LINDA FOLEY NEVER IMAGINED she’d fall victim to identity theft—especially at the hands of her North County employer. But that reality hit her square in the face—and pocketbook —when Foley discovered her boss had opened a cell phone account and credit line using information obtained from Foley’s employee tax forms.

According to the San Diego Police Department, identity theft is one of the region’s fastest-growing crimes, a trend that’s also reflected on a national level. The San Diego district attorney’s office outlines three kinds of I.D. theft: True-name fraud occurs when someoneuses your personal information to open a new account; in an account takeover, a thief gains access to your existing account; and someone who uses your personal information to avoid prosecution commits criminal identity theft. The most common ways of obtaining personal information are via mail theft, Dumpster scavenging and theft of company records by employees.

"My initial reaction was denial," says Foley. "I thought, ‘This must be some big mistake; this couldn’t be happening to me.’ " Her experience navigating a lengthy, complicated identity-fraud investigation led Foley and her husband, Jay, to form the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a national nonprofit that serves as a resource and advisory center. Supported by the Foleys’ seed money and public grants, ITRC offers assistance at no charge to victims of identity theft. Todd Davis is CEO of LifeLock, a company that counsels clients on how to prevent identity theft. He says 40 percent of cases occur between November 15 and December 31.

"The holidays bring out the best—and worst—in people," Davis says. "Whether it’s going to the mall and pulling receipts out of the garbage, or posing as some kind of philanthropic cause, thieves are using whatever tactics they can to glean information."

Linda Foley agrees. "Identity thieves don’t take a holiday," she says. The ITRC Web site annually sees a dramatic spike in visitors in February and March, when the holiday dust has settled and the creditors begin calling. ITRC issues a tip sheet to help individuals avoid victimization during the holidays. Among the advice (more can be found at idtheftcenter.org):

  • The holidays may cause a minor delay in mail delivery, but anything beyond a few days is cause for concern. Contact both the issuer and the post office if you suspect your mail has been stolen. Invest in a mailbox lock to avoid theft.
  • Be wary of "shoulder surfing." Take measures to protect credit cards, driver’s license and checks from wandering eyes at store counters.
  • Place receipts in a secure location in your wallet. Don’t throw them in the purchase bag; thieves are watching for that. Shred any receipts you don’t want.
  • Credit-card skimming occurs when a clerk slides your credit card through a second machine that stores the data until it is downloaded on a counterfeit card. Don’t let your credit card leave your sight during the entire transaction.

LifeLock’s Davis has another tip for year-round protection: "The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to place a fraud alert with the three credit bureaus," he says. The free alert—which lasts 90 days and can be renewed on an ongoing basis at equifax.com, experian.com and transunion.com—notifies the account holder of any activity before a damaging transaction can take place.

IT STARTED AS A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Carlsbad resident and artist David R. Darrow made the promise to jump-start his oil painting career by producing one portrait a week for auction on eBay. But with 30,000-plus paintings for sale on eBay on any given day, his paintings weren’t attracting the attention he’d hoped for. So Darrow carved out another on-line space to showcase his art——he created a blog.

Darrow, 49, represents the burgeoning trend of artist-turned-blogger. More specifically, he’s one of a number of painters across the country who paint every day and make entries in an on-line journal to connect with potential buyers. Each day, Darrow spends anywhere from three to eight hours on a new painting, which he eventually posts to his blog (everydaypaintings.com) with a short note about what inspired the piece, and a link to the corresponding eBay Web page. He posts two to three paintings a week, with a starting bid of $100. In the past 10 months, all but two paintings—— mostly 5 by 7 inches——have sold.

The blog receives 80-100 hits per day, and 420 people have signed up for Darrow’s "Art in Your Inbox" e-mail, which notifies subscribers of a newly completed painting. He has sold his paintings to art-lovers from as far away as Japan and Europe, and has loyal, repeat patrons all over the country.

Darrow, who also teaches oil painting locally and paints commissioned portraits, says blogging makes fine art more affordable——and accessible. "I see it as a way for people to get good art without paying the markups you find at galleries" of 40-60 percent.

 

 

LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Grinch. Each year he brings his antisocial antics to the Old Globe Theatre for the holiday favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The whimsical production jumps off the pages of the classic Dr. Seuss book and onto the Globe stage through December 24. But even with a starring role (played by Jay Goede), it ain’t easy being green. —J. MAURY HARRIS

Favorites

Book: Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Candy: I’m not a sweet guy.

Car: My sleigh works for me.

Coffee: I’m already caffeinated.

Pastime: Stealing Christmas

Flower: Crushed poinsettias

Ice cream flavor: Garlic

Place: My cave

Possession: My dog, Max

San Diego beach: You have beaches here?

Christmas carol: "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch!"

Color: Green

Christmas treat: Who-pudding

San Diego spot: The Old Globe

Season: Winter

San Diego restaurant: Laurel

Superhero: The Green Lantern; I like his style.

Villain: Me

Store: Who-mingdales

Q&A

Q: What do you want for Christmas?

A: To stop it from coming.

Q: What would constitute a perfect evening?

A: Being alone in my cave listening to the sounds of the Whos boo-hooing.

Q: Would you reduce your life expectancy by five years to become extremely attractive?

A: I already am extremely attractive. How can you improve on perfection?

Q: Do you believe honesty is the best policy?

A: No. I think deception is the best policy.

Q: What one toiletry item could you never live without?

A: Toiletry items? I don’t believe in them.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?

A: The Whos singing on Christmas

Q: When did you last sing to else?

A: I can’t stand singing, not even to myself.

Q: You scrape a car while parking, and no one saw the damage occur—— would you leave a note?

A: No. Would you, Mr. Goody Two Shoes?

Q: What comes to you naturally?

A: Growling and sneering.

Q: What would you be reincarnated as?

A: Santy Claus, probably. That would be just my luck.

Q: What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

A: Have a merry Christmas!

Would You Rather. . .

. . . steal Who-ville’s tinsel and trappings or spend a quiet day nagging and napping?

Stealing is always good.

. . . stuff yourself with Who-hash or be involved in a sleigh crash?

I’ll take a good sleigh crash any day.

. . . eat Who roast beast or confess to a high priest?

I have developed a taste for Who roast beast; you really must try the stuff.

. . . babysit Cindy Lou Who or get a fresh, clean hairdo?

I have to admit, I really like that kid. I’d have to choose Cindy Lou Who.

. . . receive a lovely present or give someone else something pleasant?

I’ll refrain from answering that question. Who do you think I am, Santy Claus?

 

WHILE TOY-STORE GIANTS KB Toys and FAO Schwartz have recently closed doors, local chain Geppetto’s has managed to thrive, expanding to seven locations across San Diego county. Led by native San Diegan and Wharton School graduate Brian Miller, Geppetto’s growth despite sluggish market conditions might be credited to the unique toy-buying experience it provides: Each store harkens back to an Old World sensibility, where ornate stonework and a warmly lit, woodsy interior create a cozy and whimsical environment (Pinocchio would feel right at home).

An intimate alternative to the crowded discount superstore, Geppetto’s shops are purposefully small, and the attention to detail is evident— down to the playful children’s music streaming over the sound system. The offering of imported and domestic toys is varied, from dolls and puppets to books and games. Geppetto’s carefully hand-selects toys, recognizing that children learn by playing and that highquality toys can facilitate the learning process in a way that is both engaging and imaginative. —JENNIFER B. KHALSA

Scan Artists

GOOD NEWS FOR PATIENTS at the Naval Medical Center San Diego: The hospital is now home to one of the most cutting-edge scanning tools in the world, the first of its kind west of Houston. Nicknamed the "gamma camera," the new scanner is a hybrid, combining two kinds of images——a CT scan, which gives doctors a three-dimensional picture of an organ, and a SPECT image, which shows how organs function. SPECT images follow a slightly radioactive tracer injected into the body and show how it is absorbed and used by the brain and other organs. This new hybrid, christened the SPECT-CT (single photon emission computed tomography–computed tomography) system fuses the two images together, showing doctors not only how the radioactive tracer is being used but where it’s being used. As a result, the output reveals a more precise location of tumors or infections.

The scanner can also image blood flow to the heart, showing problems like coronary disease even before a person experiences symptoms. The Naval Medical Center acquired two SPECT-CT systems—— at a cost of $900,000 each——in August. Commander John Maher, who heads the nuclear medicine division at NMCSD, says individually, CT scans and SPECT images have their own limitations, but put them together and you get "a very powerful tool." ——EILENE ZIMMERMAN

 

> DECEMBER 31, 1914

AT MIDNIGHT, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a Western Union telegraph key in Washington, D.C., which turned on lights and touched off a display of fireworks to open the Panama-California International Exposition in Balboa Park. San Diego, the first U.S. port of call north of the Panama Canal on the Pacific coast, staged the 1915-1916 exposition to celebrate the completion of the canal.

 

SAN DIEGO BAKER Miriam "Nana" Diamond knew she was on to something when her tennis team couldn’t get enough of her healthy, homemade "magic" cookies. Soon she was loading up her car with fresh-baked cookies and making the rounds to area health-food stores. Then Madonna called. "She had us overnight a box of cookies to London," says Janet Nager, vice president of sales and marketing. "Then all the moms at her kids’ school called and wanted us to send them some of our cookies."

Now the Material Girl can walk into her local health-food store for her Nana’s fix. What began as a one-woman baking operation in a church kitchen has—over the past 13 years—morphed into an international cookie craze.

"We call them ‘cult cookies,’ " says Nager, alluding to the powerful word of mouth responsible for Nana’s climbing sales both abroad and at home. Whole Foods, Henry’s Market and Jimbo’s all carry her cookies.

"I started this business because people wanted healthy treats that tasted good," says Diamond, who initially produced three flavors (there are now 27). Her cookies are vegan (no milk or eggs) and do not contain any refined sugars or hydrogenated oils; her lines of wheat-free and gluten-free cookies cater to people with special dietary needs.

Nana’s recently introduced a line of decadent chocolate bars dubbed Temptations. Sounds like the next Madonna hit.

Where Do We Rank?

Most-Impatient Cities

1. Austin, Texas

2. Indianapolis

3. Houston

4. San Francisco

5. Dallas

6. Jacksonville

7. Baltimore

8. Fort Worth, Texas

9. Memphis

10. San Diego

Source: Guideline Inc. for eBay Express. The study examined the 20 most-populated American cities, assessing on a per-capita basis the number of convenience oriented services available. It considered the prevalence of convenience stores, "in and out" gyms (featuring 20- or 30-minute workouts), availability of city government services on-line, one-hour cleaners and photo developers, quick-change oil shops and overnight delivery service centers, among other factors. San Diegans feel the need for speed when it comes to certain aspects of the purportedly sleepy beach life. We top the list for the number of quick-service restaurants and are in the top five for wi-fi hotspots, quick-copy centers and speed-dating services.

By the Numbers

25,000: Number of lights on the White House Christmas tree

30,000: Number of lights on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

45,000: Number of lights on the 55-foot Christmas tree on the Mission Bay lawn of Paradise Point Resort & Spa

The Works

RING IN 2007 with the whole family at alcohol-free First Night Escondido at the California Center for the Arts. Multiple performance stages feature the sounds of local bands (Moondawgs and Get Back Loretta, to name two crowd favorites), a Chinese dragon parade, food and novelty booths, a laser show, rock climbing, bungee trampolines and a spectacular fireworks display at the stroke of midnight to entertain the troops. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. and wrap up after the fireworks extravaganza. Tickets are $10 if purchased before December 25; $15 after; children under 6 are admitted free. Info: 760-420-9701 or firstnightescondido. com.——VALERIE JENNISON

Did You Know?

The Hotel del Coronado unveiled the first electrically lighted outdoor Christmas tree in the country in 1904.

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