Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gift Card Scam - Buyer Beware

More and more, you'll find gift cards for one store sold at another - the local supermarkets here have whole racks full of gift cards for stores like Home Depot and Barnes & Noble. This is very convenient, but be very careful about buying them. Make sure that the card you select has a strip covering a PIN# that needs to be revealed before the card can be used, and then also keep an eye out during the transaction to make sure the card you buy is the card activated and given back to you by the cashier. When I was alerted to this scam I was skeptical, but it does seem to be a real scam!

From snopes:

Ways in Which Thieves are Utilizing Gift Cards:

* Swindlers make note of the numbers displayed on cards being offered for sale, then periodically check to see if these numbers have gone live; that is, that the cards bearing them have been purchased and loaded with monetary values. When they find ones that have, they use them to make online ("card not present" aka "CNP") purchases and so drain them of their cash value before their rightful owners attempt to use them.

* Employees at stores where gift cards are being vended steal them off the rack, activate them with the stores' scanners, then go on their own shopping sprees, sometimes using plastic stolen in this fashion to purchase other cards, thereby laundering their ill-gotten goods.

* Thieves pretending to be customers engage in a bit of sleight of hand by swapping blanks (stolen on previous trips) for cards activated by clerks during the sale, then regretfully change their minds and cancel their purchases. Those manning the cash registers are none the wiser because it looks like they got back the same cards, but the fully charged cards ride out of the stores in the thieves' pockets. In December 2002, two Tennessee men pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges after they were caught running this scam in an operation that stretched across six states and cost Wal-Mart more than $35,000.

* Cards filched directly from store racks find their way to online auction sites, where the unsuspecting will bid on them, thinking they're getting a deal. The National Retail Federation advises consumers to purchase gift cards online only through reputable retailers and never through online auction sites, which may be dealing in stolen or counterfeit cards.

* Crooks will unobtrusively slit open bar code-bearing gift card packaging to remove new unsold cards and replace them with old used-up ones. When these nil-value cards are sold, the activation of the packaging's bar codes loads the real cards (which are in the thieves' possession) with the values they've been bought for. The hapless purchasers, the ones who forked over money for the cards, leave in possession of worthless bits of plastic.

How to Avoid Gift Card Scams:

* Purchase gift cards only from reputable sources, preferably directly from the store.

* Don't solely rely on a clerk's selecting cards for you from publicly-inaccessible stock as your one and only protection against being defrauded. Also examine both sides of cards yourself, keeping an eye out for signs of tampering and/or the exposure of the cards' PINs. Refuse to purchase cards where either is evident.

* If acquiring cards on the Internet, buy them from the online versions of the stores they are to be used in. Never buy them from auction sites, even if it looks like you could score a real bargain by doing so. Remind yourself that cards sold through auction sites have often turned out to be stolen or counterfeit.

* Keep your receipt as proof of purchase for as long as you have value stored on the card. Should you ever lose that gift card, use that receipt to ask the retailer to issue you a replacement. (Not all retailers will do this. But at least some do, so ask.)

* Immediately after buying a gift card in a store, ask the cashier to scan the card itself to ensure the plastic you bought is valid and bears the proper value. (This will protect you against the card's having been swapped out of its packaging for a zero-balance one.)

* Bear in mind that reputable companies will not ask gift card buyers to provide their Social Security numbers, bank account information, or dates of birth. If when trying to purchase such cards you're asked for this, walk away from the deal.

* If the card's issuer offers this option, register your gift card at that store's web site. Doing so gives you the ability to periodically check your card's balance online and so catch on to any misuse of the card far earlier than you otherwise would.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sign Of The Apocalypse - Dog Mates With Cat; Cat Gives Birth To Puppies!

Oh, those crazy Brazilians! You may have heard how liberal their attitudes towards sex are. Well, it seems the domestic pets are just as liberal. A family in Brazil says their cat mated with a neighbor's dog, and produced offspring - three kittens and three puppies. Many are skeptical, but blood tests are being performed. Meanwhile, check out this slideshow:

Friday, November 17, 2006

How To Pimp Out Your Dog

Do your dog's chew toys and clothing lack a little, um... gangsta street cred? Well, Snoop Dogg of all people is launching a line of pet products on such plush headphones, Boom Boxes and Dobermans that play sound clips of Snoop Dogg. There will also be dog clothing such as Basketball Jerseys and Hoodie Sweatshirts. Mookie can hardly wait.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Happy Day Happy Day

The Mets 2007 schedule has been released! Ha ha!!

Pitchers and catchers report in 92 days!

For more Mets content visit

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Some links

Just going through my recent surfing history, here are some links I found interesting:

According to an article on Wikipedia, in terms of American's Self-Described Religious Identification, as of 2001: we are 80% Christian (Catholic 26%, Baptist 17%, Methodist 7%, nondenominational 7%, Lutheran 5%, Presbyterian 3%, Pentecostal 2%, Episcopalian 2%, Latter Day Saints 1.4%, Jehovah's Witnesses .8%), 15% No Religion/Athiest/Agnostic, 1.4% Jewish, 0.6% Muslim, 0.5% Buddhist, 0.4% Hindu, 0.3% Unitarian, but as a whole, only about 21% of Americans actually go to church one or more times a week.

So, if you take all the Christians, subtract the Jehovah's Witnesses, and assume that the majority of agnostics celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, roughly 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. Santa Claus beats Jesus in a landslide.

/ / / / /

U.S. Airways is trying to buy Delta for $8 billion. To me, all airlines stink. Delta's always late and US Airways will lose your bags. I don't even want to think about what the super-airline would be like.

/ / / / /

It's not enough that he got away with murder; O.J. has to taunt us about it. How do his kids even look at him?

/ / / /

The Black Eyed Peas are off my list.

/ / / /

Here's something to laugh at:

Vote For The New Seven Wonders Of The World

Everyone's heard of the "Seven Wonders Of The World," but few people can name them.

The seven ancient wonders of the world are: The Egyptian pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Pharos lighthouse off Alexandria.

Except for the pyramids, and maybe the Zeus statue, I honestly don't even know what the other five are or what their significance is.

So to get folks excited about the world again, I suppose, there is a "global competition" to update the list. You can go online, and register, and vote for the seven new wonders. Of the 21 nominees, here were my votes:

The Acropolis, Chichen Itza, The Roman Colosseum, The Easter Island Statues, The Great Wall of China, The Pyramids of Giza, and Stonehenge.

To me, a "wonder" is something you look at and can't imagine how it was constructed, and has some mystery surrounding it. Other nominations, such as the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, are awe-inspiring, but there isn't a great deal of mystery or "wonder" about them But you can vote for yourself.

Go to and vote. The winners will be announced in July.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gas Prices Jump

For some reason the gas prices jumped up by 10 cents overnight, at least here in Greensboro. I should have filled up yesterday, when I saw regular unleaded for $2.03 a gallon. Instead I filled up this morning for $2.13. Gee, I wonder what caused the price increase? Could it be that the election has passed? Hmmmm...

Still glad I bought the Civic Hybrid. I drove 425 miles on this tank, getting over 41 mpg.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Some Recent Motion Picture Viewings

We've seen a bunch of movies lately, so I thought I'd write my thoughts and ratings. The commonality between them all is: confusing!

The Departed
This is one of the best movies I've seen in a while. It has it all. Great actors (Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Leo DiCaprio), great acting, a great script, great direction (Scorcese), and a hell of a story. What more could you want? A great soundtrack? Yeah, it's got that too. It's a long movie, but even for a guy with a short attention span, it gripped me throughout. This movie will keep you on your toes, with a lot of twists and turns and you'll have to keep reminding yourself who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. But as Nicholson's character says, "when you're looking down the barrel of a gun, what's the difference?" Don't be too hard on yourself if the ending leaves you scratching your head - it's a complex movie, and one that you'll want to watch again.
Grade: A

Donnie Darko
I rented this last night at the recommendation of my buddy Tubby, who said it was one of his favorite movies of all time. I gotta say, I was confused as all hell. Just from reading the plot synopsis on the back, "Donnie Darko is a disturbed adolescent from a semi-functional upper-middle-class family. After nearly escaping from death because he hears the voice of a 6-foot-tall bunny, Donnie is led by the bunny to create havoc that is both destructive and creative," I said to Tubby "WTF?" He said don't worry, it all gets explained at the end. Well, he was half right. It was all explained at the end when I went online to see if some other people could explain it to me. This Jake Glyllenhall guy makes some interesting choices for his acting career, man. Besides sharing screen time with a guy in a bunny suit and making out with a cowboy, he's also been Bubble Boy. I can't hate on this Donnie Darko flick too much just because I didn't understand most of it, but if you're a fan of 80's music you might enjoy seeing your favorite old songs set to film. Just don't ask me to explain it, OK?
Grade: B

WordPlay (on DVD)
This is a documentary about people who are obsessed with crossword puzzles. It features Will Shortz, who is the New York Times crossword editor, Merl Reagle, who is a crossword creator, a bunch of people competing for the annual crossword championship, and a few celebrities who love crosswords, like Jon Stewart, Mike Mussina, The Indigo Girls, and Bill Clinton. This is a pretty good movie. I'd recommend it, even if you've never done one, or get confused and frustrated and angry while doing them. Watching it got my wife inspired to take them up, so how much more of an endorsement do you want?
Grade: B+

Stranger Than Fiction
The plotline and premise of this film sound confusing, but it's not hard to follow at all. Basically, and I'm only giving away what's given away in the trailer, Will Ferrell is just living his life, when he starts hearing voices in his head. He realizes that it's a narrator and he is the main character. This is frustrating enough, when he realizes that his death is imminent. Will Ferrel and Dustin Hoffman are excellent, as is the love interest in the film, let's see what's her name? Maggie Gyllenhaal. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say she's related to the actor mentioned above, without even looking it up. She seemed really familiar to me while watching the movie, though I couldn't remember what I'd seen her in. Was it the resemblence to her (brother)? Was it just her amazing acting ability that made me feel like I knew her? Or had I actually seen her in a previous performance? Let's see... hmm... I did see Mona Lisa Smile but don't remember her character, or much of that movie... I also saw Adaptation which was a great flick but I don't think that was it... holy moly! Donnie Darko! Yeah, she played Donne's sister. That's funny. I wonder how many siblings have played siblings in movies?

Okay, back to Stranger Than Fiction. This movie is really funny but not as ridiculous as you would expect a Will Ferrell film with as crazy a premise as this to be. It's actually rather inspiring. Go check it out before the people you work with who've seen it give the whole thing away.
Grade: B+

Two B's, a B+ and an A. Hey, I've seen some good movies lately! Either that, or I've forgotten some clunkers. I'll rack my brain tonight and see if there aren't any movies I've seen lately that warrant F's.