Monday, March 26, 2012

FTC Video: Sharing Information

In today's world of smart phones, smart grids, and smart cars, companies are collecting, storing, and sharing more and more information about you. In fact, as illustrated by a new video from the Federal Trade Commission, you might not realize just how often companies do so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another "Gray" Area

In our last post, we discussed what is a "reasonable" suspicion for reporting child abuse. This is the same standard used for reporting elder abuse, which can be an equally difficult judgment call.

A case in point involves Mr. Dowdall, a 70-year-old man who suffers from an advanced form of dementia and was not supposed to be driving. However, when he was left at home alone one day, he drove his older model car down to the dealership and traded it in on a brand new convertible. Described as a "frugal man" before the onset of dementia, Dowdall signed a purchase contract for $62,130, including $10,000 of dealer add-ons, without negotiating.

The dealership helped him finance the purchase, obligating Mr. Dowdall to make $923 monthly payments that his wife said he could not afford. So, she hired an attorney to determine if her husband was the victim of elder abuse.

The salesman "acknowledged that something had seemed amiss with the man," but said there was nothing he could do once the sale was completed.

Later, the dealership agreed to take back the car after being "inundated with angry phone calls and emails" in response to media reports of this incident.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What's a "Reasonable Suspicion"?

Deciding to call the authorities because you suspect a child risks being harmed requires a judgment call about what's a "reasonable suspicion."

For example, our first story involves a four-year-old girl who drew a picture at school of a man with a gun. Does this raise a reasonable suspicion of child mistreatment?  Her teacher in Ontario, Canada, thought so and called the child protective agency.  When her father arrived to pick up his children, he was handcuffed, arrested, and strip searched. However, after searching the family's home, the only gun found was a toy.

Or, do you have reasonable suspicion of a child predator if you see an older white man wearing a camouflage jacket and blue jeans standing at a school bus stop? After one mom in a Philadelphia suburb approached the man offering help, he walked away without saying anything — so she called the police. The police notified the school, children were kept in their classrooms during recess, and an email alert was sent to parents asking them to call 911 immediately if they saw this "suspicious" person. It turns out that the man was a new resident of the community and, instead of being welcomed with a plate of cookies, he was questioned by police about why he was standing at a school bus stop.

The third story involves a text message about a Georgia school that was sent by an unknown sender: "gunman be at west hall today." Does this raise a reasonable suspicion of a planned school shooting? After law enforcement learned of the text message, they told school officials to go into lockdown. It turned out that the sender was all thumbs: the auto correct feature on the sender's cellphone had changed "gunna" to "gunman," and the corrected message was accidentally sent to the wrong number. The fact that this happened three days after a school shooting in Ohio helps explain the concern.

Finally, what about a four-year-old girl who was punished by rubbing her mouth until her lips swelled? Even though the abuse was reported to the police in the summer of 2011, the first prosecutor to review the girl's case decided that her mother's boyfriend hadn't violated North Dakota's corporal punishment law. The police continued their investigation, finding that the girl also had bruises on her face and neck which she said happened when she slipped in the shower. Also, the mother's boyfriend first told investigators that the girl injured herself while riding her bike, and then later admitted that he had rubbed her face because she wet the bed. The second prosecutor who reviewed the case charged the boyfriend with felony child abuse, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

So, when deciding if you've got "reasonable suspicion," ask yourself:
"Would someone with average judgment, who saw or heard what I did, also be suspicious?"
If so, it's reasonable. And while you may not always be right, when you are, a child may be saved from harm.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Guilty Verdict for Grandpa

In our previous post, we told you about Christopher Carlson who was on trial for child abuse charges because he kicked and yelled at his three young grandsons to keep them going while hiking the Grand Canyon in triple-digit August heat.

After deliberating for two days, the jury found Carlson guilty on the three of the six charges.

Carlson was 15 years old when the boys' mother was born, and is now 45 years old facing life in prison.

His sentencing is scheduled for June 1.