Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cloning Plastic

About a month ago I received an email receipt for a PayPal purchase, in this case an ATM withdrawal. Only problem? I didn't make the withdrawal.

I immediately called and reported unauthorized use of my card, PayPal cancelled said card, and I was issued a provisional reimbursement while a chargeback case was opened. I filled out the online form asking where I had lost my card, etc, and I explained that my card must have been cloned as it was in my possession at the time of the withdrawal.

PayPal wrote this back to me:

We're sorry, but after careful consideration, we're unable to honor your
claim for $___ USD.

Our review of your PayPal debit card claim shows that the merchant properly
authorized this transaction for $___ USD on $___ and this transaction
appears to be valid. You have significant history of making withdrawals at
this ATM. In addition, your PIN number was successfully entered to
complete this charge. As your PIN number is a security code that should
only be known by you, this appears to be a valid charge.

If you have additional information to support your claim, please contact us.

Well that sucked. 'Careful consideration' took at most an hour. I did intend to follow up, as I have the transaction number and I believe that the withdrawal was made at the same ATM that I do indeed, or did indeed, use with frequency. The culprit must have been filmed making the withdrawal. The problem is that I've been crazy busy ever since I opened my store and I don't like to close the store during business hours if I can avoid it, so basically I never followed up except to fill out a stupid online survey re: my chargeback experience, which only led to a request to fill out another online survey, which was more than I was willing to do.

Occam's Razor suggests that PayPal did the right thing. I do use that ATM with frequency, whoever made the withdrawal must have had my PIN, etcetera. But from my point of view it didn't wrap up so neatly. A friend who had stayed with us claimed that his card had been cloned at the very same ATM a couple years earlier, something I must confess I didn't take very seriously at the time. About a week later my wife told me there was a story on the news about a ring of card-cloners in a different bank. And when I googled 'credit card cloned' one of the first results I got showed how the scam works, using, no less, a Brazilian ATM for demonstration. Different bank, but same country, same scam. I don't go into that bank anymore to make withdrawals because the machines are visible from the street, and it is possible that someone could have spied me entering my PIN. Or not - apparently from within the bank PIN numbers can be captured as well.

Anyhow, I've been busy and didn't end up posting about this, kinda like how I don't post about much at all anymore, but yesterday the exact same thing happened to a guest at our house. Same PayPal debit card. Different situation - he thinks his info got stolen when he bought a coffee with the card. Also different result - in his case, someone went on a shopping spree in São Paulo and charged a lot more than they did on my card.

So what's funny about this? Actually, it's not funny at all, because PayPal gave the same response to this guy. Well, whoever had the card also has your PIN, and since you're the only one who knows the PIN it must have been you! Our guest has been trying to explain that there are hundreds of miles between where he and the card were, and where the purchases were made. So far they don't want to reimburse him either.

The thing that is really amazing about this is that it took them a maximum of five hours to clone his card and start spending his money.

Brazilian banks know all about this kind of shit. Brazilian cards have additional layers of encryption, which can vary from using access letters in addition to your PIN, or entering a 3-digit code from a card you carry around with the card. Some ATMs even have a palm scanner to verify your identity. Most cards issued here have an embedded microchip to encrypt your data and make cloning... more difficult.

So what now? Maybe PayPal will read this post and ask me to fill out an online survey.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Curitiba, Part II

I had wanted to write a follow-up to my previous post, but I'm so slammed with work that it's just not going to happen- except briefly.

To sum up the rest of the trip, I thought Curitiba was awesome. It was a nifty blend of elements from back home, things I saw in Europe, and at times I even felt I was wandering around the UMass campus as I did when I was a teenager. I also flashed back to my backpacking days with my time in the hostel and also wandering around the city. The Oscar Niemeyer museum is awesome. Lots of parks and green areas that are clean and don't smell like other people's feces. I think it would be a more pleasant place for me to live than Salvador. However, the women are much cuter here in Bahia, in my humble opinion.

Here's something I wrote while still at the hostel:

This hostel is strange, and I'll tell you why.

I managed to escape the dorm, thank goodness, and got myself a 'simple room,' which I figured would be a closet with a bed where I at least wouldn't have to deal with snoring and lights on in the middle of the night. I bought a pair of earplugs yesterday on a hunch and it was the best investment I ever made. I could hear Drunk Dude snoring even with the plugs in, but at least it didn't keep me up. However, Upper Bunk Guy woke me up every time he turned over, making the steel bunk bed rock like a tree in a typhoon.

I made sure I was up before check-out and requested a simple room, which is what I had wanted in the first place when I checked in. Luckily I got one. When I opened the door however, I figured there must have been a mistake. There were three beds in the room, and no lockers for my bags, so I figured I really didn't want a simple room after all if I had to share it with two strangers and no way to lock up my stuff.

My confusion arose from the fact that at this hostel the dorm bed and the simple room are the same price. Doesn't that seem odd? I thought so. When I saw the three beds I figured that explained it - you pay the same because it's still kind of a dormitory. But no - they told me that I would have the room, with all three beds, all to myself. Now that's very odd. Wouldn't it make sense to charge just a wee bit more for a private room? I know I'd pay it. Not only that, but my room overlooks the little park in the front of the building, which is nice. A bit of road noise, but I've still got the earplugs.

So I looked at a globe and Curitiba is just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, which means I have just sneaked out of the tropics. It is indeed almost at the same latitude as Brisbane, and Miami is in a pretty similar location in the Northern hemisphere. And let me tell you - I am not in Salvador anymore. Still definitely Brazil, but soooo different.

Finally, I just discovered the finished video of the graffiti event I went down there for. I appear toward the end, and even got time-lapsed for a little bit, which I hadn't realized.


Ironlak Barbecue Burners Brasil 2011 - Curitiba. from NumeroF on Vimeo.

Now I need to get back to work.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I am in the city of Curitba, which is part of the southern end of Brazil. I haven't been this far south since I was in Australia some 15 or more years ago. Looking at the map, it appears that I am at about the latitude of the city of Brisbane, Australia, where I spent a month waiting for some ribs to knit back together.

This is actually an apt analogy- not because of the ribs, but rather because of Brisbane. Brisbane is the home of Ironlak, a brand of spray paint that has gone global over the past couple years and recently arrived in Brazil. I sell it in my shop, and I was invited to come down for an event they held here yesterday.

The invitation came a couple months ago, and up until a few days ago I wasn't even sure I was going to go at all. But it came through- I got a free trip and a room to myself paid for by the company. I was supposed to return home today, but I had asked a favor that they let me stay the weekend and go home on Monday, seeing as how I have never been to this end of Brazil and I wanted to see a bit of the city. So now I find myself in a hostel, checked into a dorm, having left my cozy little euro-style room in the hotel. Haven't stayed in a hostel in quite some time.

The event was very interesting. A van picked us up and drove us from the city center to the middle of nowhere in the suburbs of Curitiba, to a warehouse where the event was held. We picked up a bunch of local graffiti artists en route, who were all very friendly and welcoming. The first thing we saw was a Gaucho style barbecue going on - a side of beef surrounded by a fire. The warehouse itself was quite bizarre - filled with all sorts of strange things including a formula 1 race car made entirely of wood (two actually), a climbing wall, and a large number of bicycles hooked up to generators. A large steel structure, recently painted, dominated the center of the space. Of more interest to us were the walls, which were all free game.

The reason for the warehouse soon became clear - it turns out that Curitiba is nicknamed Crueltiba due to the frequent rains, and we were treated to plenty of that. The weather is much more temperate than in Salvador, and I'm thankful that I had the foresight to pack a fleece sweatshirt, which I have worn almost continuously since I arrived here. I didn't much like the idea of a dozen or more graffiterios painting in an enclosed space, seeing as I hadn't packed my respirator, but I got over it. I also didn't have the foresight to pack any painting clothes, which I am now regretting.

There were four of us shop owners flown in for the event. They quickly formed a little clique of their own, or rather three of them did, I didn't really click with the clique although I liked them well enough. None of them seemed inclined to paint anything, and I figured I wouldn't paint either, but at the encouragement of the other writers I finally decided to jump in. It was hard to resist - there were hundreds and hundreds of cans of paint made available to us to paint the space. We could have painted five or six warehouses with all that paint. I've never had the opportunity to just grab as much paint as I wanted and go nuts (although I could, any day of the week, considering I run a store of my own- although that would probably not be a wise business decision). As a result my left index finger, the spraying one, is quite sore today. I could barely move it yesterday.

As the event wound down and people started packing up, they really started packing up. Everyone had a backpack, or two, and suddenly these packs were getting filled up with cans. Everybody took as much as they could, and there was still a huge mountain of cans when all was said and done. I myself have a box of 12 cans that I need to use up before I go home. Apparently there is another event tomorrow, I plan to attend and use up as much as I can.

Enough words. And I have other things to do. Have a look at some pictures.

The churrasco gaucho. 'Churrasco' being 'barbecue', and 'Gaucho' being a term for folks in Southern Brazil and Argentina, sometimes used to refer to South American cowboys.

The wooden car. They take their formula 1 very seriously here in Brazil.

The bank of power-generating bicycles, which can drive a projector, and a dvd, and some other stuff. The owner of the space told me a single bike can generate about 100 watts. These can all be folded up and towed around, it is set up on a trailer.

The paint! Ah, I think I've died and gone to heaven.

The artists at work. This was the best wall.

Two Aussies representing Ironlak. Nice guys, as most Australians are. They arrived, painted their pieces, had some food, and split. They are now in Argentina.

A view of the same wall, completed.

An excellent multi-layered stencil

My wall, in collaboration with Japem, a local graffiteiro and all around nice guy. I am a graffiti hack!

If I though I was in heaven, imagine these kids. I was torn between thinking how much Lucas would have loved to have been there, and also how I would have not wanted him there with all the nasty chemicals in the air. The masks they are wearing do not provide adequate protection.

The van to take us back was very late, so some of us went out and bombed an empty lot. This was one of my contributions.