Editor Ross Hammond – ATM Skimming

With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, more and more devices are available that make our lives easier and more convenient. However, those same advances are allowing criminals the same luxuries.

ATM skimming is not an entirely new criminal phenomenon. Skimming refers to the thin façade placed over the card slot on an ATM machine. When you run your card through the slot, the ATM reads the information, but it is also read by a thin card reader held in the false façade. To the untrained eye, the ATM doesn’t look any different. The second part of the skimming process involves the acquisition of your PIN code, which is accomplished by using a small pinhole camera pointed at the number pad. The holes for these cameras can be so small that unless you’re looking intently for one, you’ll probably never see it. These two pieces of information are then either collected and stored in a small memory chip within the false façade, or wirelessly transferred to the person nearby. As I said, these criminals have gotten very smart and very good at their craft, so it’s tough to tell if the ATM has a skimmer in place even if you’re sighted. For the visually impaired population, this creates an even larger potential to become the victim of fraud.

That said, there are some very simple things you can do to protect yourselves. The first is to discontinue using ATM machines altogether. If you need to get some cash, go inside your bank and get your money directly from a teller. Another method that I use quite often is to utilize the “cash back” option that many retailers now offer. For example, if I go to my grocery store and purchase some apples, and I use my debit card at the register, I have the option of being given cash back as part of the transaction. This is beneficial in two ways: one, because there is virtually no risk involved in swiping my card at the register; and two, I avoid being subject to ATM fees. Getting your cash safely while saving a couple bucks is never a bad thing.

If you absolutely must use an ATM and you’re not near your bank or feel like buying apples, you must think about what ATM is available and how secure it is. Outdoor ATM machines are prime targets, as the person installing the skimmer is less likely to be caught when fewer people are around and they have the ability to go to the ATM late at night. ATMs in vestibules are slightly better, but not by a large margin. ATMs inside of banks or well-known and popular establishments are the least likely to have a skimmer because of how many people are around to see someone doing something out of the ordinary.

Another way to make sure you’re protected in case of fraud is to ask your bank about their fraud policies and procedures. Most banks protect their customers from fraudulent charges, but make sure that you’re familiar with your bank’s policy in case you find something wrong.

It was recently brought to my attention that skimmers are being placed on more than just ATM machines, as well. With electronic kiosks popping up all over the place, these people now have more chances to grab your information. A prime example of this would be a ticket kiosk on a train platform. These are becoming popular targets because of how convenient they are for train passengers to use.

What it comes down to is that there are new opportunities for fraud all the time, so we must remain vigilant in our effort to protect ourselves. It might mean that we have to bypass certain conveniences like outdoor ATM’s or ticket kiosks, but those things are quite minor when it comes to the safety of our money and peace of mind.

News – Blind Dog with a Guide Dog

When Tanner, a Golden Retriever, was born with severe cataracts, her owners knew that she would have a tough life. But add epilepsy on top of that, and this poor pooch would end up struggling on a daily basis. Stuck in a scary world with very little visual cues, the dog would experience seizures often and required constant care. To make things worse for Tanner, her owner unfortunately passed away and she was sent to a Golden Retriever rescue group in Oklahoma.

Around the same time, another dog named Blair was in some dire straits of her own. You see, Blair was a stray who had been shot and was admitted into the Woodland West Animal Hospital in Tulsa. The entire process, as you can imagine, left the dog very timid and afraid of the world around her. Because of her situation, Blair was also brought to the same Retriever rescue group where Tanner stayed.

One day, they happened to be out in the play yard at the same time and an instant and entirely unexpected bond was formed. Blair immediately ran over to Tanner and began to interact and play with her in a way she hadn’t done during her stay with any other dog. Blair would watch Tanner and give little barks to guide her and let her know where she was. But Blair also took it one step further, and with no training at all, learned to pick up Tanner’s leash in her mouth and literally guide her around the play yard, trotting slightly in front of her and to the side.

This incredible friendship has also resulted in some pretty amazing health benefits for both dogs as well. Since their friendship began, Tanner has yet to have one tragic seizure–not one. Blair will now happily interact with the people at the shelter as well as other dogs, showing no signs of her previous timid behavior. For the two of them it marks a complete turn-around that has left the animal doctors at the shelter happily scratching their heads. They even fully admit that Blair knows that Tanner is blind due to the way that she guides her around and barks to give her directions–though they have no idea how she came to figure that out so quick.

The two of them are up for adoption, but the shelter will require that they be adopted as a pair, since their friendship has quite clearly healed them both.


News – Seven Year Old With No Hands Wins National Handwriting Award

Little Annie Clark, just seven years old, has made a remarkable achievement. Born without hands, Annie has refused to let her disability hinder her in any way, and without breaking a sweat, has taken home first prize for none other than handwriting in a national contest.

The contest was put on by the Zaner-Bloser language arts and reading company, which awarded two national winners trophies and a $1,000 prize. This is the first year that awards were offered to disabled students, and Annie’s co-winner is another student from Ohio who is visually impaired. The award was created to honor Nicholas Maxim, a fifth-grade student born without hands or lower arms who entered the competition last year.

In a time when penmanship has been pushed aside by typing skills, Annie’s school still believes that it is very important, and encourages its students to enter the competition each year. Students who enter the contest are initially judged by teachers at the school and then the best example from each grade is sent to the company for the national contest. Annie was chosen as the winner of all of the first grade students, and her entry was sent to Zaner-Bloser without the knowledge that a disabled category existed, but with a letter explaining that Annie had no hands. Upon receiving her entry along with that letter, contest organizers immediately forwarded her writing sample to the people who managed the competition for disabled students.

Annie’s prize was given to her during an assembly held at her school. When the purpose of the assembly was announced and Annie heard her name called over the loud speaker, she was simply stunned as she quickly and quietly walked to the front to accept her prize and a trophy half as big as she was. At the conclusion of the assembly, she left with her fellow students so that she wouldn’t miss her math lesson, but returned shortly afterwards to speak with reporters about her award.

Annie’s ability to write so well stems from her determination for perfection and self sufficiency. Above and beyond common tasks like dressing and feeding herself, Annie rides a bike and swims, and even paints her toenails. She also has no problem typing on a keyboard or using an iPod Touch.

When writing with a pen or pencil, she exhibits incredible dexterity considering that she has no fingers. She pinches her writing instrument of choice between her arms and rocks it back and forth with dutiful concentration and will quickly flip a pencil over and erase any mistakes. As she relayed to reporters, she “learned to go slow.”

Annie is a shining example of what determination can give a person. Not just awards or recognition, but a quality of life that is beyond compare and the knowledge that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.


News – Eight Year Old College Student Doesn’t Like Being Called Genius

I have no clue what was going through my mind when I was eight years old, but it certainly had nothing to do with midterm grades in my college courses. The more likely scenario involved me trying to figure out how to get the Frisbee out of the tree–and the baseball bat that we used to try to get it the first time.

Moshe Kai Calvin is a very unique kid, but he hates being called a genius. Though, it’s tough to think of him as anything but. At age eight he enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College and in 2009, at age 11, earned his first of two Associates of Arts degrees. He graduated with a 4.0 GPA, as well. Now 14 years old, and preparing to graduate from UCLA, he’s also just published and English version of his book called “We Can Do.”

Don’t let the short title fool you, because this 100-page book serves as a guideline for other young people to follow in his footsteps by keeping themselves focused and setting every goal with extreme commitment. “People need to know you don’t really need to be a genius, you just have to work hard and you can accomplish anything,” he said.

Focus is a big part of his life and he limits himself to 4 hours of TV a week. But don’t think that his nose is firmly inserted into a book all day, either. Calvin loves SCUBA diving, soccer, and martial arts and makes time for all of these activities in between his study schedule.

Calvin is currently attending UCLA as a math major, lives in student housing with his parents, and attends the school on a scholarship. After earning his bachelor’s degree in the near future, he plans to enroll in a graduate program with the inevitable goal of earning a doctorate. With his track record, maybe he’ll get two.

When asked what his plans are for the future outside of his education, he laughed and said, “Who knows […] That’s just too far into the future for me to see.”

Might I suggest a driver’s license?


Consumer Awareness – Protecting Yourself from Fraud

About a week ago, I received a letter from a vendor I had purchased from informing me that their servers were hacked and a lot of information was stolen, including sensitive credit card information from all customers who made purchases between September and November. As you can probably guess, I had made purchases during that time and my information was out in the ether, probably available to the highest bidder on the virtual black market. I immediately checked my bank statements again to make sure that there weren’t any fraudulent charges and luckily everything looked fine. As a precaution, though, I went to my bank, told them about the letter I received, and asked to have my current ATM-Debit card cancelled and to be issued a new one.

In the past three years, I’ve had to do this twice due to these issues, and I imagine that I will be forced to do the same in the near future as these problems become more prevalent. The thieves of the future will not be stealing at gun-point, but with advanced algorithms that take advantage of weaknesses in virtual security setups.

So what do we do to protect ourselves? In cases like the one I’ve recently dealt with, there really isn’t too much that can be done–at least on the part of the consumer. Companies need to evolve along with the new criminal methods to make sure that their customers can be protected. For the most part, they’re doing a decent job, but there is no time to sit back on their laurels. They need to constantly monitor themselves and make their security stronger.

Where we can protect ourselves are at places like ATMs and online vendors. ATM machines have become new targets for thieves who use devices called card skimmers. These devices act as an overlay for the slot where you slide in your card and skim the magnetic strip on the back before it goes into the machine. A small pinhole camera installed in the overlay takes a video of your pin number, and the innards of a cell phone that have been squeezed inside send that information wirelessly anywhere in the world. The criminals who install these skimmers have gotten increasingly smart and can produce very accurate overlays that can even fool the banks who maintain the machines. The best way to avoid this type of fraud is to either go into the bank and get your cash from a teller, or get your cash when you shop at stores that offer cash back on debit purchases. The latter is also a great way to avoid ATM fees as well.

As for online purchases, only make purchases from verified vendors who have a good reputation. If possible, call them to make your purchases rather than entering your information on their website if you’re unsure.

While there are now risks that exist that we didn’t have to worry about before, there are ways we can protect ourselves against them to minimize how exposed we are to those risks. Quick action when fraud is caught is crucial, so if you think that something is wrong, call your bank right away.

Shop safe, shop smart, and have fun.

News – Reaching out to America’s Blind Veterans

It’s an unfortunate fact, but roughly 13 percent of all veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan have suffered from eye-related injuries that have left them blind. Now Serotek, a company many of you are familiar with, is stepping forward to help out our brave soldiers who have a new struggle to overcome.

Serotek’s popular SAMNet service, which allows users access to an amazing internet portal filled with material available to the blind, will now be made available for free to blind veterans. Any legally blind veteran will be eligible for a lifetime subscription to this service starting December 15, 2011 when this new initiative kicks off.

“For many veterans sight loss is a new battleground,” remarked Serotek CEO Mike Calvo. By offering this wonderful service to them for free, Calvo hopes that they will be given all of the tools that they’ll need to maintain the same confidence they carried when they served our country.

In addition to opening up SAMNet for free to all veterans who qualify, they are also adding a bunch of different services as well. These include chat rooms, forums, and other communication channels geared towards veterans as well as the general public who utilize the SAMNet service. They hope that these new features will greatly increase the amount of communication channels within the blind community and allow individuals to reach out and connect with others.

Showing appreciation to all veterans who have come back home is incredibly important. By also providing services for those who have come back wounded, Serotek is reaching out to help a new segment of blind Americans who have to learn how to live with both the memories of battle and the physical scars that occasionally accompany them. Hopefully, with help from Serotek and their SAMNet network, our soldiers will be able to be able to heal and adjust to their new lives as quickly as possible.

For more information on Serotek or SAMNet, you can visit

News – Recent Apple Product Unveiling Has Potential Impact On Visually Impaired Community

On October 4, I watched a live blog as Apple introduced its newest iteration of the iPhone. While many were expecting a completely redesigned iPhone 5, what we’ve been given is an iPhone 4 on steroids–dubbed the iPhone 4S. The shape of the phone remains unchanged, but it is sporting some nice software upgrades. The most notable is something called Siri, which I’ll explain in more detail in a minute. While this new phone didn’t necessarily wow the tech world–who were waiting for some incredible new device–the impact of this most recent Apple Update Event could be large within the blind and visually impaired community.

First, with the newest iPhone 4S coming out next week, pricing has dropped drastically on the older models. While the new 4S will start at $200, the standard iPhone 4 will now be $100 with a two year contract. But the biggest news is that the iPhone 3G will now be free with a two year contract. While the 3G model isn’t the latest and greatest, it is still an amazing device that will continue to be supported by Apple. For any of you who have been on the fence about buying a smart phone, now might be the best time to do it. As multiple writers have said here in the past, while there is a learning curve involved, the voice-over software on the iPhone makes it the most accessible smart phone choice out there.

Now, onto the newest upgrade–Siri. Siri, as it was explained, is going to be your humble personal assistant. Available only on the newest iPhone 4S, Siri is able to listen to a host of voice commands and respond in turn. What is so remarkably different about Siri, though, is its ability to understand commands in normal speech. Instead of saying, “Call Dad’s Mobile,” you can say, “Can you give my Dad a call?” More than that, it can handle voice-to-text as well, so saying, “Text Bill and let him know that I’ll be a few minutes late” will result in a text message to Bill alerting him of your delay exactly how you spoke it. When creating a text message, Siri will compose it and read it back to you, giving you the opportunity to edit the message or simply say, “Send.”

Siri goes way beyond calls and text messages, though. If you ask, “How is the weather going to be today?” Siri will read you the forecast. You don’t even have to talk that official. You can simply say, “Will it be chilly out today?” and Siri will tell you something like, “No, not really. The high for today should be around 76 degrees.”

The potential for software like this is incredible, because it creates a communication bridge between you and your phone without the need to see or touch anything. In a way, it even makes voice-over moot. I’ve spoken before about how the future of technology for the blind will be drastically improved, and available at a much lower cost, when there is mutual use for both the blind and the sighted. Siri is a massive leap forward in that direction, and its implications, should it work properly, are huge.

News – Online Courses Create New Jobs for Disabled Professors

As with most services available today–from banking to grocery shopping–higher learning is also available online. As a result, students can access their classrooms from anywhere in the world, allowing them to fit their education into their schedule. However, this is not a service that only benefits the students, as disabled professors are finding that teaching their courses online has allowed them to educate much more efficiently.

Two professors involved in the University of North Carolina Greensboro Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Sciences online degree completion program are helping to pave the way. Douglas McCarty, Ph.D. is deaf, but his students have no idea that he lives without his sense of hearing. Each of his classes are highly interactive, done entirely over the internet, and supplemented with email and individual chat sessions. As students continue to progress through his course, he is able to constantly interact and give feedback and track their accomplishments as they move through the material. “I’ve taught face-to-face, and the main challenge has been lip reading quickly enough to student responses,” he said. With the online courses, he can clearly see what they’ve written and respond in real-time with no issues.

Another professor, Ann Millett-Gallant, Ph.D., was born with physical impairments and has prosthetic legs and uses a mobility scooter to get around. While navigating her way through campuses was frustrating at times, she can now teach her courses from home. Among other things, she is an expert on disability and its portrayal in contemporary art and uses her own experiences as a way to connect to the works she studies and her students. The online course also allows her to teach world-wide. “I have students from all over the world, which makes the discussions diverse and lively” she said.

The university is very pleased with the successes of their online program thus far. “We can offer broader learning opportunities to students and teaching opportunities to professors, regardless of where they are based,” said Robert Brown, dean of the UNCG Division of Continued Learning.

Online learning has always seemed like a great way to get an education if a student needs to work around a busy schedule. It also allows students to access programs that they would otherwise never be able to consider due to their distance from those schools. But the fact that these programs benefit disabled professors as well makes them all the more ideal. Hopefully, as more universities make their courses available online they will also reach out to disabled professors to teach those courses and allow them to continue comfortably in a career that they are passionate about.

News – Is the Postal Service Almost Done?

With all of the talks concerning budgets and financial planning, few people have really paid attention to one major government entity that is seriously hurting–the postal service. With a deficit now approaching $10 billion this fiscal year, the future of snail mail in America isn’t looking too good. So what happened?

In a word–technology. New technology like email, document scanning, online services like PayPal for money transfers (even gift giving), have all served as a very convenient, quick–and moreover, cheaper–alternative to sending things through the mail. The US Postal service, with its increased labor costs and its reduced revenue is quickly beginning to realize their dire situation and is scrambling to come up with a solution before they go the way of the dodo.

Their first option, which has been discussed for about a year, was to eliminate Saturday mail service. Now, with even scarier numbers staring them in the face, they’re planning to do that, as well as close up to 3,700 post offices and lay off roughly 120,000 workers. In a time with jobs already in trouble, this would have a terrible impact on the lives of all of those employees.

The postal service needs to think hard and quickly to devise a way to compete with all of these alternatives. They’ve offered new programs like flat-rate shipping, which had been mildly successful with individuals and small businesses, but has been met with fierce competition from companies like UPS and FedEx, who have a stronghold on most of our domestic shipping needs and less expensive labor costs.

What are your thoughts about the current situation with the postal service? Would the elimination of Saturday mail have an impact on your life? What about if your local post office closed? If things get even worse and they deliver mail only a few times during the week, would you be upset?

News – A New Grip on Life

They say it never hurts to ask–and it seems that saying still holds true.

14 year old Matthew James was born without a left hand. In an effort to seek funding for a prosthetic one, he sent a witty letter to the head of the Mercedes Benz F1 team asking for just shy of $60,000 to make that possible. In return, Matthew offered up space on the proposed hand for sponsorship–allowing Mercedes to place their logo on it much like they do on their F1 cars.

But what seemed like a long shot to him and his family ending up touching the powers that be at Mercedes F1 so much that they not only agreed to help him, but also teamed up with the firm Touch Bionics, one of the premier hi-tech artificial limb makers in the world. What came out of their partnership is the i-LIMB Pulse, the most advanced prosthetic limb on Earth.

The hand, as you would expect, is a marvel of engineering. Constructed of high-grade plastic with a black silicone socket, it “plugs in” to Matthew’s arm. Electrodes on the inside of the socket detect electrical impulses from muscles in the base of his arm. Those signals are then beamed to a mini computer in the palm of the hand which then translates those messages into movements so accurately that it mimics the motions of a real hand. Each finger is controlled by a separate motor which allows them to move independently and it even has Bluetooth, so he can connect it to a computer and track the strength and speed of his movements. The i-LIMB Pulse is so versatile that he can grip a pen to write and draw, tie his shoe laces, and catch a ball.

“It is just amazing,” Matthew said, as he related to reporters that his old artificial hand was a very basic mechanical clamp. “It’s going to make such a big difference in my life.” Though the 14 year old revealed a maturity well beyond his age, the kid did come out in him. “It also looks really cool,” he said. “The outer shell is see-through so you can actually see the mechanics working.”

Mercedes was not able to pay for the hand outright, but agreed to help Matthew raise the money by asking for donations from fans and sponsors. For their part, Touch Bionics also agreed to fit the hand and train Matthew in its use at their state-of-the-art facilities for free, which would have otherwise cost another $40,000.