Jay Cross
Jay Cross

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Contemplative learning. And fraud
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Monday morning. Smokey the Wonderdog whines to wake me up. On auto-pilot, I arise, brush my teeth, and take the garbage and recycling out to the curb. I brew a cup of tea while the computer boots up. Undoubtedly email has arrived overnight. Phone messages await my pick-up. The day's New York Times has interesting stories to read.

I sip my tea. I write these words. I contemplate what I want to accomplish today. Interruptions can wait.

Each of us chooses what we think about, what we learn, and what we do. Our minds are an inner sanctuary to which we alone possess the key. No one else will ever see what's inside. It's ours alone. Walled off. Private.
"each of us is at the center of the universe
so is everyone else"

e.e. cummings
Listen to what's going on in your head at this moment. There's a conversation in there. You can lurk or you can join the conversation. The talk becomes thoughts... findings... learning.

Young thoughts need shelter from the elements to grow. I nurture my thoughts in the morning, before the cacophony of ringing phones, flashing lights, and FedEx trucks tries to distract me.
Asked whether he didn't hate the Chinese, the Dalai Lama responded, "They have taken my country. Why should I let them take my mind?"
I rambled on, sipping tea, looking at the redwoods. I fancied myself quite the philosopher. A few paragraphs later, it was time to check email.

My first email of the day was from a chap notifying me that almost all of my banking and credit card information was available on the open internet. Luckily for me, he's a nice guy. Coincidentally, he's VP of legal for a credit card company.

So I spent the better part of the day changing the passwords to numerous bank and brokerage accounts, closing down a dozen credit cards, and changing the passwords with all my ISPs.

The doors are locked once again, this time with odd-looking passwords that combine upper and lower case, letters and numbers, and no words you'd find in a dictionary.

I'm convinced that a smooth con artist with your mother's maiden name, social security number, and birth date could crack open just about anyone's bank account. Your publically available birth certificate has two of those items; your health insurer, pharmacy, school, and my credit bureau have your social security number.

Criminals with internet savvy must have it made. A little dumpster diving, a few inquiries, and good social engineering skills: before long you have $2 million in the Caymans and spend the rest of your life on the beach.

After three attempts to change my password at a major online mutual fund, I called the main office. A pleasant young fellow changed my password. The confirming email started "Dear Amy." What the hell? He'd changed the email address of someone named Amy to jaycross@jaycross.com. I called back. The guy on the other end of the line said they'd been having problems with their revamped website, most of them around the login and password functions. Maybe if I waited a while, checked back late tonight, everything would be okay.

I told him my password had been in plain site on the net. What if I came back and found that I'd been cleaned out? Oh. Yeah. He emailed me a new password. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. It gives me a Server Error. I found an email address where I could document the situation. You know what? Poor Amy is going to be really confused before this one plays out. (Next day's email from the fund: "Your message has been received. It is our goal to respond to your e-mail within 4 business days.")

I also called the Global Customer Assistance Center at VISA. Their slick web page reassures you that "You’re always protected with Visa. If your card is stolen or lost, you can get help no matter where you are. Take note of the following information, tips, and contacts." Jennifer asked how she could help. I explained the situation. She didn't have a registry of VISA cards. In fact, all she could do was give me the numbers to call to cancel each of my eight VISA accounts one by one. I thanked Jennifer for her "help."

A service called Credit Card Hot Line saved my bacon. I called them up (1-800-HOTLINE) and explained that I'd had an account for a dozen years, although I hadn't heard from them this century. Joyce took my credit card numbers and started zapping them. Whew!

Another great tool in this: Roboform. It's a password management program that's a breeze to use. Unlike its closest competitor, Gator, it doesn't come with insidious spyware.

This saga is not over. One credit card company called this evening to ask about my $1,000 purchase from someone in the U.K. (Never happened.) Another found it curious that I'd billed two different cards for $50 to some outfit out of Moscow. (Never happened.)


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