Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Word (Actually, a Bunch of Words) About Scams

Ladies, gentlemen, and anyone else reading my happy little blog: Don’t let yourselves be scammed out of whatever it is that the jerks want. Usually, it’s cash. Sometimes, though, the oxygen thieves want to make you a mule, which basically means that you get to unwittingly con other people out of their money. Oh, yeah, that sounds like a fantastic way to make society a better place, right?

I’ve done a lot of reading and researching about Internet-based scams because I’m interested in how this crap works (mostly so that I can avoid being ripped off, but also because I’m interested in a wide variety of things). My curiosity poked its head out of the shell and started sniffing around a couple of years ago when, at the bank, I saw a large sign warning people to be cautious when dealing with checks from unknown persons.

This got me on the Internet, where I did a lot more reading. I also spent a little bit of time scam baiting, mostly to see what the scammers are really trying to obtain – and, of course, how they really work. Don’t trip out. I didn’t cough up a single penny. I knew good and well that none of the anonymous douche bags who e-mailed back and forth with me were genuine, so I didn’t give them anything but the false hope that I would eventually go to Western Union and send them some cash. Up theirs.

There are lots of different scams out there. I’ll be leaving some useful links at the end of this entry so that you can go read about as many of them as possible – being forewarned and all that.

Scams work by convincing you that there’s hope. The economy blows, the future is uncertain at best, and we need to get as many preps as possible, as quickly as possible. If you invest just a little bit of money in this seemingly-good idea, you’ll have plenty, and won’t have to worry, right? Wrong. They’re scams, so you’ll be doing nothing but flushing your cash down the john.

All sorts of people fall for scams, including folks who spent a lot more time in college than I have so far. Homemakers, factory workers, doctors, teachers, teenagers…there’s no one “type” of scam victim. Even though I know that we preppers / survivalists are a suspicious, hesitant group of people when it comes to this sort of thing, a reminder is never a bad thing.

Most of us have received at least one scam e-mail. Getting these messages is almost inevitable, because there are so many scammers out there. The odds are good that at least one of them will try to rip you off.

When you receive any e-mail from a stranger, give yourself a moment to think before you open the sucker. I like using Gmail because I get a brief preview of the e-mail message, along with the subject line and the sender’s name. Usually, this little bit of information – available to me before I even open the e-mail – is enough to identify it as junk. I can happily delete the message, unread, and get on with my life.

However, you sometimes end up reading the e-mail for whatever reason. If that happens, ask yourself these questions.

One: Who is this person? Do more than read the name on the e-mail. Anyone can claim to be Bill Gates, the president of a foreign country, or an FBI agent by writing whatever he wants in these fields. Check the e-mail address: if the sender is using a Web-based account (Yahoo! Mail; Gmail; et cetera), there’s no way that he’s really from the FBI, or any large corporation. Therefore, this can’t possibly be a legitimate e-mail, and needs to be deleted without any further contemplation.

Two: Does this person want money from me? Advance Fee Fraud is a very-common genre of Internet-based scams. (They can also occur via telephone, fax, or snail mail, just so you know.) You end up sending the scammer money for an opportunity to make even more money – usually millions, because scammers like to think large. If you have to pay to see the reward, you’re probably being scammed.

Three: Does this even make sense? Think about the opportunity that the stranger is offering before you do anything else. How is it possible to win the Coca-Cola Lottery when you a) never entered; and b) can’t find any mention of this lottery on their official Web site (save, perhaps, for a warning that these lotteries are all scams)? Why would a supposedly-real business hire you, a complete stranger, to cash checks and send money back to them “for tax reasons”? Why would a stranger trust you with checks, as upfront payments, before you do anything for them? Ask lots of questions, and do everything that you can to poke holes in the story. Scams don’t make sense when you ponder them long enough.

Four: Is this too good to be true? Although some legitimate opportunities seem too good to be believable – like awesome clearance sales – most are just scams.

You should also be familiar, at least on a basic level, with the common types of scams. You need to know, for example, that scammers will e-mail you to claim that you’ve won some weird lottery that you’ve never heard anything about before. They’ll tell you that someone who died in Hurricane Katrina / the tsunami in Asia / some other disaster left a buttload of money…but your help is required to obtain it. (Yeah. Right.) They’ll tell you that they’re collecting donations for some charity that might or might not be real (find the charity’s official Web site and donate there if you really want to be helpful, or mail a check to the address listed on said, official site).

Above all else, trust your instincts. They often start shrieking to get your attention when something’s fishy. You can easily confirm that your instincts are correct by copying parts of the e-mail that you received, then pasting them into the Google search box. The scam e-mails are scripts, also called “formats,” that tons and tons of scammers use. Most of the time, Googling part of the e-mail – say, the first sentence or two – will take you to anti-scam sites that have archived quite a few of these scripts.

Useful Links:

Detailed information at - a great site to learn about other scams, as well as what to do when you receive scam e-mails.

Information for victims, and potential victims, at - a site devoted to educating the public so that the scammers have fewer people to con.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Water Sources

Because we have to have potable water to survive, my family and I have made sure that we have multiple sources. Regardless of circumstances, we’re able to find drinking water, and that makes us all a little bit more relaxed despite the problems that are coming.

The first source is, of course, the tap. Turn on the faucets and the well magically brings us water. This is easy and convenient when the electricity (our well pump isn't solar powered, I'm sorry to say) is working and the pipes aren’t frozen or broken. However, things go wrong, so we have alternatives.

For starters, we have extra plumbing parts lying around, as well as pipe glue and tools. More often than not, when part of the plumbing breaks, we have the gear on hand to fix it. We can always use more fittings, and you really can’t have too much pipe glue, but we have a good start on the stash.

A bunch of one-gallon jugs of drinking water are on hand, which will keep us going while we work on one of the other backup plans. These jugs won’t last long, but it won’t take much to access the other sources.

We can drain the plumbing, then grab water out of the toilet tank, if we need it. This won’t provide much water, but it will give us something to drink while we work on one of our other backup plans.

The next water source: the creek and ponds. There’s always water in the ponds, and the creek runs when it’s raining. None of this water is potable, though. I wouldn’t bathe in any of it, even with tons of antibacterial soap.

Fortunately, my family and I have fire. We have plenty of firewood here at The Homestead as well as buttloads of lighters and matches. There are, of course, other fire starters as well. The wood smoker, and the two wood-burning stoves, offer perfect surfaces for pots and pans. We can easily boil as much water as we can scoop out of the creek or ponds when needed.

Rain water is not a given – we do have long dry spells here – so we don’t count on it. If it is raining when we need water, we would of course take advantage of that. We have plenty of ways to collect rain water, so it wouldn’t take much effort to make this happen.

Collecting rain water is a simple matter of placing containers in the open so that tree bark, gross stuff from our roof, et cetera, don’t contaminate the supply. Food-grade containers of various sizes will catch enough rain to keep us going while we boil water, or whatever else we’re able to do.

And if we get enough rain, the puddles and craters scattered all over The Homestead will fill up. Our property contains lots of clay, which acts as a natural filter. Let the clay settle and the remaining water is fairly clear. I would still boil it, however, because there have been meth labs in the area in the recent past. Meth-lab owners tend to bury or dump all sorts of toxic chemicals and other items, which would make the water very, very bad for us.

There’s also the possibility of locating a hand pump for our well. This is on my family’s to-do list. It’s not considered high priority because, hey, we have other sources of water. Eventually, though, we’ll probably add this anyway, because we’re talking about water here. We all agree that having yet another water source, or way to get to the current source, is a fine idea, because we’re dead without the stuff.

You just have to think outside of society’s boundaries, that’s all. We’re used to turning on taps, so pretend that your water lines are broken. If you live in a decent area, you’re surrounded by other water sources. If you find ways to make that water potable, you stand a very-good chance of surviving whatever disaster or problem has hit your region.


Edit (June 23, 2009): Okay, so I was wrong about boiling water to remove toxins and other crap from water that's possibly contaminated by garbage that meth cooks dumped all over the place out here. Thanks, anonymous commenter, for pointing this out - seriously, good catch.

Anyway: I know that the well water is good to go, but I'm not sure about the other sources - as far as meth-related chemicals and crap goes, that is. Fortunately, it turns out that you can create a solar distiller, as the folks over at have done. The link's a how-to guide, and it looks relatively easy to do. The happy people over at Mother Earth News also have some interesting ideas about this.

However, I have zero experience with any of this (obviously). Does anyone have any experience with this, and have some advice to offer? I mean, I could just go buy a distiller from, but they're kind of expensive.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Natural Pest Repellents; Critter Identification

Side note: I like Blogger’s post schedule / auto publish feature more and more every week. If you read this entry shortly after it’s published, I’ll be at my chiropractor’s office while you see what’s on my mind this week. How cool is that? Okay. So maybe I’m overly fascinated with little things. Still, you have to admit that this is a neat feature.


Last night at Bible study, I caught movement in my peripheral vision – on the wall behind me (the movement was to my right, not directly behind me, of course). I glanced over and saw a small, black spider with a giant, red hourglass pattern. So, of course, I got up and smashed her flat with my notebook, then cleaned up everything. Did you know that, when you smash a black widow against an off-white wall, you can see orange, slimy goop? Me neither. Sorry, but black widows don’t get to live if I come across them; they might not be able to kill me, but they can make me miserable, so off they go.

Now, had my little visitor been a jumping spider, which are very common here, I would have let it be. Jumping spiders aren’t normally dangerous to humans (unless, of course, you have bad reactions to spider bites in general), and they love to catch flies and other nuisances. I also like pretty much every other non-poisonous spider that lurks around here, because many of them are useful to me without being a real threat. The giant garden spiders that make webs all over the place around The Homestead might look scary, what with being really large and all, but they’re harmless as long as I don’t do something to provoke them. (And even if I do tick one off, it’s not capable of killing me, or even putting me in the hospital.)

Fortunately, we live in a part of Texas that has hedge apples, which are also known as horse apples, crab apples, et cetera. They’re excellent, natural repellents, and they don’t smell bad when they’re fairly fresh. I fully intend to grab several and pitch them under the storage building that the black widows are occupying up at the church – I just have to remember to do it, that’s all. (Really, I ought to do a better job of making to-do lists.)

You should, by the way, be aware that hedge apples and livestock don’t necessarily mix well. If one of these suckers gets lodged in an esophagus, you’re going to have some problems.

The hedge apples can also repel German cockroaches, which is great news if you’re looking to avoid those nasty chemicals. Catnip can also do this to the roaches, and the added bonus is that some cats really dig the stuff. If you’re concerned, even a little bit, about roaches wrecking your food stash, I’d look into these two natural repellents. They won’t cost you much, if anything, and you don’t have to do much to get them in place and working, so why not give it a try, right?

I’m just not a big fan of pesticides, folks. Even though some of them do work – and very well, I might add – they don’t discriminate. You’re essentially carpet bombing the area, killing off even beneficial critters. I’m not going to curl up and cry if a ladybug gets creamed or anything like that, but I don’t want to go out of my way to nuke creatures that could be useful to me. As long as I’m not risking my own health or safety in any serious way, I’m going to be kind of selfish by encouraging the non-poisonous creatures to hang out around my house. Nature does a lot of the dirty work for me, from killing mosquitoes to eating rats and other vermin.

Besides: chemicals cost money. Even if you buy over-the-counter stuff, versus hiring an exterminator, you’re still going to have to open your wallet. A lot of the organic pest-control ideas that we use here at The Homestead are either cheap or free. The hedge apples are free, for example. Catnip seeds don’t cost much, and our cats love the stuff, so it’s worth the small investment for more than one reason. Marigold seeds (these flowers are great to plant around your garden – they keep some bugs at bay) are a lot cheaper than even one gallon of pesticide, too.

There are tons of other pest-control ideas out there, too. Try using Google to search for natural ideas for specific problems. When I, for example, search for “black widow repellent,” I get information about hedge apples, among other things. You might have to go through some “Buy our super-awesome pesticide!” types of Web sites to find what you really want, but you can get more-precise results by adding “natural” or “organic” to the beginning of your search query.

Just remember that it’s important to know how various creatures can harm you, if they can do anything to you at all. Find out, for example, what kinds of spiders you have in your area, and which ones are poisonous to you. Do the same thing for snakes, and even plants, because a little reading and Internet searching could reveal a lot of useful knowledge.

Good sources of information include wildlife guides; universities in your area; and county extension services. I like getting online to do most of my research, because it’s quick and free. However, I’d print out information that you find on the Internet, just in case you need access to it if the power’s out or the computer’s gone nutty.

Useful Links:

Iowa State University's page about catnip and other such things -

Iowa State University's page about hedge apples -

A site that sells hedge apples, but also includes interesting information -

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Griping Despite the Plans

The last week’s been a bit intense here at The Homestead. It’s nothing serious, but the family and I are getting a little ragged.

Dad’s not typically one to take action. He’s not a good leader, in most situations at least, so the rest of us tend to just work around him. Instead of preparing, Dad tends to sit around and gripe about the way that things are going. He’s had quite a few complaints about the U.S. government lately, of course, just like many of the rest of us. However, you won’t catch Dad doing anything – not even sitting down to write a one-page letter to one of his representatives – because that takes valuable time that is, apparently, better spent complaining and ranting.

Now, I’m all for a good rant and all. I have a few good ones in me, and will let them loose when appropriate. However, I’m also all for taking action: rant and complain for a bit, then do something about the problem…or rant while you take care of business. Instead of sitting around and complaining that hyperinflation is practically guaranteed because the U.S. has been printing money in the basement for, you know, YEARS AND YEARS, the family and I (minus Dad) are redoubling our efforts to stockpile food and other essentials. This way, if a one-pound bag of rice costs twelve bucks in the future, we don’t have to buy it...or, at worst, we won’t have to buy very much of it.

Incidentally: We’re also stockpiling other things that might not be vital to our continued existence, but are very nice to have on hand. Mom and I both have dentures, for example, so we’re building up a little stash of the effervescent cleaning tablets. These are not strictly necessary – you can easily clean the dentures without them, after all – but the tablets leave the dentures nice and fresh, and also kill off quite a bit of bacteria. They’re cheap right now, but will cost a small fortune should hyperinflation become a reality.

This week, Dad’s been particularly unhappy about the economic situation, and has been doing quite a bit of griping. Knowing him as well as I do, I would wager that he's downright terrified right about now. He’s afraid that, if a five-pound bag of flour costs seven bucks, we’ll go hungry. So he’s griping more and more often about the problems that he sees coming, even though the rest of us are actively working on a solution that we hope and pray will get us through whatever comes next.

So, even though there are buckets and shelves and such all over the house with extra food in them – and even though Dad’s sat there and watched the rest of us prepare the food to go into these storage areas (vacuum-sealing the pasta, for example), he’s still convinced that we’re all going to starve to death, like, ten seconds after hyperinflation sets in. He hears the rest of us talking about the problems that we see coming, and about our solutions. He's right there, sitting at the same table with Mom and me, when we make the weekly grocery list, including both food we eat now and food we put away for later.

Part of this is because we haven’t been actively stocking up on food and other necessities for the last two decades. Dad requires a lot of time to get used to something, whether the change is large or small. He’s still confused by the fact that yes, we have a DVD player in the living room, even though that sucker’s been sitting there for more than a year.

Dad tends to not notice things when he’s afraid, too. Like the buckets full of rice, pasta, beans, et cetera. Like the extra toothpaste and other sundries. Like the extra sodas (because we refuse to usher in the Apocalypse without caffeine, thank you very much).

So, over the last week, Mom’s been trying to reassure Dad that we have plans, and that we’re working toward bigger things. The chicks are quickly turning into chickens, for example, and the food stash is growing. Our garden went in recently, and is doing fairly well.

Dad’s not buying it, though. He’s convinced that we’re all going to die, like, three days after hyperinflation sets in. My thinking, though, is that his perspective is skewed, because he’s not doing anything productive about the perceived problem. Obviously, if he’s sitting around, doing nothing but complaining, then there’s no plan, right? Well, that’s his point of view, anyway. He isn't the only one with this perception problem, though: I'd bet that most of us have done the same thing, even if only on a very-small scale for a brief moment or two.

So, what do you do? You keep stockpiling, and you keep telling the worried family member that the rest of you are working on the problem. Invite that person to help out in some way, too. Dad works, and Mom spends part of the check at the grocery store, so Dad IS helping. He just has this idea that he isn’t doing anything, because he doesn’t go to the grocery store, or notice the extra food (even though it's right there, and even though he hears us talking about it regularly). We’re trying to gently encourage him to help out in some other way – one that he can see for himself. Mom wouldn’t mind having Dad build a few shelves for the canned food, for example, because Dad’s good at that – and his shelves would be sturdier than the ones we’re currently using.

We haven’t, however, had much luck with that. Dad might pick up that project later, but there’s no guarantee. We’ll see what happens and, in the meantime, keep showing him the plans that we’re fulfilling as we go. Maybe, eventually, he’ll get the idea.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm