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Making Crime Pay
No, you simply cannot steal my time and get away with it, not if I can help it. And a lot of times I can.

If I have a hobby, it's being a part-time detective. I've tracked down one stolen car and the dirtbag who stole it, then tracked him down again and made him pay me his court-ordered restitution. Then there was my hit-and-run driver, whom I also tracked down, and had prosecuted.

I also tracked down a friend's birth parents and figured out who was e-harrassing another friend of mine. The friend wanted to send a person an email demanding they stop. Naw. I instead looked up their corporate email policy -- all the small print every big company puts out about not using corporate email for nefarious ends -- and we sent the harrasser a screen-shot of it. That was the last my friend heard from the harrasser, of course.

And then there's stuff like this little adventure from the other evening:

Richard "RJ" LaBarba, who was ticked off about my anti-SUV campaign, anonymously signed me up for a slew of list-serves -- everything from the John Birch Society to the NRA to Omaha Steaks and some lobster company. Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong girl. I tracked his ass down in the span of about 20 minutes and called him, yelled at him, and told him he owed me $50 for my time.

After I lectured him for a while on why, he said he'd pay me the $50 in a couple of weeks. Hmm. Well, I blogged it, and wondered in that blog item whether that was so, and, lo and behold, he was the first comment on that blog item, apologizing, and he express-mailed me $50 bucks, cash, right away. Here it is.


(The small print on the envelope says "True to my word! RJ")

I've always joked, "Revenge is the best revenge," but really what this is about is accountability. No, if you take my time, it's not enough to simply apologize. My time is worth something, and frankly, at $50 for deleting 30 or so list-serve subscriptions, RJ got off cheaply.

The point isn't really to make money off people (although I'm going after a telemarketer next, and because of the guy's arrogance, plan to sue him in small claims court for my posted prices), it's to show people that they just can't just walk all over people with impunity and play out their lives as if they're the lone member of the ME! ME! ME! generation. And besides, it's fun as hell!

Posted by aalkon at March 10, 2006 11:12 AM

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So what are you going to do with the $50?

Posted by: eric at March 10, 2006 8:22 AM


There's a name for what you do. It's called reality TV. Personally, I was especially fascinated by your story about tracking down the guy who signed you up for a slew of list serves. Anyway, if you want to, get in touch with a producer, and see what they think of the show idea.

Bill Force

Posted by: bill force at March 10, 2006 9:17 AM

Hey, thanks, Bill.

As for the $50, I think I'll put it toward my plane ticket to Detroit to sue the guy from GFK automotive for using my phone line to annoy the crap out of me for his business interests. I was going to charge him $50, but then he started rationalizing how it's standard business procedure to call me at home on the phone line I pay for. Mmmmhmm. Bad idea. I was suddenly reminded of my posted prices for irritating the shit out of me on my dime (see "posted prices" link above). Upwards of $3,000.

More about THAT when more transpires!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 10, 2006 9:32 AM

Not being at all tech-oriented, we wonder if there's any open-source Manual out there for "tracking" botherations such as these. You say, you "spent twenty minutes"... to me, logic and reason aside, the cyber-mechanics of such escapades are entirely too obscure. How, for example, does one lift the hood before finding which lines go with which terminal on the battery? Your boiled-down techniques would be most helpful. Ever thought of taking Executive Action to pre-empt constant chivvying of privacy?

Posted by: John Blake at March 10, 2006 2:28 PM

"Ever thought of taking Executive Action to pre-empt constant chivvying of privacy? "

Not sure what this means, but I went to ARIN WHOIS to find who served his IP address, then looked at the return path in his email. I was rewarded with the IP address initially out of my sense of fair play: I could have just deleted all the list-serves as spam, but I felt that wouldn't be right, since it wasn't the various forums' fault that somebody had coopted them as a means of harrassment. I went through the painstaking and irritating process of unsubscribing to all. In the process, I found a little link that said: "How was I subscribed" and listed the IP of the person signing up my email address. Bingo!

I'm really just obsessed with justice, to a great degree, and when somebody does something I feel is unethical or wrong, my mind starts whirring and I get lots of ideas about how to track them down.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 10, 2006 3:13 PM

Considering the various causes of action that might have otherwise been asserted against RJ for his activities, I'd say you were exceedingly generous for accepting a $50 settlement offer.

Posted by: snakeman99 at March 11, 2006 7:09 AM

>but I felt that wouldn't be right, since it wasn't the various

>forums' fault that somebody had coopted them as a means of


Actually, it is their fault. To avoid all-too-common abuses
such as this, the standard of good practice is confirmed
opt-in. This would involve each list sending you a "You seem
to have subscribed to this list. If this is true, please reply
to this Email." If you don't reply, you never get another
message from the list. Good practices turn harrassment into
minimal annoyance.

Posted by: Ron at March 11, 2006 8:12 PM

Actually, with the level of email I get, any subscriptions, even with opt-in messages, are overwhelming on top of my already overwhelming slew of email from people asking for advice and commenting on my blog. It takes my attention away from answering legitimate mail. And is it really the fault of others for failing to guard against every asshole -- or is it the fault of the assholes themselves?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 11, 2006 9:04 PM

If you leave your keys in your car's ignition, it's still theft
if somebody takes it without your permission. However, in most
places, leaving your keys in the ignition is irresponsible and
just asking for this kind of abuse.

With the current state of the internet, a mailing list
without confirmed opt-in is simply irresponsible.
Many ISPs will shut this kind of list down if they get spam
complaints from it, as otherwise, the ISP is likely to find
itself on blacklists as a spam source.

Posted by: Ron at March 12, 2006 6:05 PM

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