My Two Cents PSA

Here’s My Number And A Dime…



“If you see something, say something”. Living in New York City, this is a message I come across often. I see it advertised all over the subway, I see it on buses and I have even seen it on television. Although the messages tell us to inform a police officer, MTA employee or call a toll-free number in the cases that we do see something and want to say something, I have often thought about the logistics of this. On my way home from work, I tend to end up in the last subway car. Now, say I get onto the train and I see something and I want to say something. I am in the last car and can barely see the subway conductor who is in the middle of the train. Do I try to run up the platform to get to the MTA employee before the train doors close and the train sets off? Do I perhaps hope that there is a police officer that I can alert, hanging out on the subway platform? My subway station is one of the few that now has cellphone reception, so I could call the toll-free number. However, I have never taken the time to actually take the number down so I have no idea what it is. All this said, I like to think that, on the day that I do see something and need to say something; it will be like the movies and things will fall in place and work out.

Previously, when talking about controls, I have discussed the importance of the segregation of duties and how having several people involved in a process means that there are other people who are watching what is going on and who, therefore, can report any untoward activities that they see. Annually, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) publishes a Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse. The 2014 report stated, “Over 40% of all cases were detected by a tip – more than twice the rate of any other detection method.” That is a staggering statistic and emphasizes just how important people who see and say something are when it comes to fraud detection. The knowledge that there is an easy way for fraud to be reported may also serve as a deterrent to those contemplating committing fraud. In response to a series of huge financial scandals that led to losses in the billions of dollars and the end of companies such as Enron and WorldCom, the Sarbanes- Oxley Act was passed in 2002. Among its various provisions, it required that publicly traded companies establish a whistleblower system that makes it easy for employees and third parties to anonymously report financial misdeeds.

There is a television show called “The First 48”. The premise of the show is that the chances of solving a murder are cut in half, if investigators do not get a lead within the first 48 hours. On a few occasions, I have watched as detectives go from door to door in a neighborhood, asking people if they know anything about the homicide that occurred. Generally, the police are met with silence, shaking heads and closing doors. However once they get back to the police station, their phones start ringing and people leave anonymous tips that often lead to an arrest. Anonymity is a very important aspect of creating a whistleblower system. The fear of punishment for reporting fraud, such as being fired, demoted or even physically attacked, can keep a witness silent. It is vital that a person knows that they can safely make a report and remain unidentified, should they wish to do so.

There should be several reporting options available to the whistleblower, such as the telephone, an electronic system and U.S. mail, giving the whistleblower the opportunity to use the method that they are most comfortable with. Also, the system should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With the whistleblower hotline, a trained interviewer, who knows how and what to ask the caller should answer the phones. The last thing a nervous caller wants to deal with is voicemail.

In order to make the whistleblower system most effective, a corporate entity’s staff, vendors and other third parties need to know that there is a way that they can report wrongdoing and that action will be taken. This means that a company with a whistleblower system should distribute literature and hold training sessions on ethics, processes and how to report any financial wrongdoing. Several years ago, I caught a cab from Manhattan to Brooklyn. During my ride, the cab driver complained about having to drive to Brooklyn and tried, several times, to drop me off at a subway station. I insisted that he take me to Brooklyn, as I had requested. He then spent the rest of the ride swearing and protesting. Once we reached my destination and I stepped out of the taxi, he yelled out the window, “Bitch”, and drove off. Suffice to say, I was upset by this experience. Shaking, I walked into the building and called 311, New York City’s non-emergency information and complaint service. I told the operator about my experience and gave her the taxi driver’s medallion number. She took my report and asked whether or not I wished to remain anonymous. I chose not to, wound up facing the driver in a hearing, and winning my case. I did all this because I did not appreciate how the taxi driver had treated me and felt that I should not let him think that it was okay for him to behave in that manner. More importantly, I did this because I knew about and had access to an easy, and well-publicized service where I could lodge my complaint and have my issue investigated and resolved.

I have mentioned that publicly traded companies in the United States are mandated to set up a whistleblower system. It is in the interest of other entities to consider a system by which anyone who comes across financial crime can report the crime, knowing that something will be done about it and that no one will come after them for making the report. Sometimes something as simple as an anonymous mailbox can make a big difference – just knowing that there is a way to report crime gets people reporting crime. Then again, as an employee or a third-party, such as a vendor or a customer, there may be times when you feel as though the corporate culture is so corrupt that no one within the company will respond to your complaint. At times like this, you should look to the law for assistance. In New York City, you can call 311 for guidance and assistance. You can also visit the District Attorney’s website for information on how to report a financial crime. The power of people speaking up when they see something amiss cannot be underestimated and voicing your concerns is easier than you imagine; remember whistleblowers are the number one (by far) way in which fraud is discovered. So, really, if you see something, say something. You don’t even have to worry about the train leaving you behind.

In The News My Two Cents PSA

Always Looking…


A while ago, I was listening to an episode of This American Life. I had to use Google to find the show because I couldn’t remember most of the show but I did remember one part of the episode. A guy comes home from a party and goes to use the bathroom. He lifts the toilet seat to find a rat looking up at him from inside the toilet bowl. A rat. Ira Glass, the show’s host goes on to inform us that finding a rodent in a toilet is not as unbelievable as one might think. It turns out that there are circumstances under which rodents can find their way into the pipes that become one’s toilet bowl. I can’t rightly remember exactly what these circumstances are because I was panicking too much to pay any real attention.

I am terrified of rodents. I can squash a cockroach without a second thought, I have been known to allow snakes to slither across my arm but the sight of a rodent has been known to reduce me to tears, while taking cover on whatever higher ground I can find. So, upon hearing this story, my deep-seated fear led to a modification of my habits.

I am a terrible sleeper; I have long been a terrible sleeper. Once I have woken up in the middle of the night, my body will use any excuse to decide that it cannot go back to sleep. Therefore, on the occasions that I need to get out of bed, on order to get water or use the bathroom, I do everything in the dark. I don’t want the stimulation of light. I even keep my eyes closed as much as possible. However, post This American Life, I have changed one thing. Now, I flash the bathroom light on for just long enough to lift the seat and inspect the toilet bowl for any intruders.

Similarly, the first time I read about ATM skimmers led to more research and various modifications in my behavior. ATM skimming is hardly new, but technology has helped criminals get better at it. ATM skimmers are basically machines that read and steal the information on the magnetic strip of your credit or debit card. This information is then used to steal your money. Thieves attach skimmers to the face of an ATM and, as a result, when you stick your card into what you believe is the ATM, you are actually passing it through a card reader that is recording all the information on your card. Older model skimmers used to be clunky and unwieldy and all but the most distracted ATM users could spot that something odd was attached to the ATM they wanted to use. Nowadays, however, the attachments are more sophisticated and harder to spot. Often, the skimmers are paired with a hidden camera that is there to record you entering your PIN, giving them all the information that they need in order to clone your bank card.

When I use an ATM, before I use it, I go through a routine that may look odd to anyone passing by. I move my hand over the card slot and try to see if I can move it or if it is firmly fixed in place. I look it over and step back to see if I can spot anything out of place. I also look around to see if I can see a camera. Once I have done the physical check of the ATM, I slide my card in and make sure that I cover up, as much as possible, the keypad as I enter my PIN. I am pretty sure that it is not a foolproof method of avoiding card skimmers, but I do know that taking these precautions has helped people spot these machines and avoid getting their money stolen. Just a few days ago, a card skimmer was discovered at a subway station in Manhattan. In addition to the precautions I take when I use the ATM (this would also apply for those of you who drive and use the Pay-At-The-Pump facility to pay for gas) I also check my bank and credit card accounts just about daily. I have already shared my story about how I learned how important it is to keep track of my finances. The risks brought about by card skimmers increase the need to check up regularly on finances.

So I continue with my little tics. I flash the light and lift the seat carefully. I shake, rattle and roll before I use my card to get money out of the cash machine. So I do a little dance before I get things done, but it is way better to be safe than to have your bottom engaged in combat with a rodent, or to find that your accounts have been cleaned out by a wily crook with a card skimmer and a tiny camera.

My Two Cents PSA

Hey! That’s Mine!


Yesterday, my husband and I watched the film “12 Years A Slave”. We usually watch films at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which is a short walk away, but lately we have been trying to step out of our comfort zones. New York City is a city of countless things to do and places to go and what good is living here if we don’t take advantage of this? So we jumped on the subway and headed into the city to watch the film at Union Square. It is the opening weekend of a well-reviewed film, so the movie theater was rather full and so, unable to spread out into neighboring seats, we sat with our belongings piled on our laps. Probably because the movie theater was so full, it got warm enough for me to take off my jacket and add it to my pile of stuff.

It was a very good film and, once it was over, we gathered up our belongings and left the movie theater. It was not until I was out on the street that I realized that my subway Metrocard was no longer in my jacket pocket. I checked my pocketbook to make sure that I had not absentmindedly put it in there but, no, I definitely did not have it. It appeared that my Metrocard had fallen out of the pocket, most likely, as I was gathering up my belongings. We rushed back into the theater to look for it before they started letting people in for the next screening. Armed with flashlights, we checked not only our row but also the rows behind and in front of where we had sat. No luck. No Metrocard holder and, therefore, no Metrocard. A very helpful usher got on his walkie-talkie and asked if anyone had seen the Metrocard holder. Nothing. He then asked me to leave my information and all details about where we had been sitting. He assured me that I should not give up hope. Just over the last month, he continued, they had found and returned over 60 cellphones that had been lost by moviegoers. I did indeed feel a little hopeful as I wrote down as much information as I could – it is true that the more information one has, the easier it is to solve a mystery.

Just as we were getting ready to leave the movie theater, a member of the cleaning staff rushed up and said, “Are you looking for any of these things?” He held up his hands and, among the items he was holding, there was my Metrocard holder. Relief! I thankfully took it and opened it up to discover that my Metrocard was no longer in the holder. My Metrocard had been stolen! I actually did a double take and for a second wondered how it could be that expensive cellphones could be returned yet Metrocards, which tend to cost less than a smartphone, could be stolen. I spent more time than I should have thinking about the theft of my card because it was now personal. Theft is a violation. It doesn’t matter if a person steals your lollipop or your car, it is something that you won’t want to have happen again. That’s your stuff, not theirs.

At $2.50 a ride and $112 for a monthly unlimited card, a Metrocard can turn out to be quite valuable. My card was an unlimited ride card with sixteen days left on it – that worth a good number of rides. And the Metrocard came with a a big benefit that made it more attractive to a thief than a smartphone. A lack of security features.

  • Mobile phones have serial numbers that owners register with the phone seller. If their handset is stolen, this information can be used to lock the handset and render it useless to the thief.
  • The mobile phone account can be quickly frozen to keep a thief from running up a massive bill once they have stolen a phone.
  • Mobile phones have apps like Apple’s Find My iPhone app, which can use GPS technology to find a lost or stolen phone and even erase any data on the phone, which is very important since a lot of personal information may be stored on a smartphone.

The Metrocard does not have any such features. Unless you purchased an unlimited card using a credit or debit card, if your Metrocard is lost or stolen, that’s it. Your only recourse is to shell out money for a new card. Even though each Metrocard has a serial number, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, more commonly known as the MTA, has no facility for purchasers to register their cards anywhere. Because Metrocards are not registered in any way, there is no way to track down and suspend use of a stolen card. When I watch Law & Order, I have seen the police track down criminals using Metrocard data. So, since this is based on fact, I don’t see why we have not reached a point where subway users can register their card in order to protect themselves from loss or theft.

I am not sure what the statistics are when it comes to lost or stolen Metrocards, but I am pretty sure that I am not the only person who has been involuntarily relieved of my Metrocard. So, I am quite sure that there are a good number of people who would love to have more security options when it comes to their Metrocards. The monthly unlimited Metrocard costs over $100. It would be nice to protect those of us with slippery pockets.