Skip to content

A “safe” way to invest in bitcoin. Another push on freezing. Super techie gifts.

You’re getting this blog a little early. I’m on my way to Israel for a family bar mitzvah. You’ve heard of destination weddings? Wall, this is a destination bar mitzvah.

Here’s a “safe” way to invest in bitcoin
Such a nice simple chart. Gives new meaning to parabolic?

GBTCYTD

It’s run by someone called
Grayscale

which I’ve never heard of. But I was able to buy five GBTC through Fidelity which is very conservative and, I’m guessing, checked them out.

Grayscale’s web site has fun stuff:

Xapo

Xapo’s web site has this piece of modesty:

Xapo2

I got my picture wrong last week. This is the real Chamath Palihapitiya.

chamath

He got into bitcoin early, buying it as low as $100. He told CNBC: “I think this thing is a $100,000 a coin probably in the next three to four years. And I think it is in the next 20 years a million dollars a coin.”

You can read more about his interview with CNBC here.

Cracked record — Harry’s obsession with freezing

If you haven’t frozen your accounts at the five (not three) credit reporting agencies, you should do so immediately — if not sooner. You should also freeze  your spouse and any children who have their own social security numbers. I’ve nagged about for a while. I had accounts frozen for over two months. I haven’t been hacked. I haven’t applied for credit, or any new credit cards. So no need to unfreeze them. The only untoward thing is that a couple of online vendors will no longer take my MasterCard credit card. Chief among them is Uniqlo. I give them my J.P. Morgan Visa debit card which takes money directly out of my bank.

Here’s the list of the five credit reporting agencies again:

 + Chex Systems. Click here. 

 + Experian. Click here.

+ TransUnion. Click here.

+ Equifax. Click here.

+ Innovis. Click here. 

There are two reasons I’m writing about this again. First, most people have not frozen their accounts at the credit reporting. Second, the New York Times this weekend celebrated a Freeze Day which a big Western Bank celebrated. Here’s the article.

YOUR MONEY
In the Wake of the Equifax Breach, a Bank Pushes Credit Freezes

PORTLAND, Ore. – In the months since Equifax allowed the Social Security numbers of 145 million Americans to fall into the hands of thieves, the company has apologized, consumers have expressed rage and politicians have lashed the company at public hearings in Washington.

The banks and other financial institutions that buy our personal data from Equifax and its two competitors, Experian and TransUnion, however, have not had much to say on the matter.

That all changed here on Friday as Umpqua Bank, with about 300 branches in five western states, gleefully conducted what it called Freeze Day for its 4,200 employees. It encouraged them to press the pause button for 30 minutes during the workday and use the time to close off their credit files at the three credit bureaus.

Umpqua, which bills itself as the world’s greatest bank and does so with only the slightest smirk, assembled and trained a team to help workers initiate what’s known as a credit freeze. The bank has started encouraging customers to freeze their credit files, too. As part of the freeze-day festivities, Umpqua served brown-sugar strawberry ice cream sandwiches to the staff for breakfast, staged a mock snowball fight to start the workday and gave all employees a $10 reimbursement for any fees involved with freezing their credit.

Freezes keep any new creditors from seeing your credit file, which makes it nearly impossible for hackers to open new accounts in your name. The fact that a big bank is pushing the concept cannot come as good news to some executives in the credit reporting industry, who fought state laws that brought freezes into existence and have spent years beating back other regulatory efforts.

In the wake of a different breach in 2015, one top Experian executive resisted the call from consumer groups for it to offer freezes gratis to the victims. “The precedent set for offering free freezes would haunt all beaches going forward,” he wrote in an email that either was missing a crucial letter “r” or trying to equate his industry’s counterattacks with the storming of Normandy. “Doing as they request on either count will not satiate their hatred for Experian.”

There were no picket signs or guillotines carved from ice here on freeze day, for Umpqua’s relationship with Equifax is multifaceted. It buys lots of credit data from the company and its competitors, so it can determine which customers deserve loans and at what interest rate.

Nevertheless, when the company decided to embark on an effort to encourage better personal financial fitness, it felt like it had to advocate freezes forcefully. It checked with its own underwriters first, just to make sure it would not pose any problems if lots of people with frozen credit files started applying for Umpqua loans.

Those loan executives did not mind, given that the process for lifting a freeze temporarily is fairly straightforward as long as the credit bureaus’ systems are working and borrowers have the PINs they need to thaw their credit files.

“If it takes an extra step, so be it,” said Cort O’Haver, the bank’s chief executive. “Everyone embraced it, and it would be tough not to agree with it because it’s the right thing to do to protect customers.”

So what does Mr. O’Haver think of Experian’s view of freezes? I did a semi-dramatic reading of that email, which accidentally fell into the inbox of a consumer advocate, and I focused in particular on a section where the executive asserted that most people do not need freezes. Mr. O’Haver’s eyes widened a bit. “Uh really? Oh man,” he said. “Wow. That is not right.”

An Experian spokesman said that the email did not reflect the company’s position on the matter.

Before Mr. O’Haver and his colleagues could property educate customers about freezes, they had to get up to speed on the process of freezing a file themselves. Two employees, Katie Scott and Nicole Stein, dreamed up the concept of freeze day and served on the crew that assembled at headquarters on Friday to answer questions from other employees.

Ms. Stein put a stopwatch to her own efforts and found that it took just 24 minutes to freeze her credit files at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Another colleague, Jeremy Lang, created a themed playlist as a soundtrack for the day. Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was playing when I walked in to meet the team.

Questions from co-workers included whether you really have to freeze your files at all three credit bureaus. (Yes, you do, lest thieves find an opening with a company that checks credit at a bureau where you have not frozen your file.) Also, do both spouses have to freeze? (Yes, again.) And should people shopping for a mortgage wait before freezing their files? (Yup, as Ms. Scott had recently done herself.)

Out in the branches, or stores as Umpqua likes to refer to them, customers grabbed frozen treats out of an ice-cream bike known as an icicle tricycle and considered their options. James B. Lee, a retired physicist who also dabbled in work as a stagehand for local rock shows, does not use credit much anymore and was not interested in freezing his file.

He comes to Umpqua each Friday to balance his checkbook and nibble on the treats the bank serves. “If things balance, I get an extra cookie,” he said.

Others seemed glad that the store displayed signs announcing Freeze Day, which reminded them of the Equifax breach months earlier. “When something terrible hasn’t happened yet, you forget all about it,” said Gordon Caron, a retired physician, who had made a midday stop with his wife. He eventually conferred with employees there, all of whom were dressed in gaudy holiday-themed sweaters.

Nationwide, other consumers have barely caught on. Only about 4.5 million people with Equifax credit files have cut off outsiders’ access to them, according to the company, though that is up from a million or so before the breach.

Equifax told me it has no beef with Umpqua’s Freeze Day and said it planned to introduce an app on Jan. 31 that will make cutting off and turning on access to a credit file easier.

“We’re pleased to see an employer, especially one with a stake in the financial sector, taking steps to try to educate and empower their employees,” said Paul Zurawski, senior vice president of external relations for Equifax. “A credit freeze is what’s currently available and easiest for consumers to understand based on what’s been promoted in the media.

If you too want to initiate a freeze, see the comprehensive guide I wrote this fall to protecting yourself after the Equifax breach.

Keep in mind, however, that freezes are not a silver bullet. They will not keep someone from trying to file an income tax return in your name to steal tax refund money, which happened to Umpqua’s Mr. O’Haver. Nor can freezes prevent someone from trying to use your health insurance to get medical care without paying for it.

But freezes are, for the moment, the best of a handful of limited tools we have to keep identity thieves at bay, and given the amount of fraud in the world these days, it’s not wise to remain unprotected. It’s nice to see a major financial institution finally get up in public and say so.

If you like to see the original article, the photos and links to other credit freezing

The best holiday tech deals in every category.

+ From Wired Magazine: Click here. 

+ From Wirecutter. The best gear for everything, including travel. Click here.

+ From Business Insider. The 30 Tech gifts under $100 for everyone in your life. Click here. 

I like (and own and have written about) many of the gadgets these guys highlight. I really like this $21.99 HDTV antenna. With it you can watch your local ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox stations.

One day soon you’ll drop your pricey cable subscription, and watch local TV for free using this antenna and watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. over the Internet.

HDTVAntenna

For the $22 antenna, click here. 

+ From CondeNast Traveler, The Best Travel Accessories. Not all tech. Click here.

Your ears need sunscreen

Trust me. You do not want to see the hole my dermatologist has dug in my right ear to get rid of all the bad stuff.

Put sunscreen on your ears. Do not google images for “cancer of the ear.

Saudi Arabia: Weirder and Weirder

On Sunday, The New York Times wrote:

AnotherBauble

LOUVECIENNES, France – When the Chateau Louis XIV sold for over $300 million two years ago, Fortune magazine called it “the world’s most expensive home,” and Town & Country swooned over its gold-leafed fountain, marble statues and hedged labyrinth set in a 57-acre landscaped park. But for all the lavish details, one fact was missing: the identity of the buyer.

Now, it turns out that the paper trail leads to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the Saudi throne and the driving force behind a series of bold policies transforming Saudi Arabia and shaking up the Middle East.

The 2015 purchase appears to be one of several extravagant acquisitions – including a $500 million yacht and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting – by a prince who is leading a sweeping crackdown on corruption and self-enrichment by the Saudi elite and preaching fiscal austerity at home.

The place has oodles of technology, which you can control from — what else — an iPhone. Read more on this nice country house here.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world.

Yet there is widespread malnutrition. Babies are dying. Politics have messed up a really beautiful, rich country. This story and its pictures will break your heart. It broke mine. Click here. 

Fascinating reading:

America’s New Religion: Fox Evangelicalism. Click here.

Live from Alabama

flyingpigs

Favorite recent New Yorker cartoons

Mistake bedtimestory boat

HarryNewton
Harry Newton. Everyone received this blog early because I’m a plane to Israel for my sister’s grandon’s Bar Mitzvah. They live in Australia. Hence this is the ultimate “Destination Bar Mitzvah.” It’s being celebrated on Massada, Israel:

Massada

Herod the Great built great palaces for himself on the mountain replete with running water and magnificent baths. He fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. The Romans didn’t always like the Jews. And had several wars. During one, a bunch of Jews fled to Masada. The Romans laid siege to the place and slowly built a ramp up the side of Masada. The ramp was completed in the spring of 73, after several months months of siege. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp, while the Romans assaulted the wall, discharging “a volley of blazing torches against … a wall of timber”, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress on April 16, 73 CE. When the Romans entered the fortress, however, they found it to be “a citadel of death.” The Jewish rebels had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and had committed mass suicide, declaring “a glorious death … preferable to a life of infamy” and becoming Roman slaves or concubines. In all, 960 Jews committed suicide. Masada is now Israel’s most popular tourist “attraction.” Go figure.