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.

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Immunotherapy

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As an eight year, three time, cancer survivor, I always read with interest about the latest advances in cancer treatment. Over the years I have been poked, prodded and probed. I have been subjected to MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, PET scans and frequent Blood work. When I had my prostatectomy, my surgeon said if I had waited 2-4 weeks longer, he wouldn’t have been able to save me. I have endured a few rounds of chemo and a few surgeries. I also had several months of radiation therapy at CCS in Lockport with Dr. Yi, which I credit as the treatment that saved my life.

I had so many doctors, procedures and was administered so many drugs that I had to carry a small note pad with me so I could remember them all. I also had a port installed in my chest that made it necessary for me to carry a card so I could pass thru airport security.

Because of this, I am intrigued with the latest course of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. A recently discovered method that uses the patient’s own body to cause the death of cancer cells that scientists have said might be more successful than the present treatment procedures.

Most current anti-cancer therapies like chemotherapy and radiation work by killing cancer cells through a process called “apoptosis” which activates proteins called “caspases”. This leads to cell death. However in apoptosis, the therapies used often fail to kill all the cancer cells which can lead to the disease recurring or relapse.

This is what happened with me. The prostate cancer I had been treated for reappeared in a different location on two separate occasions, years apart. This is caused by the cancer cells breaking off from my original tumor and swimming around till they found a nice place to live and multiply. The first time this happened was in the fatty tissue below my liver. The last time I was diagnosed as having stage 4 cancer. I had 3 tumors. One in the lymph nodes in my lower abdomen and 2 along my windpipe.  I now am looking at my 4th fight because my Prostrate Specific Antigen went up. This usually indicates a return of the cancer.

Chemotherapy, due to the fact they infuse toxic poisons into your body can cause nasty side effects. The chemo I had put me in the hospital and caused all my hair to fall out. Scientists from the University of Glasgow sought to create a way to develop a therapy that kills the cancer cells while reducing the unwanted toxicity.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment designed to allow a cancer patient’s very own immune system to discover and eradicate cancer cells where ever they are in the body. New immunotherapeutic methods have been successful when used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung, melanoma, bladder and kidney cancers. Clinical trials are under way for over 25 additional types of cancer. Patients who do respond to treatment have a much higher probability of a continued response because the immune system’s memory leads to an extended protection.

Scientists say they discovered a method to separate cancer killing immune cells from a donor’s blood and then multiply them by millions. The “neutrophil” cells are a part of your body’s primary line of defense against foreign invaders. This is also known as the “innate immune system”. These cells are thought to be the reason that some people will naturally reject powerful cancers in circumstances that are described as a “miracle recovery”. And the clinical trials for this new therapy may possibly be happening as early as this year thanks to LIfT in conjunction with researchers from King’s College in London, England.

“It is something that I don’t believe has been done before, and producing these specific cells with cancer-killing ability is a notion we had not thought of before. We are excited by these early results.” Said Alex Blyth, chief executive of LIfT Biosciences, whose mother Margaret was killed by pancreatic cancer in 2014. The team will focus on pancreatic cancer as this is one of the most lethal solid cancers. Mr. Blyth says neutrophils can be given to anyone without fear of serious rejection.

There is evidence the neutrophils can often become “blind” to cancer, but when they do target the cancer, they eradicate up to 95% of the test cancer cells within 24 hours.

LIfT’s team has collected thousands of cells discarded as unwanted waste products by blood banks and is mass-screening them for their cancer-killing potential.

Unlike apoptosis, which is a silent form of cell death, when cancer cells die through Caspase Independent Cell Death, called CICD, they alert the immune system through the release of inflammatory proteins. The immune system can then attack the remaining tumor cells that evaded the initial therapy induced death.

The trials, if they go ahead early this year, will involve a small number of patients with pancreatic cancer. The new method of killing cancer cells has led to the complete eradication of tumors in experimental models.

For those of us who have had cancer or are fighting cancer, these are exciting times. I hope the Food and Drug Administration approves this therapy as soon as possible. No one should have to go through what I went through.

Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport.

Supreme Court

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Along with many, many other people, I was watching the Senate hearings with Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh on television the other day.  It’s not like I had a choice. This was on all the channels. But it makes no difference what you watch. Every news program, talk show, every sports game and sitcom have become so politicalized that I have a hard time watching any television at all.  I have heard so many conflicting things that I thought I’d never be able to sort them out enough to form an opinion or write anything about it. Yet, here I am, typing away.

On the surface, the hearing was primarily a she said/he said event. I know all about that. I helped raise three children of my own and I’ve heard it all before. The she said/he said arguments are unreliable at best. I have found that the truth in a matter like this doesn’t rest with either account of the facts but somewhere in between. Every person will make a decision about this based on their own bias.  These decisions are based on our own human imperfections and prejudices not on some indefinable “truth.”

Two people, one of them an alleged victim, holding her hands with fingers pressed together like she was praying, expressing fear and trepidation, the other, an accused perpetrator, holding his hands up, tense, fingers spread out like we do to defend ourselves were on stage.  Behind both of them they have a lifetime of accomplishment, a lifetime of achievement and a deep knowledge that there was so very much at stake. This man, described as impartial and seeking only justice, if confirmed, will be impacting the lives of countless others for decades to come.

She said that “something happened” over and over again. After a little while I lost count of the times I heard “something happened.”  Something happened was the vague description she used to mean an incident that might have included an unlimited number of possibilities.  Something happened.

She said the memories of this “something” came out a few years ago in therapy but she chose this time to reveal them. I don’t doubt that something happened but I question her timing. I smell a rat or two.

Brett Kavanaugh said “My ten-year old said we should pray for her,” these were not the words of an astute and caring child but those of a religious adult discussing a troubled woman. Ford and Kavanaugh are not the only ones with so much at stake.

Around these two people were Senators, ingrained in their own personal allegiance to the parties they belong to. I don’t know if anything Ford or Kavanagh said could have changed any of the Senator’s preconceived notions.  The Senators, even if they weren’t running for reelection at this time were there to protect their party’s interests. Both Ford and Kavanaugh could have recited their favorite poems and the end result would have been exactly the same.

They will take a vote, and I know it will be right along party lines. The end result is that we are all losers in this process.

The first loser is all women. The message to them is that it is extremely difficult to be victorious against high-profile politicians. The message to them is it is hard to win over people in power over an incident that may have happened over three decades ago.

The second loser is going to be the judicial system. It will look like both the legislative and executive branches of government are looking after their own interests, not the interests of the people that elected them.  I know that the nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh thinks there has to be a Democratic plot behind all this and I don’t doubt he may be right.

The third is all of us. It makes no difference if you believe Ford or Kavanaugh or neither one but you should be outraged by a system that has become ignorant of the wishes of the people it was elected to serve. And right now, in this venomous environment in which we live, this may be the one thing that we can all agree on.

I think these proceedings have tarnished other countries view of America. I don’t think we are now being perceived as a world superpower but rather as a bunch of children that can’t play well together, that can’t share our toys in the sandbox. This makes me sad.

I’ve had enough. I think I will be taking a hiatus from network television for a while till everybody learns how to get along again, until sitcoms become sitcoms again and not soap boxes for some people to push their own political agenda. I am glad I never ran for office and can now see why the best and brightest among us choose not to run.

To think I spent four years of my life serving this country to have it come to this. Where do I go to get those years back?

Protecting your idenity

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Given all the hacks and data breaches these days, you should probably presume that your personal data has already been exposed. That it is on the dark web, known by criminals and they are either going to sell your data to other criminals or scheming to use it themselves. However, there are sound personal identity practices you can use to protect your identity from online thieves. Guarding against Identity theft is a responsibility, as well as a struggle every day.

You must protect your Social Security number (SSN). You will live in many different places in your life, you will have different account numbers, but you will always have the same Social Security number. Guard your Social Security number like the valuable product that it is. Be extremely careful in providing your Social Security Number to anyone and be sure that the person you are giving it to has a valid reason for needing it.

Never give out your SSN to anyone that calls on the phone unless you know the person. You shouldn’t just give your number to someone who calls “from (your doctor’s) office” that you don’t know.  Hang up and call the doctor’s office to see if they called and have a legitimate need for this number. Also don’t send your SSN to any website. The only websites that should need your SSN are the Social Security website or other government websites.

Beware of clicking on a website sent to you in an email. Phony websites are set up that mimic genuine websites. The safest thing to do is to type the web address (URL) into your browser.

You must consider your passwords and privacy settings very seriously. Granted, it is a real pain to use robust, complicated passwords, changing them frequently, and keeping your privacy settings set to high on your online accounts. It’s a much bigger problem to be the object of an identity fraud.

Be very, very careful what you share on social media. Social media sites are a fantastic place to connect with friends and family to let them know about what is going on in your life. They are also wonderful places to post your personal information that will aid thieves unintentionally or to let thieves know that you are on vacation so that they can visit your house and clean you out.

Review your credit report and credit card statements periodically. Make sure that you regularly check your credit report for fake accounts that are created using your identity. Sometimes a thief will make a small charge on your credit card account to see how closely you check your bill. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using several free websites

Mailboxes are a prime target for criminals. Most are left unattended with personal mail in them including financial information or credit card applications for at least part of the day. Don’t leave your outgoing bills in the mailbox. The raised flag notifies criminals that there is something inside to steal. If it is a payment, they will be able to get your bank account information off your check. For incoming mail, consider a locking mailbox that denies thieves easy access. Shred all discarded mail containing personal and account information instead of just throwing it out.

Watch what you do outside your home. Don’t leave your credit or debit card out in plain sight while making payments in stores. Don’t fill out deposit slips at the bank with your account information available to anyone looking over your shoulder. Don’t forget to cover the keyboard as you type in your PIN at your local ATM. Be careful when you connect to websites or apps through unsecure public Wi-Fi spots and transmit any personal information. All of these actions can give thieves access to your personal data.

Criminals that may already have your personal information will attempt to file a bogus tax form in an attempt to get your refund, before you even find out that your information has been stolen. Beat them to the punch by filing your return electronically as soon as you have all the required information.

Frequently you will get emails and solicitations just because your email address was in the address book of one of your friends whose accounts were hacked. This has happened to us. Phony Facebook accounts can be cloned and all the contacts of one of your friends can be compromised. Your “friend” will then send you a message sending you to a dangerous website. Either that or you will get a “Friend Request” from them. You can’t make everyone use the same level of protection that you do, but you can let them know how important it is to of do so.

Once you start thinking like a crook and look at all of the possibilities for personal information theft, you can make yourself safer. No strategy is air tight, but a good identity protection plan can go a long way in reducing your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud and having to deal with months or possibly years of trying to restore your credit.

Tagged with: Identity theft, Social Security number, passwords, Social media