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January 13, 2008

Yinka Shonibare — Flower Time Interviews

The Nigerian artist spoke to the BBC about his 2006/2007 "Flower Time" show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, England.

The two-part interview appears above and below.

January 13, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Best bumper sticker of the year


It's in a book called "The Ultimate Bumper Sticker Collection."

Let's see, $14.95 for 96 different stickers = 16 cents apiece.

Not bad.

January 13, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blast from the past: 'The best article I've ever read on identity theft and what to do if and when it happens to you'


It appeared here on May 30, 2005, and follows.

No hysteria, no over–the–top pronouncements, simply a dispassionate analysis of the problem and sensible remedies.

Alina Tugend wrote the piece; it appeared in this past Saturday's New York Times in the Personal Business section and is worth printing out and filing away "just in case."

I certainly did just that.

Good news/bad news: the single most interesting statistic in the article was that 35% of all identity theft victims resolve their problems within an hour or less; 6%, however, spend more than 240 hours.

In case you're too tired to bother with the math, that's an average of an hour a day for eight months straight — seven days a week.

Here's the story.

    Oh, No! My Identity's Gone! Call the Insurer.

    It's hard not to be frightened by identity theft these days, no matter how diligent you are.

    It seems as if tales of woe are everywhere: the stolen credit card, the compromised Social Security number, the lost wages.

    It happened to Tony Coretto of Larchmont, N.Y., six years ago.

    Someone used his name and Social Security number, supplied a different address and opened a checking account at Chase Manhattan Bank.

    That person then wrote a bad check for $7,500, and for years it haunted Mr. Coretto and his wife, Suzanne.

    You bought a shredder a few years back to avoid such a nightmare and use it religiously on those annoying preapproved credit card solicitations that clog your mailbox.

    You are aware of the e-mail schemes that are circulating and never provide personal information over the Internet, at least not on an unsecured Web site.

    And each time a company asks for your Social Security number or your mother's maiden name, you ask why and inquire how it will safeguard that information.

    You swallow hard and give the information, the same way you let a waiter take your credit card away for approval.

    Some things are just out of your control.

    Then you hear about security breaches at companies like MCI, Bank of America and Time Warner.

    And the scary statistic that almost 10 million people have been victims of identity thieves in the last year, according to the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

    So you wonder, is this getting out of hand? What else can I do?

    It may not come as a surprise that the insurance industry has found an eager market for a timely product: identity theft insurance.

    Before you start enjoying warm and fuzzy feelings of security, know that such insurance does not cover the thousands of dollars that thieves may rack up using your good credit; in fact, consumers are usually responsible for a maximum of $50.

    Rather, it is meant to reimburse, as much as possible, for the time and out-of-pocket expenses involved in purging the bad credit.

    It can be bought either as part of a homeowner's policy or as a stand-alone endorsement.

    It's free or cheap - usually no more than $50 a year, depending on the policy.

    And that generally covers up to $25,000, according to the Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org).

    Indeed, if you have a homeowner's policy, check with the insurance agent; you may already be covered and not know it.

    Most policies reimburse for lost wages associated with taking time off to clear up the problem, phone bills, notary and legal fees, money spent reapplying for loans that may have been rejected because of bad credit, and even medical bills if the client can prove that the identity theft caused physical or psychological problems that required a doctor's services.

    That's the catch; everything must be documented.

    Such products had only limited availability in 1999, when Mr. Coretto did what he was told to do by his creditors: report the situation immediately to the three major credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

    Still, "for the next several months," he recalled, "I was hounded by a collection agency and tried to get both Equifax and TransUnion to remove incorrect former addresses and former employment - not to mention the offending Chase revolving credit account I never had, as well as a phone bill for a number I had never had."

    Six years later, the exasperation was still in his voice.

    It took contacting the Better Business Bureau, his lawyer and the office of Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, to resolve the matter.

    But the story was not over yet.

    More than two years later, when he and his wife were preparing to refinance their mortgage, the bad credit still appeared on his credit reports, and he found that the Chase account had been transferred to another collection agency.

    Mr. Coretto again contacted the three reporting agencies, and filed a consumer identity theft affidavit with all three.

    After more frustrating hours spent on the phone and writing letters, he resolved the matter, for now at least.

    In all, he estimates that he lost at least 40 working hours over a period of three years clearing up the mess.

    Not every victim is plagued for years like Mr. Coretto.

    Betsy Broder, who oversees the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft program, noted that 35 percent of all victims resolve their problems within an hour or less.

    The bad news, however, is that 6 percent spend more than 240 hours.

    If you're caught in the web of identity theft and want to hand the whole problem over to someone else, some insurance companies offer what they call a restoration or resolution service.

    They provide either a specialist who guides you through the credit maze, or someone who actually does the work, such as filing police reports and contacting credit agencies.

    For example, Kroll Inc., a risk consultant company, offers restoration services and credit monitoring for $9.95 a month.

    It also supplies an after-the-fact restoration service for a flat fee, which can range from a few hundred dollars to $1,500, said Troy D. Allen, vice president for fraud solutions at Kroll.

    Identity theft insurance should not be confused with credit monitoring services.

    These online services offer, for $30 to $150 annually, monthly e-mail alerts about new credit inquiries, account openings or other changes to your credit records, as well as frequent credit reports.

    But Linda Foley, co-executive director for the Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org), says such services are at best unnecessary, and also give a false sense of security.

    "They're accurate only up to a point," she said.

    Many times companies do not report right away who has tried to open an account in your name, so nothing appears for months.

    "If you don't catch the fraud at the time of application, it doesn't matter if you find out now or in a month," Ms. Foley said.

    Insurance, on the other hand, if it is low-cost or free and has good coverage, is not necessarily bad, Ms. Foley said.

    In general, however, consumer experts are not big advocates of insurance.

    They say that most people can resolve problems themselves, using the free resources available from organizations like Ms. Foley's, Consumers Union (www.consumersunion.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.gov/idtheft).

    Gail Hillebrand, a senior lawyer with the West Coast regional office of Consumers Union, noted that insurance was one response to identity theft, but consumers should also know - and use - new legislation put into place to protect them from identity theft.

    By federal law, you are allowed one free report a year from credit agencies; in the New York metropolitan area this provision will take effect on Sept. 1.

    A good tip is to stagger the reports by applying for one every four months from each credit agency instead of applying for them all at once.

    Also, the minute you are notified of a possible identity theft and ask a credit agency to put out a fraud alert, you are eligible for a free report.

    Five states already have laws allowing consumers to freeze their credit reports, then unfreeze them for a small fee.

    That means that anyone applying, for example, for a loan or benefits in someone else's name will be denied because access cannot be obtained to the credit report.

    Consumer advocates caution consumers not to think of insurance as a panacea.

    Just because you have a policy does not mean you can let down your guard: you still need to educate yourself about how to avoid identity theft.

    If you do decide to buy insurance, be sure to look at what it includes.

    Is there a limit on the number of hours the insurance company will reimburse for lost work time?

    Does it matter if you are a salaried or hourly worker?

    What about out-of-pocket expenses? What is the deductible?

    Read the policies carefully.

    Decide if it is worthwhile to spend the money.

    And don't forget to use that shredder.


Want more?

Okay, how about a 2006 post on medical identity theft?


Here you go.

I'd never heard about it until Shawn Lea sent me a link to Eileen Ambrose's Baltimore Sun column of May 15, which follows.

    Watch out for medical identity theft

    Report estimates that up to 500,000 consumers have been victimized so far

    We shred our papers and delete anything "phishy" to prevent thieves from posing as us and stealing our money.

    Now there's a new twist to watch out for -- medical identity theft.

    This is when thieves use your name or insurance information to get medical treatment.

    Or, they might use it to buy prescription drugs or get reimbursed by insurance companies for services you never received.

    That's not the worst of it.

    False entries on health care records mean you could end up being treated based on someone else's medical history, says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.

    Dixon's group last week issued a report on this crime, roughly estimating that it has ensnared 250,000 to 500,000 consumers so far.

    Often, the perpetrators are professional thieves selling pills or medical supplies online.

    Sometimes, it's the doctor.

    A Massachusetts psychiatrist, for instance, filed false insurance claims for patients and non-patients alike, saying they were being treated for drug addiction or depression, Dixon says.

    The chance of finding out about the theft is slim, and the discovery might not occur until long after the crime.

    Often it's a call from a bill collector that alerts victims.

    That happened to a Colorado man who was dogged by a collection agency to pay $44,000 for surgery someone else received under his name, the report says.

    Some uncover the theft when an insurer won't pay a bill because a thief's claims put them over their insurance limit.

    The psychiatrist's fraud was uncovered when a victim was denied a job because of the fake mental diagnosis, Dixon says.

    Clifton Gaus, president of Health Professor Inc. in California, says medical identity theft is an emerging problem, but states are unlikely to take action to protect consumers until it's known how pervasive the crime is.

    What can you do?

    Ask your insurer each year for a list of benefits paid on your behalf, Dixon says.

    This helps uncover cases where a thief changes your billing address.

    Request an "accounting of disclosures" annually, she says.

    Here, insurance and health care providers are required under federal law to tell you who accessed your records in certain cases.

    This can help you spot any data breaches, Dixon says.

    Also under federal law, you have a right to look at your medical file, although you might be charged a fee for a copy.

    If you see errors, you're entitled to ask that the record be amended. This isn't the same as deleting wrong information. Amending a record, Dixon says, means you can place a paper in the file that disputes the wrong information.

    (Seinfeld fans might recall Elaine's failed attempt to steal her medical file to erase negative information, and then having to jump from doctor to doctor searching for one that didn't know her record. She ended up seeking treatment from a vet.)

    Sometimes in real life, a sympathetic doctor will remove false items from patients' records, Dixon says.

    But even this isn't foolproof.

    Wrong information might be on other paperwork that continues to be circulated among doctors, hospitals and insurers, she says.




Alright, here's last year's post on identity theft targeting the wealthy.


Yesterday I remarked that T. C. Boyle's novel "Talk Talk" was instructive along with being hugely entertaining.

Of particular interest to me was how his fictional criminals, as the story evolved, decided to focus on the rich, reasoning they offered far better targets of opportunity than hoi polloi.

As Willie Sutton replied when asked why he robbed banks, "Because that's where the money is."

The identity thieves performed in-depth online research on public library computers, making their activities untraceable to them as individuals.

Boyle's book was published in 2006, which means he most likely finished writing it that year or in 2005.

He did his homework.

On August 17, 2007, Cassell Bryan-Low's story headlined "'ID-Theft Gang' Targeting Wealthy People is Exposed" appeared in the Wall Street Journal; it follows.

    'ID-Theft Gang' Targeting Wealthy People is Exposed

    Case Shows Amount of Data Available to Public Online, Pursuit of Deeper Pockets

    U.S. law-enforcement authorities arrested what they called an online identity-theft gang that they allege sought to steal millions of dollars by targeting wealthy individuals, including Michaels Stores Inc. co-founder Charles Wyly and a member of the Pritzker family.

    The case underscores how cybercriminals are pursuing deeper pockets, and it highlights a coming of age for cybercriminals: Some who started out with credit-card fraud have progressed to bigger targets like brokerage and mortgage accounts, which have higher limits. It also sheds light on the amount of information that is publicly accessible, even to suspected criminals halfway around the world.

    The ringleader in this case was a 24-year-old Russian named Igor Klopov, according to an indictment returned by a New York county grand jury that was unsealed yesterday. He stole $1.5 million and attempted to steal an additional $10.7 million from about 15 victims, many of whom he found through the Forbes 400 richest list, according to the indictment and prosecutors. Besides the individuals targeted, financial-services firms where his victims held accounts included Merrill Lynch & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Fidelity Investments, says the indictment.

    The victim list also included a Silicon Valley couple, the head of a major credit-reporting agency and a wealthy Texas businessman, according to prosecutors. Many of the victims lived in states — like Texas and California — where deed information about properties is available online.

    Mr. Klopov allegedly focused on people with a home-equity line of credit account, a way for homeowners to borrow against the value of a home as needed. By mining publicly available deed information online, Mr. Klopov was able to readily gain information about the value of property, size of outstanding mortgages, and existing lines of credit, prosecutors allege.

    Mr. Klopov created dossiers on his victims and hired private investigators to provide him with additional information, prosecutors say. They say he also used online job-hunting Web sites to recruit accomplices to withdraw money from banks, providing them with fake identification and information on his targets. Mr. Klopov made travel arrangements for his collaborators, including reservations at five-star hotels and limo services, which he paid for with stolen credit-card numbers, prosecutors say.

    U.S. authorities yesterday also said they had arrested four other individuals — in Michigan, Texas, Florida and Kentucky. The defendants have been charged with theft, identity theft, money laundering and forgery, among other charges.

    Another victim was Anthony Pritzker, a member of the Pritzker family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. An assistant for Mr. Pritzker said he wasn't reachable.

    A spokesman for Fidelity said the incident involved one account in late 2005 and the company had reimbursed the customer. Spokesmen for Merrill and J.P. Morgan Chase declined to comment beyond saying the firms work with law enforcement.

    The yearlong investigation was conducted by the U.S. Secret Service, the New York City Police Department and the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

    In one instance, Mr. Klopov allegedly tried to steal $7 million from craft-store chain co-founder Mr. Wyly, who was a J.P. Morgan Chase customer. According to the indictment, Mr. Klopov, posing as Mr. Wyly, contacted the bank and asked that a new checkbook linked to a home-equity line of credit be sent to a Houston address associated with one of his cohorts. The cohort drafted a check for $7 million and sent it to a gold dealer in Westchester, N.Y. To authenticate the check, the gold dealer called its bank, which also happened to be J.P. Morgan Chase, the indictment continues. The bank contacted Mr. Wyly, who informed them that he had never signed that check. J.P. Morgan Chase alerted authorities, who already were investigating Mr. Klopov.

    William Brewer, a lawyer for Mr. Wyly, said Mr. Wyly "is grateful for the good work... done by law enforcement officials."

    Using an undercover agent, who already had developed an online relationship with Mr. Klopov, authorities led the defendant to believe the gold had been purchased and began arranging with Mr. Klopov plans for him to come to the U.S. to retrieve it, according to prosecutors. Authorities arrested Mr. Klopov under the Brooklyn Bridge.

    The Manhattan District Attorney's office said Mr. Klopov, who is from Moscow and is in custody, has denied the charges. An effort to reach an attorney for Mr. Klopov was unsuccessful.


Something for everyone, that's our philosophy.

January 13, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Pajama Warmer


From the website:

    Pajama Warmer

    Take the brrrrr out of slipping into your winter jammies

    Do you love slipping into warm clothing just out of the dryer?

    You don't need to waste money running a dryer just to enjoy that pampering treat.

    Just place clothes or your bath towel inside this pajama warmer and it comes out toasty warm after just 10–15 minutes.


January 13, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Brought to you in high-definition by...' — When will this phrase disappear?


It's been a while since I've heard, "Brought to you in living color on NBC."

Most people reading this have never heard it.


Because color TV's the default now, with black-and-white only a historical or "arty" oddity.

It won't be all that many years before the same thing happens to HDTV and the phrase in the headline up top disappears.

Wonder what it's successor will be....

"Bringing you into GameSpace — where you control what you see."

Yeah, I think that's it.

Beam me up before this afternoon's Cowboys-Giants game, would you?

January 13, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Amazing Always Together Sock Clip


Long name — and story — short: "The amazing tool [above] is basically a small plastic clip that holds together a pair of socks," wrote Christina Breda Antoniades in the Washington Post in a mostly positive December 23, 2007 review of this product.

The full piece follows.

    No More Sock Orphans

    After I got married and my husband and I commingled our belongings, one of our most dreaded tasks was sorting socks. Even I, not a neatnik, aspire to order in the sock drawer. When it was just the two of us it was bad enough, but a family of five is swimming in socks. Tiny socks, big socks, white socks, black socks. Socks, socks, socks. And always one that is maddeningly missing. It's enough to put you off laundry altogether.

    Fortunately, one night I stumbled across a Web site for the Sock Clip, or the Amazing Always Together Sock Clip, as Richco Product Innovations originally named it. The amazing tool is basically a small plastic clip that holds together a pair of socks. Once clipped, they can be tossed in the wash and stored, still together. A set of 32 comes in four hues, so you can color-code your socks by family member.

    My first reaction was, great! No more sorting. Bring on the clips! Of course, I soon realized that even without the need to sort, there's a little upfront work. Still, as long as you clip the socks as soon as you remove them from your feet, the task is relatively simple, with none of the searching, matching and swearing that accompanies traditional sock sorting. And making it the house rule that each person clips his or her own socks means that in theory the only stinky socks you'll have to touch are your own.

    As usual, I enlisted Spiro's help and, as usual, he responded enthusiastically. For at least 24 hours, which translates to roughly two pairs of socks. After that, he reverted to standard procedure, tossing his smelly, balled-up bundles of sock in the general direction of the laundry basket.

    This meant I was pretty much on my own, and, honestly, although I'm a devoted reporter I found it a bit difficult to remember to use the clips. Also, call me wimpy, but I found some of the clips tough to open, which slowed me a bit. Still, those socks that did get clipped were indeed easier to handle post-wash. The clips neither fell off nor damaged the socks (the clips loosen slightly with use).

    One important note: Sock clips are hard plastic, and as such they do clang around a bit in the dryer. Not a big problem, but if you live in tight quarters and plan on sleeping while your laundry tumbles, this might not be the ideal gadget for you.


32 clips in four different colors cost $14.95.

But perhaps, for one reason or another, this particular iteration doesn't appeal to you, or seems a tad expensive (47 cents apiece).

I can see how that could happen.

For you, there's the Sock Cop (below).


From the website:

    Sock Cop®

    Are your socks M.I.A.?

    Easy-to-use Sock Cop stops laundry infractions on the spot.

    Non-snagging clips gently attach to the heels — ensuring that sock mates stay together throughout the entire wash and dry process.

    All clean?

    Clipped socks can be placed directly in your drawer for storage — no more sorting!

    Works great with mittens and gloves, too.

    Washer- and dryer-safe resin.

    Perfect for family use.


A set of 20 includes 5 each of four colors (yellow, red, green and blue) and costs $7.95 (40 cents each).

I wonder how these might work outside the laundry space — say as emergency earrings....

January 13, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The origin of 'nerd'


It comes from Dr. Seuss's 1950 book "If I Ran the Zoo," according to a review in the January 12, 2007 print edition of The Economist of David Anderegg's new book, "Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them."

The passage: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo, and bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep, and a Proo, a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!"

Longtime close readers with a better memory than me may recall that Dr. Seuss also invented the word blog, back in 1953.


You could look it up.

January 13, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Egg Cracker


Tapping them on the edge of your frying pan is so last century.

From the website:

    Egg Cracker — Neatly Separates The Egg From Its Shell

    Say goodbye to messy hands and dropped shell pieces in breakfasts, dinners and desserts.

    Just place an egg inside and tap on the counter — the egg white and yoke drops cleanly into the bowl.

    Dishwasher-safe plastic.

    3-3/4 x 3-1/4".



$6.98 (eggs not included).

January 13, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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