The Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion email scam

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 4.16.25 PMEmail inboxes are receiving a barrage of mail encouraging consumers to monitor their credit. The emails may offer a link to one of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The fact is, these emails may have different purposes. Some are merely intended to sell you a service you don’t need, while others are a scam designed to take you to a phishing or malware download site.

Last year was a terrible year for retailers and consumers alike as one data breach after another played across the news cycles. Millions of consumers had their credit cards replaced by their banks to fend off fraud. Things went from bad to worse when Anthem announced it’s health network had been compromised. Fast forward to 2015 and is it any wonder the bad guys are playing on consumer fears?

Here’s just one example, but all of these “credit monitoring” emails work about the same. Let’s examine one closely. First, let’s assume you’re not paying attention and just click the big button labeled “See it now.” The first thing you notice is that you’re not going to the listed domain, but to joinnow.ndmsh.work. However, before you can respond, you’re transferred to gofreecredit.com. You may breathe a sigh of relief, but this should have been a red flag. Why would a legitimate credit monitoring organization enlist the help of affiliates to market their service?

Here’s the juicy stuff. Gofreecredit.com has a poor rating on WebofTrust.com, yet it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. On WebofTrust.com, the reasons for the poor rating include: spam, scam, misleading claims, online tracking, and more. On the BBB.org site, similar complaints were met with a generic response of “we apologize for any inconvenience. Please provide us with the email address that you used to sign up with, so we may further investigate.” It would appear that when the consumers took no further action, the complaints were considered “resolved” and the A+ rating remained.

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By the way, to get a your free credit report from gofreecredit.com, you’ll need to pay a processing fee. Still not convinced the processing fee is a bad thing? Note that a security check of the gofreecredit.com website revealed their website software is considered outdated and high risk. Remember,  you can always get your really free credit report for absolutely nothing direct from the credit bureaus. Experian: experian.com, Equifax: equifax.com, and TransUnion: transunion.com.

Friday Fotos—along the Kalalau Trail

Here are some shots taken years ago when we took a hike along the Kalalau Trail. Like everyone else who attempts that trail, we had high hopes. We were in good shape, the day was beautiful, and there were plenty of others making the same trek. So, here’s our story of the Kalalau Trail and guess what, we’re sticking to it!

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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When adventure calls—an interview with Hawaii writer Laurie Hanan

Stairway to HeavenWhen is it okay to lie? That’s a question writer Laurie Hanan has contemplated since she was a child. For this interview, the author of the Louise Golden mystery series talked about that question and her latest release, “Stairway to Heaven.”

“Everyone knows we aren’t supposed to tell lies,” said Hanan. “Nobody likes a liar. I consider myself an honest, open, truthful person. But still there have been times I’ve had to rationalize lying, when it seemed telling a lie would do less harm than telling the truth.”

Hanan also said that there is an underlying theme of lies and deception in “Stairway to Heaven.” She added, “I touch on the question, ‘When is it okay to tell a lie, even to someone you love?’ I didn’t set out to work this theme into my book, but as I wrote the story I saw the main character [Louise Golden] grappling with the issue again and again. She is forced to choose between lying to someone she loves, or telling a truth and betraying a trust.”

In addition to her desire to explore the theme of deception, Hanan said she also weaves her passion for animals into her stories. “My love for animals can’t be boiled down to a single incident or event. It’s all in the way I live my life, the choices I make day by day, minute by minute. As a child I had all sorts of pets, and it was clear that animals are intelligent beings with complicated emotions. I couldn’t see them as less valuable than myself.”

Hanan grew up in the islands of the South Pacific. Her father pioneered air travel to many of the tiny islands and she often accompanied him on his flights. Those early days of traveling might have given her a yearning to see more of the world. Hanan went to the University of Washington in Seattle, lived in London, and even worked in the cotton fields of the Jezebel Valley to earn her keep. She met her husband in Israel and they toured the Far East. On one of those trips, Hanan’s passion for animals led the couple to a wild adventure.

“Traveling through Nepal was definitely memorable,” said Hanan. “We slept in a mud hut, made friends, ate, sang, and danced with the natives. But, the one experience that stands out more than any of the others is riding elephants through the Chitwan National Forest. I wanted to photograph wild rhinos, and the best way to do that is from the back of an elephant. We hired two locals to take us. Their elephants were not geared up for tourists with stairs and saddles, and we were on our own to figure out how to get up onto their backs.

“I was pulled from above and pushed from below by our two guides, with the warning that I’d better hurry up before the elephant got mad. My elephant driver sat in front of me with his legs around the elephant’s neck, the more comfortable seat to be sure, and guided it by tapping its head with a big stick. I sat behind him on the rounded, bony part of the elephant’s back. The only possible handhold was the waist of the nearly-naked young man in front of me.

“We found some rhinos, but they ran when we approached. Our elephants took off in pursuit, me clinging to the young man in front of me for dear life, thinking this may not have been one of my better ideas. But, I got some great shots of the rhinos, and I have some really . . . unusual . . . memories.”

In fact, stories that are unusual seem to hold a particular fascination for Hanan. “I don’t remember where I first heard about it, but over the years I’ve heard several variations of the story of a scuba diver being picked by a helicopter bucket and dumped into a forest fire. Some sources say the rumor started in France; others say it started in the US. But, all sources say it’s impossible.”

Hanan said the legend has been proven to be impossible by testing, but the topic came up during lunch with a writing group. She said, “It can’t happen, but I thought, ‘What if it did?’ Eventually, I decided to write a book based on the premise that the impossible really happened. Then the question is, ‘How?’”

In the fourth Louise Golden mystery, Hanan explores that question when firefighters discover a badly charred body on a steep mountain ridge, wearing swim fins and a diving mask. The body is identified as a man on Louise’s postal route and she wonders if a mysterious package she delivered to him could hold the key to his death. Louise learns what was in the package and why everyone wants it, but is sworn to secrecy. One deception leads to another as Louise hides the truth to protect the innocent, and the not-so-innocent.

In the Louise Golden mysteries, Hanan’s protagonist has two children, Jackie and Emmeline, who are about the same age as her own. In the book, Emmeline is now 17 and confronting challenges faced by teens. Hanan said, “The events in the book are purely fictional. But, with a 17-year-old daughter of my own it was emotional for me to write about Emmeline, who is so angry, so rebellious, and gets into some pretty serious trouble.” Again intrigued by a challenge, Hanan said she is now working on a novel written from Emmeline’s point of view.

More information

Learn more about Laurie Hanan on her website at http://lauriehanan.wix.com/laurie-hanan.

The Optima Tax Relief email scams

Alan Thicke - actor, theme songwriter, and pitch man for Optima Tax Relief.

Alan Thicke – actor, theme songwriter, and pitch man for Optima Tax Relief.

Nearly everyone knows the deep voice of actor Alan Thicke. Now in his late 60s, the actor many of us loved on the TV sitcom Growing Pains has become the pitch man for a tax relief service called “Optima Tax Relief.” The radio commercials—and the Optima Tax Relief website—feature a very earnest Alan Thicke saying, “Hi folks, this is Alan Thicke. If you’re one of the millions of Americans who owes back taxes, then you’ve heard…the IRS is cracking down this year…”

First off, let me say I don’t agree with Optima’s use of commercials that portray the IRS as evil and Optima as a guardian angel. That, however, is another issue altogether. The problem at hand is that Optima’s advertising has been so successful that the brand is now well-recognized by consumers—and scammers.

Perhaps the surest sign of success is when the scammers realize you’re a big enough name to leverage your reputation. That’s exactly where Optima is now. While Optima Tax Relief may be a legitimate service helping people to deal with tax issues, the “Optima” brand is being used by impostors to lure consumers into giving away their identities.

Here are just three examples from this week’s email inbox. All three have a “from” address of “Optima—IRS Forgiveness Programs.” The real “from” addresses of these emails are really a UK domain name registered to a Canadian with a server located in Kiev. That doesn’t sound good. Neither does this one. The registrant shields his identity with a Panamanian domain protection service for his website in Moscow. If you’d prefer to stick to a US location, no problem. This last one is awaiting confirmation of the domain registrant’s information for CabbageTown, NV. Really, I didn’t make that up.

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Obviously, you can’t trust those emails. Put them in junk, delete them, and never look back. And most importantly, do not click the links in the emails. Otherwise, you’ll have far bigger problems than the IRS knocking on your door.

Friday Fotos—Liliuokalani Garden in Hilo by Kay Hadashi

Island Desire

This romance novel is Kay’s latest, but she also writes the June Kato Intrigue series and a thriller series.

This week’s photos come from fellow mystery writer Kay Hadashi. Kay is a resident of Hawaii and has photos of places I’ve never been to. Now that I’ve seen her photos, I know just how much I’ve missed. This week, Kay is taking us on a tour of Lili’uokalani Gardens in Hilo. The gardens are named for Queen Lili’uokalani, who was Hawai’i’s last reigning monarch.

At present, Kay writes three different series in the mystery, thriller, and romance genres. Learn more about Kay and her multi-genre writing in my interview A change in style for this Hawaii author or on her website at junekatoingrigue.com.

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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The Witch of Painted Sorrows is a haunting tale of love and passion

The Witch of Painted SorrowsSandrine Salome escapes her cruel and dangerous husband Benjamin, seeking refuge with her grandmother in Paris. When she arrives, Sandrine discovers her grandmother has closed the family home known as Maison de la Lune for renovations. Despite her grandmother’s insistence that the mansion’s disrepair is dangerous, Sandrine decides to go see for herself.

At the mansion, Sandrine encounters Julien Duplessi, an architect hired by her grandmother, and is immediately enthralled with him. She finds nothing wrong with the home and feels as if Maison de la Lune has opened it’s arms to welcome her.

As Julien and Sandrine explore Maison de la Lune they discover a hidden studio in the bell tower filled with erotic paintings. The longer Sandrine stays in the tower, the more passionate she becomes. Eventually overcome with love for Julien and her desire to paint evocative scenes, Sandrine is warned that she is being taken over by her ancestor, La Lune.

La Lune, a courtesan from the sixteenth-century, is a legend in Sandrine’s family for her practice of witchcraft. The legend passed down through the generations says La Lune’s obsession for her lover and painting drove her to find a spell that gave her the power to possess others and pursue her passions with them.

With Benjamin desperately hunting for her and mysterious events surrounding her, Sandrine feels her time is running out. She must decide what is most important and how far she is willing to go to save those she loves . . . or herself.

A haunting tale of erotic love and a passion for the art of painting. Set in the 1890s, “The Witch Of Painted Sorrows” is filled with vivid and colorful descriptions. M.J. Rose seamlessly weaves historical events throughout this story filled with distinctive characters that will keep the reader captivated to the end.

Review of The Washington Lawyer by Allan Topol

The Washington LawyerAndrew Martin is a powerful Washington Lawyer, head of a multinational law firm and on the short list for a Supreme Court Chief Justice nomination. When his friend, Senator Wes Jasper, calls from Anguilla for help Andrew has to choose between doing what is legally and morally right or helping his friend. Afterward he realizes he’s made the biggest mistake of his life and becomes determined to do whatever it takes to protect his reputation and the Chief Justice nomination.

Allison Boyd is an archeology professor at Brown University on a dig in Israel when she receives a phone call informing her that Vanessa, her twin sister, has drowned off the coast of Anguilla. Stunned by the news of Vanessa’s sudden death, Allison flies home to be with her parents. While trying to get more details surrounding Vanessa’s suspicious drowning, the stories she’s told just don’t make sense. Allison decides to use her analytical skills to find the truth and get justice for her twin.

By following a thin trail that exposes espionage and greed, Allison unknowingly puts herself in danger from some of the most powerful people in Washington. As the pressure on her escalates, Allison becomes more determined to ruin the lives of the people responsible for Vanessa’s death, including Senator Wes Jasper.

“The Washington Lawyer” is filled with intrigue, treason and blackmail. There are lots of twist and turns that keep the plot moving. Unfortunately, this is not one of Topol’s best efforts. Topol leaves a critical subplot unresolved and the overall writing is not up to his usual standards. Fans of Topol’s writing may be willing to overlook these elements in favor of another political thriller from the author.

FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.

Tip for Mac users on handling spam

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Will a 20-year-old plan of revenge be McKenna's undoing?
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Over the past couple of years, my daily load of spam has increased to well over 200 messages a day. It had become apparent that the spam filters in Apple Mail simply weren’t up to the task of weeding out much of the junk rolling in.

A few days ago, after deleting a very large batch of spam, I searched for a way to solve the spam problem without forcing all of my contacts to go through a convoluted authorization process. That’s when I discovered SpamSieve for the Mac.

SpamSieve works with Apple Mail (and several other email programs) to do one thing: filter out the spam. The installation process itself for SpamSieve is a bit convoluted, but there are detailed step-by-step instructions. The program is downloaded and installed in the normal manner, but then there’s a plugin to install. While this is a simple point and click operation, it’s too bad SpamSieve can’t automatically load the plugin.

There’s also the issue of changing the default Junk mailbox. Again, these steps aren’t terribly complex, but from a user’s standpoint, it seems they could be automated.

The training process is actually quite easy. You simply mark messages as “good” or “spam” and the program does the rest. Because I had a huge number of emails to use in the initial training, SpamSieve became accurate very quickly. By the end of the second day, there were no spam messages that made it past the program, but there were a few emails incorrectly identified as spam. After marking those messages as “good”, the accuracy improved further and by the end of the third day, SpamSieve was accurate about 98% of the time.

One of the biggest complaints I get when doing scam presentations is that people are inundated with junk email. SpamSieve will set me back about $30, but if it tames my inbox and lets me breeze through my mail, I’ll consider that money well spent. I’m sure there are other similar programs I’m not aware of, so if you know of one, feel free to mention it in a comment below. What I do know is that I’ve barely started with this program, but on the third day of a 30-day free trial, I’m sold.

March Double Trouble Contest is on!

The March Double Trouble Contest is on! Entries will be accepted from Saturday, March 14 – Saturday, March 21. If you are not already receiving The (Little) Snitch — Contest Edition and want to register, click here.

Tattered Legacy

A fast-paced mix of Hopi spirituality, environmental conflict, polygamy, aliens, and murder, set in the iconic red rocks of southern Utah.

Assault and Pepper (Final)

Pepper Reece, owner of the Seattle Spice Shop, thinks she can handle any kind of salty customer—until a murderer ends up in the mix…

How to enter:

  • 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 in into corresponding option below.

Double Bonus!!!

star-coffee-2If 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., March 21. Winners will be selected on Sunday, March 22.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday Fotos—around Kauai

This week’s Friday Fotos are going to cover a lot of ground on Kauai and we’ll wind up at “Ambrose’s”, which is a tiny store in Kapa’a that seems to never be open. We’ve been going to Kauai for about twenty-five years and the store has been there for as long as I can remember. It’s very intriguing, yah?

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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