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Hot on the Web

Trying to do right ... or not

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 21, 2007
(Issue 2538, Open Source)

It seems hardly a week or two goes by but we read a news article about some online database or another being breached. People's credit card numbers or Social Security numbers being stolen by hackers.

Usually, though, the news comes out reluctantly, slowly. The companies whose security measures have been proven insufficient generally admit as much only after the police have become involved, after a news reporter sees the information in public police files (and crime reports are public just about everywhere in the United States).

But it's like pulling teeth to get the companies to talk openly about how many files were accessed, what information was taken.

With all of this in mind,'s recent (late August) e-mail to its customers with the subject line of "An Important Message to Our Valued Monster Customers" was actually kind of refreshing.

The nut of the matter

Of course, nobody wants to get an e-mail from an online service telling you your personal information may have been compromised.

But Monster's e-mail was pretty up-front.

More than that, it was actually informative and useful.

You see, beyond explaining and apologizing, Monster's e-mail warned what kinds of scams are already being attempted with the stolen information, what kind of other scams are likely, and how all of us who use or have used to look for employment over the past few years can protect our identities and finances in light of the theft.

The e-mail (which was HTML formatted) even showed examples of the kinds of scam e-mails being sent out – purportedly from Monster.

The scams ranged from standard phishing ("click here to log into your account" with a link that takes you to another site made up to look like Monster, so the phishers can grab your real Monster login and password) to credit card scams to Nigerian-style scams ("work from home processing online financial transactions ...") to a host of others.

Nothing original in there, mind you, and common-sense precautions will protect you from almost all of them.

Still, Monster is to be admired for fessing up and offering practical advice.

Learning more

If you didn't get the e-mail from Monster, but think your data could have been compromised (a resume, mailing address and phone number are enough to start causing trouble in terms of identity theft), you can go to's BeSafe pages.

On the other hand ...

The same day I received the e-mail from Monster, I also got one from some law firm representing me in a lawsuit against Yahoo.

Only I never sued Yahoo.

Ah, but Yahoo was sued on my behalf under the much-abused class-action statutes that have turned our court system into a lottery.

Some guy in Florida sued Yahoo because some of the women's profiles on Yahoo Personals (reviewed here when I was still single and trying to find Mrs. Right – whom I ended up finding in the real world!) were no longer active, yet still appeared in his searches. Fraud, cried he. Fraud, cried his attorneys. Uncle, cried Yahoo.

And so now Mr. Lonelyheart in Florida, plus myself and who knows how many others – basically, anyone who had a paid subscription to Yahoo Personals between 2004 and 2007 – is eligible for a $35 refund.

The lawyers who represented me?

They're requesting $1 million "plus reasonable costs."

Well, there's nothing reasonable about any of this – it's the sort of legalized extortion that's plagued American businesses for years. This is at least the third time I've found myself an unwanted participant in a class-action lawsuit – the last time, it was because my life insurance company charged me a buck or so per month without disclosing what that dollar fee was for, and without properly notifying me. For that, the lawyers who filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of some schlep who had a policy with the same company as I did wanted a couple million for their time and effort.

While I'm sure this latest isn't the first class-action lawsuit to be filed against an online business, it's the first one I've run across.

Fortunately, as a member of the class, I have the right to petition the court to reject the settlement.

Which I intend to do.

This is little more than legal spam, clogging up our court system.

Anyway, these class-action suits in which the supposedly wronged individuals get a couple bucks in reimbursement while the lawyers cash in to the tunes of millions of dollars, do little in the way of bringing about real justice.

Who actually pays these fines, these million-dollar judgments?

You and I.

Yahoo will simply increase rates for its online dating service, and recoup its costs that way. Does anyone reading this actually doubt that my insurance premiums went to pay the attorneys who supposedly represented me last go-round?

Real-world businesses and their customers have been paying for this legal shell game for decades. Now online customers get to share in the fun.