How to Tell if Someone has Stolen Your Identity

On July 28, 2012, in Crime, Hacks, by Anthony Lake

Right now, someone could be using your identity to start a new credit card, to get a loan, to drain your checking or savings account.  In some cases, you might not find out about the theft for weeks, sometimes even months.  Unfortunately, the longer it takes to discover the crime, the more damage will be done and the harder it will be to rectify that damage.

Thankfully, there are some ways for you to detect identity theft before the problems progress too far.  Below are some of those methods.

  1. Errors on your credit report – By checking your credit report yearly, you’ll be able to determine if anyone is opening up accounts in your name without your permission. Otherwise, you may not learn there is a problem until you need to take out credit.

  3. Mail problems – One of the least-technological ways to commit identity theft is stealing mail.  If you aren’t receiving mail or if you aren’t getting items in the mail that you are expecting, such as credit card bills, then you may be a victim of identity theft.

  5. Being rejected for credit you didn’t request – As you may already know, if a creditor rejects your request for credit, he or she must send you a letter in the mail explaining the reason for the rejection.  If you begin getting these letters, but you haven’t been requesting credit, then that’s a good sign someone is using your identity.

  7. Being the victim of pretexting – Pretexting is a scheme involving the Internet or the telephone.  Someone contacts you claiming to be a legitimate organization’s representative, then they’ll ask for your personal information, possibly a PIN number or a checking account number.  If that has happened to you and you’ve given out that information, then there’s a good chance you’ll be a victim in the near future.

  9. Changes in your credit balances or checking account amounts – Unexplained changes in any of your financial accounts should be a big signal to you that something is not right.  That’s why it’s a good idea to check all of your balances weekly and compare them to your estimates.  As soon as you spot a discrepancy, you need to follow up with your financial institution.

  11. Being denied credit – Sadly, some people don’t discover they have been identity theft victims until they go to buy a car, get a second mortgage, or open a new credit card.  If you thought you had good credit but are getting denied, then it’s a good time to check your credit reports, even if you’ve already done your yearly check.

  13. Being contacted by debt collectors – When you start getting calls or letters about unpaid debts, which you don’t recall having, you should never automatically pay them. Instead, send a written request for more information about the debt.  By law, the creditor must supply you with this information.

  15. Having some types of spyware on your computer – While not all spyware leads to identity theft, you need to realize that it can pose a serious threat to your privacy.  Your passwords, credit card information, and online activities could have been monitored by unknown third parties, which leave you vulnerable to an attack.


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Art Theft: Most Famous Cases in History

On June 30, 2012, in Crime, by Anthony Lake

Art theft is an ancient and complicated crime. When you look at the some of the most famous cases of art thefts in history, you see thoroughly planned operations that involve art dealers, art fakers, mobsters, ransoms, and millions of dollars. Here you can read about some of the most famous cases of art theft in the history.

The First Theft

The first documented case of art theft was in 1473, when two panels of altarpiece of the Last Judgment by the Dutch painter Hans Memling were stolen. While the triptych was being transported by ship from the Netherlands to Florence, the ship was attacked by pirates who took it to the Gdansk cathedral in Poland. Nowadays, the piece is shown at the National Museum in Gdansk where it was recently moved from the Basilica of the Assumption.

The Most Famous Theft

The most famous story of art theft involves one of the most famous paintings in the world and one of the most famous artists in history as a suspect. In the night of August 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen out of the Louver. Soon after, Pablo Picasso was arrested and questioned by the police, but was released quickly.

It took about two years until the mystery was solved by the Parisian police. It turned out that the 30×21 inch painting was taken by one of the museum employees by the name of Vincenzo Peruggia, who simply carried it hidden under his coat. Nevertheless, Peruggia did not work alone. The crime was carefully conducted by a notorious con man, Eduardo de Valfierno, who was sent by an art faker who intended to make copies and sell them as if they were the original painting.

While Yves Chaudron, the art faker, was busy creating copies for the famous masterpiece, Mona Lisa was still hidden at Peruggias apartment. After two years in which Peruggia did not hear from Chaudron, he tried to make the best out of his stolen good. Eventually, Peruggia was caught by the police while trying to sell the painting to an art dealer from Florence, Italy. The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louver in 1913.

The Biggest Theft in the USA

The biggest art theft in United States took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. On the night of March 18, 1990, a group of thieves wearing police uniforms broke into the museum and took thirteen paintings whose collective value was estimated at around 300 million dollars. The thieves took two paintings and one print by Rembrandt, and works of Vermeer, Manet, Degas, Govaert Flinck, as well as a French and a Chinese artifact.

As of yet, none of the paintings have been found and the case is still unsolved. According to recent rumors, the FBI are investigating the possibility that the Boston Mob along with French art dealers are connected to the crime.

The Scream

The painting by Edvard Munchs, The Scream, is probably the most sought after painting by art thieves in history. It has been stolen twice and was only recently recovered. In 1994, during the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, The Scream was stolen from an Oslo gallery by two thieves who broke through an open window, set off the alarm and left a note saying: thanks for the poor security.

Three months later, the holders of the painting approached the Norwegian Government with an offer: 1 million dollars ransom for Edvard Munchs The Scream. The Government turned down the offer, but the Norwegian police collaborated with the British Police and the Getty Museum to organize a sting operation that brought back the painting to where it belongs.

Ten years later, The Scream was stolen again from the Munch Museum. This time, the robbers used a gun and took another of Munchs painting with them. While Museum officials waiting for the thieves to request ransom money, rumors claimed that both paintings were burned to conceal evidence. Eventually, the Norwegian police discovered the two paintings on August 31, 2006 but the facts on how they were recovered are still unknown.

As crime globalizes, so does crime fighting. Mobsters, serial killers, and terrorists cross state lines and borders effortlessly, making use of the latest advances in mass media, public transportation, telecommunications, and computer networks. The police – there are 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the Unites States alone – is never very far behind.

Quotes from the official Web pages of some of these databases:

National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC)

Its mission is to combine investigative and operational support functions, research, and training in order to provide assistance, without charge, to federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies investigating unusual or repetitive violent crimes. The NCAVC also provides support through expertise and consultation in non-violent matters such as national security, corruption, and white-collar crime investigations.

It comprises the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC), and Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP).

VICAP is a nationwide data information center designed to collect, collate, and analyze crimes of violence – specifically murder. It collates and analyzes the significant characteristics of all murders, and other violent offenses.

Homicide Investigation Tracking System (HITS)

A program within the Washington state’s Attorney General’s Office that tracks and investigates homicides and rapes.

Violent Crime Linkage System (ViCLAS)

Canada-wide computer system that assists specially trained investigators to identify serial crimes and criminals by focusing on the linkages that exist among crimes by the same offender. This system was developed by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in the early 1990s.

UTAP, stands for The Utah Criminal Tracking and Analysis Project

Gathers experts from forensic science, crime scene analysis, psychiatry and other fields to screen unsolved cases for local law enforcement agencies.

International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO) – Interpol’s DNA Gateway

Provides for the transfer of profile data between two or more countries and for the comparison of profiles that conform to Interpol standards in a centralized database. Investigators can access the database via their Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB) using Interpol’s secure global police communications system, I-24/7.

Interpol’s I-24/7

Global communication system to connect its member countries and provide them with user-friendly access to police information. Using this system, Interpol National Central Bureaus (NCBs) can search and cross-check data in a matter of seconds, with direct and immediate access to databases containing critical information (ASF Nominal database of international criminals, electronic notices, stolen motor vehicles, stolen/lost/counterfeit travel and ID documents, stolen works of art, payment cards, fingerprints and photographs, a terrorism watch list, a DNA database, disaster victim identification, international weapons tracking and trafficking in human beings-related information, etc).

Interpol Fingerprints

Provides information on the development and implementation of fingerprinting systems for the general public and international law enforcement entities.

Europol (European Union’s criminal intelligence agency) Computer System (TECS)

Member States can directly input data into the information system in compliance with their national procedures, and Europol can directly input data supplied by non EU Member States and third bodies. Also provides analyses and indexing services.

As these systems begin to merge, privacy concerns become ever-more looming. These systems will become more and more “access-level” based.

But who will watch the watchers?




Google is the Only Search Engine

On June 9, 2012, in Computing, Software, by Anthony Lake

I’ve been asked to explain which is my favorite search engine, so I will use this post to explain that, barring any other parameters, there is only candidate: Google.

There are certain government backed credit reporting agencies such as Lexis Nexis who keep complete dossiers on each person in the United States, perhaps on Earth.  Perhaps in the case of human data-mining investigations, Lexis Nexis would be a more efficacious search. But not a free search. And it’s not a general purpose search.

There are very few other exceptions, for instance, we cannot apparently collect Wal-Mart transaction data from Google, or other proprietary or specialized data, but I would argue that even most of the specialized data is found more readily on Google than anywhere else. For instance, there are real estate database – but Google is still more encompassing, faster, and free.

All other spiders contain only a subset of the data Google has, which contains most of the data published to the web since 1998 or so. It is likely that Google has other data as well, such as newsgroup, BBS, and certain ftp listings floating around there somewhere.

Perhaps there is an argument for some that, given the same data-set, some other search engine produces more aesthetic results, such as Bing, which has been accused on more than one occasion of  simply using a refinement algorithm to process Google’s results.  This may or may not be true, but since I am not averse to writing a decent query for Google, I am sticking with the ocean from which all those rivers flow.

Google is the only contender for fast, free, and complete.


Be Certifiable! The Basics Of MCSE And MCP

On May 29, 2012, in Computing, Education, Money, by Anthony Lake

It is not always who you know, but what you know. That is why obtaining Microsoft certification can be a valuable asset to your career. Of course, it does depend on what career path you want to take as to whether you want to get either MCSE training or MCP training or anything else for that matter. So what do those abbreviations MCSE and MCP stand for anyway?

MCSE and MCP certifications can be useful!

MCP stands for Microsoft Certified Professional and MCSE is an abbreviation for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. What exactly does having a Microsoft certification mean anyway? We know that it looks good on a resume and opens new doors in your career. Did you know that being certifiable – in Microsoft anyway – sometimes will also boost your pay? Experience counts for a lot, but having a Microsoft certification or two does not hurt either!

So what does it take to be and MCP or MCSE? Lots of studying! The MCP courses and MCP exams are geared toward a more rounded technical professional. Candidates for MCP must pass one current certification test from Microsoft. Passing one of the exams demonstrates that the candidate has a consistent level of technical expertise.

With the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer path, there are MCSE boot camps that help prepare candidates for the MCSE exams. These MCSE boot camps are intense classes often packed into a full two week period instead of the traditional weekly MCSE training classes in preparation for the MCSE exams. This path is more involved. MCSE certification is standard in the IT field and prepares you for anything from the design of a system’s infrastructure to analyzing the company’s needs before implementing a design.

Unlike those individuals who take the MCP training to prepare for MCP exams, students of MCSE have a course of study that is more intense. Instead of one test to prepare for, they have seven tests that they are required to pass to get their Microsoft certification. Yikes! Seven! They have five main exams to take as well as two electives. The five required MCSE exams are broken down into four operating system exams and one design exam. The two electives typically deal with other issues in design and implementation not covered in the five core tests.

After learning a few basics, it is easy to see that the MCP or Microsoft Certified Professional is really just a stepping stone to bigger and greater things in the world of Microsoft certification. The individuals who go for the MCP have a leg up on those peers who have no technical experience. They will have a better grasp on technical issues and usually stay a step ahead of trends. The MCSE is more specialized and appeals to the techno geek with a penchant for design and implementation. They like knowing how stuff works. So market yourself and become certifiable!