Blackmail scam: Reloaded

I recently heard of this scam from Jim Browning. Full disclosure: I do support him on Patreon. So I’ll let him describe how this scam works, since he discusses a variation of it in one of his videos:

I recently received the below scam message. And it’s nearly identical to the scam I wrote about earlier, just with the slight twist of making it look like they sent it from my own e-mail account:

Hey There,

We have hacked your device. To show you we have complete access to it we’ve sent you this message from your own private email account (see the “from” email address). We furthermore know that among the list of passwords you used to use is “[REDACTED]” for example. Don’t fear, we will explain how it all happened and what you can do about it.

Some time ago you went to a web site with xxx contents, that web site had a trojan that was developed by us, this trojan mounted itself onto your device opening a backdoor that grants us complete access into your device. Changing passwords will not help because our backdoor will constantly stay open if we don’t terminate it our selves.

We also downloaded all your social contacts, email contacts, data and information to our server. Moreover we triggered your camera from time to time and recorded movies of you while you “satisfied” your self observing xxx content on the web. Those videos are also kept on our server. To sum up we now posses all your important information and some “naughty” clips of you.

You are probably asking yourself what we are going to do with this content. Possibly we utilize it to ruin your social life by sending all the info we posses with browser history and the filthy clips of you to all your social and email contacts. Picture the negative impact this will have on your life! Imagine how this will impact the relationship with your family members! Or maybe we delete it all, shut the backdoor on your system and don’t use it and you can go on living your life like this never took place. It’s all under your control….

When you opened up this e-mail our system initiated a timer (our system tracks the mail header to see when you launched it), starting now you posses 6 hrs (6 hours is 6 hours, not a moment more) to complete the following action:

Listed below you will find our bitcoin address (copy/paste it, it’s case sensitive). If you do not want us to destroy your social life and relationship with your loved ones you need to transfer $550 (USD) to it. You can browse Google how to purchase bitcoins, it is very easy and you can do it immediately. Don’t forget that you need to do this within the given timeframe so you better do it right now.

Our system is watching this address, when the transaction happens in time the timer will stop counting, we will remove all the info on our server we have on you, the backdoor on your device will close and you will without doubt never ever hear from us again… case closed and nobody needs to know about your dirty secrets. If it does not come in in time, your life will change in a very damaging way.

Our bitcoin address: 3QNVqEz3aKvCUDivsnASGEGqafYfdry4Eb

Good-luck!

I’ll say this up front: don’t be alarmed if you happen to receive an e-mail that appears to have come from your own e-mail account. It is not difficult to spoof an e-mail address. It’s very easy, actually. Something anyone can learn within a very short time. Much than spoofing a phone number.

But this can seem rather alarming to someone who isn’t well versed in how Internet mail servers work.

And given the ready availability of leaked passwords on the web, again this can potentially alarm people. It probably isn’t difficult to find the leaked password I redacted above, which would’ve been leaked during the LinkedIn data breach a number of years ago. But that password is worthless to anyone who finds it since I don’t use that password anywhere anymore.

So if you receive an e-mail like this, don’t be alarmed. Indeed to many, it’ll probably provide a good laugh. And thankfully at least with the above Bitcoin address, it appears no one has taken the bait.

And if you want to check to see if your e-mail address has ever been involved in a data breach, go to “Have I Been Pwned?” and type in your address. And make sure to adopt good password usage and management practices. And enable two-factor authentication where possible.

False charity because #fuckTrump

Amazing how the Federal “shutdown” appears to be bringing people together, right? Bringing out people who are willing to help the furloughed government employees who are working without paychecks or not working at all. Showing that when people are in need, we’re willing to be charitable. Because that’s what decent people do, right?

Yeah I’m not buying it.

Simple question: if not for the government “shutdown”, how many of these same people would be spending their own time or money directly helping people who are in need? Likely answer: next to none of them.

Let’s be honest. There’s only one reason this is happening at all. #FuckTrump. That’s it. That and the chance at a little fame or exposure since the media is broadcasting whenever someone is being so grateful to furloughed government workers. Because again, let’s be honest, #FuckTrump. That’s the only reason.

Meanwhile there are millions of people in the United States who are in need of direct assistance in many ways every day. I’m sure you, dear reader, know at least one such person. Yet what’s the response? “Let the government handle it.”

Rather than go out and directly help them in some simple fashion, you’d rather instead have the Federal and State governments take more money from my paycheck and the paychecks of those who make more than me so that you don’t have to lift a fucking finger, or take a penny from your pocket.

Because when it actually comes to helping people, it seems the vast majority would rather be passive, lazy pricks who’d rather sit back and “let the government handle it” rather than getting off their asses and actually doing something to better someone else’s life.

I’ve probably shelled out more money over the last couple years than many others have in their lifetimes. And if you’re one of those people, someone who’d rather sit back and complain about things rather than getting off your ass to improve someone else’s life, who’d rather see more money taken from my paycheck because it means you don’t have to do anything, kindly go fuck yourself.

No, seriously. Fuck you.

Now get off your ass, find someone who needs something, and figure out how to help them. Rather than hoping someone else will do it.

You want to improve the world? Get off your ass already.

At least read the article before sending a solicitation

I’m really starting to ponder the commonality of this practice.

The below request is at least mildly understandable. They’re pointing out an article I wrote on pet care and asked that I link to their article on a specific dog breed. Which would be great… if not for a few issues with their e-mail.

Dear Editor,

My name is Jean and I’m the Editor at [REDACTED]. I was doing research on the Blue Heeler Pointer and just finished reading your wonderful piece: https://www.kennethballard.com/?p=1790

In that article, I noticed that you cited a solid post that I’ve read in the past: [REDACTED]

We just published an updated, comprehensive guide on 10 things you should know about the Blue Heeler Pointer on our sister site, [REDACTED]. It is completely free and you can find it here: [REDACTED]

If you like the piece we’d be humbled if you cited us in your article. Of course, we will also share your article with our 100k newsletter subscribers and followers across our social platforms.

Either way, keep up the great work!

Warmly,
Jean

If you’re going to send me a solicitation, have the courtesy to make sure you’re not going to include demonstrably false information.

First they claimed I linked to an article about the Alaskan Malamute, an absolutely gorgeous dog breed I would love to own, if I ever have land for it. Before now, though, I’ve never mentioned that breed here. My article on pet care mentioned two dogs my parents’ owned. One was a blue Australian Cattle Dog, Basenji mix. Yet they request I link to an article about blue Australian Cattle Dog, Pointer mix dogs – Blue Heeler Pointer is not a recognized breed.

Definitely a classic case of not reading the article before firing off a solicitation. Unfortunately all too common.

I also don’t sell any ad space on this blog, so views largely don’t matter. Instead any “revenue” comes through the Amazon Associates Program, and I typically make enough to nearly completely offset hosting costs.

And this blog doesn’t get many views anyway, making every solicitation for this site I’ve ever received nonsensical. I’ve never had more than 500 views in any given day as of this article, an article about an espresso machine is my best article of all time on views, and I typically have only about 100 views/day. So sending me a solicitation hoping for more exposure to your content is only going to end up with me posting your solicitation with all site names, links, and the like redacted.

MikroTik CRS317 10GbE switch

For the last two years I’ve been using the Quanta LB6M as the backbone of my home network. A 24 port SFP+ switch with four (4) GbE RJ45 ports connecting two Gigabit switches and my Internet router. So everything came to the LB6M and was routed accordingly.

It works quite well, too. Provided you can live with the noise. The first thing I did when I received it, before putting it into service, was swap the rear 40mm fans on the fan sled with much quieter fans. This quieted down the system, but it also caused the switch to run very hot. Two things helped me counter this: I cut out the fan grills on the fan sled, and did some maintenance on the thermal paste inside it. And I also had a fan blowing onto the underside.

But replacing the fans didn’t entirely eliminate the noise since I was not going to replace the fans in the power supplies. I’d been looking around for better options since.

And that’s where this comes in: the MikroTik CRS317. (Buy it at Amazon or EuroDK) It comes at a slight premium. 400 USD MSRP compared to the about 240 USD I paid for the Quanta LB6M in January 2017. Though you can get it for less through different suppliers. Just pay attention to shipping costs.

And I jumped for it for three reasons:

  1. Passively cooled. Mostly. It has two 40mm fans, which should not be running all the time.
  2. SFP+. It should be drop-in to my current setup.
  3. GbE SFP module support. And it should just be plug and play.

That third point means this switch will be replacing two: the LB6M and a TP-Link 8-port GbE switch. Getting the LB6M working with GbE SFP modules is… it’s definitely NOT just plug and play and requires flashing a different firmware to the switch to get it to work. No thanks.

SFP modules

I’ve had no issues with Fiber Store’s 10GBase-SR SFP+ modules. They happily worked with the Quanta LB6M, and I fully expected them to work with the MikroTik switch. I returned to Fiber Store for their SFP RJ-45 modules (Generic), since they were also about 30+% less expensive than any price I could find for MikroTik’s SFP module. I ordered one for each GbE connection I had to the LB6M.

Using SFP modules to consolidate GbE connections is only cost and value-effective if you’re consolidating a few. Four or five at most. Beyond that, and it’s a better value acquiring a GbE switch with a 10GbE uplink to avoid having a significant number of 10GbE ports occupied by GbE connections.

Initial setup and SwOS

The initial setup was interesting. I’ll spare the details here, but getting it swapped over to SwOS and away from RouterOS was a little cumbersome at first.

Only because I discovered something the online documentation omits as of this writing: after changing it over to boot to SwOS, shutdown the switch (System->Shutdown) and unplug it. Don’t just simply reboot it. Then when you plug it back in, it should boot into SwOS and everything should work.

SwOS by default will automatically attempt to acquire an IP address via DHCP and only fall back to its default 192.168.88.1 if it’s unable to. This means you should be able to switch it over to SwOS, shut it down, and then add it into your network like any other switch. The IP address determines how easily you can access the web UI, and is a good check on whether the switch is configured properly.

Racking it up

I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to pull the TP-Link switch for lack of SFP modules. But I realized later that the IP-KVM and the UPS SNMP module are the only two devices connected to it. The SNMP module doesn’t need a lot of bandwidth. It’d probably be perfectly happy on a 10Mb connection. The IP-KVM? It really needs the GbE connection with as little contention as possible, so it’s getting hooked into the 10GbE switch.

So I connected the SNMP directly to the router, and connected the KVM to the 10GbE switch, allowing me to pull the GbE switch from the rack. If I really feel like doing so, I can order another SFP module to connect the SNMP into the 10GbE switch.

All the other 10GbE connections just worked with the Fiber Store SFP+ modules I’d been using. One thing I also realized in hindsight: I likely could’ve used the ETH/BOOT port (the RJ45 port with lights) as the uplink to the router, opening up a connection for the SNMP module. I’ll look at that later, though. For now, everything works.

Impressions and comments

This switch is very, very quiet compared to the rest of the hardware in the rack. The Quanta switch easily overpowered everything else on noise, even with the quieter fans and just one power supply plugged in. The Mikrotik switch, however, is easily overpowered by the NAS and virtualization server. This is a nice change. Unplugging the Quanta switch to pull it out of the rack… it’s amazing what you become accustomed to over time.

The MikroTik CRS317 is also very lightweight. It’s about the size and weight of a 1U GbE switch, like a 16-port TrendNet switch I have in my den.

So it’s compact, quiet, lightweight, and supports up to (16) 10GbE SFP+ or GbE SFP connections. All brand new it’s significantly less than the cost of a brand new RJ45 10GbE switch. And it’s easy to get set up for SwOS, once you account for the one slight detail I provided above.

This is the much, much better option in my opinion over the Quanta LB6M. The noise aside, the fact the LB6M doesn’t support GbE SFP out of the box means you can’t really use that switch to its full potential in a smaller setup. But it was never meant for a smaller setup. That it has 24 ports shows this. That it’s louder than a 747 during take-off with the stock fans also shows this. It’s meant to be in a server room or networking closet.

The 16 ports on the MikroTik CRS317 shows it’s not exactly meant for a “small” setup either. But it’s a hell of lot better suited to a setup like mine than the Quanta. And it’s working as expected.

No, there is no such thing as an “accidental discharge”

Let’s lay out a scenario.

A firearm owner decides they want a different trigger on their Glock 34. So they purchase the parts and attempt the installation themselves. Thinking they got it right. During drills, the firearm is misfiring. Then when they holster the firearm with a round chambered, the firearm discharges in the holster.

Accidental discharge? KR Training would like you to think so. The scenario above was reproduced from their description:

The student who experienced the accidental discharge was using a Gen 4 Glock 34 with an aftermarket trigger installed (Pyramid Trigger) and an OWB paddle holster. During the drill, he had several misfires occur, which he cleared and continued with the drill. When he holstered, with finger off the trigger, the pistol discharged in the holster.

There’s a reason many of us say “there is no such thing as an accidental discharge, only negligent discharges”. If a firearm goes off on its own with no manipulation of the trigger, something about the firearm is defective. In the above scenario, it’s the trigger assembly.

If a firearm discharges without any manipulation of the trigger, someone is to blame for that. If the firearm is brand new and such a discharge occurs when the owner is putting the first magazines through it, the negligence is on the part of the manufacturer. If it’s used, then it’ll depend on the chain of custody for the firearm to determine who should have known the firearm was defective – e.g. the prior owner, the shop trying to sell it, etc. And during continued ownership, if the firearm malfunctions, it’s the owner’s liability for failure to properly maintain it.

Accident means there is no one to blame.

But there is ALWAYS someone to blame when a firearm malfunctions and discharges, whether the trigger is manipulated or not. In the above scenario, that would be the firearm owner. If a gun armorer performed the trigger swap, liability would rest with them.

And that there is always someone to blame is why we say “there is no such thing as an accidental discharge”.

Your concealed carry permit is not a badge

Back when I was first learning about firearms and concealed carry, I came across a video – since removed, unfortunately – called “Your concealed carry permit is not a badge”, or something along those lines. And recently I’m reminded of that sentiment with a story out of Marysville, Washington:

Authorities say two men were surrounded by customers with guns while attempting to steal tools from a Washington store.

The Daily Herald reports the men, ages 22 and 23, allegedly took four nail guns, each worth more than $400, from the Coastal Farm & Ranch store Saturday in Marysville.

The men walked out of the store and got into a Honda Civic, only to be surrounded by about six customers with guns raised.

There is NOTHING under the law that gives anyone with a concealed carry permit the legal ability or privilege to stop a criminal fleeing a crime scene. Someone’s life being in danger, whether yours or someone else’s, is the only justifiable reason you have to pull your firearm.

A friend of mine shared the above story on his Facebook wall, and he said this in response to a comment where I said you should not (indeed, you cannot) use your firearm to stop property theft:

I agree this isn’t a situation for a firearm, but by the same token it can’t be easy to stand on the sidelines watching people doing this.

Which is certainly a sentiment I understand. I’ve written about it on this blog. But that is an instinct that must be fought. Since, as I said to the friend, sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is that doing nothing is often the best response to a situation.

You may want to help, but your desire to help could land you in hot water. You could misinterpret a situation, meaning you’re not responding to it appropriately, or even make it worse.

Let me give you an idea from my recent past. A couple months ago, while driving down Santa Fe Trail Drive through Lenexa, KS, we came upon a nasty car accident outside the Lenexa UPS sorting facility. SUV on its side in about the middle of the road, and another truck off on the side of the road. Head-on collision from the looks of things. I pull over and decide to offer help. Several other civilians were already on scene doing the same. 911 had already been called by the time I arrived.

We leave the truck occupant alone since we could not ascertain the degree of his injuries. He was not in any obvious immediate danger. Moving him would’ve been the worst thing to do. Lenexa Police arrived first. EMTs and Lenexa Fire followed not long thereafter.

But car accidents are an easy situation to ascertain: figure out who is injured, get everyone out of harm’s way if necessary, make sure anyone with severe injuries doesn’t move, and get the hell out of the way of EMTs when they arrive. What about a situation that isn’t so cut and dry?

In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (also known as “CSI: Las Vegas”), Season 3, episode 9 called “Blood Lust“, a taxi driver accidentally runs over a teenager who dies at the scene. The driver gets out to initially investigate, but then gets back into the car. A group of men see this and, thinking the driver is going to flee the scene, swarm the car, pull out the driver, and beat him to death.

There is one key detail the men didn’t slow down to actually consider: the taxi driver has a radio (episode aired in 2002, when cell phones weren’t yet as ubiquitous as they are now), and he was going to radio in to get an ambulance to his location.

What the men in Washington did was of similar vein to what is portrayed in the noted CSI episode. They saw something happen, and decided they needed to respond. Sure, no one died in the Washington incident. But that’s beside the point. A group of six men surrounded a car occupied and driven by fleeing thieves and drew their firearms. They saw fleeing thieves and used a threat of deadly force to detain suspects who, based on the immediate observable details, posed no threat to anyone.

So let’s drive the point home.

Your concealed carry permit is not a badge. It does not make you law enforcement, nor grant upon you any law enforcement authority, including the authority to detain a suspect at a scene.

Do not use your firearm to stop property theft. Do not use your firearm to prevent someone fleeing a crime scene. Do not attempt to pursue someone fleeing a crime scene.

Only employ and deploy your firearm when you can clearly see and articulate that you or someone is in danger of great bodily harm or death.

Unless you are law enforcement, you have zero authority under the law to use your firearm in any other manner. Taking the law into your own hands makes you a vigilante. And I have no respect for vigilantes.

Fix this, SunTrust Bank

I have a page up top for listing contact information for reporting phishing e-mails. SunTrust Bank, however, has their e-mail server set up in a rather weird way. I’ve tried forwarding an e-mail to them numerous times and keep getting this in response:

554 Unfortunately your access to this mail system has been rejected due to the sending MTA’s poor reputation and e-mail hygiene on the Internet. Please reference the following URL for more information: http://www.senderbase.org

When I took to Twitter to figure out an alternate way of forwarding them the phishing e-mail, they subscribed to me and said to forward screenshots of it via DM. Screenshots. Yeah, no. Thankfully I was actually able to forward the e-mail to them from a yahoo.com account. Let that sink in for a little bit…

So if someone from SunTrust happens upon this article, please have your IT department do something about your mail server. You cannot publicly advertise an e-mail address for forwarding phishing e-mails that rejects good faith attempts to provide said e-mails to you. I’ve never had an e-mail rejected due to some arbitrary “reputation” score.

At the least, set up a contact form that allows attachments with instructions on how someone can export an e-mail to a .eml file so the entire e-mail can be sent to you intact. Forwarding takes away a lot of potentially useful information, such as the originating mail servers. And screenshots are basically useless. Including screenshots of the raw e-mail unless you have an OCR program at the ready or are willing to manually recreate the e-mail by hand from the screenshots.

To everyone else seeing this, a quick reminder: your bank will almost NEVER contact you via e-mail if there is a problem with your account. They will instead call you since they have your phone number on file. And if you notice anything odd about your account, call in or visit a bank branch in person.

I am not leaving Patreon

I have a Patreon account through which, as of this writing, I support six channels. Four have nothing to do with politics, though one does touch on politics periodically, but not through any of their actual content. Mostly. I’ve also supported two of these channels via Kickstarter campaigns. And where it has been relevant, I’ve mentioned that I do support Singularity Computers through Patreon, and continue to do so as of this writing.

I joined Patreon when Singularity Computers announced they’d be creating one. And I’ve supported other channels beyond the ones I do now, and only later withdrew support for lack of content (e.g. Julie Borowski) or other reasons.

Patreon gives those who wish to support content creators a convenient means of doing so. Along with other income sources, it has helped many content creators focus more on their content without having to worry nearly as much about paying the bills.

Since the outset, Patreon should have always been politically neutral. And initially they were, only going after accounts for egregious actions or content. Acting merely as a gateway for content patrons to support content creators. But over the last two years they’ve made it clear that aren’t going to be remain neutral, courtesy of their “Trust and Safety Council”. Taking activities outside Patreon and not connected to Patreon and using it to determine whether content creators will be able to use Patreon. Or caving to lobbying efforts and shutting down accounts without getting a full idea of what’s going on.

In other words, taking the attacks on income streams for right-leaning commentators that leftists have been doing for at least the last 10 years and continuing that by attacking Patreon accounts.

Lauren Southern was one. Her Patreon account was terminated in 2017 when she participated in an attempt to deflect migrant boats as part of an operation called “Defend Europe”, going on intelligence that apparently never made it to mainstream media headlines. I’ll let her words provide the details:

This was open evidence that Patreon would use what someone does unconnected to Patreon as a factor in whether to terminate someone’s account.

And recently Patreon has started purging their system of accounts linked to other individuals who’ve been merely labeled “alt-right” or “far right”, individuals who are in actuality liberal or libertarian. One of the more prominent accounts to be banned (again!) is Carl Benjamin, colloquially known as “Sargon of Akkad”. His crime? Using the n-word in a livestream on YouTube that was never posted to his channel nor his Patreon page. Yet Patreon decided to use that against him. Context: Benjamin never use that word in relation to blacks.

In response to these purges, many have decided to cut ties with Patreon. One of the more prominent examples I received in my e-mail recently, and it’s also on his Twitter account, is from Dr Sam Harris, who cut ties with Patreon as a content creator:

I will not be following suit. And if you are a content supporter, I urge you to also not follow suit. Now if you’re a content creator who wants to cut ties, as Dr Harris and others have, by all means go ahead and do so. But if you’re a content supporter, I urge you to stick around.

Closing your Patreon account in protest will serve only to deprive the content creators you currently support of a stream of income. Not all content creators will be able to weather losing their Patreon support. The majority, likely vast majority, of content creators on Patreon don’t touch politics at all. This means closing your Patreon account will deprive these content creators of potentially a significant portion of their income for something completely outside their control.

Content creators who likely have no idea what is going on suddenly losing part of their income because some content patrons decided to turn self-righteous.

This is about the same as protesting tipping of waiters and waitresses by not tipping. In other words, knowingly depriving someone who has no say in any of that of part of their income in a bid to feel self-righteous.

So for the time being I’m sticking around on Patreon. If you want to close your Patreon account in light of what’s been going on, at least determine first if there are alternate means of supporting those content creators. Because a lot of them turned to Patreon and haven’t (yet) set up alternate methods of accepting donations. Closing your Patreon account in protest is going to hurt people with no dog in the fight. And that’s grossly unfair to them all so you could feel self-righteous or “send Patreon a message”.

Now I’m not ignoring the fact that Patreon has a near-monopoly in this market space. We badly need alternatives to Patreon. But as those banned from Patreon will quickly flock to those alternatives, they will be quickly labeled havens for “alt right” content creators. SubscribeStar has suffered similar fate, and has seen some impairments from that – such as a “request” from PayPal that they not use PayPal as a payment gateway.

But does that warrant withdrawing your support from other content creators with no dog in the fight? In my opinion, no. So I’m not joining in on any of that.

Update: On December 17, Patreon issued a statement regarding banning Carl Benjamin (“Sargon of Akkad”) for “hate speech”.

Amending: YouTube channel Design Prototype Test has released a statement about their decline in Patreon subscriptions despite his channel having nothing to do with politics. It’s entirely due to Patreon contributors deciding to leave the platform.

Again, it is for the content creators I support who don’t talk about politics that I’ve remained on the platform. It is not fair to them for me to leave merely because I don’t like Patreon’s decisions.

Table power outlet

This was a relatively quick project I’d been wanting to do for a while. I have a small table next to the couch that faces my television in my entertainment room. When I work from home, I typically sit on the couch and use that table. For powering my work laptop, my only option was to run the power cable to a wall outlet or to the entertainment center. The couch and table are in the middle of the room.

So I had an idea in mind to make a power outlet for that table. That way I could plug in my work laptop without having to run the cable. The couch itself is immediately in front of the tables where mine and my wife’s computers sit. So the power cable would run under the couch and behind to reach one of the surge suppressors.

Simple enough. Here’s the parts list for what I used:

And then to hold it to the table, I just used 3M VHB double-sided tape.

The NMW2-D is a surface mount box with a slim profile, so it doesn’t stand up far from the table – only about 1.25″. And it’s serving as a glorified extension cable, allowing me to power my laptop while working, and also allowing us to use USB charging plugs for charging devices and portable chargers as well. I’m already planning to change out the outlet for one that has USB plugs.

It’s also simple and inexpensive. Everything altogether cost about 25 USD plus tax for my setup, everything coming from Home Depot, only because I paid a little extra to get a right-angle 5-15P plug. So you can save a few dollars going with a straight plug if you don’t need the right-angle.

So why do this? It’s a quick project to add power plugs in a useful spot where a power strip or something similar wouldn’t make sense. And if you’re new to wiring up power outlets – which I was – then it’s a quick learning project as well: black to brass, white to silver, and exposed or green to green. And that’s true on both the plug and outlet. It should work fine so long as you keep the color coding straight and secure everything in both the plug and outlet. If you fry something or trip a circuit breaker while testing this, you didn’t wire up the outlet properly. So check everything after verifying you don’t need a fire extinguisher.

At the same time, this served as a quick proof of concept. As I’m considering this as a new way of powering my home entertainment center to reduce some of the wiring bulk.

Unfortunately some of that is just… unavoidable – the A/V cables and network cables in particular (I don’t want to change everything over to wireless). But the power delivery can be split by daisy-chaining outlets in whatever configuration you think will best cover everything. A single-gang outlet per shelf, or two-gang outlets every several shelves. Or a combination thereof.

This will leave just one plug running to the surge suppressor. Making it trivial to swap that out for a UPS later. The A/V receiver and television won’t be plugged into the chain of outlets.

Overall, it’s a simple project that simplified things just a little bit in our entertainment room. And it’s already proven its worth when I worked from home a few days after making this outlet. The picture above is from that morning. Next up is to create something similar for an RJ45 cable after swapping the outlet for one with USB ports.

Credit card lawsuits

Wow it’s been a long time since I’ve addressed debt collections. There really isn’t a whole lot to say, though. Things are pretty straightforward, and I often end up repeating myself whenever I respond to an article I’ve seen online. A lot of the articles tend to be written by people who have never been through collections, so there’s plenty of misinformation and wishful thinking in many of these articles.

Though the most egregious misinformation I’ve seen came from the United States government. Seriously. Egregious only because they, of all people, should’ve known better.

Lawsuits, though, tend to not get covered much when talking about debt collection. For one, collections lawsuits are not much different than any other breach of contract lawsuit. No, seriously, they aren’t. This also means that responding to one will be within the laws of your State of residence, and the rules of the applicable Court.

And unless you’re an attorney or you’ve actually been sued by one of your creditors, you really should NOT be trying to write about a collections lawsuit. And if you do, you’d better have your information verified by an attorney to make sure it’s accurate.

But over at US News and World Report, contributing writer Ben Luthi decided to take up the challenge. There is no indication on his profile that he has ever been through a lawsuit, let alone collections, nor is there any indication he’s a practicing debt or bankruptcy attorney. So no surprise, then, that the article he wrote has… issues. Meaning he definitely didn’t put his article back in front of the attorney he quoted in it.

Or otherwise she, hopefully, would’ve told him there’s no point in mentioning… jail.

In most cases, you don’t have to worry about going to jail over your credit card debt. “We don’t have debtors prisons anymore,” says Ashley F. Morgan, a Virginia-based bankruptcy attorney at Ashley F. Morgan Law. “But if you don’t respond to a court order appropriately, you can be in contempt, and that can put you into jail.”

For example, if you fail to follow a court order to appear or to make a payment, you can be held in civil contempt of court, and the court can issue a warrant for your arrest.

Once you’re served with a lawsuit, don’t ignore it. It won’t go away, it will lead to a default judgment if you try to ignore it, and things only get worse from there. The judgment is merely the Court ordering you to pay the amount owed to the creditor – called “monetary relief” in legal parlance. The specifics of that payment, including whether you lump sum pay it, or pay it off in installations, is between you and the creditor.

But if you refuse to pay on the judgment, will you be held in contempt of Court and put in jail? No. Instead the petitioner will seek enforcement through the Court via post-trial motions. Attempting to or actually interfering with that enforcement can get you thrown in jail.

Failing to appear for a civil court date, though, will also not result in being held in contempt. Civil cases are very, very different from criminal cases in which the government can compel you to appear, and arrest you if you don’t. The Court cannot compel you to appear on a civil court matter. You just automatically lose the case if you don’t appear as scheduled, and you also surrender any right of appeal when that happens. Unless your failure to appear is due to a very good reason.

The credit card company may not initiate a lawsuit as soon as you default on a debt. Morgan says creditors may try to collect debts for up to a year and a half before they sue. But she has also seen some companies notify customers of a lawsuit after as little as six months.

A credit card company cannot initiate a lawsuit as soon as they charge off the account. They have to exhaust all other options for collecting the balance before turning to the Court.

And I wonder if the “six months” means six months after the charge-off, meaning the account had actually been in default for 12 months. Under the FDIC policy known as the Uniform Retail Credit Classification and Account Management Policy, open-ended (“revolving”) credit accounts cannot be charged off sooner than 180 days delinquency. (65 FR 36903 at 36904, June 12, 2000)

In the case where one of my creditors sued me, they filed suit about 15 months after the account went delinquent, so about 9 months after it was charged off.

First, verify the debt. While your liability should be clear if your credit card company sues you directly, sometimes it’s not that straightforward. Debt collectors you’ve never heard of can purchase your debt and sue you for it, and the debt may be inflated by fees and penalties. Mistakes or outright fraud can happen. So even if you know you owe the debt, request documentation of it if you’re being sued by a debt collector.

By the time a lawsuit rolls around, it’s too late to validate the debt. And the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act offers no protection unless a debt collector filed the lawsuit before you had a chance to exercise your rights, since such isn’t allowed under Federal law.

The complaint will also include some evidence backing their claim, providing virtually everything they’d be required to provide for validation anyway, making validation a waste of effort. In a foreclosure lawsuit in which I was erroneously involved, the complaint I was served included a copy of the mortgage note. This showed that it was all a case of mistaken identity. More on that later.

And when I was served in a lawsuit by Capital One, that complaint also included a copy of the agreement I signed and the last credit card statement before the account was charged off into collections.

Now sure, a debt buyer can purchase the debt from the original creditor and sue you, though they must still act in good faith, meaning they can’t just sue you after they buy the debt. But with debt buyers, debt validation is not an enforceable option. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies only to debt collectors. Debt buyers are exempt from it. And original creditors are generally exempt from it as well since 15 USC § 1692g specifically mentions “debt collectors” (as defined at § 1692a) and doesn’t mention “creditor” (also as defined at the same).

But let’s say the lawsuit is being handled by an organization meeting the statutory definition of “debt collector”. Can you still validate the debt under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act after they’ve filed a lawsuit and served you? Well you can try.

Disputing the debt under § 1692g only applies to the first communication from a debt collector. Which if they’ve filed a lawsuit, you are well past that stage unless they’re acting in bad faith and not giving you adequate notice so you can exercise your rights under Federal law. Now if you ignored the mailing, that’s on you.

So again, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act doesn’t really apply at all once you’ve gotten to the lawsuit stage. Unless the petitioner is a debt collector. And you can show the petitioner has been acting in bad faith. But in general your relief will come under State law, not Federal law. If you want relief under Federal law, you must file a separate lawsuit in Federal Court.

Remember, once the lawsuit is filed and you’re served, everything now goes through the Court. So don’t miss your Court date.

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In general you should not try to fight the lawsuit unless you are certain you can beat the lawsuit. Instead try to negotiate a settlement or pay it in full before the first hearing. Then at that first hearing, inform the Court of the settlement or that the matter has already been resolved. There will be a follow-up hearing scheduled pending additional motions.

There are only three scenarios in which you should fight the lawsuit. And basically those are scenarios where you, under a rational interpretation of the law, cannot be held responsible for it. These are the three which Ben readily provides:

  1. The statute of limitations ran out.
  2. You weren’t properly notified of your obligations.
  3. You don’t actually owe the debt.

I’ve written before on the statute of limitations. His extra advice of making sure what you think is the last payment on the debt “really [is] your most recent payment” is spot on. I don’t think it’s been adjudicated through the Court whether the limitation applies only to payments you make, or whether it can also apply to payments made on your behalf – e.g. a gift payment by friend or family.

If the debt is time barred, you need to make that claim to the Court. It is an affirmative defense. You can’t just ignore the Court service.

And he’s also correct that creditors generally need to act in good faith with their customers and the obligations they have. They can’t just sue you out of the blue. What constitutes “bad faith” is going to vary on jurisdiction, but generally it means they weren’t doing what they could, within reason, to keep you informed about your obligations to them – balances, interest rates, fees, etc. This isn’t enough to get rid of the debt, but it could get a lawsuit dismissed without prejudice.

But what if you don’t actually owe the debt?

If you have proof that you paid the debt or you don’t recognize it, you can send a debt verification letter to the credit card company to confirm that the debt belongs to you and that the company owns the debt.

Again, by the time you get served by the Court, validation isn’t an option.

Now there are three reasons you’re being served on a debt you don’t actually owe: mistaken identity, you’re paying the debt or have paid off the debt, or the account was fraudulent.

Mistaken identity

With mistaken identity, you need to file an affidavit with the Court asserting your identity and that you’re not the debtor they’re looking for. (And no, I’m not making a Star Wars meme from that.) The specifics on this are governed by the rules of the Court in question, so you’ll need to contact the Clerk for that Court to find out what you need to do.

Merely filing the affidavit doesn’t release you from the lawsuit, though. That affidavit instead serves as your response. Which means the petitioner will have the opportunity to respond, or advance the case further. If the petitioner files a response acknowledging they served the wrong person, effectively invalidating the service, you should be considered released once a copy of that is provided to you (could take a couple weeks) depending on the Court rules.

This may not be as easy as it sounds, and it all depends on how your name compares to the named respondent. In the case of the aforementioned foreclosure, my middle name differed from that of the named respondent, so a notarized affidavit showing my full name was enough to get me released.

If you have the exact same name as the respondent, you may need to appear in Court in order to provide additional identifying documents. Since the affidavit may only allow you to provide your full name. Now the initial hearing after you’ve been served is kind of like an arraignment. It isn’t where you argue the merits of the petition, only whether you agree or disagree with it. But it is where you can assert your identity since you need to show more than just your full name.

Depending on what is needed to show you’re not the same person, a new hearing might be scheduled, or the petitioner may talk with you after the hearing. Or you might be able to settle it right there if the Court allows for it – e.g. your name recently changed to that matching the respondent only due to you recently getting married, and you have a certified copy of your marriage license.

A lawsuit should not proceed against the wrong person, but the Court will generally presume the right person has been served until you can prove otherwise. And if it does proceed, it’s possible the account may have been fraudulently opened in your name. But the case generally needs to proceed into discovery to figure that out.

Paying or paid

If you’re paying within the terms of an agreed-upon settlement, that alone will be enough to get the suit dismissed. They can’t file a Court action unless there is an actual breach of contract that has not yet been remedied. And a settlement agreement is a remedy in the eyes of the law.

Paying the settlement in full is the same, legally speaking, as paying the debt. It releases you from any additional obligation.

In both instances, you just need to provide documentation through a response to the Court. In both instances, it’s possible the lawsuit was filed by mistake. But once it’s filed with the Court, you must still work with the Court to get it dismissed.

Fraudulent account

If you find a discrepancy between records or the account is fraudulent, you can dispute the lawsuit.

In the event of a records discrepancy, you’re not going to be able to get the suit dismissed. Instead you’ll just end up with a smaller judgment. But you likely won’t be able to make this determination until the lawsuit enters discovery.

In the case of a fraudulent account, though, you’ll need to show up to the initial hearing to state that you dispute the petition, request a continuance stating you believe the debt to be the result of fraud, then work to produce evidence that the account is fraudulent. As already mentioned, though, you may not be able to obtain this evidence until you’ve entered discovery.

Bear in mind, too, that once the lawsuit begins, everything typically needs to go through the Court. This means that even if you produce that evidence, you still need to file a motion with the Court to dismiss the lawsuit.

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The rest of Ben’s article goes beyond a collections lawsuit, so I’ll just end it here.