Customer Service

I had some stuff to return at Wal-Mart yesterday. I was standing in line. There were two “gentlemen” (and I use that term VERY loosely) were standing there. The only clerk said, I need to talk to my supervisor. She walks away. Dude 1 is a little on the large side and seems fairly chill. Dude 2 is a wirey little guy, making lost of jerky motions and odd gestures, like he is hopped up on something. He turned towards me a couple times and kind of that face-of-meth look. Both are probably late 20’s. Apparently, they are trying to return some electronics without a receipt.

I kept my distance. I debated if I wanted to do this another time, but I really didn’t see this becoming violent, although Dude #2 did concern me. I was armed and had a closed from concealment garment. I had my bag of merchandise in my strong hand, so if I needed to draw, while my support hand was going towards my cover garment, my strong hand would just drop the bag. There did not appear to be an exit behind the counter. There was one door, but it was locked, as I saw an associate open and close it with a key. I assume that is where the money is. My only escape would be back into the store, which really was optimum. I did check from time to time to make sure I wasn’t getting blocked in.

At this point, Dude #3 comes up. This guy is probably in his 50’s, tall, thin, kind of homeless looking. Made some comment like, I gotta go and pick up my money now. Dude #2 talked to him some. The conversation didn’t make sense to me. Probably a lot of context I was missing, but these two guys were not rocket surgeons. Dude #3 leaves. Dude #2 is really excited at the prospect of Dude #3 getting his money.

About this time, the manager comes up along with another girl and the original clerk, So we went from no employees behind the counter to 3.

Manager: When did you buy this?
Dude #1: In the last couple of days (it is Tuesday).
Manager: I need to look up the receipt, so I need to know what date range to look. So, you bought it this week, since the weekend?
Dude #1: No, it was last week. Maybe Monday or Tuesday.
Clerk: We have a 15-day return policy on electronics
Dude #2: (Looking at Dude #1) we bought it definitely within 15 days, so go ahead and do the return (Like they were just going to take his work for it)
Manager: How did you pay for it? Credit Card?
Dude #1: I don’t remember. [Big red flag. Obviously, money is a big issue with the crew. They are not returning a pack of gum. I am guessing an iPhone, but just because of the white box. Anyway, probably a big ticket item. If this was a legitimate return (which I don’t think it was) they would know how they paid and when they bought it.]
Manager: I need your ID
Dude #1: I lost it last week.
Dude #2: He bought it, but I am returning it, because he lost his ID.
Manager: Do you have a receipt?
Dude #1: I think the maid at the hotel must have thrown it away. I can’t find it. (Living in a hotel? Another big red flag)

I miss the next little bit. The original clerk moves to a different register to help me. So, I am talking with her. Not sure the manager got Dude #2’s ID or not. The Clerk is not incredibly efficient in returning items. I am returning 4 things, 3 are on the receipt I give her, the 4th is not. Given what is going on to my right, I just keep my mouth shut, partially because I want to focus more attention on the dudes.

There is note a lot of conversation as the Manager is searching for this receipt. Occasionally she would ask a simple question that has a definite answer, like Yes/No or a date or something, and the dude twins would give a vague wandering answer. I can’t tell if they are purposely being vague because the are doing something illegal (which I believe) or if they just aren’t smart enough to answer simple questions (which I also believe).

So, my clerk “figures out what is going on” (note, I don’t really think she did, she just wrote something on my receipt) and gave me cash back for 2 items I just purchased with a credit card on Saturday. I thought, that is an illegal cash advance, but not my problem.

Me: What about the other two items.
Clerk: Oh….I’ll do that on a separate return. Sign on the terminal.
Me: (looking at terminal, no where to sign, signature screen pops up and goes away. Clerk hands me some money.)

So, she handles the return on the other 1/2 of my items. This time I actually have time to sign. I get my cash a second time and leave. Dude’s are still trying to return. I get out of there.

So, what did I do right, what did I do wrong, what should I have done differently?

In hindsight, I probably should have turned around and left as soon as I discovered Dude #2 was hopped up on something and this duo was probably doing something illegal. But, some issues there. I had merchandise with a return sticker. The greeter was an Indian guy. Nice guy, but English is not a strong point for him. I figured there might be a hassle trying to leave having not done the return. Also, Wal-Mart is not convenient for me. I was in the area and didn’t really want to make a second trip. I didn’t think the situation would deteriorate.

 

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You could be dead right

This really has nothing to do with guns…kind of. Watch this video first, then keep reading. First of all, I was unaware that there is a defined merging sequence as the rider verbalizes in a zipper merge. Yes, it makes sense to alternate, but I didn’t realize it was the law. But, let’s get beyond what is right. Let’s talk about getting home in one piece. The motorcyclist should be alert to what is going on around him, and he was. When he realized the lady was trying to force him out of his lane, he had two choices, tap the brakes and let her pass or assert his position that he was right. Guess which would have been the safe choice? And, not only does he assert his rights, he actually is talking with the lady and engaging her in conversation, and not just engaging her and explaining the law, but actually called her a bitch, which is an insult (although she may not have been able to hear that). In my mind, that was escalation.
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If you are not familiar with it, read about the Newhall Massacre. Here is the important point to this post, Davis and Twinning set out to steal some explosives that were needed to rob an armored car. Davis dropped Twinning off, made an illegal U-Turn, and nearly collided with Tidwell. Tidwell and Davis stopped and engaged in an verbal altercation. Eventually, Davis drove off and Tidwell called the police. Later, when the police located Davis and Twinning, a shootout occurred and 4 cops lost their lives. Tidwell was extremely lucky, although I am sure he didn’t know it at the time.

Tidwell wanted to assert his right to the road and explain to Davis how a U-Turn was supposed to work. Little did Tidwell know that Davis was, at that exact moment, in the process of committing a felony with his partner Twinning and the car was loaded with firearms.

Now, put Tidwell in place of our motorcycle rider. What was up with the lady in the car? Who knows. Maybe she is a meek and mild mannered woman and was just in a hurry. Maybe, she was texting or otherwise so occupied she had no idea that the motorcycle was even there. Maybe, she is part of a gang and lives by street rules, and explaining the rules of the road to her made her feel disrespected. Maybe, she was in an abusive relationship and just murdered her abuser and has a still-smoking gun laying in the passenger seat while still all hopped up on adrenaline. Which one is it? Most likely, it is a lady in a hurry that wouldn’t hurt a fly. But what if it isn’t. What if she truly doesn’t know the motorcycle is there and forces him in a head on collision with oncoming traffic? Or worse, what is she is just looking for a reason to fight, and the motorcyclist just gave her one.

In the end, it all worked out for our motorcyclist, and probably more often than not, it will. The problem is, when it doesn’t work out, there is no do over.

The next time this happens to you, even if you were in the right…ESPECIALLY if you were in the right, tap the brakes, slow down, and even apologize to the other person. It may hurt your pride, but that hurts a whole let less than death.

Flying with Firearms

I am an intermediate flyer, more than just an occasional flyer, but not what I would call a road warrior. I fly with firearms when even my destination allows it. I was asked by a friend to detail what is involved. A few weeks ago when the shooting occurred in Ft Lauderdale, there was so much misinformation I saw on the internet, it only makes this post more important.

First off, laws and procedures change constantly. Always review both TSA regulations and those for the airline(s) you are flying. Do this for every trip.And, as with method of travel, review the state laws of every state you will visit. My favorite site is handgunlaw.us.

I have checked firearms in Indianapolis, Miami, Seattle, Bellingham, WA, and Raleigh, NC. With the exception of Seattle, the procedure is pretty much the same.

Step 1: As you are packing for your trip (even if you aren’t going to transport a firearm) go through your luggage. Make sure that there is no loose ammunition in the bag. No idea how it ends up there, but it does. I found a live .40 round in my computer bag once. Make sure your luggage is clean. Then, do it again.

Step 2: The firearm and ammunition need to be in a hard sided, locked case. I use the factory case my M&P pistol came it. If you only have a cardboard box, then you will have to buy one. You just need a plastic case, with some padding on the inside, and someway to lock it with a built in combination lock or a padlock. My M&P case has a padlock hole in the handle.

Step 3: Following the four rules of gun safety, unload your firearm.Check by both sight and feel that the chamber/cylinder is empty and the magazine is removed, if applicable. The TSA says your ammunition needs to be stored in a container used to hold ammunition. A magazine is such a container. I have never had an issue with that. I have heard of some people that unload the magazine and place the loose ammo in a factory box. That is certainly an option, but space is limited. I always carry with a full magazine plus one in the chamber. For travel, I just don’t take the chamber round, so at my destination, I am just downloaded 1 round. Let your conscious guide you here. There is a limit on the amount of ammo you can transport. For simply concealed carry, you won’t get close to the limit. If you are flying to a class, you may want to ship your ammo ahead or purchase it as your destination. One thing I like to do, if you have the room, is to remove the slide or at least lock it back. That way, when TSA X-Rays it or the counter clerk or TSA agent inspects it, it is obvious that it is disabled. You may not have room to do this.

Step 4: Place your unloaded firearm and magazines in the case and lock it WITH A NON-TSA LOCK. The case needs to be locked with a lock that ONLY YOU have a key for or know the combination for. You will also need a TSA lock for your suitcase, but that comes later. And then place the locked case in your bag you wish to check. Again, let your conscious guide you. You can do this step at home, in your car at the airport, or in a bathroom. I WOULD NOT recommend unloading a firearm at baggage check. Always check local laws for handling a firearm in the non-secure area of an airport. I feel the safest place to do administrative handling is at home, since you do it there anyway and have good safety practices in place. But, that leaves you unarmed on your travels to the airport. Again, this is something you need to plan out a head of time. If you are going to do administrative handling at the airport, practice your plan at home to ensure everything fits.

Step 5: Check in at the counter. Tell the agent you need to declare a firearm(s). Be sure to use this language. You don’t want to walk up to the counter and state “I have got a gun”, as that sets people on edge. Checking firearms is common, so the agent will know what to do. The exact procedure varies by airport and by airline, but in general it works like this:

  1. Place you check bag on the scale.
  2. Tell the agent you wish to declare a firearm.
  3. The agent will give you a card to fill out. The card just gives a summary of the rules.
  4. Sign and date the card.
  5. The agent keeps a copy, and gives you a copy.
  6. Place the card on top of the locked case (not in it). I believe that reason for this is that if TSA were to open you bag, it is proof that you declared the firearm.
  7. Lock the bag with a TSA lock.

And that is it. You r bag and firearm will arrive safely at your destination and come out on the regular baggage carousel.

Here is what the declaration card looks like (the bottom form). Each airline has their own card, so yours will likely look different.

declaration

Exceptions:
Delta in Indy gives you the top form. After you pass through TSA, you show the form to the TSA supervisor. What they are doing is holding you are TSA until your bag has went through X-Ray. I have never had to wait. I kind of like this because you bag goes through the normal channels and if there is a problem (there never has for me), they don’t have to track you down in the airport.

Alaska in Seattle tags your bag and makes you go to a special TSA screening station. There, they open you bag and check for explosives. Once done, you lock the bag and they place it on a cart. If there is a problem, you are right there. However, once my bag didn’t make it on the plane because it didn’t travel down the normal baggage pipeline.

I have had issues with multi-leg flights where there was no agreement between non-partner airlines, meaning I had to uncheck and recheck at an intermediate airport. Not sure how to know this ahead of time. I have flown to Bellingham, WA from Indy 3 times. 2 on the westward travel, I had to uncheck and recheck in Seattle. I never had on the eastward journey. As you should anyway, always check the tag they place on your luggage and make sure you know where it is going to pop out at.

Overall, I have found this a painless process. But, I would allow an extra hour, just in case.

 

Dealing with Credit Card Fraud

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I am not here to tell you how to avoid fraud in the first place because those articles are plentiful. But, no matter how careful you are, you are going to encounter fraud. I think I have had fraudulent changes levied against me 4 times now. In every case, the credit card caught it immediately, called me, and deactivated the card, and sent me a new card with a new account number. I was never out any money.

However, I do have a half dozen or so automated payments post to my credit card every month, AT&T, State Farm, Duke Energy, etc. The fraud is not coming from these places, but when I am forced to get a new card, I have to go update all the automated payments. Worse, if the deactivation happened on the day one of these payments was supposed to post, it could cause bigger problems. So, here is what I did:

I use 2 credit cards, from different banks. I have a credit card from Citibank that is my every day card, which I call my “carry card” because it is carried in my wallet. This is the one that will get hit with fraud because it is the one that is out of sight when I give it to the waitress, used on a website, or used in a gas pump outfitted with a skimmer. But, if that card gets cut off, no big deal. The existing charges still stand, and a new card usually comes in a couple days.

The second card I call my “home card” because it never leaves the house. For this one, I use a card from Chase. I only use it for recurring transactions with trusted vendors. I have NEVER had fraud on that card.

So, what about the 3 day period while waiting for the new card. Ah, then it is important to have a 3rd card that never gets used, but is also carried. I call this my backup card. I think I have a Cabela’s Rewards card for this one. It is important to use this card once a while just to keep it active. I usually buy gas or something every 9 months or so, just to keep the card active.

I pay my credit cards in full every month. That means I always have 2 credit card payments to make, and 3 that one month when I use my backup card. One thing you can do is either stagger the due dates so you spread the payments out over the month, or maybe align the payment dates so you only have to pay bills once a month, the choice is yours, but credit card companies will usually let you change your billing cycle date, just ask.

If you don’t pay your cards in full, then you should ONLY carry a balance on your carry card. Your home card should have only have relative steady monthly charges. If you don’t have the cash flow coming in to cover your normal monthly expenditures, then fraud is not your primary concern, you need to learn how to budget.

The other thing I do, is not have all my cards with the same bank. I haven’t heard of this, but it would be possible for Chase (for example) to have a server meltdown and temporarily stop processing cards, so having your carry card and backup card at the same bank is not a good idea. Personally, I have had a good experience with both Citibank and Chase, and their cash back rewards cards are both excellent, so those are the two primary cards I use. My backup card is from a smaller institution, and maybe even my local bank or credit union. I do prefer to have a card associated with one of the little guys just as a little extra security.

 

Condition White

It was a Sunday afternoon. I had just finished everything on my todo list and was feeling fantastic. While I pondered what to do with the rest of my evening, and I got a private message. Excited at what that message might be, I eagerly went to check it.

It was from John, one of the co-hosts of the Polite Society podcast. I have never met him in person, but you pick up bits and pieces about them from the podcast, and so I have great respect for him (and all of the co-hosts for that matter). John and I have had some discussions both publicly on Facebook, and in PM’s, so getting a message from his was not unexpected.

The message was Photo_3047.svg. John had been talking about a rifle that was up for auction that styled like a ’57 Chevy. I know John is a rifle guy, and figured he bought something like that. Without hesitation, I clicked on the link, not even thinking. what is an .svg file? (Red Flag)  A message popped up asking if I wanted to open the link in internet explorer (Red Flag). Sure, I clicked, wanting to see this picture. IE opens, and I see some .html address pop up in the address bar, and I immediately knew what happened. It wasn’t a photo at all, but a link to some malicious site. It appears my virus software protected me, maybe.

Furthermore, I had seen at least 2 Facebook posts from High School classmates with something about “If you get a picture from me, don’t click on it, it’s a virus, or I have been hacked.” You can’t get a virus from a picture and that is not what hacking means. But, I got so caught up being a Grammar Nazi, I completely missed the message that something was going on, on Facebook with pictures and malicious content (big freaking, glowing, waving, red flag)

OK, so, now I am upset with myself. I am a computer guy, and a self-defense guy. I don’t get fooled by these things. I just don’t. But, I just did. I am now seething with anger, not a John (I know this wasn’t something he did maliciously), but at myself. I felt safe on Facebook and let my guard down. I was in condition white. I would have never clicked on a link in an e-mail or a popup on the regular internet.

And, then I realized, this was a metaphor for life. I move though life in condition yellow, always aware of my surroundings. And, where I can legally, I always carry a gun, you know, just in case. The truth of the matter is, the more aware of your surroundings you are, the less likely you will ever need the gun, because you will see trouble developing in plenty of time, and you can simply avoid it. But, some people I talk to about concealed carry, I ask if they carry a gun every day. They reply, “No, only if I feel I need to.” They are in condition white, they feel safe, and so they don’t look for trouble.

But, that is what bit me. I know better. But, I felt safe, and I let my guard down.

Georgia Woman Defends Herself in Home Invasion

This incident occurred on September 16th, 2016 in Atlanta, GA. The woman was a restaurant manager and was staying with a coworker for work reasons. About 4 AM, two armed men and a woman entered the home. The woman was awaken and grabbed her gun for protection. She did sustain an injury and killed one of her three attackers. Incredibly, she had surveillance footage inside the house, so we can watch how this went down. The video is overlayed with her 911 call.

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View the video first, and then I have some comments.

At 1:04 in the video, it appears that the first shots may have been fired. Two of the invaders turn and run out the front door and the third runs from the hall and exits out the rear door.

At 1:07, the woman appears and is shooting out the front door. This is the first issue I have. The invaders have left the house at this point. I am not sure that her life is still being threatened. You can’t see what is going on outside, so perhaps the criminals are shooting back at her, or they may be running away. It is hard to definitively say if the threat has passed or not, but this is area of concerns me for two reasons. First, she is shooting one handed while moving at a moving target. This is a very hard shot. All of her bullets are landing somewhere, but where? I count 5 shots. Second, not sure that she can legally articulate that her life was in danger at this point, especially with the 5th shot at 1:14 in the video.

Good on her for calling 911, but when she is chasing the criminals out of her house, I think she would have been better off to put the phone down and use two hands on the gun.

At 1:14, the final shot, she steps into the doorway (below). This is not an effective use of cover. I think, when she came out of the bedroom, she would have been better served to take a position of cover in the hallway behind the wall leading into the front room. She would still have been able to see out the door and into the front yard.

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At 1:17, she shuts the door and puts her back to it (below). I don’t see that she locked the door. If she was justified in firing the 5th shot just 3 seconds prior, then there is still an immediate threat in the front yard. It seems she may want to lock the door. Perhaps the door is broken and won’t lock. In any case, she knows where the threat is and turns her back to it.

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It also appears the slide is locked back on the gun, so she is out of ammunition. It seems like she is confident the danger has passed, and switched back to condition White.

At 2:42, the one criminal that left through the kitchen, exits by running through a glass door. That had to hurt.

Despite my comments, she did a lot of things right. First off, she had a gun. She had it stored where she could access it. It appears she had some training. As I said, shooting one handed is hard, shooting on the move is hard, shooting at a moving target is hard. She combined all 3 and connected with at least one hit. She immediately called 911. For what was going on, she was amazingly calm with 911. Obviously, this woman had a heavy accent and it sounded like there was a bit of communication issue with the 911 operator, but she remained calm. If the woman had been hysterical, that would have only hindered 911 getting help there.

The other thing to consider, the time from the criminals enter the home until they are chased away is 1 minute and 7 seconds. If your plan to deal with a home invasion is to call the police, shelter in place, and wait for them to solve the problem, think about that plan long and hard. Even if there just happened to be a police car sitting in front of the house, it is going to take some time for dispatch to notify them of the problem, and when the cops are told there are armed invaders in the home, they are not going to run right in to help you. They need to protect themselves as well, and are going to need to formulate a plan. Even with a cop in front of the house, they cannot solve the problem as quickly as you could. And, I doubt your house would be robbed if there was a cop in the immediate area, so add in drive time for the cops, and possibly the need to get into their car, and you can see, response is not immediate.

TSA Pre-Check is awesome!

tpc_artToday was my first experience with TSA PreCheck.

I always opt out of the porno-scan, instead getting the pat down. On top of that, on this trip I carried some liquid medication with me that required refrigeration. So, I had a small cooler with frozen foam blocks and my medication. At last on the trip down I am under the limit for liquids, but I won’t be on the way back because I had an unopened 8 oz bottle in my checked bag. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it is opened.

So, I go to the United counter at Indianapolis, check my checked bad and declare a firearm. No big deal there. I have to commend United for not putting any additional identification on the outside of my suitcase.

Something I always do is empty my pockets into my computer case, so I did that. I went through the Pre Check line, which had no wait, walked up to the conveyor, and put my laptop bag and cooler on it, walked through a metal detector with my shoes and belt on, grabbed my cooler and laptop bag on the other side, and walked away. I literally only stopped moving for maybe 5 seconds to wait for my stuff to come out of X-Ray. The longest part was having my ID checked, and that was only an issue because I had prematurely packed it. Now, that being said, this was 11AM on a Sunday in Indianapolis. There was no line that I saw for the common folk either, but still, I would have had to remove my laptop, shoes, and belt, and the the pat down takes 3 or 4 minutes if someone is available right then.

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Since I got the Pre-Check, I learned there is a Global Entry option, which is $15 more ($100 vs $85), but it had a lot of advantages. I didn’t know of it at the time, but that is what I will do when I need to renew. If you do any amount of flying, I would highly recommend it. It makes flying like it used to be 20 years ago.