Online security holes put your money at risk

Recently, my bank accounts were hit by an identity thief who used access to my online bank information to create fraudulent checks drawn against my account. Anyone who knows how checks work know that they are just about the least secure method of payment after cash. Since I never really trusted checks, I set my bank accounts up so that I had one checking account to store my cash that would receive all of my deposits and a second account from which I made payments. I never ordered checks for the deposit account.

I thought this would mostly keep me safe, but identity thieves are clever and found a way around this limitation.

You are probably thinking that no teller would cash such a check. You would be correct, except they didn’t cash it through a teller, they deposited it through a bank’s mobile app on a internet only account from an online bank. A fake check printed out on paper looks exactly the same as a real check in a photo.

The first step was to gain access to my online banking information. This was accomplished any of a number of ways. One way is through a Trojan horse virus that captures your account credentials and sends them to the crooks. Another method is to either hack into public wi-fi or to set up fake free wi-fi servers and catch people using their mobile devices. The third way is probably the most common, and that is to simply hack into one website, get their username and passwords and then try those combinations at websites for major banks, email providers and other services.

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I’ve got a court date…now what? (Part 2)

Lauren Deal, who practices as a criminal defense attorney, divorce attorney and adoption attorney explains how you should prepare yourself in case you are called into court.

In my previous article, I talked about the importance of having a lawyer to represent you if you are going to court.

Today, I’ve got suggestions for you, the client, that can better prepare you for your interactions with the judge and jury who will be deciding your case.

1. Be on time for court.

The most important thing for you to do is to show up, on your court date, on time. Early is better, but late is terrible. Judges are busy,Taking an oath in court and even judges who are late to court themselves get angry at parties to a case (and their family members) when they arrive late. Check out your car the night before: fill your gas tank, check out your tire pressure, be sure your fluids are topped off if you’ve got a leaky engine. If you’re riding with a friend or family member, ask them to do this for you. If you’re using public transportation, check the route times. Get your clothes ready, get your alarm clock set, and make sure everything you need is ready to go.

In criminal matters, a late arrival can mean a bench warrant. In civil matters, it can mean that you lose your case.

What if you have an emergency? Be prepared for the unexpected by programming your phone with the numbers for your lawyer, the clerk of court, the district attorney or solicitor (in criminal cases), and the other side’s lawyer (in civil cases). Call them all if there is an emergency and you will be late or you won’t be in court. Shouldn’t your lawyer call everyone else for you? Yes, in a perfect world, he should. Do it yourself, too.

2. Always dress your best.

Continue reading “I’ve got a court date…now what? (Part 2)”

I’ve got a court date…now what?

Lauren Deal, who practices as a criminal defense attorney, divorce attorney and adoption attorney explains how you should prepare yourself in case you are called into court.

Lauren Deal, attorney-at-law
Lauren Deal is a former teacher and prosecutor who is now in private practice with the Deal Law Firm in Macon. Her areas of practice include Family Law and Criminal Defense.

Part One: Your Attorney

Whether you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime, or if you are going through a divorce, a child custody or child support hearing, or a lawsuit, you will very likely spend a day in court.

As a former prosecutor, I’ve spent a lot of my time in courtrooms. Whether you are going to Magistrate Court on a small claims case, or if you are going before a Superior Court judge to argue where your children will live, you can never treat a day in court like it’s just any other day.

Absolutely the most important thing you can do to help your case — regardless of what it is — is to hire a lawyer. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive, the best-known, or the most attractive lawyer in town. For almost all cases, two things matter more than anything else: Does your lawyer have the TIME to devote to your case, including the TIME to come to court? Does your lawyer have jury trial experience?

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Commentary: Four rules on tinted windows

Kelly Burke, former Houston DA and attorney for Burke-Lasseter, LLC on practical rules for window tinting. Kelly’s areas of practice include criminal defense, personal injury and corporate litigation. He is the founder and moderator of Houston County Carries Concealed and Georgia Carries Concealed, pro-gun organizations found on Facebook and other social media. Kelly also writes a column for the Houston Home Journal and this article was taken by permission from his archives

Kelly Burke of Burke-Lasseter, LLC
Kelly Burke

Four rules on tinted windows
by Kelly Burke

Contrary to popular myth, there is no Georgia law on how dark you can tint your windows. On your house, that is. In your car, there are some laws. Using O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-8-73.1 as my guide, these are the laws that apply to that window tint.

First rule, if you drive a “gangsta” car, don’t tint your windows. That’s not a law, just common sense. Why give the cops yet another reason to stop you? A friend of mine recently got a speeding ticket in a sporty little black car, jacked down, dark tinted windows, and neon lights underneath. He had swapped the car with a friend of his son’s while they used his truck. So he was driving “probable cause” when he was stopped. That’ll get you a ticket every time, even if you are 50 years old. I suggested he pay the ticket instead of embarrassingly admitting in open court to driving that car.

Second rule, window tint on the side windows or rear window cannot limit light transmission by more than 32%, plus or minus 3%. Obviously a qualified window tint installer can tell you how much tint that is. Most police officers have a tool that will measure the light transmission as well. However, if you are drunk, that is not a good time to ask the officer to test your windows. It’s happened.

Third rule, bumper stickers on your rear window are illegal. I wouldn’t tell you this if it weren’t true. Now most cops aren’t going to bother you on this issue, but there is no exception to the light transmission rule for the rear window on a passenger car. A sticker supporting the PBA or local sheriff is probably a good idea, even if you don’t.

Fourth rule, become a member of the Georgia Legislature and none of the rules above apply to you. Seriously. If you’re going to write a law restricting people’s ability to engage in free speech, make sure to exempt yourself from that law.

Legal brief: In contested divorce, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

In my roll as a divorce attorney, I recently concluded a long hearing on a claim of contempt of court for violating a divorce order. In the final order, my client lost the marital residence, a house the family had lived in for seven years. But since the children were still in school, the judge ordered that my client would remain in the house until several days after school ended for the summer. Nice, huh? My client got to live in the house for six more months before having to move with the children.

Lauren Deal, attorney-at-law
Lauren Deal is a former teacher and prosecutor who is now in private practice with the Deal Law Firm in Macon. Her areas of practice include Family Law and Criminal Defense.

When the spouse moved back into the house, after my client left, there was a claim of serious, costly damage to the property and theft of many items that were supposed to remain on the property. The damage and theft were, of course, blamed on my client.

My client won the contempt hearing, and did NOT have to pay the $45,000 that the spouse claimed was due for the destruction and loss of property. Why? Because the spouse did not have what I call “independently verifiable proof” that my client did anything wrong. There was no independently verifiable evidence to document the contents and condition of the property at the time of the divorce. Nor was there independently verifiable evidence to document the property at the time my client left.

Unfortunately, this was a difficult divorce, and the attorneys were so glad to be done with it, they neglected a few steps that might have saved my client time, worry, and money down the road.

If you and your spouse own a lot of stuff — whether it’s a house and furniture, tool sheds loaded with tools, expensive camping and outdoor living equipment, or anything else — documentation is key. If one party to the divorce will remain in the house for any period of time without the other, and if the house or its contents will be a contested issue, you must document what’s there and what kind of condition it’s in. A house that’s been lived in with kids and pets can look very different from a house whose only residents were both adults.

What is “independently verifiable proof”? It’s the photographs or video recording taken by an independent party. Many people choose to have each spouse’s divorce attorney, or their paralegals, walk through the house together with both spouses. Take pictures or video of every room, every drawer, ever item worth arguing. Will it cost you? Yes, probably. But it’s better to pay extra upfront than to be confronted with a claim for $45,000 a year after you thought your divorce was done!

DO you HAVE to use your attorney? No, you don’t. You can hire an independent group or person. Home owner’s insurance companies sometimes offer such services as part of documentation for home owner’s insurance policies to guard against fire or other natural disasters and thefts. There are independent sources who will also offer such a service, through home security companies, surveillance camera installers, and others. The most important thing is that you use a trusted source, but also one who is truly independent (not your cousin or your spouse’s best friend).

If you and your spouse can cooperate and work together, the two of you can go through your property alone, or with friends or family members, and using a video app or a digital camera, document for yourselves. Make sure each of you have a copy. Of course, if you can cooperate well enough to accomplish this, chances are that you won’t need it…but divorce is tricky business.

Even if you think that documentation of every single box, bin, and drawer is excessive, do not skip a tour of the home. If my client had had the opportunity to walk through the house with the other spouse and their divorce attorneys before the divorce was finalized and again upon moving out of the house permanently, there would have been independently verifiable proof of the condition and contents of the home.

Although documentation beforehand can’t prove WHO caused damage, or WHO took property against the court order, it can help establish that SOMEONE damaged or took SOMETHING. It also reduces the likelihood that a spouse would intentionally commit bad acts — or would wrongfully accuse the other spouse of committing bad acts.

My client was lucky: we had a good judge, the facts and the law were on our side, and the right outcome was reached. But it could have gone much differently, perhaps even requiring the services of a criminal defense attorney. Regardless, extra care early on may have avoided the situation entirely.