Saturday, June 16, 2007

Julia Blaukopf - Artist and Photographer

"If you're photographing in color you show the color of their clothes - if you use black and white, you will show the color of their soul."
~Author Unknown

Last week, Trudi and I met artist and photographer Julia Blaukopf during a cocktail party at the studio of SoHo artist Alex Beard. Julia was discussing her recent trip to Ghana.

Julia was invited there by Women in Progress, a group who defines their mission as "working at a grassroots level to develop small, sustainable women-owned craft jewelry, clothing, and batik businesses, and, at the same time, establish mutual understanding among people of diverse cultures." Julia's photograph (above) shows an example of their work .

Julia's website gives further information about this project. "With the support of fiscal sponsor, First Person Arts, Blaukopf worked in Ghana for four months. She photographed and designed the 2007 Global Mamas catalog. Her images will become a promotional tool for Women in Progress. In November 2007, Blaukopf will exhibit the images as a part of the Annual First Person Arts Festival."

If you go to Julia's website, click on Gallery to see her portfolio. I am particularly intrigued by her sepia toned pictures, which exude an aura of antiquity. They remind me of Matthew Brady's work. His American Civil War images took photography out of the parlor and transformed it into a fundamental component of journalism.

Sepia photographs evoke a powerful emotional response. The brown hue transports these images into another world. I imagine that I am looking through a time portal. Considering how fast paced and stressful modern life is, they make me nostalgic for a time when we didn't have to deal with cell phones, websites, computer passwords, e-mails, and TiVo.

This simpler life, although not ideal (no antibiotics or pre-natal care) was far better suited to human biology. Our bodies haven't evolved fast enough to keep pace with the quantum leap in technology.

And even though Julia's Ghana portfolio was created recently, the sepia overtone reminds us that we are viewing a part of the world that we have known for a very long time. Africa was our first home, where we became human.

During the cocktail party, Julia showed us some of her mixed media work, where she applies photographs to non-traditional surfaces - like shells. It was interesting to see an art form that blends natural materials with a modern technology.

Julia's work can currently be seen at The Center for Emerging Visual Artists. They have a show called Small Wonders, which is running from June 14 through July 12. The address is:
1701 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

There will be a reception on Friday July 15, from 5:30 - 7:30 PM.

I am certain that this talented young artist will continue to produce perceptive and compelling photography!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Chase Bank is Providing Excellent Customer Support Against Phishing Scams!

A Monkey Bob - Consumer Crusader Post

"Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong." - Donald Porter

I recently received an e-mail that claimed to be from Chase Bank. It indicated that I was going to be charged $121.44 by an Internet porn company, unless I immediately responded with verification of my Chase credit card information. I suspected that this was a phishing scam because:

1) This e-mail was not signed by anyone.

2) There was no customer service number to call.

3) If the e-mail actually was from Chase, then they would already have my credit card information, so I wouldn't need to submit it again.

Wikipedia defines phishing as: "a criminal activity using social engineering techniques. Phishers attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. eBay and PayPal are two of the most targeted companies, and online banks are also common targets. Phishing is typically carried out by email or instant messaging, and often directs users to give details at a website, although phone contact has been used as well. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, and technical measures."

Phishing is currently one of the largest consumer frauds in the world . No one knows exactly how much money is being stolen, but it is estimated to be in the billions -(that's "illions" with a "b"). And the rate of phishing incidents appears to be growing exponentially. Recent government reports indicate that this activity is being taken over by organized crime.

Anyway, back to Monkey Bob. After I suspected that this e-mail was a scam, I sent a copy of it to, which is the conduit that Chase recommends for reporting suspicious e-mails. Then I sent a letter to Mr. Jamie Dimon, who is the President and COO of JP Morgan Chase and Co. Today I received a response from Eloy J. Mosley, who is in the Chase Card Service Executive Office.

Mr. Mosley confirmed that I had received a phishing e-mail. He indicated that none of my Chase credit card accounts had been charged. He then went on to explain Chase's guidelines for contacting customers online.

"It is not our practice to:
  • Send (an) e-mail that requires you to enter personal information directly into the e-mail
  • Send (an) e-mail threatening to close your account if you do not take the immediate action of providing personal information
  • Send (an) e-mail asking you to reply by sending personal information
  • Send (an) e-mail asking you to enter your User ID, password, or account numbers into an e-mail or non-secure webpage
You should never reply to, click on, or enter any information if you receive a suspicious e-mail."

These are excellent guidelines for any suspicious e-mail.

I lump companies into two categories - 1) those that actively work to support their customers, and 2) those that don't. Chase Bank definitely falls into the first category!

Here I am - Monkey Bob - a regular working guy living in New Jersey. I am not wealthy, have no special connections, and don't possess any political influence. Yet Chase Bank - one of the largest financial institutions in the world - took the time to respond to my letter with comprehensive and helpful information. Kudos to you, Chase Bank for actually caring about your customers, and by backing it up with action! You have moved to the top of my Christmas Card List.

In the twenty first century, no company has "a lock" on their customers. The Internet and related technologies allow customers to have more information and to make more choices about who they will do business with. Chase Bank has embraced the concept that providing excellent customer service is the key to their company's success. I am certain that this philosophy will serve them well in the future.

"If you don't take care of your customers, someone else will."
- Unknown

Neither I nor any of my primate friends received any compensation from Chase Bank for publishing this post. I felt compelled to do this because I believe that excellence in business should be promoted and rewarded!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Crammers are Taking Advantage of Consumers - and Getting Away With It!

A Monkey Bob - Consumer Crusader Post.

“There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy - hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny.” -
Fredrick William Robertson

It appears that I was recently "crammed" on my phone bill. The Federal Communications Commission defines "cramming" as:

“Cramming” is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe."

Cramming is a big problem. This activity is scamming consumers out of billions of dollars each year. And the chances of crammers being caught and convicted are almost zero!

In March of 2007 a company called YP.Corp added a $27.50 charge onto my Verizon home phone bill - for something called "web maintain". I never requested or authorized this charge. When I contacted them about this, they sent me a refund check.

When I looked into this situation, the YP.Corp charge on my phone bill appeared to meet the definition for cramming. After a number of letter exchanges with YP.Corp, they still have not offered an adequate explanation for why I was charged.

In addition, I question YP.Corp's credibility because - in December of 2006, YP.Corp agreed to pay $2 million in refunds after settling in court with the Attorneys General of 34 states. In a 12-14-06 statement from The Office of the Attorney General of Missouri - Attorney General Jay Nixon said that "The businesses and organizations often did not realize that depositing an “activation” check for $3.25 from YP Corp. — which does business under the names, and — triggered a monthly charge of $25 to $30 on their telephone bills or from their bank accounts for an Internet directory listing."

I filed complaints with government agencies because - even though I got my money back - there are probably thousands of people who were not refunded by the companies that use this questionable business practice. Because of the subtle way that it is done, many victims don't even realize that they are paying for something that they never wanted!

The YP.Corp settlement took place 6 months ago, and prosecution was only initiated after a considerable amount of time, and after a large number of complaints were collected and evaluated. But there doesn't appear to be any mechanism in place - for an individual consumer to initiate an effective government investigation of his (or her) cramming complaint.

The data below illustrates the steps that I took to try and start an government investigation of YP.Corps' charge on my phone bill:

1) I filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs for the State of New Jersey (where I live). It has been two months since I did this, and I have received no response.

2) I filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs for the State of Nevada, where YP.Corp has offices. All of the correspondence that I received from YP.Corp came from their Las Vegas, Nevada office. Instead of investigating this situation, the State of Nevada forwarded this complaint to the Division of Consumer Affairs for the State of Arizona, where YP.Corp has their headquarters.

3) Instead of investigating Nevada's forwarded complaint, the Arizona Division of Consumer Affairs forwarded this complaint to the State of New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the agency that still hasn't responded to me.

4) I filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission - who has a page on their website for filing cramming complaints. But their response to me said that this situation did not fall within their jurisdiction. They suggested that I contact the Federal Trade Commission. The obvious question here is - Why is the FCC collecting cramming complaints, when they will not take action on them? My guess is that this complaint page is supposed to make Americans feel like the FCC is protecting them against cramming, when in fact it is not.

5) I filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, who responded with a list of suggestions on how to protect myself from cramming. But they did not pursue an investigation of my complaint.

6) I filed a Mail Fraud complaint with the US Postal Service - twice - but have received no response.

Therefore it appears that no government agency is investigating individual cramming complaints - and then taking effective action against the guilty companies. So it looks like consumers will continue to be victimized by cramming - without adequate Government intervention or protection.

I welcome comments from my readers.

Note: At the time that this post was written, YP.Corp has not been charged or convicted of cramming - in my situation - by any court of law. However the evidence that I have presented in this post indicates that YP.Corp's charge (on my home phone bill) appears to be cramming.

Every responsible journalist has an obligation to present both sides of a story. I therefore invite YP.Corp to submit a response to this post.