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Food Porn Leads IRS to Identity Thieves

Food Porn Leads IRS to Identity Thieves


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Instagram food porn showed off ill-gotten gains

A nice, juicy steak sounds pretty good right now, especially with a side of macaroni and cheese. But that meal has Nathaniel Troy Maye facing 12 years of prison, since posting his tasty dinner on Instagram got him caught by police and convicted of identity theft.

According to the Sun Sentinal, the IRS had been on the trail of a man who said he had 700,000 stolen identities for sale, but they didn’t have many other leads. A witness met the suspect at a Morton’s steak restaurant in Florida on Jan. 6, and the suspect handed over a drive that allegedly contained 50,000 stolen identities to be used for filing fake income tax returns.

The drive turned out to only hold 50 identities, but it also had hidden data indicating the drive had belonged to a man named Troy Maye. The IRS googled the name and came up with an Instagram account that included photos of Troy Maye, as well as a photo of the steak dinner he’d ordered that night at Morton’s when meeting the IRS informant.

IRS agents arrested Maye at his girlfriend’s apartment, where they also found 55,000 illegally obtained stolen identities.

Maye and his girlfriend were both arrested, and they pleaded guilty on Friday to aggravated identity theft and possession of unauthorized access devices. The couple faces up to 12 years in prison and massive fines.


Identity Theft

Identity (ID) theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud.

The identity thief may use your information to apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name.

Warning Signs of ID Theft

You may not know that you&rsquore the victim of ID theft immediately. You could be a victim if you receive:

  • Bills for items you didn't buy
  • Debt collection calls for accounts you didn't open
  • Denials for loan applications

Potential Victims of ID Theft

Children and seniors are both vulnerable to ID theft. Child ID theft may go undetected for many years. Victims may not know until they&rsquore adults, applying for their own loans.

Seniors often share their personal information with doctors and caregivers. The number of people and offices that access seniors' information put them at risk.

Types of ID Theft

There are several common types of identity theft that can affect you:

    - Someone uses your Social Security number to falsely file tax returns with the IRS or your state
    - Someone steals your Medicare ID or health insurance member number. Thieves use this information to get medical services or send fake bills to your health insurer.
  • Social ID theft - Someone uses your name and photos to create a fake account on social media

Read about how you can prevent identity theft.


How To Avoid Identity Theft

BOSTON (CBS) – There has been a rebound in identity theft according Javelin Strategy. Identity theft losses cost the consumer $21 billion last year.

How does identity theft happen? Your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, credit card numbers, ATM numbers, and checking account numbers are floating around everywhere. You need to protect those numbers. And you need to protect your kids&rsquo information as well.

According to the Better Business Bureau, two social media sites were utilized in last year&rsquos top scams. You get a Direct Message from a friend on Twitter with something about an embarrassing video of you on Facebook (&ldquoROFL they was taping you&rdquo or &ldquoWhat RU doing in this FB vid?&rdquo are typical tweets).

In a panic, you click on the link to see what the embarrassing video could possibly be, and you get an error message that says you need to update Flash or another video player. But the file isn&rsquot a new version of Flash it&rsquos a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone.

Twitter recommends reporting such spam, resetting your password, and revoking connections to third-party applications.

How else do you prevent identity theft?

  • Protect your wallet &ndash it is full of important information
  • Do not keep your Social Security card in your wallet
  • Protect your Social Security number, give it out only when necessary
  • Protect your credit card numbers
  • Protect your pin numbers and change them often
  • Shred mail and paperwork that contain your vital information
  • Make copies of everything you carry in your wallet
  • Check your bank and credit card statements online at least once a week
  • Put a screen password on your Smart Phone
  • Do not buy phone apps from an unknown source
  • Beware of &ldquofree&rdquo apps for your phone
  • Check your credit reports at least annually- there are 3 reporting agencies so get one free report every 4 months to keep a close watch on your report (www.annualcreditreport.com)

If your identity has been stolen, get on the Federal Trade Commission&rsquos website for the best information available:

  1. File a police report, they may not want the paperwork or the hassle but you need to do it. Get a copy of the report in case banks, credit card companies and others need proof of the crime.
  2. File a complaint with the FTC, or call 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) which is a toll free number.
  3. Contact the fraud departments of one of the three major credit-reporting agencies and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a fraud alert and a credit freeze be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval. This may cost you up to $10 per company.

One more thing: The first identity theft occurred in 1938 a sample Social Security card with the number 078-05-1120 was inserted into new wallets manufactured by the E.H. Ferree Company in Lockport, N.Y.

Unfortunately, that number belonged to Hilda Schrader Whitcher, the secretary of an E.H. Ferree vice president who had decided to use her official number on the sample cards. Not surprisingly, more than 40,000 people have since claimed Whitcher’s Social Security number as their own at one time or another.

Whitcher was eventually issued a new number, but not before being questioned by the FBI. They wanted to know why so many people had her number.

Ten Things The IRS Wants You To Know About Identity Theft

1. If you receive a letter or notice from the IRS which leads you to believe someone may have fraudulently used your Social Security Number, respond immediately to the name and address or phone number printed on the IRS notice.

2. If you receive a letter from the IRS that indicates more than one tax return was filed for you, this may be a sign that your SSN was used fraudulently.

3. Another sign that you may be the target of identity theft is an IRS letter indicating you received wages from an employer unknown to you.

4. The IRS has a department which deals specifically with identity theft issues. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit is available if you have been in contact with the IRS about an identity theft issue and have not achieved a resolution.

5. You can contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit by calling the Identity Theft Hotline at 800-908-4490 Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm local time (Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific Standard Time).

6. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit is also available if you believe your identity may be at risk of being stolen due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet or due to questionable activity on your credit card or your credit report.

7. The IRS never initiates communication with taxpayers about their tax account through emails. If you receive an e-mail or find a website you think is pretending to be the IRS, forward the e-mail or website URL to the IRS at [email protected]

8. The IRS has many more resources available to help inform taxpayers about identity theft on the IRS website at IRS.gov. On IRS.gov, you can access information on how to report scams and bogus IRS websites. You can also visit the IRS Identity Theft Resource Page, which you can find by typing Identity Theft Resource Page in the search box on the IRS.gov home page.

9. The Federal Trade Commission is also available to assist taxpayers with identity theft issues. You can reach them at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).

10. Visit OnGuardOnline for protection tips from the federal government and the technology industry. But beware that website was hacked into last year.


Column: How to stop Facebook identity thieves in their tracks

Cynthia Lim is very excited about grants available from Lions Club International during these difficult times, so she’s telling all her friends via Facebook Messenger to check out this cool source of funds.

And there are no such grants.

This racket highlights how social-media sites such as Facebook make it too damn easy for scammers to pull a fast one on users, coasting on the reputations of people’s trusted friends.

“I reported that it looked like my Facebook account had been hacked,” Lim, 64, told me. “They really didn’t seem to care, telling me only to change my password.”

The West Los Angeles resident called her exchange with the social-media giant “very unsatisfactory” and said that “you’d think Facebook would care more about this stuff.”

I don’t know about that. Facebook didn’t tell anyone when the personal information of more than 530 million users was hacked in 2019, and it didn’t bother to issue an alert when the hacked data recently appeared online.

Nor does the company seem to make it particularly difficult for identity thieves to get Facebook users to lower their defenses using direct messages on the platform.

Lim is a former L.A. Unified School District administrator. To her circle of Facebook friends and acquaintances, she’s a respected source of information about grants and alternative funding sources.

So those Messenger posts about the Lions Club appeared very appealing, and convincing, to a number of people. Lim said she’s aware of at least a half-dozen Facebook friends who took an interest in the pitch, based on her seeming recommendation.

The Lions Club scam is sufficiently widespread that the philanthropic organization, with 1.4 million members worldwide, posted a notice on its own Facebook page warning people not to be duped.

More than 800 comments were posted below the warning. Most expressed shock and anger that the identity of someone they trust was used in this fashion.

Denice Kelley grew up with Lim and was one of those who received the posts via Facebook Messenger, ostensibly from her childhood pal, encouraging her to seek a Lions Club grant.

“The message came in around 7:30 in the morning,” Kelley, 64, told me. “I thought, ‘That girl is such a go-getter!’”

The Salinas resident said she was excited at first about the possibility of some much-needed extra funds, especially with the endorsement of a trusted friend.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to the person who messaged Kelley as Fake Lim.

Fake Lim wrote that the Lions Club grants are perfect for “paying bills, buying a home, starting your own business, going to school or helping raise children.”

Fake Lim also said she had herself received an $80,000 grant through the program, delivered right to her door. (The real Lim, needless to say, received no such funding.)

Kelley replied that she was definitely interested. Fake Lim gave her a phone number to call. Kelley tried the number, got no answer and messaged Fake Lim that no one was answering.

Fake Lim responded that Kelley would need to text first to let the Lions Club know she was interested. Then someone would pick up the phone.

“That sounded really suspicious,” Kelley told me.

She asked Fake Lim via Facebook for more information. Fake Lim started being evasive.

Now concerned this wasn’t on the up-and-up, Kelley asked Fake Lim for the name of Lim’s oldest sister. She also asked Fake Lim to name the neighbors who lived next door to Lim’s childhood home.

“These were things I knew,” Kelley said. “Cynthia would obviously know them as well.”

Fake Lim, of course, did not. Fake Lim said Kelley was asking “stupid questions.” Kelley replied that Fake Lim obviously wasn’t her friend Cynthia.

“At that point,” Kelley said, “the conversation totally ceased.”

David Kingsbury, general counsel for Lions Club International, told me the scam typically involves requests for personal information, including bank account numbers.

It also can involve demands for upfront payments of taxes or delivery fees to facilitate the awarding of the imaginary grant.

“It’s infuriating,” Kingsbury said. “We don’t even award individual grants. But these guys might ask for $900 in advance before you can receive $20,000.”

As for Facebook, I know it’s unreasonable to expect the company to monitor its nearly 3 billion accounts. But the Spider-Man rule still applies: With great power comes great responsibility.

After Lim contacted Facebook to report issues with her account, she received what looks like a robo-response from the “privacy operations” team.

“Thanks for contacting us,” it says. “It looks like you’re trying to report that your account was hacked, phished or otherwise compromised.” The email instructed Lim to click on a link that would help her change her password.

That’s at best a halfhearted response on Facebook’s part to suspected fraud and identity theft.

It wasn’t until after I contacted the Menlo Park, Calif., tech heavyweight that Lim received a more engaged email saying that “it looks like someone may have accessed your Facebook account.”

A Facebook spokesman, who requested anonymity even though he’s, you know, a spokesman, declined to comment on Lim’s situation but said the company has “invested heavily” in keeping scammers at bay.

“Last year, we introduced safety notices in Messenger that are helping educate 70 million people per month on ways to spot and avoid potentially harmful interactions like scams,” he said. “There’s also a number of tools for people to control who they chat with.”

It seems to me that sites such as Facebook can be abused or manipulated so easily by fraudsters, educating people isn’t enough. Measures need to be introduced to more aggressively safeguard account security.

One suggestion: More active use of passwords and security questions before people can directly message others.

I know that would be a hassle for legitimate messages. But this problem is so out of hand, and so potentially harmful, a little hassle is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Also, social-media users should make a habit of doing exactly what Kelley did — ask questions that only your true friend would know. A legit message sender won’t mind. A fraudster will be caught red-handed.

Kelley said she reported her run-in with Lim’s identity thief to Facebook.

“They didn’t respond,” she said. “I didn’t get an email saying they would do something. They just didn’t seem interested.”

Even if that isn’t really the case, Facebook clearly needs to do a significantly better job letting users know it takes this sort of thing seriously.

Your guide to our new economic reality.

Get our free business newsletter for insights and tips for getting by.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

David Lazarus is an award-winning business columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He also appears daily on KTLA Channel 5. His work runs in newspapers across the country and has resulted in a variety of laws protecting consumers.

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Come June 15, businesses in California can open their doors without COVID-19 constraints and fully vaccinated people can go mask-free in most situations.

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How your kids are exposing you to identity theft

In today’s world, an impeccable identity is your lifeline to a good career, fair mortgage and reasonable lending options. Don’t let your curious teenager accidentally put your identity at risk with unwise choices on the internet.

Whether it’s good or bad, kids spend a large chunk of time online every day. According to 2010’s Norton Online Family Report, children around the world spend an average of 11.4 hours per week on the internet. They spend this time on social media, doing homework, surfing their favorite websites and sometimes getting into trouble. Parents usually try to prevent negative online experiences for their children by setting parental controls and monitoring cyberbullying. But what if your child’s online behaviors are actually putting you and your identity at risk?

What is identity theft?

The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, usually for economic gain.” A thief will use his victim’s Social Security number, bank account number, telephone number or other unique identifying information to withdraw funds from bank accounts or even take out loans in the victim’s name. The crime can go unnoticed for weeks or months &mdash until the victim notices something is amiss in an account or credit report.

Unfortunately, no one is immune from crafty identity thieves. A clever thief can adeptly overhear conversations, go through your trash or intercept your mail to commit crimes. But with the proliferation of the internet, the World Wide Web has become the ideal avenue for identity theft. And as darling as your child is, he or she is probably not savvy about identity protection, which can put the whole family at risk for victimization.

Your child’s online behavior and risks

Children are vulnerable to cybercrime for the same reasons they’re vulnerable to other types of crime. Most children are fairly naive about predatory behavior and likely haven’t thought through the negative consequences of giving trust to people who haven’t earned it. Here are some of the ways your child is vulnerable to cybercrime, which in turn can lead to cybercrime being committed against you and the entire family.

  • Downloading games without supervision. Many children see fun “free” games on the internet and instantly download them without a parent’s permission. These games can contain spyware, which may remain on your computer undetected, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft the next time you provide identifying information on your computer.
  • Responding to phishing emails. A phishing email is sent from identity thieves who pose as a legitimate company but often wrangle email recipients into providing personal identifying information in response to a prompt. Children are especially prone to respond to these fraudulent emails with personal information.
  • Accepting friend requests from strangers. Even if a child has strict privacy settings on his or her social media account, all of that caution is ruined by accepting a friend request from a suspicious stranger. Once a stranger becomes a “friend” on Facebook, that stranger will have access to your child’s information &mdash including home address, home phone and possibly even family birth dates.
  • Downloading viruses or malware. According to the Norton Online Report, nearly two-thirds of children surveyed had accidentally downloaded a virus or malware by clicking on questionable content or opening a suspicious email. Viruses and malware can get into your computer and send your personal information to thieves.
  • Failing to update passwords. Many children have secured their email or social media accounts with simple passwords, like the name of a puppy or a best friend. If your child doesn’t update his or her passwords regularly, a thief can access email accounts and any personal information that was sent on that account.

In other words, just because your child may not use your credit card online, he or she may still put you at risk for identity theft. Make sure you educate your child about password protection and approach all information sharing with great caution. Also, make sure your virus and malware software protection is up to date to reduce the risk of identity theft in case your kid accidentally downloads questionable content.


3. Deposit required

When Peter Garuccio rented some home improvement equipment at a big-box store, it required a sizable deposit. “This is where you want to use a credit card instead of a debit card,” says Garuccio, a former spokesman for the American Bankers Association.

With a credit card, the store has its security deposit, and you still have access to all of the money in your bank account. With any luck, you’ll never actually have to part with a dollar.


5 Bizarre Things You Only Learn About The US As An IRS Agent

The IRS is easily the most hated government entity to have ever existed. Even if you've personally been raided by the DEA, the FBI, and the CIA all on the same weekend, you probably reserve the lion's share of your loathing for the people responsible for shaving a little off the top of every dollar you ever earn.

But we knew there had to be more to the job than just gleefully charging American citizens for the privilege of existing. So, we got in touch with three different agents -- Roxanne, Tom, and Allen -- who all work for the IRS in different states. We learned that, while there is a fair amount of glee involved, there's also a surprising amount of terrorist attacks and fake dead people:

Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The IRS is easily the scariest branch of our government, at least until the Federal Bureau Of Werewolf Investigation is finally declassified. When all the lawmen with all the guns in America couldn't stop Al Capone, they turned to the IRS, who put Scarface's ass in prison. So you might be surprised to learn that the IRS is actually pretty cool with criminals, as long as they pay their taxes. As our IRS auditor Roxanne explained:

"One case I found a lot of unreported income, which is a big 'drug dealer' warning sign. They were Colombian, traveled back to Colombia constantly. She did 'window treatment' and apparently traveled to Colombia to get fabric? Yeah, that's not the least bit suspicious.

Plush Studios/Blend Images/Getty Images
"The drapes are for my glaucoma!"

"The initial tax due for this couple was $74,000, and I told them I expected we'd do an installment agreement. . Most people don't take a hit like that easily, but these people didn't give two shits about it. Their accountant was like, 'We'll just pay it in full.' I tried to prove it was fraud, but their accountant had immediately fessed up to the errors they made: 'Oh, we missed reporting this and this deposit.' And because he was forthcoming about those deposits, we didn't have much cause to charge him with."

In other words, as long as you accurately report what you made, they don't particularly care how you made it. So if you are a drug dealer, the IRS has no issues taking your dough and ignoring all the felonies. In fact, they actually have a box for that -- Form 1040, line 21, to be specific. That's where you report the money you earn from dealing drugs, gambling, hosting bum fights, etc. The IRS doesn't care what illegal enterprise you operated, as long as you declare your income so Uncle Sam can get his cut.

sumnersgraphicsinc/iStock/Getty Images
And paying him in product is not an acceptable substitute.


These Are the Best Sex Positions for Women to Orgasm — Guaranteed to (Literally) Hit the Spot

There are all sorts of ways to have sex with all sorts of biological (and store-bought) equipment &mdash and not all of them are about orgasms. That’s just a fact of life. But for many people vaginas (especially those who have sex with cis-men), having an orgasm when they do really want one can be a bit of a challenge. For some, it requires a little more finesse, a whole mess of communication and some anatomy 101 to get there.

But today we’re here to empower you to take charge the next time you and your S.O. are in the bedroom with what experts have determined to be the five best sex positions for a guaranteed orgasm for vagina-owners. “Guarantee” is a big word and, of course &mdash bodies are all different and orgasms are complicated and personal, but having a few go-to positions that grind and hit the right parts of your body at the right times can do wonders (and make it a lot easier to coach your partner into getting you off). Depending on your tastes and the kind of stimulation that makes you happiest, these are positions that shouldn’t disappoint.

The names are as interesting and fun as the positions themselves. They include The G-Whiz, The Drop Box, The Tilt-a-Whirl, Closed for Business (not what you think this means!) and In High Heels. (OK, we made that one up because it technically didn’t have a name, but it works, right?)

With these positions in your life, you can kiss the days where both parties didn’t get off goodbye. Click through to find out what these positions entail and exactly how to pull them off. You won’t regret it.

A version of this article was originally published in March 2016.


Where Food Writing Leads

I n the winter of 1994, Dorothy Kalins decided that she was so bored with food magazines that she would start her own. “They were just totally deracinated,” Kalins recalls of the “Big Three”—Condé Nast’s sibling publications, Bon Appétit and Gourmet, and Food & Wine. “They were removed from the roots of the food.” Kalins, a former editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Home, found the magazines’ collective sensibility service-oriented to a fault, pushing “dopey” stories with spreads about “six ways to make pork chops and low-fat cassoulet.” Recipes were the grist occasional sojourns to faraway lands were mostly in Europe, if writers dared to leave the country at all.

Kalins had a vision of a better way. “We would go to the ends of the Earth and shoot the food coming out of the kitchen of the people who cooked it,” she says. Her new magazine, Saveur, launched that May. The masthead was small and uniformly white, but Kalins was determined to cover food cultures that a white American readership may have previously seen as esoteric. Leaf through the first issues and you’ll find stories about a family of tea farmers in China’s Fujian province, spices of the city of Madras in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a diaristic account of a trip to the Moroccan city of Tangier. Saveur’s first cover story was devoted to Oaxacan cooking. In it, the writer, Peggy Knickerbocker, goes out of her way to dispel antiquated American notions of Mexican food: “Mole is not, contrary to popular opinion, ‘chicken in chocolate sauce.’”

Over seven years at Saveur, Kalins, who left the magazine in 2001 to become the executive editor of Newsweek, noticed the Big Three begin to absorb her magazine’s editorial DNA. Kalins and her team had positioned food at the center of culture under Saveur’s influence, food writing expanded its purview. But the same period also ushered the demise of the glossy food magazine. Gourmet published its last print issue in 2009 Food & Wine may be better known today for its yearly festival in Aspen than its magazine. Bon Appétit remains in existence, though Condé Nast cut it back to 10 issues per year.

It became apparent that Trump’s victory had made food publications wake up. Food writers of color told me that they were startled by the degree to which editors asked them to write about their identities.

In place of the Big Three, however, there has been a digital democratization of food writing—Eater, part of Vox Media Munchies, of Vice Food52, a site for home cooks that also has an e-commerce arm and Civil Eats, a daily news website. In 2011, Lucky Peach, David Chang’s print magazine, flipped the idea of the glossy food magazine on its head, devoting entire issues to ramen and breakfast. Food writing has gradually become something more journalists want to do, a new way to tell stories about culture.

I began to see a space for myself in this industry when I read Eater’s “Life in Chains” series each essay is achingly personal and tethered to a writer’s experiences in an American chain restaurant. John DeVore, in “Finding Home at Taco Bell,” writes lucidly about his affinity for what some could dismiss as a “garish facsimile of an entire nation’s culture”—an attraction informed by his tangled relationship to his mother and his Mexican heritage. When I read Lucky Peach, I was captivated by John Birdsall’s essay about modern American food’s gay male innovators, and Kevin Pang’s essay on the need for more humane prison food. The magazine folded in 2017, but its impact has remained powerful.

When, in 2016, an editor at Food52 contacted me about a staff writer position, I saw an opportunity to tell stories like these—reported essays that brush up against the politics of identity and inequality. Although I maintained some skepticism—I still perceived the food world to be the domain of the white and moneyed, of which I am neither—I knew that, in its finest form, food writing could function as both vivid storytelling and bracing cultural critique. I decided to take the job.

O n November 3, 2016, I published a feature on Food52 about Madhur Jaffrey, America’s foremost authority on Indian cooking. We made a point of running the story days before the election, so that it wouldn’t get lost. Looking back, I wonder what traction the story would have gotten had we published it later. After the electoral votes were counted, the story of Jaffrey, a woman of color and an immigrant, had newfound political relevance almost overnight.

Over the next year, through my conversations with food writers and editors of color, it became apparent that Trump’s victory had made food publications wake up. Food writers of color told me that they were startled by the degree to which editors asked them to write about their identities. “The election was a weird turning point for a lot of publications,” Amanda Kludt, the editor-in-chief of Eater, says, as we discuss the hiring of writers of color. “I think it’s been a gradual understanding that it’s not just the right thing to do, but if you’re looking at your own self-interest, you want to reach as many people as possible and reach as many parts of the country as possible.”

But sometimes this came to feel like a burden, as journalists were asked to serve as interlocutors for an otherwise uninformed audience. “There were a lot of struggles to understand myself for most of my life,” Nneka M. Okona, an Atlanta-based food and travel writer who is Nigerian American, says. “Food was my pathway to beginning to find my way, beginning to accept myself. But only writing pieces that delved into the pain of that began to feel really exploitative after a while.” Other journalists express frustration with editors’ misplaced expectations. “They want it from their perspective,” Korsha Wilson, who writes about food media, race, and class, says. “They want me to be the face of it, but when it comes time for me to tell it from my point of view, they’re like, no, no, we wanted you tell it how we would tell it, but black.”

To see more work by writers of color gain traction is exhilirating, but it can also seem a touch reactive—something that could be slotted in as a temporary solution to a broader national crisis. These companies might be well-intentioned in their efforts, but on the masthead level, there isn’t always an infrastructure to support diverse storytelling in a consistent way. Today, when catastrophe strikes, it usually arrives in the form of misguided coverage that brings to the fore the homogeneity of staffs. “It can be very difficult when you’re working with an editor who doesn’t understand cultural nuances,” Nicole Taylor, who has written for The New York Times and Esquire, says. “I realize that I sometimes have to fight for certain phrases or things. A lot of times, the editor just doesn’t know that.”

A notable editorial lapse came in August 2017, in the Times coverage of Taiwanese bubble tea. The piece, which ran in the Business section, originally had the headline, “The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There,” presupposing an audience utterly dumbstruck by the concept of tapioca balls floating in tea despite decades of market saturation in America. “Remember the first time you went to a Starbucks, and had no idea what to do?” Joanne Kaufman asked in the first version of the article. “These days, bubble tea, an Asian import, seems to be going through the same consumer learning curve, as entrepreneurs bring their exotic menus to malls and big American cities.” Blowback on social media to the article was swift readers pilloried the Times for framing bubble tea as peculiar and unfamiliar to the American palate when, for many readers, it was anything but. The response resulted in a mea culpa from the paper a day later describing tapioca balls as “blobs,” editors confessed, framed the drink as “strange and alien.”

A misstep can also take the form of a tone-deaf tweet: in August 2018 Food & Wine called concha, a Mexican sweetbread whose grooves resemble those of a seashell, a “brioche-like roll.” The phrase relies on a Eurocentric point of cultural comparison, using the name of a French pastry to describe a Mexican confection that the tweet doesn’t even name. (The next day, the site’s senior audience engagement editor, Meg Clark, said on Twitter that she was “deeply sorry and will do better in the future.”)

As we look forward to where food writing can go, I am skeptical about whether publications can expand their editorial purviews rapidly enough to reach the same audiences they may have once alienated.

“We’re very much still in this responsive, reactionary moment,” Stephen Satterfield, the founder and editor of Whetstone magazine, a print quarterly, says. “There is a newness to this so-called diversity for these publications.” Satterfield, who is black, launched Whetstone in 2017 with an IndieGoGo campaign. Frustrated with traditional, predominantly white, publications, he wanted to create space for writers to examine “the origins of the things we eat and drink, seeking to better understand people through their food and traditions.”

Beyond the moral imperative, commissioning writers of color is a shrewd business decision, Satterfield says if food publications can’t diversify the tenor of their coverage, they risk not engaging a potentially vibrant segment of readers. That compromises their bottom lines. Watching food media over the past couple years, he says, does not make him optimistic. “I need to be convinced that this isn’t just reflective of a business opportunity through the lens of contemporary conversation—this moment that can be capitalized on.”

W hen I joined Food52, I was the lone person of color on a masthead of seven white women. I wondered how I would fit in. It is a question I continue to grapple with, among others: Who gets centered in the narratives that food media peddles? How much does that have to do with what mastheads look like, and who the people on those mastheads imagine their audiences to be?

In February 2017, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the cofounders of Food52, issued a statement about the ways in which the company intended to redress a lack of racial equality in its workplace. The letter stated that the company was, at the time, 92 percent white. In January 2018, they published a follow-up letter updating readers on the progress of their efforts, stating that their staff had been reduced to being 76 percent white. Less clear was the effect that change had on what stories the site published. “I feel a great responsibility, especially as a queer person of color, to commission and publish writers who represent a wide variety of races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds every week,” Eric Kim, now a senior editor at Food52, says. He adds that he has received “a hundred percent support from everyone” for this mission, and that half of his hiring committee was comprised of people of color.

I left Food52 in October 2017 another writing job, and have since gone freelance. This past April, I won a James Beard award for a profile I had written for Food52 on Princess Pamela, a black Southern woman who owned two soul food restaurants in New York City then vanished. Another winner was Osayi Endolyn, for her column in the Southern Foodways Alliance’s quarterly print magazine Gravy, where she served as deputy editor. (She has left that job.) Endolyn, who is black, stresses that both she and I were on the mastheads of the publications for which we won awards—a position that gave us a degree of power to fight for our stories. She doubts that her writing—charged, honest, often describing being gawked at by white waitstaffs—would have been published otherwise. “What it means to be nominated for an award like that is that you first had the opportunity to write those pieces,” she says. “The awards are only so much an indicator of change as the pool of pieces there are to choose from.”

As we look forward to where food writing can go, I am skeptical about whether publications can expand their editorial purviews rapidly enough to reach the same audiences they may have once alienated. I fear that the level of recognition bestowed by the James Beard Awards will fade. I can only hope that food media does not fall back on the tendencies that once jolted a generation of editors like Dorothy Kalins to act. We can’t forget how much what we eat tells us about the world.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Food Porn

Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award–winning food and culture writer in New York. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bon Appétit, and elsewhere.


A Jersey tradition: Mayors indicted over the past decade, and what happened to them

When news broke that longtime Paterson Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres was indicted on corruption charges this week, he joined a crowded fraternity of New Jersey elected officials who found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The Garden State has a well-documented history of political corruption spanning from the local zoning board to the governor’s office.

Jersey Journal file photo

While many trace the state's colorful corruption history to early 20th century Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague (pictured above), he was actually never convicted of a crime.

The century since has seen plenty of scandals, including Abscam, which ensnared Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti in the 1970s, the extortion conviction of Atlantic City Mayor Michael Matthews in the 1980s, and the dozens of elected officials felled by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who made sport of prosecuting local elected officials.

Here's a look at mayoral corruption cases from the last decade.

Newark Mayor Sharpe James

James, a longtime Newark mayor, was convicted in 2008 on federal fraud and conspiracy charges for helping his mistress buy nine plots in a city redevelopment zone, among other acts of wrongdoing.

It was a long fall for the head of New Jersey’s largest city, who reined as a Newark booster and Democratic power broker for two decades before he was ousted in an election by Cory Booker and later brought up on federal charges.

Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna

Delle Donna and his wife were convicted on extortion and tax fraud charges in 2008 after a local bar owner claimed she showered the couple with more than $40,000 in gifts and cash campaign contributions to fend off town inspectors.

Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera

Rivera was sent to federal prison for agreeing to steer city contracts to an insurance brokerage firm in exchange for a bribe. The only problem? The firm was an FBI front, and Rivera was caught on tape telling them heɽ have no problem lining up votes for their projects.

Star-Ledger file photo

On July 23, 2009, as the website Gawker.com succinctly put it, everybody in New Jersey was arrested.

Among the 44 people collared that day in the federal inquiry known as Operation Bid Rig were three Democratic mayors brought up on bribery charges: Peter Cammarano, of Hoboken, Dennis Elwell, of Secaucus, and Anthony Suarez, of Ridgefield.

Cammarano — who was in office just 22 days before his arrest — and Elwell were later convicted. Suarez claimed he was set up by the government’s key informant, real estate scammer Solomon Dwek, and was later found not guilty.

Northvale Mayor Paul Bazela

Bazela's fall came not from any allegations related to his job as mayor, but from his other public job at the patronage plagued Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, where he worked as an operations supervisor. Bazela, a Democrat, was one of four men swept up in a state investigation into the commission in 2011.

Bazela eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree theft after he admitted his carpenters and other workers used the agency's time and resources to do work at the home of a former top official at the commission.

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack

Mack was indicted alongside his brother and a longtime supporter in a $119,000 bribery scheme linked to a parking garage project run by FBI informants.

He was charged with extortion, bribery and mail and wire fraud and continued to hold office for two years amid calls for his resignation from leading state lawmakers. Mack fought to stay in office while he appealed, but a judge formally booted him from his post 19 days after his 2014 conviction.

Chesterfield Mayor Lawrence Durr

A longtime Republican council member and former mayor in the small Burlington County borough, Durr was indicted in 2014 for selling development rights on his farm to a real estate company at a profit and then using his official positions to advance the company's interests in Chesterfield.

Last year, he admitted to filing fraudulent ethics disclosure forms that hid his ties to the firm and was given probation.

Manalapan Mayor Andrew Lucas

Lucas, a Republican, was convicted at trial in 2014 on charges ranging from fraud and making false statements to the IRS to identity theft and obstructing a grand jury investigation.

The charges stemmed from a million-dollar private real estate deal that went down in the borough while he served as mayor.

Jersey Journal file photo

The mayor who beat two indictments

West New York Mayor Felix Roque is a unique entry because he's been twice accused — and twice acquitted — of wrongdoing. First came the federal charges in 2012 accusing him and his son of hacking a website set up by a political rival and threatening the man.

The Democratic mayor was later found not guilty, though his son was convicted on the hacking charges. Then Roque, a physician, was indicted on state charges in 2015 after New Jersey's attorney general accused him of accepting about $250,000 in bribes from a medical imaging company whose owner has admitted running a massive kickback scheme.


And fake news can fuel the problem.

The online manipulation gets even weirder. According to Buzzfeed, spreading fake news online is one of the “pump” tactics used by scammers to pilfer naive fawns in the highly unregulated forest that is cryptocurrency.

“There are frankly a lot of groups that have now centered around misinformation,” Laz Alberto, a cryptocurrency investor and editor of the newsletter Blockchain Report, told BuzzFeed reporters Ryan Mac and Jane Lytvynenko in 2018. “It’s obviously illegal, but there’s no regulation and they’ve gotten away with it.”

A cryptocurrency founder was even himself the target of a fake news hoax in 2017, when news spread that Vitalik Buterin , cofounder of the cryptocurrency Ethereum, had died in a car crash.

The fake reports of Buterin’s death caused Ethereum’s valuation to plummet in the market — and later rebound — when the very-much-alive Buterin debunked the rumor himself.


Watch the video: The Science of Pornography Addiction SFW


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