People want your money – be vigilant

Scams abound. At the dinner table when the kids were younger, we discussed with our teens that people want your money. So, you have to be vigilant and guard against them. Some want it by legitimate means – advertising to get your money for services rendered or products bought. Some want it through aggressive marketing to accelerate such purchases and some want to steal or trick it from you. The scams are the trickster part of the equation.

I had a new scam attempted on me this week which I will call the Electric Utility Scam. This scam was quite well organized with a sincere woman saying I owed money to the electric utility and they were on their way to cut off my power. I could stop them if I called Accounts/ Billing and gave me the number. I called and they asked for my last four digits on my phone and I asked what address they showed, which they correctly offered. He said I owed $500 and I said that was not possible, as my last bill showed a lesser amount due and it was not the due date. He then gave me to a supervisor who wanted me to go on my bank account and do a quick pay. I then said I do not believe you are the utility company and hung up. I called the number on my account statement and they confirmed it was a scam.

I don’t know why I went along for so long. I was skeptical from the outset, but the sincerity and the multiple people involved showed how organized it was. Yet, it was a fraud attempt. Other scams have been tried on me, my wife and my relatives. Here are a few to let others know they are indeed fraud attempts.

Grandparents Scam – This one bothers me the most as the scam preys upon the elderly by saying a grandchild has been in an automobile accident and cannot reach his parents. When the grandparent asks which one, the grandparent offers the name, which the caller seizes upon. The scam is to wire a sum such as $2,700 to an account. Usually the numbers are high, but not extreme.

Amazon Scam – This one is the most active as we have had about a half-dozen calls. An order on the account did not go through and they want us to provide credit card info to pay an odd sum like $739.45 to process the order. The first time we asked each other if we are expecting anything at all or for that amount. Since the answer was no, it must have been a scam. When other calls came in for similar odd amounts, we knew for sure.

IRS Scam – This one is scary sounding saying there is legal action being taken against you for taxes owed, but this is a scam. The IRS will send you a letter, not call you. And, they will try to resolve issues without legal action, before they ever move down that path.

Microsoft Scam – This one is a phone call saying your system has been compromised. The first time I got this one, it sounded legitimate, but when I was booting up my computer the guy asked me if this was the computer I do my banking with? I hung up. Then I realized Microsoft will not be calling me.

Insurance Scam – This one was not an effort to steal, but to sell. My mother was told her certain insurance company account had been compromised. My mother did not have such an account. This was an unscrupulous marketer trying to sell her a Medicare Advantage plan, which she already had with another provider. So, I called to cancel and told the representative how this happened. We also had to change my mother’s banking information as a result.

Bank Scam – This one often shows up on our mobile phones which is annoying. Someone representing our bank or someone else’s bank will send a text warning of a compromise on our account. It is not the bank especially when we don’t even bank with the entity being used. It is a fraud. Banks do send texts at your request, but they appear more legitimate and are for helpful reasons you checked off on – activity, overdrafts, etc.

Please share your experiences below with these and other scams. These do not even count the ID theft attempts, actual compromised credit information at various stores or services or ransomware attempts. People want your money. Be vigilant, even more so than I have been.

The Power of Habit (updated)

We are creatures of habit. A book I often cite is called “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. My niece thought I might like this and she was correct. I would encourage you to read it as well, as it articulates how much of what we do each day is based more on habit that is ingrained in each of us or in our organizations.

A friend who taught philosophy at University shared with me that Aristotle felt habits reigned supreme. In his “Nicomachean Ethics,” as referenced in Duhigg’s book, Aristotle said:

“…just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.”

A few examples from “The Power of Habit” might help reveal further Aristotle’s belief. Paul O’Neill is a great example. In short, he came in and transformed Alcoa as its CEO in a very unheard of way. It unnerved so many financial experts, they told people to sell the stock once they heard O’Neill’s first speech. One analyst later said “it was the worst piece of advice I have ever given,” as under O’Neill, Alcoa’s earnings and stock price soared for many years. What did he do that was so unusual and successful? His first focus was to make Alcoa the safest company it could be, as its safety record was atrocious. In other words, he wanted to change Alcoa’s bad safety habits.

He consciously picked this as he explained later, as it was the one thing we could get management and labor to agree on – a safer workplace. So, what happened? Communication between the line workers and management improved as accidents and how to prevent them had to be reported within 24 hours. He showed by example, after a tragic death, that this mattered to him and was not window-dressing. He changed the habits of executives, managers and line workers by insisting that we cannot condone safety problems and must avoid them at all costs. Through the improved communication, other benefits occurred – processes had to be improved to make them safer, the workers were empowered to share ideas on how to improve processes, and management’s goals could be communicated more readily. By emphasizing the importance of safety habits, the company got better. And, so did results.

Another good example about habits is regarding Starbucks. There is a moving story about how a young man had fallen into bad and even criminal habits. His drug problem caused him to lose everything time and time again. Then, someone suggested he try to get a job at Starbucks. Someone gave him a chance and mentored him. But, it was really the Starbucks training that transformed him. The training told him how to serve customers well. It told him how to address situations with an irate customer. It taught him the need to be organized, as if you were not, the customer would be ill-served. This consistent training replaced his bad habits with new habits. He built on his success by first building his self-esteem through better habit. And, it spilled over into his personal life. Now, he is managing a Starbucks and improving his education.

There are numerous examples in the book, but one my niece and I both found interesting is about the fabric freshening product called Febreze. Now, you may not know that Febreze was almost pulled from the market as its sales were almost non-existent. It was a flop. Febreze’s inventor had found a way to chemically remove bad odors from fabrics. When it was first marketed, the elimination of bad odors was the pitch. Yet, that pitch only sold to people whose houses were a total wreck and reeked. The average homeowner did not buy it, at least buy enough of it. Before Proctor and Gamble (P&G) pulled it, they did more research of their target buyers.

Through this research, they discovered a habit in housewives (please forgive the gender reference), who after they made their beds with new linens, they purposefully inhaled the crisp, clean laundered smell. In fact, after they did any cleaning, the desire for a clean-smelling house was habitual. P&G realized people did not crave scentlessness, instead they crave a nice clean smell after they’ve spent 30 minutes cleaning. With this focus, a new marketing effort was launched and within two months sales doubled and then took off, spawning dozens of spin-off products. P&G’s Febreze provided the reward of a clean-smelling house to someone who cleaned it, which was the cue for the reward.

I use cue and reward, as these are two of the tenets of understanding and changing habits, whether they be smoking, nail-biting, eating bad snacks, drinking, etc. In short, Duhigg articulates:

1) Identify the routine (what leads to the habit and why, when and how does it occur?)

2) Experiment with rewards (to change a habit, a new reward has to be substituted, but it has to be fulfilling, so experimentation is needed)

3) Isolate the cue (what is truly the cue; what more than any other thing is causing the habit?)

4) Have a plan (this is what am I going to do about it, this is in my control to change and if I write down my plan, I will have a better chance of success).

One example was an office worker and his craving for a mid-afternoon donut, muffin or unhealthy snack. The routine was the person would leave his desk from boredom, being tired, just to get up, etc. and would go to the vending machine for a snack. The reward was the snack. The cue was harder to find, as various paths led to the reward. It turned out the cue was the time. Invariably, between 3 and 3:30 pm, the person would get the unhealthy snack. So, he noted this in a plan to do something differently. He experimented and felt if he purposefully socialized with others for ten minutes instead of getting a snack, the new reward would satisfy him. So, he planned and executed the plan by getting away from his desk at the same tim each day, forming a new habit. Instead of eating, he would talk with colleagues.

There are other habits noted that have been replaced by new rewards. The key is to find a new reward. If you drink, substituting something that takes the place of the drink will make it a new habit. It could be drinking fruit juices, hot tea, coffee, etc. or it could be taking a walk after dinner, when your old habit of drinking most occurred. The same would hold true with smoking. You have to find a new reward to replace the smoking reward. Otherwise, the old habit will have a better chance of returning.

Let me close how Duhigg did referencing a passage from William James’ book “The Principle of Psychology.” Note William’s brother Henry is an author of some renown.

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and is bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

Habits can be good or bad. If they are the latter and you want to change, the above steps are worth considering. The book is a good read, with many understandable examples. I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think.

Oh, those dating miscues

My wife and children seem to love stories about my dating miscues. I share them to impart an important lesson is to always carry with you a sense of humor. Laughing at yourself, means the world laughs with you. As I have gotten older, I think on some of my miscues, faux pas, etc. in the dating arena.

My loudest miscue occurred at a community theater which was held at a church hall. The fold out chairs were placed on elevated choral risers to give an amphitheater effect. My date and I were on a double-date sitting on the back row, about two feet elevated. After intermission, where we picked up a plastic cup of wine, we proceeded back to our chairs Unbeknownst to me, one of my rear chair legs had moved off the riser. So, when I sipped my wine, it appeared my date was moving forward. To my surprise, I was falling backward to a loud crash. Fortunately, I was alright, but the whole theater and my three companions got a huge laugh later.

Another funny incident happened at this same woman’s parents’ home, which I had to tell her about later. She had moved back home for a time living in a basement apartment in her parent’s house which was outside of the city.. Since she had younger siblings, her mother asked me to leave before the night was over, so as to avoid their seeing me the next morning. Leaving the first night, it was very dark outside and the drive way was near a fence. As I sheepishly opened my car door, a horse in the pasture close by snorted and scared the life out of me. If I had to go, I probably would have. The next day I called her and said “I did not know you had a horse”

Different woman, same city. I was supposed to be on a date with someone who I had gone out with a couple of times in college. I had traveled early with some friends back to the city before classes started and asked her if we could use her car, so my friends could use mine. She said no. After driving thirty minutes to her house whose drive way was diagonally up this hill, I learned my request to use her car was offensive, so she did not want to go. So, in a huff I tried to back down this diagonal drive way. Bad move. I ran off into a rock garden and my car got stuck. While she fumed at me from the window, her father had to tow me off the rock garden.

Blind dates can be a challenge. After moving after college, I met many good friends, many of whom were married. And, what married people like to do is set single people up on blind dates. I met a lot of nice folks on such dates, but chemistry was lacking in many cases. Of course, this goes both ways. My favorite story is about a lunch date who was quite the conversationalist, asking many questions about what I did and liked,. When I said, that is enough about me what do you do? She said I am minister. I did my best not to flinch. I am a Christian and have been a church goer, but meeting someone who is already minister is different than falling in love with someone who becomes a minister. I recognize this is petty, but I felt I would not measure up and lusting after a minister might send me to the bad place.

It is funny how different one can become. If I met the minister later, I would have been more mature and handled it better. My wife and I met at the right time. I had been through dating some folks who were very nice, beyond the blind dates, but was not ready for the one. The irony is my wife asked me for a drink as our first date joining her brother and his wife. Then, she asked her brother to join us. He came alone and they worked out a signal for him to leave if our date was working out. He left and the rest his history.

Laughter is the best medicine. It can salve many funny situations. And, it certainly can remind us of our frailties and shortcomings, then and now.