Tuesday Feb 12, 2008

Why do they call it turkey?

Last Thanksgiving I was preparing dinner with my four-year-old daughter looking on. She had that look on her face, the one she gets when she's forming a difficult question. Finally she asked, "Why do they call it turkey?"

"Because it's turkey," I answered, matter-of-factly.

"No," she continued, "I mean, why do they call the food 'turkey' the same as the bird 'turkey'?"

It was then I realized that she had not yet come to the realization that the animals on the farm and the food on our plate where one and the same. So I started to explain. At one point I flipped the turkey onto its legs, had it walk across the counter doing a can-can and flapping its wings. Perhaps not my best moment in parenting, but it got the message across. She nodded her head in patronizing agreement, and wandered away.

I was worried how she would handle dinner with her new-found knowledge. Would she eat the bird? Would she become a devout vegetarian on-the-spot? Would she enter the dining room chanting protest songs and holding a sign that reads, "Let my turkeys go!"?

But things went fine. She had no qualms about eating the turkey on her plate. She finished one slice, and asked for seconds. I was somewhat relieved, until I noticed she hadn't touched her vegetables. "Eat your veggies, too," I reminded her.

She took one legume with her spool and rolled it around on her plate, examining it carefully from every side. Finally she paused and got that inquisitive look on her face. "Daddy," she asked, looking up at me, "why do they call it 'pea'?"

American Community Survey: Avoiding A Scam

Since my January 8th post ranting on the way the US Census Bureau has been handling the (in my opinion, high intrusive) American Community Survey and failing to safeguard me from fraud and identify theft, the Census Bureau has rolled out a new home page with a link called Are You in a Survey?

This new web page gives the following information and advice:

  • The address that the American Community Survey response should be sent to, so you can verify that the data you provide is going directly to the Census Bureau.
  • If you have received a telephone call from someone at the Census Bureau, and you have any questions, you may speak directly via telephone or e-mail with an employee of the National Processing Center (at 1-866-226-2864).
  • If a person claiming to be from the Census Bureau comes to your door, ask to see their identification badge and a copy of the letter that was sent to you from the Census Bureau. And if you have any questions about their authenticity, call the National Processing Center.

All of this is good advice, and helps to ensure that your personal information is only going to authenticated, and authorized, individuals. Interestingly, these are all things I suggested in my recent posts. You think maybe someone at the US Census Bureau read my blog?

Sunday Feb 03, 2008

American Community Survey: The scam that keeps on scamming

On January 8th I wrote American Community Survey: Big Brother or Scam? I eventually decided to fill out and submit the ACS; now I regret it.

Two weeks after mailing in the survey, we started to get phone calls from a mysterious 800 number. No name on the caller id, just a number.

After, literally, hundreds of these unanswered calls, we slipped. I was traveling and my wife answered the call, despite the anonymous caller id, thinking it might be from a hotel or calling card. But it was someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau wanting to "verify" our answers to the American Community Scam. If these calls were really from the Census Bureau, why would the caller id name be blocked? Obviously, this is a follow-on scam.

My wife was polite, but cautious. She confirmed the names of the people living in the house (information you can get from a multitude of sources). But when the caller started asking specific questions about our finances, she wisely stopped. "How do I know you're really from the Census Bureau?" she asked. After she refused to answer any more questions, the caller told her she would need to call another 800 number to verify his authenticity.

Yeah, right.

If I were to setup up a scam, I'd do just this. Specifically, I'd call numbers from the phone book at random and ask, "I'm calling about the American Community Survey you recently submitted." If the resident hadn't received the survey, I'd hang up. But if they had received it and returned it, I'd ask them to "verify" their answers, and proceed to ask their names, social security numbers, and financial information. If they refused to answer and demanded some form of authentication, I'd give them an 800 number they could call. When they did, my partner would answer the phone saying, "US Census Bureau, American Community Survey department. How can I help you." OK, we'd want this to sound like the government, so maybe he wouldn't be so polite. But anyway, he'd "confirm" that the previous caller was indeed from the government, and that they had to answer every question asked.

How many people would fall for a scam like that? I'd bet 90% of the US population, based on the number of people that forward me junk emails about Microsoft paying out $100 each time that email was forwarded.

Ironically, the US Department of Justic, has a web page on Identify Thelft and Fraud. On that page, the DOJ gives some good advice about avoiding identify theft at home, including:

  • Start by adopting a "need to know" approach to your personal data. A person who calls you and says he's from your bank doesn't need to know information if it's already on file with your bank; the only purpose of such a call is to acquire that information for that person's personal benefit.
  • If someone you don't know calls you on the telephone and asks you for personal data -- such as your Social Security number, credit card number or expiration date, or mother's maiden name -- ask them to send you a written application form.
  • If they won't do it, hang up.
  • If they will, review the application carefully when you receive it and make sure it's going to an institution that's well-known and reputable.
Based on the guidance given us by the Department of Justice, it's clear that we should all discard the American Community Survey if we receive it in the mail, and hang up when they call.

Bob Hueston


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