No, the Social Security Administration won’t call you about “suspicious activity.”

So my wife rings me up at work this morning to tell me about a strange phone call she’d just gotten. An automated voice claiming to be from the Social Security Administration was contacting her about suspicious activity involving her SSN that will result in an immediate suspension of her number if she doesn’t take steps to clear her name. The longer she listened to it the more she thought to herself, “This is bullshit,” and she hung up on the call.

She called me because there was just enough of a nagging doubt that she wanted to make sure she did the right thing. She did. It’s a scam that’s been growing since at least 2017. Here’s a recording of one of these calls:

Gotta admit that I can see how some folks would panic if they got a phone call like that one. It sounds legit enough and it doesn’t help that the scammers are spoofing the real phone number of the SSA (1-800-772-1213) on your Caller ID.

There are two basic types of these calls. One is to try and get you to “verify” your SSN by entering it into the phone so they can attempt Identity Theft. With the other type they try to get you to pay a fee by going out and buying gift cards and then reading off the codes to those cards to the scammer on the phone. This is basically the same scam as the IRS imposter scam that was making the rounds for a few years.

According to the FTC website:

In 2017, we heard from 3,200 people about SSA imposter scams, and those people reported losing nearly $210,000. So far THIS year: more than 35,000 people have reported the scam, and they tell us they’ve lost $10 million.

Source: This is what a Social Security scam sounds like – Federal Trade Commission

The page I’m quoting from was last updated in December of 2018 and it’s only gotten worse since then. From April 2018 to March 2019 the reported losses grew to $19 million.

Here’s the bit that I don’t get: How is it that folks are not recognizing this is a scam as soon as they’re told to go out and buy gift cards and then read the numbers off to the guy on the phone? How is that not a smack over the head that this is not a legit call?

I mean, I can understand falling for the request to verify your SSN because there are lots of occasions (banks, etc.) where you might be asked to do that, but who out there is so dumb to think that a government agency accepts payment by gift cards only or, worse, Bitcoin?

In an updated article about this from this past April, the FTC said:

Click to embiggen.

As the graphic shows, people reported the IRS scam (in blue) in huge numbers for many years, but the new SSA scam (in orange) is trending in the same direction – with a vengeance. People filed over 76,000 reports about Social Security imposters in the past 12 months, with reported losses of $19 million.1 Compare that to the $17 million in reported losses to the IRS scam in its peak year.2 About 36,000 reports and $6.7 million in reported losses are from the past two months alone.

Just 3.4% of people who report the Social Security scam tell us they lost money.3 Most people we hear from are just worried because they believe a scammer has their Social Security number. But when people do lose money, they lose a lot: the median individual reported loss last year was $1,500, four times higher than the median individual loss for all frauds.4 All age groups are reporting this scam in high numbers, with older and younger adults filing loss reports at similar rates.5

People report sending money in unconventional ways. Most often, people say they gave the scammer the PIN numbers on the back of gift cards. Virtual currencies like Bitcoin come in a distant second to gift cards: people say they withdrew money and fed cash into Bitcoin ATMs. With both methods, the scammer gets quick cash while staying anonymous, and the money people thought they were keeping safe is simply gone.

So let’s break a few things down:

  • No, your SSN is not about to be suspended, your bank accounts are not about to be seized, and you are not about to have an arrest warrant put out on you. This is bullshit, plain and simple.
  • The Social Security Administration will never contact you and tell you to wire them money, send cash, or (for crying out loud) give them gift cards or they’ll suspend your benefits. Never. Doesn’t happen.
  • You should never give out your SSN and/or personally identifying info to someone who has called you out of the blue even if you think it’s legit and the Called ID is the real number for whomever is calling. Hang up and call a number you know is associated with whatever you’re dealing with to make sure the request is legit first.
  • If you did do the above then go to https://www.identitytheft.gov/SSA to learn what steps you can take to protect yourself from Identity Theft.
  • Lastly, report government imposter scams to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint. To learn more, visit ftc.gov/imposters.

As always, be vigilant. There are a lot of unscrupulous people in this world working hard to scam you out of your money. If something smells like bullshit to you then it’s probably bullshit and you should do some digging before handing over any info or money. Most importantly, remain calm. These assholes are relying on you freaking out to make it easier to get you to do something stupid. Don’t be stupid. Don’t freak out.

Everyone’s using that Russian FaceApp to see what they’d look like old and I’m just sitting here being old.

Me, circa April this year in an early morning selfie. Click to embiggen.

Have you seen all the people on Facebook posting selfies of themselves after they’ve run it through the FaceApp? It’s all the rage right now probably because the results tend to err on the very flattering side. If this app is to be believed, everyone is going to look amazing. Just a few more wrinkles and lots of grey hair. Personally, I don’t need to use that FaceApp to see what I would look like as an old person because I am already an old person.

True story: On the way into work this morning I could not for the life of me remember my age. I knew I was 50-something, but I wasn’t sure if I would be turning 52 or 53 next month on my birthday. I had to literally do the math in my head while driving at 70 MPH on the freeway because it was bugging me so much that I couldn’t recall if I am currently 51 or 52 years old. (For the record, I am currently 51 about to turn 52.) I almost went as far as to ask Google because they almost certainly know my age, but I did the math instead because I didn’t want to interrupt the song streaming on Pandora at the time. So, yeah, I’m old. Not super old. Not even eligible for senior discounts at most places yet, but old enough to have the bloodhounds at AARP on my ass about signing up. I’ve got another three years before I outlive my biological father who died at 55, but I doubt I’ll match my great grandmother who died at 99.

Speaking of that FaceApp, you might want to think twice before playing with it depending on how much you care about your image potentially being sent to Russia for a foreign company to do whatever they want with it. The folks at Slate have a good write up on how worried you should be about the app with responses from the company that makes it:

Privacy Matters and several news outlets (some in rather alarming termspointed out that when you use the app, you grant Wireless Lab a lot of rights. That includes a “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content … without compensation to you.” That basically means FaceApp can do whatever it wants with your photos, according to New York Law School professor Ari Waldman. “You retain copyrights and photos that you upload, but you grant them the opportunity to pretty much do anything they want with the photos that are stored on their servers,” Waldman told me. And in many cases, it’s not just photos of the individual using the app—people upload images of their friends and families, too, meaning such a database of faces would be massive, and that same policy would apply regardless of who is in the photo. “It’s pretty broad, to say the least,” Waldman said.

Soure: How Worried Should You Be About FaceApp? — Slate


That’s a pretty permissive and vague terms and conditions, but to be fair to Wireless Lab, that’s true of a lot of apps because it covers their ass in case someone decides to sue for some stupid reason. Still, you should be aware that you are granting them these rights when you use the app. There was also a rumor going around that it wasn’t just uploading the picture you submitted to foreign servers, but grabbing your entire camera roll. Slate asked security expert Will Strafach to take a look at the app to see if that is true:

And, according to FaceApp’s creator Yaroslav Goncharov at Wireless Lab, that data doesn’t get sent to Russia at all unless you are in Russia:

Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp’s creator and Wireless Lab CEO, said in an emailed statement that no user data is transferred to Russia even though “the core R&D team is located” there, and he echoed that the entire camera roll is not tapped for upload. Forbes reported that FaceApp uses Amazon servers located in the U.S. and Australia. And, to be fair, FaceApp said it deletes most photos after 48 hours: “We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation.” But, again, all we have here is its word. When I asked Goncharov what Wireless Lab uses the photos for, he didn’t say. “Privacy policies and terms are drafted by lawyers and they always prefer to be on the safe side,” Goncharov wrote in an email. “We are planning to do some improvements here.” I directly asked if the company actively uses personal data for commercial purposes, and he didn’t respond.

So, in the end, it’s entirely possible that FaceApp is an innocuous bit of mindless fun and the folks at Wireless Lab aren’t keeping your data for very long or doing anything with it you wouldn’t want them to. However, the potential for abuse is still there in that terms of service agreement and if they changed their minds because, say, Russian intelligence needed a shit ton of pics to train a facial recognition system with, well, you’d given them the rights to do just that. Even then it’s arguable whether that would have any real impact on you in the long run outside of having helped the Russians to train an A.I., but it’s something you should consider before using the app.

Then again you should probably stop to consider these things with any app you’re thinking of using. Considering I’m all over both Google, Facebook, and this blog I doubt my using FaceApp could do much more damage to my privacy than I’ve already done to myself. I still won’t use it, though, because I already know what I’d look like when I’m old. Now, if it could remember my age for me…

My birthday has arrived a little early.

I’ve had my eye on a new gaming monitor for awhile now. If you had snuck a peek at my Amazon wish list in the last 6 months or so you might have even seen it. I listed it as a pipe dream because it was very expensive. It was the Acer XG270HU Gaming monitor and it was going for $429.99. It’s 27 inches of beauty with a 144Hz refresh rate, a 1 millisecond GTG response time, WQHD resolution (2560×1440), with AMD’s Adaptive-Sync technology. Not cheap, but oh so nice.

It's so sexy! Click to embiggen!

It’s so sexy! Click to embiggen!

On Friday I got an ad from Newegg in my email that had another 27″ monitor on sale. It was only 1080P and 60Hz, but it had AdaptiveSync and a 2ms GTG for $175, which is considerably more affordable. I figured it was worth a shot to ask the wife if I might be able to get it.

She looked at me and said, “But that’s not the one you really want.” No, I admitted, but it’s got most of what I want and the size is the same and it’s cheaper. “Why don’t you just get the one you want?” My heart skipped a beat.

Still, I felt a little guilty at spending that kind of money so I tried to come up with a couple of reasons why I probably shouldn’t. The Radeon R9 390 video card I bought awhile back is more than capable of driving the monitor, but I’m still rocking an AMD FX-4170 quad core processor at 4.2Ghz so I was worried that maybe my CPU wouldn’t keep up with it. She asked me how much a better CPU would cost. The AMD FX-8350, which is the maximum my motherboard would take, is $150 so she told me to add that in. Eventually, I did. First I double checked the price of the monitor on Newegg’s website and it turns out they had it for $379.99 — a good $50 cheaper — so that’s where I bought it and the FX-8350.

On Saturday I got to thinking about it and realized the new CPU was going to put out a lot of heat and my system already is a blast furnace when it’s going full-tilt. Perhaps a new case was in order. Then I remembered that I literally had to wedge the R9 390 into my current case because the cooling system for it abuts right up against the drive cage of the CM Storm Scout case I’ve been using the past few years. So I did some digging and decided on a Corsair Carbide Series Air 540 High Airflow case as a future purchase. I showed Anne on Sunday and she told me to go ahead and order it as well.

It's much more impressive than it looks.

It’s much more impressive than it looks.

So today it all arrived while I was at work and it was terribly difficult to not rush home to check it out. I’ve hooked the monitor up already and it’s stunning. I was telling someone at work about it and when I sent them the Newegg link I noticed that the price had shot back up to $469.99, $40 more than at Amazon at the moment. It was a stroke of luck that I got it at the price I did. I’ve booted up four of the games I’m playing the most right now (Call of Duty: Black Ops III, World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, and Overwatch) and they all look fabulous on this monitor. Even with my lower-end CPU I’m still managing 65 to 74 FPS in CoD so I expect that’ll only get better once I get the 8350 in this weekend.

The case has a dual chamber design with all the big heat generating components — motherboard, video cards, SATA hard drives — on one side and the power supply, SSDs, and optical disks on the other along with all the cables. Passthroughs spaced around the motherboard tray allow you to keep most of the cabling behind the motherboard allowing for unimpeded air flow. Two 140MM fans in the front and a third in back should push enough air to keep things cool, but there’s room for another five fans if needed. Plus there are mounts for radiators for water cooled setups on the front and top of the case.

A shot of the back with the secondary chamber revealed.

A shot of the back with the secondary chamber revealed.

It’s a bit on the big side and a little unwieldy, but I’ve not lugged my PC to a LAN party in a long time and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. This should help to ensure my system doesn’t fry itself once the new CPU is in place. Plus there’s more than enough room to accommodate my video card.

So, yeah, a bit of an upgrade to my system for my birthday. My wife’s only concern was that I’d be upset at not having anything to open on my actual birthday. Somehow I think I’m going to be OK with that.

 

An explanation on why setting your iPhone to 1/1/1970 will brick it.

There’s been a rather nasty meme going around on Facebook recently that suggests there’s an easter egg in iOS that will give your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch a retro looking original Macintosh theme if you set it’s clock back to January 1st, 1970:

NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

What really happens if you do the above is you’ll end up with an essentially bricked iPhone that isn’t able to get past the boot screen. The reason why has to do with how dates and times are stored in most operating systems these days and a bug someplace in iOS. YouTuber Tom Scott has put together a handy little explanation on what is probably happening and why:

So, as a PSA to those folks out there who have one of these devices, don’t try to set the clock back to January 1st, 1970 unless you want a very expensive paperweight. Presumably Apple will get around to patching this bug at some point, but even when they do there’s not a good reason to do it anyway as there is no easter egg associated with that date.

I’ve never actually said this to a user before…

techsupport

… but I have thought it from time to time.

More people are using ad-blockers. Here’s one reason why.

An article over on Mashable talks about the increasing number of people using ad-blocking apps in their web browsers and how various sites are fighting back against the trend:

Websites know you’re using ad-blockers, and they’re coming for you.

Thanks to software that can detect whether a site visitor is using a blocker, websites can now direct messages at these readers, jam ads through to them anyway or even withhold stories. Uneasy publishers are increasingly turning to startups that give them the ability to detect and pierce through ad blockers, such as Sourcepoint and Pagefair.

Now, as a general rule, I don’t run an ad-blocker because I understand that it costs money to run a website in part because I maintain several myself; not the least of which is this blog. In fact the account I maintain to host blogs for my mother, sister, and a couple of friends costs me about $120 a year and its annual renewal is due this week and that’s not counting the monthly cost for the virtual server for SEB. You may also note that I have a couple of ads on SEB including a promo for Amazon on the sidebar and some Google Adsense ads at the bottom of each page. I also make use of Amazon affiliate links when talking about a product. None of that generates enough revenue to pay for the sites (I’m lucky if I get any money from them in a given year), but it makes for a couple bucks here and there.

So I can understand and I’m fine with a page having ads on it, but I’d be lying if I said that I never run an ad-blocker. I keep one installed because advertisers aren’t satisfied with having a rectangular banner at the top of the page or a square ad in the sidebar. Increasingly there’s been this trend of slapping a huge, full-screen ad right in the middle of whatever the fuck I’m trying to read 5 to 10 seconds after I started reading. I’m talking bullshit like this:

YOU WILL WATCH THIS AD FOR TEA REGARDLESS OF WHETHER YOU WILL EVER BUY OUR PRODUCT!

YOU WILL WATCH THIS AD FOR TEA REGARDLESS OF WHETHER YOU WILL EVER BUY OUR PRODUCT!

I don’t drink tea. You could come up with a tea that causes multiple orgasms and piles of gold to spontaneously appear at my feet and I still wouldn’t drink it because tea is disgusting, but you’re going to insist I watch your fucking tea ad.

HEY! STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING AND WATCH THIS PROMO FOR A COMPANY YOU WILL NEVER DIRECTLY DEAL WITH YOURSELF!

HEY! STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND WATCH THIS PROMO FOR A COMPANY YOU WILL NEVER DIRECTLY DEAL WITH YOURSELF!

I’ve never understood why Boeing feels the need to advertise to the general public. Do they sell anything to the vast majority of people? They seem to have a rather niche market. What the fuck happened to the idea of targeted ads?

WE'RE KFC! CHECK OUT THIS HILARIOUS AD WITH OUR NEW FAKE COLONEL SANDERS IN IT! WHY IT'S SO FUNNY IT'S LIKE WATCHING A MOVIE!

WE’RE KFC! CHECK OUT THIS HILARIOUS AD WITH OUR NEW FAKE COLONEL SANDERS IN IT! WHY IT’S SO FUNNY IT’S LIKE WATCHING A MOVIE!

I like KFC. I shouldn’t because I’m fat and it’s not healthy, but I like it just the same. You don’t need to hard-sell me, or probably very many other fat people, on KFC. All this does is make me not like KFC as much because they’re getting in the fucking way of the article I’m trying to read.

The first link is bullshit just from the headline alone and I couldn't give less of a shit about some billionaire's girlfriend.

The first link is bullshit just from the headline alone and I couldn’t give less of a shit about some billionaire’s girlfriend, but this is still better than a full screen ad.

It’s bad enough that a lot of the small, square ads these days feature auto-playing videos with the sound at full volume. That’s annoying enough without it taking up the ENTIRE FUCKING SCREEN. When I come across these ads the first thing I look for is the close button and I hit it before it has a chance to get more than 5 seconds into its spiel. I don’t care what you’re advertising. Even if it’s something that I might be interested in, the surest way to make certain I don’t hear about it is with a giant popup ad in the middle of a webpage. No close button? Then it’s the reload page button. Ad comes up again? Out comes the ad-blocker and now you’re not getting any revenue from my page visit because fuck you and your giant fucking ads in the middle of the content.

This is coming from a guy who will put up with multiple ads along the top, bottom, and sides of a webpage. Hell, I’ll put up with them being wedged awkwardly between every two or three paragraphs of the content itself — like some sites I visit currently do — so long as I can still read the content I went there for in the first place. I’ll even put up with the obvious bullshit click-bait ads being repeated over and over and over again on so many sites like the one here to the right despite the fact that I will never, in a million years, ever click on that ad.

According to one estimate sites are losing out on some big cash thanks to the increase in ad-blocker usage:

A widely cited report from Adobe and anti-ad blocker startup Pagefair estimates that ad blockers could cost the industry $21.8 billion in lost revenue this year — though the figure may have been overinflated by faulty economic reasoning — and that usage grew 41% in the last year.

So it’s no wonder they’re trying to fight back, but surely there’s a compromise that can be found between no advertising at all and loud and obnoxious full screen unstoppable auto-playing video ads. There are a handful of sites I’ve stopped going to altogether because it’s such a pain in the ass wading through all the popup advertisements to get to the content I went there for in the first place. I don’t want to turn my ad-blocker on, but some of these websites are making it harder and harder not to do so. And that’s not even getting into the topic of how many ad services these days are doing a piss-poor job of keeping malicious malware spreading ads out of their systems.

Scale it back a bit and I think you’ll find more people will shut off their ad-blockers. Keep going the way you’re going and it’ll just be an arms race to see who can out program the other.

Nothing worse than an aging I.T. nerd.

WDHDsaleI’m sitting in my cube at work this morning going through my daily routine of checking my work and personal email when I come across an ad from Newegg.com that includes the item over on the right. A 1TB Western Digital HD for a little under $50.

As it is my habit to try and get other people to spend money on stuff they don’t need, I engage in a ritual of reading off this deal to my cubemate who is roughly eleven years older than I am. We both stop to marvel at this price because we’re both old enough to remember life before hard drives.

At this point he pulls out a dry erase marker and starts to write things down on his whiteboard. Back in the day he used to sell computers for a living and he can remember that in 1984 a 10MB hard drive went for about $500. In today’s dollars that comes out to around $1,148.48.  A 10MB drive is equal to about 0.000009536743164063 terabytes. To put it another way, the cost per MB of that 10MB drive in today’s dollars works out to around $114.85. The price per MB of a 1TB drive in today’s dollars is roughly 0.00005.

I can remember a time when us computer nerds spoke of a one terabyte hard drive in hushed, reverent tones as though describing a unicorn. A fantastic, mythical thing that could exist, but probably never would and if it ever did surely it would be so fantastically expensive that we’d never afford one in our lifetime. Oh, but if we did get our hands on one we’d never need another hard drive again cause there’s no way we’d ever fill it up! Just imagine having a hard drive you’d hand down to your children and them to their children and even then it’d probably take another generation of kids to come close to filling it up!

You know you’re getting old when you waste time figuring shit like this out and then shaking your head at how spoiled kids are these days.

Addendum: The first computer I ever bought with my own money was my venerable Amiga 1000. I got a job at McDonalds and took out my first ever loan from a credit union to pay for it. The machine itself cost $1,295 at launch and the CRT monitor was another $300 bringing the total to $1,595 not including sales tax. In today’s dollars that works out to $3,537.43. That boggles my mind.

Mom gets free tech support for life.

Truth.

momstechsupport

John Oliver interview with Edward Snowden.

John Oliver has been knocking it out of the park ever since he left The Daily Show to start his own comedy news show on HBO. Last Week Tonight manages to both entertain and inform and, in some ways, is a better show than TDS. Best of all, HBO and Oliver makes full length segments of the show available on YouTube so you don’t have to pay for HBO to see it.

Each week Oliver picks a topic and does a deep dive on it and this week he’s tackling surveillance and Section 215 of the Patriot Act and how we’re not having the debate we should be about the NSA and domestic spying. It’s a great segment, but it’s even better because he managed to score an interview with the man who arguably made it possible to have this debate, Edward Snowden, and he doesn’t pull any punches with his questions:

Once again I have to marvel at how a comedy news program manages to do better journalism than the supposed news channels. It also breaks things down into a context that is not only funny, but which the average person can comprehend.

As Oliver points out, part of the reason we’re not having this debate is because the subject matter is so highly technical and hard to understand for most folks. It’s doesn’t help that too many people barely pay attention to what’s going on around them. Ask them who Taylor Swift is and they can recite lyrics from her latest single, but ask who Edward Snowden is and too many don’t have a clue. These programs need to be seriously revised and given more transparency, but that’s not going to happen so long as we don’t bother to talk about them.

Finally, this gives me a chance to make use of this:

Would've been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

Would’ve been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

Things IT people never say.

Here’s a cute video. Many of these, but not all, are truth.

Many of these are things I have said — “submitting multiple tickets actually does get it done faster” — though in a much more sarcastic fashion making it clear that I am not actually suggesting that approach. I have said that I love Windows and not in a mocking way. Of the available options these days, it’s grown to be one of the best and its flaws do keep me employed.

Several of the lines literally made me laugh out loud. “It’s not about the money, I do it for the chicks” and “I can’t find any guys to play video games with me” being two of them.  I have sincerely said that I feel very appreciated here rather recently. The folks where I work today really do show their appreciation for the job that I do. Though that’s admittedly a rare thing in my career. I have also said that something took less time than I expected it to, but that’s because I often overestimate how long something will take just in case something unexpected pops up during the process. I’ve also said thank you and thanks for being patient, especially when I didn’t overestimate how long something was going to take and something unexpected popped up.

That said, it’s a cute video with much truth in it.