a long time ago?

Perhaps, I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but having lived in California at the time of the Enron scandal -- I can see clear similarities between that time and now. Two of them are how it is hitting the pocketbook of the average person and that that the economic law of supply and demand is being used as an excuse.

From an article in the Washington Post by Anne E. Kornblut:

Sen. Barack Obama on Sunday rolled out a proposal to curb speculation in energy markets, a plan his advisers said would help stabilize soaring gas prices.

Obama proposed a four-step program that would, among other things, close a so-called "Enron loophole" that protects some energy futures trading from oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, his advisers said.

The Washington Post article quoted the McCain camp as saying:

"The truth is Barack Obama is following John McCain's lead to close a Wall Street loophole that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton," McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. "John McCain has supported bipartisan efforts to close this loophole and will work to address abuses in oil speculation. Barack Obama has voted the party line for Democrats who claim the loophole is fixed. The fact that Barack Obama is attacking John McCain, despite McCain's leadership on the issue, shows that Barack Obama is driven by the partisan attacks that Americans are tired of."

Do we have a reversal going on? Prior to this all we've seen are statements on conservation and allowing the oil companies to drill in places they weren't allowed to before.

Please note -- the quote from the McCain camp is partially true -- Mr. McCain has in the past supported legislation to close the Enron Loophole. The problem is that it's been awhile since he has brought up doing anything about it. Perhaps, Mr. Obama will make him remember his original concerns with the problem?

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann did an interesting story on this, which I first saw on my daughter's blog (, which can be seen, here.

This investigative report points out that Ken Lay starting laying the ground work for the Enron Loophole under the first Bush administration with the blessing of then "new" U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Enron Loophole was actually signed into law under the Clinton Administration.

Fast forward to the present and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is now going to host a International energy market manipulation conference to look into the speculation issue. Is this a sign that the Enron Loophole has gotten out-of-control?

It also points out that it is probable the speculators will do the same thing with alternative energy sources once they come into vogue.

Of course in all fairness to John McCain, he did vote with the minority in 2002-2003 to close this loophole.

Bill O'Reilly also did an interesting talking point on this subject last Wednesday called "Who Is Hurting You at the Gas Pump." Mr. O'Reilly made a great argument that a large percentage of the prices at the pump are being caused by greedy speculators and that the oil industry and OPEC are along for the ride.

Hopefully, Mr. Obama's statement will inspire the rest of the leadership in Washington to do the right thing and take a serious look at this problem.

In closing, those of us who remember the 70's need to remember we should have been taking a holistic approach to the energy problem long ago. We need to develop alternative sources and find ways to produce energy that aren't going to ruin the planet.

If we ignore the recent lessons on how volatile the energy market is -- there is little doubt we will see the problem in the future again -- and wonder why we didn't do anything about it NOW.

I hope this doesn't turn into a flurry of attacks between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain. Wouldn't it be nice to see them join hands and do what is in the interest of the general public? I'd also like to see support in Washington to foster what should be a bi-partisan effort.

I'm pretty sure the voting public would appreciate this and should they fail to do so might express their frustrations when they exercise their right to vote!

Identity Theft Service wins Network Products Guide 2008 Product Innovation Award

Tom Fragala announced on his blog that "Truston received a 2008 Product Innovation Award from Network Products Guide for our myTruston Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform."

Tom is a well known blogger on the subject of identity theft, was really a victim himself and has spent a lot of time advocating for victims.

He quoted Networks Product Guide as saying:

“Truston's innovative SaaS platform offers an organized approach to getting a stolen identity back and keeping it safe.

myTruston is the only ID theft product that does not require sensitive data, is the only SaaS product in the space, supports virtually all fraud types, has unlimited content extensibility, is built on a patent-pending task management engine and allows for seamless integration with partner's web sites.”

Truston is a platform that allows the individual to protect themselves and recover from identity theft without handing over their personal and financial information. Many of their competitors maintain this information in databases, which seem to be compromised, frequently.
Some of them also require you sign a power of attorney to use their service.

In fact, there is so much compromised information out there, no one is really sure how much there is. Finjan, a noted computer security company, has recently been finding crime servers containing a lot of stolen information that no one knew had been compromised before. Ironically, the owners of these crime servers didn't even bother to password protect them in certain instances.

Despite this, we read about known data breaches all the time.

This isn't the first award Truston has received from the Technology industry and I suspect it won't be the last.

The neat thing is that if you are reading this post, Tom is still offering a free 45 day trial. Of course, the protection part always has been free.

If you would like to try the services for free, click here.

Recently MyTruston created a partnership with Identity Force and their platform is now being used by government agencies. These include the Department of Veterans Affairs, FEMA, US Coast Guard, Transportation Safety Administration, and Department of Energy.

While identity theft is a growing problem and no one can protect themselves 100 percent, MyTruston offers a platform to do so that is at least as good (if not better) than anything else in the industry. If you see advertising for an identity service that is 100 percent bulletproof, I recommend exercising the sage principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware) before shelling out your hard-earned money.

The reason I say better is that it was built on principles that protect privacy and by an individual that wanted people to "trust" his product.

If you would like to learn more about MyTruston, their site has a FAQ page that answers a lot of questions.

Press release on this latest award, here.