Tuesday, July 31

What should I do with this?

Last week I wrote about how to protect yourself from identity theft and bank fraud. I wrote from the pain and frustration of my own experience. A thief in Florida somehow obtained my bank account information and driver's license number. She succeeded in stealing $2380.00 from my bank before she was apprehended.

But she was apprehended. A smart teller recognized that something was amiss.  That teller went through the images recorded by the security cameras at the bank. She was able to provide police with photos of the thief. The bank asked me to sign an affidavit regarding the theft.

In addition to the $2380 the thief stole from my bank, I lost a great deal of time in dealing with this mess. I spent more than 25 hours trying to get things straightened out. Ugh.

The whole situation became much more personal yesterday when I received this letter:

Even though I had willingly signed the affidavit and sworn that I would assist Florida authorities in prosecuting the criminal, I wasn't quite prepared for the effect of seeing a letter describing the crimes committed against me. The charges include criminal use of personal identification and grand theft. Grand theft is a felony. If convicted, a person can face significant jail time and fines for this crime.

How do I feel about all of this?  It was easy to be angry at first. This crime was highly organized and carefully orchestrated, carried out by someone who clearly understood the banking system. The thief was successful in stealing $2380 and was attempting to steal more when a sharp teller became suspicious of her actions. Who knows how much she would have stolen if she hadn't been caught?

I do feel a firm determination that the laws of the land be enforced. People must not be allowed to steal. If they do steal, they must be punished. It is not good for this woman or for anyone else to think harming another person is the way to get what she needs or wants. The hope is that the punishment will dissuade her from ever stealing again and serve as a warning against stealing for others who might be contemplating it.

But I think that God wants from me more than a determination that laws be enforced. I now have a very clear, black-and-white, no-doubts demonstration of the way this woman sinned against me.  I could simply feel a righteous indignation about this situation.  Or I could feel terrified and fearful that a person capable of grand theft has my name and personal information.

The truth is that my feelings are mixed. I was in fact the innocent victim of this crime. But deep down I know I'm not an innocent person. Oh, I don't break the laws of the land. But I know I've broken God's laws. I am guilty of so many things. My heart breaks at the thought of my sins and weeps with relief and gratitude at the thought of my Savior--the one who taught me to pray:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

I know that the laws of the land need to be observed and upheld; the laws are for the good of all, including both me and the woman who stole from me.  I don't wish to be stolen from again, and I certainly don't want another person to be the victim of theft.  But I can't hold onto anger at this woman.  I can't let my mind and heart be occupied by indignation at the crime she committed against me.

I think perhaps the best thing to do here is to pray for her.  After all, I have her name.  I have the number of case against her.  I know the date of her arraignment.  So I can pray that she will be blessed. I can pray that God will provide what she needs.  That starts with her learning an important lesson about stealing.  But surely it must include more than that.

What do you think?  What would be your prayer for someone who had committed a crime against you?

I'm joining Amanda at Serenity Now for Weekend Bloggy Reading

Friday, July 27

Low-cost, easy-to-make beachy tablescape

Summer is in full swing here in North Carolina.  It's so hot that I long to be at the beach, playing in the water or snoozing under an umbrella.  A beach trip is just the stuff of dreams for me this summer, but I created a bit of beachy atmosphere in tablescape for my screened porch.

I had some glass hurricanes that originally contained metal plates for a candle perch.  The metal plates got lost, and I was left with funky-looking hurricane globes:

See the weird glass indentations?

I bought some rope and hot-glued it to the outside of the hurricane globes.  Much better already:

I then filled the globes with sand and perched a candle on top.  Weird glass indentations, be gone!

For the rest of the tablescape, I used some big seashell-shaped pieces I picked up a few years ago at Target.  I filled them with seashells--some collected at the beach, some purchased in a bag at Dollar Tree.

I rounded out the display with a few large shells that I spray-painted silver.  I love the way these look--the silver paint settles into the lines of the shells beautifully.

One more look at the whole thing:

Everything in this tablescape I already owned except for the rope and bag of shells.  I'm pleased with how well everything turned out for a very small investment.

Maybe I'll get some lemonade with a lot of ice and brave the heat long enough relax on the porch.  Want to join me?

I'm linking to these wonderful parties:

Saturday Seven at Positively Splendid

Tuesday, July 24

10 ways to protect yourself
from identity theft and bank fraud

I never thought I'd be writing about identity theft.  It's an interesting topic, but I never thought I'd actually be the victim of it.  I'm not naive. I'm careful.  No worries, right?


I won't say that these thieves are smart, because I believe that being "smart" includes an understanding of right and wrong apparently lacking in the criminal mind.  But they are certainly clever, and you need to know the kinds of things they do.

Careful analysis of what happened to me indicates that somehow the thieves got a copy of an old check of mine--one that had been written and cashed. The thieves had my name, address, bank account number, driver's license number, and signature.  They didn't have a blank check of mine, but they didn't need it.  Here's what happened.

They somehow obtained a blank check from an unknown person.  I'm guessing that this person closed her bank account and threw away her old checks.

The thief used my personal information and bought or made a fake driver's license--a license with my name, my address, my North Carolina license number--but not my photo.  Instead, the fake I.D. included a photo of the person who was using my identity.

Armed with a fake I.D., my bank account number, and a blank check, the thief wrote out a check to my name.  Here's a copy of the check (with identifying information obscured):

The thief then walked into a Suntrust bank in Jacksonville, Florida and presented this check to be cashed.  The friendly teller asked to see her I.D.  She produced the fake license and the teller noted the information on the front of the check.  Then the teller asked, "Do you have an account with us?"

This is an important question.  Banks no longer cash checks for just anyone; a customer usually needs to have an account at the bank in order to cash a check.  Tellers are required to note the customer's account number on the back of the check.  This is to provide a guaranty for the funds being distributed.  If the check being cashed were not to clear for any reason, the funds would then be taken from the customer's bank account, the number of which was carefully noted on the back of the check.

This is part of the forgery of my signature from the back of the check.  Spooky to see a forgery of your own signature.

Imagine that Jane Doe wrote you a check for $100.00 which you want to cash.  You take the check to your bank.  Before the teller will give you $100 cash in exchange for Jane's check, he or she will ask for your account number.  The teller will pull up your account information and make sure that funds are available in your account.  If Jane Doe's check bounces for any reason, your bank will take the $100 from your account.  This is, of course, very smart practice for the bank.  If they're giving out cash, they need to be sure that there's a legitimate source of that cash.

You can imagine what happened in my case.  The thief received $2380.00 in cash at the teller window.  The check was bogus.  The thief knew the check would not clear, and she knew that my bank would automatically take the cash from my account--the one noted on the back of the check by the teller.  This shows that the thieves are clever.  They understand the banking system well enough to know how it works.  It's a tricky kind of theft.

The events of my story took a definite turn for the better when the thief attempted to steal more than once.  She went to another Suntrust branch in Jacksonville and attempted to cash another check using the same procedure she'd just employed.  But this time she encountered a teller with a lot of experience.  Something about the thief made the teller suspicious--just suspicious enough that she asked the thief a security question (in this case, my mother's maiden name).  The thief couldn't answer the security question, of course, and the teller calmly informed her that she couldn't cash the check.  The thief quickly left the premises.

Then, God bless her, that teller immediately called me.  When I answered the phone, she identified herself and then asked, "Are you in Jacksonville, Florida right now?"  "No," I answered, mystified.  "Have you been in Jacksonville in the past day?" she persisted. "No; I've never been to Jacksonville," I replied.  From there she sprang into action.  She told me what had happened; she called my local bank to get them involved in the case; she called Suntrust's Fraud Department; and she reviewed the security camera images to capture a photo of the thief.

Because of the quick thinking and conscientious action of that teller, we were able to move fairly quickly.  All my bank accounts were immediately placed on security alerts, signalling tellers that they should ask questions before cashing any checks.  We closed the bank account that had been breached.  This was no small feat, because it was my primary checking account.  I had to wait until everything had cleared my account before I could close it.  Quite a few monthly bills were set up to be paid automatically from this account; all those had to be changed.  You can imagine that all this took many hours of my time and quite a few hours of time on the part of several different Suntrust employees.  But the result was that the police in Jacksonville, Florida apprehended a suspect.  I signed an affidavit regarding the theft to assist the District Attorney there in pressing charges.  And Suntrust replaced the funds that were stolen from my account.

Will it end there?  I don't know.  Believe me, I'm on the lookout for other ways that the thieves might have used my personal information.  I've heard horror stories of a person's credit being ruined by thieves; I don't yet know if that will happen to me.  I'm hoping that these thieves were simply using my information for short-term theft purposes, but only time will tell.  Now that I've been documented as a victim of identity theft, though, I'll have recourse for recovery.  My next step is to order a credit check to see what might be going on.

Here are some things I learned from this experience; I hope they'll help you.

  1. Bank with a reputable company.  If you have any hesitation about the customer service you're receiving, switch banks.  If possible, bank at the same branch regularly.  (By the way, I have no affiliation with Suntrust Bank except as a customer.  But I've been impressed with their customer service.)
  2. Keep close tabs on your accounts.  If you spot any suspicious activity, question it immediately.  
  3. Be careful with paper checks.  Don't place mail containing checks in your curbside mailbox; drop it in a locked mailbox at the post office or an authorized station.  Be sure that all checks you write clear your account in a timely manner.  Keep a careful list of all checks you write (or use checks that create duplicates).  If a check doesn't clear, follow up with the recipient. 
  4. Shred all papers with any kind of identifying information.  Your name and address are easy to find, but you should make it as difficult as possible for a thief to obtain other information about you, particularly account numbers.  And destroy old checks and deposit slips, even if they represent accounts that are closed.  No doubt the person whose check was used in this scam thought there was no need to shred old checks since the account was closed, but clever thieves found a use for them.
  5. Never share sensitive information such as account numbers with anyone unless you're absolutely certain about their identity.  For instance, don't give an account number to someone who calls you.  Request verifying information until you're satisfied that you're speaking with a legitimate representative.  Or call the company's published phone number and follow the prompts to speak with an account representative.
  6. Be careful about where and how you enter account information.  We're often on the go, and it can be tempting to pay bills via cell phone while out in public.  Don't do it.  Better to use your home phone and/or home computer when transmitting sensitive data.
  7. Never send sensitive information like account numbers via email.  
  8. For online transactions, be sure that you enter sensitive information only on a secure site.  Look for a web address that begins with https://, not just http://.  That "s" is important; it stands for "secure."
  9. Be careful with account passwords.  It's tempting to use the same, easy-to-remember password for all your accounts, but that's not a good idea.  If one of your accounts should get hacked, you don't want the thief to have easy access to all your accounts.
  10. Don't complain about security measures.  Believe me, you'll be grateful they're in place if you're ever the victim of theft.

Have you ever been the victim of theft?  Or do you have any tips to share?  I'd love to hear them!

I'm joining these wonderful parties:

Monday, July 23

Easy, delicious summertime dessert: Lemonade Pie

In this house full of boys, there's not much that's more welcome than homemade pie.  And on these dog days of summer, a cold pie is hard to beat.  Here's one of the simplest, most delicious pie recipes I know: Lemonade Pie.

Smooth, delicious, creamy, with just the right amount of citrusy bite.  Yum!  And so easy to make.

First you need a graham cracker crust.  You could buy one, of course, but it's so much better to make your own--and so simple.

You'll need 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs.  I make my own by crushing 15 graham cracker sheets (2 squares each) in my food processor.

Melt 1 stick of butter (I do this in the microwave).  Add 1/3 cup sugar and the cracker crumbs.  Mix well.

Danger!  This stuff is so good!  Sometimes I get a little carried away with sampling the crumbs and end up not having quite enough for my pie.

Press into a pie pan.  Just use your fingers for this.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

The pie filling couldn't be easier.  Simply mix an 8-ounce container of frozen whipped topping such as Cool Whip, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and 6 ounces of lemonade or limeade concentrate.  If you can't find a 6-oz. can of lemonade concentrate, just buy the larger can, thaw it, and measure 6 ounces in a liquid measuring cup.  Stir all three ingredients together until smooth.  If desired, add a couple of drops of food coloring.  Pour into pie crust and refrigerate.  The longer it sits in the refrigerator, the better it gets!

Here's a close-up--see the satiny goodness?  This will make your taste buds dance!

Here's the recipe again:

Lemonade Pie

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (15 crackers crushed)
1 stick butter
1/3 cup sugar

8 ounces frozen whipped topping, thawed slightly
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
6 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

Melt butter.  Mix cracker crumbs and sugar into melted butter.  Press crumb mixture into pie pan.  Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cool.

Combine filling ingredients; mix well.  Add a little food coloring if desired.  Pour into prepared pie shell.  Refrigerate until serving.  Enjoy!

What's your favorite summertime dessert?

Wednesday, July 18

Ciao Roma

What a trip.

Our trip to Rome, that is. We're back at home now, trying to overcome jet lag and to conquer the mountain of laundry.  Here are just a few of my favorite photos from our time in Rome.

A rare photo of Jack and me!  We always seem to be the photo-takers.

Jack and Lee at the Circus Maximus.

Lee and me inside the Colosseum.

St. Peter's Basilica.

Columns in the colonnade at St. Peter's.

The Pantheon

Musicians in Piazza Navona (they were playing the theme from The Godfather!).

The famous status of the She-Wolf feeding Romulus and Remus.

Lee was not that impressed with this statue.

So what were my favorite things about Rome?  Oh, boy.  The wealth of art, to begin with.  There are so many masterpieces, and you can get so close to them!  Many of them are in the church buildings--works of Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, and so many others--it makes your head spin!  And I love the way the ancient elements of the city are side-by-side with the modern and the contemporary.  For instance, the best way to get to the Colosseum is to take the Metro (the subway).  That Metro station is appropriately named "Colosseum"! 

A real highlight of our trip was visiting Will at work one day--at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.  Wow!  I'd never been inside an embassy before.  We had to go through several layers of security, including surrendering our passports, turning in our cell phones, and having our belongings x-rayed.  I had a bottle of water with me, and the security guard made me take a drink before he'd allow me to bring it into the building!  But what a thrill it was to look around the Embassy and talk to some of the Foreign Service staff there.  We are so excited for Will to have this opportunity.

My very favorite thing about the trip, though, was seeing this:

Lee has missed his big brother so much, and Will did an awesome job of showing his baby brother around the city.  There's a special bond between those two, and it was such fun to watch them together.

Thanks for letting me tell you about our trip!  Are you doing anything special this summer?

Monday, July 9

When in Rome . . .

. . . do as the tourists do.

At least some of the time.  Especially if you can get your guys to have photos made with you.

I can hardly believe we're here!  It's hot and crowded, but we're having a wonderful time with Will.  I'm so glad to see him I can hardly stand it, but I think the one who's happiest to see him is Lee.  Lee has missed his big brother!  The Ambassador's office gave Will a couple of days off, so he's showing us the sights.  More photos to come.

Hope you're having a wonderful day!  Ciao!

Friday, July 6

Heading to Rome

I took this photo back in May, when my youngest son Lee and I saw my oldest son Will off to Rome for the summer.

So. . . we're going to visit him!  Jack and Lee and I are leaving today.  Preston and the dogs are at home, keeping things going on the home front, and I'm grateful for great neighbors who will help Preston keep things safe and sound there.

I'm hoping to do some blogging while I'm there.  Want to come along?

Tuesday, July 3

RIP Andy Griffith

Many of you know that I'm a fan of Andy Griffith.  Andy Griffith died today, July 3.  He was 86 years old.

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Griffith was probably best known for his role as Andy Taylor in the The Andy Griffith Show.  When my sons were little boys, I didn't let them watch much TV, but I did let them watch episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.

Here's a clip from one of my favorite episodes (I have many favorites!), "Rafe Hollister Sings."

We also sang along with Andy Griffith a lot.  Andy was a music major at UNC.  Here Andy, Barney, and Mr. Malcolm Tucker sing "Church in the Wildwood."  This clip is from "Man in a Hurry," which is one of the very best Andy Griffith Show episodes.

And here's a very short Andy Griffith Show clip featuring Andy singing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" with the Darlings, a mountain family who would come into Mayberry from time to time.  The fictitious Darling family included the bona fide musical group The Dillards.  You can hear Andy's voice very clearly in this clip from "Mountain Wedding."

We also loved listening to Andy Griffith's stand-up comedy routines.  Our favorites included his retelling of the stories of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet and his most famous comedy routine: "What It Was, Was Football."  If you've never heard this before, you should listen to it.  I promise it'll be worth your time.

Are you an Andy Griffith fan?