Archive for the ‘Theft’ Category

Service of Wacky Things People Do

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Photo: balunywa.blogspot.com

In quick succession I became aware of some screwy things people do–mild in comparison to what is happening in the photo above.

Homemade Floods

Photo: hiawathasewer.com

The note slipped under our door at the high-rise we live in warned that the water would be turned off the next day from 9 to 5 and to please make sure “when leaving the unit to turn off all the faucets.”

I asked the morning doorman, who has worked at the building for decades, about the reason for that odd faucet request. He said that when learning of a water shutdown some of the tenants turn on all their faucets before leaving for work. Then he smiled and shrugged.

We’ll Learn to Read Next Week

I was waiting for a test at a doctor’s office in a cubby-size space in which patients change to a hospital gown and wait their turn. I was pacing and couldn’t help notice the giant sign on a hamper to hold used gowns [photo, left] and a few steps away, a trash can. On closer inspection, I saw trash in the gown hamper. The garbage can was empty.

Don’t Look Now

Did the person installing the Vanderbilt Ave. detour sign [photo below, right] bother to look at the direction of the traffic? In addition, this sign is right off First Avenue, blocks and blocks away from Vanderbilt Avenue. I feel very sorry for out of towners driving in NYC.

Sticky Mail Boxes

Some unscrupulous people fish for mail.

Lindsay Gellman wrote “Sticky Fingers Fishing” in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” In it she identified the “most pressing crisis” for the USPS, noting that it’s not what the president identified: He blamed Amazon for using the service as its “delivery boy.”

People are stealing credit cards, checks, cash, gift cards and money orders from mail boxes using a low tech method. They put rat glue on a small juice bottle and tie a shoelace to its neck, creating a mail fishing device. Phil Bartlett, in charge of the postal service’s New York inspection division, shared how the thieves transform checks to reissue them to someone else. He told Gellman: “There’s products out there, things like Ink Away, or sometimes nail-polish remover. Or they soak them in a solution containing brake fluid.” Or they take bank and account numbers from checks and make counterfeit ones.

The post office’s solution is to replace or retrofit the 7,000 traditional mailboxes in and around NYC with ones with thin slits [photo below]. I haven’t seen anyone fish for mail, but I imagine they do it late at night.

Have you observed or read about any wacky things that people do?

Photo: riverdalepress.com

Service of Settling with a Cheat

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Settle out of court

Knoedler & Company, founded in 1846, had a star-quality international reputation until 2011 when the art dealership was accused of fraud and closed.

In artnet.com Brian Boucher wrote: “Over fifteen years, from 1994 to 2009, the gallery sold fake paintings by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and other artists that had been brought to the gallery by Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales, who pleaded guilty to fraud in 2013 and is awaiting sentencing. She had commissioned the paintings from a Chinese artist in Queens, who has since fled to China.”

Knoedler & Co. Photo Observer.com

Knoedler & Co. Photo Observer.com

On the witness stand last week, Ruth Blankschen, the gallery’s accountant, “said that she had paid Rosales up to $9,000 in cash in an envelope for each of the paintings she brought to the gallery, which is significant because the IRS requires reporting of cash transactions over $10,000,” wrote Boucher in “Knoedler Gallery Fraud Trial Abruptly Suspended—Settlement Seems Likely.”

This trial involved Eleanore and Domenico De Sole who were suing for $25 million because they paid $8.3 million in 2004 for their fake Rothko. Meanwhile the gallery did well, increasing their $9,000 investment to $8.3 million: A Madoff-worthy return, no?

Mark Rothko photo wikiart.org

Mark Rothko photo wikiart.org

Domenico De Sole, chairman of Sotheby’s, said that he was counting on the reputation of this well-regarded art house and didn’t do any vetting of the art himself. Given his position, imagine how embarrassed he was to be caught in such a net.

Clearly former gallery director and president Ann Freedman and Michael Hammer, the owner of Knoedler and its holding company, 8-31 Holdings, saved plenty of their ill gotten profits as they seem to be settling cases out of court right and left.

  • Freedman settled with the De Sole’s a few days before having to take the stand.
  • According to Henri Neuendorf of artnet.com in an earlier story, of nine suits against the gallery by buyers, five have been settled and four await trial.

Jennifer Smith in “Gallery Settles Art-Fraud Case,” written a few days after Boucher’s piece, reported that the gallery and the DeSoles’s have reached an undisclosed agreement and that “no criminal charges have been filed against Knoedler or Ms. Freedman.” In her Wall Street Journal article she continued “that both have said they were also duped by Ms. Rosales who told them the paintings came from a trove acquired by a collector known as ‘Mr. X.’” Smith said in all there were more than 30 fake artworks.

Do you think that sellers of fake art, if they settle out of court, should be free and not have to suffer punishment other than paying an agreed upon fine? Freedman claimed she knew nothing about the fakes. Wasn’t it a clue that her gallery paid less than $10,000 for something for which it was able to get over $8 million not from an art nubie, but from someone in the trade?

 Mr. X

Service of Contagious Credit Card Theft

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Credit card thief

This tale has some irritating and some hopeful, impressive outcomes.

I have a credit card I barely use and never to buy anything online, in big box stores or restaurants and there’s only one automatic monthly withdrawal. So when I got a call from the bank about suspicious purchases at White Castle in Queens [$50+]; Target in Long Island [$266] and a $9 co-pay to a doctor in North Carolina, I was surprised. The card was still in my wallet.

RFID shellTwo friends who live in New Jersey and Tennessee report very recent similar incidents with their credit cards. One had his new card for less than a week. The other said that this was the only card she didn’t keep in her RFID shell. I’d never before heard of such a shell, that prevents electronic scan theft, so after I checked out the link she sent me on Amazon.com–the shell she recommended cost under $8.00–I looked into the subject a bit more.

If you have a “chipped” credit card, wrote Bill Spencer on Click2Houston.com, “a card with a radio-frequency identification computer chip inside — that chip can be scanned at stores and restaurants.” He said it costs less than $100 to buy a scanning device online that works from up to 25 feet away. Spencer reported that in addition to a shell, you can also protect your credit card by wrapping it in tin foil.

Someone must have scanned my nephew’s credit card number at the airport on his way to Costa Rico as he received a text asking if he’d bought something in Puerto Rico. He hadn’t but someone else had. As he only had one card with him he asked the company to keep his card open, which they did. But the next day someone spent $1,800 so they closed it down. Moral: Travel with more than one card and wrap it in an RFID shell or in foil.

Yelling at phoneI never got my replacement card after a few weeks. When I called to report this, I entered “press one, press two” hell and kept hearing a recording about a delay in Federal payments unrelated to me or credit cards. Finally I got through to a person. Seems they had only just sent out the card—didn’t give a reason for the delay, nor could they give me the number of this card. Moral: Next time I won’t be such a good person and I’ll ask to have the replacement card sent to me overnight.

Saashost.netI needed the number for SaaShost.net, the company that hosts my email server, is on a monthly automatic payment plan and wasn’t paid this month. This company is buttoned up. The person I spoke with took another credit card number and once the amount cleared, deleted it from my file on my promise to call in with the new number. All this was confirmed minutes later in an email. Wow.

There’s hope that one scofflaw has been caught. While I didn’t get my new card from the bank, I did get a document regarding the Target purchase. I signed and returned it, affirming that I hadn’t authorized anyone to use my credit card.

Have you noticed or heard that such theft is happening with increasing frequency? Do you take steps to protect your cards or is the problem unstoppable so you don’t bother? Do you have tips to cut down on the time lost to mop up after such incidents?

protect credit card

 

Service of a New Twist on Identity Theft: A Hemorrhage in Medical Care

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

identity theft

Identity theft has spread from retail and banks to hospitals according to Stephanie Armour who reported the new contamination in her Wall Street Journal article, “How Identity Theft Sticks You With Hospital Bills: Thieves use stolen personal data to get treatment, drugs, medical equipment.

The only way that Kathleen Meiners, the mother of a man in his 30s with Down syndrome, could stop harassment by a hospital that claimed he’d had an operation was through the newspaper’s intervention.  Mrs. Meiners figured her son would quickly be off the hook after bringing him to the hospital so staff could see he’d had no procedure for a leg injury. But someone had to pay for the operation the identity thief had undergone so the hospital, ER physicians and radiologist continued to go after her son, eventually via collection agencies.

There’s more. With the thief’s medical charts “folded into” the victim’s, a person who doesn’t have diabetes might be shown to have it or the thief’s blood type might be listed as theirs. Mrs. Meiner’s son had no drug allergies but was listed as having some. Guess what? The victim can’t see the messed up medical records to untangle them because of privacy laws that protect the thief’s information.

Mrs. Meiners son isn’t alone. Armour wrote about a Florida woman who was charged for a foot amputation who showed up at the hospital to point out her two feet to no avail. A man learned someone had stolen all his benefits when he was refused a prescription refill.

Armour continued, “Fueling medical identity theft is the surge in electronic medical records and data breaches at insurers and health-care providers. Medical identity theft—in which someone fraudulently uses data to bill for medical services—affected 2.3 million adult patients in 2014 versus 1.4 million in 2009, according to a survey published in February by the Ponemon Institute LLC, a research concern.”

EmergencyTo help stem the tide, insurance companies have formed a Medical Identity Fraud Alliance and the FBI, Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] and the Justice Department are also investigating, according to Armour. And hospitals are getting into the act she wrote.  BayCare Health System in Florida asks patients if they want the veins in a palm scanned which is then “converted into a number that correlates with the patient’s medical record.” Other hospitals ask to see photo ID and are increasing digital security. Medicare cards distributed by HHS will no longer imbed social security numbers or show code according to a law the President signed in April.

“Unlike in financial identity theft,” wrote Armour, “health identity-theft victims can remain on the hook for payment because there is no health-care equivalent of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which limits consumers’ monetary losses if someone uses their credit information.” In Ponemon’s survey “65% of victims reported they spent an average of $13,500 to restore credit, pay health-care providers for fraudulent claims and correct inaccuracies in their health records.”

Armour reported that social security, Medicare and Medicaid numbers are sold on the black market for $50 vs. $6-$7 for a credit card number. The latter can be cancelled quickly hence the lesser value. “Sometimes, health-care providers are the perpetrators,” she wrote. “Federal prosecutors charged Dr. Kenneth Johnson with using Manor Medical Imaging, a Glendale, Calif. clinic, to write prescriptions for drugs and then sell them on the black market.”

Were you aware of this twist in identity theft? What can be done about it?

Identity theft 2

Service of Art Theft Recovery

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Isabella G missing art

The empty frames which bordered some of the stolen artworks previously exhibited at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston [photo above], where the pictures used to be,  give a memorable, haunting sensation of loss. They’ve been missing for 25 years. Check out the website and you’ll see posted a $100,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of a finial of a Napoleonic eagle that was also lost in the 1990 burglary.

Speaking of burgled art, Mark Fishsteinm, with K2 Intelligence LLC, said: “You can never give up hope because if they are stolen, some people hold them for a predetermined amount of time and then think it’s safe to sell.” The retired New York City Police Department’s art crime division specialist told this to Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Smith for her story, “Picasso Recovery in Newark Shines Light on Art Theft.”

La Coiffeuse by PicassoWhile the article focused on the fascinating business of art recovery, clearly the type of work only for the patient, the discovery in NJ didn’t share any how-to clues. Smith wrote about the theft of a cubist Picasso picture [photo at right], “La Coiffeuse,” [1911], from a storeroom in the Centre Pompidou in Paris that was reported in 2001. It was found in February in Newark, N.J. in a package sent from Belgium marked “Art Craft Toy,” with a value of $37. According to her, “It isn’t clear how customs officials at Newark, among the busier ports in the U.S., unearthed a stolen artwork the size of a place mat. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations declined to comment, citing a continuing investigation.”

Smith observed that in general law enforcement—police, FBI and Interpol–doesn’t work alone. Agencies collaborate with insurance companies and a few businesses such as Art Loss Register and Art Recovery Group [both in London]. The former lists stolen antiques as well as art in its database and is adding reports of forged/fake items to its service. The company boasted that last year it had 400,000 paid searches and found some 150 pieces.

Thomas Crown AffairIt doesn’t help the cause in this country that there is no central reference list for the law-enforcement agencies to track art crimes even though they represent a chunk of change. Smith wrote that the FBI can no longer verify a previous estimate of $billions lost from art and cultural crimes. She didn’t explain why but my guess would be that prices are so crazy these days that nobody can keep track or count that high.

What inspires people to pay the prices they do for high profile art when they are simply making targets of themselves? If it can’t be sold, what’s the point of stealing art? Why do you think there isn’t a single registry here for all legitimate interested parties to access?

To Catch a Thief

Service of Listening to Your Mother

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

listen to your mother

NPR’s David Greene interviewed a VP of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Roger Morris, who explained how the auto industry has taken a big bite out of car theft through technology. In 1991, at the peak, there were 1.6 million car thefts a year vs. 700,000 in 2013 according to FBI stats, said Morris.

key in auto doorHow did this happen? Morris said: “Well, they put a code in the key that matches up with the ignition that says, you know, unless this key is in this ignition, it won’t start. So it basically stopped the hot wiring and, you know, the joy riding, so to speak.”

Apart from the models on the road made before this technology was built in, what’s the main cause of car thefts these days? Morris says it’s because people leave keys in unlocked cars when they dash into a store.

Clearly these drivers didn’t use common sense or heed their mother or father’s warning never to do this. Have you wanted to kick yourself when something’s happened because you’ve not followed time-tested, sage advice?

Parking at store

Service of Kill Switches for Mobile Phones

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Smartphone in subway

There was a time when you could hardly walk down a city street without hearing the crunch of ground glass under your feet because someone had smashed a window to steal a car radio and/or tape deck. It got so bad that people would remove and bring their radio with them either shopping or to dinner and post “No radio in car” signs.

Car window smashedNow car radios work only in the car in which they are installed. Result: No more such thefts. The windfall from all those replacement purchases lasted for quite a while but all affected industries willingly gave up that source of income.

According to Edgar Sandoval and Tina Moore in the New York Daily News, “In New York City alone, 20% of robbers went after smartphones, a 40% increase from a year ago, authorities said. The crime has become known as ‘Apple picking.’”

stealing a smartphoneTo cut down if not eliminate smartphone theft that has led to death in some cases, a Bronx Congressman is asking for Federal legislation to require manufacturers to participate in a similar way by installing technology that stops a [stolen] mobile phone from working.

They continued “The leaders [Bronx Congressman José Serrano, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton] said the phone companies could either make the move on their own or the law will be enforced by the FCC, Serrano said.”

Sandoval and Moore quoted Bratton who said “corporate greed is to blame for not having the kill switch in the phones already in existence. Manufacturers came through when the city saw a wave of car robberies in the 1990s and Bratton would like to see them same happen with phones, he said.”

Think there’s any downside to smartphone manufacturers installing a kill switch? What are the advantages for the industry to do it without Federal intervention? Does a manufacturer’s business plan include sales gains for replacements as a result of theft? Has your phone been stolen?

Stealing smartphone 2

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