Hello, It’s NOT Me

I have a CitiBank credit card. Naturally, I was thrilled to hear this week that information on nearly four million CitiGroup customers was lost. Lost by UPS. Lost in transit to one of the credit reporting bureaus. Oops! I don’t know that this particular boo boo will affect me personally, but it does create a certain dis-ease.

There have been several companies, including large banks and retailers, who have announced that information about customers or employees, including credit-card information, had been compromised. As I understand it, this does not necessarily reflect an increase in these types of events, but is rather in response to a California law requiring notification to customers of a security breach that could potentially allow for identity theft.

If you’re not from California, you might say, “So what?”

So this: with about a sixth of the country’s population residing in the Golden State, it was easier for Bank of America to admit last February that it lost computer backup tapes containing personal information publicly, rather than parcing out which of the 1.2 million charge cards that were potentially compromised had a California connection.

But what to do about the larger problem of identity theft?

One thing everyone should do is get a FREE copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting companies once every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a brochure, Your Access to Free Credit Reports, explaining your rights and how to order a free annual credit report.

Now, I haven’t taken advantage of this because the free reports have been phased in during a nine-month period, starting on the West Coast last December 1, to the Midwest on March 1, to the South on June 1. It won’t be until September 1 that free reports will be accessible to everybody, including those in CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, N J, NY!, NC, PA, RI, VT, VA, WV, DC, PR, and all U.S. territories.

There’s a toll-free number to order the report: 877-322-8228, or by completing the request form on the FTC site and mailing it. The instructions read like this:
“When you order, you need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. To verify your identity, you may need to provide some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment.” In other words, the FTC doesn’t want a tool designed to prevent ID theft to become a tool to PERPETRATE ID theft; clever bureaucrats they are.

I did a presentation on identity theft a couple years ago at a conference. I don’t think it went as well as it should have, partly because, frankly, a lot of the participants knew as much as I did. But, FWIW, here are some recommended other tools if you think your credit has been compromised:

  • Putting a fraud alert on your credit reports (companies should call you to verify your identity whenever they check your credit report with the intention of opening an account in your name or making any changes to an existing one.), at all three credit bureaus — Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289). And do so every 90 days.
  • Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. I utilize this myself.
  • Tell your beneficiaries, since the Social Security numbers of the beneficiaries on your 401(k) account or life insurance policy might be compromised as well.
  • Change your bank account numbers.
  • Insist on identifiers other than your Social Security number. I’ve had testy conversations with health care providers who insist on my Social Security number when is not my health ID number. My insurance company allowed for non-SS ID numbers a couple years ago, and I was one of a relatively few who took advantage, but as of this year, all the ID numbers are bizarre alphanumerics, which suits me fine.
  • Opt out of pre-approved credit offers by calling the Automated Credit Reporting Industry (888-567-8688).
    There are some others, but you get the picture.

    It seems to me that this type of white-collar crime is finally getting its due share of contempt.

  • Bus Rider (w/ apologies to the Guess Who)

    I like the bus, I really do. I wish more people would take it, making issues of downtown parking in Albany (and undoubtedly elsewhere) less of a problem . I wish that urban sprawl would not make it so difficult to facilitate usable bus routes, because all of those single-passenger cars are helping to create a lot more air pollution.

    And I’ve had some very good bus experiences. There’s a guy from my choir, Bruce, who I chat with about the world. There’s Shirley, the Red Cross cookie lady, who always asks about my family. Just last week, I ran into a woman with a daughter Lydia’s age — and another child who is 25! And there are other interesting folks.

    Having said that, I had a couple bus experiences this year that weren’t so great. But these are exceptions, the EXCEPTIONS. I like the bus.

    One day, I took the #10 Western Avenue bus so I could get to an event. We’d gone about three blocks when a woman in a wheelchair got on the bus. I think it’s great how the bus creates a ramp to let in those physically challenged. The bus driver pushes up a couple seats which expose the base from which the wheelchair can be secured. Well, the driver thought it was secured, but the woman in the wheelchair did NOT. The driver fussed with it for five minutes, but the rider was not satisfied. The bus driver was obviously getting very frustrated. Finally, the passenger said it was OK to go.
    We go four more blocks when another woman getting on the bus fell. This would involve calling the dispatcher and making a report, so I got off that bus, walked a block, then caught the next bus. Fortunately, the event was later than I thought and all ended well.

    Another day, I took the #63 bus. It’s a bus that starts downtown Albany, makes a couple turns in the city, and ends up fairly close to the #10 bus route for a while, eventually ending up in Schenectady. It started about 5 minutes late. It is the last bus on this route for the night.
    A woman was chatting away about some TV show (I believe it was “Desperate Housewives”) in a quite loud voice with a level of detail that suggested that she thought they were real people. And apparently, she didn’t find it necessary to breathe, but was seemingly enamored of her own voice. Right before the bus makes the right turn from Lark Street onto Madison Avenue, she announces that she’s going to look left on Madison to see if a particular person was coming. We make the turn, and she yells to the bus driver, “STOP THE BUS! SHE’S COMING!” The bus driver, who was black (not so incidentally), was somewhat confused/startled, but complied, then the woman got out to get the would-be passenger (WBP). “Don’t leave without me! I’ve got my things in there!” she proclaimed. He yells to the woman as she, none-too-quickly, goes back to WBP, “Hurry up, lady! I’ve got a route to complete!”
    Passenger gets back to the bus WITHOUT WBP; because WBP figured the bus had already passed (remember it had started late), WBP had called her boyfriend for a ride. Now, the passenger is arguing about this with the driver WHILE SHE IS STANDING OUTSIDE OF THE BUS. “Get in!” the other passengers, including me, scream. She does, but orates that she would want someone to do the same for her. She then opines that “you blacks live in the city, you can take another bus, but it was her [WBP’s]last opportunity.” She went on in this vein for a couple minutes. Now, it was true that I could have taken the #10 20 minutes later and gotten to nearly the same place. It was also true that WBP’s options were limited. But her (unnecessary) racial characterization was bizarre; there were as many white people as black people on the bus, and there were undoubtedly some black people on that bus for which that vehicle was their last option as well. As I got off the bus, I told her that I didn’t appreciate her “racist crap.” The incident put me in a bit of a sour mood until I got home and saw Lydia.

    But I really like the bus. REALLY. It’s a good thing, the bus. Ride the bus. Mass transit rules.


    I watch the Oscars because, B.L. (Before Lydia), I would have seen at least 70% of the award nominees in the major categories (movie, director, 2 actor, 2 actress, and 2 screenplay categories.) I root for my favorite shows on the Emmys. I like to watch the Grammys to hear the artists I’ve read about in magazines but never actually heard, usually in the minor categories.

    (“I like to watch.” I sound like Chauncey Gardiner (Peter Sellers) in Being There, a 1979 movie that is one of my favorites.)

    But I watch the Tony Awards because it is generally all I know of the shows on Broadway. I mean, there usually ONE show I’ve heard of (this year’s winning musical Spamalot, The Producers from a couple seasons ago), but that’s it, except for the revivals.

    I like to discover that a number of actors better known from other venues are on the boards. In the “featured actor (play)” category, Alan Alda (West Wing), Gordon Clapp (N.Y.P.D. Blue) and winner in his Broadway debut Liev Schrieber (the remake of the movie The Manchurian Candidate) all were in a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross. The “actress (play)” category was filled with women best known for film (Laura Linney, Mary-Louise Parker, Kathleen Turner) and television (Phylicia Rashad), though most (or all) have been on Broadway before. Rashad won last year for A Raisin in the Sun; Cherry Jones (winner a decade ago for The Heiress) won this year for Doubt.

    And I don’t watch ANY of these shows to find out who won. In fact, I’ve seen only the first hour of the show Sunday night, but I already know the results. I like to see HOW they won, how the people react, so I’ll watch the tape at my leisure.

    I STOPPED watching the Tonys on Sunday because it was Lydia’s bedtime, and the quietness of the house seems to maximize the possibly that she’ll actually go to sleep and stay that way. By the time she was in bed, I flicked through the channels and ended up watching the Mets beat the Giants. (Incidentally, the musical The Light in the Piazza apparently has nothing to do with Mets catcher Mike Piazza.)

    My buddy Fred Hembeck has been extolling the wonderfulness of one Mark Evanier for some time, and Mark has a lot to say about the Tonys that I found interesting on June 5 and 6, and even on June 4, when he predicted most of the winners correctly. He also writes about medical marijuana (6/6) and Deep Throat (6/3), topics covered recently in this page, and how the rich get richer and the myth of the “death tax” (6/6), which I would have written about had I had something cogent to say.

    While I’m plugging other pages, let me mention the upcoming reintroduction of the NEW Comic Book Galaxy by long-time FantaCo customer (and big booster of this page) Alan David Doane, starting Monday, June 13. I’ll be honest: I don’t know WHAT to expect, but ADD has a lot of heart, so if you’re into the comic medium, it should be good. (And now the pressure is on, Alan.)

    Going from pot

    I’ve purchased marijuana exactly one time in my life. It was some years ago (note to law enforcement officials: the statute of limitations applies) that a friend of mine, who I knew to be fairly staunchly opposed to ever smoking pot himself, asked me if I knew where to buy some. His uncle had glaucoma, and the scientific research of the time suggested that marijuana could relieve the uncle’s extreme discomfort. He also had some other ailments, and the nephew had hoped that the pot would stir his meager appetite.
    So I asked the one person I knew would likely know where to find some marijuana. He sold it to me, I passed it on to my friend (at the same price), and I heard later that the uncle did seem to respond well to the “treatment.”

    The interesting thing about Supreme Court rulings (well, interesting to a political science major, which I was) is that their rulings are not phrased as about the issue that gets played in the press (“Court Knocks Pot”) but about more arcane matters. So, in the case decided by the Court on Monday, it’s not so much about medical marijuana, it’s a states’ rights issue, whether Congress had exceeded its authority vis a vis the states regarding medical marijuana.

    The old poli sci major finds the federal government’s argument to be strong: state law is generally subservient to federal law, “even as applied to the troubling facts of this case,” as Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, put it. But I find the position stated in Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s dissenting opinion that a state has a right to take care of its citizens even more compelling. If you’ve seen the videos of Angel McClary Raich before treatment, when she could barely move, and after treatment, when she appeared as a normally functioning person, you’d find her, at bare minimum, a sympathetic respondent. And I do believe there is sufficient science to suggest that there are real medical benefits of marijuana.

    Which begs the question: if I had it to do over again, would I purchase marijuana for someone in medical need? Let’s put it this way: Montel Williams indicated that he’ll still be using marijuana for his multiple sclerosis, but knows that by saying so, he makes himself a target for prosecution. I wouldn’t SAY that I’d buy it, but…

    End hunger

    One of the other things I do (beside family, library, church and blog), is serve as web person for the FOCUS Churches of the Capital District. The FOCUS community minister, Deb Jameson, sent me an electronic package of material this week about legislation designed to END HUNGER BY 2015. I’m a bit too much of a cynic to necessarily believe that will succeed, but I DO believe that NOT taking action will have its own (negative) consequences. So, if you want, check out the “End Hunger Legislation-June 2005” button at the left column of the FOCUS page. Some of the information is specific to the Albany area, but unless there’s no hunger in YOUR neighborhood, some of it could be modified to meet your community’s needs.

    Another thing you might do is check out the article and website below:

    Hunger Basics from Bread for the World

    More than 800 million people in the world go hungry.
    In developing countries, 6 million children die each year, mostly from hunger-related causes.
    In the United States, 13 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.
    But we CAN end hunger.
    We have the means. The financial costs to end hunger are relatively slight. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion a year. Animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.
    What makes the difference between millions of hungry people and a world where all are fed?
    Only a change in priorities. Only the will to end hunger.
    Want to learn more? Bread for the World Institute collects facts on domestic and global hunger. It also generates answers to frequently asked questions about hunger. Or you can learn about what issues Bread for the World members are working on right now to bring an end to hunger in the U.S. and around the world. You can also get involved or write a letter to your member of Congress.