In the hot seat – interview at Authors on the Air

Con Game 231x350Tonight I’ll be in the hot seat with radio talk-show host Pam Stack of Authors on the Air. I’ve been interviewed by Pam before and it was a wide-ranging interview. What crazy subjects will we cover this time? I don’t know, but it’s sure to be lots of fun.

You can bet I’ll want to discuss “Con Game,” but also we’ll surely get into the next McKenna Mystery, “Big Island Blues.”

The interview will be at Authors on the Air at 8:00 PM EDT on July 23. I hope you can listen in!

Behind the story of Dark Lava with Toby Neal

Dark LavaSome crime fiction writers shy away from the question of writing about issues. Hawaii novelist Toby Neal has no qualms about admitting her passion to deal with issues in the land she loves and calls home. Neal’s latest release, “Dark Lava,” bears the tag line, “Maui is sacred places, ancient artifacts, and the dark lava of deepest passions.”

If there’s a single word that best describes Hawaii, it may well be “passion.” The word  describes Neal’s writing and the issues she tackles. For this interview Neal said, “One of my priorities as a “regional” writer is to raise the issues we struggle with here in the Islands—economically, socially, politically, etc. I have moved the settings of the books around to each island to capture that island’s unique strengths, geography and challenges. There is an issue or crime we grapple with here in Hawaii that I’m highlighting in every book in the Lei Crime Series.”

In the first Lei Crimes mystery, “Blood Orchids,” Neal’s detective investigated child abuse and drugs. In “Torch Ginger” (book 2), the story revolved around the disappearance of the homeless and cult activity. Neal has also written about gambling and sex slavery/prostitution; wealth, suicide and assisted suicide; and the loss of habitat that has placed many of Hawaii’s native birds in an endangered status.

Readers should note that while Neal tackles difficult issues, she does it in a cross between a police procedural and a thriller that bears no resemblance to a lecture. For instance, in book 4, “Broken Ferns,” she writes about the race and class divide in the islands with a Robin Hood teen criminal “evening the score.”;

Neal’s writing is influenced by her career. She said, “I’m a clinical social worker in private practice as well as a writer, so I use my writing to shine a light on issues though an entertaining read. Readers tell me they’ve come to count on learning something new about the ‘real Hawaii’ in every book and I take that as a compliment!”

In fact, it was those readers who gave Neal the idea for the issue she dealt with in “Dark Lava.” She asked a question on Facebook and her eager fans responded. Neal said, “They wanted a plot involving Hawaiian artifacts, treasures, and sacred spaces (heiaus).”

One of the personal issues facing Neal is her race. As much as she loves Hawaii, she is Caucasian, and therefore classified as a haole, a term that may carry a very negative connotation in some circles. She said, “Hawaii is tattooed on my heart. I had to leave to get education (another struggle; our best and brightest leave, and too often they don’t come back) but my husband and I sacrificed to return to where the housing is as high as New York City and the wages as low as the South. We love it too much to leave.”

Neal is also passionate about the authenticity of her writing. She said, “I’m a third-generation kama’aina (child of the land) and I grew up here in Hawaii. I don’t come from an outsider’s perspective, googling everything and mispronouncing it. No. I’ve lived, worked, surfed, fished, canoed, farmed, sweated, swam, played, sailed, ran, hiked, dove, scuba-dived and sailed these islands, given birth to my children here and struggled to make a living here.”

A prolific writer who says her skills are constantly growing, Neal welcomed the self-publishing model after rejection in the traditional publishing world. “Self-publishing has allowed me to expand as a writer rapidly, across genres even, and build a reader base that would have taken years in the traditional model. I am thrilled to be one of the new successful indie author/publishers.”

In 2010, Neal’s agent decided to retire when the market was flooded with celebrity memoirs and cookbooks. “I was left without representation,” said Neal. “She’d had interest in them but not enough to make an offer on an unknown. So, I decided to just go ahead and self-publish, since it took me two years to get an agent and then another year lost ‘on sub.’That was the hardest decision ever and it felt like the death of a dream at the time.” She added, “But in the end, it’s been perfect.”

One of the biggest challenges Neal faces from the traditional publishing world is that her novels are called “too niche.” With more than 500,000 books sold, traditional publishers may just be missing the mark on this one. Neal said, “People love Hawaii, and everyone who’s been here wishes they could go again. That’s a lot of people, potentially, and if the story is strong and the characters are engaging, it’s a guaranteed good time.”

That guaranteed good time has been demonstrated several times by television series like “Magnum, PI” and two-time success “Hawaii Five-0.” Despite the giltz and lack of realism in the current “Five-O” series, Neal said, “I have to give that show credit for trying to show at least some of the issues I’ve tackled in my books—and showing that even though Hawaii is a physical paradise, it’s filled with people and a very complex, multi-racial, multi-cultural society with all sorts of conflicting agendas and undercurrents that tourists don’t even glimpse.”

Neal hopes that readers are captured by the authenticity of the world of the Lei Crime Series. Her intent is to keep writing stories that include colorful characters, the impetuous Detective Lei Texeira, and her heroic and damaged love interest, Michael Stevens.

For now, Neal has decided to stay the course. “I just keep doing what I’m doing and don’t listen to that ‘niche’ stuff. After all, Louise Penny is killing it in Three Pines, nowhere, Canada, while I have fire dancers, tattooed activists, broken but lovable people, and a dog that’s a hero. We’re bound to get the Golden Dagger award someday.”  She crosses her fingers and raises her eyes to heaven. “When they give it to an indie.”

Learn more about Toby Neal on her website at tobyneal.net.

Facebook phishing scams

keyboardscamFacebook users have a tendency to be lulled into a false sense of security by the social media giant. Cybercriminals are aware of this tendency and routinely set up fake Facebook accounts to lure new victims into phishing scams. How do you avoid becoming a victim? First, learn to spot the scam.

Spotting the scam

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When a Facebook friend sends you an email with a link or shares a post with a link, are you tempted to click it? If you do follow the link and your browser pops up a login form with a trite message such as sorry for the inconvenience, for your security, to prevent fraud, etc., you should be getting suspicious. Indeed, that login form is a clear signal you could be on a phishing site.

Other Facebook scams

While you’re on the lookout for phishing attempts on Facebook, watch for these lures designed to trick you into providing your personal information. These include profile viewers, the “free i-Phone” ads, free credits for games on Facebook, new Facebook features, and steamy messages designed to lure you elsewhere. All-in-all, Facebook can be a pretty unsafe place unless you’re careful.

Three tips to stay secure

Tip 1: Check first, click second. Get in the habit of checking links before you click them. By rolling your mouse over a link, you can see the address it will go to. If the address is unfamiliar or spelled incorrectly, don’t use the link, but if you do . . .

Tip 2: Don’t log in. If you do land on a page that is asking you to log in and you did not use a trusted link to get there, simply close the window. If they want other personal information, don’t provide it. Quite simply, if you take no action on a phishing site, you can leave with no harm done.

Tip 3: Change your password. And if you do get caught in the scammers web and your account starts spamming your friends? The first thing you should do is change your password. Don’t stop with Facebook, either. If you have any amount of personal information on Facebook, your other accounts might be compromised also. There’s one last step: after you’re done changing passwords, apologize to your friends for spamming them. Then, thank the one who told you your account had been hacked.

Focus on vision scams

Watching YouUnless you have 20-20 vision, you’re stuck with glasses, contacts, or a blurry world. So why not spend $37 to ditch the bad vision and get to 20-20 in a couple of weeks? Why not believe the slick internet marketing campaigns and buy into a “revolutionary program that you’ll soon discover has dared to challenge the billion-dollar Eyecare industry.” Let me count the ways.

First, you’ve probably received several email solicitations with a subject like “Improve Your Vision” or “Restore My Vision.” These emails contain a link to a websites that promote a program created by Dr. Sen and Samantha Pearson.

I’ve received two of these emails within the past three days, both from different sources. One was sent from “improve-your-vision” at consumerous.com. When I checked to see who owned this site, I discovered it was owned by Christopher Boreham in the Byadbo Wilderness. Personally, I’m a bit surprised that a guy who lives in the mountains of New South Wales wants to help me improve my vision, but maybe he’s just the altruistic type.

The second issue is the website where the Dr. Sen and Samantha Pearson program is sold. As a web designer, I appreciate how slick this website is. Right away, they’ll launch a video touting the benefits of this revolutionary vision-improvement program. Smooth Sam even tells us up front that the video is controversial. Nothing second rate here, everything is smooth and efficient on the surface—until you try to get content. Oh, did I mention that will cost you $37?

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Learn more about McKenna's latest caper.
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And here’s the third strike. Internet marketers have learned that the best way to sell a product is not through high-pressure tactics, but via word of mouth. Imagine talking to a used-car salesman who brings in five or ten people who proceed to tell their own stories about what a caring and concerned guy your salesman is. He’d never sell you a car you didn’t need or couldn’t afford. This is exactly the technique internet marketers use. The only difference is that they don’t call in the referrals, they let you go find them. Search the web and you’ll find plenty of testimonials about this revolutionary program.

Should you invest your money in hopes of reversing vision loss? Right now, you might be thinking, what if it works just a little bit? It’s the same principle the snake-oil salesman used. Appeal to our desire to be healthier, happier, and stronger by doing nothing more than shelling out a few dollars.

The choice is yours, but personally, I’m thinking I’ll keep my cash rather than send it to someone on whom I can’t confirm credentials, who hides their identities using a domain guard service out of Panama, spams me with bogus affiliates, and won’t give me details about their program before I start turning over my money or contact information. How about you? Have you received these emails? Been enticed? I’d love to hear from you.

The notario publico immigration scam

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Image courtesy of dreamstime.com.

On July 8, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning regarding a new twist in immigration scams. Until recently, immigration scams had been advertised in store windows and newspapers. Now, immigration services are being offered by notarios, those professing to be knowledgeable in immigration law, in federal detention facilities. Joel Cruz-Esparza of the New Mexico Attorney General’s office called those receiving offers of assistance a “captive audience.”

According to Cruz-Esparza, “These folks are down on their luck, and the last thing they need is for a fast talking con artist to make them a bunch of bogus promises and take their last dollar.” In an effort to educate the immigrants, the Federal Trade Commission is offering free information in other languages to anyone who can help let others know about this issue.

The American Bar Association states, “Misrepresentations as to an individual’s qualification to offer legal advice can have severe implications for immigrants.” On their website, they describe notario fraud as involving false statements

Such representations can include false statements that the individual is an attorney, is authorized to appear before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) or before immigration courts to represent immigrants, or is a notario publico (notary public).

A notario publico in other countries may be someone who has some form of law degree or license. The American Bar Association calls this designation “particularly problematic” because in the United States a notary public is only authorized to witness signatures and those not aware of the difference can easily be deceived by con artists who make false claims.

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Identity theft on Kauai!
Learn more about McKenna's latest caper.
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In the warning issued by the FTC, Tom Carter, Attorney for the Southwest Region of the FTC said, “We want to bring cases against them and shut them down. And so do the Attorneys General. And US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). And the Department of Justice. We talk to each other and share consumer complaints, so let us know when you see this kind of behavior.”

 

Review of The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel THE BLACK HOUR is the powerful story of a sociology professor, Amelia Emmet, whose topic is violence. When Amelia is shot by a student she doesn’t know and has never met, her confidence is shattered and self-doubts set in. After ten months of recovery and rehabilitation, Amelia wants nothing more than to reclaim her life, return to teaching, and once again feel “normal”. It doesn’t take long for Amelia to realize her life may never be the normal it once was.

Amelia decides she must know why the student who shot her, Leonard Lehane, tried to kill her before committing suicide. To learn more about Lehane she asks for help from her new graduate assistant, Nathan Barber. Nathan, who is fascinated by the shooting of Dr. Emmet, agrees to help. He begins by getting close to Lehane’s roommate and the students who knew him.

Meanwhile, Amelia does some sleuthing on her own. When the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, Amelia realizes the danger she’s placed Nathan in. Every day, every task, is an upward battle as Amelia pushes her broken body to its limit. With her new limitations, Amelia soon realizes she may not get to Nathan in time to save him.

During his investigation, Nathan is uncovering facts that lead him to believe Amelia may be in grave danger. Will he discover the truth in time to save her?

This riveting story contains smoothly written prose and a main character who must overcome the biggest obstacle of her life. It maintains a high level of suspense to the end. This is not a typical whodunit mystery—we know who did what—but the powerful burning question is why.

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

How about them Apples?

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Apple logo from http://archiveteam.org/index.php?title=File:Apple-logo.jpg

Apple products have been on fire lately. Apple stock is equally hot. The reason for these events is simple. People like simplicity and Apple helps them get there. Queue the upbeat, snazzy music and enter the Apple ID. For those who don’t know, your Apple ID is the way users access all things Apple. From I-Tunes to the App Store, you gotta have one to buy stuff, sync your devices, etc. With so much power behind one simple ID and password combination, is there any doubt the scammers would like to nab yours?

This past week, I received an email claiming to be from “Apple Support.” The email was simple and to the point—my Apple ID had been suspended. The important part is included here.

Apple Security Department has sent this email to inform you the following:

Your account has been flagged for review and your access was suspended until further notice.

This may be due to either of the following reasons:

* Billing / Payment Issues

* Abuse & Terms of Use Issues

We strongly suggest you to review and confirm your account information today by following the link below:

You should be able to guess where this is going. If your choice was “scam,” congratulations, you’re a winner (Congratulations! You get to avoid huge headaches and bills from the real Apple!). It appears that scammers have decided they don’t necessarily need to hack your Mac to get to the good stuff, all they need is get access to that prized Apple ID. This same scam has been used so many different times with other big names as the lure—Verizon, Microsoft, US banks, foreign banks—need I go on?

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Identity theft on Kauai!
Learn more about McKenna's latest caper.
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If you receive this type of email, look for the following clues that it’s a scam:

  • It’s not addressed to you personally
  • The sender is a generic name (in my case, it was “Apple.”)—duh—and the sender’s email address isn’t from the company (in this case it was toluna.com—another duh for the scammer, that’s a social media site)
  • The email subject is something inane. In this email it was [notice][37888]. Methinks maybe the scammer hasn’t quite mastered his mail merge program yet.

What should you do if you get the Apple ID email? Ignore it. Then, fire up your Apple device and enjoy the simplicity.

Three secrets of the credit mule scam

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McKenna says: don’t be duped by a slick talker with promises of easy money. The only one who wins is the con man.

“Secret Shoppers” or “Mystery Shoppers” have been around for many years. These jobs can be a great way for someone to earn extra cash by working part-time. Never one to pass up a good opportunity, con artists have created their own version of the secret shopper, the “credit mule.” And believe me, if you fall for this one, it could cost you a bundle and ruin your credit at the same time.

Secret No. 1 —The Targets

The prime targets to be used as credit mules are those who are inexperienced or have little credit history. Typically, this means scammers most often find willing “employees” at colleges, but there are plenty of other young people who could be taken in by a smooth talker. If you know someone who fits this category (and who doesn’t?) consider warning them about these types of jobs.

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Identity theft on Kauai!
Learn more about McKenna's latest caper.
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Secret No. 2 —The Job

Let’s be clear about this. Most secret shopper jobs, unless they are obtained through a reputable agency, are bogus. It’s the enticement of good money for little work that snares the victim.

Typically, the scam begins when you see an ad or are approached by someone about a job as a secret shopper. The job will be pitched as “rating the service” or “rating the customer experience” at various businesses. Your assignment is simple: purchase a few expensive smart phones, get the unlock codes, and pass the phones along to your boss. You are assured by your boss that you will not be charged for the cell phones or the monthly charges because you have 15-30 days to cancel the contract you have signed.
Because the victim doesn’t realize he’s been conned until collection letters or phone calls begin, the phones and the employer are long gone. It won’t be long before the victim discovers the contract was not cancelled because the phones were never returned. The cell phone company has the right to hold the victim responsible for the cost of the phones as well as the associated monthly charges. To make matters worse, the victim’s credit record will be trashed if he doesn’t pay in accordance with the terms of the contract. Meanwhile, off in another country, those unlocked cell phones are being sold at premium prices.

Secret No. 3 —The Realization

Because the victim doesn’t realize he’s been conned until collection letters or phone calls begin, the phones and the employer are long gone. It won’t be long before the victim discovers the contract was not cancelled because the phones were never returned. The cell phone company has the right to hold the victim responsible for the cost of the phones as well as the associated monthly charges. To make matters worse, the victim’s credit record will be trashed if he doesn’t pay in accordance with the terms of the contract. Meanwhile, off in another country, those unlocked cell phones are being sold at premium prices.

The fake cashier’s check scam

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Businesses large and small used to depend on cashier’s checks for guaranteed payment. No longer is that the case.

The Cashier’s Check. That time-honored form of payment that was guaranteed by the issuing bank may be on the endangered list. In fact, many banks no longer have cashier’s checks, but issue “bank checks.” High technology has made it virtually impossible for a recipient to tell if a cashier’s check is real or counterfeit. Fake cashier’s checks are being used by scammers in a variety of transactions all designed to do one thing, transfer your money to their bank account.

These scams all rely on one key factor, the length of time it takes a check to “clear” the banking system. In financial transactions, clearing is the process of submitting a request for money and then having those funds transmitted to the other party. Any check, whether it’s a cashier’s check or personal check, is nothing more than a request to move money from one account to another. If you spend the money before a check clears and the check bounces, you’re still responsible for the money you spent. This is the key premise the scams rely on. Here are three popular scenarios.

Oops, we overpaid you!

A popular work-at-home scam involves the “employer” sending a cashier’s check to the “worker.” The cashier’s check will be for more than the amount you’re owed and the employer will ask that you wire the excess back to him. Be aware that if the cashier’s check bounces, you’re on the hook for any money you spent as well as the money you wired. A high percentage of work-at-home jobs are scams, so if you are ever asked to wire money by your employer, you should run, not walk, away as fast as you can.

Attention International Lottery Winners

Out of the blue, you’re contacted with the great news that you’ve won a huge sum of money in a lottery. All you have to do to collect your new nest egg is pay the taxes and/or a clearance fee in advance. The bad news? The lottery is a scam and you’re going to be out anything you pay to collect your “winnings.”

Online auctions

Online auctions can be a great way to get cash for unwanted items unless the buyer wants to pay by cashier’s check. Scammers will send a fake check and expect immediate shipment of their merchandise. A few days later, you discover the cashier’s check was a fake and your valuable items are long gone.

The bottom line is that we can kiss the days of trusting the venerable cashier’s check goodbye. Instead, opt for cash or credit card. And, if you do take a cashier’s check, wait until your bank says, “It’s cleared.” before celebrating and spending the money.

Kirkus Review for Con Game

Con Game 231x350It’s been with a great deal of trepidation that I’ve been waiting for the results of the review of my thriller Con Game by Kirkus Reviews. Finally, today, that review came in. I’m very happy with the review—they didn’t slam me (yeah!)—and said, “Ambrose touches on high-finance malfeasance, adultery and drug dealing with the kind of snark that will remind readers of Elmore Leonard. Given their moral nuances, Roxy and Skip are entertaining anchors for a series, and the introduction of Lily brings the promise of further complications for their relationship. . . A solid second round of capers featuring this attractive, cynical couple.” — Kirkus Reviews

Find the entire review at Kirkus Review for Con Game.

Learn more about the book on the Con Game book page on this site.