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Monday, December 3, 2012

Gift cards-Less than you bargained for?

Mazzella-Investigative Solutions
Christmas shopping has begun. On a recent expedition, I decided to pick up some gift cards. At the register, the cashier attempted to activate the cards. One card would not activate, the computer reading that the card had already been used. While I was not affected, I do believe the store had been the victim of a scam.
A thriving scam involves the use of scanners to read the numbers from the gift cards sold in self serve areas of stores. The person returns the cards to the store shelf and then monitors them to see when they are activated. Once activated, they will use the card numbers to spend the funds before the intended recipient. Whenever possible purchase your card from behind the counter of a retailer or sealed packages. Retailers should move cards to a monitored area.
The FBI warns consumers to be wary of gift cards being sold on auction or classified advertisement websites where the price is significantly lower than any sales price in retail outlets. Also, gift card offers on social media sites claiming to be from major retailers.
Investigation Discovery (Discovery Channel) lists 10 holiday scams to watch for.
  1. Lecherous holiday lenders
  2. Holiday grab and dash
  3. Holiday “help” wanted
  4. Holiday hackers
  5. Fake charity
  6. Holiday "It" gift deceptions
  7. Gift cards with nothing to give
  8. Foreign lottery scams
  9. Evil e-cards
  10. Dangerous holiday downloads
McAfee list these online scams.
  1. Social Media Scams
  2. Malicious Mobile Apps
  3. Travel Scams
  4. Fake Brands
  5. Apple Scams
  6. Skype Message Scare
  7. Bogus Gift Cards
  8. Holiday SMiShing
  9. Phony E-Tailers
  10. Fake Charities
  11. Dangerous E-cards
  12. Phony Classifieds
There are plenty of criminals plotting ingenious ways to take our money. Be on guard and aware. If you haven’t heard of the company or charity ignore it or do thorough research before getting involved. Don’t assume it’s legitimate because there are a lot of positive internet reviews.
If it’s too good to be true…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday hiring

AP Photo/The Tennessean, John Partipilo
AP Photo/The Tennessean, John Partipilo
While shopping for Halloween candy there were little hints of the approaching Christmas shopping season. Decorations were starting to go up and products dressed in their Christmas best were hitting the shelves. As Thanksgiving approaches, the stores are in their full decorative gala, sales are being announced and the poor mailman has begun carrying around the extra poundage of catalogs.
In addition to decorations and stocking the shelves, retailers have begun adding thousands to the holiday workforce. Although most of the holiday help will be temporary, businesses should not divert from their hiring policies, nor take shortcuts on the quality of employee or background screening.
Retailers have to consider their obligations in keeping customers safe while protecting their business. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled in favor of customers that were injured on a retailer’s property, when it was found that security cameras were not properly monitored. The National Retail Federation released a survey in 2011 that illustrates the importance of employee background screenings in keeping customers safe. “Nearly all retailers (97%) utilize background screening in some form during the hiring process. Background screenings help retailers ensure the safety of both shoppers and employees”.
Hopefully, your business will thrive during the holiday season. You shouldn’t jeopardize profits by sloppy hiring practices.
Have a prosperous and safe holiday shopping season.

If your own a local business, don’t forget to promote Small Business Saturday, which is November 24th. Shoppers-Please support your local small businesses.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Just when you think it is safe to open your email…

Last week I received an email from my good friend in Nigeria. We hadn’t spoken in quite sometime and she had written a lengthy email catching up. Unfortunately, she has a family member in dire financial need. What a technologically advanced world we live in that with just a simple cash deposit in the US, I could help someone an ocean away.

You’ll be relieved to know that I got a good laugh from the email and was not fleeced. My money is safe and secure in a can, buried in the backyard. What was so funny is that these Nigerian money schemes are still making the rounds.  And that this may have been the first time I was pinged. I can’t remember having ever received a request through my personal email. Sure I received the many “great deals” through business emails because the guy in the fourth cubicle from the bathroom opened an infected file and the whole company got blasted, but never such a personal plea for my help.

The Nigerian letter (email) scheme is known as “advance fee fraud”. The victim is persuaded to send large amounts of money to the con artist in hopes of receiving a gain on their investment. The Nigerian variant evolved from the “Spanish Prisoner” originating in the 1800s. In the original, the victim is contacted with the hopes that their monetary contributions will help with the release of a wealthy person who has been imprisoned in Spain. Once the prisoner gains freedom, their assistance will be rewarded. The scheme gained association with Nigeria in the 1980s when the Nigerian economy declined and Nigerian students began running the scheme by sending out letters to other countries. The scheme was proliferated in the 1990s with the advent of email and the targeting of company email systems. The scheme surfaces from time to time through different mediums and with variants on the tale. However, the foundation of the scheme is the same.

Sometimes the tried and true systems work best. That is why we see so many of the schemes developed in the early 1900s still in use today. The scheme’s basic hook that draws in the victim still work today when they are adapted to modern times. Most notably on people’s minds is the Bernie Madoff case in which Madoff executed a Ponzi scheme. The Ponzi scheme is associated with Charles Ponzi who first ran his scam in the early 1900s.

As soon as there is disaster or human suffering, either on the local, national, or global stage, the con artists open shop. Nothing turns off our radar like pain and suffering. We are not promised great returns on our investments, just the satisfaction of helping our fellow man.

We see panhandlers at intersections in our daily travels. Not meaning to make you skeptical about panhandlers, but, while working in Baltimore, I once saw a man with crutches working the cars at a traffic signal. Another man approached, exchanged greetings and took the crutches from the man.  The first man walked off appearing quite healthy. The second man assumed a posture of pain on the crutches and went to work. Shift change I thought. How enterprising.

Many people genuinely do need our help. Just use your basic, ingrained fraud alerts. Common sense and if it’s too good to be true, well…you know the rest.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This will only take a second...

Walking into a fast food place I saw a guy park his car in a space near the door, exit quickly, and hurriedly trot inside. As I passed his car I noticed it was left running. Once inside, I told the guy that he had left his car running. He curtly answered that he knew and went about ordering food, quickly dismissing my attempt to be neighborly. My next thought, I should get the name of his insurance agent because he has got to have a better policy than I do.
Dry cleaners, convenience stores, coffee places, grocery stores, anywhere someone thinks they are just going to run in and out, you see cars left unlocked and running. I’ve even seen people leave their cars running at curbside with children strapped into safety seats. It just boggles my mind. What are people thinking?
A professional can steal a locked car in under a minute. An amateur can steal a locked car in less than five minutes. A child, with no auto theft experience, can steal an unlocked, running car in five seconds. How long does it take to get a nonfat no whip decaf mocha latte?
Most popular stolen cars in Maryland according to the NICB:
  1. Dodge Caravan 2000
  2. Honda Accord 1996
  3. Honda Civic 2000
  4. Ford Pickup (Full size) 2006
  5. Toyota Camry 2011
  6. Toyota Corolla 2010
  7. Ford Crown Victoria 1999
  8. Nissan Maxima 1996
  9. Plymouth Voyager 1999
  10. Nissan Altima 2002

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who would you hire?

Who would you most likely hire, someone who has a criminal past or an applicant that has been unemployed for a lengthy duration? Recent polls of hiring managers have shown that being unemployed for two or more years is a less attractive quality than someone with criminal history. Hiring managers stating that it is easier to place someone with a non-felony criminal record. Being out of the workforce for just two years brings into consideration your age and skills that may be outdated or out of touch with evolving technology.

Job applicants leaving correctional facilities often have recent improvements to their education and have learned skills or trades in preparation for returning to the workforce. Six states, Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York, offer the opportunity to receive a certificate of rehabilitation.

Finding work is not as easy as in the past when you could go door to door and speak directly to decision makers. The number of companies utilizing online employment applications grows everyday. Many businesses immediately direct job seekers to their online application. Getting your resume into the hands of the right person is more difficult than ever. Once in those hands you have to impress. A 2012 study conducted by The Ladders job matching service revealed that recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing an individual resume. They focus on name, previous position start and end dates, current position start and end dates, current title and company, previous title and company, education.

Even though you may be enthusiastically searching, being out of work may put you into an undesirable category.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Customer service

Just recently I went into a small store. The floor space was setup in a rectangle with a long glass counter on one side. The business’s main products were displayed in the glass counter. I could see one employee moving about the floor and four behind the counter.  One was working with another customer. The rest were talking to each other. I stood at the counter not really looking at the products but politely waiting to be helped. Across from me, two employees were talking and eventually moved their conversation farther down the counter. After several minutes of not being addressed I considered leaving but decided to time how long it would take to be approached. From the moment I started timing, until I was addressed, was four minutes. Which doesn’t sound long, but it is when you are waiting to be helped. This is not the first time I’ve experienced this sort of customer indifference. It is more shocking when you are in a smaller store when the employees outnumber the customers.

How about a bigger store where the employees have desks or stations in plain view of the customers? These stores give the appearance of their attention to customer service but the employees may not get it. You know the kind, the customer service counters with no walls and lots of brightly color shirted employees walking around looking like they are busy. As the wait continues, you start to notice that there is one employee servicing the line, one making copies, two speaking to each other, one on the telephone, and another coming in and out of several doors like they are in some sort of maze. The whole time you’re standing there wondering if you are in fact invisible. Nothing looks worse to customers and adds to their displeasure than seeing unmanned stations with what appears to be plenty of help ignoring the situation. If the employees are in view of the customer they need to be attentive to the customers. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Should sex offenders be allowed to pass out candy?

Sex offenders in Simi Valley, Ca have filed a Federal lawsuit alleging that a city ordinance, requiring offenders to post "no candy" signs on their front doors Halloween night, violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. MD Dept of Parole and Probation, who manages the Sex Offender Registry, has had a similar policy since 2005.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Maryland Employment laws

There are two Maryland laws that became effective on Monday, October 1 and directly affect employers. 

Social media-Employers may not require employees or applicants to disclose a user name, password or other means of accessing a private internet site or electronic account.

Jury duty-An employer may not require an employee who is summoned for jury duty and who serves four hours or longer (including travel time) to work a shift that begins after 5 PM on the day of jury duty or before 3 AM the following day.