Friday, August 28, 2015

Bank Of America: Major Grief

All I wanted was a paper bank statement so I could use it to establish Oregon residency. I need something official looking with my address on it and a postmark so that I can get things like a driver's licence here.

So, I went to their web site and there was an option to request a paper statement even though my account is set to paperless. I ordered the statement and waited. And waited. Finally I called their customer service.

Calling customer service was fun. First, it asked me to enter my ATM PIN number, which I did. The system happily informed me that the PIN number didn't match the phone number on file.What? I had to look up my full account number on their web site and key it in to the phone system just to proceed.

So, when I finally got to talk to a person, he asked me my first and last name, full address, date of birth and last 4 digits of my social security number. This is almost as much information as I opened the account with.

We started with me asking what was the problem calling into the phone system. We went over my phone number on their system and he said it looked right, but it was the telephone access PIN I needed to key in, not my ATM PIN, which the system specifically asked me for.

To setup a telephone PIN, he gave me a temporary PIN, and asked me to call the system, key in my full social security number plus the number 1, and then enter the temporary PIN, at which point it will supposedly let me create a real PIN. Seriously? The CSR didn't believe me that the phone system specifically asked me for the ATM pin number for the card ending in XXXX. But this can of worms wasn't even why I was calling, so I moved on.

I next asked the CSR if he could see what happened to the paper statement that I requested and which never arrived. He told me that it looked like they had sent it to my North Holly Street address in Anaheim. Which is great, but I haven't lived there in almost 20 years, and I didn't give them that address.

So, after discovering that they were using my 20 year old address that I never gave them, not even 20 years ago, and informing me that the problem was corrected, we started to order the paper statement. He supposedly verified everything and after a waiting period of 5 business days, their system will send me a paper statement for my most recent account period.

What a nightmare. I only chose "BofS" because they are the closest branch to where I moved, and two of my siblings bank there. I love my hillbilly Banner Bank but they don't have many branches near where I live, so I wanted something closer.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Windows 10: The War On Privacy

Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google should be the champions of our privacy. But these companies throw us under the bus just like every other company.

Windows 10 ups the ante by taking out options where you can tell it not to phone home, and even worse, phones home sometimes even where there are options to tell it not to. The folks over at Ars Technica have a great story about this issue.

It gets even more insidious. Reading the comments, it appears that Windows will selectively ignore the HOSTS file, which has been around as long as Windows has been around. This HOSTS file lets you map Internet address to other address.

Using the HOSTS file, you could for example make your computer stop connecting to "ads.somecompany.com" by mapping it to the IP address of 0.0.0.0, making all application and browser requests for that address simply fall into the void.

This mechanism of Windows has rarely been used, and today you'll mostly see it in adware blocking type apps and other situations where you don't want an application in Windows phoning home.

Now, the real story here to me is that Microsoft is now selectively bypassing HOSTS in the cases where you add Microsoft's own servers to the list in order to stop Windows 10 from phoning home without your permission.

 Below you can see the stock file that comes with Windows. It was a great feature for many years and still can be as long as you don't put an address that Microsoft will bypass the HOSTS for, and right now that list of exceptions is unknown.

HOSTS is typically located at c:\windows\systerm32\drivers\etc

Now that HOSTS can't be trusted, the only way to stop Windows 10 from phoning home is to use a dedicated firewall on your network, whether it be features built into your router or a dedicated machine. If you have the right router, you can flash it to DD-WRT open source firmware and turn it into a $1000 router.

In the war on privacy, pretty much everyone is your enemy, and the battlefield is sitting on your desk. And in the war on privacy, you are a combatant whether you wish to be or not.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

No, I Don't Want A Target Credit Card

I've been saying this for a while now: Most big businesses at some point have just dropped all pretense of caring about their customers in the name of short term profit.

Today I was in Target just grabbing a couple of quick items. The two people in front of me didn't have much either, but it took 20 minutes to checkout because all of us had to sit through a very clumsy presentation on the glory that is the Target credit card, with its 5% cash back. But wait, there's more! Somehow this magical credit card can be used just like a debit card. Yep, it does everything.

The woman in front of me was obviously uncomfortable and trying to be polite, though she was cornered by the pushy cashier. He was putting her on the spot, to where she would need to be gruff to escape the situation, but she didn't want to do that, so she half played along until she found her moment to flee and said "ok I'll think about it, thanks" and practically ran out of the store.

When I got to the front, I was asked if I was prepared to save 5% today. I informed the cashier that I was prepared to save zero percent and that my savings of zero percent was intentional, and by design. The cashier happily treated me like I was on drugs. "Zero percent, huh? Why wouldn't you want to save 5% on all your purchases at Target? There's no reason not to."

I leaned in a little, looked him in the eyes and said "because I really don't want a Target credit card." Defeated, he said "well, let me know if you change your mind" and a quick, sarcastic "yeah, I'll do that" ended the exchange.

The real answer of course is that I don't think much of Target, or any company that would put more effort into sales of its credit cards than actual customer service. I don't blame the poor guy who was taking his corporate mandate and running with it. A brother's got to eat. No, this was Target clearly putting him in the same position he was trying to put me in.

Huge, publicly traded companies must continue to grow for no real reason other than they are expected to grow. Even if they have to resort to being obnoxious, and even if that level of dickery will harm their profits in the long term.

 It was nice in the old days where stores at least pretended to care about their customers. You could chit chat with the store employees and it was almost like everyone was an actual human being. Nowadays, every transaction at every store is a high pressure sales pitch, once only reserved for used car lots.

There's a few exceptions of course, and some stores have varying levels of class, like the low key "savings cards" you'll find at stores like Safeway or Fred Meyers. No pressure, but you'll just overpay on about half your items.