Friday, November 30, 2012

Reverse Google Search

I just read an article on about an amazing piece of investigative work performed on the internet to find some art thieves.  The interesting piece in the article is right down near the very end.

To summarize the brilliant idea, Jefferey Gundlach, who seems to be this very rich financial genius, had a very extensive art collection at his home in Santa Monica.  In September of this year, thieves robbed more than $10 Million in artwork as well as his Porsche, wine, and watches.  As part of the artwork haul the thieves walked off with two works by his grandmother, who was an amateur painter.

The local police and the FBI were both brought in to investigate the crime.  A substantial reward was offered for the return of the stolen items.  Gundlach also gave the investigators a tip for solving the crime. He said that thieves would most likely do a Google search using his grandmother's name to find out more about the artist and the value of the stolen paintings.  He suggested they check the Internet to see if anyone had googled the name.  As it turned out there were exactly two such searches -- one by him and one by the thieves.  The thieves were arrested and all the artwork was recovered.

This story shows true brilliance by Gundlach. My hat is off to him on the idea to look for the thieves in this way.

All this elation should be tempered with the most obvious implications of what happened here.
Obviously, Google provided the information to the authorities. I am assuming they had a search warrant of some sort to get access to the information. It raises the alarm that anything you may do on the internet may be dissected by the government (or for that matter, even by corporate entities) for all sorts of reasons having nothing to do with crime.  Sort of like Big Brother watching over your thoughts, don't you think?  I read the other day that Facebook is now going to be selling personal information that they have collected.  I suspect that we have not seen what the future holds for us in this arena yet. [Note: interestingly, I received an email today that was clearly initiated by the sale of information on my Facebook page to a commercial entity.]

This is a very touchy issue. Appropriate limits must be placed on the use of this kind of powerful "reverse search" capability. I also recall that after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court that limits were placed on access to information on what books or VHS tapes (or DVDs) anyone can access at a library or "video store".  The issue seems to have been a factor in the Netflix decision to break up their mail order business from their video streaming business as the laws are quite different on what they could do with this information in each case depending on whether it was information on a DVD rental or a downstream.

As a result of the terrorist attacks of 9-11 we had enactment of legislation in the "Patriot Act" on the ability of law enforcement to access this kind of information without a warrant.  Still, there should be very clear limits and controls. Don't you think?

Friday, November 16, 2012

FootSmart Refund for Returned Item

Summary: A purchase of a pair of shoes from Footsmart that was made on Feb 25, 2012 was returned.  The crediting of the purchase was completed on Nov. 21, 2012, almost 9 full months later.
Below are the notes and correspondence to rectify the situation.  This transaction puts Footsmart customer service at an unacceptable level.

February 25, 2012

Item purchased from Footsmart. Cost, including shipping $114.74 and charged to Mastercard.
provided shipping address and a billing address (different). Billing address was provided so that credit card transaction would go through.

March 1, 2012
Item returned to Footsmart.

March 16, 2012
Check issued by Footsmart  for $114.74 to our BILLING address. Our Billing Address is not set up to receive checks.  Check forwarded to our address, but we were away at the time.  By the time we got the check it was stale and could not be cashed. In the meantime we did call Footsmart and were assured that they sent us a check.

May-June time period.
Called Footsmart with information about stale check.  They indicated that they would issue a new check to the correct address, but that we would have to wait approximately 4 to 6 weeks to make sure the previous check was not cashed.

Called Footsmart and informed them that we had not received the check. Asked that they credit the same Mastercard account that the original charge was associated with.

August - October
More of the same

November 7, 2012
Footsmart claims on the phone that they issued the credit back to our account today.  It should appear on our account within 5 days.

November 15, 2012
The bank that issued the credit card indicates that they have not received a credit from Footsmart.

November 15, 2012

Box 922908
Norcross, GA  30010


I am writing to get closure on a transaction that started in February, 2012. My wife ordered a number of items from you. One of those items was a pair of shoes that she returned.  

Here is the information that I have on that transaction:
It appears as credit card charge on our account on 2/25/12 for $114.74.
The order number is PPPPPPPPPPP with customer number YYYYYYYY.

By way of background information, we have packages delivered here to our home, but we use a different billing address because our credit card bills are sent there.  If we do not use that address as the billing address many credit card transactions get denied.

It appears that Footsmart, instead of charging back the returned charges to the credit card, sent a check on March 16, 2012 to our billing address which is really our bill paying service. Our bill paying service is not set up to receive checks for us.  Eventually that check arrived at our home, but by the time we got it, it was stale and could not be cashed.

In numerous telephone calls to Footsmart we requested that the funds be credited back to our credit card. I have called in probably half a dozen times now to follow up on the progress.  To date we have had many promises, but no refund.

We are approaching nine months since the shoes were returned and still do not have the refund.  At this point, I want an acknowledgement in some tangible form that the credit back to our account has been accomplished by Footsmart, or alternatively, that you find some other way to get us reimbursed.




November 15, 2012


Thank you for your recent email inquiry. At this time, your MC account ending in the last four numbers #ZZZZ was credited on 11/07/12. Again, thank you for contacting Customer Care at FootSmart/Comfortology, and if you require further assistance please feel free to contact us.

FootSmart/Comfortology Customer Care

November 16, 2012

FootSmart/Comfortology Customer Care:

Thank you for the prompt response to my inquiry. However, I have now checked with the credit card company and they have assured me that any transaction that would have been entered for a credit back to our account by November 7, or even November 8, would have already been credited, and, needless to say, it has not.
Also, not to nit pick, but when I requested a tangible form of acknowledgement of the transaction having already been credited back to our account, I was thinking of something a little more definitive, like, for example, some reference number, but certainly, an amount.
I look forward to your response.



November 16, 2012


Thank you for your recent email inquiry. After contacting our accounting department, it appears that the original Master Card on file my be closed. Can you please confirm that the credit is still an active accout. Also, the credited amount owed is $114.74. Again, thank you for contacting Customer Care at FootSmart/Comfortology, and if you require further assistance please feel free to contact us.


FootSmart/Comfortology Customer Care


November 16, 2012

Thank you for your prompt response. You are correct that the Master Card number that FootSmart is attempting to charge back to is closed. However, I had fully disclosed this fact before FootSmart attempted the transaction and your representative insisted on doing it this way. I also spoke to the Master Card Bank involved and they assured me that if the credit is issued for the old account number that they would transfer the credit to our current account number. My suspicion is that the credit was not really issued.



November 16. 2012


Thank you for your recent email inquiry. The credit has been processed please allow 6-10 business days from 11/07/12 for the credit to post.  Again, thank you for contacting Customer Care at FootSmart/Comfortology, and if you require further assistance please feel free to contact us.


FootSmart/Comfortology Customer Care

November 21, 2012
Credit was recorded on my credit card today for the full amount due. 
Case closed.

Friday, November 2, 2012

State Farm Insurance Customer Information Privacy Policy

The following is a series of entries that I will continue to post to until I get closure or I reach a stale mate.  If you are interested in the item I suggest you bookmark this page and check back on my progress.  I will remove this message when the post has gone to its logical conclusion.


State Farm Insurance

 In a letter I received today from State Farm entitled "Notice of Privacy Policy" it states, in part:

"State Farm may collect personal information from sources other than the individual applying for coverage or opening an account with State Farm.  Such personal information may, in certain cases, be disclosed to third parties without your authorization as permitted by law.  If you would like additional information about the collection and disclosure of information, please contact your State Farm agent.  You may also act upon your right to see and correct any personal information in your State Farm files by writing your State Farm agent to request this access."

I would like to know what personal information State Farm has on me in my file, including information obtained from sources other than me or my wife.
Additionally, I would like to know to which third parties this information has been disclosed.

Thank you.




I hope this email finds you well... I sent out an email inquiry when I received your email and contacted State Farm Corporate. My hope was to receive something back by tomorrow/Friday at the latest. I haven’t heard back in an email or call as of yet. I will track this down and have something by early next week. My sense is this is the boilerplate I see with Credit Card Companies, Banks etc. I was alarmed to see State Farm join in on such collaborations. There has to be an opt-out for sharing information. I will find out how to get you on the opt-out do not share list as well.    

Best Regards,

Your State Farm Agent


Well, tomorrow leads to tomorrow which leads to tomorrow. I guess this is more incidious a problem for them than they anticipated. Time to start digging into this and write a few more emails to get to the bottom of it.

Email from State Farm Agent of 11/7/12
Good Morning
I contacted a few connections in Corporate and everyone directed me back to the following link
According to my contacts this is State Farm policy. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
Best Regards,
State Farm Agent

11/7/12 My email response to the Agent.

Dear State Farm Agent:

If you would look closely at the email I sent you on October 30, 2012, I said:

"I would like to know what personal information State Farm has on me in my file, including information obtained from sources other than me or my wife.
Additionally, I would like to know to which third parties this information has been disclosed."

This is what I am looking for from State Farm
It is my understanding, under the law, that State Farm is obligated to answer this question in a timely manner.
I, again, ask that I get a firm outside date by which I might expect that information.



Email from State Farm Agent
Good Morning,

I hope this email finds you well. Thank you for checking with with me. I have someone from corporate compliance who is going to contact you with specifics as per your request. Also, I have added you to our Do Not Share database.

Best Regards

Your State Farm Agent



State Farm


We are in receipt of your request for personal information within the files containing information collected and maintained in connection with insurance transactions (underwriting information) for your policies. In accordance with State regulations, we have reviewed your files(s) and identified the following information that has been collected from persons or organizations other than the individuals applying for coverage:
Fire Policy:
Fire Loss History Report (LHR) Ran in Jan 2011 - No incidents were reported.
Dataquick: No report ran
Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) Ran 1/5/11 on both you and your wife - No incidents were reported
Auto Loss History Report (LHR) 1/15/11  ran on you and your wife
5/1/10 claim for you from Travelers Insurance

Unless you have told us not to, we may share information about you within State Farm that was obtained from your application or information obtained from consumer reports, such as those listed above.

While we do not sell any customer information or allow those doing business on our behalf to use our customer information for their marketing purposes, there are situations in which your personal information may be provided to other organizations. We may disclose personal information collected in connection with your insurance without your written authorization. Such disclosures may be made as described in the enclosed "Insurance Information and Privacy Protection" notice.

If you discover the above information is incorrect, you have the right to submit a written request to correct your personal information. Please refer to the enclosed brochure notice for additional details regarding such a request.


Your State Farm Agent.

encl: Notice of Privacy Policy (same as
with the notable exception of the section "Other Important Information")



To State Farm Agent,

We hope that you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving this coming week. We have so much to be thankful for.

I received your letter today with your response to the request for the disclosure of personal information on us that State Farm maintains.  Thank you very much for putting up with my request.  I do want to follow up on a few items. If, for any reason, you do not understand any of the comments below I would be happy to elaborate for you.

First, in your letter's last paragraph you refer to my right to submit a written request to correct my personal information. You refer to the enclosed "Insurance Information and Privacy Protection" notice for additional details regarding such a request.

The "Insurance Information and Privacy Protection" notice is identical to the original notice that I received from State Farm and also the document that can be found at with one very important and notable exception.  The last section in the other documents I mention has a section entitled "Other Important Information."  To be clear, this section is omitted in the brochure that you sent me.  
It is only in that omitted section that the issue of correcting personal information is addressed: "You may also act upon your right to see and correct any personal information in your State Farm files by writing your State Farm agent to request this access."
It seems almost like a self referencial statement, since there is actually more information in the letter than the brochure and neither gives "additional details regarding such a request."

Be that is it may, I will note here the concerns that I have about the information you provided and assume that this notice is sufficient to get the ball rolling on correcting them.

Next, while the information you provided in the letter may be all the information maintained by State Farm in its files on myself and my wife obtained from third parties, it certainly is deficient in that it does not contain the information in the files obtained from us.  Note, however, that while I had expected to see that information also, I am not requesting that you provide that information at this time.

Finally, on the section entitled Auto Policy it states "05/10/2010 claim for XXXXXXXX from Travelers Insurance"
I do not believe that technically this was a claim for the following reasons:
The issue at hand was a manufacturer's defect that resulted in the interior of the car being damaged.  The manufacturer, in settlement of a class action lawsuit, paid 100% of the costs associated with the damage, including the cause and effect of the defect.  In other words, Travelers Insurance paid no claim. Hence no claim was made and paid or denied.
Since I have only been made privy to the few words in your letter with regard to this issue, I can only assume that it is being treated by State Farm as a "claim" like other typical claims.
Perhaps you could clarify for me the detail information with regard to this point and the implications that that information has had and may continue to have upon our State Farm insurance premiums and what we may do to remedy the situation.



November 13. 2012

To State Farm Agent

Just following up on my email of two weeks ago (copy above). Since I did not get any response I thought I might just touch base with you to see how it is going.



November 30, 2012

Happy Holidays and I hope this email finds you well. My apologies for not replying to you in a timely fashion. I was waiting to get something back from State Farm, or preferably have someone contact you directly, to provide answers to your specific questions.  I do not have answers to your questions yet. I have asked for the direct contact person so that I can speak with them. Once I have that contact person I will pass his/her contact information on to you. Your questions are valid and I would like answers to them as well. Please do not feel that you are not a priority. The slow response to your question is uncharacteristic for my agency. State Farm corporate is the only avenue to getting the answer you are looking for. Hopefully the slow response is not a poor reflection on my office.  

Best Regards,

Your State Farm Agent

Dec. 14, 2012

I am dropping you a quick reminder that I am still waiting for a meaningful response from State Farm.




Dec. 14, 2012

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas to you. My family is doing well and truly excited about Christmas.  I remember your Christmas tree from last year – awesome for sure. Thank you for checking in with me regarding the questions you have on State Farm’s privacy policy. I have copied everyone in State Farm who I have contacted regarding your questions. I do not have answers to your questions yet. My hope is that I will have something in writing that I can provide to you by end of year. Corporate may choose to contact you directly as well with a response.  

Merry Christmas & Many Blessings ,

State Farm Agent


Jan. 2, 2013

Happy New Year!
It is hard to believe that the New Year is already here.

Based upon your latest email of Dec. 14, I had expected to have gotten a response from State Farm by now to the question I posed in my email of Nov. 16.  The bulk of the personal insurance policies we have are up for renewal in January and I would hate to have to redo them if the information upon which they are based is incorrect.

Surely State Farm can be more responsive than a two month turn around time to my question.
I look forward to getting closure on this item very shortly.

Hoping you and your family have enjoyed your holiday.




Happy New Year!

I am glad to hear that you did not sustain damages due to Sandy.
I am very surprised that you have not received any notice and/or contact from State Farm corporate directly. The lack of response is not characteristic of the company. I have CC'd everyone in the loop on this issue and my hope is you will be contacted post haste. My apologies for this issue dragging on so long. I am sure you would agree that the experience is far from remarkable. 

Best Regards & Many Blessings in the New Year,

Your State Farm Agent
"Providing Insurance and Financial Services" 
Today i received a letter dated 12/28/2012 from State Farm



In accordance with State regulations, enclosed you will find a copy of your Customer Profile and copies of the applications for your Fire and Auto policies, which contains the personal information we have in our records for you.  Also, your social security number is in our records for you, but for information security purposes, and your protection, the Customer Profile report doesn't print social security numbers.

If you need to make corrections to any of the personal information, you have the right to submit a written request to correct your personal information.


My response to State Farm.

I have received today your letter dated Dec. 28, 2012 with additional information possessed by State Farm on my wife and myself.
Thank you for all your help here. I know that this has been a long and arduous process. At least that is what it seems like from our point of view.
I think we will wrap this up and call it quits at this point on the issue of getting information being held by State Farm..

However, I do want to make three points.

First, I specifically said in my last inquiry that I did not want to receive the personal information provided by myself and my wife, and that is precisely what we did receive.

Next, I did raise a question about the alleged auto claim that was made in 2010 that might have been a factor affecting the rate that we were paying for our auto insurance.  There was no response to that in your letter.

Finally, I do not understand how, on Jan. 2, 2013, you sent me an email not understanding what happened to my request, when, in fact, you signed a letter to me on Dec. 28 2012 with all the information that you sent me.

In conclusion, I am going to be taking the following steps:
With regard to the incorrect information on the personal files associated with the applications for insurance at the various locations, I am going to address those specific points to the individual agents that incorrectly reported minor errors in the applications.  I have no idea where they got that information from.  It certainly wasn't from us.

With regard to the alleged claim on the auto insurance history, I have taken the liberty of speaking with the agent who wrote that policy in Nevada and she has assured me that it did not affect the rates since there was no monetary claim filed.

Finally, I have just had my auto insurance rates corrected for the second, or possibly third time with regard to the multiline discount that we were eligible for but did not receive.  I just wish that there was a way of getting all these policies under one true roof so that we could resolve the issues without having to talk to five different agents.

Looking forward to a healthy New Year.



Thank you for checking in with me. I am happy that you received the company letter. The letter I signed was dated for December 28th, 2012. That letter was generated by State Farm and mailed to me. I signed the letter and forwarded it to you as soon as I received it. The postmarking will be dated for January 3rd or later. State Farm has offered it's explanation but wanted me, the independent agent, to sign the document. I wish we could consolidate all of your policies in my agency.  Unfortunately some of your coverage is for assets outside the state. Please contact me at any time regarding any of your policies. I will work with State Farm corporate, and your other agents, to facilitate any issue you may have. 

I hope 2013 will be a great year for you and your family.   I will contact you to see if we can get together.      

State Farm Agent