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Ask Dr. Data

Phish the phishers, but don't put UPCs in my turkey.

I'm concerned about identity theft. If mine is stolen, will I have to steal somebody else's? If I don't, will I cease to exist?
— Angst Ridden in Cyberspace

Dear Angst ridden:

Having just spent a week getting rid of various worms that hijacked my PC, I feel your anxiety. Forces beyond my ken had been using me for insidious purposes — connecting people to porn, gambling and incredible deals, all against my will.

Depressing as that is, what's more depressing are the phishers — spammers who mimic e-mail from financial institutions to trick us into giving them our personal information. More depressing than that are those of us who actually give the phishers our social security numbers, mothers' maiden names and other personal details.

Even more depressing is the fact that phishers have their own chat rooms. "Data thieves ... use the rooms, known as 'channels,' to trade and sell access to eBay and PayPal accounts, hacked home computers and airtime on Internet-based telephone networks," according to the Washington Post. To join, phishers have to offer up personal data they've stolen to prove their credentials as thieves, I guess.

Experts say that by verifying credit card information posted by other chat room members, those running the channels are more interested in scamming the phishers — taking the information and running, to sell it themselves.

So everybody's stealing from everybody else, and none of us are who we think we are. But cheer up! No matter what happens, we'll always know who you really are ... and we can find out where you live.

Is the universal product code really the mark of the beast, as some say?
— Anxious at the Drugstore

Dear anxious:

No. However, in reviewing various trends last December, The New York Times announced that we may be on the verge of a barcode revolution.

The Times reported that a U.C. Berkeley professor of labor explained in a World Bank Group policy paper that shoppers choosing turkeys could one day scan barcodes with their cell-phone cameras to find out where the birds were from, and even see pictures of the farms.

Why would anyone want to see pictures of the living arrangements of large edible flightless birds? Edible cell phones, on the other hand? Sign me up.

I'm worried about the Internet. Can you do something about it?
— Spam I Am

Dear Spam:

If it's any consolation, Finnish professor Hannu H. Kari has predicted that, because of spam, viruses, hackers, spyware and other online nuisances, the Internet will collapse by 2006. So if you want to download a tune, go to that secrets of real estate investment site or double-click mydoom.exe, you'd better do it soon.

The new iPod is smaller than a pack of chewing gum. Is it the time to buy?
— Music Lover

Dear ML:

Sure, if you want a music player you could accidentally swallow. But the iPod will probably get even smaller — thinner than a dime by 2007 and subatomic by 2010.

Personally, I'd like to see this shrinkage trend reversed. I want a steam-driven behemoth of a computer that fills my entire garage — one that requires a seat belt to use and emits horrible puffs of white smoke whenever I perform an operation. In short, I want a computer that alerts everybody in a 10-block radius that, look out, Ian Shoales is hard at work.

Ian Shoales lives in San Francisco with his phish and spam. Write to him at [email protected].

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