The Pay Day Loan.

candyfrombaby

I wonder if young Shakespeare ever took a payday loan

When he wrote of Shylock, that usurer well-known.

A pound of flesh is just about what you must sure forgo

If you deal with leeches at the local Check-N-Go.

You sign away your livelihood, your auto, and mink stole.

The Devil’s terms are easier; he only wants your soul!

Or you could always rob a bank, because first-time offenders

Are locked away with bed and board, and do not deal with lenders.

Check City battens on the poor and gullible amigo

Who doesn’t realize the rules are worse than in Stratego.

One minute late, one penny short, and suddenly they find

They are in an iron-clad and suffocating bind.

There is no Good Samaritan to help them find relief;

Only legislators who do not give a fig leaf.

Shout this from the mountaintops, but only if you dare

Face the Lender’s Lobby, who have a million bucks to spare.

King Salman, My Pal . . .

My old buddy . . .
My old buddy . . .

(Inspired by a story by Ben Hubbard)

Hey, Salman, buddy, don’t forget your old pal from the days

We used to go on picnics in the khareef’s misty haze.

Just you and me and retinue of a thousand men or so

(and of course the harem that was with you on the go).

 

I see you got the old man’s seat; congratulations, pal!

You’re passing out the beaucoup bucks to boost the state’s morale.

I do not wish to seem like I presume too much from you,

But times are tough; I’m in the rough; some cash would see me through.

 

About a million dollars sure would be enough for me;

I guess I can rely upon your generosity.

Send the check down to the county jail and I won’t squawk.

I’ll pay my bail and get my shirt and pants right out of hock!

The Student Loan.

simonlegree

(Inspired by a segment on the Jordana Green Show)

I wish I’d had a college savings plan when I was young;

I would not now be dodging bill collectors, getting stung.

For I defaulted early on when after graduation

My student loans turned into one gigantic aggravation.

 

It’s not that I determined to go belly up for spite

Or that I was resolved to embezzle and take flight;

But what was I to do when my degree in English Lit

Left me for a steady income totally unfit?

 

I asked for an extension to find use for my degree,

But got the kind of treatment that would please Simon Legree.

Considering the penalty and int’rest that still accrue

I’ll have this thing paid off when sky and sea have lost their blue. 

A Financial Guide to Investing in Dairy.

cow

Forget about your stocks and bonds and others of that ilk;

What you want to buy up now is plenty of cow’s milk.

I’ve been reading in the papers that the price of dairy

On the Chinese mainland is now making Wall Street merry.

 

Of course the folks who milk the cows will see such little gravy

That their sons and daughters will leave home to join the navy.

But the brokers and investors, who have such milk-white hands

From never doing labor will build houses in posh Cannes.

 

What with tariffs and the glut of whey upon the market,

I advise you raise great sums and in milk futures park it.

You will never find a better way to fend off rank inflation

Than piling up a million cans of impregnable Carnation!

 

Christie, Bush & Romney.

cbr

Christie, Bush, and Romney were walking down the street.

When suddenly a fundraiser they happened just to meet.

The fundraiser said ‘Howdy’ to these true-blue fast friends,

And taking out his checkbook he asked “Have you got pens?”

 

“For I will donate plenty of PAC funds to the one”

“Who shows the least desire for President to run.”

All three denied such yearnings, crying out “Pooh – Pooh!”

“We never such a foolish thing would ever, ever do!”

 

The fundraiser bowed deeply, and then went on his way.

The three good friends kept strolling on their cheerful holiday.

When Christie wasn’t looking, Mitt Romney made a fuss

And tripped his chubby pal into the pathway of a bus.

 

Now Bush and Romney mourned him with tears to fill the Nile,

And then continued with their hike (in cautious single file).

In front led Bush the Mighty, the Southern Hope of all –

And no one to this day knows how that large brick came to fall . . .

 

And so it came to pass that old Mitt Romney got the nod

And when he totted up the cash he found twas quite a wad.

Remember, all you voters, that no friendship can prevent

The loss of life and limb when you do run for President.

 

Beware of Scams This Upcoming Tax Season!

scam

The IRS recently issued a warning about a phone scam that is targeting people across the nation. Callers, claiming to be from the IRS, tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest or the loss of a business or driver’s license.

The callers who commit this fraud often:

  • Use fake IRS badge numbers.
  • Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number and other personal information.
  • Make caller ID appear as if the IRS is calling.
  • Send fake IRS emails as follow-ups.
  • Call a second time claiming to be the police or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, you should immediately report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484. You may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commissionhere.

In addition, the IRS has identified eleven other scams on its annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams; the full list can be found here.

Always be alert for phone and email scams that use the IRS name. The IRS will never request personal or financial information by email, texting or social media. You should forward suspected scam emails to phishing@irs.gov.

Mortgage Fraud!

Have You Been Cheated on Your Mortgage?
Have You Been Cheated on Your Mortgage?

Senator Chuck Grassley today made the following comment after the Inspector General for the Department of Justice released a scathing audit report on the Justice Department’s efforts to address mortgage fraud.

 

Grassley began asking questions about the Justice Department’s work in this area more than two years ago following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on lending discrimination cases.  Grassley initially asked the department on March 9, 2012, about its claim to have prosecuted thousands of mortgage fraud cases and to have “secured numerous convictions against CEOs, CFOs, board members, presidents and other executives of Wall Street firms and banks for financial crimes.”

 

Here is Grassley’s comment.

 

“The Inspector General’s report sheds light on what looks like an attempt by the Justice Department to pull the wool over the public’s eyes with respect to its efforts to go after the wrongdoers involved in mortgage fraud.  According to the Inspector General, the department wasted time cooking the numbers about the cases it pursued, when it should have been prosecuting cases.  In addition, it isn’t even using the funding allocated by Congress for the specific purpose of going after mortgage fraud, which might explain why the Inspector General found that it isn’t a priority in some of the FBI’s biggest offices.  It’s contrary to everything we’ve been hearing out of the Obama administration.  In order to change Wall Street’s shady practices, the Justice Department needs to be honest and transparent about its efforts, and actually prosecute some people instead of succumbing to a too big to jail mentality.”

 

 

When Hospital Bills Harm Your Credit. by Elizabeth Rosenthal.

past

 

LIKE most people, I am generally vigilant about paying my bills — credit cards, mortgage, cellphone and so on. But medical bills have a different trajectory. I (usually) open the envelopes and peruse the amalgam of codes and charges. I sigh or swear. And set them aside for when I have time to clarify the confusion: An out-of-network charge from a doctor I know is in-network? An un-itemized laboratory bill from a doctor I’ve never heard of? A bill for a huge charge before my insurer has paid its yet unknown portion of a hospital’s unknowable fee?

I would never countenance the phrase “60 days past due” on my Visa card statement. But medical bills? Well… with the complex negotiations that determine my ultimate payment, it often takes months to understand what I actually owe.

Unfortunately, I may be playing a dangerous game. Mounting evidence shows that chaos in medical billing is not just affecting our health care but dinging the financial reputation of many Americans: While the bills themselves frequently take months to sort out, medical debts can be reported rapidly to credit agencies, and often without notification. And even small unpaid bills can severely damage credit ratings.

A mortgage initiator in Texas, Rodney Anderson of Supreme Lending, recently looked at the credit records of 5,000 applicants and found that 40 percent had medical debt in collection, with the average around $400; even worse, most applicants were unaware of their debt. Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has noted that half of all accounts reported by collection agencies now come from medical bills, and the credit record of one in five Americans is affected.

A single medical bill reported to a credit agency can easily become a “millstone around your neck” said Mark Rukavina, principal at Community Health Advisors, a health care advisory service. He added: “It will take a long time to make that right, even once the bill is paid. I’ve had mortgage brokers call me and say ‘I have these people with great credit. They’ve refinanced before, but now they’ve got this medical bill and even though they’ve paid it off, I can’t get them a good rate.’ ”

Part of the problem is that there are few standards governing medical debts: One billing office might give you — or your insurer — 60 days to pay before pursuing collection. Another might allow you to pay off a bill slowly over a year. Many will sell the debt to collection companies, which typically take a cut of the proceeds and decide when or whether to report unpaid debt to credit agencies.

The problem is accelerating for several reasons. Charges are rising. Insurance policies are requiring more patient outlays in the form of higher deductibles and co-payments. More important, perhaps, is that while doctors’ practices traditionally worked out deals for patients who had trouble paying, today many doctors work for large professionally managed groups and hospital systems whose bills are generated far away, by computer.

Both Congress and the protection bureau have been trying to better insulate patient credit scores from the inefficiencies of our market-based medical system. Various proposals have been considered to differentiate medical debt from other forms; it could be erased once it has been paid off or not reported to credit agencies at all, for example. So far, the credit industry has fought successfully against such efforts, noting that they could allow some genuine scofflaws to evade legitimate charges. But it’s also good business, since health care bills are now the largest source of business for collection companies, according to consumer protection agency officials.

Having spent the last year reporting a series on American health costs, I’ve heard plenty about credit casualties.

Gene Cavallo, 61, a New Mexico businessman who put his children through college, had always paid his bills promptly and had an excellent credit rating, until he required surgical excision of a melanoma on his shin two years ago. The more than 60 bills generated for the surgery and six months of follow-up visits — arriving sporadically and ranging from 18 cents to $17,000 — came to $110,000; his insurance covered about $70,000.

When various providers asked him to pay the remaining $40,000, he requested itemized bills and balked at some of the “ridiculously inflated prices,” such as $85 for tweezers and $20 for a box of tissues. He argued the bills point by point, and ultimately agreed to pay $25,000.

But during the negotiations some of the debt was sent to collection. Two years later, he no longer answers the daily robocalls from collection agencies and has had a couple of credit cards canceled because his score has fallen. “It was a scary thing to do because I own a business and dabble in real estate, so the ability to borrow has always been important to me. And now I have no ability, I assume, to borrow for any reason.”

Michael S., who declined to give his full name so as to protect his reputation with business clients, had to declare bankruptcy in Wisconsin more than five years ago after a fraught year in which his toddler was evaluated for what proved to be a benign neurological condition that required no treatment: “You’d get bills for several different doctors’ groups and for tests and M.R.I.s and you don’t know what they are. I was having trouble figuring out who we owed what. And then, if it goes to collection, then suddenly they’re saying we need this paid now.”

With medical expenses, unlike most other purchases, you generally don’t know the price the hospital will charge in advance. And the subsequent bills and insurance statements — so-called explanations of benefits — are often layered in obfuscation and pressure tactics.

Consider Chris Sullivan of Pennsylvania, whose $2,770 bill for an echocardiogram offered a “prompt payment” discount of 20 percent if he wrote a check within 21 days — meaning a discount for not asking questions on a bill for a test he was told would be under $300.

Another “explanation of benefits” statement notified Joe Cotugno of New York City that his two-day hospital stay for a hip replacement was billed at $99,469.70 (doctors’ fees not included). Cigna paid $68,420.53 after knocking off some $28,000 and requiring Mr. Cotugno to pay $3,018.41. So, it informed him, “You saved 96 percent.” Huh?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been studying the impact of medical billing on credit scores since 2012, acknowledging that unpaid medical bills in collection “frequently end up on consumer credit reports,” as an outgrowth of “very complex and confusing systems of figuring out who owes what after a medical procedure.” Mr. Cordray, the bureau’s director, said it would take appropriate action if harmful practices were identified.

Bills in Congress that would regulate the practices have been stalled for years. The Medical Debt Relief Act was passed by the House in 2010, but never made it to a Senate vote. After a modified version of the bill failed to pass again last year, another act was recently introduced in the Senate and House.

Meanwhile, patients are right to worry. When Matt Meyer, who owns a saddle-fitting company in New Hampshire, set up a monthly payment plan after some surgery, he was distressed to notice that the invoices came from a debt collector. “I had no idea this was considered debt,” he said, and wondered: “Are they reporting that” to a credit agency?

Good question.

Special Interests Are Taking Over Washington; An Editorial by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island.

Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy Congress!
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy Congress!

FIGHTING AGAINST SPECIAL INTERESTS

One of the things America has always stood for is the basic idea of fairness.  But more and more, it seems in Washington like special interests and big corporations play by their own set of rules, while the interests of everyday Americans are being undermined.

That’s why I’m fighting in the Senate for families facing outrageous credit card fees.  For teachers and truck drivers who pay a higher tax rate than wealthy investors. For a political system where corporations can’t drown out ordinary voices with unlimited, anonymous spending in our elections.  And for young people struggling to get out from under a mountain of student loan debt.

HOW I’M WORKING TO RESTORE FAIRNESS

As I travel around the country, visiting with families and small business owners,  one thing I hear again and again is the feeling that the deck is stacked against them.  I’ve taken your stories and ideas with me to Washington, and have been fighting for legislation to get our country back on track and restore the straight deal that middle-class families deserve 

Here are some of ways I’m working to level the playing field for Rhode Islanders and all Americans:

Asking the Wealthiest to Pay Their Fair Share

It’s inexcusable that our tax system permits ultra-high income earners like Warren Buffett to pay a lower tax rate than hardworking middle-class families.  That’s why I have introduced the Paying a Fair Share Act, which would ensure that multi-million-dollar earners pay at least a 30-percent effective tax rate.

Reining In Credit Card Interest Rates

Wall Street banks and credit card companies are not currently subject to state laws that limit outrageous interest rates.  I introduced the Empowering States’ Rights to Protect Consumers Act to restore the ability of states to set limits on credit card interest rates, and protect consumers from the unfair tricks and traps of lenders headquartered in faraway states with weak or non-existent consumer lending protections.

Government By The People, Not Corporations

In its controversial Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court overturned long-standing precedents to allow virtually unlimited corporate and special interest spending in elections.  To undo this corruption of our electoral process, I have signed on as an original cosponsor of a constitutional amendment to grant Congress the clear authority to write common-sense campaign finance rules, and I am leading the fight to require better disclosures of campaign spending.

Ending Tax Breaks for Shipping Jobs Overseas

I introduced the Offshoring Prevention Act to close a tax loophole that rewards companies for moving factories overseas.  Our tax code should be designed to help American companies keep and create good-paying jobs right here in the United States, not ship them overseas.

No More Tax Giveaways for Big Oil

At a time of high gas prices, record oil company profits, and mounting budget deficits, we should not be providing Big Oil with expensive and unnecessary taxpayer handouts.  That is why I am a cosponsor of the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, which would end federal subsidies and tax giveaways for these ultra-profitable oil companies.

Holding Those Responsible For The Financial Crisis Accountable

We must investigate and prosecute any criminal behavior behind the continuing financial crisis.  That is why I have urged the Justice Department to bring its full resources to bear, together with state law enforcement, to protect the American people from financial crime.

Protecting Troops from Foreclosure

Troops returning from active duty often need time to regain their financial footing.  That is why I introduced legislation to lengthen the period of foreclosure protection for servicemembers after their tour of duty.  A version of my legislation, extending the grace period from nine months to one year, was approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

 

 

Russian Cyber Criminals Threaten to Steal a Third of America’s Credit Cards.

cyber

 

In the last year, Eastern European cybercriminals have stolen Brian Krebs’s identity a half dozen times, brought down his website, included his name and some unpleasant epithets in their malware code, sent fecal matter and heroin to his doorstep, and called a SWAT team to his home just as his mother was arriving for dinner.

“I can’t imagine what my neighbors think of me,” he said dryly.

Mr. Krebs, 41, tries to write pieces that cannot be found elsewhere. His widely read cybersecurity blog, Krebs on Security, covers a particularly dark corner of the Internet: profit-seeking cybercriminals, many based in Eastern Europe, who make billions off pharmaceutical sales, malware, spam, frauds and heists like the recent ones that Mr. Krebs was first to uncover at Adobe, Target and Neiman Marcus.

He covers this niche with much the same tenacity of his subjects, earning him their respect and occasional ire.

Mr. Krebs — a former reporter at The Washington Post who taught himself to read Russian while jogging on his treadmill and who blogs with a 12-gauge shotgun by his side — is so entrenched in the digital underground that he is on a first-name basis with some of Russia’s major cybercriminals. Many call him regularly, leak him documents about their rivals, and try to bribe and threaten him to keep their names and dealings off his blog.

His clean-cut looks and plain-speaking demeanor seem more appropriate for a real-estate broker than a man who spends most of his waking hours studying the Internet’s underbelly. But few have done more to shed light on the digital underground than Mr. Krebs.

His obsession with hackers kicked in when he was just another victim. In 2001, a computer worm — a malicious software program that can spread quickly — locked him out of his home computer. “It felt like someone had broken into my home,” Mr. Krebs recalled in an interview. He started looking into it. And he kept looking, learning about spam, computer worms and the underground industry behind it.

Eventually, his anger and curiosity turned into a full-time beat at The Post and then on his own blog.

“I realized that if security breaks down, the technology breaks down,” Mr. Krebs said.

Today, he maintains extensive files on criminal syndicates and their tools. Some security experts readily acknowledge that he knows more about Russia’s digital underground than they do.

“I would put him up against the best threat intelligence analyst,” said Rodney Joffe, senior vice president at Neustar, an Internet infrastructure firm. “Many of us in the industry go to him to help us understand what the Eastern European criminals are doing, how they work with each other and who is doing what to whom.”

That proved the case in December when Mr. Krebs uncovered what could be the biggest known Internet credit-card heist. That month, he had been poking around private, underground forums where criminals were bragging about a fresh haul of credit and debit cards.

Soon after, one of Mr. Krebs’s banking sources called to report a high number of fraudulent purchases and asked whether Mr. Krebs could pinpoint where they were coming from. The source said that he had bought a large batch of stolen cards from an underground site and that they all appeared to have been used at Target.

Mr. Krebs checked with a source at a second bank that had also been dealing with a spike in fraud. Together, they visited one forum and bought a batch of stolen cards. Again, the cards appeared to have one thing in common: They had been used at Target from late November to mid-December.

On the morning of Dec. 18, Mr. Krebs called Target. The company’s spokeswoman did not return his call until several hours later, but by then he had enough to run his article: Criminals had breached the registers in Target’s stores and had made off with tens of millions of payment card numbers.

 In the following weeks, Mr. Krebs discovered breaches at Neiman Marcus; Michaels, the arts and crafts retailer; and White Lodging, which manages franchises for major hotel chains like Hilton, Marriott and Starwood Hotels.

It is still unclear whether the attacks were related, but at least 10 other retailers may have been hit by the same hackers that hit Target and are reluctant to acknowledge it.

That is where Mr. Krebs comes in. Unlike physical crime — a bank robbery, for example, quickly becomes public — online thefts are hushed up by companies that worry the disclosure will inflict more damage than the theft, allowing hackers to raid multiple companies before consumers hear about it.

“There’s a lot going on in this industry that impedes the flow of information,” Mr. Krebs said. “And there’s a lot of money to be made in having intelligence and information about what’s going on in the underworld. It’s big business but most people don’t want to pay for it, which explains why they come to someone like me.”

Mr. Krebs is “doing the security industry an enormous favor by disseminating real-time threat information,” said Barmak Meftah, chief executive of AlienVault, a threat-detection service. “We are only as strong as our information. Unless we are very specific and effective about exchanging threat data when one of us gets breached, we will always be a step behind the attackers.”

 

The tally of victims from the breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus and others now exceeds one-third of the United States population — a grim factoid that may offer Mr. Krebs a strange sense of career vindication.

He first developed an interest in computers because his father, an Air Force engineer, was obsessed with the latest devices. But he did little about it until 1998, when he began writing about technology for The Post, after working his way up from the mailroom. Cybersecurity became a bit of a focus after his own computer was infected by that worm in 2001. “I learned there’s this whole underworld that seemed really fascinating,” he said.

In 2005, he started The Post’s Security Fix blog, occasionally frustrating editors with hacker jargon and unnerving some who worried he was becoming too close to sources.

“A lot of what Brian does would scare the hell out of traditional newsroom editors,” said Russ Walker, Mr. Krebs’s former editor at The Post. “I don’t think he crossed the lines journalistically, but he was living a different type of experience.”

By 2006, Mr. Krebs was a fixture in hacker forums, learning code, and — ever the dutiful reporter — borrowing Russian language tapes from his local library since most of what he tracks originates in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. (He acknowledges having used his technical prowess at one point to peek inside The Post’s payroll system to see how much colleagues were making, something he now strongly advises against.)

In 2009, The Post asked Mr. Krebs to broaden his focus to general technology news and policy. When he declined, he was let go.

He used his severance to start his own blog, Krebs on Security, from his “command center,” a guest room at the Annandale, Va., home he shares with his wife. There, three 19-inch computer screens help him keep tabs on the underworld, while another monitors security footage of his house.

Mr. Krebs’s readership is growing. In December, 850,000 readers visited his blog, mostly to learn more about the breach at Target. Though he will not disclose figures, Mr. Krebs says the salary he now makes from advertising, occasional speaking engagements and consulting work is a “nice bump” from what he earned at The Post.

But there are risks implicit to being a one-man operation. “The work that he’s done exposing Eastern European hackers has been seminal,” said Tom Kellermann, vice president for cybersecurity at Trend Micro, a computer security company. “But Brian needs a bodyguard.”

  Russian criminals routinely feed Mr. Krebs information about their rivals that they obtained through hacks. After one such episode, he began receiving daily calls from a major Russian cybercriminal seeking his files back. Mr. Krebs is writing a book about the ordeal, called “Spam Nation,” to be published by Sourcebooks this year.

In the meantime, hackers have been competing in a dangerous game of one-upmanship to see who can pull the worst prank on Mr. Krebs. They often steal his identity. One opened a $20,000 credit line in his name. Admirers have made more than $1,000 in bogus PayPal donations to his blog using hacked accounts. Others have paid his cable bill for three years with stolen credit cards.

The antics can be dangerous. In March, as Mr. Krebs was preparing to have his mother over for dinner, he opened his front door to find a police SWAT team pointing semiautomatic guns in his direction. Only after his wife returned home from the grocery store to find him handcuffed did the police realize Mr. Krebs had been the victim of “swatting.” Someone had called the police and falsely reported a murder at their home.

Four months after that, someone sent packets of heroin to Mr. Krebs’s home, then spoofed a call from his neighbor to the police. But Mr. Krebs had already been tipped off to the prank. He was tracking the fraud in a private forum — where a criminal had posted the shipment’s tracking number — and had alerted the local police and the F.B.I.

Mr. Joffe worries Mr. Krebs’s enemies could do far worse. “I don’t understand why he hasn’t moved to a new, undisclosed address,” he said.

Mr. Krebs said he did plan to move and keep his new address secret. But these days it is almost impossible.

Though he goes to great lengths to protect his personal information, last month his wife received an email from Target informing her that their mailing address and other personal information had been stolen in the breach.

“I got that letter,” he said, “and I just had to laugh.”

krebs