Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Phishing scams - not fun

This week we received a phone call at the store from someone claiming to be from ComEd, and that they were shutting off our power in 45 minutes for non-payment of our bill. So the staff called me in a panic. Fish doesn't last very long with no refrigeration. I had paid the bill by direct deposit, but called the number they had provided to see what was up. Staff told me that the person who called initially had a strong Eastern European accent, but the men who answered the 888 number he had provided had Caribbean accents. There was a recorded message saying it was the ComEd "service cut off department," and if I knew my party's extension, to enter it at any time. It did sound somewhat legit.
     The person I spoke to said that they (ComEd) were changing meters and computer systems, and had no record of our payment. I told him that our bank clearly showed we'd paid and that they'd received it. I must have mentioned the amount, because he instructed me to "get cash" for that amount as they couldn't accept a check or credit card, and that I should go to a nearby Walgreens to make the payment, but that I should "call him back from the parking lot" for further instructions. I said I was not willing to walk around with that amount of cash, and that it sounded to me like some kind of scam. He said the only way to stop the shut-off was to get the cash and go to the Walgreens to buy a cash card. He assured me that any double payments would be credited back to our bank, and that they'd give us a 30% discount on our next 3 months of service for our "inconvenience." (That's one part of the scam I'm sorry isn't true.)
     I went along with him, and as soon as I hung up, I called ComEd, who confirmed that our bill was paid. They recorded all the information I had about the scammers to let their illegal activity investigators know. I let our staff know it was a scam, and instructed them to call 911 if anyone shows up. I also called the local Evanston police department, thinking that they would want to go to Walgreens and arrest the person who evidently would have shown up to take my "payment," but they just said that they don't handle scams. It's theft, so why not?
     The scammers did actually call the store again, threatening the shut off, and the clerk who answered the phone told him that we'd spoken to ComEd, and that if he still wanted to come over we'd be glad to discuss it with him. He told the clerk to "kiss my ass" and hung up.
     I don't know how they got information about our ComEd account, nor why they targeted us - but it was extremely unnerving. I'm sure that they're calling many people, probably focusing on the elderly, and scaring them into sending cash cards to some PO Box somewhere.  Hopefully not meeting them in parking lots.
     I went on line and reported the incident to the FTC - they have a form for you to fill out with all the details of what took place. We didn't give them any money, but I don't know what other information they have about us - they now have our home phone number as well as my cell number, which makes me want to get a new phone number.
     So the moral of my story - don't believe people who call to threaten you with something like this - what I should have done is call ComEd first, not the 888 number that they provided. It would have saved me a lot of aggravation. All the utilities have numbers you can call on your bill, or you can look it up on line. ComEd's billing department told me that 1) Shut off notices come in the mail long before anything happens, and 2) A live person will not call you, you get a robo-call asking you to call ComEd.
     This phishing story has a somewhat happy ending - we didn't give them any money, but they still know stuff about us - I wonder if they somehow hacked into the ComEd computer system. We have to be ever vigilant these days! Computers are a curse as well as a blessing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Getting the love on the table

Although Valentine's Day is a made-up holiday, it's one that can be a lot of fun. For us it's a very special day, because our daughter was born on Valentines Day. She wasn't due until March, but a very bad fall on the ice gave me a bruised tail bone and early labor, and provided her with a fun birthday. A heart cake every year...
     For Valentines Day dinner around our house (now that our special Valentine is married and living in New Hampshire) we usually have seafood, no surprise. We almost always have some oysters, so delicious and fresh tasting. I always think of that wonderful scene in the old film Tom Jones, where Albert Finney and one of his many conquests are slurping down oysters in one of filmdom's most sensuous food scenes. If you've never seen it, you can probably rent it from Netflix. Oysters have all sorts of trace minerals in them, and evidently some of them make you feel sexy. Not making this up, there have been scientific studies.
    Then for the main course, I like to do something simple, like a baked salmon dish or maybe a shrimp dish. Everything cooks quickly, so I don't have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen -- a nice green salad and some of chef Jaimie's garlic mashed potatoes round out the meal. This year I might just get some salmon papillotes or cozies - seems like cheating, but they're so good, and no kitchen mess to deal with.
     Once upon a time I would make crab legs or even whole lobster one year (reenacting the lobster scene from Annie Hall). Because we were often dealing with a birthday party on Valentine's Day for so many years, it became a real treat to have just us for Valentine's dinner.
     When you're cooking for your beloved, it's really nice to set the scene. Put candles on the table, dim the lights, get out the nice china. Some nice music in the background is relaxing for both the chef and the spouse/partner of choice.
     And the wine -- sparkling wine sets a celebratory mood, and it's wonderful with oysters, shrimp, smoked salmon, just about any seafood appetizer. With dinner, if I'm serving salmon, we like to pair it with a light red, a pinot noir or a French Cote de Rhone are great with salmon, tuna, any of the more flavorful fish. With shrimp, lobster or lighter fish, we prefer a fume blanc or unoaked chardonnay. Get out the good glasses - there's only two of you, so even if you use all good stuff, there won't be a lot of dirty dishes to do.
     Valentine's dessert over the years has tended to be something chocolate -- my sweet hubby even ordered some amazing chocolates from France a couple of years, that came in a little wooden box and were beyond delicious. Today we have great places to get wonderful chocolate right around home. I'm not really supposed to eat chocolate any more, a total bummer, so now we enjoy a Key Lime pie for dessert, delicious, not too heavy, and Jaimie makes them so none of the rest of us have to.
     At our house, the person who cooks never has to do the dishes, one of the very best arrangements I ever negotiated in our pre-nup. Our pre-nup did not involve money, only housework allocations. So after your lovely Valentine dinner, if one of you cooked it all, the other should do the dishes. If you cooked together, do the dishes together.
     Then if one of you really wants to watch Downton Abbey, which is almost over (ack!) you should watch together, cuddle on the couch, wrap yourselves in a blanket if it's cold. Because Valentine's Day is on Sunday this year, it's a perfect night to stay in - put the kids to bed early if you have little ones, and make it a special night, just for the two of you.
     One of the truly wonderful things about eating fish for dinner, because it's so easy to digest, when you go to bed you won't feel over-stuffed, much better for romance. A Hallmark holiday, perhaps, but one that you can turn you into a very creative romantic partner. Everybody likes to feel special occasionally.