Senior Musings April 2014

Posted 03.31.14

No Free Lunch

Notorious TV huckster Kevin Trudeau has been sentenced to ten years in prison for criminal contempt for violating a 2004 federal court order prohibiting him from making misleading infomercials and misrepresenting his book, The Weight Loss Cure They Don't Want You to Know About. Since 2004, he aired the infomercial more than 32,000 times and sold 850,000 copies of the book.

You may not have been caught by this scam, but chances are you’re succumbing to all kinds of other scams, including ways that thieves could be stealing from you.

And even if you don't think you're at risk, you probably ought to share this column with your friends and family.

A few questions to begin:

1. Is your primary e-mail with gmail, yahoo, or another free ISP?

2. Do you ever publish cartoons, drawings, or logos on your website without obtaining permission?

3. Do you send cartoons, anecdotes, or greetings with embedded graphics that you receive from someone else to friends and relatives?

4. Do you tell your Facebook friends when you're planning a trip, or post photos from your travels on social media?

5. Do you leave your cellphone on when you're out and about, except in theatres where you're specifically asked to turn it off?

6. Do you automatically click on any URL sent to you by a friend or relative?

7. Do you rush to take advantage of any free offer you hear about on TV, online, or see in print?

This isn't about Edward Snowdon's revelations and NASA spying on people. Rather, it's about how vulnerable all of us are to ongoing scams or to lawsuits stemming from copyright infringement.

Here are a few rules to consider:

1. Register your own domain name, and link your e-mail account to that. This keeps you from being vulnerable to the way ‘free’ services share your e-mail address, along with your preferences, shopping habits, and anything else you do online.

Another reason to link your e-mail to your website is that this is a permanent e-mail address, which will never change if you decide to change providers, or if your ISP is bought out by another. I'm always dismayed to see how many professional writers are using gmail or yahoo e-mail addresses.

2. Do not use cartoons, photos, or graphics from any source without obtaining specific permission. You don't want to be sued for copyright infringement. With the ease of forwarding e-mail attachments, your private holiday newsletter could be widely circulated.

3. Every time you forward a bulk message from someone else, especially if it contains a cartoon or embedded graphic, photo, video, or URL, you are exposing your e-mail address to potential spammers. These are not ‘free’ for anyone to use. Someone created these, and they have either been pirated or have been deliberately circulated widely in order to ‘scoop’ e-mail addresses.

4. Posting your location to Facebook at any time is dangerous. By letting everyone who sees your posts know that you're away, you're letting potential thieves know your home is unoccupied. Photos from your destination just reinforce this, and give scammers the opportunity to send the ‘I'm in trouble in a foreign country and need money’ e-mails to your entire address book.

The time to tell your Facebook ‘friends’ about your trip is after you return. But be careful about not adding information about where and when you're spending your next holiday.

5. Cellphones reveal your location. Do you want government agencies and corporations to track your every movement, know where you shop, where you grab a coffee, where you meet friends for dinner? How important is it to know the exact minute a phone call comes in? Unless you're expecting the arrival of a baby or a colleague you're meeting, turn off the phone, and check it only every hour or so to see if there are any messages.

6. Spammers and scammers are becoming much more sophisticated. They can now use ‘phishing’ techniques to send messages that appear to be from your e-mail address. Often the subject line looks innocuous: ‘This will interest you,’ or ‘Take a look at this.’ The key to identifying these is that the body of the message contains nothing but a URL. Nobody is going to send you a link without explaining why. So never click on these! If you have any doubts, e-mail the sender separately (don't hit reply!) and ask if he/she sent you a link. Chances are, this is either an ad for some product or a link to a malicious virus or Trojan Horse.

7. I've been delighted recently to see so many TV news shows include a segment about ‘as seen on TV’ gadgets, or have a consumer reporter who tells us if some of these advertised products really work. Before you send anyone your hard-earned money, wait until the item is available in stores. Discounts, free shipping, and ‘get two for the price of one’ offers are just ways to get you to buy on impulse. If the price is inflated to begin with, these offers are no bargain.

Now, back to the diet book and Kevin Trudeau's infomercials. I find it sad that so many prominent people who are familiar to us, most of them actors and actresses, but others who have even more impressive credentials, are shilling for some product or service.

Do I need to remind you that there is no miracle diet? No magic facelift without surgery, no special machine that can reshape your body without exercise, no miracle cure to back pain or any other common ailment?

Sorry, but the pundits were right: there is no free lunch.

Barbara Florio Graham has won awards for fiction, non-fiction, humor and poetry, and has written for magazines and newspapers across North America. The author of three books, Five Fast Steps to Better Writing, Five Fast Steps to Low-Cost Publicity, and Mewsings/Musings, she served as Managing Editor for Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List. Her website is: http://SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2014 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.14