An Idiot’s Guide To Prepaid GPRS

Further to my earlier post about GPRS traveling woes, I asked Syd Low of AlienCamel to offer his thoughts on the subject. He’s something of an old hand at the game.

For the last two years I’ve gone “on the road” to the Alps. My journey goes through Asia, then Switzerland and finally Austria. In 2004 I had a Treo 600 and this year a Treo 650. I’ve used GPRS with prepaid SIM cards in five countries will almost perfect success to stay in touch with friends and colleagues using IM and Email.

In Europe, I usually look for a mobile shop at the airport or train terminal. Zurich airport is great – all three carriers are there -Swisscom, Sunrise and Vodafone. Just wander in, buy a card and you’re on your way in less than 20 minutes. When you return the following year, you just need to get a recharge card and you’re away in 5 minutes. In Asia and Italy, I found that all carriers have shops in the main street. Venice and Verona for example have Vodafone shops conveniently located among the shops and resellers everywhere. Same deal – quick and fast transactions. In Austria where there’s not much competition, the most convenient place is the post office where you can get A1 prepaid cards. Recharge cards are available at supermarkets.

The Treo 650 auto configures to all of these networks and there’s no need to manually make any setting changes. Just put the sim card in and everything just works. I’ve only had a minor glitch with A1. For a few days I couldn’t get GPRS coverage – not sure if it was my phone or the network high in the Alps.

Life would be a lot simpler if there was a carrier that did global roaming with fair rates, but I think it’ll be a blue moon when that happens. Until then, get yourself a little case to get a sim card for each country.

Thanks, Syd.  Oh and here’s a picture of his SIM-card stash:

Simstash

GPRS on the Road? Forget it

I’m amazed by how hard it is to get GPRS when you’re traveling. Prepaid GSM cards don’t seem to support it unless you subscribe to some special service, and even then it’s crippingly expensive (altho not as expensive as roaming). I know 3G is going to replace this intermediate technology sometime, but given the popularity of the BlackBerry, wouldn’t you have thought that some of these operators would be trying to sell a bit of extra airtime to users keen to stay in touch on the road?

I’ve tried four different Hong Kong operators now and only one of them says they support prepaid GPRS. Even then, it’s not been possible for people to send me straight SMS messages on their network. Agh. I’m going back to smoke signals.

The Phisher King Goes To Jail

Another phisher jailed, and another example, if any were needed, of the Russian gravitional pull to such tricks. But there’s a backstory to this that all accounts have ignored. Here’s the meat, first, from The Register:

An American who masterminded the UK part of a multi-million pound ID theft scam was yesterday jailed for six years. Douglas Havard, 24, was sentenced on Monday at Leeds Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to launder money. His accomplice, Lee Elwood, 25, of Glasgow, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to the same offences in June 2004.

The court heard the duo were integral to a phishing scam that netted an estimated £6.5m. The duo operated the UK end of an international operation that tricked consumers into handing over their banking credentials to bogus websites. The pair used credit cards obtained under false names, money raided from compromised bank accounts and the illicit purchase and sale of goods online to finance a lavish lifestyle.

According to a report on kvue last year, Havard was allegedly just one of

15 global middlemen linked to the hackers, who systematically stole from hundreds of bank accounts daily, one of Mr. Havard’s former associate says.

But it’s the Douglas Havard guy who is most interesting, and an example of the kind of people getting drawn into the phishing world: Check out this long and fascinating account from the Dallas Observer three years ago, when Havard was still on the run. One particular episode caught my eye:

Take the bar code scam, which allegedly began during Havard’s sophomore year at Winston. Havard bought a special printer and high-gloss paper precut in the shape of price stickers, with adhesive on one side. The equipment and materials were specialized, but not exotic; he could buy all he needed at an office supply store.

Havard went to Target and purchased, say, a box of Legos for $17. He duplicated the bar code on the Legos and then went back to the store. As he browsed through the toy department, he’d slap a bar code sticker reading $17 onto a box of MindStorm Legos that sell for $200 a box.

At the checkout, Havard paid $17 for the Legos. He later returned the Legos to the store, getting a cash refund or store credit for $200. Profit: $183. He’d then go back and buy two more expensive boxes for $17 each. Profit: $366. Investment: $17, plus the printer and sticky paper.

Havard’s research revealed that Target wouldn’t investigate until the sixth return, so he would do the con a total of five times in his own name, then use a fake drivers license and do it five times in another name. He then pulled in other people to repeat his performance five times each in various names, also using fake identities. After calculating how many Target stores were in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, he sent out his minions with handfuls of forged bar code stickers.

Havard was making up to $15,000 a day from the scam, according to the Observer. From there he graduated into credit card scams. And others:

He and a buddy started cruising the parking lots at NorthPark, looking for expensive SUVs loaded with fancy accessories like front grilles. They’d write down the license plate numbers, drive home and look up the addresses of the owners on the Internet. Late at night, they’d drive by the houses, steal the grilles and sell them on eBay.

It’s all quite a tale. Phishing in Leeds was perhaps the easiest scam Havard ever did.

A Skype Rival?

A rival to Skype? broadband reports talks about Jajah:

Jajah is a new Skype-like IP based communications client that seems to offer more features than Skype. In particular, it claims an ability to seamlessly handle SMS, bridge to Skype and SIP phones, and send video (as well as the usual low priced direct-to-phone calling rates).

I haven’t checked it out yet.

Getting Frustrated On The Road

The frustrations of tech travel. Some things are easy, some things you think are going to be easy are hard. Like in-room Internet. The last Hong Kong hotel I stayed in had free Internet, but you had to enter a fiddly name and password to get a connection, and even if the account said it was valid for 1000s of hours, it would usually expire after about 24 of them, and you had to troop down to the lobby to get some more.

The hotel I’m now staying in has a much easier setup — just plug and play, no accounts or anything — but you still need an ethernet cable. I usually carry one of these around, but as they took an hour to bring me my luggage I had to hunt around the room for a cable, eventually calling up the concierge.

And then there’s GPRS. Why don’t prepaid cards support GPRS? They support MMS, but the carrier I’m using in Hong Kong doesn’t support it unless you’re a postpaid customer. Why is this? It seems daft to me. Or am I missing something?

The Gum Lobby

Calvin, who subscribed to ‘Chewing’ Magazine and took his gum seriously, would approve: The leading producers of chewing gum from around the world have launched the International Chewing Gum Association (ICGA).

Sadly, it’s not what I thought it was: a gathering of folk who will share their experiences of gum chewing and bubble blowing, a forum to discuss preferred locations for used gum wads and the problems of simultaneous perambulation and mastication, and a lobby group for greater gum-chewing rights in places where users are discriminated against (Singapore springs to mind). Instead it’s an organisation of manufacturers and its objective is to “speak with one global voice and to seek harmonization of regulations between countries and continents.” Which sounds really dull.

For those of you still fascinated, the ICGA is actually a merging of the

  • EACGI (European Association of the Chewing Gum Industry) and the
  • NACGM (National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers)

Sadly I can’t find the strip online where Calvin goes into detail about his “dedication to developing a proper chewer’s jaw that ‘drives the girls wild’ through his Chewing magazine subscription”.

Calvin2

That’s what the ICGA should be talking about. Or how to remove chewing gum from carpets, clothes and furniture (somehow the name of that site made me think it was about removing gum from people’s mouths).

New Features at Basecamp

The guys at 37 Signals have just announced New Features for Basecamp 2, phase I:

Today we roll out the first phase of “Basecamp 2”

Basecamp 2 is our complete overhaul of Basecamp. We’re speeding it up, making it more reliable, adding new features (and pruning some that are barely used), improving the user interface (and making it much faster in spots), and more. All of Basecamp 2 will be rolled into the Basecamp you already use so there’s no need to go anywhere else, download anything new, or change your behavior. It’s a natural and gradual transition.

We’re tackling this re-write one section at a time. The first section we tackled was the fundamental people/company set-up and project access, along with some other enhancements related to these features.

There’s some interesting stuff in here that I’m going to try get my brain around.

Bluethievery

Another kind of Bluesnarfing: The Times Online reported yesterday that

[t]hieves are using Bluetooth technology to scour parked cars for mobile phones and laptop computers, police believe. The wireless software allows users to detect any mobile phones, PCs, palmtop computers and camcorders that are equipped with Bluetooth within a radius of 50m (160ft).

Of course this is not completely true: The gadgets must be turned on, have their Bluetooth activated and be ‘discoverable’ (although if I recall correctly there are ways around this last bit). I’m guessing that this is the same story reported in engadget last week that quoted the South Manchester Reporter as saying 

crooks in south Manchester are targeting parked cars that contain high-end laptops or cellphones, which they find by carrying a Bluetooth phone as they stroll past the cars. Local police claim that at least 20 recent thefts involved Bluetooth. While we suppose there may be some credence to this, we think it’s equally possible that some laptop owners forgot that they had left their computer sitting on the back seat, or that the thieves took a chance on certain car models that are favored by those with the cash to spend on expensive gear.

It certainly does raise the question: How do the police know the thieves are using Bluetooth? Have they arrested some and asked them how they knew there was a device inside the car? How would they know which car is emitting a Bluetooth signal, unless it’s the only one in a 10 meter (or greater) radius? (In which case, why not break into it anyway? You’re probably the only people around.) And, especially if the car is Bluetooth-enabled, as many cars are, how would the thieves know what they’re looking for? Unless the Bluetooth-enabled device has the gadget name as its ID, rather than a user-assigned one — mine’s called ‘Hands Off’ — the thieves are likely to be none the wiser about whether they’re looking for a Bluetooth-enabled car, video, phone, computer or a headset. (Of course many devices nowadays don’t allow you to change the ID name: Another good reason to allow this.)

Here’s the original report (which charmingly refers to the wireless standard as blue-tooth, which is why it doesn’t pop up in search engines). Here’s an excerpt:

Thieves are using new ‘blue-tooth’ phones to detect whether motorists have left mobiles or laptops in their cars. The ‘blue-tooth’ facility enables thieves to locate compatible electrical items – even if they are hidden away in a boot or glove compartment. Police say the new technology is allowing criminals to selectively steal from cars with expensive laptops and mobile phones which also have ‘blue-tooth’ facilities.

In Chorlton, police estimate that out of the last 35 recorded vehicle crimes, at least 20 involved the use of these high-tech phones. Sergeant Imran Abbasi, of Chorlton Police, said: “It’s become quite endemic in Chorlton. They’re not picking cars out at random – in many cases they know there’s something in there.”

I’m skeptical, but not completely disbelieving. I can understand why this might work, or at least narrow down the range of options for a thief. Next time I’m in a car park I’m going to get out my Kensington WiFi Finder Plus (which searches for Bluetooth too) and see what’s worth nicking. I mean connecting with.

Effort

This is just an attempt to file remotely to the blog. Please ignore.