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Thursday, September 17th, 2015 | Author:

Privacy, Time, Money

I don’t like debit orders. I’ve never liked the idea that another entity can, at will, take almost any amount of my money (well … whatever’s available). A colleague pointed out the issue with MTN would have been avoided had I been using a debit order. Maybe the “convenience” factor isn’t such a bad thing.

I suppose the penultimate question here is whether or not you want the convenience and can trust institutions (in this case with your money) – or if you can’t trust them and are willing to forgo that convenience. In my case, even though I still question the convenience, I learned the hard way with MTN that it doubly can be inconvenient to have your connected world reduced to “remote island” status. Almost everyone today goes with the convenience factor.

Convenience

On the other hand, now a long time ago, I had a dispute with Planet Fitness where convenience was a double-edged sword. I reported their business practice to the Consumer Complaints Commission (since re-organised as the National Consumer Commission) and never got feedback from them. The gist of the issue is that Planet Fitness’s sales agent lied to me and a friend in order to get more commission/money out of my pocket.

I’m a Discovery Vitality member which gives many benefits, including reduced rates on Premium brands – mostly health-related of course, as Discovery is a Medical Aid/Health Insurance provider. To put it simply, Discovery is awesome. Vitality’s benefits cover gym memberships which further includes Planet Fitness. You still have to pay something, a small token of sorts, to Discovery, for the gym membership. But, after all, they WANT me to be healthy, so they don’t mind footing the bulk of the bill. But, apparently, this means Planet Fitness’ sales agents don’t get the commission!

So what does this result in? The result is that PF’s sales agent gave me an inflated figure for a “Vitality-based” membership. He lied. He then had me sign on the dotted line for an inflated price of a “regular” membership (yes, it was actually more than even a regular membership would have cost), ending up about 4 and 5 times as much as the Vitality-based membership.

Epiphanies

Some time in 2011 I finally wisened up to the costs I was supposed to be paying. Discovery I am sure wouldn’t be too happy about this fiasco. I spoke to the Manager at the gym, and I was assured that the entire contract would be scrapped. I’m not one for violence … unless its for sport … in an Octagon … but after my 5th visit to the Manager to ask why the Debit Orders were still happening, he told me he was surprised I hadn’t brought weapons with me for the visit. After a few more visits, the Manager had actually left Planet Fitness and explained to me that the “contract” was between myself and Head Office and that the local gym, apparently a franchise-style operation, had little to no say about whether or not it could be cancelled. If Head Office said no, tough luck.

By this point I’d lost it. I had my bank put a stop to the debit orders. It was a huge schlep: I had to contact the bank every month because the debit order descriptions would change ever so slightly. It also cost me a little every couple of months to “reinstate” the blocking service. I can’t help but think the banking system supports regular expressions but the staff don’t necessarily know how to use it.

Technically I’m still waiting on the CCC to get back to me (never happened – and of course they were re-organised as mentioned above so the case probably fell through the cracks). Of course, by that point PF also wanted to blacklist me for not paying!

The Unexpected Hero

A haphazard mention of the issue to Discovery (I think I called them about a dentist visit) resulted in a callback by one of Discovery’s agents. They then asked me to describe the problem, in detail and in writing, to better explain from my perspective what had really happened. I obliged. It turns out I was right about them not being “too happy” about it. In fact they really didn’t like it. About three weeks later, Planet Fitness refunded me in FULL for all monies that had ever been paid to them.

Discovery is Awesome. 🙂

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Friday, August 21st, 2009 | Author:

Have we here a Facebook Stalker?!

Of great consideration to online privacy are facebook stalkers. If a stalker randomly manages to add a few of your friends and you have your Profile Privacy Settings allowing “Friends of Friends” to see everything then your stalker effectively has access to your profile even without having added you.

I’ve now adjusted my privacy settings more strictly and I’ve used the “See how a friend sees your profile:” tool to get an idea of how it changes things.

My “Basic” Information I had available to “Friends of Friends”. This includes “Gender, Birthday, Hometown, Political and Religious Views and Relationship Status” according to Facebook’s description. You might think it fair that friends of your friends have an idea of how you roll.

But can you trust all your friends anti-stalker spidey-senses?

I think NOT.

I previously had it that friends of friends can see my photos and videos but not much else. I’m thinking of changing that now too.

But wait, there’s More!

Further to this, we should be vigilant of “fake” Facebook profiles. Stalkers are usually apt enough to create more than one account with fake names. If you block one they create another and attempt to get a glance at your profile once more. I’ve created a friend group called “Privacy Pls”. This group is limited from being able to see anything other than a very basic page. This “basic” view is akin to when you first started using Facebook and didn’t know you could add lots of stuff in there (stuff you later realised you didn’t want anyway).

If someone adds me and I’m not absolutely sure who it is, I add them to my “Privacy Pls” group. Also if someone adds me and I don’t want to offend them by ignoring their invite I’ll rather add them to this group. Perhaps you feel you have a pervy boss for example.

But Wait! There’s More – and this time you can do it TOO!

To do this for yourself, go to your Friends page, click “Create New List”, and name it something appropriate – “Privacy Pls” in my case. Add the appropriate friends to this list now or add any future “suspect” friends to the group.

Next, go to the Profile Privacy Settings page. Underneath each section you will find a “Edit Custom Settings” button. Click the first one and, at the bottom of the dialog that pops up, you will find “Except these people”. Add your “Privacy Pls” group here. Do the same for all the sections you don’t want them to see. When done, use the “friend’s view” tool to confirm what is made available to persons on that list.

And the Friend-of-Friend Stalker?

To prevent your “Friend-of-Friend” Stalker from being able to see your profile, do yourself a favour and think very critically about what you want potential stalkers to be able to see. Now go change those Privacy Settings to “Only Friends”.

For the Photo Crazy

Check up on your Photo Album Privacy settings. This is set up much the same as your profile settings. Consider carefully who you want to be able to see which photo albums and adjust the permissions appropriately!

Your Personal Contact Information

Lastly, check up on your Contact Information: Click the “Profile” button towards the top left of the Facebook page to get to your profile. Then click on the “Info” tab within your profile. When you mouseover the Contact Information section you will see an “Edit” link pop up on the right. Click this button to start editing your details.

Next to each item you will find a “lock” icon. Click this lock to define further permissions for which friends are able to see the items. You’ve never give your address and phone details to a dodgy stranger you meet on the street. Why do we then go and give it away to everyone on the Internet. I recommend the following:

  • Allow “No one” on:
    • email address
  • Allow “Only Friends” on:
    • IM Screen Names
  • Remove completely or allow “No one” on:
    • mobile phone number
    • landline number
  • Limit the following:
    • address details – give your area or suburb – but NOT your full address

Hopefully we don’t all have to learn our lessons the hard way.

P.S. (especially to the guys and gals who have asked) I’ve been extremely busy these last couple of weeks. I have a lot of unedited content I’m hoping to make publishable very soon!

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Category: privacy, security  | Tags: , , ,  | One Comment
Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 | Author:
Who Rules?! Who Made this Awesome Image?!

Who Rules?!

When an artist has released his work (even as Creative Commons) and the IPTC / EXIF data is no longer in the image, how do you find out who the original artist is? All I have here is a difficult-to-read signature. 🙁

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Monday, April 20th, 2009 | Author:

I’m looking at the South African banking system (partly a result of watching the Zeitgeist “documentary”) and, after finding my bank implicated most with regards to the SA-Banking Competition Commission wikileaks scandal, I’m putting serious consideration into switching banks.

What ethical banks are out there right now? I’ve even looked into Sharia (Islamic) banking because of their strict ethics laws but even there I’m looking at even more unknowns. I’m not Islamic and I have nothing against funding pork-related activities.

On that note, do you know if your bank has a code of ethics? If they’re public, where can we see these ethics codes?

Tell me about service levels I haven’t heard of before and which bank you believe deserves to handle my money.

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Sunday, April 19th, 2009 | Author:

I think the Internet is a scary place. Yes, me. Some days I find myself horrified to find the lowliest of criminal bastards trying to steal our livelihoods.

Yes, people, there are criminals out there and they want your money or they want to use you to make money. What’s even more scary is the lengths to which they are willing to go, even risking YOU. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

I received an email saying that I was being offered a job as a “Regional Assistant” and, though the details weren’t given, the email suggested that it was a legitimate opportunity. I replied asking about where they’d received my details and also about what they would require of me.

Being the skeptic I am, I thought I could spot scammers a mile away. How fortunate that I can still laugh at the idea.

A few hours later, they replied indicating that I’d soon receive further instructions. They’d “probably” been referred to me by a friend and they had a pile of referrals and so couldn’t specify which friend had recommended me. I waited patiently and left it to the back of my mind. “They’ve probably found a good candidate already and I’ve lost out”, I thought. “How nice that a friend might refer me. Obviously I’m Awesome.” (and daft :-/)

So later on, I receive my email with my “further instructions”. This is where I finally realised that I was dealing with scammers:

Hi. We’d like to start a trial task. Our customer will make a bank transfer to you this week. Please go to our site <site omitted> to submit the banking details where the transfer will go to. Once we’ve established a good transaction history, you will receive between 2-3 transfers per week (amounts of about R10  000 each except the first trial transfers).
Please confirm that you can start. We don’t send any transfers to your account until we receive confirmation from you.
On Monday you will receive notification, detailed information and instructions regarding the transfers. Thank you and have a lovely weekend.

Say what??? I checked out the web site in question and, without a doubt, this is a money laundering scheme done by professionals. They know what they’re doing and they probably launder millions every month. What’s more is that, inevitably, they will screw you over and get the cops to arrest YOU. These criminals can leave evidence behind implicating you even if all you’ve done is diligently moved money from one place to another… and kept a small percentage for yourself. 😛

Money laundering is where illegitimate money (stolen, probably) is transferred via third parties to appear more legitimate. You’re an accessory to the crime and, even worse, you’re even likely to be the victim of it. Recognise when an opportunity is too good to be true. I was fooled for a short while. Next up, given that a victim might give out a lot of personal details, the scammers might steal your identity and start to implicate you in fraudulent activities without you ever having done a thing.

If you happen to have already given any details such as the above where they wanted my banking details, contact your bank and inform them of the situation. They will give you the best possible advice on what to do next. If you’ve already responded to the mail but haven’t yet already given them the information they want, don’t reply any further. I’d also suggest calling your local police for further advice.

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