Follow by email

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Freedom taken for granted


Recent terror events throughout the world targeting public gatherings remind us that the world is a dangerous place. While these events don’t occur in the U.S. as frequently as Europe, we must adopt more stringent security measures and be willing to put up with some inconveniences in order to ensure our day to day routines have some normalcy.  This all reminded me of a scene witnessed in which someone asked to abide by security restrictions forgot how lucky she really is.

Secure at all costs

Attending the Baltimore air show we started the day at Martin’s State Airport where the Blue Angels were prepping for their demonstration and other planes were on display. Parking was limited and most people were shuttled to the airfield. Beginning at the parking lots, guests were warned that there would be no bags allowed. No purses, camera bags, etc. Across the parking lot you could see trunks and hatchbacks open, ladies emptying purses and parents reducing their child supplies to only the necessary items. School buses were used has transport, lining up at the edge of the parking area. Once on board the buses had signs listing what was permissible and not, broken into columns of items.

Once arriving at the airfield, guests were deposited into an area that was lined with food and merchandise tents similar to a carnival midway. At the end of this line of tents were the security checkpoints to enter the airfield. Several common standup magnetometers were situated next to each other with roping defining the lines to each. Signs were again visible listing prohibited items, which now included food and drink. Security personnel were vocal about what could and could not be brought through and instructing guests what to place in the trays before walking through the scanners. Which was pretty much everything that had any possible metal component, i.e.-coins, wallets, phones, glasses, belts.

One fellow was seen collecting his possessions from the little basket after having been rejected by the magnetometer. Seems he had a four-inch folding knife attached to his belt that he forgot he was carrying. No fuss, no comments, he just collected his belongings, turned and walked away.  

After we successfully passed through, a conversation was overheard between a couple and the security personnel. Apparently, the woman in the couple had purchased a sandwich from one of the tents and was beginning to eat it in the security line. When it was her turn she was denied entry with the sandwich and was not happy. Security held firm and from what could be overheard the lady made the decision to trash the sandwich rather than back away and eat it. This decision made the man vocal about the restrictions as well, announcing to anyone within ear shot how much the sandwich had cost and how little of it had been consumed. Fortunately, security did not overly engage the couple and while they were vocal the couple kept moving through the line. For the fortunate guests experiencing the exchange, the coup de grace occurred as the couple waked away, the woman calling back over her shoulder in an exasperated tone, hands in the air, “Well! The terrorists have won!”

Not sure a victory celebration erupted somewhere in a terrorist command and control center, but the point was taken. For the last fifteen years our liberties have been restricted. Every time there is a terrorist attack on a soft or different kind of target more restrictions go into place. Authorities are constantly evaluating methods to further protect soft targets. Americans have become more aware of the happenings in their surroundings. More are willing to contact law enforcement with any suspicions.

Liberty and freedom

Yes, we have more security restrictions than we ever have in the U.S.  Public gatherings, big and small, are provided security and can be logistic nightmares for planers, but they still take place. We are still out enjoying the freedoms of our country. While we do not always agree with restrictions, law enforcement and security personnel are doing their best to protect us so we can enjoy concerts, fireworks, sporting events, or air shows. All of which could easily be canceled.

I’m sure the lady at the air show was exasperated at trashing her $7 sandwich, but that was her choice as well as was her choice to ignore the security rules. The fact that she was attending a public event and able to make choices is testament that the terrorists have not won. We win everyday that we, as a nation, continue the normal routines of our lives and express our liberties.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Scam websites


 Note: This post was originally published on November 27, 2016 and has been updated with new information.
On top of all the safety concerns we have for shopping in the real world, you have to be careful online as well.  Not only from identity theft issues but bogus, price too good to be true deals, on fake websites and fake mobile apps.

You use to be able to look at a website and have your spider sense tingle warning that this doesn’t look quite right. But now, at first glance, it’s hard to pick out a thrown together site. Site building skills and packages are such that pretty much anyone can construct a site that looks like a multi billion dollar corporation is at the other end. When in reality it’s a small time operation or worse an out of country company that is selling bogus products or collecting personal data.

Scam Busting

One quick way to tell if the site is not quite on the up and up is to take a tour and make note of the grammar. One thing the scammers haven’t quite grasped is writing in grammatically correct English. Sites that do not pay attention to simple grammatical structure probably don’t have your best interest in mind. We’re not talking about a typo here or their or misusing there,  they’re, or their, you'll see serious grammar issues that scream no quality control. But don’t use this as your only method.

There are several “detectors” that can be found online that you enter the questionable website address and the detector gives you a report on the site, including a score, location, technical data, owner, and contact information. One such site is Scamadviser.com. [This is just one of many and no endorsements are being given.] This site seemed to provide the most detailed information that online users could use.

If you’re not sure of a site, run it through a “scam busting site”, you should be able to get enough laymen details to make a determination if the site in question is someone you want to provide your credit card.

Typosquatting

In the early days of the Internet, criminals would identify the most popular retailing websites and then figure out the commonly mistyped spellings of the retailer’s names. They create their own sites under the misspelled names. Users always misspelled Amazon, or example. Type in Amason, and you are directed to the scammers’ site. Companies figured this out and began buying up the domain names associated with the misspellings.

The technique is called typosquatting. The practice diminished but is picking up popularity again. It’s hard to think of or even buy every possible spelling combination, so criminals are able to slip past the gatekeepers. The fraudulent sites are very close facsimiles to the real sites. Once a user interacts, malware is downloaded onto the users computer and/or information is stolen.

Mobile devices are targeted as well through fake retail apps sold in smartphone stores. The apps mimic legitimate retailers, but they install malware that steal identity, financial information, and sometimes install ransomware (If you ever want to see your files again August 8, 2016) The RiskIQ cybersecurity company estimates that 1 in 10 Black Friday apps were fraudulent. The biggest app stores fall victim to fake apps. Retail apps may be safer downloaded from the retailers website.
  
Another oldie but goodie is fake shipping notices sent via in email. They are always prevalent but become more so when criminals know that there will be an increase in online shopping/shipping. The notices can look real and appear as they are from a retailer from which you recently purchased. With the flurry of shopping everyone does at this time of year, it’s easy for fake notices to lost in all the emails received. Know what you purchased and from whom, monitor the confirmations and shipping. Most companies will send out a confirmation email, a product shipped email, and possibly a follow up.  Be on guard for anything more.

It’s hard to say stick with nationally named brands and big retailers. Lots of small businesses make their living through online sales and often have good deals especially on unique items. Just as if you were shopping in the real world, you wouldn’t buy from a questionable character off the street, so do some research before you buy online. And watch out for too good to be true deals, especially on hard to find items. Use common sense.  Check reviews. Do your homework.

Be safe. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to shopping safety:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Employee monitoring


German clockmaker Peter Henlein developed a clock that could be worn around one’s neck in the early 1500’s. Called the Nuremberg Egg, the device had a miniature torsion pendulum and coil spring that allowed it to keep fairly accurate time. Since then humans have been obsessed with wearable devices to provide feedback and information on everything from the time to the weather to biometric data. Today’s technology adds the ability to track the device and by association the wearer.

GPS

GPS technology hit the public aviation sector in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s automakers began installing GPS navigation services in their vehicles. Once navigational systems were installed it was a short leap to use the GPS data to track where the vehicle had been by downloading the data. The next step was live tracking of the vehicle, which is commonplace today for most fleet operations and emergency services. The miniaturization of the technology allowed GPS services to be installed in phones and wearable devices.

Businesses have been tracking their fleets for some time. Not only as an accountability measure but also as a way to collect and analyze data to improve routes. In the last several years, companies have been using GPS data from Smartphone’s to track employee locations. Most recently, companies have been issuing employee wearable devices that not only track their location but also performance and sometimes health data.

Wearable devices have become a $15 billion a year market, mostly charged by the introduction of the Fitbit in 2009 and the Apple watch in 2015. As with fleet tracking, business is not missing out on the ability to track employees.

Managers can monitor employee location and production to better understand the needs of the workplace. Studies have shown that employees that are tracked do have better performance. There have been myriad studies over the years that suggest workers perform better not because of new technologies but because they are being watched. Which overall benefits the company.

Legal?

There are legal concerns that have been raised, such as invasion of privacy regarding intrusiveness into the employee’s activities and health data. Some of the devices allow the monitors to see biometric data, which could reveal an employee health issue violating privacy laws.

As the courts and laws catch up with technology the question of legality can be gray. Like phone call/text data and location, data from tracking devices are becoming the status quo for evidence collection. Data from tracking devices have been used for years in auto collision court cases. Personal fitness wearable device data has just recently been introduced to the courts in personal injury cases and police investigations.
Most of the questions arise regarding invasion of privacy, especially outside of the workplace. Company owned vehicles, so far, appear to be legal to install GPS devices and track. However, when a company puts a device on an employee’s personal vehicle it gets trickier. Even company owned vehicles could be targeted as any issue or law can be questioned in court.

Company owned Smartphones seem to fall in the category of the vehicles regarding privacy. Employees don’t have much of a case until the employer requires the use of the phone out side of the workplace, during the employee’s personal time.

Wearable devices issued by a company to employees have not yet been used in a court case. Anytime data is being collected, it is only a matter of time before one party uses the data against the other. Whether it is company v. employee or vice versa.

As with any company policy, how the employees are informed of the policy and how it is implemented goes a long way in keeping the business out of court. As cases start to go through the courts and company policy is examined, the court decisions will affect how policy is shaped from thereon. Simply, one bad policy or managerial decision can change the landscape for everyone.


Worker’s rights advocates will be watching the use of wearable technology in the workplace. As with any new rule of law or technological application businesses should be cautious to jump on the bandwagon until they have thoroughly researched the use of such devices and the end goals for collecting the data.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pain at the pump


Note: This post was originally published on August 13, 2013 and has been rewritten and updated with new information.
"Sliders" is the term given to criminals stealing purses and other valuables from cars at gas pumps. While women are pumping gas, the criminal sneaks up on the opposite side of the car, opens the door, and grabs the purse, or they go in through an open window. Sliding gained popularity a few years ago and is still a technique used today. Another method of “gas pump” theft is one person distracts the victim while a partner steals the item. Either way, customers at gas pumps need to be alert and aware of their surroundings.

How do you pump gas?

Most people pull their car up to the pump with the tank opening nearest the pump. They are then tucked in between the six or seven-foot high pump and their car while filling up or even worse a large SUV or truck. People pumping gas are ripe for theft. They either have their wallet/purse and keys on them or leave the keys in the car, and/or their purse in the unlocked car.
Gas stations have become hawking grounds for car products. Salesmen are allowed to set up in parking lots and sell their wares. When customers are focused on operating the gas pump, with field of vision shielded, is not the time to try to sell them something. Blame it on cynicism or all of the cons and scams that have been perpetrated throughout history.
One point of curiosity is not as much the people who approach you while pumping gas, but that they don’t understand how vulnerable a person is at that moment and yet they want to talk to you. It is sad that the world has come to this, but people have to be on their toes at all times to protect themselves. Some vendors are a little more enthusiastic than others and will go pump to pump asking to clean your windows, shine your car, or demonstrate whatever they are selling. When you tell them you’re not interested or stop them from approaching, they get offended. Apologies for being curt, but we’re just trying to be safe. Please don’t be offended when stopped from approaching.
Recently, while pumping gas, a man was going pump-to-pump talking to customers. Not knowing exactly what he wanted he was stopped as he approached. He was thanked and told I was not interested. He immediately became offended, told me how rude I was and moved on. But he never came within ten feet. He moved to next pump and was overheard asking a lady for money to get him and his daughter home. She also declined. I watched him return to his car and meet up with his six-foot “daughter” who appeared to be quite male. Maybe he did need money and felt the daughter angle would work better, maybe it was a scam. Anyway, with all of the crime that takes place at gas pumps, not the wisest place to panhandle.

Panhandling

Another panhandling scam that is gaining popularity is the fake motorist in need of assistance. Police in central Maryland have had several reports of vehicles sitting on the side of the road or on highway ramps. When good Samaritans stop to help, the driver (usually male with a female companion and a child or more) will say that they only need money for gas. Most people will give them a few dollars and move on. The problem? The driver doesn’t move on. He/they pocket the money and wait for the next big heart to roll up. Recently, the Maryland State Police stopped to help just such a stranded motorist. While getting the spiel from the driver the Trooper noticed that the vehicles fuel gauge indicated a sufficient amount of fuel. Subsequent investigation led to the driver’s arrest after which he was found to be in possession of several hundred dollars.
Luckily, most criminals do not want confrontation. They want the quick grab and slip away without the victim knowing. Crime is still based on three elements-means, motive, and opportunity. Take one of these elements away and you can reduce your risk of being a victim. Most criminals have the desire and the motive. What they are looking for is the opportunity.
Pumping gas, ATMs, movie rental boxes, even the grocery checkout, anywhere a person is focused on operating an electronic pay device can give a criminal the opportunity they need to pounce. Watch for people trying to talk to you as a distraction while their partner steals from your car or worse, comes up behind you. Keep your doors locked and pay attention to what is going on around you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fighting for your holiday dollar: Halloween v Christmas


Shopping in a big box hardware store in early October I had the pleasure of viewing Halloween decorations on one side of the aisle and Christmas on the other. I say pleasure, because instead of fighting it, I try to ignore the retail world’s impatience to be the first out of the gate with the various holidays. In early October, one can tweak their Halloween decorations while perusing the new offerings for Christmas. If someone needs replacement bulbs at least the store is meeting the needs of its customers.

Christmas in July 

Every year the rush to be the first retailer for any particular holiday gets earlier and earlier. Can’t say when it started but it seems like in the last five or ten years Christmas comes earlier. Soon Christmas in July won’t be a fun summer celebration but the real thing.

The holidays themselves can’t be moved (Or can they?) Halloween and Christmas have been set dates since ancient times. Doubtful a special interest lobby is going to get Congress to change the dates, but you never can tell.  The commercialism of the holidays is the variable. It comes down to being the first to grab the customer. Black Friday sales used to start at normal business hours on the day after Thanksgiving. Can’t move the Friday after Thanksgiving but retailers can open their doors whenever they want. The sales started to creep earlier, beginning at six AM, four AM, then midnight. Then the “Black Friday” sales started in the evening hours on Thanksgiving then the morning of Thanksgiving. It starts with one major retailer, then someone else will open earlier, then another and another. Until the whole holiday weekend is sales, sales, sales.

Most shoppers feel that Black Friday has encroached too much on Thanksgiving, starting too soon. But those feelings didn’t keep them away from computers. While 2015 brick and mortar Black Friday sales were down approximately 9%, online sales jumped 14%. (Variety of sources)

Impatience 

Is it the impatience of the consumers or the retailers? What is driving the need to get the next holiday merchandise on the shelves before the present holiday has arrived?  Although consumers will grab anything on sale, the drive for early holiday shopping seems to be the need for retailers to capture their market share. As individual retailers look at their bottom line the next big promotion is driven by current sales. Didn’t do well with back to school? Get out the Halloween stock. Don’t usually sell that much candy or ghoulish decorations? Clear more shelves for Christmas. If a retailer knows that they don’t do particularly well during a certain holiday they’ll try to start snagging shoppers for the next.

Rarely do retailers advertise Christmas items on “sale”. They just appear on the shelves next to costumes and Jack O’ Lanterns. Buyers have little product comparison and probably feel they are getting a good deal buying their supplies two months early.  Too much might be too much. In 2015, Target took some media heat when it ran commercials in October that had combined Halloween/Christmas themes.  

It’s like ready the Sunday comics on Saturday, it’s just not done. Stores can stock the shelves as early as they want, I’ll at least wait for the holiday month to start looking.

Monday, October 3, 2016

More Southern hospitality


Living in the Mid Atlantic region you’re not really in the north or the south and sometimes it depends on who’s asking. If you live in a metro area you are more accustomed to a fast paced lifestyle. You get use to it. Not sure if it’s the pace or living in zip codes instead of actual towns, but when you leave the hustle of the Washington metro area heading south there is a marked increase in hospitality and friendliness. I wrote on this topic once  before (Southern hospitality June 2016) and it was noticed again on two separate trips this year. Maybe being from out of town you expect to be treated as such or maybe there is a real difference. Whatever the reason, it is welcomed and why we enjoy traveling thru the South.

Hospitable
While in Alabama near the Georgia line and always on the lookout for BBQ, we came across a little place not much bigger than a shack, but on a late Sunday morning the place was packed. We stopped for some take out and the bill came to $15.10. All I had on me was $20 and other bills. Not wanting to short this small business a dime I told the cashier I’d have to run out to the car. There was a nice older lady waiting for her order near the register. She immediately spoke up and offered a dime to cover me.

Now this wasn’t a great act of kindness that will save mankind. It was only a dime. However, everyone seemed to know each other. I’m sure I was pegged for an out of towner. This lady didn’t need to say a word. But she spoke up and opened her purse. Probably, “A had to be there” moment, but it was very touching. And the BBQ was excellent! What made it for me was the Georgia style mustard BBQ sauce, which I had fallen in love with on an earlier trip to the area and seek out whenever I’m in the Deep South. But this isn’t a food blog.

The second trip took us through the Carolinas and did not disappoint. Everyone we came across was astonishingly friendly. People speak to you when passing-wish you a good day-Cashiers, clerks, hotel employees, everyone.

Visiting an antique store in North Carolina we were greeted by a friendly proprietor that was not extraordinary, especially with the theme of this blog. But what was surprising was his willingness to get out from behind the counter, engage us in conversation, and point out the different collections within the store. The openness and hospitality to strangers that we come across again and again. Now I’ll give him a bit of salesmanship, I mean why not be friendly and show people around. Only going to increase sales. But we have been in plenty of stores, similar and otherwise, where the clerks/managers/owners could care less. You’re lucky of they make eye contact.

During our visit we came across another shopper. He was looking around just like us. After a few excuse me’s and pardon me’s (small store) we began commenting on what each other was examining. A chat started and for the next ten minutes we had the most enjoyable conversation with the gentleman. We parted with a hardy handshake, a God Bless, and safe travels.

To top off our visit, the proprietor had learned we were passing through on the way North. He wanted to make sure that we knew about the gasoline shortage. (Having disconnected for a few days we completely missed the Alabama pipeline leak that was affecting the entire South) Stations were running out of gas and he encouraged us to top off before leaving town, giving us a few suggestions on which stations still had gas.

I texted a friend who was vacationing in South Carolina at the time to make sure he knew about the gas shortages. He replied that he did, receiving the information from a friendly southerner the same as me. “Amazing”, he wrote. “can’t see that happening at home”

Sunday in the south
Several years ago we had just gotten off the interstate in North Carolina, checked in to our hotel, and went looking for dinner in the nearest town. Unfamiliar with the area we thought that what was once a thriving town had been denigrated by the loss of industry or a box store shopping center. The town looked like it had some business but every thing was closed, no one around.

Then it finally hit us. It was Sunday evening, in a small town, in the South. Nothing was happening or was it going to happen. But that was OK. It’s refreshing to come across old time values. Take a moment to slow down and observe the day of rest.

Well, we fell for it again. The night before visiting the aforementioned antique store we did some exploring for what we might do the next morning. Again, the town looked deserted. Nothing open, no one out and about. Save for the few people you saw sitting on their porches enjoying the unseasonably cool summer evening. Wondering what had sucked the life out of the town we came back to our initial finding-Sunday in the South. It’s just the way it is.

We could all take a few lessons from these experiences. Wave and say hi to strangers. Take a break on Sunday. The world might just be a better place.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Not like all the others


In 1999, there was technological uncertainty in the business world as the new millennia approached. Now there is uncertainty in the business world as Millennials take over the labor force.  A Pew Research Center 2015 study found that Millennials made up 34% of the American workforce, surpassing GenXers, while baby boomers are declining at 29%. Unlike the old days where the new generation works for the old, now it is quite possible that the youngest is hiring the oldest. As the older generation of workers declines the more likely scenario is Millennials hiring Millennials. So as the job market becomes tighter with applicants of the same generation, how does one stand out?

No matter who’s hiring whom, resumes start to look similar-same types of schools, training, skills, etc. A very high percentage of companies have an online application process. Resumes are almost certainly filtered for keywords relating to job functions and duties. Step one in the application process makes it difficult to distinguish oneself. An applicant has to have a strong resume that specifically meets the requirements of the individual job posting.  If an applicant is lucky enough to land an interview it may be advantageous to use their own generation’s weaknesses to differentiate themselves from the masses.

All generations have personality traits that can be viewed as weaknesses in the workplace. Baby boomers are viewed as self centered, result focused, driven workaholics, who fight change. GenXers are seen as cynical and impatient, dislike inflexible work schedules, and have portable resumes. Millennials don’t care for mentally unchallenging tasks, need supervision and structure, and have high expectations for themselves.

As Millennials flood the workplace experts are documenting what would be considered negative stereotypes. Specifically:
  • Up talking-sounds indecisive/unconfident/immature
  • Speaking in abbreviations
  •  Focus issues caused by constantly changing electronic stimuli and lack of willingness, multitasking  Lack of social interaction skills, how to talk/deal with people; personal meetings
  • Aversion to using the telephone
  •  ‘Not caring’ persona
  • Entitlement
If you are a Millennial that possesses more traditional work place qualities, highlight those skills as opposition to negative stereotypes. Just because you don’t fit the stereotypical mold for your generation shouldn’t be seen as weaknesses. Turn your abilities and personality traits into positives. Know how others view your generation negatively and present yourself as not like all the others. Generational weaknesses can be used as your strengths.

As Millennials take over the higher-level management jobs the negatives will become positives. A Millennial based company may want Millennial qualities in it’s employees. Of course, as in any presentation, you have to know your audience. Learn the values the company finds important for it’s employees. Learn the mean age of the company’s workforce and its leaders. An interviewee may have to adjust their presentation per interview.
See our blog archive for other posts relating to interviews:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lasting impression


To be successful in business is the obvious goal of entrepreneurs. If your business grows to the point of value that someone else wants to buy it is a compliment to the success of the business. To build a business that is such a recognized brand that a buyer wants to keep the owner’s name is a testament to the original owner’s accomplishments.

Giving your name to a business can be tricky and not advised by some strategists. Owners should separate the business from their personal lives and if the business were ever to be sold, the name would most assuredly be changed. A rare occasion it is that a small business can garner such respect of both a business sector and the community that the owner’s name is synonymous with quality. So much so that it may actually hurt business to change the name.

Brand

The way to build that brand is by providing decades of honest work and maintaining the highest level of customer service at all times. The repeat customer is one of the best compliments a business can receive. If the customers are happy they’ll bring in their friends.

Stability and giving back to the community also helps build the business. The sports analogy, “What you do off the field counts too”, can be applied here. When the business is active in the community and becomes a stable part of that community, the business will be recognized as a partner that has the community’s best interest at heart.

Walt Eger’s Service Center is such a business. Walt began learning mechanics from his father at the age of ten. He became a full time mechanic in 1965 and has been in the business ever since. Early on, Walt worked at several repair shops learning his trade.  Eventually he developed a loyal following of customers because of his exceptional skill and customers sensed his honesty and integrity. He opened is first shop with two bays in 1986 and one employee, Walt himself. He moved to his current location on Grimm Road in Severn, MD in 1998 and has been serving the area for thirty years. During the years of building his business, Walt examined his mistakes and took note of successes. He not only received his hard knocks business degree but also learned how to treat customers.

If you’re happy with the service tell a friend if not tell me

Walt has lived by this credo throughout his business career. If something’s wrong he makes it right. Dedication to customer service has served him well. Which has been one of the many reasons his customer base continues to grow. Coupled with an uncanny ability to hire the best people for right job. Walt Eger has grown his two bay auto repair shop in to a thirteen bay service center. The business itself and his practices have become a model for others.

Walt Eger’s Service Center is not just synonymous with quality auto repair. This business is also on the donation rolls of many local charities. The owner and the business both being involved in multiple civic and community organizations. He is happy to give back and be a community member, not just a 9 to 5 business.

Mention his name in the sprawling suburban communities and people know the business or the man.
He’ll tell you he’s made mistakes along the way, his strong faith carrying him through. But those mistakes are not evident now.

Good luck, Walt.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to Customer service:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ban the box update



We reviewed the Ban the Box movement in this blog in 2013 (Should the box be banned? ) as the movement was really started to grow. The purpose is to prevent hiring discrimination but now a recent study is claiming that banning the box may be causing racial discrimination.

What is “Ban the Box”?
For the last several years there has been a movement to remove from employment applications the “box” that asks the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” or any inquiry about criminal history. What has become known as  “ban the box”, the campaign feels that one’s criminal history should not be a consideration of employment at the time an application is submitted, rather, at a later time during the interview process. It is felt that asking this question on the application reduces the chances of those with criminal records to be employed. Employers should meet applicants first, get to know them, give a chance to explain themselves and then get to the criminal history. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its policies, issuing guidelines in 2012 suggesting that employers wait until after a personal interview before making inquiries about criminal history.

In January 2014, there were fifty-six cities that had “banned the box”. As of June 2016, that list included over 100 cities and counties, and twenty-four States (Nine of which have laws that include public employees)

Current State List (As compiled by the National Employment Law Project)

California                    Maryland                  Ohio
Colorado                     Massachusetts*     Oklahoma
Connecticut *            Minnesota*              Oregon*
Delaware                    Missouri                   Rhode Island*
Georgia                      Nebraska                 Tennessee
Hawaii*                      New Jersey*            Vermont*
Illinois*                      New Mexico             Virginia
Louisiana                    New York                  Wisconsin

*States with laws that cover private employees

New findings
The Ban the box movement is not saying to ignore criminal history during the hiring process, however, meet the applicant, conduct a personal interview, and allow them to explain themselves. Again, to reduce the chances of discrimination based solely on criminal records.

Researchers from Princeton University and the University of Michigan have concluded that jurisdictions with Ban the Box laws have an increase in racial discrimination. Researchers conducted the study by sending out job applications to employers in New York and New Jersey before and after those jurisdictions enacted laws. The applications were identical except for one applicant being black and the other white. They concluded that the Ban the Box laws did make it easier for those with criminal records to be hired, but the jobs were more often given to the white applicants.

A spokesperson for the National Employment Law Project hasn’t accepted the study’s conclusion as yet, saying that the study was conducted to soon after laws were passed.

Maryland Ban the Box
            Maryland’s law took effect October 1, 2013, and applies only to State of Maryland employment applications. State government cannot ask about criminal record or criminal history of an applicant until the applicant has been provided an opportunity for an interview. Exempt from the law are positions in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Baltimore passed a similar law in 2014, restricting employers with 10 or more workers from asking a candidate about criminal records until after a conditional employment offer is made.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to Ban the Box:

Monday, August 8, 2016

If you ever want to see your files again…





One computer in the office has a warning that it is being held ransom, “Provide 500 bitcoins to unlock the system”, is the message emblazoned on the screen. Any computer that requested data from the original would fall prey to the malware, which is now spreading through the office. The IT department had already been notified and the tech is running through the office unplugging data cables trying to isolate the attack.  No, this isn’t a mega corporation. It was a less than 100 employee accounting firm.

An automotive service center with less than 20 employees had a similar experience. The office manager starts the computers for the day and she sees a message that her computer has been locked. Pay up if you want the decryption key. An ordinary Joe is surfing the net when a warning appears on his monitor that all of his photographs have been encrypted. If he wants to have access ever again, he’ll need to pay $1200.

Ransomware has been in the news lately. More than likely you’ve heard the stories of hospitals, police departments, or large corporations having their computers locked and given a price to pay to have them set free. Or the more common terminology, held for ransom.  But cybercriminals are not just targeting institutions or corporations. As security features are improved, the criminals move on to more vulnerable prey. Any size business or any person can fall victim. Yes, the bigger fish will offer a more lucrative payday, but stack enough pennies and eventually you will have a dollar.

Definition and history

Ransomware is a type of malware that infects a computer or network preventing users from accessing the system until a ransom is paid for the decrypt key. There are two kinds. The first is called “locker” which locks the user’s computer. The second and more sophisticated is called a Crytovirus, which targets specific files (Photos, personal, financial), encrypting them until a ransom is paid. Ransom payment is usually requested in the form of the electronic currency Bitcoin. (Bitcoin converts to roughly $575 U.S. dollars) Symantec estimates that over 60% of the malware detected is of the cryptovirus variety and the average ransom paid in the U.S. is $300.

The Symantec white paper, Evolution of Ransomware, August 2015, gives this chronology of ransomware appearances: The first ransomware appeared in 1989, but wasn’t that effective due in large part to the lack of the Internet. Crypto ransomware came on the scene in 2005. As each version was detected and defended against, the writers would learn from mistakes and rewrite the code to make the malware more resistant to computer security features. In 2008, the criminals began secreting the malware in the form of fake antivirus programs. The programs would appear to scan and identify problems and then ask the user for up to $100 to fix the fake problems. In 2011, cybercriminals moved away from the antivirus attacks and began completely disabling the victim’s computers. Criminals then stopped mimicking anti virus problems and jumped to directly locking the computer using a law enforcement warning style of hoax. This was so effective that law enforcement themed ransomware became quite popular between 2012 and 2014.

Like most malware, ransomware is delivered via an attachment to an email. The user clicks on the legitimate looking file and the malicious code is delivered. However, as users became savvier to suspicious emails and clicking on attachments, malware developers have learned to hide their code in websites. Either bogus sites setup for the purpose of delivering malware or within legitimate sites. Once the malware infects a computer it begins encrypting files. If the infected computer is attached to a network the malware spreads as that computer interacts with the network.

On the FBI website, FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor writes, “These criminals have evolved over time and now bypass the need for an individual to click on a link. They do this by seeding legitimate websites with malicious code, taking advantage of unpatched software on end-user computers.”

Who is vulnerable?

Institutions, government agencies, big or small business, even personal computers can be targeted or infected. Some attacks are targeted and some are just malware creator’s phishing for victims.  For most small business and individuals it is the latter. Anyone or any business can be victimized. As with identity fraud it is not a matter of if but when. The world is so electronically social that malware gets passed around like a rhinovirus. Eventually, someone close to you will be victimized or you yourself.

Smaller businesses and individuals are more susceptible due to a lack of computer knowledge and access to technical support. They also lack an effective backup system. Files being held ransom or the threat of a fake criminal charge coupled with the lack of technical support make personal computers users more likely to pay.

The FBI, Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports that while companies and organizations are the primary targets, the IC3 continues to receive reports from individuals. According to reports to the IC3, most individuals are told that their personal/financial information or photos will be publicly released if a bitcoin ransom is not paid within a certain timeframe. Ransom amounts range from $250 to $1,200.

Prevention

For business and individuals alike one of the main defenses is education. Know what the dangers are and be prepared. Businesses need to educate their employees on the tactics of cyber criminals and how to react if they feel they have been victims. After providing education and training, some companies will send their own “suspicious” emails to employees. The emails will look legit enough with the guise of signing up for training or providing personal information for system updates. However, each email will have the telltale signs of phishing that was thoroughly explained to employees. The IT department will monitor how many fall for the trick and how many reported it. Then they will provide further training and education to the employees.

The FBI confirms that ransomware has been around for several years. But there was an increase in 2015 with incidents still on the rise in 2016 due to lack of preparedness and protection. The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom. Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor said, “Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organization that it will get its data back—we’ve seen cases where organizations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom. Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity. And finally, by paying a ransom, an organization might inadvertently be funding other illicit activity associated with criminals.”

What the FBI does recommend is prevention and a business continuity plan. The FBI website offers the below tips for businesses and individuals when dealing with a ransomware threat:

Prevention Efforts
  •  Make sure employees are aware of ransomware and of their critical roles in protecting the organization’s data.
  • Patch operating system, software, and firmware on digital devices (which may be made easier through a centralized patch management system).
  • Ensure antivirus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically update and conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts—no users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed, and only use administrator accounts when necessary.
  • Configure access controls, including file, directory, and network share permissions appropriately. If users only need read specific information, they don’t need write-access to those files or directories.Disable macro scripts from office files transmitted over e-mail. Implement software restriction policies or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations (e.g., temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers, compression/decompression programs).

Business Continuity Efforts
  • Back up data regularly and verify the integrity of those backups regularly.
  • Secure your backups. Make sure they aren’t connected to the computers and networks they are backing up.

At the very least, educate your employees and have a conversation with whoever manages your computer system. At home, resist the urge to fall for “click bait” and pay attention to where you’re surfing. As for your smartphone? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Your phone is a connected device. Someone, somewhere is figuring out a way to get in.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to security issues:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Building history, Part 2

1355 Odenton Road 1930's and present



This is Part 2 of an article that appears in Heritage Times, the news journal of the Odenton Heritage Society, Summer 2016. 
You may read part 1 at, Building history, Part 1
____________________________________________________________________

A History of 1355 Odenton Road
By Gregory Mazzella


Brodsky’s

Gilda Resnick, nee Brodsky, is the only child of Louis and Bessie Brodsky. As she recalls, the Brodsky’s moved to Odenton from Linthicum in 1931 when Gilda was one year old. They had operated a store in Linthicum up to the point of moving. Gilda thought the move was due to following their customer base that was moving to the Odenton area. Again, we see storeowners moving from other, nearby, towns to open their stores in Odenton. More than likely attracted to the confluence of trains and nearby Camp Meade. It is not known why the Brodsky’s chose the Taudte building as the location for their new store, especially making the move during the Great Depression. Probably because of the location and availability. The Brodsky’s, as did many storeowners of the time, made use of the living quarters within the store.
According the U.S. Census for 1930, Louie [Louis] Brodsky was born in Russia in 1902 and immigrated to the United States in 1921. The 1930 census has Louis listed as married. This same census year lists Bessie Brodsky as being born in Maryland in 1908 to Russian parents. Although Gilda did not recall how her parents met she was able to confirm the census data that her parents met in Maryland sometime after her father came to the United States. As Gilda grew up, she remembered Odenton being mostly fields with a few houses spotted around and, of course, the trains were an active part of the community.
The Brodsky’s maintained a general store. They too sold groceries, meats, sugar, flour, candy, shoes, clothing, etc.  The customer base remained the same: locals, farmers, Camp Meade. A lot of the store’s business was conducted through charge or buying on time. Most residents didn’t have much cash so the Brodsky’s would help out by allowing them to pay from one paycheck to another. When Gilda was old enough at 7 or 8 she worked in the store. She was in charge of the candy case, keeping it cleaned and filled. Her payment - all the candy she could eat.
            On March 10, 1943, a fire damaged the store. It was morning and Gilda remembered her mother smelling smoke. Bessie then saw smoke coming from the basement and called the fire department. Gilda remembered there actually being more damage from water than from fire. The (Annapolis) Evening Capital reported in the March 11 edition that the fire was of an unknown origin and began in the basement area at 7:00 AM. The Odenton Volunteers were extinguishing a chimney fire in Gambrills at the time. Linthicum Heights and two companies from [now named] Fort Meade arrived before the Odenton volunteers, who did eventually arrive on scene. The fire was under control by 9:30 AM. It was reported that the fire caused an estimated $10, 000 in damage, which Mr. Brodsky said was partially covered by insurance. After the fire, there was a second “grand opening” when additions were made, doubling the size of the store.
            Bessie would make the buying trips to Baltimore and Gilda would accompany her. They used the train and boarded at the Odenton station.
They operated the store into the late 1940’s. Gilda could not remember the exact year the store closed but knows that the store closed before 1951, which is the year she graduated from the University of Maryland. Louis was against Gilda attending college, but Bessie was insistent that Gilda attend college. Profits from the store paid for Gilda’s education.
The store was closed because Louis and Bessie were getting older and it was harder to operate the store. Louis had purchased land in Severn along Telegraph Road and was developing that land into a mobile home park, which was opened in the 1960’s.  Although not operating store, Louis Brodsky owned 1355 Odenton Road into the 1960’s.

Marucha’s
           
Felix Marucha moved to Odenton in 1956 while serving in the Army and stationed at Fort Meade. In the Army, he had learned electronic repair. While still serving and shortly after his retirement in 1965 Mr. Marucha was doing electronic repairs at his home for a growing client base. He knew that he wanted to go into business for himself. The confines and logistical issues of running a growing repair business from his home caused him to realize that he would have to find a bigger place if he was to build a successful business. His first step was to rent a building across from the Nichols Bethel Methodist Church in 1966. After three years, still needing more space, he knew that renting was not the path to success. In 1969, Mr. Marucha began looking to buy commercial space in the Odenton area.
He received a tip from a friend that Louis Brodsky may be interested in selling his store. The Brodsky store had been closed several years and the space was empty. Mr. Marucha approached Louis Brodsky who was receptive to the idea. Mr. Brodsky not only sold Mr. Marucha the store at 1355 Odenton Road but the entire property that contained nine buildings, including the current cleaners/restaurant and the old school building.
At the time Mr. Marucha bought the property, Louis Brodsky was older and had moved on to manage the trailer park he owned in Severn.  Although some of the buildings still had tenants, the buildings and property had fallen into disrepair. 1355 Odenton Road was empty at the time. Mr. Marucha had to haul out seventeen truckloads of trash from the property that included junk cars. Mr. Marucha eventually added a storage space on to the back of the store, which gives the building its current design.
Mr. Marucha rented the buildings as apartments and to businesses while he upgraded 1355 for his store. Mr. Marucha described 1355 as being in bad shape. In addition to cleaning and fixing up, he had to replace the electrical wiring, which was outdated for the load capacity and exposed. He was able to fix up the apartment on the second floor and rented that until the store was ready. He used rent collected from the different tenants to help pay for the repairs to the store. Each time a tenant would move out, he would do improvements on the properties allowing him to ask a higher rent. Mr. Marucha eventually moved in and opened Marucha TV and Appliance in July of 1969.
During the time Mr. Marucha operated his store, the area at time was still not quite as busy as today. The area farms had been developed into housing. The roads had long been paved. Telegraph Road stopped at Odenton Road creating a T-intersection. (Telegraph Road was not extended and renamed Piney Orchard Parkway until the 1990’s) The 7-11 was in business and the garage next to it.
Due to health issues, Mr. Marucha sold the business to his oldest son, Steve, in June of 1987. Marucha TV and Appliance became Appliance Avenue. In March 1998, the business was taken over by his son Dan and the named was changed to All Home Services. Mr. Marucha still owns all of the property and rents the buildings as business and residential.

Commercial History

While researching this article the building at 1355 Odenton Road was toured. The basement displayed exposed timbers and brick walls, evident of the construction methods of the time.  A heavy wall safe was found mounted in one of the walls. The combination dial spun free and the current tenant had just located it himself. Mrs. Gilda Resnick new that her parents used the safe but had no recollection of its installation. She did know that her parents were mindful of being robbed. Mr. Marucha was also aware of the safe in the basement wall. He had asked Louis Brodsky if there was anything in the safe and Mr. Brodsky was sure there was not. Mr. Marucha had tried to open the safe himself using a stethoscope. He said the dial spun free and he heard no tumbler clicks. In 1970, while Mr. Marucha was out of town, someone, he didn’t remember who, opened the safe and told him that it was empty. That was the last he thought about it and to his knowledge it has been closed ever since.
The mortar encasing the safe had given way creating a crevice around the safe. In the crevice were found receipt slips from Brodsky’s store. Which have been graciously donated to the Odenton Heritage Society.
            New2Us Antiques and Collectibles currently operates within the entire building at 1355 Odenton Road, which is apropos both for this article and the building itself. As far as we currently know, the building is at least 100 years old. It has seen a century pass by its doors. Long gone are the horses and carts and the electric trains that ran within a hundred yards of its doors. Customers from all walks of life have crossed the threshold: from farmers and soldiers buying general goods, to newlyweds buying their first appliances, to baby boomers looking for treasures of bygone times. 1355 has been there for Odenton’s needs providing a space for young entrepreneurs to live their dreams.  The building has long provided a commercial service to the citizens of Odenton.   
Over the years, sometimes two or even three businesses have operated within the building and tenants renting the living area upstairs as well. This article was not intended to list every business that has operated from within the 1355 Odenton Road location, but rather provide the reader with some history of the building. Apologies are given to any business or family that has been omitted from this article or list. As with any historical research there is always information that is yet to be discovered. If you have any further information on the history of the building located at 1355 Odenton Road please contact the Odenton Heritage Society.
The information in this article was collected through research from oral history, newspaper archives, land records, and census data. The oral histories were collected from the Odenton Heritage Society archives and present day interviews of the following residents.
Interviews:
Mildred Taudte
Tempie Taudte
James Taudte
Gilda Resnick
Felix Marucha
Anthony Pokorny
Paul L. Nowottnick
Suzanne Hackman

Other sources include:
Werner Charles Rieve and His Store
By Werner J. Rieve
Heritage Times, Odenton Heritage Society, June 2000
Henry Taudte obituary, December 19, 1921, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Sun
Brodsky store fire, March 11, 1943, The Evening Capital
“United States Census, 1910", database with images, FamilySearch, Henry Taudte, 1910
“United States Census, 1930", database with images, FamilySearch, Louie Brodsky, 1930
“United States Census, 1930", database with images, FamilySearch, Bessie Boyer, 1930

Please help preserve the history of your local communities. As time passes and development increases we are losing the treasures of our past. This includes our oral history. Your community elders are a wealth of information.
To learn more about Odenton and become involved in local history please visit the Odenton Heritage Society.