July 25, 2016

Staying, Leaving

One day I was sitting in a small sandwich shop having lunch. At the next table was a young man, probably in his late twenties, sitting with a woman who, based on her age and the way they spoke to each other, was his mother.

I wasn't making an effort to eavesdrop, but they weren't whispering, so most of the conversation was clear. The young man was explaining why he had stayed in a terrible relationship, and how he had finally gotten out.

He had been living with a woman who was emotionally and verbally abusive. (It wasn't clear to me whether there had also been physical abuse.) They lived in an isolated area, and he didn't have a car. Somehow he had lost his job and hadn't been able to find another, so he had become financially dependent on his girlfriend.

He was afraid. His girlfriend was scary and unpredictable.

He felt trapped. Without money or transportation, in weather that made walking many miles a risky proposition, he couldn't think of a way to leave.

He still had some hope. He thought that maybe if he got another job, things would get better. Maybe he and the girlfriend could talk things out, and she would change, and life would be good again, the way it was in the beginning.

He was ashamed. He didn't want to tell anyone what was going on, didn't want to admit what had happened to his life, so he didn't talk about it, didn't ask for help.

One day his father called, and in their conversation the truth came pouring out. The father said, "I'll come get you." He took the young man home.

Since then, he'd had time to think about it, go back to school, recover, and get some perspective. He was ready to explain it to his mother, and to himself -- and, indirectly, to me.
 

July 20, 2016

How Not to Write a Guest Post

Last month, I received an inquiry from a woman who claimed to have read my guidelines for guest posting. She proposed five possible topics she could write about for the blog. I thought any one of them would be fine, so I told her to go ahead. A couple of weeks later, I got an article from her. Not only was it a terrible article, it wasn't on any of the topics that had been mentioned. I rejected it.

This morning, I got another email from the same person. This time, instead of sending her query to the blog, she sent it directly to my email address (the one I'd used to correspond with her). So it might seem that she knew who I was. But I have a feeling she didn't remember me.

The subject line of the email was exactly the same as before: "quick question?", and the email itself was obviously a template, since it was identical to the first one, except that the five topics were different. Here's the template:

Hey there,

I've read your guidelines and would love to submit a guest post on the following topic:

HEADLINE

[the next section was a list of five topics]

Does this sound like it would be a good fit for

All the Best,

Her signature was slightly different, this time with a link to the website where she promotes home gym equipment.

Although she claimed to have read my guidelines, it's hard to take that claim seriously, considering the topics she proposed. And considering that I rejected her previous submission, it's interesting that she approached me again with exactly the same template and no acknowledgement that we'd ever corresponded before.

Are there now guest-post-bots that randomly submit proposals to various blogs, hoping someone will bite? And if there are, couldn't whoever designed them come up with a better first impression than "Hey there" as a greeting?



UPDATE: Two days later, she sent me a follow-up, addressing me by name, asking whether I'd received the email, and asking what I think. So she may be a real person. A little searching revealed a few blog articles under her byline.
 

July 15, 2016

Chow Time

 
Last night I dreamed that someone told me it would be okay to feed Monkey Chow to husbands. After all, they are all primates and can easily digest the same food.

I was doubtful, until I realized that it would add some crunch to meatloaf.

The unconscious mind is always creative.
 

July 8, 2016

Choices

Years ago, our friend Zach and his wife Zelda decided to divorce because of irreconcilable differences.

They weren't fighting over money, sex, or in-laws. They didn't hate each other. They just couldn't figure out how to live together. Zach wanted to move to Los Angeles, while Zelda wanted to stay in New York City.

Zach worked in the entertainment industry; it seemed that all his potential jobs and all the people he needed to see were in L.A. Zelda had spent years on education and training in a specialized field, and had just received her professional certification. Because the requirements were different in California, if she moved she'd have to undergo additional training and pass another licensing exam. It would be close to two years before she'd be able to start work. Besides, she really, really liked New York and wasn't fond of L.A.

A long-distance relationship wasn't the kind of marriage either of them wanted. They'd already tried it, with Zach periodically staying a month or two in L.A., sometimes with a visit from Zelda halfway through. The long separations hadn't had a positive effect on their relationship. Instead, they'd begun to feel that they could live without each other.

So they divorced, and Zach moved to Los Angeles.

It wasn't long before he found a new love, someone he thought would be the perfect wife. But she turned out to be not quite what she seemed, and the relationship turned sour. In the midst of a very unpleasant breakup, Zach ruefully remarked, "I didn't realize how good I had it with Zelda."

I don't know if Zach and Zelda could have saved their marriage. For both of them, career was the higher priority, so their careers determined the choices they made.

A lot of marriages suffer because one or both partners place a higher priority on something else, or because they aren't really clear on what their priorities are.

Most of us have to work, and work nearly always requires a significant amount of time and energy. And it isn't unreasonable to want a meaningful career that offers opportunities for achievement and personal fulfillment. Sometimes partners have to compromise, at least temporarily, in order to support both the relationship and each person's dreams. It isn't always easy.

Faced with a dilemma, it may help to ask if there are other possibilities we haven't considered. What do we really want in the long term? Twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, what will we remember, and what will we regret?

Choose wisely.
 

June 29, 2016

Is the IRS Investigating You?

Lately I've been receiving a lot of phone calls warning me that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against me.

This would be scary, except that I know it isn't true.

Fake IRS calls are a type of fraud that has become more common in the past few years. Fraudsters claim to be IRS agents, police officers, and other officials. They say that you owe back taxes and that if you do not pay immediately you will be subject to jail time, loss of your driver's license, or other penalties.

Sometimes the fraudsters send an email with links to an official-looking website that asks for personal and financial information.

Frightened taxpayers are intimidated into making payments to the fraudsters. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been lost this way. Even worse, many victims are further victimized by identity theft, because the fraudsters have obtained their personal information.

Many of the victims have done nothing wrong, but they are afraid of being audited, afraid of being arrested, afraid of losing their jobs, facing an angry spouse, or being shamed in the community if they are suspected of cheating on their taxes. So they just give in to the demands without stopping to think about what is really happening. Others may have failed to report income or pay taxes, and now they think the IRS has finally caught up with them, so they just pay. Sadly, they will have to pay again when the real IRS really does find them.

Sometimes the fraud is attractive, because the caller says that you are entitled to a big refund. They ask for your bank account information so they can make a direct deposit. They then use this information to steal all your money.

The fraudsters may seem convincing, because often they have a lot of personal information about you, possibly even the last four digits of your Social Security number. Unfortunately, this information is very easy to obtain. It does not prove the caller is legitimate.

It doesn't matter what the caller ID is on the phone, because caller IDs can be spoofed. It doesn't matter what the email address is, because, of course, email addresses are easy to fake.

So how can you tell if someone claiming to be from the IRS is real?
  • If the first contact you get from the IRS is a phone call, assume it's a fraud. The IRS initiates contact by mail, sending a bill or a letter on official government stationery.
  • IRS agents will never demand immediate payment over the phone. If someone asks for your credit or debit card number or your bank account information, it's a fraud.
  • IRS agents will never insist that you must pay your taxes in a certain way, such as a prepaid debit card. This kind of demand is always a fraud.
  • IRS agents will not call and threaten to file a lawsuit or have you arrested. They will not refuse you the opportunity to ask questions or file an appeal.
  • Legitimate IRS inquiries will not require you to send personal information by email or through a website.

What should you do if you think you may have been targeted by a scam?
  • If you speak to someone on the phone, ask for an employee badge number and callback number. You can then hang up and decide what to do next. Whatever you do, do not give the caller any personal or financial information.
  • If the caller is belligerent or threatening, don't argue. Just hang up.
  • If you get a threatening voicemail message, write down the caller's name, the callback number, and any other potentially useful info.
  • If you get an email, do not reply to it and do not click on any links or attachments. Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it.
  • If you aren't sure whether the call or the email was legitimate, you can call the IRS at 800-829-1040 for help.
  • You can report fake IRS phone calls to the Treasury Department's IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Site.
  • You can also report them to the FTC, using the phrase "IRS Telephone Scam" in the comments.

Breathe deeply, be calm, think about it, and stay safe.