HE SAYS:

That became the question once I realized I was the victim of identity theft.   Before it was over, I came to a new understanding of how frustrating it is to have your identity and good name assaulted in this way and how inept the system can be in providing any help in stopping the criminals involved.

It started in early April, 2012 while Annemarie and I were on our extended stay at our home in Arizona.  One day, my office manager called to tell me that my new card from a major credit card company had just arrived at my office.   I knew that I had not applied for any new credit cards, so I asked her to scan and e-mail me a copy of the card and the accompanying welcome letter.   Since the credit card had not yet been activated, I immediately called the fraud department of the credit card company and explained to them that the credit card was not requested by me and was a fraudulent transaction.   I must admit, that the credit card company was very cooperative in cancelling the credit card and agreed to flag my name and social security number so that even I could not obtain a new credit card from them without additional security screening.

What both angered and surprised me was that even though the credit card company would confirm that the fraudulent applicant had used my correct date of birth and social security number, they would not provide me with any other information regarding the thief claiming that the thief had privacy rights.  I was outraged that the person who was violating my privacy was able to hide behind the privacy rights afforded him by the very credit card company he was also defrauding.   The credit card company advised that they would give the information to law enforcement agencies if I provided them with an Incident Report; however, as we will see that proved to be a futile and fruitless process.   As an aside, I have not been able to determine how this thief obtained my Social Security Number.

Over the next several days my office was inundated with store cards from just about every major department store chain in the country.   Annemarie and I spent hours of our time calling the fraud departments of each of these stores and, in some cases, the banks that sponsor the store cards to have them cancelled.   Each call was an ordeal trying to work through the automated telephone prompts before you are able to reach a live person, then the list of questions to prove it was really me before they would address my problem, then being put on hold while they looked up my information and then the inevitable transfer to another person or department with more questions before you are finally able to find someone who could offer some help.  We would always follow-up with a letter to document the problem and request confirmation of the cancellation.   Fighting the fires started by the thief became a very time consuming process that took over our daily routine.

One bright spot was that the three major credit bureaus allow you to set up 90 day “Fraud Alerts” that lets the credit card companies know that you are the victim of identity theft.   This did go a long way in stopping or, at least, slowing down the thief’s success in obtaining credit cards in my name.   Instead, I would get calls every day asking if I was indeed the person requesting a new credit card and I would have to explain that I was being victimized by an identity thief.   In each case, they all took the position that the thief had privacy rights and they would not provide me with any information about his identity.

With the credit card situation somewhat in check, the thief turned to making purchases directly online using an online payment account he had set up in my name.   I did not find out about this until I received a bill from the online billing service connected with the fraudulent account.   Again, calls were made to cancel the account and we even called the underlying merchant to tell them directly about the fraud.   Unfortunately, one order had been shipped already and even though we were not being held responsible for the charge, I felt angry that the thief had found a way to be rewarded for his crimes.   Even under these circumstances, neither the online billing service nor the merchant would tell me anything about the thief even though they had his delivery address.   I could not believe that the business that was being robbed would protect the thief in this way.

In each and every case, we were told that it was our responsibility to seek the help of law enforcement since the credit card companies, department stores and even the small merchant all looked at identity theft as part of the cost of doing business and will not pursue criminal charges against identity thieves.

On Wednesday, Joe concludes his story about his personal experiences with identity theft in “Who Would Want To Be Me? (The End, Maybe)”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I have mentioned that we are a very competitive family and that sports have been a big part of our family activities in “Sports Are A Reflection Of Life”; however, I failed to mention that the game we played the most often together as a family and with great competitive spirit was golf.   I don’t mean the version where the players must negotiate vast tracks of well manicured grass at exclusive country clubs.   I mean that much more intricate game of miniature golf that is played with great finesse as well as fine tuned eye hand coordination and motor skills.   In miniature golf you have more to contend with than some sand or a pond; you have to deal with such things as windmills, dragons and sliding trap doors as you traverse the booby trapped course.

Miniature Golf with our children - 1993

Miniature Golf with our children – 1993

Miniature Golf with our children - 1993

Miniature Golf with our children – 1993

Miniature golf became a big part of our Jersey Shore vacation experience and from the beginning we would find the time to play almost every day.   When my children were very young, I would patiently teach them the finer points of the game and as they got better the competition became more intense.   As they were learning the game, I would give each child a handicap based on their age and level of skill in order to keep the matches fair and competitive; however, even the handicap became a bone of contention.   As my children got older, they would invariably complain about the size of someone else’s handicap if that player was playing better than expected.   The handicaps have long since become unnecessary and, eventually, as the students became the teachers and could, on any given day, beat me, the matches became especially competitive with the gauntlet being thrown down at the beginning of every match.   Annemarie decided early on that she would rather be the official and impartial score keeper than be part of this competition.

The Champion Match - 2000

The Champion Match – 2000

One year, we decided to raise the stakes at one of our family matches and, inspired by a movie the children liked, we all agreed that the losers would bow down and say “we are not worthy” to the winner.   I will not reveal who won on that particular occasion but suffice it to say it was one of the children and the whole victory display was videotaped for posterity.   Just this year, when Annemarie, Julia and I went to the Jersey Shore in June to check on the condo, Julia challenged me to a head to head match at our favorite and quite difficult miniature golf course.   The competition was intense and after a well played match Julia emerged the victor.   At her request and in homage to that one match many years earlier, I bowed to her in deference to her greater skill on that day.   She posted that picture on Facebook with the caption “It’s a tough life always winning.”

Julia's Facebook picture - June, 2012

Julia’s Facebook picture – June, 2012

We have had many guest players join us on our family miniature golf matches and we always welcome friends and extended family to join in the fun.   Many of these guest players have been very good and, on occasion, even win the match; however, at its heart, every match is still about the family competition that is miniature golf with the Cardamones.

Our children with some guest players

Our children with some guest players

On Monday, Joe begins his two part story about his personal experience with identity theft in ”Who Would Want To Be Me? (The Beginning)”.  

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

There are times in everyone’s life when you come to the proverbial fork in the road that requires you to make a choice and, sometimes, the direction you take comes to you by chance through a random series of events.   One of the most meaningful changes in my life came as a result of one of those completely unplanned and unexpected events.

Before I get to the heart of the matter, a little background information is in order.  Despite the fact that no one in my family had ever gone to college, my mother always impressed on me the importance of an education and it was a given as far as she was concerned that I would go to college.  As I mentioned in “Simple Lessons”, my mother did go to a “business school” for a year; however, it really was a trade school to learn secretarial and clerical skills so she was not able to give me any practical advice when it came time for me to choose a college.  My high school guidance counselor recommended that I go to the newly expanded campus of a local state university that only a few years earlier had been a small teachers college and lacking any other information I took his advice.

I was unhappy at this local school for many reasons all of which came down to the feeling I had that this was somehow not the college experience I wanted.   It felt ordinary and bland, it was lackluster and uninspiring and it was close to home.   I felt that I wanted more.   Then the fork in the road came by chance.

One Saturday morning during my first spring semester, a fellow student that I barely knew told me that he was driving to Syracuse to see his girlfriend and would I like to go along for the ride.  Looking for any excuse to get away, I agreed to go with him without asking many questions nor was there much information given before or during the drive.  As we approached Syracuse, I was informed that his girlfriend lived with her parents and would I mind if he dropped me off at Syracuse University and pick me up on Sunday as he was sure that I could find a place to “crash” on the campus.  I was surprised but not all that upset since I was curious to see the campus.

I remembered that Carl, a high school acquaintance, had once mentioned that he was going to Syracuse University.  I went to the Student Center and inquired about Carl who was, in fact, a student and I was able to find his dorm room.   He was not at his dorm but his roommate told me that he was working at the Sigma Chi Fraternity so I went there to find him.  He was busy working in the kitchen and told me it would be alright for me to wait for him in the game room of the fraternity.  As I was waiting, I struck up a conversation with some of the fraternity brothers and before long they were inviting me to not only go out drinking with them that evening but also invited me to stay at the fraternity house.   I had a great weekend which proved to be a turning point for me.

By the end of that weekend, I knew that Syracuse University was the place for me and would give me the college experience I was looking for and not finding at my local school.  I was able to get into Syracuse University the following fall as a transfer student and soon was invited to be a pledge and, eventually, a brother of the Psi Psi Chapter of Sigma Chi.  For me, being at Syracuse was an awakening and opened a whole new world of experiences that, in many ways, changed my life.  I met and interacted with people from all over the world, from many walks of life and from every socio-economic level far beyond anything I would ever have experienced in the provincial confines of my home town.   Little did I know that years in the future all of my children would also graduate from Syracuse University and that I would have a life long relationship with the University.

Planning and paying attention to details aside, sometimes, the best choices you can make come upon you by chance.   The unexpected fork in the road may present some risk but taking that risk can lead to wonderful changes in your life.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

What if it was determined that the Mayans got it right and there really is going to be a catastrophic end of the world on December 21, 2012?   What would you do, what would you think, how would you feel?   Here is one way to look at it.

Would it be so bad if we all got our ticket punched on the same day?   We are all going to die, eventually.   Most of us do not know when or how but we are all in that same cosmic queue waiting for our turn to exit this world or enter the next, depending on your beliefs.   In some ways it would take all of the mystery, uncertainty and anxiety out of that waiting game if we all knew that we were going to die on a certain date in that last cataclysmic event.   There is also a degree of comfort in knowing that we all will die on the same day and no one gets to escape or outlive us.   It is the ultimate statement of equality.

Well, you might be saying to yourself at this point, “I was hoping for a long life for myself and my family and I do not want to miss all of the years we might have had left”.   There is merit to that notion; however, if the world were really going to end you might want to consider this alternative notion.   Once you die everything you ever experienced or knew, as far as you are concerned, is gone without a trace, so what difference does it really make if you had a day, a year, or a century of such memories and, since you can’t take those memories with you, of what value would they be to you after you are dead?   Life is more about quality than quantity anyway.   Similarly, the people most affected by your death, your loved ones, will be leaving with you so, again, there is comfort in the fact that no one will need to mourn anyone.

Then, of course, there are the practical benefits.  We would not need to be suffering through another presidential campaign and election, we would no longer need to plan for or worry about our financial futures, and we can do pretty much anything we want since there would be no enduring consequences to our behavior.   No need for taxes (too bad we did not have confirmation of this prediction prior to April 15th) or even a government for that matter and we can put the war on terrorism and global warming behind us.   We are all home free so to speak and everyone wins or loses, depending on your point of view.

On the down side, there would not be nearly enough doughnuts to satisfy the sudden demand once people realize that there is no point to having a healthy lifestyle.  Very few people would continue to work so there would be a shortage of all goods and services.   There would be some people who would go crazy, create turmoil and try to ruin the party.   On the bright side, every problem would now only be a short term problem.

I don’t believe for a moment that the world is going to end on December 21, 2012 or at any time in the foreseeable future, so everything I just said is purely academic unless, by some chance, the Mayans really did get it right.   If the end is near, what would you do?

On Monday, Joe reflects on a random event that changed his life in “A Fork In The Road”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I was reading an article about Paul Ryan the Republican candidate for Vice President that, specifically, addressed the question of whether or not the fact that he had a long term relationship with a black woman, necessarily, precluded the possibility that he was a racist.   The author of the article was not calling him a racist but, nonetheless, the strained premise was that he could be a racist since many racists have ties to the very group they discriminate against.   This creates the absurd implication that even though every indication is that he is innocent of being a racist, he still might be guilty.   Taking this kind of thinking to its inevitable conclusion, it would dictate that when it comes to racism everyone should be considered a suspect.

I am not necessarily promoting Paul Ryan or the Republican Party in this post but I did find this article offensive and indicative of the ease with which some people wield the accusation of racism.   Even more offensive than the veiled hint that Paul Ryan is not necessarily innocent of racism was the article’s rationale that anyone who has an opinion or who promotes policies that would adversely affect any particular minority group must be doing so because they are a racist.   The rationale suggests, for example, that if you want illegal immigrants prosecuted then you must be guilty of hating Hispanics.  Of course, that rationale is both ludicrous and, more disturbing, is dangerous.   Just because you disdain illegal activity and want the laws enforced does not mean you have racial animus or hatred for those breaking the law.   Let’s take this reasoning one step further.  If you believe that welfare needs to be curtailed or restricted you should not then be branded as a racist just because those that would be most adversely affected are minorities.

The fundamental problem with and danger of those that are quick to cry racism is that the accusation, no matter how unfounded, is enough to ruin the life of the accused.   It’s a little like the Puritan witch hunts that destroyed many lives by merely branding a person as a witch simply because someone accused them of not conforming to the Puritan’s strict religious practices or ideas.   The fact that no proof existed did not matter since no proof needed to be offered.  In effect, the accusation becomes the proof.  Those that so readily make the accusation of racism are engaging in our modern day version of those witch hunts.   They then burn the accused at the stake of public opinion before anyone has a chance to check the facts.

To me, a good example of this was the Zimmerman-Martin uproar in Florida.   The question of whether or not this shooting was justified as self defense will, hopefully, be decided in a court of law after a thoughtful review of all of the facts.   However, as soon as it happened there was an immediate outcry of racism before anyone could have determined if it was true and, to date, proof of any racism has remained elusive.   I agree that the shooter should have been arrested not because I believe this was an act of racism but because the justification for any shooting, except for the most clear cut cases, should be tested in court.   In the meantime, it is clear that the shooter is now forever tainted with the stain of racism that will follow him throughout the judicial process and just might prevent him from receiving a fair trial.

Racism once found to be true deserves our disdain; however, we must also understand that despite the ease with which accusations of racism are made in this country not everyone so accused is a racist and that most acts are not motivated by racism.

On Wednesday, Joe offers a whimsical look at the possible end of the world in “The End Is Near”.       

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Every business owner, particularly, the owner of a very small business understands that the success of the business can be hindered by the lack of meaningful effort from even one employee.   Unlike very large businesses where no one employee can have a dramatic affect on the course or outcome of the business in a small business each employee is a crucial part of the business operation and, ultimately, its success.

For a small business owner it can be devastating if an employee does the minimum necessary to fulfill the job duties but brings nothing extra to the tasks at hand.   Let me give you a simple but demonstrative example that may illustrate my point.   Thinking it is not necessary to micromanage your employee, you casually ask him to load some items on the back of a truck for delivery and that employee loads those items so haphazardly that they are bound to fall off the truck and a second employee who you ask to drive the truck never gives a second thought about the load and drives off only to have the items fall off the truck and become damaged.   Technically, each of these employees did the job that was asked of them but clearly did not bring any care, attention to details or common sense to the task resulting in hardship to the business.

This kind of half hearted effort happens every day and can undermine a business to the point that despite the best efforts of the owner and other employees who care about doing a complete and thoughtful job the business is driven into the ground.   It seems to me that when a small business hires an employee it should be understood and expected that the employee is to not just do the tasks assigned at the most rudimentary and basic level but should elevate their efforts by bringing their intuition, common sense, and desire to do a good job to the tasks.   Just as in my example, the first employee should have loaded the items on the truck using common sense, with an attention to detail and with a desire to do the job right.  The second employee should have cared enough to check the load before he drove off.   Doing a job with a high level of skill and care instead of just giving a half hearted effort can make all the difference in the success or failure of any business.

Some people may say that it is the owner who needs to take care of his business and that the employees are there solely to do a job and nothing more.   As far as I am concerned, any employee who does not care or understand that their job is part of the “big picture” is not providing a service any more valuable than a piece of equipment such as a copier or fax machine that performs a needed function but brings no thought or concern to the task.   A valuable employee knows not only his job but how his job fits into the overall operation of the business and what role his work will play in the success of that business.   On the other hand, an employee that offers only a half hearted performance does a disservice to his employer and is a detriment to the success of the business.

Any employee who gives the bare minimum effort needed to just get by is really giving no meaningful or worthwhile effort at all.

On Monday, Joe questions those that are quick to cry racism in “Not Everyone Is A Racist”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Last year, I made my case for Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) in an effort to put his place in history in perspective and, also, to try and restore his good name.    I want to state my case again in a slightly different way in honor of Columbus Day.

In response to my support of Columbus, I was severely chastised for glorifying a historical figure who some believe represents a sad and villainous chapter in history and who is usually blamed for starting a chain of events that brought hardship, injustice, and death to the native population.   More than 500 years after the fact, some people are still wringing their hands in anger since they choose to view this as just a struggle between villains and victims and they have made the assessment that the first to have arrived always has the paramount right.   Of course, revisionists always look at the victor as the villain who committed all of the atrocities and the vanquished as the helpless and sympathetic victim since it fits their world view that might is never right.   Where this view becomes short sighted is when we look at the big picture of world history.  

Whether or not the native population, at the time, can be claimed to have been indigenous as in having sprung out of the ground so to speak or were just a part of a long history of migrations to North and South America just like Columbus and the Europeans that followed is more of a philosophical question then one with any real historical significance.   Who got here first and how they got here, to me, is irrelevant to the outcome of the power struggle that ensued between these competing migrant populations.      

The reality of world history is that, since the dawn of mankind, competing societies have been struggling with each other over resources and territory and that in every such struggle one group becomes dominant over the other.  These power struggles represent the political and social evolution of the world and are much too complicated to be reduced to just a list of villains and victims.   More significantly, we accept the outcome of these struggles as historical fact and eventually there is no point in judging the victor as being any worse than the vanquished.   

As one such example, Great Britain was “first” populated by Celtic tribes who then were displaced by Germanic invaders who have come to be collectively called Anglo-Saxons.  They, in turn, were conquered by the Normans from France led by William the Conqueror in 1066 which eventually transformed Great Britain into the nation it is today.   Each of these power struggles no doubt were fraught with brutality and atrocities; however, in the long view of world history we accept Great Britain the way it is without judging the means by which it was transformed.   It would be a ludicrous revision of history to now seek to compensate the descendants of those Celtic tribes for the loss of their homeland or provide them with tax free casinos, for example, out of guilt over the hardships their ancestors suffered.

The same kind of brutal struggle has transpired in the history of just about every country in the world and is the natural order of human existence.   Are we going to try and undo or re-write the history of the world so that we can condemn all of the victors in the name of all of the vanquished?   Of course not, since the spoils always go to the victor and it is the victor who gets to write their story such that when it comes to world history the end result always overshadows the means by which it took place.   The point is that the struggle between the European settlers and the so called Native Americans was just one of those human struggles that have defined and shaped our world and the outcome of that struggle is a historical fact that should be accepted without judging the means by which it happened.

I applaud Columbus for his vision and courage to make his voyage and for the results that were accomplished from his first steps.   To me, that courage and those accomplishments are noteworthy and I do not judge Columbus or the means by which the eventual transformation of the North and South American continents took place.

Happy Columbus Day.

On Wednesday, Joe comments on employees who only give a minimum effort in “Minimum Effort Is No Effort”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?