They are out there. They will do anything to grab your wallet, your inventory, or your identity. And now, as the shopping herd migrates toward the malls for the holidays, their prime hunting season is on. They are the con artists – thieves who have a host of games for stealing identities and cash from unsuspecting merchants and customers. The good news is that as their techniques have advanced, so too have the means of foiling them.

The fine art of fiscal self-defense is one of many topics covered at the Women’s Annual Health Conference, sponsored by the Princeton Healthcare System Foundation on Saturday, December 3, at 7:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton. Speakers include Carolyn Kepcher, Trump executive and star of the Apprentice television show; Vivian Greenberg, a Middlesex County social worker, who is addressing the challenges of the "sandwich generation;" and West Windsor police officers Sam Dyson and Tom Moody, who explain what to watch for and how to avoid rip-offs this season.

Dyson grew up in the town of Havre de Grace, Maryland, in what he describes as a very Christian household. "It was tough not to behave with your mom as a minister and your dad as a deacon," he laughs. As a young man, he moved to Baltimore, later joining the police. Of his l9 years on various forces, the last 13 have been spent in West Windsor. (Dyson pointed out that anyone seeking as much personal information as this brief biographical sketch entails is an individual of whom people should be suspicious.)

Dyson’s approach to safeguarding against fraud is surprisingly refreshing. "Don’t be paranoid," he says. "Taking just a few easy precautions sets you beyond the scope of all but a very small percentage of criminals."

Merchants’ alert. Simple, steady eye contact is the best anti-scam tool in the merchant’s arsenal Dyson claims. If indeed the eyes are the window to the soul, this is the last place a con artist wants on view. "It makes someone planning a scam get fidgety," says Dyson, "and they tend to go somewhere else."

Additionally, if a salesperson really looks at his customers, it is amazing how many of those faces he can recall later on.

The happy holiday smile presents another psychological barrier to defrauders. Smiling indicates a certain confidence and mastery of the situation. Con artists are typically looking for a haggard register tender whom they can manipulate with further distractions. The old scheme of handing the sales clerk first one bill, then switching it three times, and asking for a higher rate of change, still works with surprising frequency in the Christmas rush.

Taking the time amidst the customer crush to examine bills, maintaining poise, scanning the store for suspicious behavior, all are things that must be taught to every employee behind the counter, especially part-timers. Con artists go for the weak ones in the herd, and they can spot the confused holiday temp a mile away.

Card calculations. Do you examine your credit card statements each month, compare them with the receipts, and then add up the bill? Could you even scrounge up half of your receipts? If your answer to the first question is yes, you are in rarefied company, along with just 2 percent of your fellow consumers, says Dyson. And yet this is the best method of spotting fraud and identity theft quickly.

To get into this protective habit, go low tech. Right by your door or desk, set a spindle – one of those long, thin nails that you can stick papers on. At day’s end, take the card receipts from pocket or purse and poke them on the spindle. This way, they remain in chronological order when it comes time to check your card.

Trash to shred. Unusual is the day that the mail does not include at least one pre-approved credit card. These are potential time bombs that most folks just toss into the trash. Dyson explains that such trash treasures invite any passerby to pick up that card and activate it. All they have to do is fill in the change of address form, and you are automatically paying for their charges. A total destruction of both card and letter prevents this.

Be vigilant over the cards that you do choose to keep. It is almost unavoidable that your card should leave your sight in certain situations, such as restaurants. Dyson suggests that if the bill has carbons, make sure you take them, and if it is a card-swipe system, look for your card code on the receipt. This card code should show up on each of the bills charged to you on the monthly statement.

Phone safety. "How did you get my number?" For Dyson, this is the first and best reply to any person calling to sell or pitch you something over the phone. Then as they rattle off their name and company and launch into the spiel, rein them back. Ask them to spell their name, and give their title with the company. Then ask where the company is headquartered. If there is any hesitancy, hang up and get on with your day.

Internet caution. We have fallen in love with the Internet’s speed and breadth. Young as it is, it’s tough to imagine daily dealings without it. That’s what many cons are counting on. One of the most popular identity theft ploys is the E-mail asking you to update your information for a legitimate company with whom you currently have an ongoing account. This is usually followed by a tag that if you don’t respond within 24 or 48 hours, your service will be cut off. Phony IRS departments also try this technique.

Dyson’s response? Call their bluff. No company that really wants you for a customer is going to threaten you for personal information. If you really want to foil this crook, call the company whom he claims to represent and give them the E-mail address on his missive.

When you do decide to shop on the Internet read all the fine print in the agreements – twice. And always beware of any company that demands too much of your personal information just to make a sale.

The world is not filled entirely with crooks. You will probably perform thousands of credit card, over-the-counter, and Internet transactions safely over the next years. But a little awareness and an ounce of prevention will frustrate nearly all of the con artists and will leave you with your wallet and your identity – intact.

Job Hunting at the Library

Lots of people use libraries to plunge into the worlds of fantasy and fiction, and if you’re out of work, this kind of escape may be just what you’re looking for. But a library can also give you the push you need into the realities of the job market. Books, databases, software, Internet access, and human advisors are available to support you as you research an industry or company, develop a resume, or brush up on your computer skills.

Janie Hermann, technology instructor at the Princeton Public Library, is offering a free workshop on "Using the Library as a Research Tool in Your Job Search," on Saturday, December 3, at 8:30 a.m. at a meeting of the St. Paul’s Career Networking Group at St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street.

"Resources are available in a variety of formats, both human services, print, and electronically," says Hermann. She describes each type of job search information:

Human services

QNANJ. Question and Answer NJ is a statewide consortium of librarians offering live help, 24 hours a day, in a virtual chat environment. Funded through the state library, these librarians answer questions, helping people to get online company information and to find websites that aid job searching.

E-mail reference questions to the library. "This gives us time to think, find things, compose a response, and get the best information," says Hermann.

Reference by appointment. Job searchers provide background information when they set up a time to meet with the librarian. "If people approach the desk with a complex problem," says Hermann, "the librarian may be caught off guard, have other responsibilities. This gives the librarian a chance to spend 20 to 30 minutes ahead of time and compile a list of resources, a package of articles, and a list of books."

Print resources

Corporate directories, for reviewing company profiles.

Job search books, including how to create a resume or a cover letter.

Electronic resources

High-speed Internet connection.

Databases of company information. The American Business Directory, available only in the library, has 12 million entries. "It has no in-depth company information, but it is good for leads," says Hermann, explaining that it spits out a list of companies that fit selected characteristics. It also provides a rating of financial solvency. A user can create a custom search screen by specifying parameters like state, county, zip code, radius for the job search, company size, and Standard Industrial Code.

Although not specifically a source of job postings, this database can identify the players in a geographic region who may be a match for your job interests. This will give you an idea of whose websites to visit as you lay the basis for a cold-call campaign or prepare for an interview.

The Hoover’s Profiles database provides in-depth company profiles, including analyses, CEO, and other key players, and profits. Use this database for interview or application preparation, for finding out if a company meets your values or goals, and for SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis.

The library has a number of newspaper and journal databases where you can find articles about the company, their own releases about earnings and new products, and anything else newsworthy.

EBSCO Host is a popular database that is accessible from both library and home (if you have a library card). It is an aggregate of over 2,000 general journals and magazines, including popular material like USA Today, Time, and U.S. News & World Report. The journals are available as far back as 1975. You can peruse career journals, for example, a human resources or association magazine. Or you might want to find articles with hints on job searching or interviewing. This database has a reasonably user-friendly user interface.

Factiva offers newspapers as well as some journals. It is a global joint venture between Dow Jones and Reuters. It has full-text articles from over 8,000 publications from 118 countries in 22 languages. It includes trade journals, as well as business and industry publications. "It can be daunting, because of its size, unless you know what you’re doing," says Hermann, "and often librarians help mediate the search."

Technology Skills

The library offers a number of technology classes, which can help update job skills. The library offers classes in Word, the Internet, and search engines.

The library’s technology center has software that can help in a job search. It includes Mavis Beacon Touch Typing; a resume maker that includes thousands of sample resumes; Microsoft programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access; Dream Weaver (for creating websites); and Adobe Photoshop. Technical aides who are proficient using Microsoft programs offer slots of "open tech time," listed on the library’s monthly calendar. Self-guiding books are also available.

Originally from Kingston, Ontario, Hermann received a bachelor’s degree in education as well as an honors bachelor’s degree in geography in 1989 from Queen’s University in Kingston. She then taught, mostly seventh and eighth graders, for five years. In 1996 she received a master’s degree in library and information sciences from the University of Western Ontario. She worked for two years as an academic librarian at Hobart William Smith colleges in upstate New York and has been at Princeton Public Library for seven years as a reference librarian.

Her technological expertise is largely self-taught. While in New York, she realized the importance of technology and started learning on her own. "Much of it is having the interest to read manuals and books," she says. But she doesn’t see herself as a hard-core techie. "I keep current with what is going on, but my true love is how I can use technology to connect people with the information they need."

Find Your Life’s Work

The statistics have been around for a while. The majority of Americans are not happy with their chosen work. It’s become a cliche, and apparently is getting worse. Within the past year, the Conference Board, a New York City non-profit that disseminates job satisfaction data, conducted a survey that found that "Americans are growing increasingly unhappy with their jobs. The decline in job satisfaction is widespread among workers of all ages and across all income brackets."

The survey determined that half of all Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from nearly 60 percent in 1995. But among the 50 percent who say they are content, only 14 percent say they are very satisfied. The survey, based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households, revealed that approximately one-quarter of the American workforce is simply "showing up to collect a paycheck."

The Conference Board blames the discontent on everything from stagnant wages to ineffective supervisors, yet workers themselves need to take some of the blame. How many people fall into jobs in a haphazard way, and then stay in them for years – complaining, but doing little to either make the job better or to find a better job.

Bill Jensen, author of "What Is Your Life’s Work," talks about how to turn get out of the rut, find meaningful work, and craft a satisfying life when he speaks at a Friends’ Health Connection event on Tuesday, December 6, at 7 p.m. at the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Wellness Center in Hamilton. Cost: $15. Call 800-484-7436 for reservations or make them online at www.friendshealthconnection.org.

Jensen, a New Jersey native, is the principal in Morristown-based the Jensen Group (www.simplerwork.com), which consults to businesses on communication and change. He is also the author of "Simplicity," "Work 2.0," and "Simplicity Survival Handbook: 32 Ways to Do Less and Accomplish More."

Jensen believes that the first step toward finding work – and indeed life – that is deeply satisfying is to keep a journal. In doing so, it will become clear what parts of the day are spent just reacting to demands and what parts of the day are spent pursuing what is really important. In this excerpt from his book, he includes some techniques, including "hot penning," for uncovering a path that could lead to vastly increased work satisfaction, talks about some reasons for the statistics the Conference Board uncovered, and suggests how each worker’s choices lead toward – or away from – a happy work experience:

‘Hot-penning refers to scribbling your thoughts without ever lifting your pen from the paper (or your fingers from the keyboard). Don’t stop to ponder.

How much (or little) have you accomplished?

What’s the price you’re willing to pay for what matters?

What risks should you have taken that you didn’t?

What deserves your precious 1,440 minutes every day?

What doesn’t?

What have you accomplished and not celebrated?

What loss or life-event would force a shift in your life’s work?

What is the most important thing missing from your life right now?

What is the most consistent message you’ve been hearing in your head for the past year?

In my travels I feel everyone’s utter exhaustion. Whether it’s in Atlanta or Albuquerque, Stockholm or Singapore – I see stress on everyone’s faces, and hear it in their pleas for change. And what’s our payback for working this hard, this much? Almost two-thirds of us haven’t received a meaningful ‘Attaboy!’ in the past year. Half of us are very concerned about job security – twice as many as five years ago. Companies are even sending sheriffs to deliver court summonses to retirees – we’re now suing past employees so we don’t have to pay their promised pensions!

Work is not just an eight-hour interruption in our day. Most of us will spend most of our adult lives and most of our waking hours focused on our jobs. Whether we like it or not, we are defined by the choices we make at work. How we behave during that time is often the most documented record of who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe. One senior vice president at a Fortune 50 company has resorted to bringing home pictures of her co-workers so she can explain to her four-year-old why mommy spends so much time away from him. Is this the record we want to leave for our kids – a photo album of team meetings?

There’s an irony in all the warm and fuzzy business talk of the past decade. Despite a heightened emphasis on people issues, our work contract still carries this built-in conflict: Individuals are constantly asked to sacrifice their own needs for the good of the company (or customer or boss). And most of us really struggle with this conflict.

Which means that the need to look deep inside ourselves has never been more critical, more urgent.

What won’t change is the pressure; the drive for ever-higher productivity will not go away. Everyone is being asked to do more with less. And most of the more is not what we really want to do.

What’s going to change is the choices we make. And the personal values we choose to follow instead of the constant pressure to produce morebetterfaster. With every choice we make at work, we take a stand for what we believe. Or not. We practice what we preach. Or not. We adhere to the same guiding principles that we follow outside of work. Or not.

We need to be more aware of the hundreds of tiny choices we make every day that lead us away from, or toward, what really matters. We need the guts to understand and learn from these choices. To feed the steel and the compass that reside in us all."

Wiki-Revolution Frees Information

It seemed a modest enough goal. Financier/computerist Jimmy Wales sought simply to provide the sum of all knowledge, for free, to every person in the world. Scrimping along on a $500,000 startup stake and less than $80,000 a year for operating expenses, he has taken a miraculous stride toward his goal with Wikipedia. This immense, online, hourly-updated encyclopedia owes its amazing success to the high level of trust its founder placed in the people. And they have not disappointed him.

Wikipedia is less a compendium of facts and entries than an online sharing of knowledge on an endless list of topics. Those seeking to discover how they may take part in and take advantage of this knowledge will get all the information they need at "Getting into Wikipedia," a Princeton Public Library seminar taking place on Tuesday, December 6, at the library’s computer lab. Call 609-924-9529. The speaker is Ira Fuchs, vice president at the Andrew Mellon Foundation in Princeton, who will explain how to explore and edit Wikipedia, and all the other Wiki entities.

Recently Fuchs’ daughter called him to ask what a popover was. In a flash search of Wikipedia, he linked her to a full definition, the popover’s history, and several recipes. Like every father, he gave more information than she really wanted to know. "This is the kind of thing that when I first started out, we never even envisioned as fantasy," he says.

Fuchs’ actual beginnings were in Manhattan, where his father was a jeweler specializing in diamonds and his mother was a retail clothing store owner. Graduating from Columbia University in l969 with a B.S. in physics, he did his graduate work at New York University in the fledgling study of computer science. His expertise became renowned and the university hired him to tend all 21 of its computers. Then, in l980, be became vice chancellor of the university.

Twenty years ago, Fuchs moved to Princeton, accepting a post as the university’s first vice president of information technology. He now works for the Mellon Foundation. Thorough his knowledge and efforts, the Princeton Public Library became the first public library in the country to offer patrons J-store, the historic database of academic journals providing articles for the past 200 years.

On January 15, 2001, from St. Petersburg, Florida, Wales and cofounder Larry Sanger set Wikipedia out into cyberspace. The name Wiki, taken from the Hawaiian term for quick, proved to be an omen of the project’s growth. More than 500,000 registered users hit www.Wikipedia.org. each day and contribute to the over 800,000 entries available. This figure does not include off-site links, discussion groups, and other Wiki tangents. Yet the number stands out in stark contrast to the printed Encyclopedia Britannica 60,000 entries and its 100,000 online entries.

If you hit the print button, it will take 2.5 million pages to spew out this hour’s Wikipedia text. But even more amazing than the sheer immensity of the offerings, is the way the Wikipedia process functions.

Knowledge swapmeet. "Wikipedia is a vanity press on steroids," says Fuchs. "It is one of those amazing machines that you look at, see it producing, but still can’t believe it works." Essentially, every individual on the globe who has Internet access can tap into www.Wikipedia.org. He may simply read any article. Powered by an amazing cross-indexing system, all entries are designed to forge a link for any two words together that are capitalized LikeThis. This captures virtually every proper noun and serves them up to readers for further connected study.

Now here’s the fun part. Every article, every sentence falls under each reader’s scrutiny, and can be edited as that reader believes appropriate. Any individual may log on, and with a simple process become a registered user and contribute and amend articles. Coherence and a certain stability is kept by Wikipedia’s minuscule editing team, identifying what it terms "featured articles." These are the base on a given topic, say, Buddhism or the Trojan War. Readers may then add to these with side pieces by adding, for example, a map of Buddha’s journey’s or the myth of Achilles.

Readers may also edit out sections they believe incorrect. But in each case, the original writing is saved, and can be retrieved by future browsers. While many historians, scientists, and librarians fear for the site’s accuracy, they cannot deny that more people are getting involved in the process of information sharing and more facts are getting out there.

Wikipedia encourages contributors to employ what it calls meta information: choosing objective topics, discussed in a neutral tone. Please don’t write about whether the Palestinians should have a homeland. Instead write about what percent of Palestinians currently seek it. "In the end, the writing never settles down," says Fuchs. "Often, you can see where writer A has been spliced by writer B, but it’s not disturbing."

Copyleft. As opposed to the elite protections of traditional copyright, Wikimedia’s more liberally-leaning "copyleft" expresses the company goal of "having all information remain free forever." In effect, readers may copy, modify, and distribute any Wikipedia materials providing they allow the same rights to all others who read their materials. Each user signs an appropriately labeled GNU agreement to this effect.

The hoped-for result is an ever-growing global campfire around which everyone sits putting a story in, taking one out, and eventually passing an old story on.

Thrifty business. In 2004 Wikipedia ran on a budget of $79,200. A handful of part-time editors and technicians based in St. Petersburg, Florida, Amsterdam, and Paris handle the 2,800 hits per second and server loads, which must be expanded every three months. These editors’ budgeted remuneration’s range from $5,000 to $12,000 annually. Nobody is getting rich here.

Wikimedia’s other projects, such as the new Wikionary, Wikibooks, and Wikiquotes each operates with similarly starved funding. Wikimedia spokespeople explain that they, in effect, are just setting out the baskets for a volunteer public to fill. Fuchs notes that most of this budget is funded by private grants and contributions. In fact, Wikimedia recently approached Fuchs’ employer, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, but their needs did not mesh. At this point, Wikipedia takes no advertising, but this is not a fixed-in-stone policy.

Democracy and trolls. As idealistic as this glorious information revolution seems, it has not exploded upon the screen without some problems. In February, 2002, cofounder Sanger left Wikipedia, citing primarily his "inability to do justice to this great project as a part-time volunteer." The Wiki enormity was clearly overwhelming the small, devoted volunteer staff Wales romantically envisioned as running this site.

Critics call Wikipedia truth by mob consensus. The democracy of contribution, which allows everyone his say, has no real verification except by the next individual who may or may not have any greater handle on the facts. Should "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" have been documented by expert reporter/historian William Shirer, or should every veteran of World World II have written a page? Historians and the reading public have been seeking the latter’s expanded view for decades. But we do demand the true facts, and many teachers now warn Wikipedia browsers to find additional verification.

Another reason co-founder Sanger left the Wiki fold was that he violently disagreed with what he saw as Wikimedia’s bias toward "placing difficult people, trolls, and their enablers in disproportionate prominence" on the Wiki staff. Sanger blames this slant on what he terms Wales’ anti-elitism."

When the Internet first became available to the average browser, no one ever imagined the pent-up creativity and verbiage that it would uncover. Everyone had something they wanted to say. Everyone was, it seemed, an expert on something about which he wanted to chat or even set up a website.

Wikimedia sees itself as merely the organizing channel for all this craving to express. "This is a phenomenon that is going to remain with us, expanding in many different areas," predicts Fuchs. "It is too dynamic and too conveniently concise not to keep growing."

But beyond the expanded availability of exhaustive information, Wikipedia represents a real triumph in the human spirit. Wiki articles are not flooded with off-center ranters, claiming, for example, that Elvis was a general in the Civil War. When entrusted with the obligation of writing their own history, knowledge and stories, we "ordinary folks" have, for the most part, contributed with meticulous care and accuracy.

Still, debate continues on the accuracy of Wikipedia entries, on their organization, and on the way they put information in context. Yet it is undeniable that the Wiki family of online publications foreshadows major trends in media, learning, expression, and even business. Interest in free-wheeling blogs is surging. Podcasts – the audio equivalent of blogs – are attracting lots of interest, and are being distributed free on Apple’s popular iTunes website.

Information is in the air, free for all to grab. In all likelihood Wikipedia is just the beginning. Unbound from books, popover recipes are in the public domain. And if the popovers fall before reaching the table, it’s a good bet that disappointed bakers will jump online to vent and to propose fixes.

Trains, Boats, Planes & Then Rush Hour

It is not at all surprising to learn that the first drive-in movie theater was located in New Jersey. Or that New Jersey has the most diners in the nation or the most shopping malls in one area in the world – seven in a 25-mile radius.

New Jersey has the most dense system of highways – 36,000 miles of roads – in one of the nation’s smallest states. In addition to serving commuters, shoppers, and soccer moms, the roads host thousands of trucks every day.

New Jersey Transit carries 1 million passengers a day on 500 routes on 12 commuter rail lines and two light rail lines. It also operates 2,027 buses on 236 lines.

Prefer water to land? No fewer than 14 ferry routes connect New Jersey to New York City, and more scoot across the Delaware to Philadelphia.

New Jersey is also home to the country’s largest seaport, located in Elizabeth. The state’s one major international airport, Newark Liberty International, serves 20 million people a year. There are also 50 regional airports in the state.

New Jersey, the only state where every county is classified as a metropolitan area, has the highest population density in the country – by a wide margin. With 1,030 people per square mile, it has 13 times the average U.S. population density.

All of these people moving around day and night by car, train, plane, ferry, and bus create issues aplenty in our congested state. "Trains, Boats, and Planes," a day-long seminar on Wednesday, December 7, at 8:30 a.m. at the Trenton Marriott takes a look at the fall-out from all those trips. Cost: $100. Call 800-852-7899 for reservations.

Thomas Carver, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, speaks on "Importance of a Modern Transport Infrastructure to New Jersey’s Economy." Jack Lettiere, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, speaks on "Transportation Trust Fund." James Hughes and Edward Seneca of Rutgers’ Bloustein School speak on "Transportation and New Jersey’s Economy." Kenneth Wedeen of the Somerset County Planning Board speaks on "Commutation Costs in Time and Money: How Can We Make It Easier?" A panel chaired by Peter Palmer of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority addresses "New Jersey Airports, Harbors, and Multi-modal Transportation: Our Economic Future."

Facebook Comments