Big Island Instagram photo of the day – August 3

love you hawaii 💜✨ // #grateful #goodnight

A photo posted by Heidi Alexis (@heidialexis) on

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Contests, promotions, and card cracking

Hooked on credit - card crackingWhat is card cracking? It occurs when someone gives away their banking information to a third-party expecting a legitimate action to take place. For instance, you enter a contest or sign up for a promotion, but as part of the entry, your banking information is required. Who would willingly give away their banking information to someone they don’t know? Let’s look at three scenarios.

Card cracking scenario #1

A website or social media site offers a contest for a terrific prize. The contest could be for anything from a dream vacation to a celebrity’s new book to an iPhone. The options are endless. The only hitch is the winner must make a deposit or pay for shipping.

Card cracking scenario #2

A company is offering work-at-home opportunities and you’re chosen as one of the lucky candidates. The company needs to make payroll arrangements, which means they need a way to send you money.

Once you’ve given up your card number and PIN, your account can be drained at will by a third-party at their convenience.

If you make the mistake of turning over your banking information in scenario #1 or #2, it’s possible for the scammer to begin making withdrawals from your account. Once you’ve given up your card number and PIN, your account can be drained at will by a third-party at their convenience.

Card cracking scenario #3

The third card cracking scenario involves a little human trait called greed. Everyone wants a little extra cash, right? And, it just so happens you saw that post on social media in which some guy said you could get fast cash just by giving up access to your bank account. For each transaction the guy runs through your account, you get a piece of the action. Don’t laugh, this happens all the time, especially with students.

How scenario #3 works

The scam begins when you give your debit card number and PIN or password to the card cracker. Once the card cracker has access to an account, he starts making deposits—a lot of them. For each deposit, there will be a corresponding withdrawal made before the bank can verify funds. Think of it as a pyramid scheme in which money coming in covers money going out—until it all stops.

Eventually, the cycle will stop. When it does, the bank will turn to you for their losses…

When the crackers crumble

Eventually, the card cracking cycle will end. When it does, the bank will turn to you for their losses and it will be extremely hard to argue the transactions were unauthorized, i.e., you’re stuck. Also, the police are cracking down on card crackers, which means those who have cooperated could conceivably face criminal charges themselves along with the card crackers.

Until the card cracking cycle stops, the scammers hope the rewards they pay out are enough to keep the account holder quiet. Students are especially vulnerable to this type of scam. They might be inexperienced in financial matters, naive enough to believe their new social media friend, or could be desperate and see the risks as outweighing the rewards.

No matter what your situation, keep tight control over your debit and credit cards and never provide those numbers or the security codes unless you’re dealing with a legitimate entity.

This month’s companion post, Avoiding fake contests and promotions can be found in The Snitch, August edition.

Instagram Hawaii photo of the day – August 1

Happy Aloha Friday! #aloha #itsthelife #friday #maui

A photo posted by Maui Kayak Adventures LLC (@mauikayakadventures) on

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Friday Fotos — early morning Kauai

Mornings on Kauai are a special time. The light is softer, the clouds are coming in off the horizon, and the air is still relatively cool. Though the day’s temperature will only climb into the mid 80s, the mornings feel fresh and peaceful. This photo was taken at one of the picnic areas in Lydgate Park on Kauai’s East side.

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Ace Atkins — behind the story of The Redeemers

The RedeemersNew York Times bestselling author Ace Atkins began his career as a writer by working for a newspaper. His journalism background taught him many lessons about writing, but also gave him insight into people, which he now uses when he writes the Quinn Colson series and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series.

For those unfamiliar with Ace Atkins, he’s been nominated for every major award in crime fiction. He’s written seventeen novels and has two coming out this year. He was handpicked by the Robert B. Parker Estate to carry on the Spenser series after Parker’s death and somehow balances writing novels set in back roads Mississippi and urban Boston.

“I worked for a big daily newspaper in Florida not long after I got out of college. My beat when I worked for the Tampa Tribune was a beat most people did not want. But, for me, I’ve always been a big fan of crime novels. And so, for me to cover the police department in Tampa, the Mayor’s office—I loved it. Absolutely loved it. And I did that for about five or six years and it was just the best training in the world.”

His training as a reporter taught Atkins to write fast, succinctly, and to meet your deadlines. He said it also taught him an even more valuable lesson, which was listening to how people talk and writing them authentically. “Younger people talk to me about becoming a novelist and I tell them my entry point doesn’t exist anymore. I was at the last days of a really long, proud tradition and I wouldn’t trade that for any MFA program in the country. Being a journalist teaches you to go straight to the source and write about real people.”

I like to get to the truth and shine the light on things.

Among those real people Ace Atkins wrote about were a transsexual carnival worker who had gone missing, but had actually been murdered. “It was rumored that her husband had buried her in an Airstream trailer in this carnival community. It was one of those rare times where the reporter was ahead of the cops. And that almost never happens, but we had some really good inside information.” For his story, Atkins interviewed the ‘human blockhead,’ and the ‘cat lady.’ I tried to interview the ‘monkey woman,’ but she wouldn’t talk. The story just wrote itself.”

Atkins said the truth did come out. The woman had been buried, but not in the Airstream. One of his other stories was about a man who murdered two veteran Tampa Police detectives. He said, “That was a very dark story and I had to profile the killer. It was a very dark and sordid time in that city.”

Writing two books a year keeps Ace Atkins busy, but he does still dabble in journalism. “I wrote a story last year for Outside Magazine about a guy who represented himself as a former CIA officer and had stolen $12.5 million from a couple in Virginia. A buddy of mine from the Tribune [Michael Fechter] outed this guy. We’re very proud of our work on that. It goes back thematically to what I like to write about in my novels. I like to get to the truth and shine the light on things. I think it’s very important.”

The genesis of Quinn was to write somebody that I could go to time and again.

In addition to his interest in writing a realistic crime series, Ace Atkins also wanted to have a series character with longevity. Atkins said he ran out of stories about his first series character, which he created when he was in his twenties, after four books. Ace Atkins feels he has a character with longevity in Quinn Colson, who was in the military for ten years, returned home, and became sheriff. “The genesis of Quinn was to write somebody that I could go to time and again. It’s a very simple, basic premise, but it’s also a premise that gives limitless possibilities.”

A perfect example of those possibilities came about after a local attorney in Oxford discussed the case of a recent break-in with Atkins. The attorney said, “I know about this case, and these seem like your kind of people.”

“That was either a compliment or an insult,” said Atkins. While he took the comment as a compliment, it also served as inspiration. “It was such an interesting story about a break-in that had happened and how the people turned on each other as the crime unravelled in real time.”

For the foreseeable future, Atkins will be writing about Quinn Colson and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, another character with longevity. As Atkins noted, the two characters are very different. The settings, back roads Mississippi and urban Boston are also very different. So, too, are the writing styles. The question becomes, how to keep each series separate and avoid homogenizing them.

“My editor for the Quinn books always jokes with me—and there’s a partial amount of truth in that he always tells people when I’m writing Spenser, I only drink beer and listen to jazz. But, when I’m writing Quinn, I drink hard whiskey and listen to country music. And there’s a little bit of truth in that. I do have to write them totally separate. Keeping those projects wholly compartmentalized has been the key for the last five books.

The difference for me, as opposed to most writers [who are writing different series] is I’m writing in two different voices. And I don’t mean just character voices, but styles. When I write Spenser, I’m writing it in Bob Parker’s style. I’m writing it as a different author. I’m writing in the voice of that author. I think if I was writing two different series that were in my voice and my style, it would not be so difficult. But, switching to write and think like a different author, that’s pretty tricky.”

Find out how living in Alabama has influenced Ace Atkins’ writing in this companion interview at Examiner.com.

Learn more about Ace Atkins on his website at aceatkins.com.

Book & a Latte Contest

Early Birds: Use this Bonus Code for The Snitch Bonus Code: #Redeemed

What: This month, Ace is giving away two copies of “The Redeemers” and I’m adding two $5.00 Starbucks gift cards. Two random entries will be chosen as winners. Each winner will receive a book and a gift card.

How to enter: Choose one or more of the options below. Each option gives you an additional chance to win.

Who can enter: This contest is only open to continental US residents over 18 years of age.

When: Contest closes at 12:00 a.m., August 9. Winners will be selected on Sunday, August 9. Selected winners must claim prizes within 72 hours of notification.

Verification of entries: All winning entries are subject to verification.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Instagram photo of the day – July 29

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Thriller writer Sean Chercover on conspiracies

The Devil's Game - Sean ChercoverSean Chercover is the author of two political thrillers. His latest, “The Devil’s Game,” picks up where the first left off. As a writer of political thrillers, he enjoys conspiracy theories, and says his latest thriller came about as the result of a promise he made to a friend.

Alexander “Sasha” Neyfakh was a prominent microbiologist, originally from the Soviet Union. He did his post-doctoral at Harvard, worked at the University of Illinois in Chicago, traveled the world sharing his research with other microbiologists. “He helped protect the human race from anthrax and other nasty little monsters, basically,” said Chercover.

Sasha was also Sean Chercover’s friend. “We talked a lot about the coming pandemic—make no mistake, we will experience a pandemic—and how we are actively bringing it on sooner and weakening our ability to fight it with our criminally negligent over-use of antibiotics, and how big the depopulation will be when it hits. Cheery conversation over cigarettes and cold vodka and the occasional head injury.”

In addition to their interest in social issues, Sean Chercover and Sasha both loved crime fiction and conspiracy theories. “We traded news items about the rash of deaths among microbiologists at the time. By coincidence, or not, a statistically ridiculous number of prominent microbiologists were dropping dead over a short period of time, all around the world, of unrelated causes. Online conspiracy forums lit up about it, everybody assuming the deaths were disguised assassinations, and promoting theories about who was behind it and why.

“Sasha and I both believed the deaths coincidental, and we joked about whether he should be relieved or insulted that ‘they’ hadn’t yet sent an assassin for him. He made me promise to put the dead microbiologists conspiracy into a thriller, one day. Only he didn’t call them thrillers. He had a thick Russian accent, and he called them ‘sizzlers.’

Sean Chercover went on to write the promised thriller, complete with dead microbiologists and the threat of pandemic. Chercover said, “I wish Sasha were still alive to read the book, but he isn’t. No, the assassins didn’t get him. He just got cancer and died. Which sucks. I was lucky to count him as a friend.”

Subjects such as pandemics and assassins raise the question of, is the author making an argument. Chercover makes no excuses, he said he was. “I would argue that virtually all authors make arguments and address issues when they write, even if they don’t intend to. Fiction is about how humans treat ourselves and each other and the world we live in, how the world treats us. And nobody wants to read stories about The Village of The Happy People, you know?

I want to keep you up all night turning pages…I want to make you miss your subway stop and be late for work.

“Transgressions, both committed and felt, provide the conflict in our novels. Human existence is messy, so there’s no shortage of arguments and issues, and no shortage of stories. ‘The Devil’s Game’ continues the conversations started in ‘The Trinity Game’ about plutocracy and political power, ends and means, faith and physics, and the demands of love.”

Although he set out to address certain social issues, Chercover said he’s committed to writing a good story. “My primary goal is to spin a good yarn. I want to keep you up all night turning pages, saying, ‘Just one more chapter…’ I want to make you miss your subway stop and be late for work. I’m a bit of a jerk that way. If it’s easy to put down, I haven’t done my job.”

Sean Chercover has, in fact, held a variety of unusual jobs. He’s been a television writer, video editor, support diver, waiter, and encyclopedia salesman. His favorite jobs have revolved around writing. Selling encyclopedias in Louisiana was definitely not among his favorites. He called it “a tour of human misery.”

Chercover added, “My favorite job is the one I have right now. Making up stories is the greatest job in the world.”

Learn more about Sean Chercover on his website at chercover.com.

Instagram – #goHawaii July 27

 

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Is your credit protection service perfect?

credit protection - Man at Desk - Featured

When I do presentations to community groups, we talk about scams and cons, but also credit protection. On multiple occasions, I’ve been asked, “Should I sign up for LifeLock?” Or, phrased differently, “Is LifeLock worth the price?” There’s no simple answer to this question about credit protection, but one thing is certain, LifeLock will be getting a lot of free publicity in the coming months, and not all of it may be good.

On July 21, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against LifeLock, Inc., alleging the company failed to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect its users’ sensitive personal data. The data listed includes credit card, social security, and bank account numbers. It’s important to note the complaint is directed at LifeLock’s activity from January 2012 through December 2014, not current-day practices.

In a prepared statement posted on their website, LifeLock, Inc. Chairman & CEO Todd Davis said, “…we’re disappointed by the FTC’s decision to file a suit that is not supported by the facts. We are committed to helping protect our members and restoring the identities of those who are victimized by identity fraud.”

This case was filed “under seal,” which means the FTC believes the information contained in the case is sensitive or confidential. If the court decides to keep the case sealed, we may not hear much about the case until it’s resolved.

The real question is, what does all of this mean to you? At this point, bottom line is, “It’s complicated.”

Before we go any further, let’s step back in time four days from July 21 to July 17, 2015. On the 17th, attorneys in California filed a class-action suit against credit bureau giant Experian. The suit alleges Experian failed to detect a scammer who purchased and resold consumer information to identity thieves for nearly 10 months.

The real question is, what do these suits about credit protection mean to you? At this point, bottom line is, “It’s complicated.” Should you rush out and cancel your LifeLock subscription? Probably not, unless the thought of the company charged with protecting your identity being involved in a lawsuit causes you angst. Should you not trust any of these companies? Unless you’re a conspiracist, my answer would be, pick one and hope for the best.

Trust, and value, however are two very different issues. Let’s face it, credit monitoring services, unless provided free of charge because you were included in a data breach, can be expensive. That service, however, isn’t anything you can’t accomplish on your own. Here are three free tips to becoming your own credit watchdog.

  • Check your bank statements, or better yet, check your bank account periodically using your bank’s free online service.
  • Check your credit report annually using a service such as annualcreditreport.com, where you really do get a free credit report.
  • If you can pay off your credit card monthly, use your credit card, not a debit card, for purchases. This affords you a higher level of protection against fraudulent purchases.

Saturday Instagram Photo – July 25

The above photo on Instagram actually came out on Friday, but it’s a beauty and I had to share. So, let’s just say, Happy Aloha Saturday, too!

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