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Featured Column
Week of 3.28.2008
They're getting smarter!
          My world has changed. I used to go to the airport, casually check in my luggage, take a leisurely walk to the boarding gate, enter the plane and be on my way.
           There was a time when I could write a few checks for the monthly bills, walk to the mailbox in front of the house, place the envelopes in the box and raise the flag so the postman would be alerted to pick up my mail.
           For years I could go to my nearby Sears, Mervynís or Barnes & Noble, pick out my purchase, hand over my credit card, sign the receipt and be on my way.
          There was a day when my trash contained the tired receipts of my purchases and old medical, dental and tax records.
          Those days are gone forever. 
          Thanks to the threat of world-wide terrorism a trip to the airport is filled with suspicion, doubt and implied danger. Luggage is opened, inspected, rumpled and returned to us -most of the time. We must show our photo identification with our tickets to prove we are who we say we are. We must pass through electronic devices that scan our bodies and clothing and ring the tocsin if we carry any metal device on our person. We dare not carry a nail file or a tiny pocket knife, lest our property be deemed an aggressive weapon and confiscated. Items removed, we now must pass again through the electronic monitoring device and if no blinking lights or carillon are sounded we may pass unto the secure area with others of like supposedly harmless disposition. Flying, even to a nearby town, has become an exercise in mistrust and inconvenience. No doubt necessary, but still exasperating in its show of distrust and inconvenience.
           Those in charge of stemming crime have now informed us that we should never (never!) leave outgoing mail in our mailboxes. All outgoing mail should be deposited in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox. We should never order checks that are to be delivered by mail. We should pick up our new checks at our branch bank in person. Bank statements, credit card statements, broker and mutual fund statements should be delivered electronically, over the Internet. Seems that the thieves among us have grown smarter and more inventive and have devised more creative ways to rob us. They steal our identities, deplete our checking accounts and charge their purchases to our accounts.
           I recently bought a document shredder on the advice of our local police department. Seems that the local brigands and highbinders are going through the neighborhood trash, removing items containing credit card information as well as Social Security numbers and other valuable dossier bits.
          Credit card information is easy to obtain by thieves. A thief can buy personal information about us from an inside source and we would never know it. For example, they could purchase information about you and your credit card from a store employee that gets your information from a credit application or by skimming your credit card information when you make a purchase. A desperado could get your personal records, open a new account in your name and start charging thousands of dollars to your card and you would never know it Ė at least until you reviewed your statement, which everyone does not due often enough.
          If you want more to worry about; you can receive an e-mail and open it by accident. The e-mail can contain Spyware and it can track all of your online activity including messages, and sites that you download. This can be extremely dangerous if you access your bank account information on line.
           The purloiners among us can complete a change of address form to divert our mail to another location, so we will not be able to immediately notice any purchases the thief has made and charged to us.
           Identity theft costs Americans $52.6 Billion last year. There have been 30 million victims to identity theft in the past 5 years.
            According to federal surveys 52 percent of all identity theft victims, approximately 6 million people last year, discovered that they were victims of identity theft by monitoring their accounts. Another 26 percent reported that they were alerted to suspicious account activity by companies such as credit card issuers or banks. Another 8 percent first learned of the frauds perpetrated on them when they applied for credit and were turned down.
          So, now I am frisked and questioned at the airport under the presumption that I might be a terrorist. I must carefully destroy my trash, grinding it into tiny, unreadable bits. When making a credit card purchase I must show my driverís license containing a photo of my countenance in order to prove I am me. And no longer is my mailbox just my mailbox Ė it is now a source of information for swindlers in our midst.
          I had better adjust to this rapidly changing world and the thievery, danger and suspicion that comes with it. But I think I had better adjust much faster before these pirates break my bank.
Modern life's dangers and fears
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ronís career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ronís interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
     
Ron Cruger