Little Black Book: Scammer’s Scripts

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Warning…Warning…Warning: This is a long one. I ramble a bit, but I make some important points. From time to time, I get friend requests or inbox messages (DMs) via social media from scammers. I know they are scammers because, well their accounts scream “I’m here to steal your money.”  In the case of the friend requests, if I can immediately tell they are fake accounts or bot accounts, I delete them without accepting. If you don’t know, there are a large number of bot accounts on social media. These bot accounts, also known as social media bots, are automated computer algorithmic programs that engage users on social media. The bots are fully or partially autonomous, and if you aren’t good at detecting them, you won’t know they aren’t real. They mimic human users, most of which function in deceptive and malicious ways. While some bots may serve a beneficial purpose, many of them are used in dishonest and nefarious ways. According to some estimates, approximately 48 million Twitter accounts are bots; there are similar estimates for Facebook and Instagram.

I estimate I get about a dozen bot accounts weekly trying to connect to me, especially on Instagram. Others send messages to my inbox. The messages may not initially seem scammy, because they often come with a friendly greeting, and they sometimes come from a current friend, often not really a friend but from someone who hacked into the account impersonating my friends – or a cloned account to look like a friend’s account. Some DMs are intended to be for purposes other than scamming. Sometimes I get messages from businesses providing a response to a question or problem I raised on their wall or status message. Other times I get messages from a business account or artist/musician further promoting their craft. But, most of the messages I get are from people (or bots) with ill intent.

I suppose I could update my settings so that only my friends can communicate with me. I know of some people who disable DMs entirely to prevent any messages from coming in entirely. But I’m not trying to be inaccessible to people. That would be like hiding in my house because there’s lots of violent crime out in these streets. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who do that. That’s one of the risk factors for some people with agoraphobia, especially for some people who have been a victim of a violent crime. There is a strong correlation between crime victimization and agoraphobia narrowly, and mental health more broadly. Some people even isolate themselves just seeing other people victimized. It’s important to be careful, which I am. I don’t take unnecessary risks, but I’m not going to hide.

Anyway, most of these scammers are obvious; they really stand out. I’ll provide details on some of the telltale signs later. If my nose can smell them right off, I usually just delete them without any conversation. My thinking is, the less I interact with them the better. They are good at social engineering. If you don’t know what that is, social engineering is the art of tricking others into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes, and the target usually shares those details about themselves without realizing they are overtelling. The scammers surreptitiously elicit information from people under the guise of being friendly and conversational.

Some of them even work in teams. You may tell three different people different things (not knowing they’re in cahoots) and together, they may get enough information about you to paint a full picture and hack into an account or steal your identity. That’s why I generally delete their messages without conversing. I am careful, and I will briefly engage them if I’m not too busy. I waste their time. They call that scam baiting. Some experts question whether it really does waste their time, since they aren’t lone wolves. Most of them are a small, minor pawn on a large international chess board with dozens of other chess pieces following the guidance of the queen. So, it’s probably not very probable that you’d be wasting their time, at least not for most of them. But it may stifle some. For those who are stifled, some of them have been known to stalk and harass their scam baiters once they figure out he or she was wasting their time and won’t be sending them any money. One scam baiter in particular even receives death threats from the scammers he baited. That’s not an isolated incident. Such threats happen quite frequently.

One person recently messaged me about a business opportunity. I scanned the person’s profile to see multiple posts of people flashing huge wads of cash. That’s one of the biggest red flags. People don’t carry around cash these days. These profile only use the cash as an inducement to suck you in. I give people the side eye if I see them with a lot of dollar bills. I declined the offer. Most people go away when I decline. Just like the scammers follow a script, I follow one too. I almost always reply with, “No thank you. I am not interested.”

As I said, most people go away when I decline. But perhaps I’m too nice and polite. The only time I’m not nice and polite to them is if they are impersonating someone I know. That happened recently. Some scammers clone people’s accounts, while other scammers gain access to it – hack it, as some people like to say –  change the password, and interact with everyone pretending to be the account holder. In my recent example, it was the latter. It just so happens I have known the account holder for more than a decade –– and the language skills and word usage were nothing like what my friend would use. It was obvious instantly. Immediately! When the person messaged me, I basically called him an effin’ scammer and to leave me alone. As an aside, I said I called “him” an effin’ scammer, but it very well could have been a her. We know the scammers are both genders.

But like I said, I politely decline most offers. Maybe it’s the polite approach that keeps them coming back wanting to know why I declined and if there’s anything that would change my mind. Those who come back and keep trying to reel me in probably have had some sales experience, or their script directs them to do it. The script writer probably had training in sales. That’s one of the first things you learn in sales training. Good salespersons must counter any objections their target might have. Objections are someone’s reasons for not being interested. Sometimes a person might be disinterested for no reason in particular. Other times, a person may have some very specific reasons for not being interested. A good salesperson wants to know those reasons and try to address them so they can help the target to overcome them and get them as a customer.

Businesses want to know your objections, and scammers sometimes want to know them too. It’s one thing if it’s a home finance company contacting you about refinancing, and you decline because your credit isn’t very good at the time. You’re thinking that will make your interest rate too high. The finance company might counter your objections by telling you they base the decision solely on your payment history with no credit check and offer you a great interest rate, which you quickly accept. But it’s another thing if it’s a scammer; you may get suckered into losing all your money. Countering objections is effective with legitimate business ventures, and it is effective with scams too. They can’t counter objections if they don’t know what those objections are. If you don’t know that’s what they’re doing, you’re better off not engaging them. Otherwise, they might give you the right incentive to hook you and before you know it, you’re out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Thousands of victims thought the same thing. Even the smartest and most careful people can be tricked.

This scammer wanted to know why I declined. I declined for three reasons. The first reason is what I told you earlier: all the cash being flashed. That looks quite phony. But that wasn’t the main thing. It’s the number two and number three reasons that made me decline. Number two was, in his profile he stated very boldly that it’s a legitimate business and isn’t a scam. Really? Does a legitimate business need to say how legitimate it is? Capital One Bank doesn’t say that in its ads. Weichert doesn’t say that. Merrill Lynch doesn’t say that. Goldman Sachs doesn’t say that. That’s because the legitimacy of those businesses speaks for itself. They don’t need to tell you they aren’t a scam. The third reason is, it’s not a verified account. If someone wants to do business with you and they don’t have a verified account, it’s very likely you are about to lose your money. Of course, they won’t get a verified account, because to do so, they must provide their legal, government name, their ‘known as’ name (i.e., Shad Gregory Moss is a government name whereas Bow Wow is the known as name; Marlon Bishop is the government name of Jamie Foxx), type/category of account they have, legible copy of a government ID that could be a driver’s license or passport or military ID, or visa, or other official government ID. If they are a scammer, they won’t do that.

So, when this scammer asked me why I declined, I told him those three things, and I stressed his lack of a verified account as the most salient reason. The scammers often disappear once they scam you, and then set up a new account under a new name. It’s a regular routine they follow. It’s a lot like when thieves break into your home. They quickly take what they want and make an exit and are then off to the next victim. They don’t usually sit there and watch television. It’s a misconception that they return to the scene of the crime. They do that less often in real life than current television shows and motion pictures lead us to believe. It’s more common for them to fade away. Online scammers are that way too. They don’t want a record of who they are. They bank on blending into the internet.

Anonymity has its privileges for the scammers. They scam, disappear, close that account, then create a new account. Sometimes if you report the account, the App will shut them down before they shut themselves down. Either way, they don’t linger around. Even after I told this scammer why I wasn’t interested, he still kept at it saying, “Is legitimate. Am not a scammer okay.” At that point I just ignored him. If he or she couldn’t even communicate in a complete sentence, I felt less inclined to be bothered.

It’s unfortunate that millions of people fall prey to these ruthless fraudsters who steal billions of dollars annually. Last year more than $3 billion were scammed out of unsuspecting victims. I’m not one who judges them. They are still a crime victim even if they use poor judgment. But, it’s not a mystery to me that people get swindled. It’s an old act of making money. There is discussion of theft and people being defrauded in the Bible, and the Bible was written approximately 2000 years ago. People were defrauded and fell for scams that many years ago, and nothing has changed. Just the platform for the schemes has changed. The thing that I want to better understand is how such a large number of people lose so much money, some repeatedly. A man lost $20k to a romance scam; over a six month period, a woman emptied her account of more than $204kone man lost his life savings of $1.6 million. These are just a paltry sampling. It speaks to how trusting and accepting the victims are. It’s very common for many victims to feel connected to the scammers, even when they have never met or even spoken to the thieves.  “Some victims find it very hard to break away from the relationship, even when they’ve been told it’s not real,” says Professor Monica Whitty, an expert on Internet fraud psychology. “So the criminal admits to scamming the victim but says that they also fell in love with them at the same time, and they get back into the same scam.” The thieves are merely actors, following a script, a script that many find online. It’s basically a scammer’s handbook. One source is the Fraud Bible. Another is The Little Black Book of Scams. Both of these publications, among many others, can be tools to aid not only the scammers to better craft their scams, but to also aid consumers to better arm themselves against the scammers.

The other thing that isn’t discussed too often are the scammers who vow to help victims get their money back by pretending to be an official who formally helps scam victims. They fall in the category of a refund and recovery scam. For a nominal fee, they will help you get a refund. This can work in one of two major ways. First, they charge a fee, maybe $250 or $320 or what have you, which is a small amount compared to the many thousands of dollars many victims have lost. Then, the scammers disappear never to be heard from again. The victims get scammed again. When people are scammed the first time, it destroys them inside and out. Then, they get scammed again further dismantling them.

Did you know that most of these scammers are part of a large organized crime network, a criminal enterprise? Nigerians unfairly get a bad rap for this. Yes, many have originated in Nigeria; but these scams originate among groups from all around the world, including China, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ghana, and the Philippines – and they have helpers (mules) all around the world in virtually every country. Some of the mules know, but most are unwitting co-conspirators. In the eyes of the law, they are still doing something illegal and are often prosecuted — yes even if they had no idea they were helping to further the criminal enterprise. Some mitigate their criminality by cooperating with the investigations or paying restitution.  The worst part is, after being scammed, victims end up on what they call a sucker’s list. “Scammers buy, sell and trade lists of consumers who’ve fallen for a phone, mail or email scam.” Even if people don’t pay any money but engage the scammers in dialogue, those individuals still end up on that list. The thinking is someone may not have be tricked by one fraudster but maybe another fraudster will trick them. That explains why many victims get contacted and scammed again and again and again by someone new. It’s like they’re wearing a scarlet letter on their forehead.

I said I’d tell you some of the signs to be aware of. These are not absolute; however, these can be warning signs. Maybe one of these might mean nothing. But if you notice several, :

First, a common theme is they have a job or profession that keeps them inaccessible. These include the following: (1) They are in the military deployed overseas; (2) They work for a trucking company and are on the road for weeks at a time; (3) They are on an oil rig or work in a coal mine; or (4) They are a business owner with contracts requiring weeks long international travel. These are the types of jobs and careers they typically have. That’s their reason (excuse) for why they can’t meet you.

Second, many scammers will claim their spouse recently died or they are divorced raising a minor child.

Third, they’ll claim to live or work in a remote location with poor or non-existent Wi-Fi to explain why they can’t video chat. Some of them will pretend to initiate a video chat with their victims that is choppy and grainy, which convinces the victims how bad the signal is. What they do not realize is the video chat they used was pre-recorded. It wasn’t a live recording.

Fourth, they start calling you baby and saying they love you very quickly and are in a hurry to move to Google voice, Kik, WhatsApp, or other messaging app, especially if it’s a romantic connection. That’s because dating sites are getting better at screening accounts for possible fraudulent activity and they will suspend or disable questionable accounts. Scammers want to remain undetected.

Fifth, they want you to send them the money today or complete a transaction as quickly as possible, without giving you time to think about it. People get wise after they think about things. Scammers know this. Watch out if they keep trying to rush you.

Last but not least, they may claim to be from an organization or agency to which you owe money (like the IRS or a bank) that will only accept payment a specific way, usually via Western Union, virtual currency, or via gift cards. There are many sites that allow consumers to easily convert gift cards to cash or virtual currency, like bitcoins. It’s not traceable and they don’t need to verify their identify. Western Union is becoming less appealing to scammers. The company is cracking down on fraudulent money transfers, and is quick to recognize questionable activity. Scammers will tell you they don’t want to use Western Union because of the high fees associated with the transfer. But it’s really because they know the company closely monitors transactions more now than in the past. That’s due in large measure because of the $153 million it paid recently in a class action suit. In the settlement, Western Union agreed to “create a strong, anti-fraud program. Western Union also admitted to criminal violations in its settlement with the Department of Justice.” In the past, scammers had unfettered access to make transfers of cash.

I want to say before I close that romance scamming isn’t new. It’s been around for as long as there has been romance. The newness relates to the means of delivering the scam: the use of technology. But scammers use heart strings to get people’s money going back several decades. Even before the internet when mail order brides were a big thing even as far back as the 1920s. While some of those foreigners were seeking legitimate love interests, a large number of them were only interested in getting money. The men were so eager to find love, they spent lots of money. I once read about a foreign “bride” who feigned interest in a gentleman and convinced him of some financial obligations or asked him to send money for the plane ticket. Then just like the scammers do today, once they get their money, they vanish.

Wire transfers became widely used in the late 1800, and telegrams were used to send money from one person to another.  It wasn’t instantaneous like it is today. Transfers could days, weeks, or even months. But, it was innovative and exciting for people at that time. Romance scams of yesteryear could take a very long time to orchestrate, because the telegram or regular snail mail was the primary means of communication. Even with the invention of the telephone, and such a great communication tool it came to be, it was cheaper to send a telegram than to place a long distance phone call. Consequently, scammers were skilled at the art of romancing their target over long periods of time. I surmise the script and online playbook scammers use today followed the same menu as they used a hundred years ago.

Like they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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I’m Sorry

What’s so hard about acknowledging your mistakes and apologizing when you’re wrong? Some people own up to things instantly, but there are people who act as though they’ll just die if they apologize. I am one who will accept my part in things that go wrong and I’ll apologize. You don’t even need to always bring it to my attention. If I see it myself (and I usually do see it myself), I’ll be proactive and apologize.

An associate of mine isn’t like that. We recently had a conflict and that person spoke offensively to me and said some unkind things. I was shocked. Well, let me say I was shocked but not shocked. I’m not shocked they behaved that way, as I’ve see them act as such toward others – or express that they would act that way if someone rubs them the wrong way. But the thing that shocked me is that they spoke to me that way. I didn’t think their behavior was warranted. My conflict resolution skills are very good. So, I’m super confident in saying I never give anybody a reason to act ugly toward me. If you really know me well, you know this to be true. Sometimes I’m a little goofy. Sometimes, you might even call me weird. Hell, my own momma would sometimes say those things about me, and I was her favorite person on earth. I can hear my momma’s spirit saying right now as she reaches out to give me a hug, “You’re a strange child.”  That’s what she said when she found out I had begun a vegetarian diet.

Anyhow, I digress.  You might say those things about how persnickety or idiosyncratic I am, but you won’t have people tell you truthfully that I was mean to them. So, that’s why I say I was shocked this colleague spoke to me so unprofessionally. This person was accusing me of deliberately being misleading on a workplace policy matter. I might get a little laxed on social media, just like I might get laxed with missing typos online. (I have written about that before). (I have written about that before). But I don’t give out improper guidance at work. I guess that’s why I have a reputation of being super resourceful and helpful. People are always saying, “Go ask Will. He’ll know.”  Even people I don’t know look to me to help them, so I go out of my way to give the best possible guidance, and when I don’t know or if I’m not absolutely certain, I’ll tell people to let me go check and I’ll get back to them.

So, for this colleague to say I was misleading was a slap in the face. The person pouted, poked out their lips, and stormed away. Fast forward several hours, that employee brought me a diet strawberry kiwi Snapple tea from the cafeteria and their whole demeanor and temperament had deescalated —-  way, way down. They told me they bought it and didn’t  realize it was diet and they thought I would like it. I was gracious and thanked them for it. Perhaps that was their way of apologizing. That 180 in behavior and offering me a treat they know I enjoy spoke volumes. I suspect it was easier to give me that treat.

Listen up people. It’s never necessary to spend money on me if you were ever less than kind and you want to make amends. Yes, I love treats, and it’s okay to offer one to me. But it’s not necessary if you ever hurt me. Just say something like I’m sorry, I apologize, my bad, or I made a mistake, or anything else with a similar meaning. It doesn’t need to be a huge undertaking. Just do it. Showing even a tiny bit of remorse means the world to me.

I always think of the Anita Baker song, I apologize, when I think of this topic. Just apologize and keep it moving.

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Faux Pas

Nowadays, many companies offer a rewards program. It varies from one to the next, but basically, as a member of the program you earn points for every dollar you spend. Sometmies  you must proacively register while other times, you get automatically registered when you place your first order and acrue points with subsequent orders.

One company in question sent me an email the other day thanking me for my order and for signing up for its rewards program. I scratched my head, cause I hadn’t placed any order with that particular company in more than a year. I initially thought it might be a technical glitch or perhaps a hacker might have accessed the account and made an order in my account using my rewards points without my consent or knowledge. The former has been known to happen.

A few months ago, I got an email from Amtrak confirming my purchase was successful and I was able to complete the redemption of my points for my trip. I redeemed those points back in December for my upcoming trip in July. Later that day, Amtrak sent an email advising that it was a technical error sent to all Amtrak registered customers and that no authorized redemption had taken place. Whew! I was worried there for a moment.

Fastforward to now, I was thinking this other company might have encountered something similar. But when I didn’t get a retraction email, I began to think that might not be the case, and that maybe my account encountered unauthorized access. So what did I do? I emailed the company. A day later a customer service representative responded and advised that the email in question was sent out to all account holders as a courtesy as a way to say thanks. Reading that email, it wasn’t written very well, and it implied that I had just now registered. It didn’t read like a message sent out to all customers generically.

That message confirms for me how important communication really is, especially communication in written form. It’s always easy to misunderstand a person’s words. If the words are spoken to you and you misinterpret the message, you and the other person may disagree with one another and the two of you could banter about what they think they said and what you think you heard and what the intended meaning of the message might have been. But when it’s written, you can produce that message and show it to the other person. When you show someone their message, there is little room for dispute.

In my professional messages, whether at work or communications I write with civic groups I’m in (especially when I serve in those groups in a professional capacity), I try to make sure messages are gramattically correct and convey the intended meaning. I’m sometimes not as careful on social media though. Sometimes when I’m scrolling up or down a page and see things I posted, I cringe when I see a typo. It’s funny to my how those errors are so glaring when I scroll past them the second time around but I never see them initially even after I review and re-review a message several times before posting. After you post a message on Twitter (a Tweet), its there, so if I see a mistake later, it’s there forever. But with Facebook or Instagram, the posts I make are editable. Even comments I make on Facebook for my own posts or on the posts I’ve made on the posts of others are editable. Not so on Instagram. Although the initial post is editible, any subsequent comments you make whether on your oen post or the posts of others are permanent. I see my mistakes a lot. When I can I fix it if I see it. It’s okay if I don’t see it myself, because there is often an English professor (that’s what I call them) who love to point out your errors.

In a roundabout way, I’m trying to say how I get lazy with communication online, but I take it serious with professional messages. It is crucial to communicate effectively. If that company had made it clear in the initial mass mailing, I wouldn’t have wasting that anxious energy worrying if my account was compromised. I also wouldn’t have wasted my time (or the company employee’s time) asking if it was a mistake. I suspect I wasn’t the only one to ask. If several other customers inquired, just imagine all the employee time wasted addressing it. That could be what prompted Amtrak to send out that retraction email. If they hadn’t, I surely would have eventually inquired

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Everything happens for a reason

Source: Adobe Stock

I believe wholly that things happen for a reason. We may not always realize when we’re doing it what that reason may be. Sometimes we realize the reason instantly, and for other things we may never realize the reason. But always there is a purpose. A friend of mine, whom I’ll call Don (a pseudonym), was telling me a story about a gold necklace with a crucifix he received for his birthday. He showed it off while we sipped tea at Starbucks. Well I had tea, green tea to be exact (My friend had some sort of iced latte topped with whipped cream.), but I digress.

So, Don was raving about his new jewelry, which did look nice around his neck. I always like a nice crucifix. I have one of my own I like to wear. I encouraged Don to write a review since he liked it so much. That’s something he says he doesn’t normally do. I don’t blame him. I once had a bad experience with a review I wrote for JC Penny. If you routinely read my articles here, you may recall reading it. If not, feel free to visit it and check it out here. My friend doesn’t like writing reviews for companies. But he decided instead to write it up and post it on his social media pages, something else he seldom does; but he did so proudly and included several nice photographs showing different poses from different angles.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. One of Don’s connections who happens to be a physician specializing in dermatology saw the post and privately messaged him. Dr. Friend (also a pseudonym) thought a mark he noticed on Don’s neck looked concerning and urged Don to have a doctor check it out. It turns out the mark was cancerous, desmoplastic melanoma. I won’t pretend to act like I know much about that. The only cancer I understand is the one my mother had, multiple myeloma. I had to look up desmoplastic melanoma after Don told me about it. Don is fortunate on two points. First, desmoplastic melanoma is very rare but is highly curable – IF caught early. Second, thanks to Dr. Friend, he alerted Don, and it was indeed caught early. Now, Don is being treated and is expected to make a fully recovery with no complications.

You never know the outcome of the things that you do. Don doesn’t normally write reviews, and he seldom posts personal things on social media. He normally uses his social media accounts to keep up-to-date and share news on politics, movies, music, current events, and all the things going on in the world. Thankfully, one of the few times he shared personal musings it led to an early diagnosis of his desmoplastic melanoma.

Don invited Dr. Friend and I out to dinner as his way to say thanks. He thanked Dr. Friend not only for quickly recognizing the cancerous spot on his neck but for also speaking up and saying something. He thanked me for encouraging him to make a post about his chain and crucifix, for had Don not posted it, Dr. Friend wouldn’t have seen the cancerous spot. I’m glad the way things turned out.

As we exited the restaurant, Don began singing the Happy song (Pharrell Williams), and Dr. Friend and I sang along too.

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Blood Oranges

When I was a kid, one of my favorite treats to share with my mom was blood oranges. As an aside, there are certain things I loved snacking with mom, and other different things I snacked with dad. Mom and I enjoyed snacking on these blood oranges, Nabisco Ginger Snaps, kumquats, pork rinds, and UTZ potato sticks. She’d drizzle a little hot sauce over the pork skins and potato sticks. I liked that too. The ones that you could buy that were spicy weren’t as good. They were too salty…..they still are today. Dad and I enjoyed Vienna Sausages, Ritz Crackers, Pringle Potato Chips, watermelon, and homemade pancakes. He made the best pancakes. I’m having a moment right now as I reminisce about them fondly, thinking about how much I miss them. But, I digress.

Regarding blood oranges, most people have never heard of them. A blood orange is merely an orange like any other orange, but the inner “meat” of it is a deep red color, almost the color of blood. That’s how their name is derived. They were always so sweet, juicy, flavorful – very tasty –  and I enjoyed sharing them with mom.

They’re not very ubiquitous. It’s hard to find them. We had them all the time when I was young. I can’t recall mom ever saying she had trouble finding them. But maybe that’s because at the time, I lived in Florida. Florida is a very citrusy state. You can find lots of fruits there that you might not easily find elsewhere in the country. Well, I found some in Whole Foods recently – in Maryland. It is more factually accurate for me to say I saw them online at Whole Foods in Marylad. I have gotten lazy and don’t go grocery shopping in person much anymore. I ordered them, and I was so excited.

When I emptied the shopping bag and saw them, I became almost giddy. Seeing them made me salivate the way I imagine that dog must have salivated when he heard Pavlov ring the bell. But, when I bit into it, I was sorely disappointed. That blood orange wasn’t as tasty as I remembered it to be. The flavor was blah. It wasn’t very sweet. There wasn’t the same level of juiciness. I thought perhaps they aren’t in season. But I checked multiple sources and discovered they are in season December through May. That’s when they’re at their best. The rest of the year, not so much. So, if these are the best, they must be horrible in August. For a moment, I thought of returning them to Whole Foods. But, the oranges aren’t spoiled or rancid. I just don’t enjoy them.

This is an excellent lesson in changing expectations. I can’t expect things to always remain the same. I don’t know whether fresh produce changes naturally over time or of it’s based on farming techniques or maybe climate change has something to do with it. Maybe it’s more about the farm from which the oranges are harvested, for Florida isn’t the only place to get these bad boys. They’re grown in several American states, and they are also grown internationally and imported. Whatever the reason, these blood oranges aren’t as appetizing as they were yesteryear. Possibly someone who has never eaten them might like them. They’ll have nothing to compare them with (no expectations).

As for me, I’ll pass. I probably won’t eat the rest of them and I also won’t return them to the store. If you were near me, I’d give them to you.

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Leadership 101

“The best part of leadership development is growth.”

I was in a leadership development seminar not long ago, and one of the challenges for the students in the class was to reflect on an occasion when a boss directed staff to do something that I thought was silly and ridiculous but then later realized there was a good reason for it and was for my benefit. I initially was resistant to that assignment and had trouble thinking of anything. It’s always easy to point at your boss and find fault. But after a short while, I thought of something.

Several years ago, I had a boss who required everyone to complete what she called a WAR, or Weekly Activity Report. She was the first boss I had when I began with my current employer in 2006. We were expected to submit a WAR via a SharePoint submission form, which included key achievements from the previous work week. At the time, the team was overtaxed and overburdened, and I thought it took up a lot of time when the work we did should have spoken for itself. I felt doubly annoyed by this tasking when I learned my boss didn’t always read those weekly WARs. Honestly, looking at it from the broadest vantage point, it didn’t really take up too much time at all. I also should confess that I was only annoyed by this tasking because other team members expressed their frustration about it. Peer pressure isn’t just for kids. Adults can be peer-pressured too.

I later learned why she had us do that WAR: to help us remember the work we performed more easily. It was crucial because at the end of the performance period, employees were expected to submit to their supervisor their accomplishments from the previous year. It wasn’t mandatory, but employees were highly encouraged to do so. They called it a Self-Assessment. Let me tell you how hard it is to recall all the things achieved over the past 12 months. It’s nearly impossible. Heck, I might even struggle to remember all the things I did this morning.

Those weekly WARs were critical in helping to jog my memory. I didn’t need to write a book in those WAR entries, but rather, merely note a list of key things – bullets – outlining broad points. They were important because, the Self-Assessment was key evidence if you didn’t agree with the performance rating you received at the end of the year. Your grievance/appeal of your rating would often not be taken as seriously if you hadn’t submitted that Self-Assessment. I’m thankful she had us complete that WAR. I soon realized it wasn’t just busywork. There was an essential purpose to it. That boss left and went on to greater things, but that was one of the key kudos I have for her leadership.

If you think it’s hard remembering all the things you did the past year, just imagine how hard it must be for your boss to remember everything you did and to remember everything each person on the team achieved over the previous year. They obviously can’t remember every little thing. Not only that, there also may be some tasks people accomplished that the boss might not even realize people accomplished. Those Self Assessments, fed by those WARs, were a key part of the performance review process.

So, the exercise in that seminar served two purposes for me. Number one, it helped me to take a step back and realize that sometimes, our bosses may have a reason for doing the things they do, even if we can’t see the reason. Number two, being I’m a boss myself, it helps me to pay attention to tasks that I give and has incentivized me to provide clarity to the assignments I task them, letting them know why it should be done. I know firsthand that when people understand why you ask them to do something, even if they think they shouldn’t be doing it, they tend to approach it more favorably and with a more positive attitude. I only wish I had taken the opportunity to thank that boss and to let her know how much I appreciated her for giving us that WAR tasking, even if I didn’t initially feel that way. It really saved my neck.

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Supreme Court Confirmations

I often have wondered why there is such scrutiny with regard to vetting Supreme Court nominees. Yeah, yeah, I know. The US Constitution codifies this process, but that doesn’t mean it has to make sense just because the Constitution says it’s so. It happens each time there is a new nomination. The confirmation hearings are always so grueling, uncovering all sorts of details from their past, much of which were already addressed previously, likely with each step forward in their careers. These distinguished individuals have served as lower court judges – sometimes for years and other times for a short duration. But either way, their judicial history is a matter of public record. It’s plain to see how they have handled certain issues and topics – whether they have been hard or lenient with certain types of legal  matters or whether they showed favor to one type of defendant over others, irrespective of whether those defendants were individuals or corporations. Their actions speak for themselves. But nonetheless, there’s still a lot of queries and questioning of these nominees.

We saw that with Justices Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch in recent years, and we’re also seeing it with Judge Jackson as she’s getting peppered with questions too during her confirmation hearing. I won’t say the questioning is irrelevant. The questions are indeed relevant. But, I would say they’re unnecessary.

I somewhat believe that tradition plays a large part of it. That’s how it’s been done – for decades – with persons nominated by the President. Maybe the detailed questioning is necessary for other nominees, like those nominated to a cabinet post or those whose appointment is for a fixed term, such as the FBI Director (which is 10 years) or the OPM Director (which is 4 years), for their past may not be directly linked to the position to which they were nominated. The questioning is crucial to understand how the nominee has handled or would handle certain situations and circumstances. But is it necessary for a Supreme Court nominee? I ask this question every time there is a new person nominated to the SCOTUS. I honestly don’t think they should have a hearing (with the nominee) at all. Let them banter and converse among themselves.

I’ve seen hearings in which they put the candidates through hell with the questions and what feels like attacks. The hearing for Justice Kavanaugh is a good example. A lot of time was spent questioning him about allegations about his past sexual harassment. They (the Senate Judiciary Committee) even brought in at least one of the accusers to testify at the confirmation. Bringing in external witnesses to such a hearing is not customary, just like it was when Anita Hill was called to testify when Justice Clarence Thomas was being vetted. It was anomalous then, and it still is today. It’s more unusual to have third party witnesses testify during a confirmation hearing than there is to not have one. I’d advocate not every having someone testify.  If it’s a show cause hearing to validate the commission of a crime, then by all means bring in anybody with pertinent information. But, I  don’t see much value in having witnesses to testify a confirmation hearing. Confirmation hearings are often a time to make candidates a little uncomfortable, and it all seems moot if they’re just going to confirm the nominee anyway. They confirmed Kavanaugh just like they confirmed Thomas.

I don’t expect there to be any procedural changes. They’re following the procedures as spelled out inArticle II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution. The rules are clear, but how the rules are applied can be left up to interpretation, like many of the things in the Constitution. That’s why we have all those Amendments. Ambiguous rules, or rules some people didn’t like, were modified. Perhaps this rule needs to be modified too. Maybe it should stay the same. But regardless, I think it ought to be discussed and considered. I’m probably in the minority on this. Most of my fellow Americans thrive on tradition. I guess that makes most of them conservatives?  Oh well, who likes labels anyway. I surely do not.

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On Being Cynt Marshall

I received another one of those friend requests from a fake bitcoin account. They are unrelenting. Some of them are real people doing the scamming while others are bot accounts set up to do so automatically, without human action but made to look like real people. I get about a half dozen requests each week; some weeks I get more, other weeks I get fewer than that. I of course merely delete them most of the time. But this particular one caught my attention. It caught my attention not because I recognized the picture, because I had no idea who it was. It caught my attention because, well I don’t know. There was something about the photo that didn’t look like it really belonged to the profile. I did my due diligence, performed a little research, and discovered my hunch was correct. Let that be a lesson to you, boys and girls. Always listen to that inner voice when it speaks to you. My paternal grandmother would say that it’s God guiding me. I’ll definitely accept that perspective. When you think it’s not right, you are probably correct. Don’t fall for it.

So anyhow, this fake bitcoin account was using the likeness of Cynt Marshall, Senior Vice President of HR and Chief Diversity Officer at AT&T. Cynthia Marshall, known simply as Cynt for short, likely has no idea her image is being used in this way. Maybe she does know. Someone in her circle may have brought it to her attention. I did a reverse image search the way the scammer-hunters do and the way they do on the television show Catfish.  I don’t normally do that. But I received a second request after having deleted the first one. I got curious, so while watching Jeopardy, I reversed searched the photo, and it was just as I thought. Someone, probably in one of those foreign scam call centers (or the home of one of their mules someplace in the United States) took Cynt’s photo and attached it to a different identity. The most common scam call centers are in India and Nigeria. But they can be in any location. I don’t advocate taking the time to research all requests that you get. I certainly don’t research them all. I get far too many to do that. The best thing to do is to just delete them. Don’t fall for it.

 

 

 

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Dreams Revisited

I love thinking about and dissecting my dreams, those that I can remember that is. Some people keep pen and paper by their bedside to make note of their dreams. I used to use the voice recorder on my phone for that. Maybe I need to start doing that again. I have written about dreams in the past in an article titled I Dreamed A Dream as well as Dreams, Dreams, and More Dreams. It’s interesting to go back and look at the writings I made about them.

I recently had a dream about Bill Gates. It was very weird. Imagine that all throughout your life and your day-to-day coming and going, there was  a camera following you around to capture it. Well, that’s how my dream was. I was watching little Bill grow up along with his two sisters. The funny part is, this dream, unlike any of the other dreams I’ve ever had, was in black & white. Where does that happen? All of my dreams are in color, except for this one. I looked up in my dream interpretation resources what it means to dream in black and white. They all agree that sometimes black and white dreams show up if you are emotionally detached from what is going on in the dream….that you are not in it and are not interacting with any of the people in the dream. Specifically, it says, “If you are dreaming in black and white, it means that you are viewing the dream as an observer, and not experiencing the events first-hand. It represents distance from you and the emotional events you see happening.”

Well darn it. That’s true in this instance. Although I have had dreams about others that I myself wasn’t in, this is the first one I had that wasn’t in color. It’s bizarre that I dreamed (or do you prefer to say dreamt) about Mr. Gates, including the time period when his company, Microsoft, was founded. There was even a part dealing with that controversy surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine. I felt like I was watching a Bill Gates biopic. Isn’t that funny?

I’m not sure how much of my dream was fictionalized. But it was surely interesting. If I could, I’d watch it again.

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Head Trauma Can Linger

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 03, 2021: Bob Saget attends the Women’s Guild Cedars-Sinai Annual Gala at The Maybourne Beverly Hills. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

I was reading with great sadness about the incident surrounding the death of Bob Saget. Evidently he bumped his head, and he died after he lay down and went to sleep following his injury. That’s something I have often worried about with myself. I recall bumping my head on a few occasions, once quite seriously on a cabinet door and then staying up all night. I had thought going to sleep is never good after head trauma. “You should always avoid the prone position when you bump your head until the injury heals,” I thought. But after doing research on the matter, that doesn’t matter at all, unfortunately.

I have read one research study after another and still another indicating death following a head injury serious enough to cause TBI, or traumatic brain injury, can come months or even years after the injury. The passing of time before sleeping does not protect you following head injuries. According to the Brain Injury Association, persons experiencing TBI can die a decade or more after the injury, even without any symptoms that anything is wrong.1

The medical journal, Brain, reports similar findings. The mortality rate increases exponentially with the greater severity of the injury. 2   Refraining from going to sleep has no bearing. So, my decision to stay awake after my injury didn’t make any difference. The scariest part is, even in those patients who immediately sought medical treatment following an injury didn’t fare much better. With or without treatment, those who suffered serious head trauma still faced death, sometimes years later yet attributed to that early head injury. 3

It paints a dark picture. That’s a reason why insurance companies assess athletes as high risk and charge higher premiums for life insurance.  After all the things I read on the subject this evening, I understand the necessity for wearing a helmet while biking, playing football, rollerblading.

As an aside, when I was a kid and watched summer Olympic games with my dad, I always wondered why the boxers wore protective padding on their heads. I thought they were soft and weak. As I got older, I began to realize the importance of protecting your head, and the padding is ideal protection. Muhammed Ali’s neurological troubles and mental declines related to his Parkinson’s diagnosis were attributed to his head trauma while boxing, and the systems typically don’t present until years later.

Even though medical treatment didn’t prevent the long-term consequences in all cases, the medical community is in agreement that you don’t do yourself any favors by not seeking medical attention – pronto – following an injury. I didn’t seek a doctor’s care when I bumped my head those times. But I’ll surely do so if I hurt my head in the future.

WORKS CITED:

1   https://www.biausa.org/professionals/research/tbi-model-systems/causes-of-death-following-1-year-postinjury-among-individuals-with-traumatic-brain-injury-tbi

2 https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/130/10/2520/374210

3 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-head-injuries/mild-head-injuries-linked-to-risk-of-death-years-later-idUSBREA2R1V820140328

 

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