Aug 28 2009

FreeCreditReport.com and Craigslist Scam

Recently my girlfriend and I went out looking to upgrade our apartment; mainly to provide a yard for the dog and space to grow vegetables. Since the rental market is currently in the favor of renters right now, and our lease was nearing term, we trekked around town with my laptop checking out westsiderentals.com and craigslist postings. Through the course of the process I found the following scam.

We find a posting with a brief description of the property (terse would be more like it, but that’s pretty standard for craigslist) accompanied by some photos and a link to an external website. The external site had some more photos and a little “request more information” form. The domain was a little strange, something like “azoosie.com” or similar garbage, but I poked around the site and found other rentals listed, complete with photos, and the whois information for the domain was a PO Box in my neck of the woods. PO Boxes aren’t too uncommon for landlords to do around here, so I figured it was originally some vanity website, the name of a pet, or the like.

After doing a drive-by of the neighborhood (the exact address wasn’t listed) and contacting the landlord to schedule a walk-through, she states something along the lines of “I’m out of town for a couple days, so I’ll give you a ring when I get back. I’ve been getting a lot of interest on this property, so it’d save me some time if you can bring a credit report. If you want, you can get them at freecreditreport.com.” Note that isn’t a direct quote, but it is the gist of the email, and the link was definitely to freecreditreport.com. As a landlord myself, I’d never want to trust a applicant-supplied credit report, I’d want to run it myself — but again, this isn’t all that uncommon around here.

My first instinct was to just provide a credit report downloaded directly from one of the three credit reporting agencies, but I figured, “hey, this place has potential, and if that’s the format she prefers, I’ll go ahead and do that.” I read all the fine print on freecreditreport.com, downloaded my report, and emailed to request my account be terminated. See, freecreditreport.com (owned by their parent company, consumerinfo.com), requires a credit card number in order to view even the single free report, stating that they’ll bill you $14.95/month if you keep the account longer than 7 days. It also costs extra money if you want to enroll in their TripleAdvantage credit monitoring service, which will come into play in a moment. But, at this time, I haven’t enrolled in it, nor in any other service of theirs that is incurs a fee.

The next day, I haven’t received a confirmation, and that’s when I realize you have to call in to cancel your account. I do so. I receive no confirmation.

In the meantime, I inform the landlord that I have a credit report, and would like to schedule the walk-through, but the landlord turns to vapor. No responses. Their website turns to a parked domain after a couple days. People start flagging the poster’s listings on craigslist, even after the poster starts using different domains.

When my next credit-card bill comes in, I see a charge from freecreditreport.com. I contest the charge with my credit card company, and go to file a report with the Better Business Bureau — that’s when I notice they have a crap-ton of reports filed against them for shady business practices, deceptive advertising, and incorrect billing. I call them up again, explain my situation, and they say they “have no record of my cancellation request.” I tell them that is their fault, and adamantly request, several times over, that my account should be cancelled. They just keep asking “Are you sure? This is a great membership! And there’s been changes to your credit history since you last checked, you want to find out what they are, right? It’d be wise to keep your account!” Eventually they capitulate, after perhaps five or six requests, and state that I’ll receive a confirmation of termination email in one day, as they claimed before.

After returning to the BBB site and finishing my complaint, I notice I have a new email in my inbox: an email from freecreditreport.com saying “Welcome to TripleAdvantage Credit Monitoring!” Wait, what? Instead of terminating my account, they upgrade me to a more expensive service? Pardon?

I have to call back again, go through the same process again, inform them that I’m contesting all charges, reporting them to the BBB, and finally, when I get back to my inbox, I have an account termination confirmation.

All in all, a very shady service. And beware of their salespeople trolling craigslist, requesting you to create account there — especially when it’s not a hard sell.


Aug 26 2009

Anniversary Dinner

From a couple months ago. Our tradition is a nice dinner, and for the last few years, it’s been at Joe’s Restaurant. Very good every time we’ve been there, highly recommended.

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Aug 24 2009

Makiwara

So, I recently moved into a house with a yard — perfect for growing veggies, playing with the dog, and: training. The ground is a bit pitted, which makes attention to detail with footwork even more demanding, which is a good thing. Aside from being able to train whenever I feel the urge, though, a backyard does give me a couple of benfits over the local park or wilderness reserves. Firstly, I have no issue bringing out real bladed weapons, or other such utensils as may be frowned upon at a public park. Secondly, I can deploy gear. First on item on the docket was a real makiwara, so I can stop using trees and rocks. (Which have their own benefits, but for working consistenly on form, without trashing gloves or tearing the skin off your knuckles due to rough bark, a makiwara is far superior.)

I started with a leftover 6 1/2 foot 4×4 post I had lying around, and measured diagonally from 24″ above the end to the tip, leaving 3/4″ thickness at the top:

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Since I don’t have a band saw and my circular saw doesn’t cut 4″ deep (which would mean the blade would be cutting near vertically into the post at the top, not good), I slowly cut along as deep as the blade would take it, and finished with a rip saw. I thought about trying to line up the circular saw and cut from the other side, but you can never get it lined up perfectly, so I knew I’d be planing it off anyway, so went with the hand saw for accuracy and control. As you can see in the photo above, I’d periodically cut out chunks such that I wouldn’t have to trace the full cut with the circular saw every time I stopped to let it cool. (It gets quite hot when cutting to full depth, even with a bit a lubrication.)

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After clearing the diagonal cut, I took a handle plane (and a shaper, not pictured) to the cut to even it out. You can see how the wood got singed by the circular saw. Even though this is the back of the makiwara, and a beautiful, even plane isn’t necessary, if you’re going to do something do, do it right, yes?

I cut two 12″ sections of 2×4 for the braces, then sanded the whole thing down from about 60 grit to 400, which is smooth enough that if you’re going to hit the bare wood with bare hand, you won’t get splinters.

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After attaching the braces, to provide additional surface area for the post to push against when struck, I coated the bottom 26″ inches or so with copper anti-fungal dip, since it’s going to planted directly into the ground. In the photo below, the braces have been attached. Note that the front of the makiwara is up, so the front brace is at the very bottom of the post, and the back brace is at a point that will be near to top of the hole this will be planted in. For me, this is 2′. This is important, as when the makiwara is planted in the ground and struck from the front, the fist-makiwara system acts like a lever: the top of the makiwara is pushed back, which means that the upper brace needs to be behind the post, to provide resistance to moving, and this will act as a pivot of the level system, pushing the bottom end of the post forward, so the lower brace needs to be in front.

For connecting the braces, I piloted three holes per brace and then drilled in 3″ wood screws.

It turned out that the most time consuming part of the whole process was digging the hole. Where I live, the ground turns into extremely dense clay about 4 inches down — very difficult to dig through. On the up side, this means that I don’t need to dig as deep, since the ground will provide better stability for the post. I ended up digging something about 14″ wide (enough to accommodate the width of the braces), 10″ across, and 24″ deep.

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After waterproofing and planting:

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Although the makiwara can be used as-is, back at my old dojo, the makiwara used to be have leather “targets” lashed to them. This was to simulate the dermis and fatty tissue of a target. You could also stuff small rags behind the leather in order to simulate fattier targets. I went out and got a scrap piece of leather, punched six holes in it, and threaded some waxed twine through the holes:

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Finished product:

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And yes, it hits back.