<i>Meet Your Baker</i>: New Excerpt Meet Your Baker: New Excerpt Ellie Alexander To bake, or not to bake, that is the question... Now Win <i>This</i>!: Yule Be Sorry Sweepstakes Now Win This!: Yule Be Sorry Sweepstakes Crime HQ All I want for Christmas is you (to die)! <i>A Nip of Murder</i>: New Excerpt A Nip of Murder: New Excerpt Carol Miller A robbery gone wrong leaves Daisy scrambling. <i>Thief</i>: New Audio Excerpt Thief: New Audio Excerpt Mark Sullivan Could the secret to eternal life really reside in a remote South American tribe?
From The Blog
December 22, 2014
Van Gogh's Suicide? Forensics Expert Favors Murder
Crime HQ
December 19, 2014
Number 1 of the Scams of Christmas: Santa Letter Scams
Terry Ambrose
December 18, 2014
Number 2 of the Scams of Christmas: Holiday Heartbreakers
Terry Ambrose
December 17, 2014
Number 3 of the Scams of Christmas: Season's Breachings
Terry Ambrose
December 16, 2014
Number 4 of the Scams of Christmas: Sly Shipping
Terry Ambrose
Dec 22 2014 12:30pm

The Film Noir of Robert Wise

By most measurements, Robert Wise didn’t just succeed as a director—Robert Wise crushed it. He made West Side Story, which, if you adjust for inflation, made about half a billion dollars at the American box office. Then he made The Sound of Music. 2015 will mark the 50 year anniversary of that movie and many articles will doubtless come out to remind us just how gigantic that film was. Adjusted for inflation, it is still the third biggest movie of all time, behind only Gone With The Wind and Star Wars. Like those two films, it wasn’t just a blockbuster, it was a phenomenon. (Read Mark Harris’s wonderful book Pictures At The Revolution, which details how Hollywood basically bankrupted itself trying to duplicate the otherworldly success of The Sound of Music.) Wise walked away from 1965 with armloads of money and awards.

Afterwards, however, he floundered. He followed his monster success with movies that often felt bloated, self-important, and empty. Today, he’s more of a footnote than a legend. His stylistic impact on generations of subsequent filmmakers has been negligible, and there are few academic studies of his work. The Sound of Music has become a beloved classic sure, but it’s not remembered as Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music. It’s remembered as Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

What all of this obscures, however, is that Robert Wise was a great director.

Not good. Not workmanlike. Not professional.



Dec 22 2014 8:45am

Van Gogh’s Suicide? Forensics Expert Favors Murder

A couple of years ago, two Van Gogh biographers asserted that the artist's famous suicide was, most likely, murder. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith published a book about their findings after a decade of research and met lots of opposition to their conclusions. You can read about that first announcement and resistance to it in The Art Newspaper.

Since then, the biographers have answered back and written a Vanity Fair article describing their process as well as the recent substantiation of their theory by a forensic ballistics expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio: “It is my opinion that, in all medical probability, the wound incurred by Van Gogh was not self-inflicted. In other words, he did not shoot himself.” From the Vanity Fair article:

Van Gogh himself wrote not a word about his final days. The film got it wrong: he left no suicide note—odd for a man who churned out letters so profligately. A piece of writing allegedly found in his clothes after he died turned out to be an early draft of his final letter to his brother Theo, which he posted the day of the shooting, July 27, 1890. That letter was upbeat—even ebullient—about the future. He had placed a large order for more paints only a few days before a bullet put a hole in his abdomen. Because the missile missed his vital organs, it took 29 agonizing hours to kill him.

... If Van Gogh didn’t shoot himself, who did shoot him? On the one hand, we have a cocky 16-year-old twirling the death weapon with visions of frontier gunplay in his head and a history of taunting the strange painter-man. We have a witness who saw Van Gogh on the road to the Secrétan family villa on the night of the shooting, and we have persistent local rumors that the artist was killed not by his own hand but by “young boys”—rumors recounted by a prominent scholar in the 1930s, before [the movie] Lust for Life fever swept the record smooth.

Read the whole thing. As tragic as suicide is, the biographers' new theory doesn't lack for pathos either, the story of a perpetually bullied weirdo who, to the last, didn't fight back against his tormentor. What do you think happened to Vincent Van Gogh?

Dec 21 2014 12:00pm

Meet Your Baker: New Excerpt

Ellie Alexander

Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander is the debut  in the new cozy Bakeshop Mystery series where a recent culinary school grad returns home to help her mother run a bakery (available December 30, 2014).

Welcome to Torte—a friendly, small-town family bake shop where the treats are so good that, sometimes, it’s criminal…

After graduating from culinary school, Juliet Capshaw returns to her quaint hometown of Ashland, Oregon, to heal a broken heart and help her mom at the family bakery. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is bringing in lots of tourists looking for some crumpets to go with their heroic couplets. But when one of Torte’s customers turns up dead, there’s much ado about murder…

The victim is Nancy Hudson, the festival’s newest board member. A modern-day Lady Macbeth, Nancy has given more than a few actors and artists enough reasons to kill her…but still. The silver lining? Jules’s high school sweetheart, Thomas, is the investigator on the case. His flirtations are as delicious as ever, and Jules can’t help but want to have her cake and eat it too. But will she have her just desserts? Murder might be bad for business, but love is the sweetest treat of all…

Chapter 1

They say it takes a while to recover your land legs after years spent at sea. I sure hoped mine would come back soon.

[Continue reading Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander...]

Dec 20 2014 12:00pm

Back to the Beginning: The Bounty Hunters by Elmore Leonard

From the early 1970s until 1992’s Unforgiven, Westerns had become outmoded, pitiful television productions and lame B-films that had run the genre into the dust heap, and unless Clint Eastwood was starring in the saddle, no Western was getting noticed. I was still unabashedly hooked, even with the worst of the lot, and championed the unsung. But during that long, long drought, there was one author’s name that routinely surged, as when an apologist (my definition: owlhoots who loved the genre but were afraid to acknowledge it) would say something along the lines of, “I only read Elmore Leonard Westerns.” Since I hadn’t read Leonard at that point, whenever I would hear such words, I’d hold my worn paperbacks by Max Brand or Luke Short closer to the vest, wagering, “I see your Elmore Leonard and I raise you one Elmer Kelton.”

Then, along the rails, I began devouring Leonard. After Last Stand at Saber River, Hombre, and Valdez Is Coming, I had to take a step back and admit that Leonard was cut from different rawhide. Like Louis L’Amour before him, he was a gifted, natural-born storyteller. Unlike L’Amour, he kept a tighter rein on his characters—L’Amour reminds me of Hemingway in that his genius shows in the short story and not the full-length books he became celebrated for and in which he tends to ramble. Back then, my reading “The Dickens of Detroit” was like discovering the genre for the first time. Leonard was that damn good! Fellow writer Martin Amis told him, “Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy.” True enough.

[Need we say more?]

Dec 19 2014 12:00pm

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Broadly speaking, there are two types of mystery stories: whodunnits and whydunnits. We read a mystery story to find out who committed the crime (with the why, the motive, often serving to help the investigator find the culprit), or we read knowing from early on who the guilty party is as the story lays out the reasons, psychological and otherwise, that prompted the crime. An intriguing subclass of the whodunit is the inverted detective story. In this type, the howcatchem, the crime, and usually the perpetrator are shown at the story’s beginning. The main thrust of the drama here becomes how the detective goes about solving the crime and catching, or killing, the perpetrator. Nearly every episode of Columbo follows this format and, more recently, Luther. But what about a mystery story where, from the first pages, the reader knows who did the crime, why they did it, who they killed and how the person was killed – yet no detective solves anything? In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the setting is a small village in Columbia, South America, and to add to the excess of information known, not only does the reader know all the crime’s particulars, but the characters in the story, the village residents, know before the fatal act occurs who will be killed, by whom, and why. Everyone even remotely connected to the killing knows the pertinent facts, with the possible exception of the victim. When all the typical questions that a mystery story answers are answered from the get-go, what kind of mystery is left? What does the narrative’s investigator need to investigate? It’s precisely these enigmatic areas that are explored in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel.

[To South America we go...]

Dec 19 2014 8:45am

Number 1 of the Scams of Christmas: Santa Letter Scams

The Santa Letter scam takes the No. 1 spot on this list for several reasons. First, it victimizes parents just trying to do something special for their kids for Christmas, as well as the kids, who'll get bupkus from the Big Guy in the Furry Suit. Not only are people paying for a service the seller may not provide, but even worse, victims may have their identities stolen or their computer infected with malware. Real Naughty List type stuff.

Not surprisingly, the kind of people who run this scam also maintain tons of fake websites for life and health insurance, Medicare assistance, Russian brides, and much, much more. But the emails and websites offering to send custom, handwritten letters from Santa have become so numerous that the Better Business Bureau issued a special warning to consumers on December 1st:

You get an email selling a “Handwritten letter from Santa to Your Child.” It encourages you to make your child’s holiday by purchasing “Santa’s special package” for $19.99.

You click on the link, and it takes you to a website. The site promises the special package contains an “official” nice-list certification and customized letter from Santa. There’s even a free shipping special that ends (not coincidentally) in just few hours.

Since last year, blogger Simply Kierste has assembled and updated a long list of services to request letters from Santa which she and her commenters have used, including the USPS (sorry, their deadline's past), but also the Canada Post (who've processed millions) and the Santa Claus Museum, in Santa Claus, Indiana (where they're accepting letters until Dec. 20th—hurry!). Check her post for much more info, including print-your-own info if you really dropped the snowball. She also lists one e-mail service, a U.S. domain which has been registered since 1998 and seems to have a decent online reputation through user-contributed site Web of Trust, but, of course, always be diligent and alert.

For the present, the worst Santa Letter scammers operate with impunity in other parts of the world. With that in mind, we might need to band together and send our own correspondence asking for help.

Dear Santa:

I know you’re terribly busy right now getting ready for Christmas. However, I wondered if you could think about a special present for some very naughty boys and girls. They pretend to send letters from you and I’m sure you have them on your Naughty List, but instead of just leaving coal in their stockings, could you perhaps consider something special? How about arrest warrants?


That concludes my 12 Scams of Christmas list, and unlike the real holiday, we wouldn't be a bit sorry to see them go. May your holidays be merry and bright and always scam-free!

Mug shot image via ThriftShopCommando.

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 18 2014 5:00pm

American Horror Story: Freak Show 4.10: “Orphans”

 Jimmy (Evan Peters) has been jailed for murdering several housewives in the winter finale of American Horror Story: Freak Show Season 4 Episode 10

Dear American Horror Story,

I know I praised you several weeks ago for not rushing into hanging plot lines, throwing in everything including the kitchen sink (and aliens), and really devoting yourselves to character development. All of that was super great.

But if we could please get to the plot line, that would be awesome.

For three weeks, I’ve been waiting for something to happen, and I have to say, this last episode did nothing for me. I appreciate Pepper (Naomi Grossman), the first character to exist in two incarnations of American Horror Story, finally getting some attention and backstory, but it feels too much, too late. I love how her story connects between seasons, but I don’t think an entire episode needed to be devoted to it. It felt like everything else related to the central plot has been put off on the back burner or given two minutes of screen time before moving on to lengthy examinations on singular characters.

[Pumping the brakes was fine. You didn't have to slam them!]

Dec 18 2014 8:45am

Number 2 of the Scams of Christmas: Holiday Heartbreakers

As the holidays roll in, some people get lonely. With our emotions out of control, online dating scams are one of the easiest cons to fall for. Just last month, and not that long after having attended a presentation on how to avoid scams and cons, I heard from a guy in North San Diego County I'll call Frank, who went to an online dating site. One of the profiles he found was for a gorgeous woman who went by the name of “Teri.”

Frank responded to Teri’s inquiry on the website and received a reply the next day. “Thanks so much for the interest! you sound really like a nice man with a good and loving heart of kind, care and honesty..I am so sorry for the late reply... open attachment for my pictures...Distance is not a problem for me..... because i am ready to relocate with my right man…….”

The email described Teri’s background, the fact that she was on a business trip in China, her desire to establish a friendship before a serious relationship, and reiterated her concern about finding an honest man several times.

Fully taken in by his luck in finding such an open and seemingly honest woman—and who doesn't want a little extra holiday sparkle—Frank proposed that they get together upon Teri’s return from China.

That’s when the bad news came with Teri’s next email. “Thanks for your respond......Well i have bad trip in China right now.. .....This is my first time i will be visit China....I have a check of $86,000 here with me.. i try to get it cash..... but the bank here told me that, they don't accept that.” She also asked Frank for $900 for travel expenses to return to LA. She promised…really, really promised, to pay him back when he picked her up at the airport.

Thank goodness Frank wised up at this point, realizing he’d been played. Probably by a guy who bore little resemblance to the gorgeous blonde Frank thought he’d be meeting. With any luck at all, “Teri” is still waiting for a ride at LAX.

Last, and certainly least, on this 12 Scams of Christmas list are the Santa Letter swindlers. Who would stoop so low?

Leading image via ElvgrenPinup.com

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 17 2014 12:00pm

Dark Christmas: 7 Noir Holidays Films

I’m not sure why there are so many noirs set around the holidays, but maybe it has something to do with seasonal depression. We all know that this time of year can be especially hard on people, when our usual American propensity toward surface cheer becomes something of a national obligation. After all, we quite literally force each other to be—or to appear to be—“merry” (which, when you think about it, is a weirdly antiquated word that we never use in any other context) and to conform to our national religion of positive thinking. All that forced good cheer just gives some folks the winter blues.

Ah, that’s where film noir comes in. As a genre, noir has always been about what’s found underneath the surface of safe and secure facades. Are you tired of the 24-hour The Christmas Story marathon? Don't have it in you to spend another Christmas with the Cranks, or Fred Claus, or Will Ferrell? Join the club. Maybe this year, try on some film noir to cleanse your holiday palate. Here's an overview of some films that are either Christmas themed noir or are holiday movies with a strong touch of the dark side. Either way, just about everyone on this list has been naughty.

[It's time for a vacation from Christmas Vacation...]

Dec 17 2014 8:45am

Number 3 of the Scams of Christmas: Season’s Breachings

Nobody's merry about this year's data breaches... nobody.

If you have a credit card—and who doesn’t?—you’ve probably been affected by at least one of the infamous data breaches at Home Depot, Michaels, Neiman Marcus, or Target—need I go on? What many people might not realize is that the stolen credit card information is eventually sold online at “card shops”—no, we’re not talking Hallmark.

In fact, just as we have the “internet,” the bad guys have the “darknet.” That’s where those who believe in honor among thieves other can hang out and do business. In the spirit of the holidays, these card shops are also having sales. The one at “goodshop” has thousands of credit cards up for sale in what it calls a “Happy Winter Update.” (By the way, note that its domain name ends in “[dot]bz,” which stands for Belize, and is definitely not the same as “[dot]biz.”) Brian Krebs, a journalist who blogs at Krebs on Security, goes into great depth about those online activities.

Also typical of most card shops, this store’s home page features the latest news about new batches of stolen cards that have just been added, as well as price reductions on older batches of cards that are less reliable as instruments of fraud...

...buyers were offered the ability to search for cards by the city, state and ZIP of the Target and Sally Beauty stores from which those cards were stolen. Experienced carders (as buyers are called) know that banks will often flag transactions as suspicious if they take place outside of the legitimate cardholder’s regular geographic purchasing patterns, and so carders tend to favor cards stolen from consumers who live nearby.

Read all of his Peek Inside a Professional Carding Shop for more info and a helpful glossary, too.

Anytime there’s a data breach, fingers will point and accusations will fly. That’s definitely the case with the fact that the personal information for 800,000 postal workers was recently stolen (hat tip: Engadget).  The FBI is saying they’re not sure who’s behind the attack. The press has already decided it was China. The postal workers union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Politicians are claiming this case proves that the government needs to reform their data security standards. And the Postal Service itself says there's no sign that the data was used maliciously. The postal workers would probably be better off having their credit card numbers stolen, at least that way they’d be offered a free year of credit monitoring.

Down to No. 3 on this 12 Scams of Christmas list, Holiday Heartbreakers, online dating at its worst.

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 16 2014 1:30pm

Alexis Smith: A Dynamite Girl’s Film Noir

Alexis Smith (June 8, 1921 – June 9, 1993) was a versatile, Canadian-born actress who was equally at home playing in Hollywood Westerns, comedies, and noirs or just about any genre Tinseltown tossed her way. She played opposite many of the biggest Silver Screen draws including Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Errol Flynn, and Cary Grant. The publicity machine of the era dubbed her the Dynamite Girl—casting her most often in the role of “The Other Woman”—and after two decades, she met her ultimate critical acclaim for 1959’s The Young Philadelphians opposite Paul Newman. Later, she turned to Broadway where she won a Tony Award in 1972 and in the very early 1990s was nominated for an Emmy Award for her guest appearance on an episode of Cheers. For nearly fifty years she was married to Peter Gunn’s Craig Stevens.

Here are three of the award winning actress’s films with the right mixture of crime, mystery, and noir.

[Now we're talking...]

Dec 16 2014 1:00pm

Now Win This!: Yule Be Sorry Sweepstakes

The best way to spread holiday fear is screaming loud for all to hear.

Click here to enter for a chance to win!

This is NOT a Comments Sweepstakes. You must click the link above to enter.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. Promotion begins December 16, 2014, at 1:00 pm ET, and ends December 30, 2014, 12:59 pm ET. Void in Puerto Rico and wherever prohibited by law. Click here for details and official rules.

[Getting run over by a reindeer is the least of your problems...]

Dec 16 2014 11:00am

A Nip of Murder: New Excerpt

Carol Miller

A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller is the second installment in the Moonshine Mystery Series where amateur sleuth Daisy McGovern continues to struggle in converting her diner into a bakery (available December 16, 2014).

As Daisy McGovern knows all too well, it isn’t easy being a young, small-town waitress at a local diner in Virginia. It becomes even harder as she’s trying to stitch her life back together and salvage her job by converting the diner into a bakery. She’s preoccupied with snickerdoodles and cinnamon buns, trying to feed a group of geocachers in town, when a mysterious robbery occurs in the back room and one of the thieves ends up dead with a chef’s knife in his chest. With the sheriff out of town, Daisy, distrustful of the cop left in charge, takes it upon herself to follow up on clues and find out who the robber was and why he was there. While she’s investigating, she meets a handsome geocacher and is commissioned to bake a cake for the unlikely wedding of one of the Balsam boys, at the same time trying to avoid the charms of his moonshine-brewing brother.

When a second murder occurs, Daisy finds herself in a twisted game of cat and mouse that takes her from secretive nip joints overflowing with moonshine to weathered Appalachian mountaintops overflowing with history and guns. She must figure out who is the murderer and how her bakery is involved before she becomes the next victim.

Chapter 1

“I’m gonna need a red velvet cake, Daisy.”

[Continue reading A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller...]

Dec 16 2014 8:45am

Number 4 of the Scams of Christmas: Sly Shipping

Dear Customer,
Your parcel arrived on December 17.
Courier was unable to deliver the parcel to you.
To receive your parcel, print this label and go to the nearest office.

During the holidays, “phishing” emails like this can catch many off guard. This scam is used by crooks pretending to be virtually every package delivery service: FedEx, UPS, DHL, and the USPS. Apparently, consumers are becoming more savvy about these email scams, however, which is forcing some shipping scammers to resort to a more personal approach, i.e., the good old telephone. The Postal Inspection Service uncovered a telemarketing scam in which fraudsters masqueraded as USPS employees while actually phoning residents and requesting birth dates and Social Security numbers as requirements for package delivery. (hat tip: NBC Chicago)

What’s odd is that people fall for this last scam at all. For one thing, have you ever tried to call your local post office? Good luck. And judging by how often new carriers deliver other people’s mail to our house, how in the world could I ever expect them to find my phone number?

But when speaking of miraculous holiday mail deliveries, we must never forget the classics...

And that brings us all the way to No. 3 of the 12 Scams of Christmas, Season's Breachings.

Leading image via NY Daily News and Carlo Allegri for Reuters.

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 15 2014 2:30pm

Thief: New Audio Excerpt

Mark Sullivan

Thief by Mark Sullivan is the 3rd book in the Robin Monarch series about a world-class thief who may have stumbled onto the secret to immortality (available December 16, 2014).

Robin Monarch is a man with a complicated past and dangerous present. He’s been a soldier, a CIA agent, a freelance operative but first and foremost, Robin Monarch is a thief of the highest order. Orphaned at twelve, Monarch originally stole for survival, then he stole for his friends and cohorts, now he steals to order, and to give back to the to the woman who saved his life many years ago.

With the help of his team, Monarch breaks into the legendary Christmas party of Beau Arsenault, a shady investor and behind-the-scenes player at the very highest levels of power politics. Arsenault is not above bending or breaking the rules if there’s illicit profit to be made. Monarch has decided that those illicit profits will be better used to take care of orphans and street kids. Using the party as cover to break into Arsenault’s secret vaults, Monarch comes away with two unexpected things. One is a bullet—he gets shot when he’s caught trying to escape with tens of millions of negotiable instruments. The second is a lead on what might be his most audacious exploit ever. A previously undiscovered tribe in South America may well have the secret to the most sought after knowledge in history—that of eternal life. And Robin Monarch must use all his skills—as an operative, as a thief—to keep this secret from falling into the worst possible hands.

[Click here to listen to an exclusive audio excerpt of Thief...]

Dec 15 2014 12:00pm

Fresh Meat: Kill ’Em with Cayenne by Gail Oust

Kill 'Em with Cayenne by Gail Oust is the second cozy in the Spice Shop Mystery Series featuring Piper Prescott in the aftermath of the murder of a barbecue competition contestant (available December 16, 2014).

Kill ‘Em with Cayenne, the second in Gail Oust’s flavorful Spice Shop Mystery Series, finds the small town of Brandywine Creek, Georgia, gearing up for an upcoming barbecue festival. Piper Prescott is busy running Spice It Up! and looking forward to advising barbecue fans on how to best make their meal sizzle, while also juggling two potential love interests and a teenage daughter starting to explore her independence. Her delight comes to a halt when she finds one of the festival contestants, Becca Dapkins, dead in the street during a jog.

[Talk about getting getting the heart going...]

Dec 15 2014 8:45am

Number 5 of the Scams of Christmas: Grumpy Greeting Cards

Remember the good old days when the holidays were approaching, we went to our mailboxes everyday, checked for greeting cards, then rushed inside to see what our friends had written to us in the card? Maybe you even snuck a peek at the back of the card to see which brand your friends had chosen. The days of the paper greeting card might be waning, but the e-card is going strong. E-cards are cheaper, faster, and as we’ll see, more dangerous than paper.

Greeting cards make excellent vehicles to transmit malware. Malware is a computer program that can allow someone else to control your computer. One of the most famous cases involving malware is that of Jared James Abrahams, who was able in 2013 to infect the computers of twenty young women and use their own webcams to take compromising photos of them without their knowledge. Among the victims was a Miss Teen USA. In Abrahams’ case, the software he used could be purchased on the internet for $40.

No one wants malware for Christmas, so if you receive an e-card, be sure to ask yourself a few questions before you click any links. Do you know the person? Is it the real email address of a friend? Is the card personalized? Is it from a reputable e-card dealer or someone you’ve never heard of? If an email has a link, hover over it comparing the text shown to the corresponding link. Make sure they're the same and for legit sites. If there’s any doubt whatsoever, don’t click anything and delete the message.

Your online besties might complain because you didn’t open their oh-so-personal e-card they sent to everyone, but better to let them carp than have to deal with a malware-infected computer.

Next up in the 12 Scams of Christmas is another candy-cane twist on this theme, No. 4, Sly Shipping Notifications.

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 14 2014 10:30am

Number 6 of the Scams of Christmas: Coal-Deserving Charities

The holidays are the season of giving. Unfortunately, there are those who think charity begins at their homes and goes no further.

On a large scale, online scammers set up fake charitable websites designed to collect donations and personal information for those who visit the site. However, sometimes, that conman is waiting for you at your corner market.

According to this report from necn, police arrested Gary L. Fincher, 52, after he set up a table in front of a local grocery story to solicit donations. Perhaps he crossed the wrong path, because in a stroke of bad luck—or judgement—Fincher solicited a donation from an off-duty policeman who’d seen a similar scheme the previous month.

Fincher was at a table covered in flags with homeless veteran pamphlets and business cards wearing a baseball hat with ‘veteran’ above the bill. Fincher sat quietly as he collected donations.

Following investigation it was determined the charity [Help for Homeless Vets] did not exist.

The culprit was a veteran, sort of. He did spend 29 days in the US Army in 1980 before he flunked out of basic training. But it's hard to understand his claim of homelessness. When they froze his bank account to investigate the fraud, he had over $10,000 in it.

Make sure your donations go to a legitimate cause by always donating to reputable organizations. If you find a new charity, remember that the Better Business Bureau rates charities as well as businesses.

Next on the 12 Scams of Christmas, we're counting down those 5... gold... er, grumpy greeting cards.

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 13 2014 10:30am

Number 7 of the Scams of Christmas: Santa’s Spyware

A few years ago, online security firm McAfee began compiling their 12 holiday cyberscams, including “not-so-merry-mobile apps.

Call these little collections of computer code apps and they don’t sound so bad. Use the names surveillanceware, ransomware, or adware, and they start to sound more grinch-like than helpful.

Surveillanceware? According to an Assistan Attorney General, via a report at ArsTechnica, a recent one was “expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers.” The FBI recently arrested Hammad Akbar, the chief executive officer of Pakistan-based InvoCode, which made the app for the Blackberry, the iPhone, and phones running Android. According to the indictment:

...it recorded all incoming/outgoing voice calls; it intercepted calls on the phone to be monitored while they take place; it allowed the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius; and it allowed the purchaser to monitor the user’s incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and SMS messages, incoming voicemail messages, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos. All of these functions were enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.

StealthGenie grabbed even those very candid selfies, which adds new meaning to the term “oversharing,“ not to mention ”seeing you when you're sleeping."  Even's Santa's NaughtyNice3000TM isn't that good.

The app in question required surreptitious installation by someone with physical control of the phone, but besides trying to keep your devices out of the hands of creeps, don’t connect to unknown wireless networks, which can be used to capture information before it is sent to a legitimate server.

Next up on this 12 Scams of Christmas list,  No. 6 is “Coal-Deserving Charities.”

Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

Dec 12 2014 3:00pm

MWA Announces 2015 Grand Master, Raven, and Ellery Queen Award Winners!

Mystery Writers of America has just announced its new Grand Masters for 2015, and authors Lois Duncan and James Ellroy will be honored at the Edgar Awards banquet next April 29th.

In addition, Ruth and Jon Jordan from Crimespree Magazine and Kathryn Kennison, the founder of Magna Cum Murder, will be awarded Ravens for outstanding achievements in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

And finally, the Ellery Queen Award recipient is Charles Ardai, founder of Hard Case Crime!

It's shaping up to be a great Edgars already! Have you bought your tickets yet?