One Thousand and One Nights and Ilhan Omar’s Biographical Engineering

Ilhan Omar The Witch Princess

Despite numerous interviews, media write-ups, and multiple biographical sources, Ilhan Abdullahi Omar AKA “Ilhan Nur Said Elmi” remains an enigma. As strange as it sounds, there is almost no verifiable information about her nor her family in the public domain. This is bordering on the fantastic considering the fact that she is a ±34 year old (she has no birth certificate) sitting congresswoman. In an era where comprehensive digital background searches can be executed with a single mouse click, Omar’s fluid and ever shifting identity and invisible past are a puzzle.

The majority of the biographical information that she disclosed has multiple non-reconcilable versions. This includes significant inconsistencies about basic facts such as:

  • Her family’s actual size
  • Their real names
  • The family wealth and real-estate ownership in the US and Somalia
  • Their birth dates
  • Details about her brother/husband’s identity
  • Her father’s political role in the dictatorship of Said Berra
  • Their residence in Baidoa and Mogadishu
  • Any evidence that the family spent years in the Dadaab refugee camp instead of the resort city of Mombasa
  • The real reason for their escape from Somalia

The problem with Omar’s exceptionally poor recollection of facts and propensity for embellishments isn’t limited to the period between 1990-2011. Just a few weeks ago, on May 28, Omar delivered the following speech in the Richfield high school about her first hand experience with a “sweet old African lady”:

“sweet, old . . . African American lady” who had been arrested for stealing a $2 loaf of bread to feed her “starving 5-year-old granddaughter.”

After spending the weekend in jail, the woman was led into the courtroom and fined $80—a penalty she couldn’t pay.  I couldn’t control my emotions, because I couldn’t understand how a roomful of educated adults could do something so unjust.”

If you haven’t noticed, this plot-line suspiciously resembles Jean Valjean’s crime in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

As with most of her claims and recollections, this story too is unverifiable. She doesn’t remember where or when it took place, what court handled the case, or who the “sweet old. . . African American lady” was.

Omar May 28 Richfield High School Visit
Image 1: Ilhan Omar delivering the speech about the “sweet, old . . . African American lady” who had been arrested for stealing a $2 loaf of bread to feed her “starving 5-year-old granddaughter

The fluidity of the Oma’rs background suggests that most of the details that we know about her have been engineered. It is also clear that over the past 27 years, core components of the Omar family dossier have gone through multiple revisions at the hands of someone who has a decent grasp of covert intelligence operations.

For example, between Ilhan, her father, current husband, and one of her sisters, they have 32 name variations that are being used interchangeably in various official registries.

Ilhan
Omar Ilhan
Ilhan Omar
Ilham Umar
Omar Ihan
Omar Ijhan
Ilham Omar
Ilham A Omar
Ilhan Abdullahi Omar

Father
Abdullahi O Mohamed
Nur Mohamed
Nur Omar Mohamed
Nur Said Elmi Mohamed

Current Husband
Ahmed A Hirsi
Ahmed Aden
Ahmed Hirsi
Ahmed Abdisalan Hirsi
Ahmed A Aden
Ahmed Hrisri
Ahmed Hersi
Ahmed Haji
Ahmed Hassan

Sister (US Based)
Sahra Abdullahi Omar
Noor Sahra
Omar Sahra
Sahra Noor
Sahra Omar
Sahra A Omar
Sahra Abdullahi Omar
Sara Omar
Sarah Omar
Kadra Omar
Zahra

Ilhan’s perpetual reenactment of the comedy of errors of family name/identity mismatches is not an English as a second language issue. The same pattern appears when she communicates in her native Somali tongue. During her 2016 visit to Somalia and a meeting with president Mohamed Hassan Sheikh, she told the local media, in Somali, that the man by her side was her husband Ahmed Elmi. Running face recognition on the images taken by a Somali state media service photographer shows that the person accompanying her was in fact Ahmed Hirsi.

Official Photos
Image 2
: Photographing Ilhan Omar and her husband Ahmed Hirsi visit with the Somali president. Images taken by a Somali state media service photographer.

As can be seen in Image 3, shortly after her marriage issue surfaced the photos in the article were deleted from the server. I contacted “Hassan Istiila”, the author of the article and asked him why he removed the images, he denied doing so himself (see email exchange in the references). The post edit history and server logs show that an admin user by the name of Farsamada AKA Liibaan Mohamoud Yusuf Nabiil was the one who removed the images from the WP CMS used by Radio Dalsan. It also turns out that Farsamada is a dedicated Ilhan Omar supporter/promoter in Somalia (see Image 5).

2016 Ilhan Breaking News
Image 3: The Mogadishu Radio Dalsan article about Ilhan Omar’s 2016 visit to Somalia and her meeting with the Somali president Mohamed Hassan Sheikh. The article identifies her husband as Ahmed Elmi but in fact it is Ahmed Hirsi. 

2016 Omar Somalia Visit with Elmi
Image 4
: The Mogadishu Radio Dalsan 2016 article with some of the recovered images showing that the person accompanying Ilhan Omar was in fact Ahmed Hirsi traveling under the name Ahmed Elmi (Ilhan Omar only divorced Ahmed Elmi in 2017).

Mr. Farsamada Omar's Media Muscle
Image 5
: Farsamada AKA Liibaan Mohamoud Yusuf Nabiil, the Somali news editor who purged Ilhan Omar’s images from the Mugadisu Radio Dalsan article that identified Ahmed Hirsi as Ahmed Elmi. 

Omar’s 2011-2016 trips to Somalia also raise questions about potential FARA violations, her funding sources, and the actual purpose of her visit with the Somali president and local business leaders. From her itinerary it is clear that these were expensive state functions that took place years before Ilhan was elected to Congress. So who exactly paid for these visits? And why did the Somali president “requested her presence” at his villa? Unless, of course, Omar was there on a crypto-Elmi family financial/political expedition or as a private US/Somali power broker for promoting the interests of terrorist sponsors like Ahmed Nur Ali Jim’ale.

Another good illustration for this steady stream of name/identity shell games and biographical revisionism is her famous ‘militia assassination’ story. This tale which forms the foundation of Ilhan’s Somalia fairytale escape narrative (and likely the basis for the US asylum application) details a traumatic night in Mogadishu when her family’s secure compound was attacked by an unknown rebel militia who tried to “assassinate” her entire family.

The following are two versions of this story as told by Omar in 2016. The first version is from her interview with Cory Zurowski from CityPages News. The second version—which she told a month later—is from an Omar propaganda featurette that was produced by Daniel Cummings.

1. Ilhan Omar’s Improbable Journey from Refugee Camp to Minnesota Legislature
CityPages News – Published 26 October, 2016

“Nighttime fell as about 20 people milled about the compound in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Bad noises outside announced unwelcome visitors. Men with big guns demanded to be let in. The group tried to bust down the front door, but it was unbreakable. Omar and her family fell to the floor moments before the militiamen let go a staccato of gunfire. Once they were satisfied with the evening’s damage, the attackers left.

Everyone survived. Omar hasn’t forgotten the sight of bullet pockmarks in the building’s cinderblock walls.

Shellshock turned to grief for Omar’s grandpa. “That was a hard realization for my grandfather, that our family was no longer welcome,” she says. “Even after the attack, he struggled with this new reality.”

Days later, they put their familiar world in the rearview mirror. They split into groups, 20 people in total fleeing. Omar’s headed for the coast where Abukar [grandfather] had connections. Alongside her father, she hopped a plane for Kenya.”

2. Ilhan Omar and The New American Dream
Movie Featurette – Published 15 November, 2016 

[Go to 55:14 in the recording to hear the description below]

“Think my earliest memory of when the war actually felt real was waking up you know midnight… to militiaman surrounding our house. My aunt and older sister having a conversation through the window, sort of a negotiation with them because these were classmates of theirs, umm… and… and…and… negotiating them to sort of back down… and umm…and trying to break into our house and assassinate us.

We ended up surviving that night then my grandfather said that we like had to leave. We all left thinking that we’ll come back…that umm… you know in a few months the war would end, so we sort of fled I think like at 4 AM.

And walking through this… this…streets and actually, umm… walking over dead bodies and seeing debris and buildings that have fallen apart umm…sort of land marks of like hotels that you know, umm… that had movie theaters and all of this that we used to go by and… and… see that they no longer were standing tall…”

Both of these versions have major structural flaws. This includes discrepancies in the timeline, the sequence of events, the number of individuals involved, and the plot line. As can be seen from the table below, there are embellishment and missing elements in each version. For example, the claim that the militia opened fire at the house vs. that they retreated peacefully after the aunt and sister negotiated with them or that the militiaman were classmates of her aunt and or sister.

#

Details

October 26

November 15

1

20 men in the militia

X

2

Compound in Mogadishu

X

X

3

Militia outside the compound

X

4

Militia surrounded compound

X

5

Aunt & older sister talking to militia

X

6

Militia classmates of aunt and sister

X

7

Man with big guns

X

8

Trying to bust down the door

X

9

Militia tried to assassinate them

X

10

House door was unbreakable

X

11

Omar and family fell to the ground

X

12

Militia opens fire at the house

X

13

Memory of bullet pockmarks on wall

X

14

Family not welcome in Somalia

X

15

20 family members fleeing

X

16

Catching a flight to Kenya

X

17

Dead bodies & destroyed buildings

X

18

Grandfather said we had to leave

X

X

Table 1: A sample of the variations in several tales of the Somali rebel militia storming the Omar compound in Mogadishu

Both versions of the story make little sense, especially the preposterous assertions Omar makes about the ‘magic door’ that could not be breached and how her family, consisting of 20 individuals (who weren’t connected to the brutal dictator Said Berra) managed on short notice to get hard currency, valid passports, visas, airline tickets, transportation to the airport, and a safe passage through multiple checkpoints controlled by Mohamed Farah Aideed’s militia to catch an international flight to Kenya.

Following this and many other Omar biographical dichotomies, I decided to examine her public statements regarding her family history. For any other US elected official, these types of gaping holes in a personal and family history would normally trigger a lynch mob of angry MSM investigative reporters. But as it has been already demonstrated, Congresswoman Omar seems to have managed to somehow acquire the ring of Gyges and will not answer questions on these subjects because she deems them too offensive and an invasion of her privacy. 

Two Poor Somali Refugees
Image 6: Somali refugees and their political affiliation with the regime of the Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre

So instead of hoping that someone will finally wake up and bring her in for questioning, I figured why not do the next best thing–take some of her video appearances and run them through a software based polygraph analysis.

The Evaluation Process
I wanted to conduct the evaluation in an impartial manner and eliminate the Christine Blasey Ford effect and the observer bias. To achieve this, I’ve only used movies of Omar that had her speaking clearly and audibly and featured a close-up view of her face at a sufficient resolution. This was important for facial feature extraction. I also automated the image optimization and evaluation process.

In assembling the virtual polygraph system, I used several Artificial Intelligence platforms to perform the speech and facial expression evaluation. For the facial and speech analytics I used:

For the speech analysis I used several algorithms to identify conversational dynamics and the detection of deceit through functions and patterns such as:

  • Usage of filler words like “Umm”, “and”,  Like”
  • Cut out contractions such as using “did not” rather than “didn’t
  • Increase/decrease in speech speed, pitch, and tone
  • Pausing frequently
  • Prolonging word vocalization to buy time
  • Repeating or rephrasing questions
  • Stuttering
  • Voice pitch changes

I calibrated the facial expression engine and established a baseline using several hours of Omar’s speeches on a variety of ‘neutral’ subjects. I then established her ‘truth’ baseline using over 1200 factual statements (i.e. statement known to be true). I also supplemented her baseline facial expressions with catalogue of over 230 combinations of her customized Microexpression.

Following the creation of a unique database of her facial expressions, I proceeded with the ML training using her unique data sets. The whole training process took about 32 hours.

After the training was completed, I fed several movies into the engine and evaluated the accuracy of the system performance in terms of false detection and missed detection using a manual ground truth evaluation. During that evaluation, I examined several hundred individual video frames, correlating them to what Omar was saying and the AI detections of face expression.

The results of the ground truth successfully confirmed the accuracy of the training data and the precision of the speech and facial expression algorithms.

Ilhan Omar Sample Analysis
Image 7: Sample of the facial analysis results for one video frame out of about 120K frames analyzed.

Ilhan Omar Interview Facial Set
Image 8: Sample of a few of the over 4000 frames analyzed from the ‘Militia Assassination’ sequence

Microexpressions
Image 9: Sample of a few of Omar’s Microexpressions such as contempt

Blinking and soothing
Image 10: Sample images showing rapid eye flickering and fidgeting (soothing behavior) correlated to the ‘Militia Assassination’ sequence

Ilhan Omar High ResImage 11: Sample of an image that has gone through the optimization and enhancement process prior to using it in facial analysis

Analysis Results
The textual analysis shows that when Omar is talking about the gray parts of her biography her first person singular pronouns decrease, her negative emotion words increase, and her complex word choice decrease. This is most likely attributed to an increased cognitive overload that is associated with creative thinking. She also uses many more action verbs then average in these segments which suggests that she want’s to keep the story moving and discourage a challenge on the part of the listener.

The speech and facial sentiment analysis strongly suggests that Omar was deceitful when discussing her family Mogadishu history. She exhibited all of the typical facial and body mechanics indicators for dishonesty including:

  • Stresses
  • Evasiveness
  • Contempt
  • Nervousness
  • Suspicion
  • Fear
  • Disgust

Omar’s analytic ‘lie’ score consistently exceeds her ‘truth’ baseline by 30%-80%. Her patterns also exhibit many indications of a compulsive fibber. She is a a great storyteller; her tales tend to be very detailed and colorful and she seems very convincing. She is a natural performer, she is eloquent, and she knows how to successfully engage her audience. When providing historical information about her family, she never does so matter-of-factly (the way most people retell their family histories). Rather, Omar’s narrative is always epic and geared at acquiring the listener’s admiration and sympathy.

The following are a few examples that suggest that she could be either a pathological liar or is working with well written PR scripts:

  • She often talks about experiences and accomplishments in which she and her family play heroic parts
  • She is often a victim (of physical violence) in her stories and is habitually looking for sympathy and protection
  • She is always brave, virtuous, better then her adversaries, and beyond reproach
  • Her stories tend to be very detailed but lack any verifiable data 
  • She responds elaborately and quickly to questions but her responses are always vague and almost never answer the question
  • She has different versions of the same story and uses all of these versions at times
  • Confirmed facts about her and family don’t support her version of the events

Omar Sentiment Chart
Image 12
: Omar’s sentiment chart showing her emotional state when discussing the ‘Militia Assassination’ event

Omar habitually exhibits this pattern of evasiveness and embellishment in all of her narratives. For example, we know from multiple interviews that the count of her siblings changes and varies at any one time from 3-7. This begs the question of what her family’s real story is and why are they so reluctant to disclose it.

Omar is a naturalized US citizen with a very ambiguous/suspicious background that doesn’t seem to match her official biography. As a public figure and congresswoman, she has or will have access to sensitive and classified state secrets, as such, it may not be a bad idea for DHS and INS to run her record in order to eliminate any potential security breaches downstream.

Anyone working for any three letter agency must go through a background screening and a detailed character evaluation. Some even are mandated to take periodic polygraph tests. There is no reason why a top lawmaker like Ilhan should be exempt. If her biographical details match her official story, then she should get the royal stamp of approval and be done with all the speculation. If it does not, then there should be full public disclosure of the details and a congressional hearing regarding the discrepancies.

In 1995, when Ilhan was about 12, she finally got her wish and arrived to New York. While being driven to her new suburban home in Arlington Virginia she recalled the following memory: 

“Staring out a car window, felt ripped off. This wasn’t the same country as the one showed to her on the INS orientation videos. Instead, it was a headache of car horns and homelessness, an eyesore of trash and graffiti.”

The Hirsi Omar Enterprise
Image 13: Parts of the Hirsi Omar enterprise in Minnesota

Ilhan Omar and Tim MynettImage 14: Ilhan Omar and Tim Mynett her strategist at a CAIR event hosted by Hassan Shibly, Ilhan holding hands with Mynett, dinning out with him, and spending a lot of ‘personal’ time together while she is still married to Ahmed Hersi.

Ilhan Omar Payments to Tim Maynett
Image 15: Ilhan Omar’s 2018-19 financial records showing over $250K in payments to Tim Mynett’s E Street Group LLC for his fundraising and consulting services.

Ilhan Omar Fine Italian Dinning with BF Ilhan Caffe Pinguini Confirmation
Image 16
: March 23rd-24th 2019, Ilhan Omar and Tim Mynett holding hands and dinning at the Café Penguini Italian restaurant in Playa Del Ray.

Ilhan Omar On Cheating Ilhan Omar Discussion
Image 17
: One of the image sources used to establish Ilhan Omar baseline of facial expressions associated with deceptive behavior. In this interview she denies her affair with Tim Nynett and separation from her husband Ahmed Hirsi (both of which were confirmed)

Hassan Shibly Guns and CAIRImage 18: Ilhan Omar and her friend Hassan Shibly, the CAIR-Florida Chief Executive Director. Shibly is the one who wrote Ilhan’s speech at the CAIR fund raiser in LA where she stated that “Some people did something”.  Shilby is on the US Terror Watchlist, CAIR and it’s members are also designated a terrorist organization by the UAE government.

From their financial enterprise, it seems that the Omars were taking careful notes while watching the INS movie about the freedom of religion and economic opportunities in America. It also looks like they have been binging on Dallas and Beverly Hills, 90210 style shows. It’s a shame, that they never got to watch any episodes of Law and Order

References:
Email exchange with Hassan Istiila

From: Hassan Istiila <
hassanistiila200@gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, August 04, 2019 5:54 AM
To: <
Apelbaum>
Subject: Re: Question about one of your articles

Hey YA,

Thank you for reaching out, i left the Radio Dalsan a year ago so i don’t know why the images was being removed and i don’t have the images now.

Hassan Istiila

Former Editor, Former freelancer with News Agencies.
Blogger, social media trainer, media consultant, researcher and Human Rights Activist.
  

———————————————————————————————————————————–

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 7:22 AM Y A <Apelbaum> wrote:

Hi Mr. Istiila,

I am writing an article on Ilhan Omar’s visits to Somalia in 2016 referencing your article below and was hoping that you can help me.

https://www.radiodalsan.com/breaking-us-legislator-arrives-in-somalia-meets-president-hsm-and-praises-countrys-achievements-in-women-representation/

I’ve noticed that five images that came with the article were just recently removed. Would you be able to share these images?  Also, any reason why you identified her husband in the article as Ahmed Elmi instead of Ahmed Hirsi?

Best regards,

Apelbaum

————————————————————————————————————————————–

وَيْلٌ لِّكُلِّ أَفَّاكٍ أَثِيمٍ
A fake refugee hatched out a plan
And perched on it like a crafty hen:

This self righteous adulteress maid,
Has made an art of this charade.

A congresswoman on a hate crusade
Should carefully watch her vile tirade:
Appreciate the kindness done to you,
forget not you
owe your life to a Jew.

No matter how crafty a liar is
Allah is mightier than she is:
He raises up the righteous to a bliss,
And brings deceivers to their knees.

Copyright 2019 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.

Windows Live Credit Card Phishing

Phish

I recently received an email claiming to be from Microsoft Live. The email stated that due to some processing issues, they could not authorize my credit card and so I would need to login to their website to update my credit card information by clicking on their link.

Over the years, I have seen a number of these types of messages, but this was the first one targeting me personally.  After skimming through it, I realized that it was a blatant phishing attempt, nevertheless, I still marveled at the ingenuity of the scammers.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Fake MSN Image

Billing and Account Management

Dear Windows Live Hotmail member,
During our regularly scheduled account maintenance and verification procedures, our billing department was unable to authorize your current payment method information.

This might be due to either of the following reasons:

A recent change in your personal information (i.e. change of address, credit card)

Submitting invalid information during the initial Sign Up or upgrade process.

An inability to accurately verify your selected payment method information due to an internal error within our processors.
Please use the following link to update your payment method information :

http://billing.microsoft.com/logon.srf?action=SignIn&reason=auth&type=auto&uid=187&acct=49472101102

The above link may have been blocked for your privacy. To activate the link please look for the Show content link that is usually located on top of this message.

NOTE! If your account information is not updated within 48 hours then your ability to use your Windows Live Hotmail account will become restricted.

Thank you for using Windows Live Hotmail!
Please do not reply to this e-mail, as this is an unmonitored alias.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Fake Windows Live Image

  © 2009 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

For the uninitiated, phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is a fraudulent attempt to acquire sensitive information from a user.  Such information can be: credit cards, user IDs, passwords, and/or account information.  It is often accomplished via email or phone

Phishing falls into the category of exploits  known as “social engineering”. Even though they are mostly low tech, (requiring neither sophisticated technology nor advanced programming), they can to be successful (especially the well executed and new exploits) because most people tend instinctively to do what they are told and will not challenge the authority and authenticity of what seems to be an official correspondence.

In a typical phishing scenario, the perpetrators (usually located offshore) send a simple email—claiming to be from the customer service department of a recognizable organization  (like a bank, on-line service, etc.)—the email will inform you of some  problem with your account. You are then instructed to provide details of your bank, email, or credit card account in order to correct this problem.

Even though, phishing exploits can have many variations, they can be grouped into the following are five usage scenarios:

  1. Forged identities — In this exploit, the attacker creates an email address that is related to a reputable organization like “Windows Live Customer Support”. Even though on the surface, their email address looks legitimate (as in: billing@windowslive.com), it is not. If you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to mistake a message like this for a genuine customer support request.
  2. Compromised accounts — In this exploit, the attacker uses a compromised user account to send an email to everyone in the address book for that account. An email you receive from a known account dramatically increases the credibility of that message, and therefore the likelihood of a successful phishing attack.
  3. Direct phone calls — In this exploit, the scammer may contact you directly by phone, telling you that they work for some financial institution (may offer to lower your interest rates) or the fraud investigation departments.  They will inform you that your account has been breached and will directly ask you for your account details in order to verify it.
  4. Bogus websites — In this exploit, the attacker will send you a link to what seems to be a functional website.  The site will include official-looking logos, language, or other identifying information taken directly from a legitimate websites. The address of the site will show resembles the name of a reputable company but with some spelling variations. For example, the name”microsoft.live.com” could appear instead as: “micorsoft.live.com”
  5. Social Network Harvesting — In this exploit, a communication from a scammer will ask you for personal information.  You may mistake it for an email from a friend wanting to reconnect. The email will include convincing details about your personal life which ware recovered from social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

In general, the objective of phishing is to recover your webmail credentials since the resale value of a legitimate web mail account on the black market can be as high as $2-$3—twice the amount they could get for a stolen credit card number.  So for a phisher, breaching several dozens accounts a day can be a lucrative business, making $100K-$500K for the life of the scam.

In the case of my phishing email, when I followed the link in it,  I was taken to a credit card entry form (Image 1). As I expected, the form looked genuine, it had all the right corporate trimmings: a Microsoft logo, copyright notice, and even a link to a help page (which ironically offered the following advice “You should keep this number secret, protect it, and never write it on your card.”)

Yaacov Apelbaum-Phishing Credit Card Form 
Image 1: Phishing Credit Card Entry Form

As with most phishing sites, I was expecting to find some bogus or misspelled Microsoft URL, but instead I was surprised to see that the web address of the webpage actually belonged to a company called Human & Technology H&T (Image 2), clearly, htech21.com doesn’t even sound like Microsoft.  I’ve checked the parent URL out and It turns out, that this company was at one point a legitimate Korean hardware manufacturer, than, two years ago, their CEO was arrested and the company became the target of one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in history.

CEO So what is the connection between htech21.com and this phishing expedition?  It appears that the perpetrators of this scam decided to cut some costs and instead of purchasing and hosting their own domain, they chose to break into the H&T corporate web site and place their credit card collection pages on it.  At one point, our scammers discovered that Human & Technology has gone out of business (this could also have been an inside job) and safely assumed that this orphaned website (which has not been updated for 3 years) is no longer being maintained or monitored, and as such, was a perfect staging platform for a phishing operation.

It is also interesting to note, that the site’s help file focused on ATMs (Automated Teller Machines), strongly suggests that at least some of the phishing website contents have also been used in other scams.

ATM

Yaacov Apelbaum-Human & Technology Phishing Website Korean  Yaacov Apelbaum-Human & Technology Phishing Website English
Image 2: Phishing Host Website

It is hard to recognize legitimate customer service communications from phishing expeditions. This difficulty if further compounded by the fact that for many, using services such as Amazon, EBay, and e-banking has now become a  a way of life.  For most users, the potential inconvenience of being looked out of their favorite on-line services outweighs the risk of disclosing their account information. Unfortunately, the on-line services are not helping this situation either because most are either impossible to reach by phone or their offshore support centers are largely useless.

So how does one survive in the hostile jungle of email exploits? The following are my top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of email:

  • Do Not open emails that have a wrong or incorrect spelling of your name. Phishers often harvest email addresses in balk and may not have your full name. Because of this, they will try to guess your name from your email address.
  • Do Not open emails that are not addressed to you by name. Phishers will almost never personalize correspondences; they will refer to you as “Dear Customer” or “Dear Valued Customer” because they send balk solicitations to millions of email addresses.
  • Do Not respond to any account management email requests that come from your bank. If your bank needs to reach you, they will send you an official letter or leave you a voice mail with a valid callback telephone number.
  • Do Not open unsolicited emails. Nothing in life is free, this includes the invitation to view naked celebrities and the Prozac and Viagra offers in your inbox.
  • Do Not use email links to go to any financial websites. Type in the URL yourself and save it as a bookmark.
  • Do verify the website URL you are about to log into, check the spelling carefully before you provide your login details on any web page.  Pay close attention to domain name following the “http://” section of the address.  Many phishers will Intentionally create very long names to obfuscate the fake URL.
  • Do log in to your on-line accounts regularly and look for unrecognized transactions.  Do the same with your monthly credit card statements.
  • Do Not send your account details via email to anyone.  email traffic is unencrypted, so anyone on route can intercept the message.
  • Do check that the Internet connection you are using is secure. Look for HTTPS in the address field of your browser.  You may also want to click on theEncrypted connection iconpadlock to view the actual server certificate.  This will help you verify that it was issued by a reputable authority and assigned to the company managing the website in question.
  • Do make sure that you have an updated anti-virus software and that your firewall is turned on.

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.

Mortgage Refinancing Shysters II

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Shysters II

In Mortgage Refinancing Shysters, Part I I wrote about some suspicious refinancing solicitation letters I got from the Intercontinental Capital Group (ICG). After writing about it, I got several interesting comments. One cryptic comment came from what appeared to be a former employee who wrote: “I agree with your assessment on ICG and know this for a fact…” Now my curiosity was piqued. What was it that this individual knew?

I performed a detailed search on the term “Intercontinental Capital Group and Fraud” but this time, the search returned many more postings about unscrupulous dealings. There were many negative comments regarding ICG, but I noticed that there were also a few positive ones written by apparently satisfied customers.

The details of the pro-ICG postings were interesting. They appeared to have come from bona fide customers. On the one hand, the language seemed to be unbiased acknowledging some bad online press while on the other hand the writers claimed that they were very satisfied with the quality of service they received from ICG and that the company was entirely above board. One example read:

…I previously cancelled an appraisal appointment that I had scheduled with this company because I read something online that got me nervous especially being a single mom that just got back to work after being injured. I checked out these links and feel a lot better. I am going to give them a call and hopefully the rates are still low because I really would like to get rid of this adjustable rate mortgage and lower my monthly payments.
by educatedconsumer August 6, 2009 5:13

Then last week, I myself received a similar comment on my blog posting from a user who identified himself as “Joseph.” He wrote:

I received one of their letters and refinanced with them. They did a fine job and got me a good rate. I agree that maybe it wasn’t the best way of soliciting business, but it’s a tough market. Either way, they did the job they promised to do.
by Joseph October 28, 2009 13:33

Now, I don’t know about most people, but I certainly don’t spend my free time posting positive comments on blogs trying to sway other readers to believe that allegations of fraudulent or contentious services are unfounded.

I suspected that Joseph had some vested interest in ICG. From the crux of the comment left by him, it seemed that he was so moved by his mortgage refinancing experience that he became overwhelmed with the desire to spread the good news about ICG to the rest of the world.

When I examined the comment source, I noticed that the e-mail associated with it was jennifermargulis@gmail.com. Now it is possible that Jennifer, following the romantic style of George Sand, was using a nom de plume. But on the other hand it was also possible that Joseph was Jennifer’s darker side, I have heard of stranger things before. So I did some more research, then I slipped into my feminine persona and contacted her via e-mail asking for mortgage refinancing advice.

It did not take to long before I received the following ICG e-mail:

Hi Brittney,

Intercontinental Capital Group can probably give you a good rate and fast service. Their website is:

http : //www.intercontinentalcapitalgroup.com

You should contact Brad Allen over there, he can give you the information you’re looking for. His phone number is 212.485.9655. His direct e-mail is ballen@icghome.com.

I hope they are able to help you!

Best,

Jennifer Margulis

————————————————————
Hi,

I am looking into refinancing my home mortgage and would like to get more information about your services and rates.

Can you please provide more information about your offerings?

Best regards,

Brittney Darcey

A quick identify search confirmed my suspicions that Joseph and Jennifer Margulis were indeed one and the same (see image below). It also turns out that Jennifer was in fact an ICG marketing employee on a company mission to rehabilitate the ICG’s public image. Apparently, she found my posting about her company and decided to sprinkle some fluffy propaganda comments. To make them look more credible, her comments were disguised as coming from little Joseph, your all-American, happy and satisfied mortgage customer.

 Yaacov Apelbaum-Jennifer ICG Yaacov Apelbaum-ICG Margulis-1

Deceptive solicitation letters, whitewashing negative customer feedback and impersonating legitimate users in order to lure customers have no place in any business, even less so, in financial organizations that above all should uphold integrity and honesty.

Caveat Emptor

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.