Monday, November 28, 2005

Returning To Bad News

After a delightful week in Southern California, I came home to a gigantic pile of mail. As my cat-sitter put it, "You get more junk mail that anyone else I've ever seen!" In fact, the pile of mail filled to the brim and overflowed the edges of one huge box.

As I went through the items, I came to two envelopes from my accountant, and thinking that these were mere newsletters about end-of-tax-year matters, I put them aside for a few hours. What a nasty suprise I got when I opened the letters!

"We are writing to alert you that some of the personal and confidential information you have provided may be at risk. On Monday, November 14, 2005, burglars broke into our office suite breaching several layers of security. The break in occurred between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. The theives stole computer equipment, some of which contained client information including names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth and bank account information...

"There is an immediate risk that confidential information may be used for identity theft and other illegal purposes. We strongly recommend that you immediately place a 90-day fraud alert on your account by calling Equifax..."

Of course, I called Equifax immediately and, following the simple prompts in the automated system, I placed the fraud alert. But because of the timing of my Thanksgiving vacation, I have to wonder if my identity is already jeopardized.

In the same batch of mail was a letter addressed to my father, who has been dead almost nine years. In order to protect his identity--never mind that he is dead--I am supposed to send to various agencies three copies of his death certificate. Do I still have on hand three death certificates? I doubt it. If my father's identity has been stolen, can such a theft really have substantial impact on me? His estate was settled years ago, but his name still appears on the deed to his house. I'll have to contact the accountant on that one, I suppose.

No sooner had I tended to the fraud alert than I found serious problems with two of my email accounts. I was able to read email but unable to reply, forward, or compose. After three grueling hours on the phone with The Geek Squad and after multiple attempts to deleted adware and spyware, I finally have the laptop email working again. The desktop is another matter and will just have to wait until my Christmas break, which begins on December 10. After what I went through with the Geeks from Jamaica and Bangladesh, I think I'll pay the extra bucks for a house call.

And now, just when I thought computer matters on this laptop were settled, in Blogger "Compose" my enter key doesnt' work! At least the key works in "Edit HTML"--so far, that is. Well, if my blog suddenly falls silent or has no paragraphs, you readers will know that I'm having computer problems.

Coming back to reality after a memorable vacation is always difficult. But somehow I didn't expect that getting back to the grind at home would be this bad!

33 Comments:

At 11/29/2005 12:16 AM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

You need to beware and dis-belive anything you recieve in the mail or on your computer.

Including something that looks like it came from someone you know. Do NOT use phone numbers that are included in the mail or email. Look them up yourself and verify that they are the REAL numbers of the company or people that you need to talk to.

Always follow up imediately with a phone call to whoever it is that supposedly sent you snail mail or email. Confirm and verify what it is you recieved.

You have to NOT trust anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Otherwise you are just playing to their tune and playing right into people's hands that want your money, your reputation and your credit.

Beware, Beware and protect yourself.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

 
At 11/29/2005 6:26 AM, Anonymous Bozwell said...

Man alive AOW!

I feel enraged by these punks doing this and I hope that the autorities track them down (and give 'em a good hiding).

My only advice would be....get drunk!

 
At 11/29/2005 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience last week when I received notice from a former employer that their records had been compromised and recommended that I place a fraud alert on my credit report.

Identity theft seems to be becoming something of a pandemic in our "modern" times.

Imagine what would happen to our nation is suddenly "credit" were to dry up. I doubt many American families would be able to sustain their chosen lifestyles. Makes me wonder if this "pandemic" is in any ways related to the "war".

-FJ

 
At 11/29/2005 11:01 AM, Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Sorry to hear that, AOW.

I'm surprised that the deed is still in your father's name after his estate was probated. Still, what can someone do, try to take out an equity line? Not likely. Consult your attorney but it seems harmeless.

Notify your credit card companies of course. I think that if you take precautions now you are quite safe. Identity problems are severe if they have been unchecked for a while. Just do some research and be prudent and you should be ok.

 
At 11/29/2005 1:26 PM, Blogger Gindy said...

"But somehow I didn't expect that getting back to the grind at home would be this bad!"

That is often the way it is after a break.

"I am supposed to send to various agencies three copies of his death certificate. Do I still have on hand three death certificates? "

I still have to deal with the same issue myself. It is amazing what one has to go through when a family member passes away. What the government requires gets me the most though.

 
At 11/29/2005 2:36 PM, Blogger American Crusader said...

it's absolutely amazing what people will do. I read in your post that there were several layers of security. I hate asking this, but is it possible that someone you know might be responsible. One last thing, stealing the identities of deceased people is a fairly common occurrence as they rarely notify authorities about their rapidly declining credit rating.

 
At 11/29/2005 3:04 PM, Anonymous elmers brother said...

hang in there.

 
At 11/29/2005 3:05 PM, Anonymous Storm said...

Response to
-FJ

Actually your point is most likely partial correct. However, your view is to narrow. Terrorists have threatened the American financial system well before the current action in Iraq. Check out the report from Dartmouth College about Osama.

Also the 9/11 terrorists all had multiple drivers licenses and fake credit cards.

Too Always on Watch actually suspects can get refinancing or a line of credit on a house.

It would be prudent to check again in about 60 days as there is some lag time from when a merchant makes a loan and the loan is reported to equifax. Also make sure you get the fraud alert that lasts 7 years (This must be done in writting). Suspects have been known to wait and try again after the temp hold expires.

 
At 11/29/2005 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good advice.

-FJ

 
At 11/29/2005 3:49 PM, Anonymous Storm said...

-FJ

I perfer you find the Dartmouth report yourself but to save time

http://www.ists.dartmouth.edu/library/164.pdf

This report is from 2003 and documents the efforts of various terrorist organizations including credit card fraud to fund activities. If memory serves correctly Osama is quoted several times vowing to take down the financial grid of America.

This report stands in stark contrast to the picture painted by the media that these criminals are riding around on camels and mad at Bush. Make no mistake they are recruiting persons with cyber skills and they hate Western Civilization not just Bush.

 
At 11/29/2005 5:47 PM, Anonymous Felis said...

"That is often the way it is after a break."

I always feel very uneasy when coming back home from holidays.

I am so sorry to hear about you problems.

 
At 11/29/2005 8:15 PM, Anonymous civil truth said...

Well there's still something to be thankful for -- at least your home was still intact when you came home. As far as your tsuris...this too will pass. Still, I know it's not much fun while you're in the middle of it all.

 
At 11/29/2005 8:21 PM, Blogger jakejacobsen said...

Damn girl!

I'm with Bozwell, it'll all seem better after a cocktail :)

 
At 11/29/2005 9:24 PM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

And they think "Mister" is my first name.

 
At 11/29/2005 10:50 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Thanks to all for your words of comfort and for the good advice. I appreciate your taking the time to give your input! I hesitated to put up a whine of a blog article, but just had to vent.


Update:
I spoke with my accountant today, and he assured me that the firm is staying on top of this situation. Still, another worry to add to mounting list of worries in 2005 (Still having some car trouble. It never ends with older vehicles!). I'll have to wait for the followup information from the accountant, who suggested today that more than a 90-day fraud alert may be necessary.

At least, now that I've spoken with the accountant, I know that I don't have to fret over the fact that my father's name is still on that house deed in the city. Apparently, no harm can come of that--or so I've been told, anyway. And as to why my father's name is still on that deed, the will was probated at the county courthouse, but the house in question is in the city. I guess those two entities don't communicate. Now where have I heard about agencies' not communicating. Hmmm....

All are mystified as to how the burglars got in. The building and the accountants' offices have extreme security. I wonder about the possibility of an inside job. Absolutely nobody would be interested in MY small-peanuts information, but the accounting firm is quite a large and prestigious one, with many cushy clients; I have to wonder if one of those cuchy clients might've been a target. But so much computer equipment was stolen--some 26 machines--that such a possibility seems farfetched.

No hard copies of confidential info were taken--which seems to support the idea that the purpose of the break-in was snatching state-of-the-art equipment.

As far as I know, no other offices in that building were touched, so the above paragraph may be false optimism. The uncertaintly is maddening.

Anyway, another matter for me now to be "on watch" for--my identity!

PS: A small detail in the larger scheme of things...The enter key in Blogger is suddenly restored, on this laptop. I have no idea what's going on. I'll check the desktop's enter key in a day or two.
PPS: Getting that desktop back to normal will be the next priority. Tax season cometh!

 
At 11/29/2005 11:19 PM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

I assume you are running a firewall, if not you can get a free copy of Sygate personal firewall off the net.

YOU MUST HAVE A FIREWALL!!

You need to install SpywareGuard, Spywareblaster and Install and run Ad-Aware SE personal at least twice a week.

You can also get a program called CCleaner that will clean out cookies, temp files and other places that spyware hides.

All these programs are free to download and use. You can google to find where to download them.

But they are no good if you don't keep them updated which is not really a problem over the net.

Castlecops
is a good place to start to educate yourself on the evils of using the Internet.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

 
At 11/30/2005 12:30 AM, Blogger Bassizzzt said...

I need to email you about something similar that happened to me, and the best advice will come with that.

 
At 11/30/2005 1:00 AM, Anonymous elmers brother said...

26 machines and no one sees them! That's ludicrous.

 
At 11/30/2005 12:33 PM, Blogger G_in_AL said...

Anyone else think that stores and other buisnesses should be held finacially and perhaps criminally responsible for illegally used credit information to either purchase items or extend lines of credit?

I dont understand why I cant have "Fingerhut" up on a string for letting someone use my name and my account without doing something (like maybe asking for a phone number to call back on or something we could nail down and track a person with).

How about we let credit card companies know that if they issue a line of credit to someone who is impersonating another person, they will be held liable for any and all purchases/transactions made on that line of credit?

I bet this would be a non-issue very quickly.

 
At 11/30/2005 12:41 PM, Anonymous Storm said...

To Always

I suggested the more the fraud alert for more than 90 days.

I am a Fraud Detective in a major metropolitan area assigned to work primarily Idenity Theft cases.


Storm

 
At 11/30/2005 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Beak suggested your site when I was engaged in a pointless debate with Upon Further Review.

 
At 11/30/2005 2:17 PM, Blogger Storm said...

Storm said...
To Always

I suggested the more the fraud alert for more than 90 days.

I am a Fraud Detective in a major metropolitan area assigned to work primarily Idenity Theft cases.


Storm

11/30/2005 12:41 PM


Anonymous said...
The Beak suggested your site when I was engaged in a pointless debate with Upon Further Review.

11/30/2005 12:43 PM

These are both from me I addressed the second one incorrectly

 
At 11/30/2005 5:55 PM, Blogger Kyle said...

Gigantic pile is the right way to describe all the junk mail we get this time of year. Steaming pile would be more apprpriate.
Next time the postal service wants to increase its rates we should say "Increase the rates on flippin bulk mail you bunch of tools!"

 
At 11/30/2005 8:32 PM, Blogger Pastorius said...

AOW,
I feel for you. That's an avalanche of reality to be hit with right after visiting the SoCal "Paradise."

Glad to see you blogging again.

 
At 11/30/2005 10:33 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Storm,
I appreciate your expert advice and will check again in 60 days.

That seven-year alert sounds like a good idea. You mentioned that I need to do that in writing. How do I go about that? My email address is available in my profile on this blog, and if you feel so inclined, I'd appreciate any additional guidance or advice that you might have.

The Beak suggested your site when I was engaged in a pointless debate with Upon Further Review. At which particular article at Beak's did this pointless debate take place? I might've been on vacation when that discussion at Beak's took place, and I still haven't caught up on reading all the back articles from my favorite blogs, of which Beak's is one.

 
At 11/30/2005 10:34 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Elmer's Brother,
The break-in occurred between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.

 
At 11/30/2005 10:39 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Papa Ray,
I DO have a firewall! I also have a good security program, but I had neglected Ad-Aware, of which I didn't know until I called The Geek Squad. I am running constant, automated updates now on the Spyware installed, and I've always run automated updates on my firewall.

What puzzles me is how both my machines got infected. I never swap files and rarely visit Internet sites on the desktop. I will check Castlecops, as you recommended.

The computer problems I'm having now are intermittent; I still have trouble with two of my email accounts, but now I can usually bypass those problems by using a different browser. Maddening!

 
At 12/01/2005 9:29 AM, Blogger Storm said...

Actually the pointless debate took place on Upon Further Review with is run by JRH1972. It was some months ago. Beak entered the same site and suggested some others to read.

 
At 12/01/2005 9:34 AM, Blogger Esther said...

Now that just SUCKS!!!!!!! I'm so sorry.

 
At 12/01/2005 9:53 AM, Blogger Storm said...

I thought I would suggest this site to any one interested in more about Identity Theft


www.consumer.gov/idtheft

 
At 12/02/2005 6:58 AM, Blogger Phantom_Driver, USNR, Ret. said...

If you are using IE, thats where the security breach was. IE 'extreme warning' posted just a few days ago , although MS has known about it for months, they still haven't got a patch for it... read more below. And stop using IE. Firewalls WILL NOT secure the security hole in IE.

This from E-Week : MAJOR SECURITY ALERT!!!
=======================
Subject: Malicious Keyloggers Run Rampant on Net; Unpatched IE Flaw Is Worse Than Expected
enews.eweek.com 11/29/05

Unpatched IE Flaw Is Worse Than Expected

Secunia issues a rare "Extremely Critical" advisory regarding a browser hole that allows execution of arbitrary code. Get the details.
http://ct.enews.eweek.com/rd/cts?d=186-2855-2-79-380843-330075-0-0-0-1 CLICK HERE
"...a remote attacker can execute arbitrary code by using specific Javascript functions that were embedded into an otherwise normal looking Web page.The vulnerability has been confirmed on a fully patched system with Internet Explorer 6.0 and Microsoft Windows XP SP2, and Internet Explorer 6.0 and Microsoft Windows 2000 SP4. IE 5.x is also considered to be vulnerable.A proof of concept page is available at computerterrorism.com to convince yourself that this does, indeed, work.Since MS has not addressed this issue in IE, the only way to mitigate is to disable active scripting for non-trusted sites. Or don't use IE.More turkey, anyone?"
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Note: This info surfaced Monday, so Geek Squad was probably unaware of it.
My advice: Use Opera (www.opera.com)
It's much faster, better, and secure.

Scrap IE. It's a hazard to all of us.

Phantom Driver
Proud father of an American Soldier

 
At 12/02/2005 7:49 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Phantom Driver,
Thank you so much for your excellent advice!

Last night, I finally got to speak with my geek-of-all-geeks, and I got some good free advice. He confirmed my suspicions--a conflict between browsers.

Interestingly, I had discovered on my own that different browsers were competing with each other. All the grueling work with Geek Squad wasn't necessary! Now both machines are working if I bypass the competing browsers.

I'm fully backed up on my desktop now, so I think I can recover all my data if--God forbid!--the worst happens.

And I've passed your info on to my Great Geek, who was out of town on business when all my bad stuff was going on.

 
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