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Top 10 Internet Scams for 2003

It's the stuff of love-hate relationships: Online auction sites continue to be wildly popular places to buy and sell things -- but they also rank No. 1 for Internet-related fraud complaints.

Online auction fraud has topped the National Consumer League's list of Top 10 Net Frauds for five straight years through 2002, and the latest NCL starts from the first half of this year seem certain to make 2003 the sixth year.

Most bidders filing auction-related complaints said their problem was that merchandise was either misrepresented or never delivered, according to the league. Those same problems are also behind the majority of general online shopping complaints, which came in at No. 2 on the league's list.

You don't have to join the ranks of the defrauded masses, though. There are ways to protect yourself no matter where you're shopping: using a third-party escrow service when shopping at auctions and paying with a credit card, take a look at the rest of these common consumer pitfalls.

Nigerian money, adult Web sites
At No. 3, Nigerian money offers -- the scam that just won't die -- follows auctions and general shopping complaints on the NCL list. If you're one of the lucky few to have somehow missed this one, it usually comes in the form of a plea for help, often from a supposed civil servant in Nigeria who is purportedly trying to get money out of the country. But it can come from other countries as well, including Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. The latest tactic for luring victims, reported Oct. 3 by Reuters, is to make the e-mail look like it was sent from a real London bank. In the past, these scammers also have used fake Web sites to bait people. In exchange for the use of their bank account, the recipient is told they'll receive a percentage of the funds being moved. Sound farfetched? Unfortunately, a good 10% of all recipients seek further contact with the authors and 1 percent of those respondents become seriously involved, according to the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organised Crime Law Enforcement Network.

The real trap is sprung when victims are told the deal is in jeopardy unless they can come up with cash to cover unexpected fees or bribes. These first requests are followed by more and more requests for money, drawing out the scam as long as the victims are willing.

Internet-access frauds appear at No. 4. Most Internet-access complaints are generated when a consumer's service is changed without his permission. No. 5 on the list is the information/adult services scam. That's the one where people are lured to adult sites where they can supposedly download free pictures, only to have their Net connection re-routed through a long-distance connection (across the globe, not just across the country). The victim doesn't feel any pain -- until the monstrous long-distance bill arrives.

Where the offers come from:
This year, fewer people who filed Net fraud complaints -- only 3 percent of them -- said they were lured with e-mail. That may be because the deluge of spam world-wide may have made some consumers more sceptical of e-mail offers. A year ago, 8 percent of the complaints cited e-mail, and in 2001, 15 percent.
A full 97 percent of victims found trouble on their own through general Web browsing and shopping, and a small sliver -- 0.1 percent -- were targeted in newsgroups.

What you can do
If you're still unaccustomed to hitting that Delete key, a good way to screen many of the questionable promotions in your e-mail inbox is to stop by one of the sites that specialise in debunking bogus e-mail. Snopes.com is an excellent site for screening out the junk -- those that pull on your heart as well as your purse strings.

For safer online shopping, the FTC recommends following the five tips below. If you're shopping at auctions, the NCL and FTC also suggest using escrow services, such as Escrow.com. These are third parties that hold the buyer's payment until the goods arrive. Using an escrow service, however, is especially important if you're not paying with a credit card. Be wary, however, of escrow services that do not provide a phone number or physical address. Without the address, the NCL says, you have no way of checking with state authorities to determine if the service is licensed. Fake escrow services do exist and will simply disappear with your money.
The FTC's safe shopping tips
-Use a secure browser. Secure browsers, such as the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape, support encryption of your orders, making it more difficult to steal credit card numbers.
-Know the seller. If you're at an auction, research the feedback other buyers have provided on the seller. Otherwise, shop at sites you know and trust.
-Pay with a credit card. A credit card provides an element of safety that cash and money orders do not. Federal law says you're liable only for up to $50 on orders you dispute with your credit card company; some card companies offer increased protection. Visa has a "Zero Liability" policy, meaning you're not responsible for any amount of disputed purchases, for example.
-Keep passwords private. This is fairly straightforward: Don't tape your passwords to your monitor. Use unique passwords at each site. And never give out your password in response to an e-mail or instant message from someone claiming to be a representative of the auction site.
Keep a record of your transactions. Don't rely on the site to e-mail you a copy of your receipt. Print one or make a snapshot of it and save it on your computer.

The NCL recommends an additional step: Use a credit card that offers "substitute" or "single-use" numbers for online shopping. These have been around since the fall of 2000, when American Express became the first major credit card company to offer them. As their name implies, the numbers expire after each purchase.
The worst ways to pay? With a check or money order. About 37% of the people filing complaints to the NCL this year had paid this way, leaving them little recourse for getting their money back.

Finally, don't let chagrin keep you from reporting fraud. Information is the best tool for fighting the good fight against these scammers. Links are provided at the left under Related Sites for filing complaints to the FTC or the NCL.

Movie Review

The Haunted Mansion

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Nathaniel Parker, Jennifer Tilly, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn. Released- November 26, 2003

The movie stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, a workaholic realtor who is headed for a weekend vacation with his family when they get side-tracked by the chance to put a vast old mansion on the market. His wife, Sara (Marsha Thomason), is his business partner who complains, as all movie wives always complain, that her husband is spending too much time at work. Their kids are Michael and Megan (Marc John Jefferies and Aree Davis). Sara wants to handle it after the vacation, but Jim insists - and they end up in a swampy countryside, welcomed to a cobweb-covered chateau by Ramsley

Evers (or more accurately his wife, whose photo appears on their flyers) is invited to visit the Gracey Mansion, isolated behind a forbidding iron gate and surrounded by a jungle of sinister vegetation.

It's a triumph of art direction, inspired by the Disney World attraction and by every haunted house ever crept through by Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Abbott, Costello, et al. Doors bulge, curtains sway, and there's a scenic graveyard behind the house, complete with four marble busts that perform as a barbershop quartet.

The visitors are greeted by the butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp) and as butlers of old mansions go this one also has bulk both to size and voice. His voice seems to come up from deep down in the basements.

The lord of the manor is a guy named Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), who is obsessed with Sara Evers. Flashbacks show how Gracey in a past life was in love with a young woman who looked exactly like Sara and when they could not marry, they both killed themselves. So this makes Gracey a ghost. Funny how the girl did not become a ghost along with him to live(or unlive) together forever in the hereafter.

Yes you do get the banging doors, swinging chandeliers and other ghostly effects along with a bunch of zombies. The story mainly has a lot to do with the characters and their lives. The scary bits include Madame Leota, whose disembodied head floats in a crystal ball and offers timely if disturbing advice.

The movie isn't exactly scary, well, not for most adults anyway. It is a good entertainer though, with Edie Murphy's wild screaming and a bit of spooks popping out of nowhere. The kids will definitely love it.

Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic

Publisher: LucasArts. Release Date: 11/18/2003 . Requirements: 128 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 32 MB VRAM, 4000 MB disk space, DirectX v9.0

You create a main character and then explore many different areas, interact with many different characters, settle many different disputes, solve many different puzzles, and engage in plenty of combat. Combat appears to be in real time but actually uses a turn-based system "under the hood" just like Neverwinter Nights, which means that your character's statistics and attributes (and your strategy) make all the difference, and your personal reflexes and hand-eye coordination have no bearing on the outcome. Most importantly, Knights is very different from your average RPG in that you'll always be an active participant in the storyline, rather than a passive observer. You don't just read, watch, and listen to a lot of text, cutscenes, and dialogue; instead, your character is constantly invited and required to make difficult decisions, and that's ultimately the most entertaining, impressive, and rewarding aspect of the game. The interface has been completely overhauled for the PC release of the game, and it works exceptionally well by taking full advantage of the familiar mouse-and-keyboard controls you're used to from other games. Additionally, it gives you easy access to all your options, as well as your inventory, map, and quest log, at all times.

Knights of the Old Republic actually takes place thousands of years before Star Wars Episode I, though you'll still see many of the same sorts of alien creatures and technology in the game that you probably associate with Star Wars. The story begins in the midst of a power struggle between the Republic and the Sith, an evil Imperial power that's encroaching on Republic space. Your character seems to be just another Republic trooper, and, at the beginning of the game, you manage to avoid certain death as your spaceship is attacked and destroyed. Your escape pod lands on a world that's been put under quarantine by the Sith, so your first order of business is to find a means of escape. You also need to find out what happened to Bastila, a gifted young Jedi who is key to the Republic's war efforts and who also managed to flee your doomed ship. Later, you'll be charged with uncovering the secrets of an ancient relic, called the star forge, apparently the key to the Sith's seemingly limitless supply of weaponry.

Your main character starts off as a male or female soldier, scout, or scoundrel. The soldier is straightforward but very strong, and he or she begins with proficiencies in various types of weapons and armor and gains the most vitality points per experience level. The scoundrel is physically the weakest class but can disappear from sight by using special cloaking devices; after "cloaking" he or she can inflict great damage to a foe if that foe is caught unaware of the impending attack. The scoundrel is also best suited to talking his or her way out of situations where the other character classes might have to resort to violence. Your choice of gender also has a bearing on the outcomes of some situations.

It's not spoiling anything to point out that you eventually gain access to Jedi powers. In turn, there are three different Jedi classes available, which emphasize either the Jedi's prowess with a lightsaber, his or her Force powers, or a balance of the two. Force powers are basically like magic spells, allowing you to do such things as stun opponents, knock them down, and choke them. In addition, you can heal yourself and use the Force to persuade characters to see things your way (the option will come up at times during dialogue). Some powers are inherently light-inclined, while others are dark-inclined, and though Jedi characters may gain access to any Force power as they gain experience levels, powers that match a Jedi's moral alignment can be used at a lower cost in Force points (which steadily recharge, thus allowing you to use your powers continuously).

The game does a fine job of letting you customize your character and his or her companions. Nine main different characters may join you over the course of the adventure, and you'll be able to travel with up to two of them at a time. They mostly do a good job keeping pace, but in some of the more mazelike environments, they're liable to lag behind, which can be slightly annoying. Most every character has an interesting story to tell that unfolds as you converse with him, her, or it over the course of the game, though some are developed better than others. The most entertaining of the bunch is probably HK-47, who's like a homicidal and slightly insubordinate C-3PO. As you and the others gain levels, you develop your abilities by choosing from a wide variety of skills (repair, stealth, persuasion, and so on) and combat feats (critical strike, two-weapon fighting, toughness, and so on).

Combat looks dynamic, and, at a glance, you could mistake Knights of the Old Republic for an action game. You'll see characters firing away with their blasters, while those armed with melee weapons, like lightsabers, will perform a variety of close-combat moves. Characters dueling with such weapons will block and feint while looking for openings in their opponents' defenses. It's all clearly inspired by the dramatic lightsaber battle at the end of Episode I and also resembles the outstanding lightsaber battles in the recent Jedi Academy and last year's Jedi Knight II.

Your characters will automatically attack any foes nearby until either you or they are all dead, so, in some cases, you end up simply watching the fight as it unfolds. You'll only need to intervene to use healing kits, stimulants that boost your combat abilities, Force powers, and the like. You may also intervene, if necessary, to prioritize targets. You can pause the action at any time and can easily queue up specific orders for all your characters, but you can usually get away with just looking after your main character and will rarely need to micromanage things (your party members will lag behind once in a while, as you're running around, but it's not a big deal). Generally, the combat is exciting to watch and is paced nice and fast. You needn't worry if one of your characters falls in battle, as he or she will simply get up once the fighting is over--though you're tossed back to the title screen if your entire party goes down.

The combat and the dialogue are the two main elements of Knights of the Old Republic. Other than these activities, you'll find yourself running from place to place, but you'll have little interaction with the environment other than being able to open footlockers and other objects that contain goodies. You can sometimes hack into certain computer systems, but this is all done in text and isn't very interesting. Loading times between areas can feel a little disruptive, especially when you have to backtrack. Fortunately, there's an option to instantly return to your hideout or ship if you're not in a dangerous area. Some of the environments are pretty big but most aren't, and a mapping system clearly shows where you can and can't go and what the points of interest are in each area. There's also a very clear record of all the quests you have pending (and all the quests you've completed). As such, you'll probably never get lost in the game, though, at the same time, you might feel a bit confined by where you can and can't go. Fortunately, the game opens up later on, thus allowing you to freely travel between planets to accomplish numerous tasks in whichever order you please.


Mick Jagger to Get Knighthood From Queen
By Associated Press
LONDON -- After months of uncertainty, Mick Jagger has managed to fit Queen Elizabeth II into his busy schedule.

The Rolling Stones star said Tuesday that he will go to Buckingham Palace on Dec. 12 to accept his knighthood.

After difficulties caused by his touring schedule, Jagger was initially slated to be knighted on Dec. 10, the same date as rugby star Jonny Wilkinson will be made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE. But Jagger did not want to distract attention away from the man who led England to the rugby World Cup title last month.

"Mick is delighted that a date has been agreed for the investiture after spending over a year touring the world with the Rolling Stones," a Jagger spokesman said.

"He would also like to express his gratitude to Buckingham Palace for their understanding of his other commitments over the last 18 months."

The spokesman said the singer's 90-year-old father Joe will be joining him for the big day.

The Stones have played 114 shows worldwide over the past 15 months.


HEAVY metal band Disturbed came together through the matching of a band with a singer. Long-time friends Dan Donegan (guitar), Mike Wengren (drums), and Fuzz (bass) played together in Chicago for some time before hooking up with singer David Draiman around 1997.

Draiman had grown up in a religious family from which he rebelled, being expelled from five boarding schools during his adolescence. His anger found an outlet in the thrashing sound of Disturbed, and the band built up a following on Chicago's South Side before a demo tape led to their signing to Giant Records, which released their debut album, The Sickness, in March 2000.

The band gained more fans and exposure while headlining the second stage of the 2001 Oz Fest, then breaking away to perform their own self-described "victory lap" around the U.S. that fall. Also during this period, they managed to record a vicious new version of wrestler Steve Austin's theme song that was so good it managed to receive radio play, and was one of the many bands announced to work on a high profile Faith No More tribute album.

The band stepped into the studio after stepping off of the road and began work on a new disc that would reflect their growth as a band. Feeling experimental, the group worked with producer Johnny K. and mixer Andy Wallace in order to create an album that could compare to other classic metal records they admired, amplifying their fondness for groups like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Pantera, and Soundgarden.

"What I'm trying to do from a lyrical perspective is bring back the majesty of metal," says vocalist David Draiman, defining Believe, the follow-up to Disturbed's multi-platinum debut, The Sickness. "We have a responsibility," he continues. "Two and a half million people invested in us and believed in us with the last album. We owe it to them and to ourselves and to everything we stand for, to respect the lineage and the tradition and the purity of metal. We have to remain faithful to what metal--true, true metal--was first established to be in the name of Black Sabbath and a hundred other great bands: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Metallica, Pantera, even Soundgarden. All of those bands had songs that spoke about grand things."

True metal groups honor the legacy whose thumbnail history Draiman sketches. It's one of the genre's endearing traits: fierce loyalty expressed loudly. Metal requires that quality from its best bands and fans in order to survive. As a product of natural selection, the oft-maligned genre has gathered strength from continuously swimming against the current over the course of its Ozzy-and Iommi-conceived 33-year history.

Disturbed's history began in Chicago, Illinois, where the nu-metal outfit initially attracted a great deal of media attention with their March 2000 debut, The Sickness. The vocalist Dave Draiman, who also suggested the band's name, provided an immediate focal point when he joined the three other members in 1997. The quartet soon built up a sizeable following on the Chicago rock scene, but national success beckoned when their demo caught the attention of the major Giant Records. The Sickness polished off the rough edges of their demo, leaving a fairly traditional metal sound with the occasional nod to electronica in the style of White Zombie or System Of A Down. In common with most of their nu-metal contemporaries the band also rattle out a desultory but interesting cover version of an 80s classic, in this case Tears For Fears' "Shout". Believe debuted at number 1 on the Billboard chart in October 2002.

Disturbed line-up:
David Draiman: (b. Brooklyn, New York, USA) Vocals.
Dan Donegan: (b. Oak Lawn, Illinois, USA) Guitars.
Mike Wengren: (b. Chicago, Illinois, USA) Drums.
Fuzz: (b. Covington, Kentucky, USA), Bass.



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