Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

Culture War: A Sense of False Security

Posted by Lex Fear on February 16, 2008

What’s the deal with corporate security procedures when dealing with customers these days? Is it just me who finds most of them not only tedious and unnecessary but actually not very secure at all?

Take Zopa for example. If I forget my password then I have to go through a 7 step procedure to offer my email, name, postcode, dob, first school and place of birth. All of these are public information that can be found by doing a bit of digging. This is just to get Zopa to email you the link to the password reset form. So if someone did get hold of all this information and input it into the webform, they would still have to bypass my gmail security to get the password reset email. What does this mean? In reality it’s Google doing the security part, Zopa is simply offering an overly elaborate stalling tactic.

Even then, is your password even safe? Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror demonstrates that simply using "Password1!" as your password is more secure and infinitely harder to crack than something like "saMejus9" which can be cracked in 140 seconds! And yet, some websites don’t even allow you to use special characters such as !&$~% for your password.

So I’ve started taking my own subversive tactics, from things I’ve picked up from various sources to my own twisted paranoia, that I use daily in the culture war that is being waged against us by the government and corporations through passive and predatory systems.

Who Am I Talking To?

Lately, I’ve found banks and untility companies call me up and attempt to use a faux security procedure to verify who I am. This is one of the dumbest layers of security you can imagine because it achieves exactly the opposite, namely:

  1. Anyone can call your number out of the blue and say they are from Bank or Utility X and want to make sure you are who they say you are. Once they have this vital information they can call the real Bank or Utility X and get easy access to your account.
  2. Why call your number to speak to you if they’re not sure it’s you? You don’t walk into a Utility X branch and ask the teller to verify you’re standing in Utility X do you?

My tactic is to absolutely refuse to do this. You’re protecting your own interests here. When they say "I just need to verify it’s Mr Fear I’m talking to…" and then ask for my DOB or some other detail, I ask them if this is Utility X and how can I be sure. If they stay on the line then I’ll simply ask them for the same details: "You tell me my DOB/Postcode etc…" If they refuse to do this then I simply tell them I can’t trust them to be from Utility X and hang up.

The only time I’ll comply is when I’m expecting them to call me. Eg. I rang up and told them to call me back.

Who Are They Selling My Data To?

I recently discovered a neat trick for use with my Googlemail account (I have no idea whether it works with other email accounts). If you have a gmail account dots (.) and anything after a plus (+) in your username are ignored.

alexfear@gmail.com can become:

  • alex.fear@gmail.com
  • a.l.e.x.f.e.a.r@gmail.com
  • alexfear+blog@gmail.com

This is useful when signing up with services online. You can set your email client or googlemail account to filter any email sent to these addresses into different folders. It will then be easy to see which companies are selling your details to spammers.

My Mother Was Glad She Married

As discussed above, details such as your mothers maiden name, first school and so on can easily be found after a little digging, which is why when I’m asked to provide these on signing for a new service, I like to be a little creative (and get a laugh at the same time). That’s why my mothers maiden name could be:

  • Ineverhadamother
  • Imanorphanyouinsensitivedolt
  • Sorrycouldyourepeatthat

In reality you can use creative lines for any kind of password. Try to imagine someone asking you the question over the phone and saying back the line with an inflection making the call-handler do a double take.

If you’re signing up with a human, and they tell you, you can’t use that as your mothers maiden name, lower your tone and reply deadly serious "That is my mothers maiden name."

Cash For No Questions

Yep, paying by cash for services. Sounds like conspiraloonery now, right? Well how about if I told you that when you buy a TV (or anything capable of picking up a TV transmission such as a computer) by credit or debit card, that your data is passed on to Crapita Business Services Ltd, who then file it in their database and cross-reference it to see if you have paid their extortion TV licence fee. This is regardless of whether or not you will use it, or if you are a non-Television owner who bought it for a family member or such.

When you pay by cash for an item like this, they will ask you for your name and address details. Give them a false one instead if you value your privacy, don’t trust these companies to act lawfully or ethically. I could be wrong but the law only states they must pass on your details to Crapita, not that you have to supply the correct details.

Junking the Junkers

Remember the days before spam, when junk mail was all you had to worry about. There’s little fight back against spammers but there is something you can do to waste time and hurt the finances of junk mailers.

A lot of junk mail comes with a prepaid 1st or 2nd class franked envolope. When you get one of these, strip all your junk mail of identifying details and numbers (tear bits off if you need to) then stuff as much of it as possible into the envelope, including the original envolope and whilst ensuring it can still be sealed. Then post it.

I have no idea of the estimated cost of processing return mail for a company, but if you add it to the cost of disposing ofyour envelope and frustration for the person who’s job is to process the replies, you’re getting a small ounce of satisfaction. If everyone did this I can imagine that the cost would start to run pretty high.

I particularly enjoy sending a heavy reply envelope packed with junk, because there’s always the possibility they will be asked to go to the despatch office and pay extra for an overweight letter.

Your Dog Has Expensive Tastes

I haven’t done this but apparently it works for trees too. Apply for credit cards using your pets names’. Run up huge bills and simply don’t pay.

References

If you’re too shy to use some of these tactics but would like to, then there are sometimes other ways of making you talk getting what you need. I can’t promise the usefulness of the links below but they do contain a lot of information and support:

Rip-off Britain is a useful site for consumers with help and guidance in getting your money back and dealing with unscrupulous cowboy companies.

Consumer Action Group offer similar support as Rip-off Britain and is mostly forum based.

Bug Me Not claim to offer registrations for websites that force you to register, they also share discount codes and disposable email addresses.

The Consumerist has a Guide to Fighting back (article linked).

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6 Responses to “Culture War: A Sense of False Security”

  1. Ken said

    I love your idea about sending those reply envelopes back full of their own junk, stripped of personal information. But I hope your suggestion about signing up for credit cards in a pet’s name was tongue-in-cheek, otherwise it’s credit card fraud, which can be a felony.

  2. Alex Fear said

    Hey Ken, I’d advise people to take as tongue-in-cheek, I don’t want to encourage them to break the law. However I would add as an aside that many of these banks, particularly the global conglomerates are always actively find ways around local legislation by lobbying or darker means and will only obey the law in the local economy of which they operate. One only has to look at the scandals like Enron and financial activity in the Cayman Islands to see that the love of money is what these institutes are motivated by.

    I don’t like the fact that these banks can purchase my data and then send me unsolicited junk as well as use it to build a profile and at the same time decide on where and when I can spend my money. I don’t like the way that these companies can hook vulnerable people on debt and then force them to become modern day equivalent of slaves (for more info read ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’ by Clason).

    So I’m not going to weep if banks lose money in this way, actually quite the opposite.

  3. Ken said

    I guess I’m not as bitter since my bank and credit cards actually pay me to use them. Since I never revolve a balance, I never pay interest, and since my cards have no annual or transaction fees, and I buy everything on credit (but then immediately pay it off), I consistently get free rewards out of them. Oh, and since I’m on the Do Not Call list, they can’t even solicit me by phone – it’s a $10,000 fine if they do – that’s what I call sticking it to the man! ;).

    So they can send me all the unsolicited mail they want; I’ll gladly spend 15 seconds putting it through the shredder for the convenience of being paid to use their cards. I just feel bad for the shmucks who get sucked into massive debt by the same system.

  4. Alex Fear said

    Ken,

    I speak as one of those ‘shmucks’ (but don’t worry no offense taken). I’m a lot better off now but 5 years ago during my last year of university I was right in the thick of IT bubble bursting (along with IT jobs), the property market taking off (threatening to leave people like me behind) and the prosperity gospel in full bloom.

    During my final year I struggled to make ends meet and was considering deferring my final term to work for a while and save money. Unfortunately I was talked out of it by a Christian friend who had fully bought into the prosperity/wealth creation pap and had just ‘bought’ her first investment property in the North of England. She advised me to take out credit cards since I’d be able to pay them back when I finished my study and got a well paid job.

    6 months later there are no IT jobs and I find myself even further in debt, just managing to stay out of the red on hand outs and being paid for by other friends, not even close to joining the great prosperity bandwagon.

    Now I look back and have learned much from the experience, I thank God for it. the experience taught – or rather drove – me to question financial data and trends. It taught me to properly understand markets and realise that the property boom was one huge bubble which we are now seeing deflate this current year, visible to anyone years ago who chose to engage their brain rather than their fear.

    That Christian friend who talked me into all that debt, did I mention she was a ‘missionary’. But she didn’t live on donations mind, instead she remortgaged every year the amount of money she needed to live on (read: spend on shoes) for the coming year. That ‘investment’ she bought into, it ended up costing her £10,000. I don’t know what’s going on with her now because she left the church along with most of the ‘mafia’ when our pastor was forced to resign when he was found committing adultery.

    I realise this has digressed somewhat from discussion of credit cards and junk mail but perhaps it’s worthwhile seeing where I come from to understand why I feel the way I do about these things. It’s been somewhat therapeutic for me too.

    I guess to sum up, 5 years ago I was naive and easily swayed by false prophets profits, yet the financial institutions were happy to lend me as much as I asked for. About the time I started getting wise to what was going on was about the time they didn’t want to lend out anymore and left me up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

    I’m not bitter, but if anything – God willing – I hope my experience can help others in the same situation. I hope that I can share my understanding as much as possible because I was lost but now I am found.

    I have nothing but contempt for financial institutions, though I begrudgingly accept that I must dance with the devil in order to conduct my affairs. However I continue to hold them to account with the little power I have as a Christian and a citizen.

  5. Ken said

    (after removing foot from mouth) I’m glad that you were able to get past those mistakes and take something good out of them. I certainly better understand your antipathy to the credit industry now!

    God bless!

  6. Wonderful post – I was heading for a similar article which I will probably still take a shot at, but from a slightly different angle. Thanks for sharing this with your readers…Obviously a lot of others appreciate it too!

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