How to spot the Walmart check scam

Walmart check scamI focus on a lot of email scams, but there are still plenty of scams run by mail and phone. The Walmart check scam is labor intensive for fraudsters, but can be very lucrative. Jeri Lindsey warned all of her friends on Facebook about the scam when she barely avoided it.

The Walmart check scam in action

“I got a check and a letter in the mail from ‘Walmart’ asking if I wanted to be a secret shopper or Customer service evaluator,” Jeri reported. “The check was for almost $2000. DO NOT DO THIS! The check and the letter look legitimate. But it’s not. It tells you to go online and activate the check before you deposit it. It wants your drivers license number and your social security number to activate the check.”

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Jeri went on to add that once the check was deposited, it would find its way to the scammer, who would then pull the bank account information for the account where the check had been deposited.

“Don’t get duped like I almost did,” Jeri said. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Well said, Jeri. The Walmart check scam is a classic example of how the scammer gets most of the information he needs from one location, then pulls different information after the victim has taken an initial step.

Also, bravo to Walmart for stepping up and addressing the Walmart check scam on their website. “Walmart does NOT utilize these [mystery shopping] services. Fraudsters are sending fraudulent solicitations via mail, print, text, and e-mail to entice consumers to evaluate the retail experience, products and services at stores, including Walmart.”

Walmart check scam with a twist

Walmart also notes on their website that they will never mail a check and ask you to buy something, then keep the remainder of the check as payment for services rendered. This type of Walmart check scam is another form of the classic mystery shopper scam that can eventually let the bad guys gain access to your banking information.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Kay Hadashi - Interisland Revenge
Book #2 in Kay Hadashi’s Honolulu Thriller series.

For Memorial Day weekend, I have photos from a special guest, Kay Hadashi. Kay is a mystery and thriller writer who lives on Oahu and was kind enough to suggest this Memorial Day weekend tribute and sent me her photos of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Some of those interred at the cemetery are well known heroes such as Daniel Inouye, who was America’s second longest sitting senator at the time of his death in 2012. Others, however, remain unknown. Not all of the photos in this collection were taken in the cemetery, but are memorials located elsewhere in Honolulu and seemed appropriate for this photo tour.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was constructed at Puowaina Crater, which is commonly known as Punchbowl Crater. Information about the cemetery is available from a number of sources, including Wikipedia. It’s been many years since I was able to make it to the cemetery, but Kay’s photos have inspired me to want to visit again. I hope you enjoy this Memorial Day tribute to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

By the way, I’m always on the lookout for good Hawaii photos. If you have some you’d like to share, let me know and we’ll talk about featuring your shots on Friday Fotos!

Hint: you can manually advance through the slides by placing your mouse over the slideshow and clicking the pause button, then use the forward/back buttons to navigate.

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Craig Faustus Buck discusses new noir mystery

Craig Faustus Buck - Go Down HardCraig Faustus Buck is an Anthony-award nominated author and screenwriter.  Among his six nonfiction books, two were #1 NYT bestsellers. For this interview, Buck talked about his latest novel, “Go Down Hard,” and the differences between writing for Hollywood and writing books.

As one of the writers on the miniseries V: The Final Battle, Craig Faustus Buck became familiar with deadlines and outlines. Not happy with the restrictions, he chose to take his Writers Guild Pension early. “I decided to pretend I was retired in order to write for myself instead of for studio network executives, many of them idiots. The freedom was enlightening. I stopped being a slave to outlines, as script work requires, and discovered seat-of-the-pants writing, which allows the author to create characters and then allow them to surprise him.”

Buck said that he enjoys seat-of-the-pants writing much more. “It’s a lot more fun, if inefficient, to write that way, and I think that joy and freedom can be found in my work. I hope my readers agree.”

“Go Down Hard” was originally conceived as a screenplay. Buck said, “When I decided to try my hand at crime fiction, I thought it would be an easy way to start, since I already had the story. However, in choosing to write a first person narrative, I essentially made the original story impossible to tell because too much of it required multiple points of view.

“So the story and characters of the original screenplay became relegated to backstory in the novel, most of it never revealed to the reader. Part of what I never used became the basis for my short story, ‘Dead End,’ which was nominated for an Anthony last year. That story, in turn, became the prelude to my novella Psycho Logic from Stark Raving Press. I’m continually recycling stuff I’ve written and cut or couldn’t sell. I just hope I’m not composting.”

Craig Faustus Buck describes “Go Down Hard” as a noir romp through the worlds of aging rock-and-rollers, live Internet sex shows, abusive psychiatrists, Slavic mobsters, child molesters, emotional betrayal, deceit, arson, murder and estate planning. With so many unusual situations and characters, Buck felt he had a prime opportunity to deal with a social issue.

“There is definitely a social issue buried deep in the heart of ‘Go Down Hard,’ but I’m afraid it would be something of a spoiler to tell you what it is. I do, however, feel very strongly that issues should be subtextual. My readers don’t pick up my work to be educated or lectured to. I hope some illumination is a byproduct of the experience, but I write the sorts of books I like to read, and twisty, character-driven entertainment comes first and foremost.”

Buck said that one of the unexpected pleasures of writing crime fiction is the amazingly supportive community of crime writers. “By getting involved in my local MWA and Sisters in Crime chapters and attending crime writer conferences, I’ve been embraced by a vast and varied collection of twisted, creative new friends who live all over the world. They are the best enablers a writer could hope for.”

About Craig Faustus Buck

Learn more about Craig Faustus Buck on his website at CraigFaustusBuck.com,

Larry D. Sweazy discusses book indexing and murder

Larry D. SweazyLarry D. Sweazy has been a freelance indexer for seventeen years. For the uninitiated, an indexer is a person whose job is to find the relevant facts in a book and create the index. For this interview, Larry D. Sweazy described how his career led him to write a mystery featuring an amateur sleuth who indexes books for a living.

“One of the ways that a new indexer educates themselves in the craft is by taking a correspondence course offered by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture),” Sweazy said. “The course, along with many others, was designed to give farm wives a skill outside of farming that would generate an income in the off seasons. Indexers have curious, organized minds, are methodical, well-read, and relentless in their pursuit to divine the most important information from a text—all great attributes of a good detective.”

Hence, Marjorie Trumaine was born from that course and its purpose. Sweazy said he was also influenced by his love of mystery novels. “As a reader, I really am not drawn to books that are nothing more than soapboxes for the author. I love stories, not agendas. The wonderful thing about fiction is that it allows readers and writers to get out of their own skin and into someone else’s.”

Sweazy said that writing in a first person female voice was a major challenge for him. Although he’s written more than 800 back-of-the-book indexes for major trade publishers and university presses and has won multiple awards for his Western genre fiction, he’d never written in the first person from a woman’s point of view.

“I didn’t set out to write from a woman’s point of view,” Sweazy said. “I set out to write a character. When I first thought of writing ‘See Also Murder,’ it was a short story. Marjorie came to me straight away, nearly fully formed, demanding to be written. I considered other narratives, other characters, but Marjorie and her milieu were just too strong to be ignored. She left me no choice but to try and write her story.”

Larry D. Sweazy said that he’s very grateful to Seventh Street Books for taking a chance on this series and an unconventional character. Sweazy added that he considers the relationship between author and reader to be sacred. He said, “It is my goal to never write the same book over and over again.”

In his efforts to make sure he was writing something very different for his readers, he decided to take a major chance himself. “I really had to step outside of myself to have any chance of making Marjorie Trumaine believable. So the issue of this book, of all of my books, is to stretch myself as a writer, to go to the vulnerable, uncomfortable places, even when people warn that you shouldn’t even try. I’ve always been a little rebellious.”

More information about Larry D. Sweazy

Learn more about Larry D. Sweazy on his web site at larrydsweazy.com

Vacation rental scams can ruin a vacation

vacation rental scamsWith summer just around the corner, last-minute vacation rental deals are going to be at the top of many vacationers’ lists. Our desire to find a vacation rental deal opens the door for con artists to run vacation rental scams by offering spectacular deals on properties that are definitely not “as advertised.”

How the vacation rental scams work

You may receive an email about unbeatable vacation deals or simply find the scammer’s website via an online search. The site will look legitimate and may even use names and logos from real hotels. It will include beautiful photos of properties and prices will be extremely low. The website’s sole purpose will be to sell you on the property.

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Once you’ve decided to rent his property, the scammer will ask you to send a deposit. He’ll most likely ask you to send the money via a nonrefundable form of payment, i.e., money order, Western Union, Green Dot MoneyPak, etc. When you arrive, the property will not be as advertised, if it exists at all or isn’t double booked.

Tips to avoid vacation rental scams

  • First and foremost, always use a credit card for purchases of this type.
  • After settling on a property—and before making any commitment—search for the name of the property and owner along with terms like complaint, review, and scam.
  • If your vacation rental isn’t at a resort, check Google Maps to make sure the address exists. Try Google’s “street view” to see what the property really looks like. If there are any significant discrepancies, find another location.
  • Get a confirmation from the property owner. For home rentals, legitimate owners will have a rental agreement. For B&Bs, hotels, etc., get an email confirmation. Either way, the confirmation should include a list of all possible charges. Be sure to read the payment deadlines and refund policy.

Everyone wants the best possible deal so their vacation dollars go as far as possible. However, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. By taking a few simple steps, you can ensure your vacation is safe and hassle free.

May Double Trouble Contest

The May Double Trouble Contest is on! Entries will be accepted from Sunday, May 17 – May 24. If you are not already receiving The (Little) Snitch — Contest Edition and want to register, click here. (The (Little) Snitch — Contest Edition always contains a double bonus code, which gives you two bonus entries.)

Nancy J. Parra - Flourless to Stop Him
Gluten-free baker Toni Holmes has to separate the wheat from the chaff to clear her brother of murder…
Double Trouble Contest
Settle in with the cops of Uncertain, CA, it’s going to be a wild ride for police officer Harper Leigh…

 

How to enter the May Double Trouble Contest

  • Click on the book covers above to visit the interview post for each author. Find the “Double Trouble Entry Code” in the post, and return here to enter the code in the entry form below. You’ll receive one entry for each entry code, so this could give you two chances to win.
  • Tweet about the contest following the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget. Receive one entry for each tweet.
  • If you receive The (Little) Snitch Contest Edition, you also have a code worth two bonus points. Copy that code and paste it into the corresponding option below.

May Double Trouble Contest Bonus!!!

April Double Trouble contestIf you leave a comment on either or both interview posts (not on this announcement) and are selected as the winner, you’ll not only win both books, but also a $5.00 Starbucks gift card.

Rules:

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., May 23. Winners will be selected on Sunday, May 24.

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

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Maui’s Heritage Gardens photos – part 2

Just in case you missed the previous Heritage Gardens photos, they can be found here. This time, we’ll take a short tour of the Japanese section of Heritage Gardens. The park is a living memorial to the immigrants who moved to Hawaii and helped settle the island. Many who came eventually returned home, but others stayed. Here are a few Heritage Gardens photos that give a small idea of this park’s beauty.

By the way, I’m always on the lookout for good Hawaii photos. If you have some you’d like to share, let me know and we’ll talk about featuring your shots on Friday Fotos!

Hint: you can manually advance through the slides by placing your mouse over the slideshow and clicking the pause button, then use the forward/back buttons to navigate.

 

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Ellie Stone returns in Stone Cold Dead — a new 60s mystery

Ellie Stone is back in Stone Cold Dead Ellie Stone is working hard to make a name for herself as a reporter at The New Holland Republic in small-town upstate New York. Ellie’s usual assignments consist of high school basketball games, society news, and city council meetings. But, at 2:00 AM New Year’s Eve, Irene Metzger shows up at Ellie’s door wanting help in finding her missing daughter, Darleen.

Darleen Hicks is a fifteen year-old junior-high student who missed her bus home ten days earlier on December 21, 1960. She has not been seen since. The police are convinced Darleen ran off with an older boy and have not been investigating her disappearance. Irene refuses to believe Darleen left voluntarily and is convinced that Ellie Stone is her only hope in finding her daughter.

Ellie starts her investigation by retracing Darleen’s movements and interviewing anyone who had contact with her on December 21st. When Ellie provokes some of the suspects who turn on her, she reaches out to the only two people in town who support her, her boss Charlie Reese and Sheriff Frank Olney. As Ellie recreates the timeline and follows every lead, determined to find out what happened to this girl she so closely identifies with, she unknowingly puts her own life in peril.

“Stone Cold Dead” is the third novel in the Ellie Stone Mystery series. Ziskin is masterful with his 1960s nostalgic descriptions and his portrayal of the difficulties for women in the workplace during that era. HIs smart and sassy protagonist, Ellie Stone, is far from perfect. Ellie is, however, liberated, impulsive, and has a personality with heart. The plot is solid with plenty of twist and turns and a powerful ending that will leave readers wanting more.

Review of See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy

See Also MurderMarjorie Trumaine is a farmer’s wife living outside the small town of Dickinson, North Dakota in 1964. Marjorie is a skilled researcher and professional indexer, someone who is used to finding information on a topic and categorizing it. She’s working on a project for a publisher when Sheriff Hilo Jenkins arrives with horrifying news. Neighbors and good friends, Erik and Lida Knudsen, have been gruesomely murdered in their bed. While there are no apparent suspects, Jaeger and Peter, young sons of the Knudson’s, were in the house at the time of the murders.

Dickinson, being a small town, has very little crime and murder is unheard of, so the Sheriff asks Marjorie for help with the investigation by researching an amulet with unusual markings that he found in the hand of Erik. She reluctantly agrees, hoping only to have to spend a few hours in town doing the research.

While Marjorie is working on the project for the Sheriff, she feels as though she’s being watched. She first notices it at the town library, then later at the college while visiting her cousin Raymond. She becomes nervous about having the amulet in her possession. When another murder occurs and then an attempt is made to run her off the road, Marjorie realizes she has to do more than research . . . she needs to find the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

Sweazy writes vivid descriptions of this small North Dakota town. Marjorie is a likable character, she’s smart and kind with a strong backbone. The mystery has enough surprises to keep the reader satisfied.

Karin Salvalaggio found writing latest thriller emotionally intense

New thriller from Karin Salvalaggio Burnt River“Burnt River” is the second installment in Karin Salvalaggio’s Macy Greeley Mystery series. In this interview, Karin Salvalaggio reveals how her nomadic childhood as the daughter of a career military man influences her current-day writing.

“My writing is cinematic,” said Salvalaggio. “I start with an image in my head and the camera begins to roll. My books are set on the borders of the Glacier National Park so there is often a dramatic landscape at the heart of an opening scene.”

One of the reasons Salvalaggio begins her novels with a sense of place is that she moved—a lot—as a child. Karin Salvalaggio’s father was on a military salary, which meant they couldn’t afford commercial flights.

“Whenever he was transferred to a new location, we packed up the family station wagon and drove there. Along the way we stayed in crappy motels next to interstate highways where ice machines whined through the night and locals scowled at us by day. We played ‘I Spy’ and collected different state license plates for hours on end.

“We travelled the Alcan Highway all the way to Alaska in the middle of winter, covered both coastlines and crisscrossed the continental United States multiple times. Most of the time I was stuck in the backseat with my two brothers and the family dog where there was nothing but books, passing scenery and fending off rampant teasing to occupy my mind. We pulled into gas stations, fast food restaurants and rest stops with the precision of a Formula One pit crew.”

Despite all their experience, there were still a few mishaps along the way—cars in ditches and one child left behind—which happened to be Salvalaggio. With so much travel as part of a military family and living on military bases in her background, is it any wonder that homecomings have become a theme Karin Salvalaggio writes about?

“Homecoming is a recurrent theme in my work and given my books are set in Montana where the number of retired military personnel is higher than the national average, it’s hardly surprising that I chose to write about war veterans. Addressing the difficult issues they sometimes face when returning to civilian life was an inevitable consequence of this choice, but I would like to stress that ‘Burnt River’ is first and foremost a thriller.”

Karin Salvalaggio said that when she started writing “Burnt River,” she didn’t realize it would evolve into a full-length novel. “I set up a point of tension, added a cast of characters who are living on the edge, and threw in an inciting incident. After that I pretty much let the book take me wherever it wanted to go.”

Part of that path involved research, which Salvalaggio loves to do. “I’m incredibly curious, but chasing down the sources listed within the text of articles is time consuming. It’s worth it as following these leads has sometimes turned up information I would have never found if I’d stuck to the first source I came across.”

Another element of writing that Salvalaggio enjoys is exploring points of view outside the realm of her experience. “I feel an immense sense of satisfaction at having written ‘Burnt River,’ but I’m not sure I actually enjoyed writing it. Some of my characters were struggling with complex psychological traumas and immersing myself in their mindsets meant I spent a lot of time with some very dark thoughts rolling around in my head. Not only did I write from an ex-soldier’s point of view but also a recovering drug addict’s.

“I researched, I cried, I researched some more, I cried a lot more and then I put it all away for a while because I needed some distance. In the end I wrote what was in my heart, at times digging up my own emotional traumas and reconfiguring them to my character’s experiences. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.”

Karin Salvalaggio also indicated she’s concerned about becoming a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” She said, “I’d like to think it makes me more interesting to sit next to at dinner parties! After all, how many other guests are going to know how to cook up a batch of meth, make a homemade bomb, prescribe the perfect painkiller and give advice on how best to cover up a murder?”

More about Karin Salvalaggio

Learn more about Karin Salvalaggio on her website at karinsalvalaggio.com.