ALERT: USPS Smishing Scam

Artemis Sere Alerts

As if my life isn't challenging enough right now during my job layoff, this week I was the victim of a "smishing" scam. These dastardly thieving acts always seem to hit me at the wrong time.

In 2021 on my first day of my new job, I was hit with a catalytic converter theft which took my vehicle out of commission for 6 months. In January 2022 in the dead of a winter night, I was hit again, knocking my vehicle into the yard again for 6 months while I waited for parts. You may have seen me interviewed on local Fox9 about my thefts.

The end result: an expensive metal shield to protect my converter and jacked up insurance rates for my area due to the thefts.

Evidently, the perpetrators may have been caught.

My hope is that this blog can protect you from the scam I fell for, and maybe give investigators some background for their hunt for this fraudster or fraudulent entity.

What is Smishing?

"Smishing uses fraudulent mobile text messages to trick people into downloading malware, sharing sensitive data, or paying cybercriminals money." (Source: IBM)

How did I fall for a Smishing Scam?

This has been a stressful week. Between searching for jobs, prepping for an interview, applying for opportunities, and worrying about my future, I've been somewhat distracted.

When the first smishing text came in on November 3rd, I was high and overtired. It hit me at just the right time, and I honestly thought the text that I received was legit. If you've followed my vinyl adventures over the last year, you know I've had a bumpy road.

On a few occasions, I've had to contact USPS or FED EX to get a package of mine "unstuck" from a sort floor because an address had "fallen off" or been damaged in the transmit from a global location. I've never been charged before, but I thought paying 30 cents to get a package "unstuck" was worth it. The branding on the message seemed legit. The messaging seemed reasonable.

With all of my training around phishing scams, I should've known there was some fishy stuff going on:

  1. The message was sent via text and was an image with no clickable links. There was a pretty link and a QR code for quick connection to a USPS form.

  2. The USPS form didn't detail which package was affected.

  3. Even with the package info missing, I thought thirty cents wouldn't hurt. But when I put in my card info, the form submission failed. I thought that was suspect, but didn't think any more about it. I gave up and moved on.

And didn't think about it again until my credit union contacted me yesterday about some possibly fraudulent charges.

Then I put the two together and realized I got pulled into a scam. I didn't expect that I would be a target for fraudsters. I expected that the fraudulent USPS form would need to be submitted for the fraud to happen.

But even with the failed submission, the fraudsters got the info they needed about my check card from the info I submitted on the screen.

What happened to me as a result of the scam?

A few days ago, the fraud began with a $350 Amtrak ride charged to my account. I didn't catch it because I don't traditionally check my account every day. And since I'm laid off and not spending money as often as I once did, there's been few reasons to be connected to my daily account movement.

So, the fraud began and didn't stop until it was caught yesterday afternoon. In that time, someone charged Uber, Uber Eats, Lyft, Door Dash, and a Tap Room in Florida for another $500 - $600 worth of charges. I think the bleeding has stopped, but some fraudster got a fun vacation off my dwindling resources.

How do I know for sure this action led to the smishing fraud?

My check card expired in October, and I was in the middle of transitioning my accounts to a new card (same number, different details, you know the drill). Very few "unknown" vendors had the new card details, and in fact, I was behind on transitioning my streaming services to new cards (and some had been shut down due to that). Thus, I hadn't actually used my new card many times since I activated it. The smishing scam was one of the first uses I had of the new card.

What does the USPS Postal Smishing Scam look like?

Here's a screenshot of the text that I received:

USPS Smishing Scam Image

I received the same text for 5 days from a number I didn't recognize.

USPS Smishing Scam Source Phone Numbers and Frequency

At the time I received the first one, I didn't consider that it could've been from an international source, and reacted too quickly. After I realized that it was a scam, I blocked every future transmission and deleted all messages. The messages eventually stopped, and two days later the Amtrak ticket was purchased.

What can you do to keep yourself protected from smishing?

  • Be extra vigilant of communications hitting your phone or email, especially ones that look like they have legit branding. I hadn't heard about this type of fraud until it happened to me, just like the catalytic converter theft ring. I wasn't aware that it was that prevalent, didn't know it was a thing.

  • Only submit your card information to trusted interfaces and websites. Lesson learned: you don't have to hit the submit button for a fraudster to get your info.

  • Report your experience to the USPS here.

Xoterica 41: The Equidistant

Picture of Artemis Sere's "Resolution"

“Obey the principles without being bound by them.” (Bruce Lee)

Recently, Israel declared war on Palestine for a brazen wave of bloodshed where hundreds of Israelis were brutally murdered. It has become a fiercely violent and bitter battle between two sides of a Biblical Holy War that is on the verge of creating a firestorm that sucks the world in. President Biden recently visited Israel in a show of support for Israel and their ground war in Gaza against Hamas. Protests from supporters of Palestine have erupted around the world, including from within the United States.

Friends, family, and lovely humans misdirected by ancient tomes are now caught in the crossfire. 260 innocent lives were slaughtered at a rave by callous men with a statement to make. Hamas says it was retaliation for Israel's actions; Israel blames Palestinian terrorists. There's no denying that there's violence happening on both sides and has for the better part of the last century. Hamas slaughtered Israelis and in retaliation, Israel is slaughtering Palestinians.

I'm summarizing and probably missing many details from both sides of the conflict, but the fact remains:

In god they trusted. In god's trust they die(d).

Pawns preening for an afterlife, prawns served cold to careless, callous whisperers.

I'm a Humanist and my heart aches for all involved or affected. But also, as an atheist, it's my job to remain impartial, to mediate from the center without prejudice or denomination. My job is to hold the center while the extremes scream for heads. Our politics have become overwhelmed by Factions that don't stand for a greater good, they stand for selfish designs and partial, inflexible positions directed by organized religion.

One for all, divided we stand. And equally fall.

America is no longer the land of the free. It is the land of the tithe. Pay to survive, in feudal fashion and distant, digital format. A specific evangelical and hypocritical religious culture has started to dominate America, sending progress and evolution backwards and pushing us further apart. Just yesterday I got into a verbal spat with an old friend about "evangelism" over Facebook. He claims that it's "the calling" of Jesus to spread faith, even when the recipient isn't interested.

Like a disease, faith needs hosts to spread, and with all religious tomes taken literally these days, evangelism is an endless infection of mythologies taken as truth. Religion never really could live in equilibrium with humanity; history has shown that over and over again with bloody crusades to push the literal word onto non-believers. It still happens to this day, only without the racks and whips and pikes and Iron Maidens.

I will always defend the liberal side of humanity (and stand against the evil that is Donald Trump), so I align with Democrats. In stating my alignment, I push myself further from the center and into partial territory.

But I really do try my best to keep position in the middle. I recognize that humans need their faith and comfort that there's any answer beyond them (even if many, at their core, live very hypocritical lives incongruent with the teachings of the tomes). Even now as tanks roll across Gaza and rockets and bullets kill innocents caught in the crossfire of the Holy War, "killing in the name of" is acceptable, and collateral damage is approved.

Is it even possible to stand strong in the center when bloodshed flies?

It seems impossible. My heart strings are pulled to the sufferers on both sides. I want blood to stop being the currency of conservative doctrines. I want peace to be achieved between warring parties. I want reason to return and the center to strengthen.

Unfortunately, ghosts and myths supply the center for our holy warriors, while simultaneously pushing each of us further apart. Either you agree with the atrocities as directed by a callous god, or you stand as the enemy. The myths were not captured and shared generation after generation like ancestral propaganda to kill or die for. They're meant to guide us, to connect us, and to develop us into better humans. They are wisdom characterized into deities and demigods, personified as monsters and angels.

Unless I'm missing something, the Bible's Ten Commandments explicitly direct followers not to kill. Literally. As with most passages of our holy books, the words have been turned over time, and murder allowances have been made by most religions that follow the Bible.

They created their own tomes where murder for specific reasons - such as war - is justified.

Leaving the Bible in a massive contradiction, especially when opposing religious forces claim the same holy ground as their own. I can't talk anyone out of their religion, but I can point out that the dusty tomes clearly say that we shouldn't kill each other. If you're of faith and you're killing in the name of, you're a hypocrite, observing a loophole that humanity created after the guidebook was reportedly built.

There's a piece of wisdom that says "stand for something or you'll fall for anything". In other words, "take a side or else". That's not the reason to follow a religion, though I think the quote is used to defend those who hold onto their faith, as if it's "belief or nothing", a binary belief scale where you do or you don't, you are or you aren't. With my stand I believe in science, not mythology built into an organizational body or government.

As of this writing, Israel and the Gaza strip are locked in a brutal battle. Innocents are being slaughtered by the thousands in attempt to "cleanse" the country from perceived threats. Countries are lining up on other side of the war depending on their political, religious, or financial allegiances to Israel or Palestine. All it will take is a simple spark to ignite a firestorm of world war. The world is turning into a binary reflection of its believers - either you're with us, or you're against us. There is no middle ground.

With this blog, I know I'll make some enemies of friends because I won't take a side in the holy war.

When it comes down to it, neither side has the right to murder, regardless of what interpretations have been made of dusty guidebooks. Revenge is also not justification for evil acts against fellow humans; while we disagree, we should do so with respect and patience - two words that seem to have little spiritual root in our creature in modern times.

I did study the Bible in college for a year. I once even considered myself agnostic or "searching". I won't consider myself an expert on religion by any means and have forgotten more about scripture than I once knew. But I recall a passage out of Matthew 5:5 that says "The meek shall inherit the Earth". The statement has a variety of interpretations, and changes based on the identity of the "meek". Taken literally, it offers that those who follow teachings from the book will inherit the world.

Unfortunately, the only meek people that stand to inherit anything are those that stay out of the fray. The best any of us that are not affiliated can do is step away from the fringes and find solace and protection in the middle, do our best to remain equidistant from the extremes that hold violent sway over our society.

I will always advocate for evolution and progress, for human-supported laws and principles of diversity. What I won't do is support a holy war that has been going on for over 2,000 years and has no reasonable resolution in sight.

Picture of Artemis Sere's
Artemis Sere SS-SG-00211 "Resolution"

Ten Lessons from My First Year of Collecting Vinyl Records

Artemis Sere Vinyl Album Collection

In 2022 I began collecting vinyl albums. It has since become an obsession, and I've purchased over 200 records in the last year from a variety of sources - Discogs, Amazon, Merchbar, Revolver, and Poshmark, to name a few.

My first year of collecting records had highs and lows, wows and learnings. I spent way too much money, but thoroughly enjoyed my music journey. I've been greatly influenced by the meticulous art poured into the vinyl experience. The price of vinyl collecting is high these days, but the market is vast and wide. Most of the albums you want are available somewhere - for a price, depending on quality and location and legitimacy of vendor.

If I had this list of learnings before I started collecting records last year, I think I would have had an easier time finding what I wanted, and understanding what was worth the stress, risk, and cost. I probably would've slowed down my purchasing roll and kept my collection addiction in check.

Oh, you weren't aware that I have a music addiction? Well, check out my Top20 albums that I publish every year. These lists come from listening to a broad amount of music every year. I know we all do; I do my best to catalog what I like and report about it. I come back to these lists often to remind myself of what I really enjoyed that year, and to revise as I find new music.

My collecting started with CDs - a collection that grew far too cumbersome in time. I transferred that collection to digital and now have close to 300 GB worth of digital music. Digital keeps me company when I'm out and about, but there's something truly magic about the vinyl record experience.

There's a rush to opening a brand new vinyl album, spinning it for the first time, and hearing it loudly and proudly crackle across my speakers. There's a vibe to it I don't get while listening to digital or CD. The music seems more alive, awake, and present - imperfect with its static and needlepoint access, but seemingly more complete and whole.

I try to purchase every album in my annual Top 20 now. It's important to me to own the 20 albums every year that I would consider my favorite of that time, rather than having a mass of random vinyl that may end up in the trash heap.

Speaking of heap, I inherited my parent's vinyl collection this year. Hundreds of worn albums from 1950-1980. A wide variety of styles from Led Zeppelin to The Carpenters to Ray Charles. The experience of spinning vinyl has come a long way in 80 years, and it's nostalgic to trek back in time with some of the records of their collection.

Some records will be added to my collection. Some will be surrendered to secondhand stores. Some may eventually end up in that dreaded heap.

I'll do my best to take good care of the treasures that I'm collecting, just as I'm maintaining the trove of art that I've amassed. I hope these suggestions help you maintain your collection. Color me curator.

Here are my lessons from the last year of collecting vinyl records. This isn't a sales blog, but it will have some external vendor links and recommendations that may help your vinyl collection journey. 

Happy #vinylcollecting! 


1. Take Care of your Investments

Spend the extra money for quality vinyl maintenance tools and products - sleeve covers, vinyl baths, anti-static cloths, and fresh needles for your player. All of the accessories help you maintain a quality vinyl album experience - for you as a collector and for the next purchaser of your album (should there be one).

2. Handle With Care

I've learned that vinyls appreciate in time due to supply and demand. Supply for certain vinyl records is very low, so prices can be alarming for a single collectors record. With that in mind, you must take care of your purchases. They scratch and wear easily. Not only the vinyls, but the covers. I will write a separate blog on my handling recommendations, but observe careful handling of all records and covers, even using gloves if possible and cleaning your record before and after every use.

3. Invest in a Quality Record Player

I started with the brand Victrola, but switched over to Angels Horn. I love the sound and style of the player. I'm still figuring out to rip to digital. A work in progress. See shots of the players in the photo album below.

4. Use Discogs to Track your Vinyl Inventory

Discogs is a website and app that real vinyl collectors use. It's comparable to IMDB for music releases - part commerce site, part library of music, release, and artist details. It has global reach and a vault of accurate details about releases. It has technology built in for connection with a music community. It is the anchor site for my collection and tracks the value of my collection to the dollar. While I use it mostly for vinyl, it also tracks various music formats (digital and CD) and operates perfectly as a cross-format inventory system for your music. While there are many applications to help you manage your inventory and provide commerce to help you purchase what you're looking for, Discogs pulls it all together nicely. And creates Community around it. Friend up with artemissere on Discogs to see what I'm collecting and watching.

5. Order from Trusted Vendors

If you find an offer on the internet for a vinyl record you're hunting for, or see an offer too good to be true pop up through social (programmatic advertising is very clever these days), validate it with sources like Discogs or Amazon.  And..

6. Beware the Backorder

Sites like Merchbar will take your coin for a Pre-Order of a vinyl release -- without having actual access to stock of it and with a delivery date that is completely fluid. Yes, they'll give you a delivery date, but that will move based on source availability. I ordered Poe's album "Haunted" on Merchbar in October 2022 and was still waiting for delivery of it in October 2023. This month, Tower Records made it available; I quickly canceled my order with Merchbar and grabbed it from Tower. I'll never trust Merchbar for a "Pre-order" again.

7. Research the Vinyl Version you're Purchasing/Collecting

Albums are pressed by various merchandisers and labels. I purchased my first copy of the The Haunted's "The Dead Eye" on Discogs. When I received the album I was surprised that it lacked some album art that was on the CD. So, I ordered another copy from Amazon, and that copy had images and layout like the original CD. For some reason, the Backbite label reformatted some of the album art, dropping some of the great details of the original CD, and pressed as their own version. On Discogs, there are many versions of each vinyl album, and the experience can vary by country, by year, and by label. Know what you're purchasing before you do. I now have two slightly different versions of the same album.

8. Stick with In-country or Local Purchases (if you can help it)

Ordering a collector's vinyl record from another country can be expensive for shipping and handling, and the experience can involve questionable packaging. The process of shipping can also cause damage to the shipping container, which can damage the external cover. Most international vendors will refund your money if you have a strong enough case, but if it's the only copy they have, you end up with a compromised version and/or a requirement to ship it back. Additionally, sellers offer their products on multiple sites - not a big deal for in-country purchases, but seriously annoying if it's an out of country purchase with a vendor whose stock ran out and has to offer you a refund. A recent purchase with a UK seller who had a listing in Discogs for a vintage WASP record ended up refunded after 5 days because their stock was sold on another site. I had to contact the seller myself after not hearing from them for close to a week post-purchase. This "selling product somewhere else" detail was in their listing, but you don't know if the album is available until you don't hear from the seller for 5 days. Given that international shipments take much longer than domestic, it's frustrating to wait 5 days to know whether or not you actually got what you paid for.

9. Return Damaged or Incorrect Product

Probably a no-brainer, but don't eat your vendor's error. Somehow, Amazon managed to send me two incorrect vinyls in packages marked as the product that I ordered. Somewhere on the fulfillment belt, someone dropped the wrong record into the package that was clearly labeled for my order. Given the automation around Amazon fulfillment processes, it's amazing this could happen, but it does, because humans are imperfect and make mistakes.

10. Invest in the Exclusives

Some of the coolest experiences I've had in the last year involve the artistic detail of vinyl albums. I grew up in the 80s, so I remember when new cassette tapes were the rage. And then collector CDs with boxed sets and beautiful booklets. But the current wave with music on vinyl is creating some of the best artistic experiences of the last decade. In 2022, the vinyl album art of Spiritbox's "Eternal Blue" and Machine Head's "Of Kingdom and Crown" blew me away. This year, I've been blown away by Code Orange's "The Above" and Sleep Token's "Take Me Back to Eden". But watch your budget - not every vinyl is urgent and worth it.

Extra Credit

1. Beware of poor product runs. I purchased Chimaira's picture disc album "The Infection" over Discogs this year from a company. Turns out that the insert card melted to the front side of the disc from poor packaging and storage over the last decade. One side of the disc was unplayable. I decided to keep the album to support the small business vendor on Discogs. I ordered another two copies from sellers on Amazon and discovered similar results.

2. Join the Vinyl Collector Community! I have met some amazing people through sharing my vinyl journey on Facebook and Instagram, including some super friends like @doomedteacher. A school teacher from Florida, he has constantly surprised me with his album collection and likes. He's even become a pen pal of mine. I recommended you give him a follow, and take a look at all of the rest of the great music being shared on the #vinylcollector hashtag.