Schneier on Security
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March 25, 2008
This is a weird story: someone posts a hoax Craigslist ad saying that the owner of a home had to leave suddenly, and this his belongings were free for the taking. People believed the ad and starting coming by and taking his stuff.
But Robert Salisbury had no plans to leave. The independent contractor was at Emigrant Lake when he got a call from a woman who had stopped by his house to claim his horse.
On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater.
"I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back," Salisbury said. "They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did."
The driver sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings.
Once home he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.
The trespassers, armed with printouts of the ad, tried to brush him off. "They honestly thought that because it appeared on the Internet it was true," Salisbury said. "It boggles the mind."
This doesn't surprise me at all. People just don't think of authenticating this sort of thing. And what if they did call a phone number listed on a hoax ad? How do they know the phone number is real? On the other hand, a phone number on the hoax ad would give the police something to find the hoaxer with.
At least this guy is getting some of his stuff back.
EDITED TO ADD (3/26): In comments, Karl pointed out a previous example of this hoax.
EDITED TO ADD (4/1): A couple have been charged with posting the ad; they allegedly used it to cover up their own thefts.
Posted on March 25, 2008 at 7:33 PM
• 56 Comments
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People do think, morons do not.
Despite the legions of active members on craigslist, only a handful of opportunist-thieves actually went. I do not buy "but the interwebs said so" position, they knew what they were doing was wrong -- backed up by the fact that even when they were rightly confronted in their get away, they refused to give anything back.
I heard the guy got some license plate numbers: I hope and expect these people will be prosecuted to the full extend of the law.
They literally took everything; and the kitchen sink.
Nice hack, now to implement ... considering some of the bad peoples I've experienced in this life ... just kidding.
How would one protect themselves from this sort of stuff? I don't get it, but the magic in the word 'free' is amazing. Furthered by "I saw it on the Internet hence, it must be true" mentality. More furthered by the (likely) melee at the residence of the victim.
I'm flashing back to a bit in one of Gladwell's books ... where a bunch of folks saw someone get shot, yet none called it in ...
Quick! Sprinkle everything with smart water!
Sadly, this isn't the first time someone pulled this stunt. In happened in Washington a while ago as well. I don't recall the details exactly, but I believe is was about a year ago in Tacoma.
The funny thing, not what happened to the guy but this story popping up here when it did... I had just got done reading about Alice sending 100 pizza guy's to Bob's house in Secrets and Lies (p 184). And then I see a real world example in my RSS feed not 5 minutes later.
So ... easy revenge. Take those license plates, and post adverts on Craig's List -- "My husband just ran off with his secretary, and told me to sell his car. It's (license) and it's parked (here), just take it away."
Sweetest revenge is the kind you think about, chuckle a bit, and move on with your life ;)
I have no way of knowing if this example is genuine, but a friend of mine who has been severely harassed by neighbors was subjected to this hoax for real a year or so ago.
Fortunately, she was home and didn't lose much.
I don't get it. Did he have no lock on his door, and if he did, did the looters actually break in? Or was all his stuff just lying around the house?
I am not trying to blame the victim here, as the looters deserve punishment. But valuables should be secured against theft no matter what its cause is.
I had a friend who once told me that when someone undertake the burden of writhing a book, what he had written in shall be taken as true. This friend was an accomplished engineer and the very instant when he said that to me excluded any kind of joke or methaphoric sense. I did'nt wanted to vexe him but had keep certain reserve about his thought except for a embarashment smile. Alas, this story made me had this same funny smile, remembering a situation almost exacly like this one described above when a neighbor had his belonings taken by passerby who, an ad with a misspelled " to rid" intead of "for sale", returned home with whatever they could take from his garage just because it was written on this ad. And the arguing thed had to keep the stuff...
So to quote: @nonamethx
"People do think, morons do not."
Is a suitable and correct observation.
By the way, now, with this marvelous personnal printer, you know, this nicknamed "all-in-one", I do feel, except for the truly unfortunate designative nickname "moron", ready to own this planet and being very busy à this moment printing whatever necessary to prove to whom it belongs...
I'm surprised nobody got killed. Imagine if the owner had a shotgun... this could have ended in a bloodbath.
I have to ask, didn't he have locks and alarms?
I think that the two are a must in modern world.
You'll have to replace the SmartWater story in your next writeup about the security mindset with this anecdote, Bruce.
Forgetting the idiots who came to pick up the stuff, it should be whoever posted the notice online who gets the blame for this. They did the equivalent of screaming "fire" in a theater and even if people fell for it, they're the one to blame.
It's easy to blame the fools who took things, but it's also easy to blame the troops for a war.. when, in fact, the trigger came from elsewhere.
To all the commenters talking about locks and all, please remember that you have a bunch of stuff in your yard that doesn't get locked up. Things like your lawn ornaments and statues, bird bath, lawn chairs, garden implements, and everything else that you normally leave outdoors. This guy had a horse, so he probably had a barn and various equipment that he leaves out for convenience. Are you supposed to take everything indoors every night including all your outside light fixtures, garden hoses, and so on? Get real, at some point of locking everything up, life becomes too cumbersome to be worth it. He doesn't want to live in a concrete bunker, he wants to live in his normal ranch house on a 2 or 3 acre lot with all the normal things that you probably have lying around outside right now. And he doesn't want to do anything more than you normally do to protect it. God forbid, he might even want to leave his car parked outside where anybody can just tow it away.
I wonder if Craigslist should be prosecuted.
Craigslist could claim that it was a identity theft.
Then, the court might challenge the notion of identity theft, and Bruce would be delighted.
I have a feeling that you really didn't think about the "chilling effect" on all the Internet which would result from a ruling against Craigslist in this incident. Right?
Not at all worthwhile even if it leads to some kind of better legal definition for "identity theft".
"They did the equivalent of screaming "fire" in a theater and even if people fell for it, they're the one to blame."
No, it's more like screaming "free drinks in the lobby" in a theatre really. People fall for it, but the difference is that they WANT to do so because they're greedy (a perfectly understandable human thing, but still).
Of course, the person who yelled "free drink" in the first place is the one who ultimately is and should be held responsible, but those who claimed to believe what he said because it was a convenient way for them to get a free drink without paying... those aren't exactly blameless, either. They SHOULD have known better, and even if they didn't, they had no excuse anymore after the theatre owner himself came in and said that no, whoever made that claim was not acting on his behalf.
I'm intrigued by the greed, really, not the hoax itself. Interesting how some people see "free" and immediately think "gotta get mine" -- the opposite, of course, to "I have enough".
I wonder what size community this took place in -- the gentleman has a horse so it must be fairly rural -- and the distance people traveled to get his stuff. Does 30 people represent an appalling number, or a reassuringly low number?
Maybe this is an example of why you should be nice to people, so that they don't arrange for all your stuff to be taken. Someone has to be pretty pissed off at you to send people to your house to take your stuff.
Sure, it could have been random, but how often is your car being keyed random?
I bet those folks here with the "security mindset" could come up with a lot more attacks like this one. Are there other examples of people tricking morons into doing their dirty revenge work for them? I can't think of any really good ones off the top of my head, but I bet others here can come up with ideas in the genre...
I don't think that those individuals sincerely believed the ad. I think that they used the ad as a pretext for theft. The owner confronts them and tells them it is a hoax, but they take away his things anyway. That's not an honest mistake. It's akin to juror nullification. The ad is just an excuse for theft.
"but I bet others here can come up with ideas in the genre..."
Joe Frank (http://jfwiki.org/index.php/Main_Page) produced a show called "Warheads" (http://jfwiki.org/index.php/Warheads) where there is a brief monolog where one guy exacts revenge on someone by calling him on the phone, and after 'explaining' he works for a cab company, threatens to come over to his house with a crowbar to deal with the guy. After hanging up, he then orders a cab to the targets house, casually noting that someone's baggage is stuck (or some other excuse -- it has been years since I have heard this show), and could the driver please bring a crowbar to the door to help?
Wow, and the crew posting here today doesn't think about the really malicious angle? Break in, rob the place of the items you want, then invite everyone down to get free stuff.
Talk about compromising a crime scene...
Everyone would be so busy talking about the craigslist abuse that the actual crime might be overlooked.
Now that I think about it, I'll bet the poster was among those participating. He probably used the Craig's List ad to cover his tracks and make an excuse in case he got caught with the stuff.
I do think that everyone publishing or citing phone numbers (or locations or emails or other contact details) either should have checked the consent of their contacts, or should clearly state on the same web page that any contact detail is unchecked, banned and should be denounced to the webmaster.
I'm moving to Australia and giving away all my stuff because I'm independently wealthy. Here are my US addresses - just come on by and take anything you like (The guards are just there for show, ignore them.):
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20520
Pentagon, Washington, DC 20001
I had a front yard that the previous owners had removed the grass and replaced it with red rock (apparently due to allergies). Last summer I put in sod and so I had to get rid of the red rock. I put a "Free Red Rock, Come and Get it" ad up on Craig's List and, sure enough, people started showing up and taking it away. I noticed that there were some who would verify that they could take it by calling and/or knocking on the door. However, there were some who simply showed up and took the rock.
Now, Craig's List obviously can't be held responsible for this. In my opinion, entering someone else's property and taking any of their belongings with out first having had permission physically given by the owner (not just phone/email/fax/internet) is theft. This seems to be a case of actual thieves seeing an opportunity combined with some people who place ignorant and naive trust in the internet.
Similar thing happened in Springfield Oh, a couple of years back. Someone called to a local "unskilled workers for hire" place, claimed he had a house that needed knocked down and gave them an address. A bunch of people with hammers and crowbars went there, demolished the suburban residence - and then the owner came home and had a fit upon discovering someone had destroyed his house.
Wouldnt you be suspicious when you went to knock down a home and it still had TV, appliances, clothing and water/power/cable/phone still worked?
@N: He probably did - someone took it...
Some time in the next few months I'm planning to move away from my current apartment and I really will be giving away many of my belongings. The key differences are that I'll be present at the time to hand the items over and make clear what is and isn't up for grabs; I can easily prove, and people already know, that I really am the legitimate resident of the apartment in question; and I'll be distributing the ad for it by email to people I already know, not to Craigslist.
Perhaps Craigslist under fire, suddenly?
I note that both these events occurred in Oregan.
Saw this hours ago on CNN, the photo was a horrible depiction of a bloody baby, apparantly from the site:
"... Craigslist Ad Lists Baby For Sale For $1,000 ..."
"... LEBANON, Ore. -- A Lebanon couple said Tuesday they were the victims of a sick joke after someone used their name to list a baby for sale.
An ad on Craigslist.org said the baby’s mother wasn’t coming back. It also said the posters of the ad were out of “tweak,” or drugs, and would sell the baby for $1,000.
An e-mail address attached to the ad included the name Birdie Avery. But a woman who shares the same name in Lebanon said she doesn’t recognize the baby. She said she and her husband don’t own a computer.
“I don’t know if this is somebody’s really sick April fools joke," said Avery's husband, Rick Avery. ..."
This seems like a natural extension of the online Joe Job. And ultimately not really possible to deal with except in social fashion (or by somehow forbidding giveaway ads except under carefully regulated conditions)
@Tamas: The guy stops a truck that's filled with his stuff, demands it back, and the drivers show him the fake ad and refuse to return the goods. Do you honestly think that people like that would hesitate to break a window or bust down a door? At any rate, even if he forgot to lock one of his doors, it's still like asking why a murder victim wasn't wearing body armor.
@N: Hopefully, that's what will happen next time. If we get an incident where a bunch of the looters are killed, then future Craigslist looters will think twice before going through with it. It's not like the looters showed even the slightest hint of remorse.
@konrads: I already went over the lock thing, but I should add that very few people in rural areas (which I assume this to be) have (or need) alarms.
@Peter: The looters are absolutely guilty. They had to know that the ad was a fake. For a long time, a hit man could be found guilty of murder, but his employer couldn't. Then the idea was developed that both could be 100% guilty. So why can't we place complete blame both the hoaxer and the looters?
@RonK: What "chilling effect"? While there is a legitimate need for anonymous speech, there is no need for anonymous advertising. The only people who benefit from anonymous classifieds are hoaxers and crooked companies that want to carry out deceptive advertising campaigns (bait-and-switch, etc.) with plausible deniability.
@Joshua Volz: Go to hell. Lots of crimes are random, or because the perpetrator was unjustifiably angry at the victim. Paul Craig Roberts once related the story of a family that was approached by a sheriff's deputy who wanted to buy their property for a fraction (say a quarter) of its actual value. They declined, and ever since have been harassed by the sheriff's department, even to the point of the son being framed for a drug offense. They may have "pissed him off", as you would put it by declining his "offer", but it's impossible to say that they were unreasonable or "not nice". You're basically saying, "His house was looted. He must have been a real asshole." Way to blame the victim, dude.
By the way, you've "pissed me off", so please post a link to a high-res scan of your driver's license, I have an ad to place. I assume you won't complain. (Or does that only apply to other people?)
@havvok: I'm sure you're right.
My second thought when seeing this story was, "Hm, if you're really pissed at someone and you have insurance, just put your photo albums and important papers lockbox under the house, then drive over to their place and wardrive their wifi. Log into Craigslist via their Internet connection, and post this ad. Then go on vacation."
Worst thing happens, you claim the loss on your insurance. Best thing happens, your enemy gets blamed for it.
Ah, the joys of rural living. I knew someone who lived on a ranch. When her dad told the son of the family on the next property not to hunt on his property, the guy came back that night and maimed their horse with a shotgun. The sheriff couldn't make any charges stick, because no one actually saw the suspect shoot the horse. Purely circumstantial evidence. I wouldn't be surprised if this Craigslist thing was based on a similar petty dispute, but with a higher tech "solution" to being pissed. Lucky nothing worse happened.
you think people would know by now:
security cameras on your home pointed in every direction will eventually pay for itself over and over again!
by late Monday afternoon, items were "starting to piling up" in Salisbury's driveway.
Hate to be that grammar guy, but if that isn't a misprint, it's certainly telling ;).
"Three alleged software pirates face criminal copyright infringement charges for selling illegal copies of popular software titles on Craigslist."
"Lnu offered the deepest discounts, selling 18 titles worth $9,900 for only $45."
Craigslist seems to be empowering thieves of all sorts.
Security tip: AVOID CRAIGSLIST
More CL Morons
"Police have the person they say is responsible for an ad trying to sell a baby on Craigslist in custody. Dallas, Oregon"
I've lived most of my life in rural areas where people hardly even bother to lock their house, let alone the barn and toolshed. Thieves aren't much of a problem for two reasons: Most thieves are the kind of person that finds rural life too boring, and if they do burglarize country places they're apt to be shot.
Salisbury just didn't have the correct tool to straighten these vultures out.
"I've lived most of my life in rural areas where people hardly even bother to lock their house, let alone the barn and toolshed. Thieves aren't much of a problem for two reasons: Most thieves are the kind of person that finds rural life too boring, and if they do burglarize country places they're apt to be shot."
This is changing with the rapid influx of migrant workers from Mexico, appearing in all corners of the U.S.. Sure, many of them are good people just looking for work and to live in a better place, but that's so often not the case. Talk to anyone living in a rural area and you'll often hear stories of migrant workers breaking in and stealing their stuff. It's more common than you think.
"Craigslist seems to be empowering thieves of all sorts.
Security tip: AVOID CRAIGSLIST"
I wouldn't blame Craigslist, I would blame the ugly side of humanity. Shit like this will happen so long as humans exist, no matter the medium. There are forces at work who would love to see Craigslist go under, anything free or cheap is always scuttled by the corporations. Give it time, someone will plant other people for other stories and try to blacken Craiglist's name further. I don't even use Craiglist, but without it how many popular alternatives do you have to e-screwme-bay?
When I first heard this story, I did not believe it. After reading various accounts of this story, I realized how easy an ad of this sort could be posted.
Although Craigslist is a good thing, we have to have some level of accountability stated in which messages like these are vetted and confirmed for accuracy.
It is scary, because I travel frequently and this could happen to me. Although my 110 Giant Schaunzer would not let this happen! :-)
Craigslist may want to do a better job of vetting people who post on their site. While this would obviously limit the number of postings, it would also bolster the validity and security involved. For example, they could only allow users who have a valid PayPal account. In fact this would work for them in two ways:
1. It would allow them to verify you are who you say you are.
2. It would get more people to use PayPal - which is in their (ebay's) best interest.
Until then we will probably continue to see more scams done using sites like craigslist.
Isn’t there anyone out there that is a computer genius that can come up with a strategy to FUCK these guys? They have saturated the internet and are destroying everything that was good about it but worst of all they are preying on those who can’t afford to be ripped off.
Knowing it was a Scam I played along to see how far they’d go and I got the most official looking, fraudulent eBay invoice. They want me to send money to a so called eBay financial agent named: Fernando Horta with an address leading to an apt. in Concord, CA. The e-mail address was to ebayinvoice@payment–purchase.com
I put on my Sherlock Holmes gear and proceeded with my investigation. Payment-purchase.com is owned by: Jennifer Balkan in Emeryville, CA. Her cell phone is listed as 510-595-2002.
I forwarded the invoice to eBay, who confirmed that it was a fake. I received no assurances that they would do anything to protect the eBay name or the eBay customers.
Craigslist, Cars.com, Autotrader.com, eBay, the FBI, Money Gram, Western Union or any one else will not do anything to stop these pricks.
LETS FIGURE OUT A WAY TO GET THEM!!!
Hey, I too confirm the Matilda Amanda story. She wanted to rent two rooms to me and my friend in Nordre Fasanvej 37, 2000 Frederiksberg, Copenhagen! Very close to University, each room with bath/toilet/fully furnished/shared kitchen/living room! Wanted to get payment (deposit AND two months rent!!!) with Western Union of us, thats how we got suspicious and "googled" her and luckily found this blog. Thx to all who posted here, made us save a lot of money and trouble!!
there is a bob cat on craigs list that is a scam.
it says-2004 bob cat s250 exelent condition 1,000 hours like new tires it is a 75 hp, air-heat-cab here is the kicker-
onley $4,800.00-shiping from los vegas is included in price to where ever. ps dont try to buy it they ONLEY take MONEY GRAMS. ??????? sucker if you do.
I am extremely curios about an ad for a Honda Accord for $4000.00 including shipping. I have sent several emails to the proposed seller only to recieve what appears to be auto-responses, requesting my name and address so that this seller can "initiate a transaction thru eBay" I am cautious so I have checked with eBay and all I need is the item number to make a purchase and of course the available funds, but firstname.lastname@example.org is not in the ebay file and he keeps insisting I give my name and address. I guess I will keep looking for a suitable car and hope robert doesn't eventually get over on someone.
I’ve been notifying email providers of the scams using their email services. What I want to see is a class action lawsuit against the email providers for not blocking these users….whether it’s blocking their IPs or their ISPs.
Once these folks are notified thier services are being used for scams….and they fail to block these low-lifes…..then they become complicit (and liable?) for the losses people suffer.
We need a good attorney to get hold of this. It’s the same low-lifes doing this over and over. I’ve been notifying the email providers of these scams for a while. And these same folks keep signing up for more and more email accounts. It’s time for a class action suit against the providers for failing to block these folks from access to their services.
Angela Patten aka. Jennifer Balkan of Emeryville CA likes to post high end luxury Vehicles for sale on line. Her ebay protection page is quite good, but her address of 1600 Pennsylvannia, Washington DC is a little bit hard to swallow. Nice Try Angela!
Don't send money to email@example.com
Thank you again for your reply . If you are ready to proceed with this transaction I must tell you how this service work and what we need to do.
You have to deposit to RENT Service the first month of rent-$1100 and a security deposit of $1100, so they can proceed with the shipping of the keys and the contract. Like I said, I will pay for 2 days delivery so you'll receive the Keys and the contract signed by me right away. I will explain you step by step how this service work.
1 - To start this transaction i need to know your full shipping information (full name and shipping address)
2 - I'll go to a RENT Office and leave the Keys and the contract on your name as the intended receiver.
3 - RENT will check the envelope to see if everything is OK with it and also the legal documents that come along with the Keys.
4 - After they will check the documents , RENT will send you a delivery notification to let you know that they have the Keys and the documents in their custody.
5 - At this point you'll have to go to a Western Union Office and make a money deposit on the RENT agent name for the amount we agreed (the total amount you shall deposit is for the first month of rent and for the security deposit).
6 - After you'll make the deposit you'll have to send the info about the money deposit to RENT .
7 - RENT will verify the deposit information's and if everything is in order they will deliver the Keys and the contract to you.
8 - After you receive the keys and the contract, you must check the apt, decide if you keep the apt or not. If all is in order you'll instruct RENT to release the money to me. If you don`t like the apt they will return your money, and they will ship back to me the keys (you'll have 2 days to decide if you keep the apt or not).
I will pay RENT Service for the shipping and you'll pay Western Union for the Money Transfer fee.
So if you have $2,200 cash (the rent for 1 month-$1100 and the security deposit-$1100) and if you're ready for this transaction tell me your full name and your shipping address and I'll start the official procedure, and RENT will notify you about this matter. You'll also receive important guidelines plus instructions from them (please go through them exactly)
1. As soon as I get your info I will ship the keys and the contract.
2. RENT will check the contract and the keys and they will notify you about this matter(they will send you all the instructions in order to complete the deal in a safe way for both)
3. You must send the money in the next 24 hours to the RENT agent.
4. After you'll confirm the payment they will start delivery at your address (the shipping will not take more then 2 days).
5. After you'll receive the keys, you'll have 2 days to decide if you keep the apt or not.
So if you're a serious person tell me your info and I'll start the process.
PS: When I start the process I must pay RENT fees and if you can't send the money in the next 24 hours,they will cancel the shipping and I will lose the money paid for the transaction.
Don't send money using western union or money gram to:
29 Athlone Road
Beware TNT Scam.
TNT don't ask money!
Don't send money to an TNT Agent or Rent.com Agent
Rent.com Don't offer you a "safe deal" !!
Call rent.com and see!
If you will receive an email from: firstname.lastname@example.org then it is a scam email.
Don't send money. Don't send money using money gram or western union to Uk London.
Rent Global Air Express Realtor = scam! Beware No sucy company.
If it seems "too good to be true," it probably is.
If you will receive an email :
" I am from Greece, London, Uk, Nigeria, Paris, I am out of country, or another then the place you want to rent then it is a scam."
"I can`t come just to show you the apartment due to the distance between us."
"I need a serious and trust worthy person who not only will pay me the rent on time but also will take care and preserve my property."
If you witness or become a victim of online fraud, report the incident to local law enforcement authorities immediately. The following online resources should also be contacted:
Internet Crime Complaint Center
Federal Trade Commission
If you believe that your personal financial information has been revealed to a person who might use it inappropriately, visit the FTC's identity theft website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft for important information about protecting yourself.
Please don't don't send money using western union or money gram.
Hello I'm Marina Borrell, and I'm going to explain how come my name is involved in all this.
Last year was a kind of a nightmare when i found out that someone was using my identity to steal other people.
On summer 2007 I had to move to Copenhagen for and exchange program. I was looking for a flat to rent via internet and sent emails to several people. One of them replied, sent me a lot of info, pictures of the flat and told me that it was in a very centric location. Her name was Kenny.
I ask her to send me her documentation and the contract to check everything was allright. She sent me the copy of a passport and a contract that looked perfectly fine. She ask my documentation so I sent a copy of my passport. When I ask her the bank details to pay the deposit she told me that i had to pay via Western Union in London. This looked a bit weird to me so I decided not to trust her and leave it.
Months later a couple of poeple contacted me. They told me they were ready to pay me a deposit for my flat in Sidney. You can imagine how surprised was I! I dont have any flat in Sudney! I told them i had nothing to do with that and ask how come they had my name and passport number. That's when i found out that someone is using my identity to steal other people. I went to the criminal police, explain them and they wrote a repot, which it's archived in the interpol to prove that I'm not guilty.
It's being really annoing that my name is involved in all this...
I dont know what else can I do. The police told me there's nothing they can do to stop these people carry on using my identity.
So please, if anyone can offer any advice I'd really appreciate it.
This is just so annoying to read. Yeah, it’s so silly of them to think that they just have the right to take all his stuff just because there's a bogus ad on the internet. I feel sorry for the guy but at least he’s getting some of his stuff back. Some people just don't think straight. Whenever they see the word "FREE" they immediately jump right in and believe every word on the ad. Hope there won't be more victims of this.
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