Recent reporting from multiple sources indicates an increase in financial fraud schemes, as scammers have seized upon the ever-growing demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)a to target healthcare providers and the general public. Many of the schemes attempt to capitalize on high demand, low supply PPE such as N95 (NIOSH)-approved respirator masks, which are among the required PPE for healthcare personnel responding to COVID-19.
When ordering PPE from online retailers, always verify the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and confirm “https” in the web address, as a lack of a security certification (“https”) may be an indicator that the site is insecure or compromised
Consult the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) NIOSH website to view a list of all NIOSH approved manufacturers of N95 respirator masks and validate approval and certification numbers.
Confirm N95 respirator mask approval status and certification numbers using the NIOSH flyer (Figure 1), the NIOSH website, or the CDC website, which includes examples of identified counterfeit or unapproved N95 respirator masks.
As of 11 March 2020, many large U.S. retailers and suppliers have sold out of their N95 respirator mask inventories and are now warning consumers against the rise of counterfeit versions. A survey of safety masks and respirators on one U.S. e-commerce platform found at least one hundred product listings that were counterfeit or unapproved.
If you believe your organization has purchased counterfeit PPE or COVID-19 testing kits, or were the victim of a fraud or scam, please contact your local FBI Field Office and report details regarding this incident to the Internet Crimes Complaints Center at IC3.gov and/or the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at IPRCenter.gov.
WASHINGTON—An innocuous encounter with a polite young man at a local movie theater was the unknown beginning step toward being sex trafficked for a young Virginian teen.
Susan Young said her daughter had just celebrated her 15th birthday when she met a boy who was “close in age, polite, and well-mannered” while at the movies with friends.
They swapped phone numbers and Facebook information.
“With this seemingly small exchange of information, Courtney had no way of knowing that her life and the life of her family would change forever,” Young said during a recent Justice Department (DOJ) anti-trafficking event.
“The boy was not who he appeared to be. Rather than a sweet, innocent young man, he was an MS-13 gang member. His job was to recruit young girls under the false pretense of friendship, luring them into the dark world of human trafficking.”
“One of the most disturbing but rapidly emerging trends is that of gang-controlled sex trafficking,” Woolf said during a congressional hearing on Dec. 11, 2019.
“Gangs have learned that sex trafficking, particularly of minors, is a low-risk, high-yield criminal enterprise that adequately funds their gang operations throughout the United States and around the world.”
Woolf said gangs, “glorified through Hollywood,” often use violence or threats of violence to control their victims.
Young said that once the MS-13 gang members, who attended her daughter’s high school, found out Courtney was trying to break away from them, they took her to a secluded part of the school’s property and gang-raped her.
“They videotaped that, and told her if she ever told anyone what was happening, they would share the video on social media, and with her friends and family,” Young told The Epoch Times.
“And that episode right there is really what started her whole trafficking. Following that, she was immediately trafficked every day after school. She would tell me that she was staying after school for homework club or yoga club. In fact, the gang was taking her to a nearby house and trafficking her, where eight to 10 gentlemen were waiting. And she had to pretend as if nothing had happened.”
As Courtney was being sex-trafficked by the gang, Young said she found out later that her three younger children— two boys, aged 12 and 11, and a girl who was almost 3 at the time—were also victimized.
On Saturday afternoons, Young and her husband would go for a bike ride at a local park for an hour or so. Little did they know that their house was under constant surveillance and, as they walked out the front door, gang members would enter through the back door.
“The boys were threatened at gunpoint. They both were raped at gunpoint, to keep them silent. They even injected our youngest daughter with drugs. They really used the kids very much against each other to make sure no one talked to the parents, or anyone,” Young said.
The gang members would force Courtney out of the house with them by pointing a gun at her younger sister and saying, “Come with us, or we’re going to shoot your sister right now.”
Young said she and her husband didn’t find out that their sons and younger daughter were abused until a year after Courtney’s situation came to light, “because they were still too scared to speak up and afraid that the gang members were going to come back and get them,” she said.
Young, now the director for Just Ask’s Parent Coalition to End Human Trafficking, said her family fell through the cracks.
She said Courtney tried to seek help 22 times with her school resource officer and school counselor. “They didn’t get back to her once.”
“She did not feel safe to talk to my husband and I—at that time, the gang was threatening her, ‘If you do speak with anybody, we’ll kill your parents, we’ll hurt your little brothers, your sister,’” Young said.
“No one knew how to help our family or how to navigate this delicate situation. The failsafes established to protect families and their children did little to nothing for ours—from the school system to law enforcement, court systems, therapists, doctors.”
Courtney went missing twice over a six-month period—the first time for four days and the second time for two weeks, said Young. Both times, Young said they notified law enforcement and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
“It wasn’t until she was recovered the second time by a law enforcement officer who was trained in the area of human trafficking that we began to fully understand the magnitude of our situation,” she said.
The family moved, and Courtney spent 4 1/2 years in inpatient residential therapy, trying to recover from the trauma, Young said.
“Oftentimes for victims, one of the hardest things for them to do is to reintegrate back into society. And we need to create programs that teach them to do so, how to live a normal life,” she said.
She said it can be daunting for survivors to carry out everyday tasks such as picking out a shirt or deciding what to eat.
“These traffickers have manipulated them and gained so much control over them that they actually lose the ability to think for themselves,” Young said.
Experts say the average lifespan for a child who is pulled into sex trafficking is seven years. Very few get out and even fewer stay out. Drug addiction and violence are par for the course and the trauma bond created by the trafficker can entice a victim back in, even after they’ve been rescued.
Foster Care, Homelessness, and Trafficking
The 2019 State Department trafficking report said children in the U.S. foster care system are at high risk of becoming trafficked.
“Recent reports have consistently indicated that a large number of victims of child sex trafficking were at one time in the foster care system,” the 2019 Trafficking In Persons report states.
In 2019, more than 437,000 children were in foster care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Bill Bedrossian is the CEO of Covenant House in California, which provides residential programs and services to children and youth facing homelessness in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
He said that 30 percent to 50 percent of the human trafficking victims that Convenant House works with come from the foster care system, and that traffickers deliberately target foster kids.
“We see traffickers get young victims to try to victimize others through group homes, through foster care networks,” he said.
Bedrossian stressed that child sex trafficking is predominantly a domestic issue. He said 90 percent of the young women who have been trafficked that come through Covenant House are from the United States.
Another group of vulnerable children who are targeted by traffickers are the homeless, including runaways.
Of the more than 23,500 endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2019, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
Bedrossian cited a recent study directed by Convenant House that showed that 20 percent of young people who experience homelessness also experienced human trafficking.
“And so, by default, we’ve been doing victim services for human trafficking victims over the last 50 years,” Bedrossian said. “But in the last five to 10 years, the victimology has become much different. The sophistication of the traffickers has become much different. The insidiousness of the course of this has become much different.”
Young homeless people are “relatively easy” to lure from the streets with promises of love, protection, food, and financial security, the Covenant House website states.
“For a lot of these young people, they literally have begun being trafficked at 8, 9 years old by their family members, by the gangs, by the street life that they’ve been exposed to,” Bedrossian said.
Convictions and New Challenges
The DOJ convicted 501 sex traffickers in fiscal 2018, up from 471 in fiscal 2017. It took down Backpage.com in 2018, the largest internet site that advertised the sex trafficking of minors and adults. But other sites have since sprung up, including those hosted overseas, which presents an extra challenge for law enforcement.
The NCMEC CyberTipline received 1.1 million reports of child online sexual exploitation in 2014; in 2019, it received 16.9 million reports.
But the challenges with technology remain the most complex for law enforcement to contend with. Tech companies are providing users with more applications that have end-to-end encryption; cryptocurrency hides the money trail; and advertising sites are hosted overseas or on the dark web.
The DOJ has said end-to-end encryption without a backdoor for law enforcement stymies criminal investigations. Tech companies say a backdoor presents a security risk for users.
Victim Services and Moving Forward
While the Youngs slipped through the cracks years ago, more organizations have since sprung up to support survivors and their families.
The DOJ has also poured more funding into victim support services, which are becoming a more integral component of the law enforcement side of trafficking.
During fiscal 2018, the DOJ provided $31.2 million for 45 victim service providers—a significant increase from 18 providers receiving $16.2 million in fiscal 2017.
But, as Young said, gangs have also proliferated.
“It was really hard for us to find a safe place to go and kind of hide the family, so to speak, after our situation,” she said. She said they moved to an area that doesn’t have an MS-13 presence, to their knowledge. However, the surrounding areas do.
“We feel as safe as we can be from our situation,” she said. “We just try to stay in the shadows and not draw any attention to ourselves or to our family.”
Even now, she is learning more about what happened. Recently, she found out that her eldest son was also trafficked with Courtney.
“So he and Courtney, life will always be different for them, it will always move at a much slower pace. They will have to deal with complex PTSD and anxiety and depression—the fear that someone will always come back to get them or will be waiting for them—that will never leave them. I’m always looking for new therapies to try for PTSD and try to help them,” she said.
Courtney is now almost 24 and lives close by, while studying to be a veterinarian. The boys are 20 and 19; one is at college working toward a degree in cybersecurity and the other is about to start college. And the youngest daughter is nearly 12.
The traffickers haven’t faced justice.
Young wants people to understand that they shouldn’t wait until they know of a victim before they take notice of the problem.
“I really just want to empower the public, for them to understand and educate themselves that human trafficking is real. It’s happening every single day.”
Behind the deadly opioid epidemic ravaging communities across the United States lies a carefully planned strategy by a hostile foreign power that experts describe as a “form of chemical warfare.”
It involves the production and trafficking of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that caused the deaths of more than 32,000 Americans in 2018 alone, and fentanyl-related substances.
China is the “largest source” of illicit fentanyl in the United States, a November 2018 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated. That same commission said that since its 2017 report, they found no “substantive curtailment” of fentanyl flows from China to the United States. They also noted that in “large part, these flows persist due to weak regulations governing pharmaceutical and chemical production in China.”
President Donald Trump has continued to increase his crackdown on fentanyl—he recently ordered all U.S. carriers to “search for and refuse” international mail deliveries of the synthetic opioid pain reliever. Trump specifically named FedEx, Amazon, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
Jeff Nyquist, an author and researcher of Chinese and Russian strategy, said China is using fentanyl as a “very effective tool.”
“You could call it a form of chemical warfare,” Nyquist told The Epoch Times. “It opens up a number of opportunities for the penetration of the country, both in terms of laundering money and in terms of blackmail against those who participate in the trade and become corrupt like law enforcement, intelligence, and government officials.”
China also uses the money generated by the importing of fentanyl to effectively “influence political parties,” according to Nyquist.
“It opens doors for Chinese influence operations, Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and intelligence services, so that they can get control of certain parts of the U.S.,” he said.
In August, Trump called out Chinese leader Xi Jinping, accusing him of not doing enough to stop the flow of fentanyl, which enters the United States mostly via international mail.
Liu Yuejin, vice commissioner of the China National Narcotics Control Commission, disputed Trump’s criticism, telling reporters on Sept. 3 that they had started going after illicit fentanyl production, according to state-controlled media. China also denies that most of the illicit fentanyl entering the United States originates in China.
Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl surged from around 29,000 in 2017 to more than 32,000 in 2018, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Not all opioid-related deaths in the United States can be blamed on China’s fentanyl export policies, as some come from prescription overdoses, according to Dr. Robert J. Bunker, an adjunct research professor at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.
But Bunker told The Epoch Times that China is still “greatly contributing” to America’s opioid epidemic. Bunker described how Beijing is using the trafficking of dangerous drugs to achieve its greater Communist Party goals.
“Contributing to a major health crisis in the U.S., while simultaneously profiting from it would in my mind give long-term CCP plans to establish an authoritarian Chinese global system as a challenge to Western liberal democracy,” he said via email.
“[It’s] a win-win situation for the regime,” he continued. “In fact producing and sending fentanyl to the U.S., which could be considered a low-risk policy of ‘drug warfare,’ is very much in line with the means and methods advocated in the 1999 work ‘Unrestricted Warfare.’”
The book mentioned by Bunker is authored by two of China’s air force colonels, Qiao Liang, and Wang Xiangsui, and published by the People’s Liberation Army.
Recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and deaths are linked to “illegally made fentanyl,” the CDC has said. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Fentanyl has been approved for treating severe pain for conditions such as late-stage cancer. It is prescribed by doctors typically through transdermal patches or lozenges. Fentanyl should only be prescribed by doctors who are experienced in treating pain in cancer patients, according to Medline Plus, an online site by the United States National Library of Medicine. It may become addictive, especially with prolonged use.
A USPS spokesman told The Epoch Times they are “aggressively working” to add in provisions from the STOP Act. The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention legislation, signed in 2018 by Trump, aims to curb the flow of opioids sent through the mail while increasing coordination between USPS and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
USPS has notified China’s postal operations that if any of their shipments don’t contain Advance Electronic Data (AED), they “may be returned at any time,” the spokesman said via email. CBP is also notifying air and ocean carriers to confirm that 100 percent of their postal shipment containers have AED before loading them onto their conveyance.
In August, law enforcement seized 30 kilograms (around 66 pounds) of fentanyl, among other narcotics as part of a major arrest operation over the course of three days. As a result, officers arrested 35 suspects for “conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute large amounts of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and cocaine base.”
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement that the amount of fentanyl seized was enough to “kill over 14 million people.” One of the suspects in Virginia had ordered the fentanyl from a vendor in Shanghai and was receiving it at his residence through USPS, according to the indictment.
“The last thing we want is for the U.S. Postal Service to become the nation’s largest drug dealer, and there are people way above my pay grade working on that, but absolutely, it’s about putting pressure on the Chinese,” Terwilliger said.
CBP Enforcement Statistics reveal that fiscal year seizures of illicit fentanyl spiked from about one kilogram (2.2 pounds) in 2013 to nearly 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) in 2018. The number of law enforcement fentanyl seizures in the United States also vaulted from about 1,000 in 2013 to more than 59,000 in 2017.
Also, in August, the Mexican navy found 52,000 pounds of fentanyl powder in a container from a Danish ship that was coming from Shanghai. The navy intercepted the unloaded 40-foot container on Aug. 24, at the Port of Cardenas.
“There is clear evidence that fentanyl or fentanyl precursors, chemicals used to make fentanyl is coming from China,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, told The Epoch Times.
Two commonly used fentanyl precursors are chemicals called NPP and 4-ANPP. In early 2017, journalist Ben Westhoff started researching the chemicals, finding many advertisements for them all over the internet from different companies. He later determined a majority of those companies were under a Chinese chemical company called Yuancheng, according to an excerpt from his upcoming book “Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic,” an excerpt of which was published in The Atlantic.
One of the concerns related to the production of illicit opioids is the creation of fentanyl analogs, products that are similar to fentanyl and also simple to make.
“You can very easily manipulate the molecule and create a new fentanyl-like product that hasn’t been banned, that’s not technically illegal,” Kolodny told The Epoch Times. “Some of the manufacturers, the folks creating the drugs, are aware of that.”
“We saw this with other synthetic drugs that are abused in the U.S., when law enforcement make the drug illegal or when they ban the molecule,” he said. “In some cases, fentanyl analogs are even stronger than fentanyl. There’s an analog called carfentanil, which is even more potent than fentanyl.”
Just one microgram is needed for carfentanil to affect a human. The drug is “one of the most potent opioids known” and is marketed under the trade name Wildnil “as a general anesthetic agent for large animals.”
“Sometimes, it’s hard for law enforcement to keep up with the chemist,” Kolodny added.
A bill dubbed the SOFA Act or the “Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act,” has yet to pass Congress. The act was introduced in May by Republican senators and would give law enforcement “enhanced tools to combat the opioid epidemic and close a loophole in current law that makes it difficult to prosecute crimes involving some synthetic opioids.”
Kolodny said pharmaceutical industries have been lobbying to stop any legislation meant to restrict fentanyl analogs “because these are products they are trying to bring to market.”
In August, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572.1 million to the state for deceitfully marketing addictive opioids. The sum was less than what investors had expected, according to Reuters, which resulted in shares of the multinational corporation rising in value.
“We should be doing everything we can to keep fentanyl out of the country,” Kolodny said. “We should be doing everything we can to ban fentanyl analogs.”
As part of the Trump administration’s latest efforts to combat the opioid crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Sept. 4 announced nearly $2 billion in funding to states.
The funding would expand access to treatment and also support near-real-time data on the drug overdose crisis, according to a release.
In announcing the move, White House counsel Kellyanne Conway told reporters in a conference call that their administration is trying to interject the word “fentanyl” into the “everyday lexicon” as part of their efforts to increase awareness.
Data suggests that of the approximately 2 million Americans suffering from opioid use disorder, approximately 1.27 million of them are now receiving medication-assisted treatment, according to the HHS.
“Central to our effort to stop the flood of fentanyl and other illicit drugs is our unprecedented support for law enforcement and their interdiction efforts,” she said.
Conway then brought up the DHS seizures of fentanyl in 2018, which totaled an equivalent of 1.2 billion lethal doses.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that is enough to have killed every American four times,” she told reporters.
In March 2018, the Interior Department created a task force aimed to specifically combat the crisis on tribal lands. Since then, the department has arrested more than 422 individuals and seized 4,000 pounds of illegal drugs worth $12 million on the street, including more than 35,000 fentanyl pills.
Conway, on the conference call, described the epidemic of pain relievers as an “opioid and fentanyl crisis.”
Barbara Jean Wilson was 8 years old when she was first trafficked. Her mother was the pimp.
“Instead of me going out, she would bring the men home,” Wilson said during a trafficking summit at the Justice Department on Jan. 14.
“I was fed drugs. I was fed alcohol. The one time that I had the courage to say ‘No,’ one of them put a gun to my head and said, ‘No one tells me no.’”
Wilson said she would plead with her mother for it to stop, but was told that’s how the rent was getting paid.
“And so I had nowhere to seek help and I just dealt with it. That’s how I lived,” she said.
Wilson was eventually thrown out of her home, and to survive, she got deeper into drugs and did the only thing she knew—sell her body.
By 15, she had a daughter to support. At around 17, Wilson overdosed on drugs, and ironically, that’s what she said saved her.
“The Holy Spirit came to me and said, ‘Enough is enough,” she said. “And I made a promise to God that if he got me through it, I would spend the rest of my life sharing my story to help other victims … [and] bring understanding and awareness to those who don’t know what we go through.”
She’s been doing so ever since, but the pain is still evident. Despite what her mother put her through, she said she has forgiven her.
“She asked for forgiveness. I forgave her. I forgave my abusers. … In order for me to go forth, I had to forgive,” she said. “But it damaged me in a lot of ways, damaged me in so many ways.”
Homelessness and Trafficking
Bill Bedrossian, CEO of Covenant House in California, said his organization is the largest provider for homeless youth in the United States.
“And by default, we’ve become the largest provider of housing for victims of human trafficking,” he said. “For a lot of these young people, they literally have begun being trafficked at 8, 9 years old by their family members, by the gangs, by the street life that they’ve been exposed to.”
A recent study conducted by Covenant House found that 20 percent of young people who experience homelessness are sex trafficked, Bedrossian said.
He said he has noticed a change over the past five to 10 years in both the sophistication of the traffickers and the insidiousness of the crime.
Kay Duffield, executive director of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative, said that in about 84 percent of sex trafficking cases, the trafficker uses the internet to sell their victims.
“One sex buyer said that buying sex was as easy as going online and ordering a pizza,” she said.
‘Traffickers Are Predators’
Barbara Amaya grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, in a home she said looked beautiful on the outside, but wasn’t on the inside.
Amaya said she was abused and ended up going through “all the systems,” including child welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice. By 12, she was a habitual runaway.
“I wasn’t just running away, I was running to find something,” she said. “And traffickers are predators. They prey upon the vulnerable.”
One day she was approached by a young woman at Dupont Circle in Washington, who suggested she come home with her to get food.
“She took me back to her place. And there was her boyfriend, who was actually her trafficker,” Amaya said. “They started training me for purposes of prostitution. I was 12 years old.”
Soon after, she was sold to a man who took her to New York and trafficked her out with other minors he had bought from all over the country.
“He had many other young people in different hotels around New York. He had two apartments in Manhattan on either side—East Side, West Side, and he would move everybody all around all the time to keep everyone off balance and isolated in that world,” she said.
Her trafficker became violent if she didn’t bring in enough money.
“He would beat me with a wire coat hanger … throw me down the stairs, throw me out of a car,” Amaya said.
“The violence occurred in his hands and also at the buyer’s hands. I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed. I’ve been everything that you could probably think of—or not think of. When someone thinks they’re buying you, they think they can do whatever they want to do to you.”
At around 15 or 16, Amaya was hooked on heroin and in Rikers Island prison. She broke out of the brainwashing fog long enough to tell the authorities her real name and age and asked them to call her parents. They came back and said her parents were on their way.
“I had all this flood of emotions because I’d been gone for so many years and I don’t know what they told my parents. I had shame, horrible shame—this is all my fault,” she recalled.
“I opened the door to the room. And I walked into the room, and it was my trafficker standing there.”
Amaya said she still doesn’t know how her trafficker knew to be there. But she was desperate for a heroin fix and left with him, missing her parents by 10 minutes. It put her back into the life for another seven years.
“[The drugs] numbed my brain and my body to the existence that I was suffering. So by the time I was 23, 24, I’m five foot nine, 99 pounds, probably going to die. I knew that,” she said. “I knew I had to do something and I pulled myself into a drug clinic over on the Lower East Side.”
She recalled vividly how the receptionist treated her “like a human being.”
“She cared. I felt like I mattered. I don’t remember feeling like that, maybe ever,” Amaya said. “And because of her, taking time out of her day to treat me like a human being, she propelled me out of New York City.”
Wilson said victims of sex trafficking should know they can get out and go on to live a productive life.
“Don’t be ashamed of what you were put through, because you’re not to blame,” she said. “That is not the life that anyone should have to live. And especially a child.
“When you see those young girls and those young boys out there on the street, they’re not out there because they want to be. They’re out there because they have no place to go. They don’t trust anyone.”
Bedrossian said a common thread in homeless and trafficked youth is that they crave love and belonging.
“We all long for significance in our lives,” he said. “The No. 1 deterrent from a young person to become trafficked is having a meaningful relationship, positive relationship with an adult in their life.”
Identity theft isn’t just someone stealing your credit card. Criminals are coming up with plenty of innovative ways to rip us off. New account fraud, a tactic in which someone opens an account in your name, is on the rise. So are cases of hackers using clever social engineering tactics to fool victims into giving up sensitive information.
Think it can’t happen to you?
One recent example is a new type of identity fraud that tricks victims into thinking they’ve received a two-factor authentication text from their bank. This is especially shocking as it looks so real.
More than 14 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2018, according to a 2019 study by Javelin Strategy & Research. Fraud is still rampant and can cause serious financial damage — not to mention all the time and effort it can take to undo it.
That’s why knowing the tactics thieves to steal your identity is essential. Avoid these pitfalls and stay protected.
1. Think before you share
We live in a generation of oversharing. People have been oversharing the details of their personal lives on reality TV shows for years.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to overshare with hackers, too. How often do you mindlessly click through buttons that say “Allow Access?” If you’re playing an online game or entering a contest, it’s understandable because you want a chance to win.
But stop and think about what you’re doing before you give away your information. Take a second to read terms and conditions before you agree online, and be smart about what you post on the web.
You should never post your address, phone number or other personal information on social media sites. Platforms like Facebook are too careless with our privacy as it is, and you don’t want your sensitive information in the wrong hands.
2. Blast from the past
Remember MySpace accounts? From about 2005 to 2008 it was the most popular social media site in the world. Not so much anymore. Most MySpace users have moved on. Unfortunately, many forgot to delete their accounts.
Leaving old accounts active can be a security nightmare. Think about all the personal information you have just sitting there, waiting to be scavenged by cybercriminals. Let’s face it, Tom from MySpace probably isn’t keeping up with security protocols.
It’s critical to be proactive and delete all of your old accounts you no longer use.
Go through your browser, your email and wrack your brain for all the accounts and services you’ve signed up for. If you find some you’re not using, don’t just let them linger. Take the time to shut down your old accounts the right way.
3. Some things are supposed to stay between you and your doctor
According to a survey by security company Carbon Black, a frightening 84% of health care organizations say they have seen an increase in cyberattacks over the past year. Cybercriminals have been targeting hospitals and clinics due to the sheer amount of data these places store.
It’s not all just patient information, either. There’s also data on doctors and insurance companies. Stolen information is sold on the Dark Web and ranges mostly from forgeries to health insurance credentials.
If someone steals your identity, you could be subject to medical identity theft. This act means you might be denied coverage because someone has already used your medical insurance benefits.
How can you protect yourself? Only share your insurance card when it’s absolutely necessary, and report a missing card to your insurance company right away. Avoid posting about health issues online; the less info potential scammers know about you, the better. Check any statements or bills you receive thoroughly, and contact your insurance company or doctor if you see a charge or service you don’t recognize.
When criminals first started sending phishing emails, they were pretty easy to spot. Tons of grammatical and spelling errors tipped us off to the fact that no, our banks couldn’t possibly have sent that message.
However, today’s crooks have learned that lesson and are now sending professional looking messages. They spoof logos that look so real they can be difficult for even experts to spot. The most important rule to outsmarting phishing scams is to avoid clicking malicious links. That means you shouldn’t click on web links or open PDF attachments found in unsolicited email messages — ever.
If you need to conduct business with a company, it’s always best to type its web address directly into your browser. Never trust a link inside a message, and be wary of downloading anything you didn’t specifically ask for.
5. Before you hit ‘buy’
Shopping online is convenient and takes out all the hassles associated with heading to the mall. But have you ever heard of e-skimming? It’s when your credit card information is skimmed by a criminal while you’re buying stuff online. You don’t even know it’s happening until it’s too late.
This epidemic is getting worse as hackers have figured out how to skim credit cards from ordinary online retailers without being detected. They do this by using tricky bits of code while they lie in wait and capture your data as you’re typing it in.
Does that mean you need to stop shopping online all together? No, but you should take steps to shop smarter. For starters, check the connection to the site you’re on. Look for a lock or a URL that begins with HTTPS instead of just HTTP. If it’s not secure, find what you’re shopping for elsewhere.
Be wary of any deals that seem too good to be true. Coupons for crazy discounts or free products could be a trap to get your payment info.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Sure, everyone wants to save on data, but joining a public Wi-Fi network at the coffee shop or airport is a terrible idea.
Crooks are always trolling these public networks, watching and waiting for new victims to rip off. If you must use a public network, always use a VPN when you connect. The free ones are slow. You’re better off paying a small monthly fee for a robust VPN.
7. Stay up to date
Shelling out over a grand for the latest and greatest smartphone isn’t very economical. But if you are using a super old device that can’t support updates, you could be putting your personal data at risk.
That’s because many operating system updates come with critical security patches that keep crooks from stealing your information. Without these patches, you’re a serious contender for identity theft, which could wind up costing you more than what you’d pay for a new phone.
Keep all your devices updated to the latest software you can, and seriously consider a new smartphone if yours is several versions behind.
Though criminals have sophisticated hacking tools at their disposal, there are old-fashioned spying tricks that still work to this day.
We’re talking about the common thief rummaging through your trash, hoping to find personal information you may have written down and thrown away. Take the time to shred any sensitive documents before carelessly throwing them in the trash. This includes bank statements, financial documents, medical bills and anything else with identifying information.
Also, be careful of what you say out loud. Eavesdroppers might be listening in if you’re in public making a payment over the phone and reading your credit card information out loud.
When in doubt, assume someone is watching or listening and guard your info accordingly.
9. Threats at home, too
It’s sad I have to mention this, but it’s not just hackers who can steal your identity. It could be a family member or friend.
That’s why it’s essential to keep passwords and important documents in a safe place. Don’t just leave things with information like Social Security numbers and banking information sitting around the house.
Keep sensitive documents locked in a drawer, cabinet or safe deposit box. Stop writing down passwords and login info, and store or shred financial statements as soon they arrive in the mail.
There was a time when our house phones would ring off the hook with annoying, unknown and unwanted calls. The immediate reaction would be to use *69 to trace where the call originated from.
Today, these annoying messages are coming in the form of emails. Each of these messages leads down the same road, which ends with a phishing scam or some sketchy request to reveal your personal data.
If you really want to check the credibility or authenticity of an email, you’ll need to dig deeper and establish where the email originated from — a virtual *69 if you will.
The latest call to action from some criminal-justice activists: “Abolish the police.”
From the streets of Chicago to the city council of Seattle, and in the pages of academic journals ranging from the Cardozo Law Review to the Harvard Law Review and of mainstream publications from the Boston Review to Rolling Stone, advocates and activists are building a case not just to reform policing — viewed as an oppressive, violent and racist institution — but to do away with it altogether. When I first heard this slogan, I assumed that it was a figure of speech, used to legitimize more expansive criminal-justice reform. But after reading the academic and activist literature, I realized that “abolish the police” is a concrete policy goal. The abolitionists want to dismantle municipal police departments and see “police officers disappearing from the streets.”
One might dismiss such proclamations as part of a fringe movement, but advocates of these radical views are gaining political momentum in numerous cities. In Seattle, socialist city council candidate Shaun Scott, who ran on a “police abolition” platform, came within 1,386 votes of winning elected office. During his campaign, he argued that the city must “[disinvest] from the police state” and “build towards a world where nobody is criminalized for being poor.” At a debate hosted by the Seattle Police Officers Guild, Scott blasted “so-called officers” for their “deep and entrenched institutional ties to racism” that produced an “apparatus of overaggressive and racist policing that has emerged to steer many black and brown bodies back into, in essence, a form of slavery.” Another Seattle police abolitionist, Kirsten Harris-Talley, served briefly as an appointed city councilwoman. Both Scott and Harris-Talley enjoy broad support from the city’s progressive establishment.
What would abolishing police mean as a practical policy matter? Nothing very practical. In The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith argues that police should be replaced by “full social, economic, and political equality.” Harris-Talley, meantime, has traced policing’s origins back to slavery. “How do you reform an institution that from its inception was made to control, maim, condemn and kill people?” she asks. “Reform it back to what?” If cities can eliminate poverty through affordable housing and “investing in community,” she believes, the police will become unnecessary. Others argue that cities must simply “help people resolve conflicts through peace circles and restorative justice programs.”
Police abolitionists believe that they stand at the vanguard of a new idea, but this strain of thought dates to the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that stripping away the corruptions of civilization would liberate the goodness of man. What police abolitionists fail to acknowledge is the problem of evil. No matter how many “restorative” programs it administers, even a benevolent centralized state cannot extinguish the risks of illness, violence and disorder. Contrary to the utopian vision of Rousseau and his intellectual descendants, chaos is not freedom; order is not slavery. In the modern world, civilization cannot be rolled back without dire consequences.
If anything like police abolition ever occurred, it’s easy to predict what would happen next. In the subsequent vacuum of physical power, wealthy neighborhoods would deploy private police forces, and poor neighborhoods would organize around criminal gangs — deepening structural inequalities and harming the very people that the police abolitionists say they want to help. Even Scott, when pressed by a local journalist about how he would respond to a shooting in his district, conceded that “we live in a world where it’s not possible to turn anywhere for help on big questions like this but to the police force.”
Reform the police? Sure. Abolish them? Never.
Christopher F. Rufo is a contributing editor of City Journal, documentary filmmaker, and research fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. He’s directed four films for PBS, including his new film, “America Lost,” which tells the story of three “forgotten American cities.” This piece originally appeared in City Journal.
Last week, the NYPD published its hate-crimes report for the third quarter, and the results are troubling.
Start with the anti-Semitism. Over the last 12 months, there were 246 anti-Semitic crimes in the Big Apple, up from 144 over the previous 12 months. The number of anti-Semitic assaults jumped to 33 in 2018, up from 17 in 2017, and is on pace to rise again this year, with 19 in just the first half of the year. These attacks brutally target Orthodox Jews, often in broad daylight in Brooklyn neighborhoods that are home to the community.
Then there’s the anti-LGBT violence. The most recent quarterly report tallies 20 incidents, bringing the total number of attacks over the past 12 months to 63, up from 48 in the previous 12 months.
Finally, there’s the anti-Muslim violence, most of which goes unreported (and isn’t well-captured in the report as a result). Yet it is possible to track trends by paying attention to local news and other city agencies. Many of the attacks on this community take place in the Bronx.
Regardless of the victims’ identity, perpetrators too often escape justice. The attackers in the January anti-Muslim case were only caught because the mother of one of them turned in her 14-year-old son. The Muslim woman beaten up this spring, meanwhile, had to track down street-camera footage on her own before police would pursue the case, having initially dropped it after she failed to make an identification.
Yet there is little pressure on the NYPD from activists who are normally quick to denounce hate crimes and bigotry. What explains this silence? The perpetrators have been disproportionately black.
As the investigative reporter Armin Rosen pointed out in Tablet, “many of the [anti-Jewish] attacks are being carried out by people of color with no ties to the politics of white supremacy.” As he noted, even in cases where no one is caught, video footage overwhelmingly shows minority attackers. Blacks comprised seven of the nine anti-Jewish hate-crime perpetrators arrested during the third quarter.
In the most recent report, blacks comprised 24 of the 34 (71 percent) perpetrators arrested for all hate crimes. After reaching a high of 61 percent in the second quarter of 2018, the black share consistently declined to 14 percent in the second quarter of 2019 but has now shot back up. The NYPD doesn’t account for this odd oscillation, though one wonders if there is a political component to this, as well.
Black perpetrators are especially prominent in anti-LGBT crimes, comprising 10 of the 12 arrested for those crimes in the latest quarterly report. Overall, since the beginning of 2017, blacks comprised 56 percent — 61 of 108 — of those arrested for anti-LGBT hate crimes.
But in many urban areas, the problem is complicated by the fact that many of the perpetrators themselves are minorities. Just because facts make us uncomfortable, however, doesn’t mean we should ignore them.
The social-justice community must take hate-crime stats seriously — even when the crimes aren’t committed by white supremacists. We must find the courage to look at the warts in the black community before bigoted violence escalates even further.
Robert Cherry is a professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Dianna Muller lost count of how many times she responded to chillingly desperate calls for help during her 22 years as a police officer in Tulsa, Okla. The crime scenes she worked taught her that people need their right to bear arms. “I don’t wish for anyone to be defenseless,” Muller told the A1F. “I would like for everyone to be prepared to be their own first responder.”
This is a message she’s been bringing to the nation’s capital.
Since retirement, Muller has brought to life “The DC Project,” a nonpartisan group that draws women from all states and all walks of life to Washington, D.C., in an endeavor to share with lawmakers why they own and carry firearms. For some, it is because they were the victim of a rape.
For others, it is because they are single mothers with young children they need to protect. Whatever their story, they are all people who refuse to be unarmed victims. By meeting with lawmakers, they are bringing their human stories to this issue—the type of thing the mainstream media just won’t report.
She explains that police officers can’t be everywhere all the time. In the minutes it takes officers to get to a call for help, anything can happen. After two decades of investigating crimes and helping victims of criminals, she argues that gun rights are also women’s rights.
Muller, along with several other women, have recently had high-profile confrontations with politicians.
“I will not comply with the assault-weapons ban,” said Muller, as she testified to members of the House Judiciary Committee in September. She was referring to the desire of some Democrats to ban and confiscate AR-15-type rifles from the public. Her “I will not comply” declaration went viral as a rallying cry for freedom.
“There are a lot of politicians that believe disarming American citizens will make the country safer. They don’t have much experience with firearms, and it’s easier for them to chalk all the violence up to the tool instead of the human,” Muller explained to the A1F. “It seems as though our country is not teaching our children history or what kind of power they have as citizens. They are all too eager to give up their rights, thinking that it will give them safety.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Suzanna Hupp, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives who, after surviving the 1991 “Luby’s shooting” in which a murderer killed both of her parents, has continued to speak out as a passionate advocate for the law-abiding citizen’s right to carry.
“Please consider the high cost of gun control,” she told the Joint Economic Committee hearing in September. “I reached for my gun, but my gun was 100 yards away, dutifully left in my vehicle. I can tell you that the cost of gun control was my parents and 23 innocent lives.”
Lauren Boebert was yet another woman who made her mark in September. She challenged aspiring Democratic presidential nominee Beto O’Rourke’s gun-confiscation scheme at a town hall event. A video of the incident made waves across social media.
“I am here to say: Hell, no, you’re not,” she told O’Rourke, countering his “hell yes” that he’d ban and confiscate so-called “assault weapons” from the American citizenry.
These three bold women are just a few examples of millions more who don’t want to lose their right to personal defense.
Muller put it this way: “Women are likely to be smaller and less suited for a physical confrontation than an attacker. A firearm is the great equalizer. It doesn’t guarantee my security, but it does give me a chance. If I’m in that Walmart in El Paso, I want to be armed. If I hear a bump in the night, I want to be armed. Defending yourself is the most basic human right.”
Between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate among individuals aged 15 to 24 rose by 50 percent. While the causes for this dramatic rise are being widely debated in the media, many media outlets are focusing specifically on the rise in minority and female suicides, as well as the elevated risk that LGBTQ-plus teens face.
The suicide rate for women aged 15 to 24 during this period rose 87 percent, to 5.8 per 100,000 people in 2017 from 3.1 in 2007. The suicide rate for African Americans of the same age group rose by 75 percent, to 10.7 in 2017 from 6.1 in 2007. These numbers demonstrate a crisis among American youth, yet most of the reporting on the issue has glossed over an even larger crisis: the suicide rate for men, primarily non-Hispanic white men, and American Indian and Alaskan Native men.
Nationally, men commit suicide at a rate of almost four times that of women. Across every ethnic and age range, men commit significantly more suicides per 100,000. From 2007 to 2017, the suicide rate for 15- to 24-year-old white men jumped by 46 percent. Though a smaller increase than other groups, the per-100,000 number reached an astonishing 27.2, compared to 5.8 for all women nationally.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for white males between the ages of 5 and 34. The rate at which white men commit suicide continues to increase until briefly leveling off at 39.5 per 100,000 at 45 to 54 years old, before spiking to 58.8 over the age of 85.
In an equally depressing contrast, American Indian and Alaskan Native males have the highest suicide rate at 5 to 44 years old, peaking at 62.9 suicides per 100,000. While the suicide rate for white males remains high and even increases in later years, American Indian and Alaskan Native men see a steep decline as they age.
Even in comparison to groups that have widely been reported on for their disturbingly high rates of suicide, white and Native American men have significantly higher levels.
Active duty military personnel commit suicides at a rate of 24.8 per 100,000, while veterans take their own lives at a rate of 30 per 100,000. Both of these figures receive coverage from media outlets and politicians across the country for having a rate of suicide considerably higher than the national average of 14.5.
In the Annual Suicide Report released by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon states that these figures are misleading. According to the report: “On the surface, suicide in the military appears to be markedly higher than the U.S. population. … Nevertheless, the direct comparison of military suicide rates and the U.S. military population is misleading. It is well established that males have a nearly four times higher risk of suicide death than females.”
What the report fails to expand upon, beyond a brief acknowledgment, is that more than 70 percent of suicides in the military are committed specifically by white males.
The vast discrepancy between male and female suicides exists across the globe. In almost every country, from Ireland to Japan, from Russia to Bahrain, men kill themselves 3 to 5 times more often than women. The reasons for this are complex, widely debated, and further muddled by what is known as the Gender Paradox of Suicide.
Women across the globe attempt suicide at a rate of three to five times more than men, despite men successfully committing the majority of suicides. Men are less likely to seek mental health treatment than women, less likely to ask friends and family for help, face different societal pressures, and are more likely to use methods of suicide that have a greater chance of success, such as firearms.
Irrespective of the exact causes for the disparity in gender and race, more needs to be done to address this endemic issue. In the current political climate, proposing policies specifically aimed at white and male Americans is a nonstarter. Even acknowledging issues specific to “privileged” groups can lead to a caustic backlash. The rate of suicide is growing at an alarming rate across almost every demographic in the United States, all of whom deserve to be acknowledged and helped.
In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans intentionally took their own lives: 37,000 were men, and 30,000 of them were non-Hispanic white men. The increased rate of suicide among minorities and women is a burgeoning crisis, but the suicide rate among men, particularly white men, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives, is already a crisis, one that has been ignored for decades.
After graduating from the University of Florida in 2014 and from Florida State University in 2017, David Brown spent several years working at the Government Accountability Institute, where he researched corruption in politics. Brown specializes in health care, economics, and foreign policy.
And now comes news that “the science behind the breathalyzer is bogus,” leading to tens of thousands of cases “being thrown out around the country.”
A New York Times investigation, he notes, found: “The company that makes the machines for the police stations won’t share its technology or submit to a serious scientific review of its technology” while “tests of the tests” show them to be wildly inaccurate.
He sums up: “As it turns out, the only scientific way to determine blood-alcohol content is with blood tests. There are too many variables to make the breath alone reliable,” so we need to “seriously rethink the entire machinery of drunk-driving enforcement.”