Human nature will prevail (this time)

I’ve always said that there are too many humans on earth and that no matter what we humans do or what we build, nature always wins. I see more and more wildlife out my window than I have in the past. There are more squirrels and birds than ever visiting my back yard. I attribute this to the lack of people.

Most of us are familiar with the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. This was built from stone and concrete but has disintegrated to the ruins we now know.  There are several places where we can find the ruins of ancient civilizations like Stonehenge, Pompeii, Easter Island and the Acropolis.

The fleeting impact of the human species was demonstrated to me again very recently. I had a wheelchair ramp installed in my back yard. Even though we live in the city, we saw one of the indigenous wild life in my neighborhood, a rabbit, checking out the ramp one afternoon. When I was coming home from a doctor’s visit the next day, the same rabbit shot out from underneath the ramp. The rabbit gave me a look that said “What the hack are you doing on the roof of my new home?” Apparently this was where they lived now.

People have been trying to control nature since the beginning of time. Occasionally it is by building a dam to create a lake for hydroelectric generation or for a reservoir. We may construct seawalls or break waters to keep waves from washing away beaches and homes and the buildings we live in. The reason for these efforts is to allow people to live wherever they want.

Rabbits aren’t the only “wild animals” that have invaded our yard. We have had three skunks, 2 raccoons and 2 opossums visit us over the years. We even saw four deer walking down the middle of our street early one morning and then we have the squirrels. There seems to be a squirrel invasion this year. However our yard isn’t the only place that nature has invaded. We’ve had a couple of mice and bats in our house in the past.

We presently have 2 spiders, named Bob and Bobbette, which live in our bedroom. They are very respectful and maintain social distancing. They live on our ceiling, sleep all day and wander about at night. One of the high points of my morning is finding out where they are hiding every day. (Man, am I bored by this self-imposed quarantine).

We now see wild animals invading cities worldwide.  There are deer wandering the urban streets of Japan, wild turkeys In Oakland, Calif., a herd of deer was spotted resting in a housing development in Harold Hill, Romford, England. Wild boar have also been seen in parts of Paris and puma were seen walking around the streets of Santiago, Chile.

Human beings have always tried to control nature and one of the ways we have done this includes the conquering of disease. Smallpox came to North America in the 1600s and we survived that. A century ago, the Spanish flu caused a staggering 20-50 million deaths worldwide and we survived that. In 1793 there was a Yellow Fever outbreak and we survived that. The first major polio epidemic in the United States started in 1916 and reached its peak in 1952 and we survived that.

It’s this lesson that we should learn from the current corona virus pandemic. We should try to utilize as much scientific knowledge and expertise as we can to defeat this. That’s what public health measures are all about, and such efforts are as old as human society itself. Disease control has improved dramatically with the progress of modern medicine. We can learn from the efforts of other countries to flatten the curve and act on that knowledge as quickly and efficiently as possible, but the virus will still be here. Our older population will still be in danger and all of us will be at elevated risk. Our schools and shops have to be kept closed and our public spaces kept deserted until this is eradicated. The economic outcome and its ultimate toll in lives and the economy due to this pandemic remains unknown but I think the stock market is going to tank, wiping out trillions of dollars in wealth and some businesses will close permanently. Once this is over, it is going to be a different world than we once knew.

Again, I am no one special. I am not an expert but I am going to do my part. I am going to stay home. I am only buying the toilet paper I need, I am only buying the food I need. I have complete faith humanity will survive. There is hope for human survival after all. Human nature will prevail. I hope that when we reach the “new normal” the world will be a kinder, gentler place.

Norb is a resident of Lockport. If you want to visit him, you will have to talk with him through a closed window much like a prison visit.

Vaping

Even though it was said that vaping products presented fewer health risks than regular cigarettes, there is not any evidence that they are in fact safer. The first e-cigarettes arrived on the scene about 15 years ago. This technology was invented in China in 2004 and then popularized worldwide.

considerable amount of research shows that vaping might in reality lead to undesirable health effects much like smoking including include brain, heart and lung damage, cancer, early deliveries and stillbirths and adverse consequences on brain and lung development when used during pregnancy or during the teenage years

E-juice, as it is called, contains nicotine, a highly addictive drug with known health risks. Vaping products contain nicotine, according to The National Center for Health. The nicotine in cigarettes makes smoking very addictive and this is also true for vaping.

The use of nicotine, no matter how it is supplied will increase the risk of addiction. Addiction to nicotine is as hard to quit as cocaine or heroin addiction and the use of e-cigarettes often leads to the use of other nicotine based products like cigarettes or cigars.

Vaping devices such as E-cigarettes appeared to be a safe alternative to cigarettes when used primarily as a replacement to smoking. However, there is little evidence that they actually reduce tobacco smoking. As a matter of fact, the nicotine content in e-cigarettes and vaping products may actually lead to increased addiction which could make it even harder to quit smoking.

However, E-cigarettes and other vaping gadgets are not just used by people who are trying to quit smoking. Instead they are more and more trendy and likely to be used by today’s youth, including people who never smoked cigarettes and never wanted to. Research has shown that some people begin to smoke cigarettes only after they use e-cigarettes.

Smokers will be inclined to use these products along with traditional cigarettes, often when smoking is not allowed. The result is an increase in an individual’s exposure to nicotine and its harmful effects.

When I was the safety director I banned smoking in the plant in compliance to New State Law. When people tried to circumvent this rule by buying e-cigarettes. I had to add them to the no smoking rule.

Vaping devices and E-cigarettesdo not need approval by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), in fact, until quite recently, the producers and sellers of these devices weren’t even required to comply with the FDA standards that they set for smoked tobacco products. In spite of the new regulations, e-cigarette manufacturers are still able to advertise them as risk free. They also offer appealing, tastes that attract children, adolescents and young adults alike. They have flavors like banana and strawberry, cinnamon, mint (or menthol), buttered popcorn and vanilla that are listed as among the most toxic vaping flavors according to bustle.com. These remind me of Lucky Strike cigarettes that had a large amount of licorice flavoring in thier cigarettes.

There is a sizeable variation in the type and strength of the vaping fluids. This, includes nicotine among other things.

There is no proof that these products are safe. As a matter of fact, there is an increasing concern about the possible long-term health effects of the vaporization of the chemicals in e-cigarettes like nicotine, heavy metals and the other ingredients like toxins and possible carcinogens.

This uptick in the popularity of smokeless nicotine devices and their widespread accessibility is undoing the decades of progress made to reduce cigarette smoking, especially among young people. I have smelled the odor of increased smoking myself, like people, including staff, standing outside of the Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport smoking.

Electronic cigarettes were theoretically able to give smokers a dependable way to fight their addiction in a comparatively easy way. Since they were introduced, the smokeless devices have turn out to very popular. By 2016, around 3.2% of adults in the US were already using electronic cigarettes on a regular basis according to the centers for disease control and prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm).

The problem is that not only adults have adopted the new technology. The devices have become all the rage with minors. Between 2011 and 2015, the attractiveness of e-cigarettes amongst younger people in the United States has increased by an unbelievable 900 percent according to the American Lung Association. Electronic cigarettes are now more fashionable with youth than regular tobacco cigarettes.

The result of all this is that if you have been a long time smoker and are having a hard time cutting back or quitting smoking by using the accepted ways to quit, vaping devices like e-cigarettes appear to me to be a safer choice to cigarette smoking, even if they don’t reduce your nicotine intake. But and this is a big but, if you never have smoked or used tobacco or nicotine in other ways, stay away from e-cigarettes and vaping devices. The possible hazards to your health could outweigh any enjoyment you might have.

In the interest of full disclosure, I started smoking at 16 and quit after 45 years. I now suffer from COPD due to this I rue the day I started, I spent thousands of dollars on cigarettes so I could ruin my health. I now need to use a nebulizer a few times a day to deliver a bronchial dilator to my lungs. Norb is a freelance journalist and blogger from Lockport.

Virtual Kidnapping

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You get a call late at night and the caller ID says it is from your grandchild. It’s frequently late at night so they can catch you when you are half asleep and groggy. You don’t recognize the voice though. The voice is that of an agitated, high-strung man shrieking ultimatums for money and making threats of violence. He appears to have both your grandchild and their phone. The “kidnapper” demands money or they tell you your family member will die. This is a scam.

In the old days, before cell phones or the internet the scammers used to call on the phone and say they were your grandchild and they had been arrested. They would then say they needed you to send bail money so they could get out of jail. But technology has changed things.

The person on the other end of the line is ranting and raving the whole time. They say they are going to kill your grandchild unless you pay a ransom fast. A wave of disbelief washes over you. You know your grandchild is away at school, attending college in another state. Could something have happened? He demands that you go and get a money gram to send to them or you will never see your grandchild again.

You might not notice but they won’t use your grandchild’s name. Not only are they trying to extort money from you but they are on a fishing trip to get the name so they will sound more legitimate.

The FBI calls this crime “virtual kidnapping.” Hackers will gain access to someone’s cell phone contact list and then use the phone number masking technology called “spoofing”.  With caller ID spoofing, people can make it seem like their phone calls are coming from whatever phone number they want, even your grandchild’s phone.

“This is the next level,” said FBI Special Agent Doug Kasper. “This is a high pressure call that has instant impact. The ability to spoof phone numbers is what makes it so instantly scary.”

Kasper said this scam is the most recent advancement in phone and social networking scams being perpetrated by criminals. Kasper said the FBI is continually shutting down these lawbreakers in the United States but they keep popping up elsewhere.

“They grow more sophisticated all the time, but on our side is that the consumers are also getting more sophisticated in recognizing them,” he said. “The key for the victims is to slow things down, control their emotions.”

The FBI doesn’t have national statistics on virtual kidnapping because most victims report the crime to just the local police or don’t report it at all. The FBI thinks this scam is still widespread so they are asking people to report these calls.

The scammers probably dial lots of possible victims every day hopeful to get success on at least one. They most likely keep calling until they come across one person that can’t reach their loved ones and panics. The deception is probably a “high volume” scam that succeeds often enough that it is profitable for the scammers.

Here is how to avoid falling victim to a virtual kidnapping. Ask them if you can talk to “Bill” and beg them not to hurt Bill, knowing full well you are not related to anyone named Bill. When they say you can’t talk to Bill you will know they aren’t telling the truth. Catching them in a lie early on will ease your mind and give you the advantage.

Try to call the alleged victim on another phone or utilize some other method like texting or even instant messaging to contact the person who has supposedly been kidnapped. If you are traveling with the purported kidnapping victim but you are not with the person right then, you might want to call the hotel where they are staying and ask them to perform a “Welfare Check” if you think they might be in their room.

Ask for proof from the supposed kidnapper that they have possession of the purported victim. Ask for a current photograph or video of the person that they allegedly kidnapped. Most cell phones have a camera that the kidnapper could use to verify if this is a scam or not. Proof of possession can help differentiate between actual kidnappings and virtual kidnappings.

Check the caller ID to see if the caller is dialing from a location that is where the victim was last known to be. If the scammer is not using the supposed victim’s phone, you can challenge the person calling to call you back from this cellphone. Keep in mind though that the phone number may be spoofed.

Report to the FBI or local law enforcement without delay and inform them of any virtual kidnapping attempt and provide them with as much evidence as you can. This might include the phone number that the call came from if you still have it. You should also file a statement with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport.

Be sure to protect yourself from credit card crooks:

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Our lives are a series of credit card swipes for purchases. We swipe for gas, we swipe for groceries, and we swipe for our morning Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato. If we are behind someone who is using cash or especially a check, we get aggravated. Why mess with cash when you can get to all your money on a small plastic card? The card you use to handle your purchases has weaknesses that hackers are only too happy to exploit.

Over the last several years, the number of credit cards that had their information illegally acquired has had a dramatically increased according to FICO, the credit scoring company that is used by most banks and lenders to determine borrowers’ financial soundness. There was a 26 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 in the amount of places where debit card financial information was stolen they reported. And those penetrations required thousands of people to have to get new cards.

It is extremely easy for thieves to steal your debit card information. Crooks can place skimming devices and/or cameras over the keypads at gas pumps or ATMs to capture PINS and card numbers and then put this information onto a counterfeit card that they can utilize to hack into your personal bank account. There recently was a skimmer found on a gas pump in Lockport. It was removed before any credit card information was stolen.

The improvement of skimming technology contributes to the rise in credit card crime. For less than $100, anyone can purchase a skimmer from a marketplace online and they are making them even smaller and harder to detect. Online, the simplicity of skimming breeds even more theft when people become successful and then they become more organized.

There is also the practice of “Social Engineering.” Years ago someone from “credit card security” called me at 2:00 AM waking my wife and me. They claimed my CC number was being used to make calls to India, Pakistan and China and wanted us to verify our numbers. All he wanted was my CC number, the pin and the name on the card to verify I was “the proper person” he was calling. He was a very smooth operator and by feigning stupidity, I kept them on the line for almost an hour. I enjoyed listening to his banter he had instantaneous answers to all my questions but when I asked him where he was calling from he hesitated. That’s when he started to unravel. I asked the scammer “Where are you located?” After a long delay (like they had to look it up) they responded West Menlo Park CA. I then decided to ask a political question and asked “What congressional district are you in?” It was at this point the phone went dead.

The Federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act stipulates that if you report your card is lost or stolen before someone uses it, you are not liable for the fraudulent transactions. If your credit card is used before you report it, your liability could depend on how quickly you report it. In most cases, if you report it within two business days the maximum you might be held liable for is $50. If you wait more than that to alert your bank you could be liable for up to $500. However most credit card companies will waive the fraudulent charges the first time.

Here is a tips to lessen the possibility your card will be compromised. Be aware of the ATM you’re using. If anything looks out of place or your card doesn’t go into the machine easily, walk away. If you use an ATM and your card isn’t immediately returned, contact your bank or financial institution at once. Pay attention to the people lingering near you. If someone is standing a little too close, don’t complete your transaction. Go away. Check your bank account regularly and set up an online alert for your accounts. Ensure all your contact information (address, email, and mobile number) is correct on your account.

It has become very simple for crooks to steal credit card data. Criminals place cameras and/ or skimming devices over the keypads at ATMs or at gas pumps to capture your card numbers and PINS and then insert the information onto a card that they can use to access your bank account.

I’m not relating all this to you to panic you. Just to advise you to be careful out there.

Norb is a writer from Lockport who just got several million dollars from a Nigerian prince and he expects the funds to be deposited in his bank account soon. You can follow him at his blog WhyWNY.Home.blog