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Attention

US: Little-Known Federal Database Helping Crooks Profit From Deceased

Scam Alert
© TechMaish.com
Washington - A little-known but widely used federal database meant to protect Americans from fraud has itself become a major source of mischief and misery.

Crooks are pocketing fraudulent tax refunds after filing returns with personal information about recently deceased people found in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File, which is widely available on the Internet, federal authorities and consumer experts say.

The Internal Revenue Service - citing data it is making public for the first time at the request of Scripps Howard News Service - estimates that tax filers improperly submitted 350,000 returns on dead Americans this tax season, improperly seeking $1.25 billion in refunds.

Parents who recently lost a child are increasingly targeted by these thieves, experts say. Armed with the deceased child's Social Security number and other personal information, the crooks falsely claim them as dependents and have the refunds routed to them.

Among the victims is Matt Pilcher of Potomac, Md., who still grieves over the 2010 death of his daughter, Ava, from lung disease following her premature birth. Pilcher's 2010 income tax filing was rejected by the IRS because someone else claimed Ava as a dependent.

"All we really have is her memory and her name," Pilcher said. "For someone to try to take that, to steal that, to appropriate that for themselves - it's beyond reprehensible."

Question

What's So Special About the Date 11/11/11?

November 11 2011
© Life's Little Mysteries

In medieval times, numerologists - those who searched for the mystical significance of numbers - believed all numbers had both positive and negative aspects ... except for 11. In the words of the 16th century scholar Petrus Bungus, 11 "has no connection with divine things, no ladder reaching up to things above, nor any merit." Stuck between the divine numbers 10 and 12, 11 was pure evil, and represented sinners.

That doesn't bode well for Nov. 11, 2011, the date when three 11s will align for the first time in a century. A new horror film, 11/11/11, has even been made for the occasion, and it plays on (or perhaps plays up) people's fear of coincidences surrounding the number. Film characters experience the so-called "11:11 phenomenon," a tendency to look at the clock more often at 11:11 than at other times of the day. In the film, this is a warning of what's to come: "On the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year, a gateway will open ... and on this day, innocent blood will spill," says a voiceover in the trailer.

Indeed, the 11:11 phenomenon is widely reported in real life, with entire online discussion forums dedicated to figuring out what the number means. People say they feel haunted by 11s, which appear to them eerily often. To them, the impending date is bound to seem ominous.

Arrow Down

Russia: Man Kept 29 Mummified Bodies

Image
© AP Photo/Russian Interior Ministry
A mummified body at an apartment dressed up like a doll taken from a grave at an apartment in Nizhny Novgorod, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow.
The Russian historian had always been open about his interest in the dead and eagerly described how he loved to rummage through cemeteries, studying grave stones to uncover the life stories behind them.

What he failed to mention, according to police, was that he had dug up 29 bodies and taken them back to his apartment, where he dressed them in women's clothes scavenged from graves and then put them on display.

A police video of the man's apartment in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod released Monday shows his macabre collection of what look like dolls. Lifesize, they are dressed in bright dresses and headscarves, their hands and faces wrapped in what appears to be cloth. Police said they were mummified remains.

Instructions for doll-making were found in the apartment, police said, and the video showed old-fashioned plastic dolls in frilly dresses lying about.

Attention

Small Businessman Tries to Pay Debt With Severed Finger

Severed Fingers
© Minyanville

A small businessman in Wenzhou, China couldn't pay back a debt -- so he offered to hand over what he could.

"If you like, you can cut off one of my fingers instead," 42 year-old pharmacy owner Zhong Maojin told the loan sharks whose bill had come due.

According to Bloomberg, Zhong is in hock to 130 lenders for 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) at interest rates reaching 7% a month. However, his "offer of traditional retribution ... was declined" after another creditor insisted on his release so Zhong could pay off an even larger debt owed to them.

Though Mastercard, Visa, and American Express don't consider human flesh to be legal tender, the Zhong case is hardly the first time fingers have been used to settle financial scores.

In March, an Albuquerque, N.M., woman named Samantha Hernandez was dropped off in a Walmart parking lot, after being kidnapped and relieved of her pinky over an $80 debt.

Handcuffs

Flex Your Rights: The Top 3 Things to do in Every Police Encounter

Image
© N/A
Dealing with police in the U.S. can be a touchy situation, no matter who you are, where you're going, or what you're up to. That's why three law enforcement experts attending the 2011 Drug Policy Alliance conference in Los Angeles decided to stage a panel discussion about what people can do to prevent police encounters from becoming seriously detrimental to one's life.

While the conversation was wide-ranging and covered a lengthy variety of topics, there were several main points they all made that can help every single person to deal with police in a manner that limits the potential for arrest or violence.

3. Be cool and be aware

When confronting an officer during a traffic stop, exhibiting anger or frustration at the onset of the encounter can change the outcome dramatically. Remain calm, keep your hands on the wheel and do not reach for your license or insurance papers until directed to. Most importantly, be respectful and do not challenge the officer's authority directly - that's what the courtroom is for.

Bizarro Earth

Canada: Peace-oriented white poppy campaign keeps low profile as Remembrance Day nears

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© Peace Pledge Union
So far this year we've been spared the almost annual clash between the custodians of the red Remembrance Day poppy and anti-war activists who promote the white poppy of peace.

Last year, the Royal Canadian Legion threatened to sue peace groups if they tried to sell white poppies, seeing it as an infringement of their rights to the symbol. So far white-poppy advocates have kept a low profile.

It's surprising to learn the feud is almost as old as the lapel poppy itself.

The red poppy was adopted in 1921 as a symbol of remembrance of First World War dead, first in Britain and then Canada and other British Empire combatants.

The unprecedented, senseless slaughter in the trenches also sparked a strong pacifist movement that lobbied the British Legion to print No More War in the centre of the red poppy, according to the UK-based Peace Pledged Union. Failing to do that, pacifists suggested they should create their own version.

Cheeseburger

US: McDonald's Chief : Curb Spending and Cut Taxes

Image
© Getty Images
McDonald's army of blue-collar customers need more clarity on core issues, such as healthcare.
"The question is, how can we get the ox out of the ditch?" Mr Skinner said. "In order to create jobs in America, you're going to have to cut taxes... particularly in the business community.

"We pay some of the highest [corporate] taxes around the world. There needs to be some levelling."

Asked about federal borrowing, he said: "It's not a good story... the government has to spend less. We have to grow the economy, grow GDP... and you have to be able to do it in an organic way and not through borrowings and increasing debt."

McDonald's army of blue-collar customers need more clarity on core issues, such as healthcare, he said. "Until all of that is all defined and certain... we're going to continue to have a fragile environment for consumer confidence."

Skinner's intervention will be seized upon by President Obama's opponents amid a fierce debate in Washington over the country's deteriorating finances and high unemployment. As Democrats and Republicans fire up their 2012 election campaigns, the focus is on the "9pc nightmare", with both the US budget deficit and jobless total at that level.

Heart - Black

US, Florida: Woman Finds Father Dead in Home Full of Bees

Cause of death not yet determined


A woman found her father dead inside his home with thousands of bees living in the walls.

The man's daughter found him in the upstairs bedroom of his home at 129 Northwest 15th Avenue in Miami on Saturday.

The man was renovating the home, which neighbors said had been in the family for decades, for his daughter.

Heart - Black

US: Accusations of Child Sex, Cover-Up Rock Pennsylvania State

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© PennLive
Jerry Sandusky
An explosive sex abuse scandal and allegations of a cover-up rocked Happy Valley after former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, once considered Joe Paterno's heir apparent, was charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over 15 years. Among the allegations was that a graduate assistant saw Sandusky assault a boy in the shower at the team's practice center in 2002.

Sandusky retired in 1999 but continued to use the school's facilities for his work with The Second Mile, a foundation he established to help at-risk kids, where authorities say he encountered the boys. The case took on added dimension Saturday when perjury charges were announced against Tim Curley, Penn State's athletic director, and Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business. They were also accused of failing to alert police and other agencies - as required by state law - of their investigation of the allegations.

"This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys," state Attorney General Linda Kelly said Saturday in a statement.

Paterno, who last week became the coach with the most wins in Division I football history, wasn't charged, and the grand jury report didn't appear to implicate him in wrongdoing.

"Joe Paterno was a witness who cooperated and testified before the grand jury," said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office. "He's not a suspect."

Bad Guys

US: Missouri residents upset by order to move lake homes

Lake house
© AP/Kelley McCall

Camdenton -- Nearly every year, Patsy Riley has gotten unsolicited offers for her house on Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks with its spectacular views of tree-lined bluffs and its ample shoreline, but she never wanted to leave. Now, she and hundreds of her neighbors wonder what will become of their homes after a federal agency declared that many structures built close to the lake may have to go.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, citing restrictions on private developments around dams, says thousands of residences, decks, patios and boathouses appear to encroach on land belonging to the hydroelectric project in violation of federal regulations.

The announcement has triggered panic in the area's lakefront communities and led to a growing battle among regulators, a utility company, land attorneys and the state's congressional delegation. Officials say they are searching for a way to settle the issue without mass evictions.

"We are mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," said Riley, who has lived at the lake for more than 30 years and estimates about half of her neighborhood is threatened.