Issue 14.45 | Sept. 2, 2014
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GRAYSON, Ga., Sept. 2, 2014 -- The last weekend in March our office phone system in Norcross was hacked from outside our offices and used to make tens of thousands of international calls to Gambia, Somalia, and The Maldives. The numbers called by the hackers were "premium" numbers.
When premium numbers are called, the caller has to pay a premium price for the calls. Hundreds of simultaneous international calls were made through one of our phone lines. On the following Monday, our phone company notified us that our system had been fraudulently used and that we might expect a phone bill of a few thousand dollars. The bill was for $166,000.
We disputed the bill and reported it to the Georgia Public Service Commission, the FBI, and the local Gwinnett County Police, but no one seemed to know what to do about it. Our insurance company refused to cover it. We learned that our phone carrier, TW Telecom, had a security system in place but that it was not functioning that weekend. Normally their security system would detect the unusual activity, and shut the line down, to limit the damages. Their security system was down for over 40 hours, leaving us exposed to the hackers.
In addition, we didn't even know we had international calling. Twenty months ago, when we signed up with TW Telecom, they automatically provided international calling without informing us that we had it. In our business, we have no need of international calling.
Mark Palchick, of the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, advised that we do not have an obligation to pay these charges, which is now up to $183,000, with late charges. Paying would be participating in a crime and encourage the crooks to keep doing what they do. TW Telecom paid the bill to the firm where they lease their lines, thus participating in the crime. TW Telecom is in the process of being purchased for $5.7 billion by Level 3 Communications. An attorney has filed an "opposition" opposing the sale with the FCC. The "opposition" says that TW Telecom should not be sold because it engages in illegal and criminal activity.
If you have an analog phone system, one with a few lines and a call forwarding feature, simply disable call forwarding. Disable the auto answer feature, if you do not need it. The most vulnerable systems were manufactured by Nortel, a company that no longer exists.
Your phone company has probably provided you with international calling, a feature that can be easily blocked. Most businesses have it; they just don't know it. I highly recommend that you instruct your phone company to "block" international calling. If you need to make overseas calls, use your cell phone or Skype. If you have "VOIP" (through the Internet) system of any kind, in your business or at home, do not subscribe to call forwarding. Most VOIP systems are subject to hacking.
This problem is complicated. There is no way to catch and punish the hackers. The FCC has done nothing to help us. The FBI has not returned our calls. We understand that the Justice Department is looking into it. The Federal Government, which regulates phone services, has been no help whatsoever. Expect to see TV and newspaper coverage of this problem in the coming weeks.
SEPT. 2, 2014 -- The birthing of several new suburban towns around Atlanta has had an impact on Gwinnett, something you might call an "unintended consequence."
One of these has been the hiring by these new towns of members of the Gwinnett County police force, taking officers trained by the Gwinnett Police Academy to fill the ranks of the newly-formed police departments. Other areas big enough to have their own police academies, Atlanta, DeKalb, and Cobb counties have also been targeted as place to hire fully-trained officers.
One factor in this hiring: the new cities are paying more, often significantly more, in annual pay to fill their police forces, than, for instance, does the Gwinnett department.
When new recruits join the Gwinnett Police Department, they undergo an intensive program of training at the Gwinnett Police Academy before they are assigned patrol duty, and when completed, they get a "bump" in pay. Then they have a two year commitment to remain on the Gwinnett County payroll. But once completing this two year stint, the smaller cities without a police academy hire the officers trained at Gwinnett's (and other departments) expense.
At present, the Gwinnett Police Department has an authorized strength of 758 sworn officers. Though the Department is seeking to hire more personnel, it now has only 690 officers, that is, 68 vacancies. Trained minority officers are particularly vulnerable, as the police departments of the new Georgia cities are interested in hiring these officers, so that their Departments will reflect the make-up of their towns.
However, hiring minority officers for any Metro Atlanta police department is especially difficult. Gwinnett and Cobb County, for instance, now have departments where the white/minority split is about 83/17 percent. The Atlanta is particularly minority in its make-up, about 70 percent black.
The pay scale also enters the picture. Recognize that the Gwinnett County employees have not had a pay increase in the last five years. For policeman, they make a starting salary of $37,000; if the officer has a four year college degree, the pay is increased by six percent.
Gwinnett offers significant benefits. Gwinnett officers all have an assigned vehicle to drive and are allowed to drive the vehicle home. Some of the larger departments do not have the one-office, one-car policy. For approved off-duty employment, officers are allowed to use their county equipment, including the car.
However, charge all that off against some of the new cities offering up to $10,000 a year more for the officers to join their forces. All this exacerbates the problem. Six left the Gwinnett force in one day to join the Brookhaven police force.
Another element enters the picture: Gwinnett County Public Schools these days are hiring school police. So far a total of 11 officers have left the Gwinnett Police to become school safety officers. Some of these starting jobs are in the neighborhood of $50,000 a year.
What's a county police force to do? Gwinnett Chief Charlie Walters says that the county is constantly seeking new recruits. "We are at job fairs, we recruit at colleges, particularly minority colleges, and do all we can to bring on new personnel. We train them right, but unfortunately, lose personnel from time to time."
No doubt the lack of pay raises in this area is a drawback to hiring. "Our county administration is aware of the problem," says Walters, who has been lobbying for pay increases.
For the county police force, and all county employees, the 2015 budget, with personnel compensation now under study, will be vital in retaining not only the police, but other quality personnel as well.
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Remembers Eisenhower's Civil Rights Act of 1957, too
Editor, the Forum:
Regarding the article on liberalism (August 29): So it was liberals who freed the slaves and ended Jim Crow? Hmmm. My history books always stated that the Republican Party headed by President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves. And Civil Rights? Democrats wrote the Jim Crow laws, and a Democratic governor named George Wallace blocked black students from entering the University of Alabama. In Georgia during the late '50's/early '60's, I recall Democratic gubernatorial candidates standing atop cars shouting that blacks "were going to take over if we don't stop them."
Lester Maddox was a Democrat, lest we forget. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, hardly a liberal. Meanwhile, a young Democratic senator by the name of John Kennedy voted against that same legislation. President Eisenhower also federalized the Arkansas National Guard to desegregate that state's schools. Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat, called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a coward -- not surprising coming from a man who once belonged to the KKK.
As for other groups and freedoms mentioned in the article, liberals did not singularly deliver them. Nevertheless, the classic liberalism of Thomas Jefferson was nothing like today's "progressivism." Jefferson had no 12 Rules for Radicals as Democrats follow today. Rule 1 says it all: "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have." As in our current president's famous remark, "I've got a pen and I've got a phone." Well, we conservatives have The Constitution, and that's what we stand by.
Appreciated column concerning the late Michael Brown of Buford
Editor, the Forum:
I am glad you posted what you did about the late Michael Brown of Buford. With all the news about a different Michael Brown many may not even know about Buford's Mr. Brown's passing, just as I didn't know. Thank you again for your work prior to the elections and thank you for sharing your memories.
Rant, rave, send us a letter
An international festival is being planned in Lilburn on September 13. Sponsoring organizations include the Lilburn Community Partnership, SafetySmart Lilburn and the City of Lilburn. The "Small Town, Big World: Lilburn International Festival" will be in Lilburn City Park on Saturday, September 13, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. This is the first year for the festival and free to attendees.
The event celebrates the cultural diversity of the greater Lilburn community and promises a welcoming venue with entertainment, food, music, exhibits and demonstrations representative of cultural heritage from around the world.
The morning will begin with Opening Ceremonies featuring the Parkview High School Marine ROTC cadets presenting the colors, followed by the Berkmar High School Patriot Band and Chorus leading the National Anthem and background music for the Parade of International Flags hosted by First Baptist Church in Lilburn.
Entertainment will follow provided by schools in the Meadowcreek Cluster, Sts. Helena and Constantine Romanian Orthodox Church, Simply Dance Studio, Korean Drum and Coconut Dance, musician Susan Clearman, and others still to be confirmed. Attendees will enjoy demonstrations by a semi-pro soccer team and a karate school. Food representative of world cuisine will be available for purchase. A children's play area with inflatables will be also be provided.
The event will accommodate a crowd of 4-5,000. Shuttle points will be from First Baptist Lilburn and International Farmers' Market parking lot. Event organizers are inviting food vendors, businesses, faith organizations, schools, youth organizations, consulates, social agencies and non-profits to promote their products or services to attendees. Volunteers are also needed. Booth space is free for civic, faith, and non-profit groups. The fee for spaces for for-profit businesses and food vendors is $50. Sponsorships are also welcomed.
Call it the Coupon Generation: Consumers can save hundreds of dollars per year on household essentials and special products by using online coupons. There are even TV shows advertising extreme savings from families using coupons.
Aside from printed coupons, online coupon clipping can save money on items ranging from food to toilet tissue and everything in between with the click of a mouse. However, Better Business Bureau warns that the convenience comes with some risk.
Millions of product coupons are offered online but it's imperative that consumers know the difference between what's real and what's not. Some estimates put annual losses due to bogus internet coupons at $6 million.
According to the Coupon Information Corporation (CIC), the internet is the key reason for the growth in the use of fake coupons because they can easily be printed at home. Because of that, it is more difficult for manufacturers and retailers to build in security measures to combat counterfeits. Unfortunately, consumers can unwittingly get stuck in the middle between retailers and coupon sites with coupons that are phony or worthless, or require personal information to obtain them from the fraudulent sources.
BBB offers the following advice on redeeming online coupons:
In 1810, Thomas Jefferson dreamed of building a separate, democratic country as a sister country to the U.S. in the area of what is now Oregon. At the same time, John Jacob Astor wanted to expand his fur trading business into China and needed a base on the west coast. With the support of Jefferson, Astor sent two expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. One went by land and the other by sea. They encountered horrible dangers in the wilds, including great storms, hostile Indians, cruel bosses and lost supplies. They were utterly alone and defenseless. Of the 140 people who set out, 61 died and the rest suffered horribly. The sea voyage survivors took seven months to reach their destination. Those traveling over land took a year and a half. This is a story of adventure and hardship. If you want to feel completely civilized and incredibly advantaged, read it.
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(NEW) British Car Fayre in downtown Norcross, Saturday, September 6, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Hosted by the City of Norcross for the past 13 years, this popular event draws British buffs from all over the Southeast. This year's show supports Soccer in the Streets, a program that empowers underserved youth through soccer, character development, mentoring, and employability programs. This year's Fayre will also feature more classic British "motorbikes" than ever before. For more information, click here.
Children's Storytelling, by author Carmen Deedy, Saturday, September 6 from 1 until 3 p.m. at the Norcross Cultural and Community Center, 10 College Street, across from Lillian Webb Park. Come hear about Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, or Juan Bobo, and the author's version of "growing up Cuban in Decatur." This free event is sponsored by the Norcross Cluster School Partnership for Norcross and Peachtree Corners schools. There will also be door prizes. Bring the entire family!
Duluth Fall Festival Concert, Saturday, Sept. 13, on the Town Green in Duluth. Rupert's 12 piece Orchestra will perform. The kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. with an opening act performance by Alexis Rhode, followed by the Big Band sound of Rupert's. For more information, contact Amanda Leiba at 678 957 7271.
(NEW) Civil War Program: 6:30 p.m., September 15 at the Five Forks Branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library. University of Georgia's professor of history, John C. Inscoe, will discuss the Civil War in Georgia, made possible from a grant of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, contact www.gwinnettpl.org.
(NEW) 11th Annual Networking Fair of the Community Council of Gwinnett County, Wednesday, September 17, from 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., at Gwinnett Technical College, Building 100, Room 401. The 2014 fair will gather together the individuals and organizations that are committed to addressing the multi cultural and diverse needs of Gwinnett's citizens, with the theme, "Community Connections." For more information, contact Mary Williams at 770 925-1498.
Re-Development Forum for 2014: Thursday, October 16, 7: 30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Studio Movie Grill, Duluth. Topics include maximizing re-development, financing and opportunities through Public-Private Partnerships. Keynote speaker will be Ellen Durham Jones of Georgia Tech, talking on "Sustaining vibrant communities." To register, click here.
Exhibit of eight
artists continues through December 2 at George Pierce Park
Community Center in Suwanee. Eight female artists will showcase their
talents, including watercolor, acrylic, oil, color pencil, mixed media,
collage, and pen and ink with color pencil. A reception will be held on
Sept. 4 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 678-277-0910.
MORE EEB PERSPECTIVE
Gwinnett Forum publisher Elliott Brack suggests that Gwinnett County needs a long-range list of continuing objectives for improving the county. Read more.
GwinnettForum.com is a twice-weekly online community commentary for exploring pragmatic and sensible social, political and economic approaches to improve life in Gwinnett County, Ga. USA.
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