Credit Freeze

A couple of years ago UnitedHealthcare was hacked and customer data was compromised. The company paid for credit monitoring and fraud alert and a bunch of other (probably) worthless stuff. That was my first encounter with a “credit freeze” which I put in place with all three of the credit reporting agencies. The freeze stays in place until I lift it.

I was thinking about this in light of the Equifax cluster fuck and came across a story explaining how these work:

“Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, place a lock on access to a borrower’s credit report. With a credit freeze in place, lenders and other companies cannot view the borrower’s credit. As a result, freezes prevent the consumer from gaining access to new loans, such as credit cards and mortgages, but they also keep fraudsters from opening new accounts in that person’s name. […] Credit freezes go further than either credit monitoring or alert by making credit reports inaccessible to lenders and others who might have an interest in viewing a consumer’s credit history.”

Here’s my favorite line from the article:

“Those who sell credit freezes don’t like them much. “Freezing your credit file is an extreme step that removes you from the credit marketplace,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education with the credit bureau Experian.”

Hey, Roger? Tough titty. I can say that because I’m well past the age where credit is important. (Yes, lucky me) And a credit freeze doesn’t protect you from everything. It’s probably like The Club… the crooks just move on to an easier target.

Eventually every hacker will have every piece of personal information on every person on the planet. It will be like all baseball card collectors having every single card for every team. Nobody to trade with.

Here’s a puzzler: have you ever heard of a member of Congress having their identity hacked? I haven’t either and perhaps that’s because such a breach would be kept very quiet. I like to think that it happens. I hope it happens.

Kennett’s Flying Bank Robber

In January of 1976 I was on the air (noon hour?) at KBOA in Kennett, MO, when the police scanner in the studio went nuts. Someone (dispatcher? patrolman?) was yelling that someone had robbed the bank and “took off in an airplane!”

I grabbed a cassette recorder and dashed out of the station, yelling for someone to go up and take over the live studio. I got to the small motor bank before the police and got a few minutes of audio with the teller who had been robbed.

Police showed almost immediately and made me get out. I was pumped because I had some good stuff. When I pulled the cassette from the recorder it was hopelessly wound around the roller and gears and shit. No way to salvage. I nearly wept. Instead, I hung around long enough to get a little more information and then headed back to the station where I did a quick ad lib report live and then started writing up the story.

The satellite image above tells you most of what you need to know. The pilot taxied the small plane out to A where pilots always stopped to let their engines warm up before take off. He slipped out and ran across the highway to the small motor bank (Bank of Kennett). This was a tiny little facility. Room for maybe two tellers and a little lobby (6×10?) separated by glass and a door. The way I remember the story, he asked the teller for a chair and she opened the door to hand him one (he said he was waiting for a friend). He stuck a gun in her face, got the cash ($24K) and boogied back across highway (about 100 yards) and took off into the sunset. He was also charged with “interstate flight.” The FBI arrested 39 year old Dennis R. Holmes a few weeks later in Phoenix.

According to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (PDF), Joseph Appleyard, chief pilot at Dolphin Aviation in Sarasota, taught Holmes to fly a few months earlier. “He didn’t see like my average bank robber,” Appleyard said. Holmes rented the plane (in Sarasota) on the Thursday before the robbery, flew to Kennett on Saturday.

The plane was tracked on radar by the nearby Air Force base in Blytheville, AR, but lost him when it put it on the deck and disappeared. He had a range of about 700 miles.

Mr. Holmes was also arrested for holding up a bank in Arcata, CA in February (PDF). He fled in a car but quickly transferred to a small plane. He was also a suspect in a $55K stickup the previous October in Michigan. In that one the robber held up the bank just as the high school homecoming parade was about to begin, and he melted into the crowd.

If you’re out there, Dennis… if you’re reading this… how about an interview to make up for the one that got away?

Rise of the Robolawyers

From an excellent piece in The Atlantic by Jason Koebler:

In the past year, more than 10 major law firms have “hired” Ross, a robotic attorney powered in part by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence, to perform legal research. Ross is designed to approximate the experience of working with a human lawyer: It can understand questions asked in normal English and provide specific, analytic answers.

Beyond helping prepare cases, AI could also predict how they’ll hold up in court. Lex Machina, a company owned by LexisNexis, offers what it calls “moneyball lawyering.” It applies natural-language processing to millions of court decisions to find trends that can be used to a law firm’s advantage. For instance, the software can determine which judges tend to favor plaintiffs, summarize the legal strategies of opposing lawyers based on their case histories, and determine the arguments most likely to convince specific judges. A Miami-based company called Premonition goes one step further and promises to predict the winner of a case before it even goes to court, based on statistical analyses of verdicts in similar cases.

A Silicon Valley startup called Legalist offers “commercial litigation financing,” meaning it will pay a lawsuit’s fees and expenses if its algorithm determines that you have a good chance of winning, in exchange for a portion of any judgment in your favor.

A company called Clause is creating “intelligent contracts” that can detect when a set of prearranged conditions are met (or broken). Though Clause deals primarily with industrial clients, other companies could soon bring the technology to consumers. For example, if you agree with your landlord to keep the temperature in your house between 68 and 72 degrees and you crank the thermostat to 74, an intelligent contract might automatically deduct a penalty from your bank account.

Wealthy LA convicts can upgrade to nicer jail

Wealthy LA convicts can spend extra to serve their time in fancy jails

If some California inmates are not happy with their jail conditions, those who have money to spare can pay for an upgrade. Two counties in Southern California have at least 26 such “pay-to-stay” jails, a joint collaboration between The Los Angeles Times and The Marshall Project found.

Starting at $25 and going up to $251 a night, the program allows certain inmates to move into a “less intimidating environment,” as one jail in Santa Ana advertises on its website. The conditions differ from an eight-person dorm to one cell with two beds, a television, a phone and a separate refrigerator. The average inmate stayed in one of the rooms for 18 days, the Los Angeles Times and The Marshall Project reported.

Southern California’s “pay-to-stay” jail system, which brought in up to $7 million between 2011 and 2015, started in the 1980s as a way to fight overcrowding in the region’s jails.

A profile on every American adult

idiCORE combines public records with purchasing, demographic, and behavioral data and has built a profile on every American adult. (Bloomberg)

“Personal profiles include all known addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses; every piece of property ever bought or sold, plus related mortgages; past and present vehicles owned; criminal citations, from speeding tickets on up; voter registration; hunting permits; and names and phone numbers of neighbors. The reports also include photos of cars taken by private companies using automated license plate readers—billions of snapshots tagged with GPS coordinates and timestamps.”

Prison Radio

This might be an over-simplification but Prison Radio appears to be short (2-3 minutes) recordings made by prison inmates. I’m assuming these are made from phone calls the prisoners are allowed to make. That’s make take on the what, your guess is as good as mine on the ‘why’ but I’m assuming the idea is to give a voice to the incarcerated.

One of the prisoners recording these commentaries is James Keown. Mr. Keown is from Jefferson City, MO, the town where I live. In 2008 he was convicted of murder for poisoning his wife with Gatorade spiked with antifreeze. He’s serving a life prison sentence in Massachusetts.

In one of his three commentaries (Who Are You?) he describes being on the air at one of our local radio stations when, during a commercial break, he was arrested. I briefly met Keown a couple of times but didn’t know him.

I find these commentaries bizarre in a way I can’t quite put into words. Perhaps it’s the distinctive “announcer voice” Keown uses when making the recordings.

Missouri Death Row Audio

In the late ’90s I created a website called MissouriDeathRow.com. A Missourinet reporter had served as a witness (while covering) of every execution going back to 1989. There was no death row website because a) the web was still pretty new at the time and b) the Missouri Department of Corrections went to some lengths to avoid the term “death row,” even though prisoners sentenced to — and awaiting — execution were housed together.

At each execution, a packet of information was handed out to reporters and a stack of those were gathering dust in the Missourinet newsroom. News Director Bob Priddy and I began putting that information online and it quickly became the de facto site for information about capital punishment in Missouri. I maintained the site until I retired in 2012.

The site included a page with some of the history of capital punishment, including audio recorded by Missourinet reporters. As of this writing, much of that audio is no longer available on the site. The site was moved a few times, different servers, different platforms… files get misplaced or lost. My buddy Phil Atkinson did his best to find some of those and I’ve archived them here.

Missouri hasn’t executed anyone in a couple of years but they had quite run at one point. The audio includes post-execution news conferences, interviews with victims’ families, opponents and proponents, and the condemned.

Live-streaming body cam video

bodycam“Taser plans to roll out live-streaming capabilities in 2017, and he expects facial recognition to become a reality someday so agencies can query police records or social networks in real time. An officer could patrol the Las Vegas Strip with a camera streaming to the cloud, “and there is real-time analysis, and then in my earpiece there is, ‘Hey, that guy you just passed 20 feet ago has an outstanding warrant.’”

Or that the guy you pulled over because he has “a wide nose” has NO outstanding warrants.

“The basic Axon camera must be activated manually, but departments can buy Axon Signal, which activates the device automatically in certain situations, such as when an officer flicks on the light bar on his car. For $10 per officer per month, another Taser service links Evidence.com files with existing dispatch and records software, so officers no longer need to individually tag files for retention or risk having an untagged file automatically deleted.”

Story at Bloomberg