Watch out for Amazon bait

Been getting a couple of emails saying my Amazon order is on hold. I do a lot of business through them, but this sounded a little suspect.

It was. A lot suspect.

Here’s the text of the email:


Your Amazon Order needs Urgent Attention Eric
Order # 687cd87779a67d9796f951915bb564f5 View order details

Amazon Email: eric@ericpulsifer.com
ORDER PLACED: June 24 2016
SHIP TO: Eric View order details
ORDER STATUS: NOT CONFIRMED

Confirm your Order

Have a wonderful Day – Amazon

with one visit, you will be removed from our list. go here Write to This Address : 6500 hickory valley way knoxville tn 37918-5157


First off, what Amazon order?

This isn’t the first phishing attempt I’ve seen that uses Amazon as a cover. Hey, the company’s so big. They ship out a lot of stuff. It’s easy to lose track of all your orders. They use ground carriers. Which is no surprise — so many online hucksters use such emails to harvest your information.

There’s a special section in Hell for folks such as these. And if there isn’t, there should be. Maybe a special section where the most up-to-date technology is tin cans and string.

If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of online life and your BS detector is semi-operational, this one isn’t difficult to sniff out. In your email reader, look around the FROM header or swing your mouse over the link. It’s sloppy, but you’ll find the actual source of the email.

In this case it’s info@electrikoffredoms.com.

Like, who?

Also, swing your mouse over any hyperlinks. There’s not an Amazon to be found in any of the real addresses shown. Surprise surprise.

Oh, yes. Goes without saying. Anything that looks like a link, don’t click on it. Don’t click. Don’t … ohh crap …

I get asked this a lot, particularly on Facebook: So what’s the harm of clicking?

I haven’t checked this specific one, but all kinds of things can happen when you click unknown links. A goodie can be installed on your computer to suck up your personal information. A virus. A piece of malware. Something that may take over your email box and use your address to send out more delightful missives such as this one.

Scared yet?

I have two Amazon accounts; one for purchasing and one for publishing. This email came to the address associated with my publishing account. Another red flag.

This is kind of like my ever-popular PayPal scam. Those phishing attempts are usually in the wrong pond, like to email addresses that have nothing to do with my PayPal account. Oops, try again.

At the bottom of this “Amazon” offering there’s another link to remove my name from that list.

Said the spider to the fly.

Like these guys are invading my email box under false colors anyway. Do you think I’m gonna trust them?

Always be careful when surfing and checking your email. Remember these precautions. Bookmark them, print them, but remember them.

As I’ve written so many times here:

In the meantime, enjoy your computer. Have fun checking out Facebook, Buzzfeed and those cat videos. Feel free to read your news online (including this blog). Buy books from Amazon including mine, heh-heh. Do your shopping online. Use the Internet to make a living. Use the online tools to run several aspects of your life by remote control (like my own use of online banking). It’s safer than it once was, it’s convenient, it’s a Godsend.

But again, be careful.

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Sharks in the phishing hole: Two emails, two warnings, one scam

This guy just keeps turning up.
This guy just keeps turning up.

If you’re an average joe you probably have your fill of email scams and attempts to mine your information. I mean the Nigerian princess and fake-package schticks can only go so far.

If you own a web site, you’ll get hit up with some new things. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell the fake from the real stuff, and sometimes the real stuff isn’t too well worded either.

Last week I got a pair of emails; one supposedly from Amazon and one allegedly from my web host.

Here’s the one from Amazon:

Hello,

THIS IS A FINAL NOTICE

Our records show that you have not completed the declaration confirming that none of your websites are directed at children under the age of 13. This declaration is a mandatory requirement for participation in the Amazon Associates Program, and as such, your payments have been placed on hold as of August 31, 2015. On October 31, 2015, your account will be closed if your declaration has not been completed. Any final funds payable will be issued via the payment method we have on file. Once your account is closed it cannot be reopened.

What the … what? It’s a little scary, and it did require my attention. Did they have to word it like that?

Got this one from Amazon. Scary, but legit. Still, exercise caution.
Got this one from Amazon. Scary, but legit. Still, exercise caution.

Backgrounder. I have an Amazon Associates account, which nets me a commission on stuff I sell through the site. It’s tiny income, and Amazon wanted to make sure I’m not one of those cheesy sites that markets strictly to kids.

That one’s legit, so I went ahead and took care of it through the front door. I didn’t use the link provided, but instead slammed open Amazon’s swinging doors and ordered everyone to make a hole as I took care of business. Later with that provided link.

***

Now here’s the other one, from my Web host. Or something.

1&1 Internet AG abuse@1and1.com.org via op.pl

7:00 PM (0 minutes ago)

to me

Dear Sir/Madam,

The following domain names have been suspended for violation of the 1&1 Internet AG Abuse Policy:

Domain Name: ericpulsifer.com Registrar: 1&1 Internet AG Registrant Name: Eric Pulsifer

Multiple warnings were sent by 1&1 Internet AG Spam and Abuse Department to give you an opportunity to address the complaints we have received.

We did not receive a reply from you to these email warnings so we then attempted to contact you via telephone.

We had no choice but to suspend your domain name when you did not respond to our attempts to contact you.

Click here and download a copy of complaints we have received.

Please contact us for additional information regarding this notification.

Sincerely, 1&1 Internet AG Spam and Abuse Department Abuse Department Hotline: 480-320-3579

***

This one smells like scam. McAfee agrees.
This one smells like scam. McAfee agrees.

Notice the request to “click here and download a copy of complaints we have received.” Uh, yeah. I’ll get right on it.

I did check on the link, and it led to some outfit McAfee didn’t like. Here’s what I got from them:

Warning: Trouble ahead Whoa!

Are you sure you want to go there?

http://rarity.digital-eve.com/abuse_report.php?eri… may try to steal your information.

Why were you redirected to this page?

When we visited this site, we found it may be designed to trick you into submitting your financial or personal information to online scammers. This is a serious security threat which could lead to identity theft, financial losses or unauthorized use of your personal information.

Accept the Risk

Back

View Site Report

The site report gives it a high risk rating. Taking it further:

rm-webrep-highWeb Category: Malicious Sites, Marketing/Merchandising

Activation: 2011-11-21

Last Seen: 2011-09-29

 

A couple of dead giveaways, besides McAfee. Like there’s no 1and1.com.org. Type it in and I get nowhere.

Then there’s the phone number, 480-320-3579. It’s some urgent-care outfit, and I should be happy to know my call will be recorded for quality assurance. I didn’t pursue this further.

Understand, these emails/warnings/phishing attempts are aimed at someone who’s been around the Web a time or two. Someone who has an affiliate marketing account and his own website. Not that these mean anything, but still …

Okay. You know the drill. Enjoy your computer. Use it for all the things you ordinarily would use it for — online banking, making an online living, keeping in touch with friends, making phone calls, the whole smash. But be careful out there.

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Customer loyalty cards: Permission to get creepy?

These loyalty cards save me a lot of money, but there's a dark side to them.
These loyalty cards save me a lot of money, but there’s a dark side to them.

Like many other people, I keep loyalty cards to my favorite stores on my key ring. They save me a metric pantload of money, but I ran into the darker side the other day.

I got a phone call from the New Orleans-based Reily food company telling me that a chili mix I bought at such-and-such a store has been recalled. Seems it has traces of peanuts and/or almonds and can bring me a nasty allergic reaction.

Ooo-eee-ooo.

Then I went shopping and saw another warning on my sales slip from that grocery store. I later checked and I still have that chili mix on hand waiting for my kitchen magic. No mention of peanuts in the ingredients. Reily Foods said in a statement that at least one of the spices the company gets from a third-party supplier contains undeclared nut allergens. Undeclared meaning, it was thrown in there without telling them.

I understand the peanut risk. I have a few friends who have this allergy, and I guess a reaction can be fatal. I don’t have that problem, so I’m going to use the chili mix anyway. I appreciate the fact the grocer and food manufacturer are looking out for me.

But still … how do they know?

Ahh, yes. That loyalty card.

Basically, when you get one of those cards you give the store permission  to track your purchases and tailor their advertising to your known buying patterns in exchange for deep discounts. That’s nice. I like deep discounts, and I like getting dollars-off coupons for products I actually use.

I shop for Dad and myself, and the receipt will tell me how much I’ve saved on my purchases by using the card: Usually around $20 for a purchase of a little less than $100. Not half bad.

But let’s flip this on its head, shall we? If I opt out of the loyalty program, I give the store permission to overcharge me by about $20. That’s the story once you strip away the gee-whiz you’re-saving-money verbiage.

Tracking, tracking everywhere!

But the tracking part is interesting. Of course you can forget about privacy in the Internet age. Somebody, somewhere sees every Website you visit, every Google search and every purchase you make.

None of this is new. Casinos have been tracking customers for years, again via a loyalty card. You get all sorts of swag, comps and maybe some bonus payouts when you win. The casino then knows how much you bet, how much you lose and which games are your favorites. Get right down to it, the casino knows way too much about you.

As if the phone call wasn't enough ... I appreciate it, but it still creeps me out.
As if the phone call wasn’t enough … I appreciate it, but it still creeps me out.

Amazon’s like that too. I love Amazon. They’re my #1 publisher (which gets me a monthly royalty from them), and I buy a lot from that company. Of course I’m gonna get targeted advertising based on what I’ve purchased. That’s just plain smart marketing even if it is creepy.

Noted whistleblower Edward Snowden recently aired his Amazon fears via video link at a Cato Institute symposium. Here’s a highlight:

“Wherever you’re at, wherever that jurisdiction is, they can see what books you’re looking at. This is morally irresponsible, and as a business it’s problematic to allow this to continue when we know for a fact that they have the capability to provide for secure communications because as soon as you go to purchase that book, as soon as money’s involved, they turn it over to encryption.”

Got that? According to a story in The Passive Voice, Amazon encrypts the really vital stuff like your credit card numbers. But your searches are in plain text, readable by anyone.

Okay. I sound like one of those off-the-road paranoid conspiracy types, a candidate for increased medication and maybe one of those canvas blazers with wraparound arms. But bear with me as I offer some evidence:


Tres creepy, no?

Now, let’s get back to customer loyalty cards. This extracted information is good for the company. The consumer (hopefully) knows it’s a trade for lower prices or some good swag. But does the information stay in-house? That’s where things get messy. There’s just no guarantee.

How do you know that customer list or mailing list your on doesn’t get sold to someone else? How do you know a real bad criminal organization, like say, the federal government, won’t get its hands on the data?

All it takes is a little suspicion and a subpoena for Big Brother to peek at your buying/searching habits. And that’s if everything is done above board. What guarantee is there that Uncle Sam observes even these rules?

So what’s a guy to do?

I’m torn. I like the savings and bonuses that come with a loyalty card. Long as I don’t go out of my head when buying — like case lots of whatever it is that they use to make bombs or street drugs — I’m probably all right. Right now the only really telling information one can get from my buying habits is my raging addiction to Cafe Bustelo coffee.

But to live a totally invasion-free life I’ll have to throw my computer out the window, get bound books at a used bookstore, pay cash for everything, stay off all public streets, communicate via carrier pigeon and/or tin cans with string, pay the higher price at the grocery store and wrap my head in tinfoil before going out.

Welcome to the modern world. Dont’cha love it?

###

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B.I.C. Cartel (Part II: Eating Your Young) is now up; free through Feb. 6

Free through Feb. 6.
Free through Feb. 6.

Grab it while you can; it’s free through Feb. 6 through Amazon.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“… you want us to hit what?”

“You heard me,” Robert said. “That art supply warehouse on Foothill.”

“I think you’ve been smoking too much of that funny stuff,” said his companion, a tall skinny teenager with a almost enough facial hair to grow a neckbeard. “An art supply place?”

“You heard me.”

“You found a bunch of artsy-fartsy freaks to sell the stuff to?”

“Maybe.”

“Still think you smoking too much, man.”

Robert reached in his pocket, pulled out a list and handed it to his companion.

“Man, did you write on that paper or crap on it? ‘Cause I can’t read it either way.”

“Shut up. That’s canvases.”

“Canvases? What’s that?”

“That’s what you paint on.”

“And an easel?”

“Jamal, you’ll know it when you see it.”

“Paint and brushes. That what you needing?”

“Yeah. Make it acrylic. Haven’t got around to oils yet.”

“Wait a minute,” Jamal said. “These are for you, right?”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“I hear you draw real good.”

“Who says that?” Robert said, straightening up.

“Just people. Just hear it around. You trying to move from the outhouse to the penthouse?”

“Yeah man,” Robert said. “With real paintings on the walls. Mine. But if you tell anybody I’ll have to beat you …”

That’s it. Y’all need to grab it.

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B.I.C. Cartel Part II: How to eat your young and feel good about it (free Feb. 2-6)

Part II is up ...
Part II is up …

Braden, Karen and Robert spend a few years eating their young. Murdering their darlings. Inventing new ways to sabotage themselves.

All three enjoy success, but for some reason none could sustain it. Or handle it.

  • Karen writes for a weekly newspaper, earns her state’s highest journalism award and chucks it all – to work in a casino …
  • Braden tours with two jazz bands and makes a good living at it until another wife pressures him to give it all up for her …
  • Robert impulsively paints his greatest, most awe-inspiring work on his shop wall and it takes several friends to talk him out of painting over it …

Follow these three through several cross-country moves, abusive relationships, madness and drama as they come face to face with what they really love.

Part II was uploaded just last night and undergoes some tweaks, and it will go live Feb. 2. I’ll have it free through Feb. 6, so grab it then. Or later; I don’t mind.

# # #

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Part I of B.I.C. Cartel uploaded, available

This is how we roll.
This is how we roll.

Well, some last-minute things on the availability.

Still waiting on it to pass muster with Amazon so they can make sure it doesn’t advocate world conquest (which it does). But it’s new.

You can get it on Gumroad and pay what you want. Or check out my author’s selection at Amazon. Through Kindle I’m pricing it at $0.99, but that’s only because they won’t let me give it out for free.

Yeah, I know. They PP’d in my Cheerios, but I’ll live.

Here’s the basic blurb:

Braden Campbell is an amazing jazz pianist with bipolar disorder, and he gives up his talent because it’s time to grow up. As if driving a taxi is a grown-up occupation, that is.

Karen Watts writes, and has great credentials as a journalist and freelance writer. However, every novel she’s ever written is either abandoned or torched — because she thinks she isn’t good enough.

Robert Blair paints landscapes, portraits and … signs. But only the signs pay and a man has to make a living, right?

After years of false starts, marriages, abusive relationships, divorces, substance abuse, madness, frequent cross-country moves and plain old self-doubts, the three reunite with a new resolve. Karen bets them that she will be the first to “turn pro” — to take their talents seriously and act professionals instead of dabblers.

… She put her water bottle down. “Here’s the deal. Each of us decides to ourselves what becoming a pro is all about. Then we do it. I’ll tell both you hairy-legged types what. I don’t care what you think, but I’m gonna be the first to make that jump …”

To encourage and challenge one another to plant their butts in the chair and do their work, they form a support group called BIC Cartel.

They push and cajole one another and things start to happen with all three.

This work will be released in three parts. Part II will be available through Amazon 2/02/2014.

Final version should be out March 5, 2014.

Keep watching the BIC Cartel website for more details and occasional notes from the author and characters.

 

 

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If you love your books, that phone may be your future

random person with phone
So what’s next? Reading books on your phone or something?

While bemoaning the fact printed books are going the way of the record album and landline telephones, I’ve come to like the convenience of digital books. You can read them just about anywhere.

Like on your phone.

Smartphones are the big thing now. They’ve got more processing power than that desktop computer you had 10 years ago, and it’s amazing all the things they can do. Including reading your books.

Well, kinda sorta.

The one-and-a-half big entities in the ebook world, Kindle and Nook (since that one’s dying it only accounts for half a company), have apps you can load onto your smartphone. So rather than putting your entire library on something that’s not much larger than a single paperback, you can carry thee books on your telephone. Shove it in your pocket or clip it onto your belt, no backpack, no hands, just whip it out when you want to read something.

Margaret Atwood, an accomplished novelist, is heavily involved with a Web site and app for the growing legion of phone readers. It’s called Wattpad, and you can download freebies from authors seeking a little exposure. From what I see most of the writers are young. Genres like YA (Young Adult) fiction and fantasy/horror/gothic novels with the requisite number of vampires and/or zombies predominate here. But it seems the younger folks prefer to read on the phone. It helps if you have young eyeballs.

Like it or not, Atwood’s site is a real bellwether in the publishing industry. That phone is your future.

 

The old man and the e-reader

Futuristic or not, you can’t beat the convenience of reading from your phone. Unless you’re 55. That’s when things get a little goofy.

There’s just not a whole bunch of space on a 4+-inch smartphone screen. There isn’t. To keep things at a size that I can still comfortably read with or without my old-man bifocals, my screen holds 20 lines of about four or five words each. Do the math. That’s about 80 to 100 words per screen. The standard paperback book has about 30 lines of nine or 10 words each — around 270 to 300 words. That’s a lot of page flipping on your phone.

Plus when you go to anything large enough for me to read, my phone-based Kindle renders its pages poorly. I’m stuck with justified margins, and automatic hyphenation doesn’t exist. Therefore I’ll have some lines where the words are jammed fairly tight, and other lines where the words have lots of space between them. Maybe it’s just because I’m a print geek, but I find this oddball spacing unattractive, even disconcerting. A quad-left format looks much better, but the Kindle phone app won’t let me go there.

Now if my eyesight gets worse than it is now I can bump the type size from 10-point to 12 or 18. Cuts down the number of lines, cuts down the words per line, and the onscreen page gets real ugly in a hurry.

I had a Nook some time ago. It was given to me by a friend (an avid reader; the kind who has three books going at a time) when he upgraded his equipment. I’m also an avid reader (three books going at a time), and I think between two high-mileage owners and one tragic accident the Nook finally gave up the ghost. I loved it, though. The e-ink display is easy to read, and it doesn’t matter if the sun is shining directly overhead. I can still read it. With a clip-on lamp I can read in the back of a darkened van, like I did on a road trip to North Carolina.

 

Kindle or Nook? Yes …

But now my go-to reader is my phone. Unlike a proprietary e-reader, I’m not chained to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I can comparison shop, get the best price, download my book and read it. The only thing I can’t really read on my phone is the older-style .pdf file because, well, the screen isn’t big enough.

To get geeky for a minute, Kindle uses a proprietary .mobi format. Nook uses the more universal .epub format. Even if you hand-loaded Kindle titles into your Nook, you’re out of luck. Ditto if the book has copy protection limiting it to just the device you loaded the book on. There is software that handles both .mobi and .epub formats (I have one, FBReader on my phone), but I’m straight outta luck if I wish to read a copy-protected book with that app.

Further mixing up the equation, many self-published authors stick with Amazon (read: Kindle) for their work. There’s a good reason for this. If you give Amazon exclusive rights to your ebook your royalty is 70 percent of the retail price. If you want to spread the love among several outlets, your royalty drops to 35 percent. Now that’s still a lot better than the approximately 10 percent you get if you go through a big publishing house (before your agent gets his 15 percent cut), but it’s still a significant difference. Amazon is the big gorilla in publishing, and the sales through Barnes & Noble and others aren’t enough to justify the reduced royalty.

(Full disclosure: All of my ebooks are available only through Amazon/Kindle, for the reason noted.)

About the only other drawback I can see with the old e-ink reader is that the screen’s not touch sensitive. Most of the time that’s not a problem, but if you like to highlight or annotate text (raises hand) the process couldn’t be any more unintuitive if they tried to make it that way. It’s ridiculously involved and easy to screw up.

Hint to hardware developers everywhere: Howzabout an e-ink reader that can handle both Kindle and Nook? With smoother highlighting? I’ll be glad to beta-test it for you.

 

E-readers and pads and phones, oh my!

Reckon I could get an Android pad (those Nexus 7’s sure look good to me) or I can get all brand-name-conscious and pick up an iPad, but the only real difference is the screen size.

And convenience. Did I mention convenience yet?

And the knowledge that ol’ Stonefingers can drop the phone a couple of times before it craps out. Just try that with a Nexus 7 or iPad. (C’mon, I dare you!)

Forget about reading from a phone or ‘pad before you go to bed, though. Since the phone emits its own light, it’ll allegedly do a number on your sleep cycles. That’s why your so-called sleep experts advocate shutting off all computers and turning off some lights a couple of hours before you go to bed. Besides, taking the phone to bed is just plain weird.

The older Kindle and Nook e-ink readers were great for that. Just attach that reading lamp to the unit (available as an accessory and well worth it), and you can read until you fall asleep. It’s just like reading a real book.

Whatever you do, though, don’t roll on your e-reader during the night or you’ll crack the screen. I state this with authority.

 

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