by Kurt Johnson
Lucky or not, Smith's number keeps coming up PDF E-mail

“Congratulations! You are a lucky winner.”

Pauline Smith of Hampton was skeptical when she got the first call. A foreign-sounding voice dialed her number out of the blue telling her she had just won a Publisher’s Clearing House prize worth $450,000. It sounded too good to be true.

“They said the money would be delivered to me the next day, and of course nothing happened,” she recalled.

The man called back the next day, this time asking for information to help seal the deal. Smith didn’t bite, and kindly requested that he not call again.

Her number came up again a few days later when a another man told her she had won $8,000. She smelled something rotten and hung up.

Then came the big one. A smooth-talking fellow called asking if she recognized his voice. He kept teasing her for minutes, until she finally gave in and guessed a name. It was the wrong name, of course, but he continued on.

“He told me that my name had been drawn as the winner of a bunch of money plus a Mercedes Benz,” she said. “He had a pleasant personality and pleasant voice and talked like I should know him. I was fooled for a while and guessed a name, but the more I think about it that’s just a strange approach.”

As a 50-year owner of a plumbing and well drilling business in Hampton, Smith knows better than to give out any information over the phone, especially to someone she doesn’t know. She revealed nothing, and yet the calls kept coming.

Then another call came on July 16, the fourth one in five days. Same smooth-talking message, different technique. “You are a lucky winner,” a man said. By now she was losing her patience.

“I got so irritated I wasn’t even nice by that time,” Smith recalled. “They kept at me, but I said I didn’t believe it and hung up.”

The man called back again, then again, and yet again.

“I finally said, ‘I’m hanging up and please take my number off your list.’” The phone rang immediately, but she didn’t answer. “I hope it was him,” she laughed.

The phone kept ringing with promises of wealth. Smith had eight calls the next day and five more the day after that. One was from “the U.S. Claims Department” advising her that she had won $5.5 million. She was told to wear her best clothing the following day when a lawyer would come to her home and escort her to the bank. And, oh by the way, she’ll need to share some information to confirm her winnings.

“Money is the root of all evil,” she responded. “Take my name off your list. Good-bye.”

Smith is now wondering why her? Why so many calls at once?

“I think it’s because of my age,” she said, noting that she’ll turn 85 in November. “They must have some way of finding out your age in this day and age. It’s still scary. They know my address and reel off that information like they know who you are.”

Perplexed, and a bit alarmed that some sort of phone scam blitz might be targeting Hamilton County, Smith called the sheriff’s office and then Hamilton Telecommunications.

For the record, there is a way to put your name on a “Do not call” list. Businesses or individuals can register by logging on to www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222. There’s no guarantee that you’ll never be targeted by another scam, but it’s about the only defense mechanism available.

Be advised, however, as some ne’er-do-well scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s just another con.

“Evidently there is a lot of this going on,” Smith said. “It’s just crazy. They have their techniques and the next thing you know they are probably going after your savings or bank information. It’s scary to me.”

Just like my mama always told me, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

KURT JOHNSON can be reached at kjohnson@ hamilton.net

 
Priceless exposure PDF E-mail

All eyes were on Omaha this past week for a prime time event that cast a positive glow all across Nebraska.


After years of planning and anticipation, the U.S. Senior Open Golf Championship played out at the Omaha Country Club. It was a true test of golf for some of the game’s greatest, guys like Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Corey Pavin, who are now playing on their own back nine of life.


What a thrill for the host city and state. It’s not often you are 90 minutes away and can easily catch such a major showcase event live and in person, or sit down in your living room on Sunday and see familiar turf on prime time network television.


“This course is a gem,” commentator Johnny Miller said as Sunday’s coverage began. “Anyone who has a chance should really come out and play it.”


Wow! Talk about a priceless plug and open invitation to the world.


And it wasn’t just the Omaha Country Club getting some love. Tom Lehman flew up to Valentine a day or two before the tournament began and played a round at The Prairie Club, a place he calls his “favorite place on earth.” The Sand Hills Course near Mullen, and even the public, very popular Wild Horse links course in Gothenburg also got some valuable exposure. Golf purists may not have considered Nebraska a destination venue before, but they’ll surely be tempted to check it out now.

The beauty of it is you didn’t have to be a golfer, or even a huge golf fan, to enjoy the theater of last week’s event. Nebraskans have always known this is a special place, with natural scenic beauty and wide open spaces from border to border, far away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. Millions of other folks now know it as well.

Throughout the four-day event, golf fans all over the country were treated to tidbits of information and insight on the Cornhusker state. They learned that Nebraska does have hills. In fact it’s a beautiful place with good steaks, lots of history, character and charm. Oh by the way you can play some pretty great golf here as well.

Omaha truly embraced this championship and put on a show that will pay statewide dividends for years go come.

Kurt Johnson

 
Drone debate turns skeptical eye to the sky PDF E-mail

There is growing uncertainty in the air these days over the use and potential abuse of drones.

It’s not a local issue, per se, but it’s a fascinating one. Whether you view these high-tech vehicles as useful eyes in the sky or unlawful “Big Brother” surveillance tools depends entirely on your perspective.

I got an up-close-and personal look at the military version of drones, which now come in all shapes and sizes, a year ago on a whirlwind trip to Florida. Uncle Sam is now sending unmanned aircraft the size of small automobiles into enemy territory, capturing valuable surveillance without putting American pilots in harm’s way. That mission seems to be getting two thumbs up from everyone, except perhaps the Taliban, North Koreans and other potential foe.

More recently, however, the conversation, and much more controversy, has shifted toward a growing domestic drone industry. Rather suddenly, we’ve gone from government agencies patrolling the skies over U.S. borders with unarmed Predator drones to a hobby-like fascination with a remote-controlled birds-eye camera. For $30, plus shipping, you too can buy a toy-like device online from Japan which hovers high overhead with a camera on board.

As a journalist, I have to admit I’m intrigued. Imagine the footage you could get (both in video and still photography format) above a tornado’s path, a raging flood or even an interesting angle above the county fair.

Realizing this may eventually have some potential for journalistic use (even at a weekly newspaper like the News-Register), I sat in on a recent digital media showcase featuring the University of Nebraska’s drone journalism lab, which is being funded by the Knight Foundation. Only because UNL is a research university, students there get to experiment with what one professor called “flying lawn mowers.”

Cool? Yes.

An effective means of capturing images from hard-to-reach places at very little cost? Definitely.

But fraught with danger and potential threats to individual privacy? You bet your bottom line!

While the technology itself already exists to put remote-controlled vehicles up in the sky, the liability and privacy issues involved are complex. It’s a felony, for example, to even fly a camera overhead in Oregon. Thirty-six other states are pushing drone-related legislation, though Nebraska is not among them. Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking them all.

And in California, stalking laws make it illegal to take pictures with drones. Imagine a celebrity’s nightmare if the paparazzi could legally hover a camera 100 feet above the back-yard pool.

“I think drone journalism is at least 10 years out,” said Matt Waite, a UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications professor. “There are just so many concerns with privacy, safety and FAA regulations.”

Waite powered up a two-foot drone inside a small conference room, demonstrating how simple it is to navigate. That’s the easy part. The more I hear and think about drone journalism, however, I think it’s headed for a crash landing.

KURT JOHNSON can be reached at kjohnson@ hamilton.net

 
Going mobile not as easy as it seems PDF E-mail

 
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