business, complaints

“Don’t worry, I’ve got another suit like it at home…”

A few years ago, while spending a few days in Lesa, Italy, I wrote a post called “Bullshit frosting”. It was inspired by the LuLaRoe, which was in the news a lot at the time. I happened to run across an epic blog post written in 2017 by a former LuLaRoe “consultant”. She was mad as hell and not about to take it anymore, and she used her blog post to soundly dress down LuLaRoe founders, Deanne Brady and Mark Stidham, for taking advantage of all the “moms”, who were busting their asses to sell LuLaRoe and going into massive debt to make LuLaRoe’s founders richer. Brady and Stidham, as well as higher level LuLaRoe leadership, thanked those women by criticizing and blaming them for all of their failures and disappointments in the business. I began my post with the paragraph below:

Have you ever run across someone who reeks of bullshit?  I mean, all you have to do is look into their eyes and take a close look at their overly enthusiastic smiles and you just know they reek of shit?  These are the kind of people who will appear to be happy all the time, yet they’ll be grinning big as they brutally cut you down in front of your peers.  They are astoundingly and overwhelmingly full of shit, yet people still clamor to get on their boat and kiss their asses.

In my post about LuLaRoe, I included a screenshot I found on the woman’s epic blog post. It was about how the LuLaRoe consultants were expected to dress and conduct themselves at a LuLaRoe event…

Lots of expectations for people who don’t actually work for the company, but are themselves the company’s “customers”, reselling their shoddy crap to their friends and family members.

I thought about reposting that post that I wrote in those days, since it was a pretty good and, I think, an entertaining rant. But instead, I think I’m going to revamp my theories about “bullshit frosting” with a new issue. Not that many people are talking about LuLaRoe now, even though that whole phenomenon remains fascinating to me. However, as I noticed on Twitter last night, a lot of people are talking about USAA, and not in a nice way. And like LuLaRoe, USAA has been resting on its laurels and coasting along on a prior “good reputation”. Historically speaking, lots of people have sung the praises of USAA for years, and people want to “get on their boat”. But if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find that something rotten has been covered with a lot of “bullshit frosting”.

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple of days, you might have noticed that I have had some recent trouble with USAA– the huge insurance/banking company so popular and widely used by military servicemembers, retirees, and government employees. Just click on the “USAA” tag, and you’ll see that I’ve had repeated issues with them blocking attempts to make purchases and locking my account arbitrarily. This practice, supposedly done in the name of security, has caused me to have to call USAA to get things unfucked.

It’s a real pain to call USAA, because they’re in Texas, and I am in Germany. Most of their offices aren’t open 24/7– as I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be, if they were a “normal” bank. However, a lot of USAA’s customers live abroad, so it seems like they could come up with ways to make things easier for those people. One would think they would have online systems that would allow me to confirm or deny questionable charges without my having to call them. For one brief time, it seemed like they did have that option. I could just go on the app and mark things “yea or nay”. Now, they will send a text, but as I have to unlock my devices, am sometimes “indisposed” in some way, and don’t always have my phone, watch, or tablet with me, sometimes I’m not able to answer quickly enough.

So… the blocks on my account and having to call to straighten them out were annoying enough. But then, a few days ago, I noticed that I had three actual fraudulent charges on my debit card. It was about 5:00am when I saw these charges, so I had to call the fraud department while half asleep. They blocked my card. I told the representative about the fraudulent charges, one of which never successfully posted. USAA gave me a “temporary” refund on one of the charges. The other one– for Insomnia Cookies– remains. The funny thing is, a USAA representative gave me grief over a vendor in Belgium I’ve made purchases from lots of times, but they allowed a charge from Insomnia Cookies… which has a Web site that, as someone who lives outside of the United States, I can’t even access without a VPN! I suppose I could have ordered cookies for a friend, or something, but why wouldn’t that charge be suspicious over one that originated in Belgium, which is only a couple of hours’ drive from me?

And then, because I had to update my payment info on revolving accounts, another false fraud alert was triggered, this time on my credit card. That issue led me to have to call the rude “gentleman” at USAA who has left me with “shell shock” bad enough that I actually feel traumatized.

Yesterday, I thought about calling USAA again, but my last call to them was so shockingly unprofessional that I just couldn’t stomach it. The charge for the cookies was about $43. Today, I can easily cover that amount, but there was a time not so long ago that losing $43 would have devastated me financially. ETA: as of 3/20, USAA has “temporarily” refunded the $43.

USAA has me feeling like a “castaway, an island lost at sea…” But I’m not the only one by a long shot!

I went to Twitter, where I was surprised to find that just like in the song, “Message In A Bottle”, I was one of many, many people “sending an S.O.S. to the world” about problems with USAA. And some of the messages people were leaving led me to believe that I was actually kind of lucky I’m just out $43. Moreover, a lot of people who really have been screwed, have reported that they’ve been on hold in USAA’s annoying phone maze for hours. For hours, they’ve been forced to listen to USAA’s God awful jingle over and over again, which I found myself commiserating about with a fellow disgruntled member. Below is a screenshot of one of the USAA jingle hater’s recent tweets, which indicates that, like me, she was exposed to the jingle because of some fuckery at the bank.

Exactly! Who’s got time for it?

I directly tweeted USAA myself the other night. It was while Bill was busy tending to personal business. I was sitting alone at the kitchen table, drinking wine and feeling sassy. I almost never use Twitter, except to engage with one of my anti-Facebook friends. But I was doing it on St. Patrick’s Day, because I had my Irish up. I let USAA know that I was shopping for a new bank, which we found yesterday. They invited me to PM them with my name, contact details, etc. I declined, since I have already gotten those phone calls recently, and they haven’t fixed the problem. Aside from that, I don’t want to call them, because I run the risk of getting “serviced” by the mansplaining jerk I encountered the other day, who refused to listen to me and, instead, was talking louder over me, and wasting my time. He flat out didn’t care about my issue. He needs to be fired, but since I don’t know who he is, I can’t complain to anyone who can actually do something. And again, as I noticed on USAA’s lively Twitter account, I am not the only one who has woes… nor am I, by any stretch, one who has been fucked over the worst. Have a look at these tweets.

Of course, yesterday it was reported that USAA was just hit with $140 million in fines because for “bad money laundering controls” that they had a chance to fix and didn’t. According to the New York Times article I linked:

“As its customer base and revenue grew in recent years, USAA F.S.B. willfully failed to ensure that its compliance program kept pace, resulting in millions of dollars in suspicious transactions flowing through the U.S. financial system without appropriate reporting,” FinCEN’s acting director, Himamauli Das, said in a statement. The bank “received ample notice and opportunity” to fix its anti-money-laundering controls, he added, “but repeatedly failed to do so.”

This doesn’t sound good at all, does it? So I told Bill that I wanted to open an account at another credit union, since I’ve also had unrelated issues with PenFed lately, trying to get a checking account with them. Bill was a little hesitant, since he’s done business with USAA for so long, and so many military people have drunk the USAA Kool-Aid. I’ll admit it, I used to drink it myself. But he finally started the process to open a joint account at the other credit union.

Then, after he started that process, I suggested to Bill that he should refinance his USAA car loan, noting that the credit union’s APR is more than a percentage point less than USAA’s is, and USAA won’t even allow us to get a car loan from Germany anymore. They quit allowing Germany based car loans in 2019, which was when we got ours. I guess we just got in under the wire. They’ve also stopped allowing us to open new CDs from here. I read that it has to do with licensing in Germany, which probably involves money and oversight.

I told Bill that it made sense to refinance, since we have already successfully financed two cars together with a credit union, and I financed a car on my own with them before Bill and I met. I have always been very happy with that institution’s service regarding loans. And USAA, quite frankly, doesn’t deserve our business anymore. He can keep paying the higher payments he’s already been paying USAA, and it will ultimately result in a cheaper loan, paid off faster. Again… he was reluctant, but ultimately acquiesced. I don’t think he’ll be sorry.

USAA has always promoted this idea of “family” and solidarity. Likewise, the same “family concept” was promoted in LuLaRoe. As I mentioned in my “Bullshit frosting” post from 2018…

Keep in mind, the people who sell LuLaRoe aren’t company employees.  They buy clothing from LuLaRoe and sell it, and they make their money based on what they sell.  In essence, they are LuLaRoe’s first customers.  And yet, here’s a “coach” lecturing them about what to wear and how to wear it.  Above that post was another one by the coach.  She’s in a van with her sister and their kids, headed to a retreat in Wyoming.  She implies that she and her sister had dropped everything to attend this function because “Aunt Deanne” said so.

Notice that she calls the founder “Aunt Deanne”.  I’m sure the company promotes the idea that they’re all one big family.  On the surface, it sounds good.  If you’re family, you’re “loved” and cared for, in a sense.  Family members are supposed to have your back.  We love our family members and don’t want to disappoint them.  That’s what makes it easier to trust family members, and more devastating when family screws you over.  Lots of people think of a business that treats people like “family” as a good thing.  But there is a downside to being a figurative “brother”, “sister”, “aunt” or “cousin”.  Sometimes when you think of someone as “family”, you let your guard down when you really shouldn’t...

“One big happy family” sounds great… until you realize that some of the most toxic relationships a person can have are with family members.  Family members have that advantage of being in the group… they have access to you that other people generally don’t.  They know you better than most people do.  And when something unpleasant needs to be done, family members feel okay about asking other family members for help.  If you go against the grain, you run the risk of being cast out… lovingly, of course, because you need to see the error of your ways.  While I don’t know for sure, I get the sense that LuLaRoe and some other multi-level marketing businesses are kind of culty like that.  You toe the line so you won’t be towed outside of the group. 

It’s not that I think USAA and LuLaRoe are that much alike in terms of what they do, or even their business practices. I would not, for instance, equate LuLaRoe’s seemingly disastrous business practices with what’s been going on at USAA. Rather, what I’ve noticed is that both organizations are kind of “culty”. I remember, when we lived in Texas, people acted like USAA was just the greatest company to work for and bank with, and people stick with them, even when the writing is on the wall that things aren’t good.

When Bill was looking for a job in 2014, he approached a USAA recruiter, whose eyes very quickly glazed over when Bill confessed that he didn’t know anyone who worked at the company. The guy encouraged Bill to consult USAA.com… This, even though USAA supposedly values its members above all else. And yet, here was Bill, a guy who’s a retired Army officer and has been a member since 1984, and the recruiter treated him like dog shit. Of course, now I am delighted that Bill doesn’t work for USAA. I don’t think he would have enjoyed the experience. Things turned out fine for us, anyway.

Incidentally, I wrote a rant about Bill’s USAA job hunting experience, and USAA had its public relations firm stalking my blog for months. But this time, after having written about them several times this week, I’m not getting any attention from USAA’s PR firm. Not that I mind not being stalked by USAA. I just think it’s kind of telling… it’s like the leadership just doesn’t care about the company’s reputation anymore and has given up on trying to satisfy its members.

I tweeted a couple of responses to people who tweeted last night. USAA was tagged in those posts, and both times, they sent demands that I send a PM with my contact information. When I didn’t do as they asked, they posted this:

No thanks… you’ve done enough already.

My response to USAA’s request for cooperation was, “That’s okay.” I no longer expect them to help. And based on their Twitter feed, it looks like other people need their assistance much more urgently than I do. What a sad state of affairs for what used to be a great company.

So now, about the title of this post… When I wrote my original “Bullshit frosting” post in 2018, I was reminded of a classic episode of the 70s and 80s sitcom, Three’s Company. Have a look below:

Back in 1980, there was an episode of Three’s Company called “Lee Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother“.  Jack Tripper (played by the late John Ritter) was very upset because his very good looking, financially secure, egotistical brother, Lee, had come to visit.  Lee spent the whole time trying to impress people and making Jack feel small.  When Jack accompanies Lee and Jack’s roommate, Chrissy (Suzanne Somers) to a restaurant for dinner, he accidentally spills wine on Lee’s suit.  Jack is feeling horrible, but Chrissy consoles him by correctly predicting what Lee’s going to say after he cleans up in the bathroom– “Don’t worry, I’ve got another suit like it at home.”  Chrissy also says, that guys like Lee are like cakes with too much icing.  Jack, on the other hand, is all cake with a lot of layers!  I think that’s a very apt analogy of a fake person who’s full of shit as opposed to a person with depth, character, and substance.

I think the same could be said for certain businesses who have allowed themselves to become “culty” and too big for their britches. Before long, the quality product that helped them make their good name and form their reputation turns into nothing but “bullshit frosting”…. all icing, and no cake, as Chrissy says. So now, like quite a few others, I’m looking for financial services provided by an institution that is “all cake, with a lot of layers”, instead of just a bunch of pretty frosting.

Standard
business, complaints, money

Green again! But not “in the green” with USAA!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Take heed.

Yesterday’s post didn’t get any hits until the evening, when I posted an appeal to my Facebook friends to tell me if they’d seen the post. I was actually concerned that people weren’t finding yesterday’s rantings, because I usually get at least one or two hits on every post, even if it’s a “repost”. The reposts don’t typically get a lot of hits, unless they happen to be about a hot topic. For instance, I continue to get many hits on my reposts about Erin McCay George, as well as certain book reviews. But when I repost something quirky from the old blog that I just find funny or potentially useful, a lot of times, it gets ignored.

Lately, a couple of fresh posts have been pretty much ignored. The one I wrote called “Just lie back and enjoy it”, about Michigan GOP candidate, Robert Regan, has a grand total of two hits on it a week after it went live. I don’t know why that one hasn’t attracted any interest, since it’s about a seemingly misogynistic political candidate who actually said those words. But anyway, when I didn’t get any hits on yesterday’s post, either, I was wondering if people simply couldn’t see the posts on Facebook. A couple of friends confirmed that the post is visible. One even commented. Thanks, Karen! I guess sometimes I’m just not very interesting. 😉

I thought I’d offer a quick update on yesterday’s angsty morning. I called PenFed to ask about the status of my attempt to open a checking account. For some reason, they were still getting an “error” when they tried to open that for me. So they said they would have the IT department take a look and get back to me. I’m not holding my breath. I think we will look into opening a local account, since it appears we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

There haven’t been any more “weird” charges on the USAA account, since that card is blocked and I’m waiting for a new one to arrive. I did do some scary reading about UberEats and Uber and issues with fraudulent charges yesterday. That caused me to do some deep scans of my machines, to make sure there weren’t any viruses or security breaches causing issues on my end. Nothing was found, so I guess one of the online purveyors I used had a security breach, which is bound to happen sometimes.

In the midst of all of that, Apple decided to do an update, so I spent a couple of hours updating all of my devices. That resulted in my preferred screensaver being messed up, and I can’t seem to fix it. It’s now only showing pictures that are several years old, instead of the whole library. This morning, I’ve spent an hour inputting and updating passwords and fucking with the two-factor authentication systems. That was a major pain in the ass. I think I’ve mostly got it secured, though.

Good to know… And just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

And finally, I’m back to “green” status on my Corona Warn app. Yep… it’s been two weeks since my “exposure” to COVID in Stuttgart, which caused the “tile” on the app to turn red. As far as I know, I didn’t get infected. If I did, it was a very minor illness. I didn’t go out anywhere, anyway, so no need to worry. I lead a very solitary lifestyle. It’s nice to see the green tile, especially since today is St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m surprisingly chill about the security breach on my bank account. When USAA shuts down my account for no legitimate reason, I have historically gotten very upset. But yesterday, when they didn’t shut down my account when I finally did get fraudulent charges, I wasn’t even that angry about it. I’m not sure what that’s about. I should be really angry, shouldn’t I? For some reason, I’m not super peeved, even though I just checked my account and see that one of the fraudulent charges has gone through. I mean, yes, I’m pissed off that there are lowlife thieves out there who rip people off. And yes, it irritates me that the one time I really needed USAA to secure my account, they didn’t deliver. But I’m not nearly as annoyed about this as I have been when I’ve had to call them to unblock my card because they decided that one of my legitimate charges was fraudulent. Go figure.

Anyway, I just had a chat with a USAA customer service dude named Tyler. It was my first time using the chat function on USAA.com, and I must say, it was pretty convenient. I definitely preferred chatting to calling them, if only because when I use the chat, I don’t have to listen to their fucking hold music. I asked Tyler about the fraudulent charges being posted. Tyler says the charges would go through until they finish doing their investigation. He explained why, and his explanation made sense. And as long as no other charges can go through, I guess it’s okay for now. At least I have the money to cover them. What else can I do? He did seem to lack situational awareness, though. USAA’s service has really gotten crappy lately. What a shame.

Speaking of hold music, PenFed’s hold music is especially bad. They play the same sad “dentist office” music over and over again. It’s really loud and a bit of an earworm. I was on hold with them for several minutes yesterday, and I kept thinking about how the music was bringing me down. What they were playing was the musical equivalent of a consolation… like, sorry you’re doing business with us. Or sorry you have to call us because there’s a problem. Except, I didn’t have a problem, per se, with PenFed. I was just wondering when I was going to be able to open a checking account with them, so I can move my account from USAA. Now, it looks like that might not work out, either. Perhaps it’s time to find another credit union. SIGH… I’ve had a PenFed account since I graduated from college. My sister gave it to me as a graduation gift.

Seems like customer service is universally sucking lately. I just now got a sweater I bought in early February. I ordered two pretty sweaters from Celtic & Co, a clothing retailer in the United Kingdom. It was my first time ordering from them, which I did because they have such nice (but expensive) stuff. I didn’t know the sweaters I chose were backordered for five weeks. So I waited a couple of weeks for the sweaters to show up… not that I’m going a lot of places lately. Finally, I emailed them, and they told me of the backorder status, which for some reason, I didn’t notice when I placed the order. I think it’s because they didn’t notate it on their Web site.

I just tried on the sweater, and it is indeed very nice quality. It’s also a little big on me, which is always a good thing. I am basically pleased with the product. However, I don’t think I’m going to order anything else from them, because they’re located in England, and that means dealing with customs and slower delivery times, even though they have a German Web site. And it would have been nice to get my sweater(s) when it was still winter. Spring starts in a few days. I’m still waiting for the other sweater I ordered to ship. Remember, I purchased on February 7!

Well… my guitar is calling me to practice, so I guess I’ll wrap this up and get busy. Gotta vacuum the house, too. I wish I had a riding vacuum cleaner. That would be a great invention, in my view. Or maybe a better robot version of a Roomba that can go up and down stairs.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all. Hope it’s a fun day. And to all the haters out there, see today’s featured photo. 😉

Standard
business, modern problems, money

“You left me… just when I needed you most…”

When I was a youngster in the late 1970s, there was a popular song by the late singer-songwriter Randy Vanwarmer called “Just When I Needed You Most”. I am reminded of that song this morning, just after I called USAA to report fraudulent activity on my debit card. Some of my most faithful followers might remember that on March 8, 2022, I wrote a post about exasperating issues with USAA involving “heavy handed” fraud detection alerts. For the past few years, USAA has been shutting my debit card down at the drop of a hat. Every single time they did that, the charges they were detecting as potentially fraudulent were legitimate.

This morning, as I was checking my bank balance, I noticed that I had three weird charges that I know didn’t originate with me. One was for Insomnia Cookies, which I have learned today is a cookie bakery chain in New York City that, evidently, delivers at all hours. I had never even heard of Insomnia Cookies before today, but I have a pending charge from them on my debit card. One fraudulent charge was for Uber Eats, which does exist in Germany, but not in our area. I have never ordered from Uber Eats in my lifetime. The third charge, which was evidently reversed, was for Uber. I have also never in my life used Uber.

None of those wonky entries tripped USAA’s fraud alert system, even though they were “in person” charges for goods and services obviously made in places where I don’t live, and have never told USAA I was, or ever would be, visiting. And yet, last week, when I was bitching at USAA for denying my legit charges in Europe, they were questioning a charge to an Armenian Brandy Boutique in Belgium that I have ordered from multiple times over the past several years. What gives?

Sigh… I relate.

I spoke to a USAA member representative at 5:30am, who began the dispute process for me. Now, I have to wait until the new debit card gets to me, which will take some time. And I have to change all of the payment methods for which I’ve been using the USAA debit card and use credit until I get the new card. I don’t like using my credit cards unless it’s absolutely necessary. I spent too long getting myself out of debt to feel comfortable using credit cards for everyday purchases, even though I can and do pay them off immediately. It is annoying that I’ve had to call them so many times about having my card erroneously shut down, but now they’ve missed actual fraud. Clearly, USAA’s security system isn’t working to its fullest potential.

Meanwhile, last week, I made a request to PenFed that they open a new checking account for me. While I was talking to them, trying to get the new checking account set up, their computer system went down. I was told they would send me information about opening the account. It never arrived, so I’m going to have to call them again today.

When we first moved to Germany, I told Bill that I thought we should get a local *German* account. He disagreed, and got one at the credit union on post. Now, he’s changed his mind, and we’re going to look into opening an account that can be used locally so that this kind of crap might be less of a pain in the ass for us.

Dolly Parton did a very nice cover of Randy’s song. Looks like she’s being joined by Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski.

A number of my friends have told me they’ve stopped using USAA. I’m beginning to think maybe that would be a good idea for us, too. This decision is probably going to be painful and inconvenient. We’ve used USAA for so long that it feels like dropping them would be like divorcing a spouse we’ve been married to for decades. I have been a customer since 1994. Bill has been one since 1984. But unfortunately, it looks like the time has come to reconsider this business relationship. Or, at least start moving some of our business to more secure/less irritating outlets. I actually wanted to ditch USAA years ago, but deferred to Bill, since he’s the breadwinner. I think maybe he’s starting to see the light.

I also checked the Corona Warn app to see if I’m still getting a “red tile”. As of right now, I am. The tile is supposed to expire today, though. I haven’t been sick with COVID-19. Or, at least, I haven’t shown any symptoms of illness, other than my usual asthma cough. So, I guess the bright side is, I still have my health. At least for the time being.

I might be back later with a rant about current events or something else. For now, I think I’ll practice guitar and walk the dogs. That will help me blow off some of this irritation and tension.

Standard
education, poor judgment, stupid people, true crime

I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record!

Good morning, y’all… It’s my third Wednesday as a pseudo single person. Bill is supposed to come home sometime between tomorrow night and Friday night. Originally, the plan was for him to come back Friday night, but he needs to get a new ID card or he can’t work. Our cards expire on the 23rd, even though we just updated them in September. Bill is now on a new contract and that means new cards. Come to think of it, before long, I’ll also need a new regular military ID– the one I’d use in the USA if we were there.

In any case, Bill tried to get a new card made at an installation somewhat close to where he is right now, but that office ran out of ID cards on the day he was going to go. The other ID office near his current location is closed until the 29th. So then Bill said maybe he’d come home on Thursday night and get new cards made in Wiesbaden. I assume he’d be taking me, too, since I also need a new card, not that I spend any time on the installation during the COVID-19 mess. But then last night, he said getting one in Wiesbaden is also not possible. So now he says he will try to get one in Hohenfels, which was his original plan. Maybe they have a restock of IDs by now. If he does that, he says maybe he’ll be home Friday morning. That would be good.

It occurs to me how lucky we are to like each other so much. Yes, we love each other, but we also LIKE each other a lot. And we miss each other when we aren’t together. Bill’s business trips are boring for both of us. Sometimes I go with him, but then I end up hanging out by myself all day in a hotel room or wandering aimlessly. I am actually glad I got to go with him to Poland in November 2019, though. That was a pretty interesting trip. It would have been even better if we could have driven ourselves there rather than flown.

Anyway… on to today’s topic. I cannot, for the life of me, understand the mentality of some people– mothers especially– who feel the need to commit crimes on behalf of their children. Especially crimes that are more about their egos than preserving life or limb. I mean, I can understand a woman going all “mama bear” on someone who literally threatens or hurts her child somehow. But what about the moms who feel like they need to engage in fraud, harassment, or computer crimes to make sure her little darling(s) is/are on top of the heap? We’ve spent the last two years hearing about Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin committing fraud and cheating to get their daughters into good schools. But more ordinary moms of more modest means also commit these crimes on behalf of their children.

I ran across two such stories yesterday involving meddlesome moms who are now in legal trouble because they couldn’t or wouldn’t let their daughters achieve things on their own. In one case, the mom and daughter were both involved and BOTH of them got arrested. I’m sure that will look good on the girl’s permanent record.

Case #1

Meet Raffaela Spone, a 50 year old mom from Chalfont, Pennsylvania. She is currently facing misdemeanor charges for producing “deep fake” nudes of her daughters’ rivals on her high school cheerleading team. Ms. Spone was arrested on March 5, having been charged with three counts of cyber harassment of a child and three counts of harassment. In her mug shot, she stares blank faced at the camera, her heavily lined eyes glaring, her thin, maroon lips pursed into a line. She wears a chartreuse colored top and a necklace, indicating that fashion and looking snappy is important to her.

Ms. Spone allegedly doctored photos of her daughters’ rivals on a Doylestown area cheerleading team, creating realistic looking images that make it look like the girls were photographed nude, vaping, or drinking beer in bikinis. She sent these fake photos to cheerleading coaches in an effort to get the girls kicked off their team. She also texted the photos to the girls themselves and suggested that at least one of them should kill herself. The three victimized girls were all on the same team as Spone’s daughter, but investigators don’t think she had anything to do with the harassment or was aware of what her mother was doing.

A case like this has all the trappings of a Lifetime movie. In fact, back in the 1993, HBO made a satirical movie about Wanda Holloway, a mother in Texas who actually hired a hitman to kill her daughter’s cheerleading rival. Fortunately, the would be hitman turned Wanda in and the plot failed. In that film rendition, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, Holly Hunter played Wanda Holloway. In 1992, ABC also made a movie about Wanda Holloway, Willing to Kill: The Texas Cheerleader Story, with Lesley Ann Warren playing Wanda. I haven’t seen either film. Maybe I’ll seek them out today.

I wonder if Raffaela Spone thinks someone might portray her on film someday. I’m sure Lifetime would be all over it. At least in this case, no one was physically hurt and murder was never on the table. If she is convicted, Raffaela Spone could spend six months to a year in prison. Mitigating matters is the fact that in one of the doctored photos that was supposed to appear to be a nude, Spone had digitally removed the bikini in the photo and overlaid flesh colored bars that gave the photo a “Barbie doll” effect, with no genitalia showing. Had anything private been showing, Spone would be facing much more serious charges.

Meanwhile, I’m sure everyone in their town now knows who Spone’s daughter is, even though she wasn’t implicated in the case. In her quest to cheat for her daughter, Spone has made things much worse for her. Even though the daughter wasn’t involved, her permanent record now has a blight. Hopefully, the people of that community are empathetic. I can only imagine Spone is probably a nightmare when she’s behind closed doors, particularly if she’s willing to go to these lengths to cheat for her daughter.

Case #2

We now move south to Florida, where a 17 year old high school student and her mother, Laura Rose Carroll, who also happens to be an assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School, have been arrested for hacking the school’s computer system. Ms. Carroll is alleged to have logged into the school’s computer system and casted 246 votes for her daughter, who was on the Homecoming Court. Ms. Carroll’s efforts, had they not been discovered, would have resulted in her daughter winning the contest under false pretenses.

The list of charges against Laura Rose Carroll and her daughter is long. According to The Hill, “the mother and daughter will be charged with offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks, and electronic devices, unlawful use of a two-way communications device, criminal use of personally identifiable information and conspiracy to commit these offenses.” Arrest records also indicate that Ms. Carroll’s daughter also had improper access to her mother’s “FOCUS” account. I’m assuming that FOCUS is some kind of school computer system that has all of the permanent records of the students in the school system. Naturally, that would include personal information that should not be accessible to anyone who doesn’t specifically need access to such personal and confidential information. A witness claims that the daughter had access to the FOCUS account for a long time and use it frequently to get information about test scores and grades. The daughter also allegedly divulged private information about other students to her friends.

Given who Ms. Carroll is, it’s highly likely that everyone knows who her daughter is, despite her name not being printed in the media due to her age. Not knowing anything at all about this duo and not finding the news articles about them particularly illuminating, I wonder what the conditions were that led to this mother-daughter crime spree. Which one of them is the more toxically ambitious of the two? Is it mom who wants to see her daughter crowned in a means to stroke her own ego and, perhaps, vicariously live through her daughter’s achievements, even if they were ill gotten? Or is it the daughter who convinced her mother to help her cheat? It will be interesting to see if the media reveals any more details about this case.

I suspect Ms. Carroll is now unemployed. If she’s not unemployed yet, she probably will be very soon. Her bond was set at $8500, while her daughter was carted off to juvenile hall. I wonder if it was worth it to them.

These cases make me appreciate my mom more. I mean, hell, my mom won a beauty contest when she was 16 years old. I’m sure she would have loved it if I had been pretty and popular instead of outspoken and obnoxious. Fortunately, my mom is not ambitious for anyone but herself, and she pretty much stayed out of my life once I was at puberty. She stuck to paying the bills and encouraging me to get a job and GTFO on my own. She sure as hell wasn’t involved in my horse shows, which was what I was doing when I was a teen. She didn’t even look at my report cards. At the time, I thought that made her uncaring, but now I think she did me a solid. Anything I achieved, I did so legitimately and mostly on my own. At least neither of us were ever arrested for cheating or harassment or any other embarrassing misdeed that would have wound up on my permanent record. I have the satisfaction of knowing I can do things on my own… which I’ve been unhappily proving for almost three weeks now.

On another note… for some reason, as I type this, I am reminded of this classic song by Violent Femmes… the album this song comes from never ages, even though the lead singer can’t sing. What he has is vocal charisma. I’m sure it’s served him well over the years.

“I hope you know that this will go down on your PERMANENT RECORD!” Oh yeah?
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education

Gaming the system… a couple of moms flunked the test.

I suppose it’s about time I offered my opinions about this college admissions scandal involving Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. If you haven’t been living on a distant mountain top, you’ve probably already heard about it. Apparently, both of these well-known actresses are in deep shit with the feds because they paid bribes to get their daughters’ college admissions packets shored up so they could attend elite universities. Huffman is married to actor William H. Macy, who apparently wasn’t involved or arrested when federal agents showed up to take Huffman into custody. Loughlin is married to fashion designer, Mossimo Giannulli, who was reportedly complicit in the affair.

Huffman and Loughlin are probably the best known of the dozens of people caught in this sting. Both are beautiful, successful, and most importantly, wealthy, actresses who live in California. Loughlin reportedly wanted her daughters, Isabella and Olivia, to attend a top flight college because she’d never had the opportunity. As for Huffman… I really don’t know what the motive was. I guess she just wanted her daughters, Sofia and Georgia, to have the “best” education. Unfortunately, these parents all resorted to cheating and bribery to get their daughters ahead. Sadly, I think their tactics have backfired spectacularly.

I read in one article that Lori Loughlin and her family would probably suffer more from this than Huffman and Macy will. That’s because besides Loughlin’s acting gig, the family is heavily tied to corporate America. 19 year old Olivia Jade has a very successful Instagram gig with millions of followers, as well as a burgeoning YouTube channel. She has publicly stated that she doesn’t even care about going to college and, in fact, isn’t available to attend classes due to her work schedule. Why she couldn’t just work, instead of taking away another student’s spot at a top tier school, is beyond me. She’s absolutely gorgeous, and obviously making more than minimum wage… at least for now. There is no shame in working and/or skipping college. It looks like Olivia Jade is about to learn a hard lesson, Paula Deen style. Brands are already distancing themselves from her. What’s more, if she ever did decide to pursue a more “normal” profession, are people going to take her seriously? She’s been publicly outed as an academic fraud! Lori Loughlin has been dropped from Hallmark and will not be making any appearances on next season’s Fuller House episodes.

What is especially sad to me, though, is the idea that the children of Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli, Felicity Huffman, and William H. Macy feel like they even need to attend a school like the University of Southern California. There are so many great schools in the United States. It just seems like a shame to me that they had to resort to fraud to find one that suits their needs.

I have written in depth about my college experiences before on my old blog, but here’s a very quick recap. When I was 18, I wanted very badly to go to James Madison University. I didn’t have the grades or the SAT scores, so I went to less competitive Longwood College (now Longwood University) instead. It turned out to be a fabulous place for me. That’s where I learned to sing. Discovering that gift and having the chance to develop it changed my life. If I had gone to JMU or Virginia Tech, I sincerely doubt I would have ever had that opportunity. Mike Pence, who debated Tim Kaine at my alma mater in 2016, might have helped put Longwood on the map. Alas, he called my school “Norwood” instead. For that gaffe alone, I’d never vote for him, not to mention his penchant for calling his wife “Mother” and obsession with controlling the uteri of all women.

Twenty-five years after I graduated, there are still professors there who remember me. My husband, who graduated from much better known American University, often marvels at how close-knit and nurturing Longwood obviously is. I keep in contact with several former professors, thanks to social media, and still have so many friends from those days. To me, that is a big part of what college is supposed to be about, besides learning. If you don’t care about college, why go? Especially if you’re already gainfully employed!

Olivia Jade Giannulli is only 19 years old. She’s legitimately beautiful, and simply being that beautiful will open a lot of doors for her. Add in the fact that she has very successful parents who are obviously interested in seeing her succeed and you have someone who really didn’t even need to be a Trojan. Maybe she could have gone to college later, if she wanted to, but she’s clearly not even ready for college and doesn’t want to be there.

And then there are the schools themselves. Clearly, this is something that has been going on for a long time. How seriously can a person take the colleges that were identified in these scams? Obviously, the admissions staff lets these frauds through. I have mentioned that I once worked as a temp at the College of William & Mary’s admissions office. I know how overwhelmed those offices are, particularly at this time of year. But the whole reason for having an admissions office is to find the best students. Somehow, Olivia Jade and her sister got into USC as “athletes”, even though they weren’t actually athletes. How does that happen?

I read that Lori Loughlin and her husband paid about half a million bucks to get their special snowflakes into USC. I bet she’s going to pay a hell of a lot more, once all of this is said and done. Felicity Huffman supposedly paid about $15,000 to help her daughter cheat on her SATs. Although she was considering helping her younger daughter in the same way, she ultimately decided not to. I think Huffman has done her older daughter a huge disservice, since it will now be harder for people to trust that her accomplishments are her own. In her desire to “help” her daughters get the “best”, she has saddled one of them with the stigma of public humiliation. That will probably be difficult for her to overcome.

Well… everyone makes mistakes. This mistake is definitely a “whopper” for Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and all of the other people out there who felt they needed to cheat in order to get their kids into the “right” college. Maybe I haven’t set the world on fire with my own post collegiate endeavors, but at least I know I got into my school entirely on my own merits. There’s a lot of value in that knowledge. I think Huffman and Loughlin would do well to watch some public television or something… they need to be reminded that cheaters never win.

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