Monday, December 24, 2012

A new robo-call scam offers unbelievable prizes for personal information


I got three garbled  robo-call messages on my landline (Comcast digital voice) message box this weekend, purporting to come from “Green Dot Money Pack” and claiming that my mother (deceased) had won a $10 million prize and a black Mercedes sedan. Now, I don’t buy lottery tickets or enter sweepstakes, and neither did my mother when she was alive (until the end of 2010). So I know this has to be a scam.

I got three such messages, each taking about ten minutes to play, repeating the same contents, asking to press a button to verify a time I would be home (that sounds suspicious, doesn’t it).

I haven’t noticed this scam online in a phishing email. Maybe it’s in my spam folder.

Presumably, the caller wanted “Mother” to call back and give personal  (and bank account) information to process the “prize”. 

For what it’s worth, the message even listed a call back number of 866-963-6205.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Identity theft of children made all to easy by the way Social Security numbers are used


Michelle Singletary has an important column Wednesday December 5, 2012 on p A18 of The Washington Post, “Identity theft’s youngest victims”, link here

A survey found that children 6 to 11 are the most susceptible, and that 27% knew the perpetrator.
    
It’s surprising that an “Argo” fake identity can be created with a Social Security number and a different birth date.  Why don’t financial database systems require a 1:1 unique functional relationship? (One could think of an entire birthdate as a check digit on a social security number.)
   
The problem is more prevalent in low income families.

People sometimes don't find out their identities were copied until they are young adults and apply for credit or apartments. 
  
It’s easy to guess a social security number, because it isn’t random.  You hometown (on Facebook) is a starting point. 


Originally, Social Security numbers weren’t meant to be used as an identifying key.  They were just account numbers.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Don't sign up for airline discount credit cards unless you're going to fly soon


Well, I got rooked by US Airways and Barclays for $111.  It’s another case of throwing away money in the hustle and bustle of an estate settlement.  It’s not that much money, but it’s the principle of the thing.  This is unethical, deceptive behavior by the airline and the bank.

Just before landing in Los Angeles last May on a cross-country USAirways flight, I foolishly signed up for a credit card (VISA) that was supposed to give you one round trip for, I think, $199 on US Airways.  The only trouble was, I didn’t know how long it would be until I flew again.

I didn’t even see a bill in the mail for the card’s $89 annual “fee”.  I got a call from one of  Baclays’s collectors in August and “settled” it for a total of the $111 (the “penalty” for being a couple days late was $22; it could be worse).  

Today, I got a notice that the account had been closed for lack of use.  I’ve only had the card five months.
  
Is this a security procedure, or just a racket?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

FTC has FAQ page on dealing with debt collectors, and the FDCPA


I thought I would share a Federal Trade Commission FAQ page on debt collection practices and the rights of consumers (according to the Fair Dent Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA), link here

The list of questions is long.  But some of the answers are surprising and important.

Yes, sometimes, a debt collection company can sue consumers, and get a court judgment resulting in wage garnishment.  That is generally the case(only)  when the debt collection company has actually bought the debt (which is a boutique business model in the debt collection industry).  Most federal benefits are exempt from garnishment, and that includes Social Security and veterans benefits.  I don’t see mention of IRS refunds in the exemption list.

A debt collector must stop contacting you if you send a letter disputing the bill (as with an identity theft situation), but can resume if the collector can produce evidence of the bill.

If you have multiple debts, you can direct how payments are applied among debts. 
  
Debt collectors will normally apply a convenience fee on payment by phone, and companies tend to discourage collections employees from waiving it.

The video below shows how collectors are trained about legal (FDCPA) violations:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Barnes and Noble payment terminals hacked


Barnes and Noble is reporting the detection of tampering with the keypads used for debit card transactions in at least 63 stores, with press release here

 Persons who used debit cards with PINs on these keypads might be in danger of theft from associated checking accounts, and should contact their own banks.

Ars Technica has a story on the incident by Dan Goodin here

 In theory, these sorts of problems could happen in any retail establishment.  However, I have had no problems myself with 7-11’s, Rite-AIDSs, CVS, or local supermarkets. 

Consumers should always look at their bank accounts online frequently. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beware of debt settlement offers


Here’s a cautionary article by Michelle Singletary (“The Color of Money”) in section G of the Washington Post, Oct. 21, “Debt settlement is rarely a done deal”, link here

A person with heavy debt might sign a contract with a debt counseling service, which reduces the total debt by a percent for a fee.  But if the person falls behind on the reworked payment schedule to the debt consolidation company, the effect of the service is eliminated, and all the original debt comes back and is still owed.

During my “post layoff” period, I was approached to do “debt counseling” work with unsolicited calls and emails. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Destroying data on old electronics


Here’s a video from MSN about how to wipe old electronics clean before discarding.

Most smart phones have an easy button to press.  For Windows PC, there is a CD with a utility called Dban, and for the Mac there is a utility that comes with the boot disc; you reboot with the disc in the drive and follow some instructions. 

The link is here

What about physical destruction of the unit or exposure to heat or to magnetic fields? Could a strong magnet wipe out a smart phone?  None of this would work with data stored on CD drives (and backup on optical devices could be a good strategy to protect against an enemy EMP strike some day – something that has of yet never happened in the U.S. or the West).

Perhaps another concern is personal data on equipment after a burglary, unless it is detected immediately.  

Two-step verification might not even protect actual hardware that is stolen.  It’s perhaps a good idea to change passwords before leaving a residence or small business alone for long periods of time. This could be a particularly sensitive matter for businesses that store consumer information on site.  
    
It still boggles the mind, that businesses can give loans to fictitious dopplegangers of real people without contacting them at real addresses.  Some banks insist of mail verification of any changes (for example, my ING retirement plan insists on verification by last known address).

In 2000, I found out that I had a questionable “debt” where notices had been sent to an address I had not lived at since 1979. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Civilian contractor posts social security numbers of Armed Forces members


The Washington Times, in a story by Rowan Scarbporough, reported Friday (Sept. 28) that a civilian contractor had posted, on a public website, the Social Security numbers of at least 31 current or former US Armed Forces members, “war heroes”, in the profiles of over 500 such persons.

The link for the story is here.

There isn’t much question that such activity would have been a gross violation of the confidentiality provisions of his job.  But the ease with which this was done is alarming to some. 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Private parking garage in Washington DC issues tickets; when unpaid they go on credit report as debts


A parking management company in the Washington DC area, Colonial Parking, is reported to be giving out parking tickets on the street in some areas (the Rhode Island ave. or Bloomingdale neighborhood) of Washington DC, on public streets that it somehow controls.  Failure to pay can lead to a debt that gets put on the person’s credit report and could wind up in collections.  The company has a way to get personal information from the DMV.

ABC affiliate WJLA-7 has the story here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Debt collectors sometimes do mention the possibility of prosecution -- legally


On Sunday, September 16, an article by Jessica Silva-Greenberg in the New York Times reported on a trend among debt collection companies to include a seal and signature from a local prosecutor’s (or district attorney’s) office. The practice occurs when collecting bad checks, where an additional “financial accountability education” fee is added to the debt.

Prosecutors in some states allow the practice (which occurs even before prosecutors or police determine that a crime has occurred) because prosecutors' office get some of the "financial education fee" money. (I don't think this is allowed in Virginia, which is stricter on prosecutor procedures than most other states.)

The link for the story is here.

Normally, it’s illegal for debt collection companies to mention threats of prosecution or even lawsuits to consumers (although companies that have “bought debt” can sue consuners).  

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Debt collections particularly aggressive against student loan defaults; purchasers of debt automate the lawsuit process


The front page of the New York Times on Sunday, in an article by Andrew Martin, “Debt collectors cashing in on student loan roundup: Those in default find it difficult to hide”, September 9, 2012, link (website url) here

The government has many means of direct collection, such as IRS refund seizure, social security benefit or wage garnishment, not so easily used for ordinary credit card debts.

And some debt collection companies specialize in student loan problems.

And some consumers are not told of forbearance options like “income-based repayment” which bases payments on discretionary income (at 15%), which could be difficult to assess.

A previous article in the NYT by Martin, July 12, had reported on the mechanics of automated debt collection lawsuits filed by companies that buy debts.  Ordinarily, it is not lawful, under the FDPCA, for a collector to tell a debtor he or she will be sued; but suits are legal when debts have been purchased, and there is plenty of software around to automate the generation of the legal paperwork and summonses to file the lawsuits.  There is criticism that they are often based on inaccurate information. 

Back in the early 1990s, after the first Savings and Loan crisis (before the subprime crisis of a few years ago), it was common for aggressive litigation tactics (including "letter lawsuits") to be used against borrowers with deficiency judgments, even in the cases of assumed mortgages (see James Widener, "A Homeowner's Guide to Foreclosure", Dearborn Financial Press, 1992). 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Not all banks check logons from different computers


Here’s a little note from “my own experience”.

When I try to log on to my Bank of America account from a different laptop (in my case, a netbook), I get asked a security question before being allowed to log on to a different computer.  Bank of America has also long used a security icon to show that the visitor is at a true Bank site, not a fake from a phishing attack.

In my own experience, I did not experience that with Wells Fargo or with UBS.
  
With Wells Fargo, the MacIntosh (with Safari) converts the protocol to https automatically. But in Windows 7, Internet Explorer fails to load the page if you key in “http”.  You have to know to key in https. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

USPS provides guidance on NCOA


The United States Postal Service now hands out a card explaining how to use NCOA (National Change of Address) online.  The instructions include the use of a credit card to verity identity, and the receipt of a confirmatory email (much like a password reset email with link).

That’s good as far as it goes;  what I have proposed before (Sept. 25, 2006) was the idea that every financial product or loan application be checked against an off-line database, which could be NCOA on a mainframe, in order to verity that the consumer will actually receive billing notices and know that an account was taken out. 

I already missed a legitimate account (if cheesy) from an airline recently; the first bill never arrived.  I paid if off; soon I’ll check my credit score to assess the “damage”.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Airline Master Card surprises me with annual fee, past due bill when I never activated card, never got bill; it's legal, not phishing; but it's deceptive!


I was not too pleased with how US Airways behaved.  Yes, I applied for their Master Card on a trip to Los Angeles in May, and I did get the card a few weeks ago.  I hadn’t activated it yet, just hadn’t bothered.

I got a bizarre automated cell phone call from US Air, twice, which seemed to die when I try to enter the prompts.  So I activated the card and called the 866 number which turned out to be Barclays.   (You should not pay a bill when called unless you can verify it is valid; you should call the 800 number on your card yourself.  Obviously, this sort of situation would lend itself to phishing, too.) Yes, I owed $89 for the annual fee and a $22 past due penalty (which is low by industry standards; $39 is typical now), for a card I hadn’t even activated yet.  I suppose my FICO score has already taken a hit, so I had no choice but to pay the $111 by phone. 

Now I’ll have to do my credit report in about a week, after there has been time for the payment to be reported to the three reporting companies (and to Fair Isaacs).  Will my score come back when the  payment shows up?

I did not even receive a bill my mail or email.  They just simply applied the charge.

And I’ve never heard of an annual fee until you’ve had the card for a while.  Maybe airline cards are different. 

This seems like a racket. 

But at least a phone call tipped me off to the fact that there could be a problem.  Otherwise, it might have gone unnoticed and wound up in collections.  

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

DC turns unpaid parking tickets over to debt collectors


The District of Columbia is turning over unpaid parking tickets to debt collectors, and this can cause FICO or Vantage credit scores of violators to drop suddenly, by over 100 points.

Other jurisdictions are very likely going to do the same, especially for out-of-town tickets from distant states.  They could do the same thing with red light and speeding photo tickets.

It does seem that scores will go back up if violators settle the tickets in full.  It’s not clear, however, what happens if they settle through the debt collection agency, which takes a substantial cut.

WJLA (ABC affiliate) has the story here 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Medical debt collector in MN tried to interfere with emergency care


A medical debt collection company, Accretive Health, has agreed to pay a civil fine to the Minnesota state attorney general’s office and has been barred from contracting with hospitals in Minnesota for two years.

The company is said to have hindered operation of a federal law that requires provision of emergency care to uninsured patients who cannot pay.
   
The company was accused of placing debt collectors near hospital emergency rooms and trying to pressure patients to pay before receiving treatment.

Kaiser has a news story on the litigation here
  
It is common for debt collection companies to have separate departments for medical collections.  A debt collector that I worked for in 2003 had such an operation. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Some financial companies require contact with postal addresses now


I’ve noticed a practice by some insurance companies and banks that does fit in to my proposal for preventing identity theft. That is, simply sending a password by mail to a previously known home address, which could have been confirmed by NCOA.  This practice may include requiring additional signatures from items mailed to a known home address.  The technique is common when there are multiple stakeholders on an account or when these could have changed (estates and trusts). 

It’s effective for services where customer access is probably infrequent and where payment is probably only occasional (once a month or even once a year, as with premiums). 

Friday, July 06, 2012

Wells Fargo offers identity theft protection, credit score monitoring, for a fee


I see when I log on to Wells Fargo that it now offers (to its account holders) identity theft protection for $12.99 a month, and adds credit score monitoring and simulation services for an extra $3, or a total of $15.99 a month.

My reaction is, why should we pay a bank to “protect us” when it should do its job anyway.

Here is the basic link.

Property insurance companies typically offer it as a rider or endorsement. 

It’s harder to steal the identity of someone with an unusual name like mine and some public prominence than many people.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

To reiterate: use NCOA to prevent "duplicate people" from being created without the "original's" knowledge


Recent media reports have focused on identity theft of minors, with perhaps 10% of all people under 18 affected at some point.

Criminals get social security numbers from a variety of sources (including medical, despite HIPAA) and create fraudulent accounts, which then show up on the people’s credit reports without their knowledge until checked. 

Sometimes young people don’t find out they have a problem until they are young adults and try to get apartments.

Again, I still think there is a solution:  associate with each financial obligation for an individual an address (it could be a street address, mail box, even Internet) confirmed by a third party government system such as USPS’s NCOA.  Then there is no way an account can be created in someone’s name without the person (or parents) being notified through that address.

This idea would, however, give the federal government a little more information, and some privacy advocates on the libertarian side will object.

Again, see Sept. 25, 2006 on this blog.

Friday, June 01, 2012

NYT wants Congress to ban employment credit history checks for most jobs


On May 31, the New York Times weighed in on the practice by many employers of doing pre-employment credit checks, and denying jobs, sometimes on the basis of information on the wrong person, as with identity theft or reporting errors.  The editorial link is here

The Times maintains that the practice creates as “credit history underclass” that feeds on itself, and that in most cases there is no job-related justification.

The NYT wants Congress to follow seven states in taking up the issue.

When I worked for a credit reporting company (Chilton, in Dallas) in the 1980s, the employer did a credit history check in 1987 during merger controversies and eventual downsizing.

In those days, it was common for employers to regard associates as having "absolute responsibility" for their own credit histories and reported worthiness. 

What about using “online reputation” checks?  They would be even less reliable.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fraudulent "early" tax refunds rampant in South Florida


Lizette Alvarez has a story in the New York Times about rampant IRS refund fraud by stolen identities, particularly in South Florida, link (website url) here.

 The refunds are often deposited to prepaid debit cards popular with people who don’t have bank accounts (the unbanked).

The story indicates the scale of the problem, overwhelming the ability of the IRS to prevent it with any reasonable procedures.   Usually the fraudulent returns are filed before the real ones, and real filers find out they have been spoofed when they try to file.

Police often find identity theft paraphernalia at routine traffic stops. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

Ohio newspaper documents comingling of credit histories, seemingly impossible for consumers to get fixed


The Columbus Dispatch has a disturbing story on the consequences for consumers of credit reporting agencies mixing people up with the same or similar names, where one of the people has bad credit and the others have good credit. The story by Mike Wagner and Jill Riepenhoff, “Credit Scars: Mixed and Marred: When credit reporting agencies blend your files with others’, the financial damage can be devastating”, link here was carried Sunday night by the AP. 

The story provides a new wrinkle. When creditors pull reports, the need only to give minimal information (like SSN) which has often been incorrectly comingled. When consumers pull their own reports (from free legally mandated services or even monitoring they pay for) they have to provide more information, which causes the incorrect information not to be pulled in before it is sent to them. So they can never get a problem resolved.

The problems documented in Ohio (from my mother's side of my family, a "second home state")  have been persistent, with many consumers unable to get problems fixed at all. One suicide has resulted, and massive litigation seems to be beginning.

I worked for the credit reporting industry, Chilton (now Experian) from 1981-1988 in Dallas.  I never heard about problems on this scale.  I also worked as a debt collector briefly in 2003, and often heard consumers deny debts claimed of them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Woman turns tables on debt collection company with grossly illegal tactics, wins $10 million judgment, tries to collect


A woman in West Virginia sued and won a $10 million judgment against a debt collection company named R.F.A., for trying to collect a mortgage-related debt she did not know, and actually even trying to impersonate a sheriff’s office.  Now she will try to collect the judgment and get the company shut down.

Elisabeth Leamy has the detailed story for ABC here,   and it aired Wednesday April 25, ironically after ABC’s “Revenge”.

The company that I worked for in 2003 was RMA (not RFA), no connection.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Major security breach with payment processor; minors targeted by ID theft rings


Brian Krebs, computer security blogger and journalist, reports on the major security breach at Global Payments in early March, 2012, affecting up to 10 million Master Card and Visa numbers, link here

Smaller businesses these days (compared to the 90s) are much more likely to outsource their own credit card processing (like to Amazon) and not take on the risk of being responsible for consumer information. But most of the breaches these days seem to happen at big companies. 

In the meantime, there are also major media reports of identity theft of social security numbers of minors.  Social Security has adopted new randomization algorithms to try to defeat this trend.

In fact, Equifax now offers a family notification service for about $30 a month, for two adults and up to four kids.  It sounds like paying protection money.  But here is a story about it on Smart Money on CNN, link.   There’s one case of a college student in Indiana who, when getting apartment, found pages of defaulted credit cards in her name since she was eleven years old. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Credit reporting companies "upselling" to identity theft victims


Bob Sullivan has an article on MSNBC on the practice of “upselling” to identity theft victims by credit reporting companies, when they should be focused solely on fixing errors.  The link is here.

The practice vaguely reminds me of the STD website, where the owner tries to tell people falsely listed that they can buy an online reputation repair service.  That was on the Anderson Cooper show recently and it sounds like extortion.

Companies are hiring an paying commissions to low wage people to go out and sell other services in cookie-cutter fashion that consumers don’t need.   You could say that this is a symptom of weak social capital.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Consumer Reports slams credit industry behavior on inexact credit scores sold to consumers


Kathleen Pender has a valuable article in the March/April 2011 Consumer Reports, p. 29, “Credit Sore Outrage: why the ultimate numbers game is out of control”, link here  (requires online paywall; the print version is easily found at CVS stores). 
  
The article talks about a “Fake-O-Fico” score. The scores that credit reporting sites sell you are not guaranteed to be the same as what lenders see.  The companies say the score you see is within 15-20 points.

 There seems to be no way to know in advance exactly what lenders (or employers) will see. 

Vantage and Fair Isaccs (FICO) scores have different schedules.

Also, be wary that credit reporting companies (especially Experian) will sell you scores based on your report with them, and it may not match exactly a combined score.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Debt collecting companies will be regulated in a manner similar to credit reporting companies

The “new” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will issue rules that propose that debt collection companies be regulated with accountabilities similar to those of credit reporting companies. 
The Reuters story is here.

The debt collection industry, where I worked for a while in 2003 and where I have interviewed in the past, has more variable business models, and companies that actually buy debt seem to be creating more problems for consumers.

Reuters is also reporting on a problem of “old mortgages” that are supposed to go away with refinancing but don’t.  Some people have received foreclosure notices when they did not even know they had mortgages.

That story is here
   
A related problem back in the 1990s had been unqualified assumptions, which could lead to litigation against previous owners who had sold homes, not realizing they were still liable. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

NARCA offers CD media presentation, "Avoiding the Debt Trap: What Young Adults Need to Know"

The National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys, or NARCA, has a CD called “Avoiding the Debt Trap: What Young Adults Need to Know”.

The CD offers a Power Point presentation of about 50 slides, along with some PDF’s explaining all the concepts.  The CD has an “exe” file that loads a viewer on a computer that doesn’t have PowerPoint.  I watched it on a MacBook with Microsoft Office Mac.

There is am embed of the CD on the main website or NARCA, here

I picked up the CD (free) at a local church in northern Virginia. 

The subject for young adults is important because this population is particularly likely these days to be loaded down with student debt. 

Perhaps NARCA and Suze Orman could produce a short film together on this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maryland Piedmont town has identity theft outbreak

Several media outlets report an epidemic of identity theft on one street in the town of Urbana, MD, near Frederick, MD, a couple miles off of I-270, as in this Gazette story

There is some suspicion that the thefts are happening in the physical world first, with mail boxes, although someone could have hacked town or county computers.
   
Station WJLA has a story by Horace Holmes, here.  The broadcast story identified the town, but the online story doesn't. 

It's pretty hard to believe that the scam could go on much longer.  Crooks have opened new accounts for "dopplegangers", but Visa and Master Card have very sophisticated fraud tracing systems, one of them (apparently near Dallas) recently shown in a Nightly News broadcast.  Employees are not allowed to have their own cell phones in the facility. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Suze Orman's new "Approved Card" avoids smackdowns, aims to help people build credit scores without credit cards, auto loans or mortgages

Suze Orman, “the personal financial planner for the whole World”, has been advocating use of the “Approved Card”, which is a prepaid debit card, link here. Orman hopes that in time the major credit reporting companies and credit scoring companies (Fair Isaacs FICO, Vantage) will consider the use of the cards (favorably) in calculating a credit score.

Jennifer Tescher, on “Bank Think”, gives a detailed discussion of Orman’s card and ideas, here

And the Oprah Magazine has an article in the Feb. 2012 issue, here. I have to admit, I need to check out how Oprah is doing with her new channel for my TV blog, and will do so soon. 

Suze Orman recently explained her new card on Anderson Cooper's daytime show. 

I should add, that I have a "normal" Bank of America debit card and have not yet run into any security problems.  I do have a maximum daily withdrawal limit from it, for personal security.

Note: There is a discussion of the new concept of "data lockers" on "BillBoushka" site Tuesday Feb. 13.

Suze Orman's book "Women & Money" is reviewed on my Books blog, Feb. 14, 2008.  It had been offered on the Oprah Winfrey show that month. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Identity security without the fees -- just how far should one go?

Alina Tegund has an important piece in the New York Times, “preventing identity theft without paying th the monthly fees”, link.

She say that you can get the banks to warn you about every debit card withdrawal, and lists a lot of other things to check.  And she does recommend shredding of paper.  I would add, have a maximum ATM withdrawal or debit card transaction for any 24-hour period.  All banks will offer this. 

Why go to some much trouble?  Shouldn’t the banks be responsible for protecting you?  Well, they do, to a great extent (watch it with debit cards).   The biggest problem isn’t so much stolen cards as counterfeit ones. 
The ethical issue or philosophical one is that the buck stops somewhere, and ultimately it’s still the consumer.  Why?  You can’t have freedom without it.  True, banks may be in a position to protect their customers, but then must other businesses always protect everyone from any form of downstream liability?  What would this mean on the Web?

Admittedly, many people, in practice, are much harder to forge than others.  Many people, in practice, are not a much risk.  It pays to check your accounts online regularly. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Debt collectors paying record fines over stretching the rules

The New York Times, in a story by Tara Siegel Bernhard, reports that the FTC has levied the second-largest-ever fine on Asset Acceptance, link (website url) here.

The company, which apparently buys other debt at pennies on the dollar, would make threats to sue consumers (which it cannot follow up) and to goad consumers into making partial payments to wipe out the expiration of limitations.  

As noted before, employees in many debt collection agencies face extreme pressures to meet quotas and bend the rules.  

Another company paying a big fine is West Asset Management. 

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Consumer tip: watch delivery options when buying theater tickets on the web

This is not really an id-security issue, but it is a consumer issue.

On Tuesday, Dec. 27 I bought a ticket for a performance of “Jersey Boys” at the National Theater Jan. 5.  I thought the price was about $125, from the National’s website.  I checked an option to have a ticket mailed.  I later discovered that this convenience had cost an extra $29.  Maybe FedEx makes sense close to performance date, but there was time. And the ticket when delivered was exactly the same e-Ticket I had printed out the same day. And the price printed on it was just $66.

I didn’t have any problems at all in early December with “Sister Act” in NYC from Broadway.com, and the total for that show as just $51.50.  But Jersey Boys in Washington turned out to be a rip-off.  I will say, I haven’t run into anything like this with the Kennedy Center. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Business Insider gives five tips to protect your identity; consider "smart card" technology for credit cards, and "Bill Guard"

Business Insider has a useful post, “5 Minute Tips to Keep Your Identify from Being Hijacked” (by Justine Rivero), and there indeed are five of them.

I don’t do sensitive business on my two-year-old Blackberry (but contract renewal comes soon), but it seems existing numbers in the cache could be stolen.

The smart card technology for credit and especially debit cards sounds like a good idea.  No bank has offered it yet to me. I expect to hear from Wells Fargo and Bank of America soon on this. 

Placing a daily limit on maximum withdrawals would limit the damage or exposure to carjackings and muggings at ATM’s.

For travel, a secure MiFi card (like Verizon’s) is safer than using public WiFi.  I find the card very reliable in 95% of the country.  But use of https should also provide protection.

Note the mention of the WPA2 security protocol.

Webroot tweeted this link today, here.

You could consider a service like BillGuard, link here 

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Newsweek: abuses by debt collectors increase, as more debt is sold

Newsweek has the latest tirade against debt collectors, with the online entry here, an article called “America’s abusive debt collectors” and referring outright to America’s “overconsumption binge”.

Abuses by collectors have increased as collection agencies are less able to recover debt from more strapped consumers.  People take jobs as debt collectors and are pushed by supervisors to break the law.

The article spends much of its space on debt buyers, who have often been individuals who put their “own skin in the game”.  In time they form little companies and hire collectors themselves. Debt is sold several times for even less on the dollar (“tersh” means tertiary, or third time).  In better times, hedge funds helped individual debt buyers.

For a couple months in 2003 (before moving back to VA), I worked for a company called RMA near MSP airport in St. Paul MN.  The company did not engage in abusive practices and actually held employees to the FDPCA.   I drove past the property in June 2011 and it looked like it belonged now to ACB, Associated Credit Bureaus.  But I imagine in the era of the Internet collection companies would worry that prospective employees would later rat on them online as “blogger journalists”.  Some companies that own debt say they have policies against employees “friending” debtors to spy on them! The Internet could have a big effect on the debt collection world.

Many collection agencies are located in the midwest, where the Central time zone makes calling easier. 

Debt buyers sometimes sue debtors.  I’m not sure of the legality of the practice.

John G Watts, an attorney in Alabama, has a video on debt buyer lawsuits: 


In 2000, I was dinged for $650 by “National Credit Systems” for a twenty year old credit card debt with Chemical Bank (originally $130) which I’m not really sure was valid; it could have fallen through the cracks of a household move from New York to Texas in 1979, though.

Handling a “statute of limitations” on an old debt is tricky; even a partial payment reopens the entire liability.