Does Poor Customer Service Contribute to More Identity Theft?

At first glance, the question that I have posed doesn’t seem to make much sense but bear with me while I explain.

The main publicity for identity theft always seems to be directly aimed at the internet and in particular at unsolicited emails – Phishing. We have probably all received them at one time or another, a bank (more often than not a bank that you are not a customer of) informing you that there has been a computer error and that you need to reconfirm your details by clicking onto the provided link and entering everything needed to have your identity, and your money, stolen. A more recent trend is purporting to be from major shop/restaurant chains offering £50 or more in vouchers for completing their surveys. There are still a few of the old classics around as well, such as identifying you as a winner of a foreign national lottery (even though you have never purchased a ticket in your life) and you need to send an administration fee or maybe a letter from an African country (or anywhere else that there has seen political turmoil recently) asking for your bank details so that vast sums of money can be funneled out of the country and you will receive a nice fat fee for helping.

Most of these emails scams have one thing in common – if you use a little common sense, they are easy to avoid. Most email providers have ‘spam filters’ in place and these try to automatically filter out these and other items of junk mail. Another thing to remember is the old adage that ‘You don’t get anything for free’ and that saying is as true today as it has ever been.

Using Emails to con people has almost completely replaced the older traditional postal mail service but there is one method that has not changed and is still very much in use; The telephone.

This morning I received a phone call from my father because he was worried that he might have been scammed. He had received a phone call informing him that the bank needed to send out a new card for my brother and that they needed to confirm a few details first. As my brother has poor hearing, my father told the voice that both he and my mother were authorised to take the call and he was then asked for their names and dates of birth. It was only after this information was given that suspicions were aroused and when my father asked what they needed that for….the phone call was terminated by the caller. Worried by this call, my father then rang me and asked what I thought he should do now. My advise to him was that they should at the very least contact the bank to report what had happened and to get their advice on what action was needed.

This is where poor customer service rears its ugly head

We live in the age of the Call Centre. It is no longer possible to make a call to any large company or even a government department and have the call answered by a trained and experienced person who can help you. It is far cheaper to employ disinterested school leavers, put them in a large room, give them a script to work from and pay them minimum wage. Not really a good recipe for customer service.

I have worked in call centres – in both the private and public sectors – and there is very little difference in how they are run. The phone operators are allocated calls and given a set time in which to deal with them. Take too long to deal with a call and you get into trouble, take too long between ending a call and taking a new call, trouble again. I was even told, in a meeting with the head of all of the call centers for a major government department, that if any of the call centers answered 97% of incoming calls then they were overstaffed and cuts would be made.  It is a low paid, high stress job that leads to burn out and a high turnover of staff. The few people who survive this environment for any length of time get rewarded by being taken off of the phones and become team leaders – usually at the point where they were actually becoming knowledgeable about their job and able to offer a good service. Once you get through to talk to someone – they have a legal responsibility to confirm that you are who you say you are. This is true even if they are the ones that called you and as a result of this, we are used to people from the government or financial institutions asking for personal details.

But…

Before you can talk to the telephone slaves, you have to navigate through an automated maze that is purported to be there to make sure that you can be put through to the correct department but in reality seems to be there to prevent you from actually talking to anyone. It was this soulless maze that was dissuading my father from contacting the bank. I did eventually convince him to go to the bank that day and not to wait and go the following day but because customer service seems to have been replaced by ‘as cheap as we can get it, customer contact’ there has been what could be a costly delay.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to avoid giving your details to the wrong people:

1. Legitimate callers should not be asking for your national insurance number, your date of birth or bank account number. Typical questions are more along the lines of ‘Can you confirm when you last spoke to us? or, if you have financial dealings with them they may ask you for the name of your bank.

2. Were you expecting a call from these people? They are not in the habit of making social calls so if you have not been dealing with them lately, a phone call can be suspicious.

3. If you have any doubts at all over the authenticity of a caller, ask them to give you a contact number so that you can call them back. This is not fool proof as they could have two telephone lines but it only takes a few seconds to type the telephone number into any search engine (google, yahoo etc) to search for the number. If there is no result or it comes up as anything other then who they claim to be then report the call.

Useful Links

http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud_protection/identity_fraud

http://www.ico.org.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/identity_theft

http://www.cifas.org.uk/avoid_being_a_victim

 

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For Mature Readers Only?

I like to think that I have quite a broad taste range, when it comes to entertainment, but there is a phrase that has been bothering me for some time now.,,,For Mature Readers Only. I have been pondering this phrase for quite some time, trying determine what makes the content more suitable for Mature Readers and more importantly, what makes a person mature enough to read/watch/play the content or indeed, what makes a person mature for anything?

Let’s look at what is considered Mature Content first.

1) Sex:                                 I would discount sex from the Mature tag for the simple reason that it usually has a category of its own. As long the main concern of the subject is titillation using sexual words or images then the material is usually referred to as ‘Adult’. That said, most times you see the ‘Mature’ tag you will also find nudity of some sort.

2) Violence:                          This is probably the most prevailing content of Mature comics and usually relating to the horror genre and specifically to individual acts of (gratuitous?) violence involving a handful of people at a time. Once you start killing on a grand scale however, war, genocide, blowing up planets etc, you leave the realms of what is considered Mature.

3) Politics/Religion:                 I am putting these two together as both can elicit strong emotions which, presumably, require a certain degree of maturity to both discuss and understand. I should really split this into two sub categories which are historical/promotional – to which the answer would be no, and critical/satirical, to which the answer could be yes but only with those that include both sex and violence (a fine example of the this being http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preacher_(comics) well worth a read due to the excellent storytelling, both writing and artwork).

4) Drugs/Rock ‘n’ Roll:            Two things that are usually linked together (we have already looked at Sex – the third of the trinity). There is not a great deal of literary focus on either of these two as a main theme, instead, they are usually just lesser elements, a sub plot at best, in a story so it is very unlikely that the appearance of either one on their own would give rise to the Mature recommendation.

5) Bad Language:                    Profanity to be more more accurate. There is a quite a double standard with this, on its own and in print this would be unlikely to get the Mature tag – unlike movies or television where the mere utterance can move a program to a later slot or condemn a movie to a less profitable higher age rating. That said, it is very unusual to see swearing in a non Mature Warning environment.

As a general rule, it would seem that For ‘Mature Readers’ is applied to forms of entertainment that contain elements, of which, the only purpose is to shock or disturb the reader. To appeal to the baser, rather than the intellectual, human feelings.

One definition of maturity is: “fully developed in body or mind, as a person.” Surely then, the term Mature can hardly be used when describing, what is in effect, the modern day equivalency of the old Penny Dreadfulls ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_dreadful). This is not to say that everything labelled Mature Readers is low quality, far from it. I just think that we need a better, more suitable, term.

I do not agree with most censorship but I do like the descriptions that come with the different film releases, things like “contains scenes of mild peril”. I like an objective description of the contents because, as a mature adult, I can then make the decision on whether I, or those I may be responsible for, want to watch the film, read the book or play the game. I want and indeed should be taking the responsibility because I am  “fully developed in body or mind, as a person.” I know that if I see words and images depicting extreme acts, that are in a fictional setting, that it is a story, it is entertainment. I  am responsible enough to read and watch stories without being compelled to go out and try to replicate them. If I dislike them or if they disgust me, I am responsible enough that I will stop reading, I will turn of the television. In short I am responsible enough to differentiate between fantasy and reality and not to be offended by the personal tastes and opinions of other people.

Can we change the ‘For Mature Readers’ it is too misleading. Let’s try instead:

“Suggested for Responsible Readers”

 

 

Star Trek Into Darkness

A group of Start Trek fans recently voted Into Darkness, as being the worst Star Trek Film ever made. Quite harsh considering some of the previous films but is it justified?

To my mind, Into Darkness was certainly a very enjoyable film. It has pretty much everything you could ask for in a film and possibly more than you normally expect from a blockbuster Sci Fi. There is plenty of action, good special effects, a story with a few plot twists, credible bad guys, good acting and characterisation and some nice touches of humour. A quite surprising element is how the characters grow and learn more about themselves over the course of the story – something often lacking in many films (or is it just my usual viewing is rather shallow?). It was also nice to see the film ending by setting the stage for more films without either a cliffhanger ending or a lingering shot on the ‘not dead after all bad guy’

Image

 

So, if I liked the film so much, what made this ‘the worst Star Trek film made’?

Part of the problem is continuity. Up until the reboot of the franchise in 2009, every television episode and every film fitted into a linear timeline. Even the final series, Enterprise, that was made as a prequal to the original series, fitted because although it takes place before the original Star Trek, it had used a different ship and characters while still taking place in the same setting.  

The reboot of the film series takes place in an alternate timeline so although we are familiar with the characters and setting, there is still a lot of fan expectation about how they should react and certain events happening in ‘history’ at certain times. Any shift to these preconceived ideas is often met with resistance and/or negativity.

Into Darkness is essentially a retelling of an earlier film, although this is not apparent during the first half of the story, and I think that this plays a big part of the ill will felt by the older hard core fans who feel betrayed that ‘their’ story is being changed. People need to remember that these new films are a new, alternate, telling of the Star Trek story and not just  the adventures of a younger crew.

There have been some very successful reboots of fantasy films recently such as the X-men (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120903/?ref_=sr_5) and other Marvel  superheroes films and Batman Dark Knight movies (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372784/), so why the difference in attitude by fans? Could it be that the other fantasy films are originally based on long established comics whereas Star Trek started as a television series that later spread to include books and comics?

The comic book world is used to alternate timelines and reboots of both characters and even entire universes. Different artists and writers moulding existing characters and series into how they perceive them, some with more success than others. Because of this, I think that in general it is easier for comic fans to accept new ideas and retelling of stories in the film adaptions.

The other reason for the negative vote for Into Darkness?  It was voted for by ‘fans’

Fan – noun – Origin:  1885–90,  Americanism; short for fanatic

To quote Stan Lee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Lee)  “Nuff Said”

World War Z – The Books/The Movie

Let’s get the obvious out of the way; This film bares very little semblance to the books (http://www.maxbrookszombieworld.com/) on which it is, very loosely, based.

Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. 

The book is really a collection of short stories chronicling zombie attacks; starting at the initial outbreak and continuing through to the official ‘end of the war’ . The link between the stories being that they were collected by the unnamed narrator as a series of interviews conducted while he was compiling a report for the United Nation’s Postwar Commission. I feel that this would have been very difficult to build into a film. To stay true to the book, a better format would have been to make a television series with one or 2 stories per episode.

The film gives us a name and a face for the narrator character, Gerry Lane, and places the story directly around his involvement in the fight against the zombie plague.  Lane and his family are rescued from their zombie infested city by his former employers, the United Nations, and he is then persuaded to help find the source of the outbreak so that a cure can be found. This leads to a series of set pieces as he travels from country to country trying to find ‘patient zero’.

We’ve probably all seen clips and trailers from the film (http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/movie/world-war-z/) and, to be honest, they sum it up quite well. It is more of an action film with zombies in it rather than a zombie horror film but it does make a good combination with plenty of ‘edge of the seat moments’. The action continues through most of the film only slowing down towards the end where the focus changes from chasing a cause to proving that there is a cure. The change in pace is offset by an increase in tension as explosions and gunfights are replaced by a nerve wracking trek through a zombie infested World Health Organisation research facility.

There is not much I could find about the film to complain about except maybe that it seemed to end too soon but if they had extended the ending, after a cure had been found, then I suppose I would probably be complaining that it should have been shorter.

I would like to know a bit more about the background to the Gerry Lane character. We learn early on that he used to be an investigator for the United Nations and it is later mentioned, briefly, that he left after wrongly be blamed for something. We also get an angry reaction about refugee camps being unsafe. I don’t know if these things relate to part of the story line  that was dropped but they did raise a few questions in my mind. Perhaps there will be a novelisation of the film or maybe a comic series to flesh out and add to the story similar to the 30 Days of Night series (http://www.idwpublishing.com/catalog/series/12)

 

There were a couple of very good points in the film that stood out for me:

The way the zombies attacked, leading with their heads thrust forward looked very unnatural and unnerving – very effective in building up the atmosphere of how wrong and frightening these undead were.

A sensible explanation as to how the zombie virus spread, At the start of the film it is established that it only took 12, seconds after being bitten by a zombie, before a change led to the victim leaping around and biting others. As the story unfolded we learn how in the earlier original attacks there was a much longer incubation period which would have given victims time to unwittingly travel around to spread the virus when they eventually succumbed.

It is definitely a film that I will be watching again.

Welcome to The Stews Views

Welcome to The Stews Views

I wanted somewhere to share my opinions on the forms of entertainment that, well, entertain me. I intend to to post reviews on whatever I find enjoyable, intriguing or, sometimes, annoying. I may ramble off topic at times but I hope that anyone reading will find something that they like.

I welcome any comments or alternate viewpoints and if you think there is anything out there I should take a look at – feel free to add a link