Still Digging For Jimmy

This summer marks the 47th anniversary of the abrupt disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, the former head of the Teamsters Union. On July 30, 1975, Hoffa was last seen in a restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit; he was legally declared dead in 1982. Hoffa is one of the most famous missing persons in American history, right up there with Amelia Earhart. TIME magazine, at least, places Hoffa with Earhart on the list of “top 10 famous disappearances.”

In the 47 years since Hoffa vanished, the FBI has spent a lot of time, and done a lot of digging, looking for him. An interesting article this summer by a current Harvard Law School professor recounts the high points of the extensive, long-running, and so far totally fruitless search for Hoffa’s presumed remains. As the article explains, over the last 47 years a rogue’s gallery of criminals, with the kind of nicknames you would expect if you’ve watched The Sopranos, have claimed knowledge of what happened to Hoffa and where he can be found. Their stories have differed, placing Hoffa’s remains in Florida swamps, in the concrete under Giants Stadium, in a Georgia golf course, and at various locations around Michigan. The FBI has investigated the claims, often to the point of digging, and nothing is found. The most recent, nine-month-long investigation focused on a former landfill under the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, New Jersey, and the FBI reported just last month that the effort came up empty.

Based on the record, it’s probably only a matter of time before another colorful character claims to have been involved in Hoffa’s disappearance, identifies a new spot, and the FBI gets out the shovels and does more digging for Jimmy. But after 47 years, it seems like the trail must be awfully cold. Whoever actually knew what happened to Jimmy Hoffa hasn’t talked about it, and unless we get a verifiable deathbed confession, we’ll probably never know. But at the FBI, the shovels are still at the ready, just in case.

The Reverse Starbucks Effect

Some years ago I wrote about the so-called “Starbucks Effect.” discovered when economists had crunched some numbers and found that houses located near a Starbucks coffee shop appreciated more than houses far away from the nearest Starbucks. The open question was whether the finding was the result of causation–i.e., that the decision to locate a Starbucks caused house prices to climb–or simple correlation.

Now, perhaps, we’ll get to see if there is a reverse “Starbucks Effect,” because the ubiquitous coffee chain is closing 16 stores–one in Washington, D.C., one in central Philadelphia, six in the Seattle area, six in the Los Angeles area, and two in Portland–because of personal safety concerns reported by employees. Many of the safety concerns, set forth in “incident reports” Starbucks employees submitted to the company, apparently involve drug use issues and encounters with customers and the general public.

A news article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the closure of the Philadelphia location reports that the Starbucks and other businesses in the Center City District had persistent problems with drug users in bathrooms, and that Starbucks has changed its policies to empower store employees to close restrooms and even entire stores in response to safety concerns. The Inquirer article noted that the drug use problem at the Philadelphia Starbucks was so significant that the store installed blue light bulbs in the bathroom, which are supposed to deter intravenous drug use by making veins less visible, In addition, the article reported that the store was the source of a number of “calls for service” to the Philadelphia police, primarily for individuals fighting.

It’s sad to think that coffee shops have become such unsafe spaces in some cities, but you can’t blame Starbucks for closing locations where there is a pattern of safety concerns that raise obvious liability risks. And you also have to wonder how people in the neighborhoods where the Starbucks stores are closing feel about the decision. What kind of message does it send if your area is deemed too unsafe for a Starbucks?

In Dangerous Times

Earlier this week Dave Chappelle was ending a show at the Hollywood Bowl when he was assaulted by a man who came up on stage and tried to tackle the comedian. The attacker, who was armed with a fake gun that contained a knife blade, was subdued by security as Chappelle finished his show. Ironically, during the show Chappelle had apparently just been joking about having increased security in the wake of the Will Smith-Chris Rock-Oscars incident, and Chris Rock–who was at Chappelle’s performance–came on stage and jokingly asked Chappelle whether the assailant was Will Smith.

We can tip our caps to Chappelle and Rock for their faithful adherence to “the show must go on” tradition in show business, but the attacks on performers obviously aren’t funny. The Hollywood Reporter has published a piece headlined “Nobody’s Safe: Dave Chappelle Attack Raises Concerns For Performers” that addresses the incidents that reflect the increasing risks involved in performing in public. The concern is that the invisible but previously respected barrier between the stage and the audience has been breached, and that performers now have to be wary of the possibility of being physically confronted by some lunatic every time they go before the public to do a show. While that is a risk for any live performer, the risk is greater for a comedian, who is up on stage, alone, and might just make a joke that some unbalanced person in the audience finds personally provoking. And the Chappelle incident, coming on the heels of the Will Smith-Chris Rock assault, raises heightened concern that copycats might be lurking out there, ready to charge the stage at any comedy venue.

Chappelle, who is a real pro, issued a statement after the attack saying that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”  I hope that turns out to be true, and that performers everywhere continue to perform before live audiences, albeit with enhanced security and greater attention to their safety. There is a certain magic in seeing a live performance that simply can’t be replicated in a Netflix special, and I would hate to see that lost. But if these kinds of incidents continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers decide that live acts just aren’t worth it. In dangerous times like these, who could criticize them for being unwilling to take that risk?

Root Causes Can’t Be Ignored

All big cities have some kind of homelessness problem. San Francisco’s is worse than most. To address it, San Francisco adopted a “housing first” policy and dedicated millions of dollars of the city’s $1.1 billion budget for the homeless to implementing it. The concept was to tackle the issue by getting homeless people off the streets and putting them into “single room occupancy” (SRO) hotels purchased by the city for that purpose.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle investigative report took a look at the program and concluded that the results have been “disastrous”–as the headline above indicates. The Chronicle article is behind a pay wall, but an article in the City Journal summarized the gist of the Chronicle article as follows:

“The horrors of SROs were put on display to the public in a recent San Francisco Chronicle feature. The story tells of people living in buildings with collapsing ceilings, toxic mold, vermin, noxious odors, constant noise, broken appliances, and unchecked violence. It also notes that at least 166 people fatally overdosed in these hotels in 2020 and 2021. This official number, however, is suspicious for being so low. San Francisco’s medical examiner reported at least 1,300 overdose deaths citywide in the last two years, most commonly for illicit fentanyl combined with other drugs.”

The City Journal article indicates that life in San Francisco’s SRO hotels is a nightmare. The article quotes one former resident:

“’There needs to be a better vetting process,’ says 25-year-old Darren Mark Stallcup, who until recently lived in an SRO. ‘The city was moving everyone in; people who were sketchy, violent. They were fentanyl addicts, just out of jail, or in gangs. People were breaking my door down. I would wake up having to throw punches.’”

The “housing first” policy may be good hearted, but it evidently isn’t working because housing is only part of the problem. Mentally ill people need special care; drug addicts need treatment to kick the habit. And putting violent people, mentally ill people, current users, and recovering addicts into the same facilities is only going to create a toxic stew and dangerous environment that won’t help anyone. The City Journal article quotes another “long-time SRO resident,” who explains: “If you’re a woman, your life will be a living hell. No one cares. High functioning people regress. Some want to stay sober, but they can’t. Eventually they pick up a pipe again because almost everyone around them is using.”

Homelessness is probably the most complicated social problem we face in America these days, encompassing a host of challenging issues like drug use, mental illness, spousal abuse, education, affordable housing, and employment, among others. San Francisco’s experiment with its “housing first” policy indicates that providing housing, by itself, isn’t going to solve the problem. If you don’t tackle the root causes, you’re not going to make any progress.

Harvey And His Duds

When I was a kid, Milk Duds were my favorite movie theater candy, without a doubt. I would buy a box and then, as the movie played, put those little chocolate-covered caramel nuggets on my tongue one by one and let them dissolve slowly until nothing remained. With proper discipline and the intestinal fortitude to resist chewing, you could make a box of Milk Duds last for the whole film, in contrast to people who bought a candy bar that was long since gone by the time the credits rolled.

At some point, though, I outgrew the Milk Duds. However, Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul who has been convicted of crimes in New York and is awaiting trial on charges of rape and sexual assault in California, apparently still can’t resist them. Weinstein got into trouble with his jailers in November because he was found to be in possession of smuggled contraband Milk Duds. Jail officials in Los Angeles believe that the candy was passed to Weinstein as he met with his attorneys to prepare for an upcoming trial.

Weinstein initially claimed that he had brought the Milk Duds with him when he came from New York to California in July, which would mean he made a single box of Milk Duds last from July to November–which is a heck of a lot longer than the length of one movie. Jail officials reject that claim because Weinstein was thoroughly searched at that time and found to be Dud-free. It also seems to be directly contrary to Weinstein’s reported history of egregious self-indulgence and doing whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted.

I imagine the manufacturer of Milk Duds isn’t exactly thrilled that this classic movie candy is now associated with Harvey Weinstein, I know I’ll never look at a box of Milk Duds in the same way again.

A Toe-Curling Phishing Attempt

The other day I got a phishing email at work. No surprise there, everyone gets phishing email as a matter of course. But this email was especially insulting because it was clearly age-related, and suggested that the sender was specifically trying to target those of us who have been around the block a few times.

The phishing email purportedly advertised a “New Toenail Clipper.” That’s an immediate ageist tell: the youngsters out there, still possessed of the flexibility that accompanies the dew of youth, probably can trim their toenails with their teeth. A toenail clipper solicitation can only be aimed at the geriatric brigade.

And the email went on to make the intended target audience even more obvious, using phrases like “Do you have pain when trying to clip your nails because of arthritis or other problems?” and noting, in bold face type, that the advertised clipper would make trimming toenails “easy for everyone.” The clipper had an “ergonomic design,” the email said, that would make it “EASY and SIMPLE to clip toenails without painful pressure.” And the clipper even had a built-in light to help those with dim, failing eyesight make sure that they were cropping off a nail and not lopping off a toe itself. And to top it all off, the email offered the opportunity to get this miracle of modern toenail engineering for 57% off.

Why do I know this was a phishing attempt? Because I’ve never done any shopping that would elicit a toenail trimmer solicitation, no brand was mentioned, the email came from an email address that included the word “phamgiang,” and the big inducement was to get me to click on an unknown link. Other than those obvious clues, it was a pretty sophisticated phishing attempt, complete with color photos and without the misspellings you typically see in phishing efforts. The sender didn’t know, however, that this particular recipient would be offended, rather than enticed, by a blatant age-targeted email.

Still, it’s a good lesson: when it comes to phishing, you need to be on your toes.

The Scourge Of Shoplifting

One of the uglier recent developments in America is the rise in shoplifting. Many of us have seen videos of incredibly brazen shoplifting and incidents where gangs have smashed into retail establishments and looted their stores. Those videos are symptomatic of a much broader rise in shoplifting that a spokesperson for a retail trade association called “out of control.”

The statistics are shocking. A CVS spokesperson says that the drugstore chain has experienced a 300 percent increase in theft since the COVID pandemic began. A Rite Aid store in Manhattan closed its doors after experiencing $200,000 in shoplifting losses in December and January alone, and New York City grocers are hiring increased security to prevent thefts of steaks and other costly items. And 69 percent of retailers report a significant increase in “organized retail crime.”

Why are we seeing a spike in shoplifting? Retailers think that the lack of a police presence and the failure to seriously prosecute shoplifting are contributing factors and are advocating for a greater police presence and sterner prosecution efforts, but they also contend that the ability to easily sell goods online is helping to spur the surge. Organized shoplifting gangs who want to sell stolen goods don’t need to find a “fence” anymore–they can use on-line marketplaces to sell the boosted items. That’s why some retail groups are pushing for enhanced federal regulation of on-line sellers.

The surge in shoplifting should be of concern to all of us. Brick-and-mortar stores have historically been important parts of their communities and the sources of many jobs–especially starter jobs. Every retail store that is forced to close due to shoplifting reduces employment opportunities. And I don’t want to see an America where the only shopping is on-line shopping, or retail stores become prison-like settings with armed guards and all products kept behind lock and key. Unfortunately, if we don’t do something to stop the spike in theft, that may be where we’re heading.

The Fistfight At The Golden Corral

We’ve all heard about the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, when the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday had a deadly confrontation with the Clanton-McLaury gang in Tombstone, Arizona. This week, the news has brought us reports of the Fistfight at the Golden Corral.

It happened last Friday at the Golden Corral restaurant in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. A massive brawl involving about 40 people occurred and reportedly began when the Golden Corral buffet was running out of steak and somebody cut in line. An astonishing video of the incident, which you can find at the above link, shows a turbulent and dangerous scene in which customers are throwing haymakers, swinging and then hurling wooden high chairs and other large items at each other, knocking around the restaurant furniture and colliding with overhead light fixtures while employees try to stop the madness and someone standing nearby repeatedly says “Oh shit”!

Have we really reached the point where Americans will get into mass fistfights at generic suburban restaurants about people cutting in line to get a piece of steak? It’s disturbing to think that general tensions have risen and people are on edge to the point where the slightest provocation could cause them to start hurling wooden chairs at complete strangers in a riotous melee. It makes you wonder just how many people are walking around with a hair trigger, ready to burst.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been made into multiple movies. I doubt that the Fistfight at the Golden Corral will be memorialized on anything other than cellphone video–but that’s bad enough.

Rail Yards And Front Porches

There’s a serious, new crime problem out in Los Angeles: As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, thieves have been breaking into cargo trains in the Los Angeles rail yard, stealing packages being shipped, breaking them open, and running off with the contents–leaving the railyard littered with shredded boxes, wrapping, and other packaging debris. The Times article describes the situation as a “wave of rail car thievery that officials say has been on the rise in recent months.” The Union Pacific railroad is reporting a significant increase in thefts and has brought in drones and additional security and is appealing to local law enforcement for help in policing the rail yards.

You may not have seen the reports on the rail thefts, but you might have unknowingly experienced them if you didn’t get a delivery of a product that you ordered on line. All of those packages that have been taken from rail cars and opened were being shipped to someone, and now they won’t be reaching their intended destination. Many goods being shipped in our internet economy are transported by rail, and if they are intercepted and stolen by thieves they aren’t going to make it to your front porch.

Why are the rail yard thefts spiking? The Times article quotes officials who say that the Los Angeles rail yard is a bottleneck, who note that a large homeless encampment is nearby, and who blame Union Pacific for not employing more security in the area. Others think there are deeper causes. The City Journal, in an article on the rail thefts, contends: “These recent rail thefts are an example of what happens when a progressive prosecutor—in this case Los Angeles County district attorney George Gascón—virtually eliminates nonviolent property crimes from a state’s penal codes by declining to prosecute such cases.” The City Journal article reports that Union Pacific has reached out to DA Gascon to ask him to reconsider his prosecution policies, and Gascon’s office has responded that it is working with law enforcement on the issue and says it has filed charges in some cases while not pursuing others due to lack of evidence.

Some people dismiss property theft crimes as minor and inconsequential and argue that police and prosecutors should focus on violent crimes rather than worrying about stolen and opened delivery packages. But not all of the packages being stolen and opened contain harmless consumer goods; among the items that have been stolen from the cargo trains are shipments of handguns and shotguns. And if criminals conclude that there is no risk in committing crimes, they have every incentive to expand their criminal activity. If a culture of lawlessness develops, it isn’t going to stop at the rail yard fence line.

Equally important, the security of every link in our fragile national supply chain is important: our ever-growing internet economy can’t work if thieves can brazenly steal packages destined for consumers from trains–or trucks, or other delivery methods–without fear of being caught or prosecuted. If Amazon and the countless other internet retailers can’t safely ship packages, the consequences in terms of jobs and economic activity could be immense. And if you are one of the many people who used internet shopping as a lifeline during the shutdown periods in the COVID pandemic, you should be concerned about that lifeline being snipped by unprosecuted crime.

The Bad Guys Out There

Every day, at the office, I receive multiple obviously fraudulent emails, and our IT department regularly sends out notices to advise us of still other phishing attempts that are being sent to our attorneys. And the fraud attempts aren’t just limited to my email, either–it seems like at least once a week I get a phony text, or a phony Messenger message, or a phony friend invitation from an unknown person or former Facebook user who I know for a certainty has passed to the Great Beyond.

In short, my own personal experience teaches that there’s a heck of a lot of fraud out there. Fortunately, most of the fraud attempts are easily detectable if you are just paying attention to the basics of sound data security practices–don’t click on whatever random link you might receive, be suspicious of email from people you’ve never heard of, watch for misspellings and weird language choices, and so on–but still, there is a lot of it.

This regular confrontation with attempted criminal activity is weird, when you think about it. Many of us don’t have any contact with crooks in our daily, non-electronic lives. But now, thanks to the technology that often seems to dominate our existences, new virtual doorways exist that might allow the bad guys to enter and bilk us out of our hard-earned money, steal our personal data, or even take our identities. Every day, on our devices, it’s as if we are walking through dark alleys with unknown people lurking in the recesses and shadowed doorways. And we know they are there, because every day they are sending us those messages that affirmatively remind us of their nefarious existence and criminal intent.

Are there more criminals out there than there once were, or do electronic processes allow the crooks to reach out and touch more people than could occur in the pre-electronic era? My guess is that it is a bit of both, and that a lot of what we are receiving comes from anonymous fraudsters in countries so far away that we never would encounter them but for the internet. Whatever the answer might be, it’s up to us to stay on guard, be vigilant, exercise good judgment at all times, and clutch our data tight when we walk through Internet Alley. It adds a new element of stress to the modern world, where a fleecing may be only one click away.

Mayor Of Kingstown

Every once in a while, you watch a TV show that makes you wonder: could parts of our modern world really be like that? is there somebody who actually has that kind of job, and lives that kind of life?

Mayor of Kingstown, on the Paramount + network, is one of those shows. Set in a town where the main business is prisons, with multiple correctional facilities within a small geographic area, the show focuses on the complicated and explosive balance between guards and gangs, prisoners and police. And the so-called “Mayor” is the guy who is tasked with maintaining the peace between all of the competing factions. Part diplomat, part strategist, and part tough guy who isn’t shy about cracking heads, the Mayor keeps the channels of communication open, advises the guards and the gangs, brokers compromises, and basically does whatever he can to keep a desperate peace in place.

Calling this show “gritty” doesn’t really begin to capture it. It’s about as grim as it gets, with characters who clearly feel trapped in a seamy underworld of violence, crime, and horror. It’s a world where characters drop the f-bomb every second or third word–and you definitely understand why. But the premise is compelling, the show is very well-acted, and the sense of reality, whether in prison or out on the streets, is solid. Jeremy Renner is excellent as Mike McLusky, the poor guy tasked with an impossible job. And we particularly like Tobi Bamtefa as “Bunny,” the smart drug dealer who spends all of his time sitting next to a cooler on a lawn but has his finger on the pulse of the town and helps Mike keep the lid on the pressure cooker, and Nichola Galicia as Rebecca, MIke’s capable, do-everything assistant. Every show like this also needs a fearsome and convincing “bad guy,” and Aidan Gillen more than fits that bill as the cold-blooded, sociopathic Milo Sunter.

Season 1 of Mayor ended with a bang. We’re glad to hear that the Hollywood scuttlebutt is that the show will be renewed for a second season, with new episodes to begin airing later this year. That should give us enough time to brace ourselves for another dip into the grime.

The Ceaseless Quest For Rankings

If you want some tangible evidence of how rankings have affected the activities of colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education, you need look no farther than Philadelphia, Pennsylvania– where a federal court jury recently convicted Moshe Porat, the long-time dean of the Temple University Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management, of mail and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to boost that school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking.

According to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office for Eastern Pennsylvania, Porat, who served as the dean of the business management school from 1996 to 2018, was convicted after the jury found that he had “conspired and schemed to deceive the school’s applicants, students, and donors into believing that the school offered top-ranked business degree programs, so that they would pay tuition and make donations to Temple.” The statement explains that Porat and two other conspirators “agreed to provide false information to U.S. News about the number of Fox’s [on-line MBA (“OMBA”) and part-time MBA (“PMBA”)] students who had taken the Graduate Management Admission Test (“GMAT”); the average work experience of Fox’s PMBA students; and the percentage of Fox students who were enrolled part-time, all because it was believed that better numbers for these metrics would result in better rankings for the programs.”

The scheme to goose the school’s rankings evidently worked, too. The U.S. Attorney statement explains: “Relying on the false information it had received from Fox, U.S. News ranked Fox’s OMBA program Number One in the country four years in a row (2015 – 2018). U.S. News also moved Fox’s PMBA program up its rankings from No. 53 in 2014 to No. 20 in 2015, to No. 16 in 2016, and to No. 7 in 2017.” Porat then touted the rankings in “marketing materials directed at potential Fox students and donors,” and “[e]nrollment in Fox’s OMBA and PMBA programs grew dramatically in a few short years, which led to millions of dollars a year in increased tuition revenues.”

The “rankings” established by publications like U.S. News and World Report have had a profound–and in my view, negative–impact on the world of higher education. Parents and students use them to help in making application decisions, and schools reorient their admissions standards and processes and make other important decisions in an endless quest to better their rankings. The notion that you can boil down the whole college experience, or a law school education, to a ranking based on metrics is absurd on its face, but the rankings give schools something to boast about, or goals to achieve. Never mind the distorting and pernicious effect the zeal for higher rankings might have on a school’s educational mission–or the fact that the rankings have become such a dominant force that they caused one school administrator to apparently engaged in fraudulent conduct.

We’re past the point where our kids are making school decisions, but this incident really makes you wonder how meaningful those rankings really are.

The SF Shoplifting Surge

If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve probably seen one of the two recent San Francisco shoplifting videos that have gone viral. They are shocking, because in both of the videos the thieves are incredibly open and brazen about what they are doing. One video shows a guy on a bicycle, inside a San Francisco area drug store, stuffing stolen merchandise into a garbage bag before cycling out of the store. And just as that video was hitting viral status, another video surfaced of a gang of thieves stealing expensive purses from a high-end department store and sprinting out the door, their arms filled with loot.

This doesn’t appear to be another example of a random video causing an internet frenzy that is hyping something as a huge problem when the problem doesn’t really exist. The stories linked above, from a local San Francisco news station, report an alarming rise in shoplifting–so much so that according to the California Retailers Association, San Francisco is now one of the ten worst cities in America for shoplifting. And retailers are reacting to the alarming surge by shutting down stores or curtailing their hours–although the latter approach might not have an impact given that the thefts in the two videos happened in broad daylight. When retailers close stores or reduce hours of operation, and thereby cut into their revenue streams, you know there is a real problem.

According to one San Francisco official, the increase in shoplifting is the result of a concerted effort by organized criminal gangs, rather than unplanned crimes of opportunity. The S.F. police department and district attorney’s office have been asked to come up with a plan to deal with the problem before it gets worse and more stores close.

The answer to the problem seems pretty obvious: stationing more police, and establishing a more visible police presence, in the retail areas that are experiencing the surge, putting a priority on catching shoplifters, and then prosecuting the apprehended criminals to the fullest extent of the law. The bicycle bandit in one of the viral videos apparently has been caught and is in custody, and that news may help to discourage future theft.

I hope San Francisco takes this effort seriously. I’ve enjoyed my trips to the City by the Bay in the past, but no one wants to go to a place where open criminal activity is occurring. Viral videos like these suggest an atmosphere of lawlessness and insecurity. A would-be visitor’s concern is that if criminals are audaciously engaging in open retail theft, they might be emboldened to engage in other criminal acts, like crimes against people. When people have that perception, they’ll find another place to visit–or live.

Preventing Porch Piracy

Yesterday I went to the grocery store in Grandview to get some provisions. As I was going through the checkout line I noticed a large mustard yellow metal unit with the Amazon logo, shown in the picture above, tucked in a corner nearby.

I asked the checkout lady about it, and she explained that some people are now uncomfortable having Amazon deliver their orders directly to their houses or apartments and leaving the packages there. So, Amazon has addressed the problem by installing these metal locker units—similar to the kind you used to see at bus and train stations—at various points around town, like the Grandview Giant Eagle. Rather than having your order delivered to your home address, it gets delivered to one of these lockers, and the customer is emailed a code that allows them to open the locker unit containing their purchase and retrieve the item at their leisure.

Porch pirates are a real problem, and I’m guessing that some people also are having privacy issues with their purchases being displayed on their doorstep for all the world to see. The lockers try to address those issues. But’s kind of a strange, old-school fix, isn’t it? A big part of the idea of Amazon is convenience and getting things delivered right to your doorstep. With the locker option, you’ve got to get off your couch, go outside, drive somewhere, remember your code, and pick up your stuff.

I wonder how many people who try the locker option will ultimately think they might as well just go to that brick-and-mortar store in their town that sells the item, buy it directly, bring it home themselves, avoid the prying eyes of their neighbors and the porch piracy risk, and skip Amazon altogether?

Bottom Phishers

The IT Department at our firm periodically sends out notices about the latest email phishing scams that are making the rounds. “Phishing,” for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, refers to the efforts of fraudsters to send out emails that purport to be legitimate — like, say, a notice from a reputable bank. The phishers hope to get you to click on a link that either allows them to inject malware into your computer system or asks you to provide personal information, like Social Security numbers or bank account information, that they can then use to defraud you.

In short, phishers are fraudulent scum.

But they are creative, and they make efforts to try to keep up with what is going on in the world. Yesterday, for example, the notice from our IT Department concerned a new phishing email that tried to get the recipient to click on a link that purported to provide information about COVID vaccine scheduling. Like many phishing efforts, this one was oddly phrased and not written in the King’s English and wouldn’t fool most people — but all it takes is a few credulous or concerned people clicking on the link and the fraudsters are off to the races.

As I read the notice from our IT folks, I wondered about what kind of low-life loser would try to take advantage of a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and the interest in being immunized in order to commit fraud and steal money from worried people. If phishers are low-life scum — and they are — then any phisher who would based a phishing effort on coronavirus vaccine distribution is the lowest of the low. You might call them the bottom phishers, which is apt because the fish that live at the bottom of the ocean are typically the ugliest fish of all.

Don’t be deceived by bottom phishers. If you get an email about a vaccine, don’t just click on a link — call your doctor instead.