Amid the increasing sophistication of online scams, it’s easy to forget that sometimes the simplest tricks are the most effective. These involve a phone, a victim and a bit of social engineering. And they work best when people are silly, which is what the holiday season is all about.
WLUC TV6 reports from Michigan of a woman who gave out her bank account information over the phone after a company called her asking her to participate in a program where she would receive a $500 gift certificate. The company, Star Communications, has not yet been located because they only have a post office box and dummy telephone numbers, the piece says.
The Port Townsend Leader from Washington reports of a phone scam where a man calls “and claimed the Jefferson County Food Bank Association desperately needs money. The caller said he wanted to pick up a check right away.” The Leader reports “The savvy resident checked with the food bank before he wrote a check.” Smart fella. The Food Bank itself is concerned. Manager Helen Kullmann says: “It could give us a bad name if the phone scam continues.”
The Mohave Daily News in Arizona reports of a scam whereby victims are phoned by someone pretending to be from Reader’s Digest, where they’re asking people to go out to Circle K, or local stores in town here to [wire] $35 to somewhere in Fort Lauderdale, Florida … to either a person named Robert Adams or Paula Adams. The scam guarantees a large cash prize. The FBI’s advice? “If you give cash to someone who is just an individual who says they represent an organization, well, they may or may not represent that organization. It’s unfortunate.” Indeedy-o.
Did Google check first with publishers before announcing its digital library initiative. Nature reports that publishers are irritated because they weren’t:
Late last year, Google, based in Mountain View, California, announced a decade-long project to scan millions of volumes at the universities of Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and Oxford, as well as the New York Public Library. The resulting archive would allow computer users worldwide to search the texts online. But some publishers complain that they weren’t consulted by Google, and that scanning library collections could be illegal.
Not everyone agrees: The story quotes Peter Kosewski, director of publications and communications at Harvard University Library, as saying the library believes that the way Google intends to handle copyright works is consistent with the law. Harvard is carrying out a pilot with Google on 40,000 titles before making a decision on digitizing its entire 15-million-volume collection. “We have a number of questions that will be answered by the pilot project, and that includes copyright issues,” he says. “We think it is a great programme Google has put together.”
The Sims Online – an Internet-only world where ordinary folk can take on another persona and interact with other folk virtually — seems to be exhibiting all the signs of the real world, with a twist. Salon carries an article about a Sims community called Alphaville, and some of its citizens, including an academic called Urizenus (in real life, Michigan philosophy professor Peter Ludlow), a young man (or, possibly, a boy) called Evangeline, allegations of extortion, and the possible existence of a virtual brothel.
The story is well worth a read (subscription or day pass only), if only for the moral responsibilities a corporation running a community may have. If someone opens a virtual brothel for online folk to indulge in a little cyber-sex, is the company managing that world — in this case Electronic Arts — guilty of prostitution? And what happens if there’s evidence the ‘madam’ of that brothel, and some of its employees, are underage? And then, exploring the matter further, is Electronic Arts guilty of censorship by terminating the account of the academic who chronicled such allegations in his online newspaper, Alphaville Herald? And if there’s (ultimately) real money involved, should the police be called in to this virtual world?
I’m not surprised a philosophy professor is interested in these kind of issues. Going back to the early days of the Internet, the virtual world has a habit of impinging on the real. In that sense there’s nothing different between real estate and virtual estate. If humans interact on it, it’s turf and it needs to be policed. It will be interesting to see how EA handle this case, and whether they start patrolling their creation more thoroughly. And if they do, will it cease to be economically viable?
More discussion on this on Slashdot. Here’s an ‘interview’ by Ludlow with Evangeline (parental discretion advised, via Boing Boing Blog)