Naive Online Daters Turn into Drug Mules

Seriously? YCMTSU! One fine day, Sharon's and Catherine's online dates, called "Frank" and "Marc," asked them to finally meet in person, but not before one last favor: going to Argentina to pick up some sensitive documents. Red flag numero uno...

The two women eventually agreed, thinking their dream had finally come true. However, the documents, hidden in a secret compartment of their luggage, turned out instead to be cocaine. That's how Sharon Mae Armstrong, 55, former deputy chief executive of the Maori Language Commission from New Zealand, and Catherine Blackhawk, 49, an American nurse, suddenly and unknowingly became the final links in a drug trafficking chain. Astonished, they ended up behind bars in the same federal prison on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in April and June 2011, respectively.

Their cases reveal that dating deceits -- which rose by 150 percent in 2011 alone, fraud protection agency Iovation reveals -- are moving beyond the simple take-the-money-and-run scheme.

"Cartels are looking for people who clearly can't focus properly to realize what kind of business they have been thrown into," Claudio Izaguirre, president of the Argentine Anti-Drugs Association, told Metro. "People like Sharon are thrown into the fray with a luggage where the cocaine is easily detectable; she is just a decoy, a scapegoat. The real mules are behind her, managing to get through while the attention falls on her," he added.

In January of this year, a third person fell into the same cyber-trap and got caught at Buenos Aires airport: Paul Howard Frampton, 69, a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy based at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Frampton has said he was lured into meeting a woman he thought he had been chatting with on the Internet, Czech-born lingerie model Denise Milani. He was given luggage to carry by someone claiming to be Milani's intermediary; the case had 2 kilograms of cocaine inside.

Just like Armstrong and Blackhawk, Frampton was perceived to be vulnerable and financially secure.
Julieta Lacroze, Sharon's lawyer from Buenos Aires-based law firm Estudio Durrieu, believes they are just the tip of an iceberg, but admits it is hard to find exact figures on the dating scam trend.

"It is easy for criminal organizations -- they just have to sit down and chat," she said. "Three months of work via the Internet, and that's it. For 5 kilos of cocaine, it's a fairly good deal."

Normally, dating website rip-offs tend to go unreported due to victims feeling embarrassed or humiliated.

The unwitting drug mules detained in Argentina now fight a battle behind bars to raise awareness about their plight.

Drug smuggling 2.0

A well-educated Western professional feeling lonely and looking for a mate on a dating website: That’s the perfect profile for the next-generation drug mule. Watch out: That seductive, sweet-talking cyber-mate might in fact just turn out to be a cover for a drug cartel in need of smugglers who are beyond suspicion.

How to dig your own grave

Being a professional cyber-love scammer requires an outrageously creative brain. Investigators believe that the organization that tricked Sharon used her own money to pay for the whole operation: In more than four months of a virtual relationship with “Frank,” Sharon agreed to send him $20,000 in different installments via Western Union.

“Every time, he had a different excuse,” her lawyer, Lacroze, pointed out.

“Who in Argentina would ever accept to send this much money to a stranger? No one.”

Nigerian and Russian criminal organizations are infamous to experts and drug enforcement agencies around the world. Websites like are dedicated to raising awareness over the issue and help people detect their scammers before it becomes too late.

- As seen NY Metro
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Why Young People Should Create Their Own 4-Hour Work Week

Young people shouldn't bother "fighting over the remaining scraps of the old economy," said Walter Russell Mead. Now is a fantastic time to "find new routes into the uncharted wilderness of the 21-century economy."

Start-up costs for new ventures are incredibly low; a 24-year-old with an Internet connection has "the kind of information and access that only large corporations used to be able to afford." And there are vast sums of money to be made in providing "customized and tailored services" to increasingly busy Americans."

If you can figure out ways to take necessary chores off peoples' hands at a reasonable price, many will pay what you ask and thank you for the help." In particular, Americans want help bottling the "hose of the Internet"--there's simply too much on the Web these days for most people to handle, opening huge opportunities for "filtering, organizing, and customizing" this torrent of information.

My advice for young people: Build a small business around what your friends and neighbors need and want. It'll be more satisfying and "substantially more remunerative that anything a traditional, off-the-shelf career has to offer."

Read the full article "Finding the Jobs of the Future" here >>

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5 New Rules to Pick a Cell Phone Carrier

There are more variables than ever to consider when signing-up for cell phone service (or shall I say tracker service ;-) New shared plans offered by AT&T and Verizon are changing the economics of how individuals and families access voice, data and texting services. Additionally, as 4G phones become commonplace, understanding which carriers offer reliable 4G connections becomes all the more critical.

Before signing-up for a new cell phone plan for you or your family, chew over these five new rules for picking a cell phone carrier.

1) Determine whether a shared plan will save money for you and your family

In August, 2012, AT&T is scheduled to debut its Mobile Share plan for new and existing subscribers. This follows Verizon’s Share Everything plan, which was introduced in June 2012. Both plans offer unlimited voice and texting services for a fixed fee, and charge extra based on the number of devices included and how much overall data is consumed. While the pricing and services for each plan are generally similar, the biggest distinction is that AT&T gives its subscribers the option to choose between Mobile Share and other existing plans. New Verizon subscribers, however, have no other choice but to sign-up for Share Everything.

So how can you determine whether a shared plan is cost-effective versus individual plan options? Consumer Reports advises AT&T subscribers with “low or moderate” data needs to stick with individual plans as this point. Individuals with one smartphone connected to the Mobile Share share plan are charged $95/month plus taxes and penalties for 1GB of data. Overage fees thereafter are $15 for each GB. In comparison, individual voice and data plans on AT&T range between $59/month (450 minutes and 300MB of data) to $99/month (unlimited voice/texting and 3GB of data).

So the benefits of shared plans from both AT&T and Verizon only come into effect as you connect more devices (smartphones, feature phones, tablets, connected laptops) to your plan. Both AT&T and Verizon offer attractive packages that connect two smartphones with two feature phones and 4GB of data for $210. From there, the packages get more cost-effective as you add more devices and data to them.

While Sprint and T-Mobile also provide opt-in shared and family plans, their packages have not changed as dramatically in recent months. However, if AT&T and Verizon are successful with their new offerings, expect the two other major carriers to follow suit.

2) Monitor your data consumption – but don’t pay for more than you need

One additional and unfortunate wrinkle in Verizon’s Share Everything plan is that existing subscribers who enjoy grandfathered unlimited data plans will not be able to upgrade their phones at subsidized prices. That means that new and shiny smartphone you want to buy for $199 will actually run you more than $500. For most of us, that negates the benefits of having an unlimited data plan. Verizon is not the only carrier getting stingier with its data. Earlier this year, AT&T confirmed that subscribers still on their unlimited plans (no longer available to new customers) could see data speeds slow down after 3GB are consumed in a billing cycle. T-Mobile’s “Classic Unlimited Plan” for $95/month reduces high speed data after 5GB are consumed in a billing cycle. At this point, Sprint is the only remaining major U.S carrier to offer unlimited data plans.

But is not having access to unlimited data really the end of the world? According to Nielsen, the average smartphone owner consumes less than 500MB of data each month. So if you are a relatively light data user who likes to email, browse the web and maybe play the occasional game or two, you can save $10 to $50 per month or more on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile with plans that offer 1GB of data. Paying for unlimited data, or as much as 5GB of data per month, is best for family plans or individuals who constantly play games and/or watch videos on their smartphones without wireless Internet connections.

3) Research coverage maps for the best 4G networks in your area

As we increasingly treat our cell phones like handheld computers, the speed and reliability of the networks they are carried on become more important than ever. If you are about to purchase a new phone and things like high-speed Internet connections, video conferencing and HD gaming are important to you, than you should research which carrier in your area offers the best 4G connection. While AT&T is lauded by PCWorld and others as having the fastest 4G download speeds, the other carriers got a head start in offering nationwide 4G coverage. Before choosing a provider, check out the coverage maps offered online by Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as other regional providers you can access. You don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a state-of-the-art phone and two-year plan, and not have access to the fastest network possible.

4) Be mindful of your privacy before downloading certain applications

Advances in mobile media technology offer great benefits like the ability to identify nearby retail sales or happy hours in our area, as well as what our friends and contacts might be doing at any particular time. Of course, the counter-effect is that we sacrifice elements of our privacy to make these things possible. While many of us are proactive about deciding what personal information we are willing to give up for these services and conveniences, many third-party applications are not always forthright about what they are doing with our information.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that many popular apps like Path, Twitter and Yelp were uploading iPhone users’ address books to its servers without explicit permission. There is no evidence that the companies were doing anything nefarious with that information, and the offending app developers immediately revised their practices once they were revealed. Still, in this era where the technology is moving so quickly and so many new services are available at our fingertips, there is a good chance some of the information on our phones is stored by unknown third parties. Proceed with caution, and research the background and user and professional reviews of unknown applications before downloading them.

5) Consider a prepaid plan

While prepaid cell phone plans that don’t require two-year commitments have long been available, their biggest drawback was that they didn’t typically offer higher-end devices. This is no longer the case. Last month, prepaid plans for the iPhone debuted for the Cricket and Virgin Mobile USA networks. Those carriers and others are also beginning to offer among the best Android and Windows devices. There are still various pros and cons you should consider before investing in a prepaid plan. But if you resisted in the past because of poor handset selections, now is a great time to consider prepaid options.

- As seen in Yahoo! News
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When Rachel became the Office Robot

Telepresence robots, which retail for about $9,700, just may be the future of work.

For several weeks in the summer of 2012, I was a robot in the office, said Rachel Emma Silverman in The Wall Street Journal. Literally. I work remotely from Austin, but I used the QB-82, a wheeled robot that showed my face and emitted my voice, to wheel around our New York headquarters.

These “telepresence robots,” which retail for about $9,700, are designed to allow “far-flung workers to collaborate with peers and log face time at the office.” They just may be the future of work.

Oddly, research has found that employees are more open with human-operated robots than with human colleagues. As I rolled around the hallways using my laptop’s arrow keys, I spoke with colleagues I’d never met before. But I also “nearly careened into glass walls, got stuck in an elevator,” and got dinged in my virtual cranium by a Nerf ball. Glitches aside, Robot Rachel was a hit.

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Cyberwarfare Emerges From Shadows for Public Discussion by U.S. Officials

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Thursday, Oct 11, 2012 that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government. According to Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker of The New York Times, Defense Secretary Panetta's warnings of a dire threat of cyberattack on the U.S. is being voiced now as he seeks new standards to protect vital infrastructure.

In a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Mr. Panetta painted a dire picture of how such a cyberwar might unfold. He said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Mr. Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Defense officials insisted that Mr. Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.

But Pentagon officials acknowledged that Mr. Panetta was also pushing for legislation on Capitol Hill. It would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities — like power plants, water treatment facilities and gas pipelines — where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage.

In August, a cybersecurity bill that had been one of the administration’s national security priorities was blocked by a group of Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who took the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and said it would be too burdensome for corporations.

The most destructive possibilities, Mr. Panetta said, involve “cyber-actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack.” He described the collective result as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”

Mr. Panetta also argued against the idea that new legislation would be costly for business. “The fact is that to fully provide the necessary protection in our democracy, cybersecurity must be passed by the Congress,” he told his audience, Business Executives for National Security. “Without it, we are and we will be vulnerable.”

With the legislation stalled, Mr. Panetta said President Obama was weighing the option of issuing an executive order that would promote information sharing on cybersecurity between government and private industry. But Mr. Panetta made clear that he saw it as a stopgap measure and that private companies, which are typically reluctant to share internal information with the government, would cooperate fully only if required to by law.

“We’re not interested in looking at e-mail, we’re not interested in looking at information in computers, I’m not interested in violating rights or liberties of people,” Mr. Panetta told editors and reporters at The New York Times earlier on Thursday. “But if there is a code, if there’s a worm that’s being inserted, we need to know when that’s happening.”

He said that with an executive order making cooperation by the private sector only voluntary, “I’m not sure they’re going to volunteer if they don’t feel that they’re protected legally in terms of sharing information.”

“So our hope is that ultimately we can get Congress to adopt that kind of legislation,” he added.

Mr. Panetta’s comments, his most extensive to date on cyberwarfare, also sought to increase the level of public debate about the Defense Department’s growing capacity not only to defend but also to carry out attacks over computer networks. Even so, he carefully avoided using the words “offense” or “offensive” in the context of American cyberwarfare, instead defining the Pentagon’s capabilities as “action to defend the nation.”

The United States has nonetheless engaged in its own cyberattacks against adversaries, although it has never publicly admitted it. From his first months in office, Mr. Obama ordered sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plants, according to participants in the program. He decided to accelerate the attacks, which were begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010.

In a part of the speech notable for carefully chosen words, Mr. Panetta warned that the United States “won’t succeed in preventing a cyberattack through improved defenses alone.”

“If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us, to defend this nation when directed by the president,” Mr. Panetta said. “For these kinds of scenarios, the department has developed the capability to conduct effective operations to counter threats to our national interests in cyberspace.”

The comments indicated that the United States might redefine defense in cyberspace as requiring the capacity to reach forward over computer networks if an attack was detected or anticipated, and take pre-emptive action. These same offensive measures also could be used in a punishing retaliation for a first-strike cyberattack on an American target, senior officials said.

Senior Pentagon officials declined to describe specifics of what offensive cyberwarfare abilities the Defense Department has fielded or is developing. And while Mr. Panetta avoided labeling them as “offensive,” other senior military and Pentagon officials have recently begun acknowledging their growing focus on these tools.

The Defense Department is finalizing “rules of engagement” that would put the Pentagon’s cyberweapons into play only in case of an attack on American targets that rose to some still unspecified but significant levels. Short of that, the Pentagon shares intelligence and offers technical assistance to the F.B.I. and other agencies.

- As seen in The New York Times
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Screen-Viewing Blues: Why You Should Unplug at Night

Spending evenings in front of a glowing computer, TV, or cellphone screen can put you at risk of depression, Science News reports. Nighttime exposure to light from gadgets has already been shown to contribute to insomnia, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Now, a new study shows that screen glow can cause mood-related changes in the brain.

For weeks, researchers exposed hamsters to eight hours a night of dim light—like that from a TV screen—instead of their usual eight hours of pitch darkness. They found that the rodents became lethargic and ignored their favorite sugary treats, suggesting that they weren’t deriving “pleasure out of activities they once enjoyed”—a major indication of depression in humans, says study author Tracy Bedrosian. The rodents’ brains also showed the same kinds of changes in the hippocampus that are common in depressed people.

“The good news,” Bedrosian says, is that the damage disappeared and the rodents’ behavior returned to normal after researchers took the night lights away, meaning that simply powering down earlier may “undo some of the harmful effects” that late-night gadget users face. Over the past 50 years, depression rates in the U.S. have increased dramatically as artificial lighting at night has become more common.

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Are social media making us lonely?

For all the connectivity offered by social media, we “have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier.” Do you agree?

It’s the great paradox of our age, said Stephen Marche in The Atlantic. Thanks to texting, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, Americans now live in “a web of connection” in which we can reach everyone we know in just a fraction of a second. Yet for all this connectivity, we “have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier.” A 2010 study by the AARP found that 35 percent of adults over the age of 45 were chronically lonely, up from 20 percent a decade earlier. Another major study reported that 20 percent of Americans—some 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.

Facebook, of course, isn’t the sole cause of the growing isolation so many people feel, but there’s little doubt that it is amplifying it. Social media lure us into “increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy.” So instead of engaging our friends in meaningful, face-to-face conversation, we now spend hours a day clicking “like” on their photos and exchanging single-sentence status updates. “In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society.”

It’s true that people report feeling lonelier, said Jeff Bercovici in But this is a phenomenon that precedes Facebook. Between 1985 and 2004, the year Mark Zuckerberg launched his site, surveys found that the average American’s number of close confidants shrank from three to two; in that pre-Facebook era, one in four Americans had zero close friends.

There are many reasons for this increasing isolation, such as the fact that we work ever-longer hours, commute longer distances, and have less time to socialize. “And technology undoubtedly has a lot to do with it.” Just don’t blame Facebook alone. In fact, research shows that the site can actually strengthen our friendship networks, said Luke Allnutt in Radio Free Europe online. A recent Pew Research Center study found that Facebook members had more close confidants than non-Facebook users. That’s possibly because Facebook allows us to better nurture and manage existing relationships. When my son was born last year, for example, I uploaded a photo of him onto Facebook; within minutes, I received dozens of “likes” and congratulatory comments from family members, friends, and people I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Those “likes” weren’t throwaway sentiments, but rather “the equivalent of smiles,” pats on the back, or wineglasses raised in my boy’s honor. “Facebook didn’t make me feel lonely; quite the opposite in fact.”

I really wish Facebook was making us lonely, said Alexandra Petri in, but it’s actually doing something far worse. Every day, it forces you to face the fact that your friends’ lives are going better than yours. Ugh: Mimi has just posted photos of her engagement ring. Carl won a Pulitzer. “Camilla just got into graduate school (twitch) and Ann was elected to the Senate (twitch) and Marcel won the Goncourt prize (twitch).” After gritting your teeth and clicking “like” on each of these infuriating announcements, you’re left wanting to retreat “to a secluded area and scream wordlessly for hours.”

Please stop blaming Mark Zuckerberg for your problems, said John McQuaid in Hating something as popular as Facebook “has a certain resonance,” but research shows that the site is just a tool that can amplify people’s feeling of isolation or be used to alleviate it. It all depends on what you put into it. The blame game “assumes a kind of infantilization effect, that Facebook (or any social tool) can determine the conditions of your life for good or ill.”

Open your eyes, said Sherry Turkle in The New York Times. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the proof that social media are turning us into solitary creatures. Whether at a college library, a coffee shop, or even a beach, people now spend much of their time looking down, while “furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens.” Being “alone together” has an addictive appeal, because real human relationships are messy, demanding, and frustrating. By compressing other people to digital connections, we can keep each other “carefully at bay. Not too close, not too far, just right.”

Facebook and Twitter also give us the power to “present the self we want to be,” carefully tailoring our status updates and retouching photos of ourselves. But beware: “Sips” of online connection provide only “the illusion of companionship.” May I suggest that we put down our devices, “look at one another, and let’s start the conversation.”

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