An interview about Y2K with Karen Anderson:
Internet ScamBusters #26
This month we're going to do something very different. There has been so much talk - and hype - about the Y2K (or year 2000) problem, that we decided to devote this issue to it. In other words, we're not looking at an individual scam, but at a potentially huge area ripe for scams.
We'd like to provide a more level-headed approach than most of what you read today about Y2K. Most of the current information either is designed to create panic... or to say there is no problem whatsoever. We believe both approaches are irresponsible.
Our goal is to offer you good advice and resources - and an honest, open perspective to the problem. We'll point you to some of the finest sources of information available on the Net, so you can investigate the issues for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
We've invited Karen Anderson, a long time friend and colleague, to discuss some of the areas people should watch out for.
The Y2K Problem -
An Interview with Karen Anderson
Audri: Welcome, Karen. Before we get going, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you are involved in Y2K?
Karen: Sure. I first heard about the computer date problem over two years ago, before people were even using the popular term "Y2K." While we were having dinner with a friend one night, my husband Steve, who is a technology consultant in the commercial insurance industry, starting talking about Y2K and the broad-based havoc it would cause in the insurance industry. When he started discussing the system-wide impact Y2K could have, I thought he was Looney Tunes - I didn't believe it.
In fact, it was around the time Microsoft came out with Windows 95, so there was big media hoopla touting how incredible Windows 95 was, and I figured Bill Gates could fix Y2K. When I asked Steve, he said Y2K was very different and Bill Gates wasn't going to fix it because he *couldn't* fix it (even if Bill thought he could make a ton of money off of it!).
Our friend then started doing a lot of research on Y2K and, along with my husband, kept me current on Y2K progress (or lack thereof). When I understood the scope and magnitude of the problem - the issues of embedded chips and the systemic impact of Y2K - I got very concerned.
Jim: Your background is certainly unique when looking at Y2K. How does it relate?
Karen: By training, I'm a Marriage and Family Therapist. As Y2K issues became better known, I realized that many people were arguing over Y2K and what to do about it. At first, it seemed that men who understood Y2K would go home and say, "Honey, Y2K is coming so I want to put the house on the market, liquidate all of our assets and move to the boonies." Their wives looked at them (with a shocked expression!) and more often than not, told them where they could go to get psychiatric treatment!
More recently, I am getting mail from women who understand how dependent our world is on technology, who want to make plans to protect their families, and whose husband are taking the "Ostrich Approach" to Y2K - they don't want to think or talk about it and they stick their head in the sand.
I also realized that there was a huge void since there are many women who don't use computers for various reasons (like my mom who got rid of the Mac we bought her because she was tired of dusting it!) and don't have any comprehension of how Y2K could impact their lives. After looking around to see if anybody else had something helpful for women and not finding anything, I decided to do it myself.
Audri: How is your approach to Y2K different than much of what you read, and do you have any advice on what people should *do*?
Karen: Most everybody out there seems bent on arguing whether Y2K is real or not and what degree of impact we will have from the fallout. In my opinion, this is ridiculous at best and distracting at worst. The real issue behind Y2K is how prepared are we in case of an emergency - *any* emergency. If Y2K serves as a motivator, great! But there are common sense things we need to do anyway, regardless of the validity of Y2K.
There have been so many natural disasters occurring: hurricanes in Florida, earthquakes in California, floods in Wisconsin and North Dakota, drought in Texas, ice storms in New England, and the list goes on. There are natural disasters that are happening pretty much everywhere, and what I'm suggesting to people is that even if they don't buy into Y2K 100%, the things that they can do to protect themselves from Y2K are the same things that they should be doing to protect themselves and their family in case of a natural disaster.
Jim: So do you think Y2K is really as big a deal as the "head for the hills" types think it is?
Karen: Well, I think the real question is: Is it crazy to take any precaution at all? Whether you store water or head for the hills, each person needs to do what is right for them.
But think of it this way: is it crazy to have life insurance, is it crazy to have health insurance, is it crazy to have auto insurance or homeowners insurance? No, because we all buy insurance predicated on the fact that something *may* happen. You don't cancel your health insurance because you've had a healthy year. You know just one catastrophic illness or injury could wipe you out. So month after month you pay your premium. It's all about risk.
With Y2K or a natural disaster, in terms of tangible things like having food, having water, or having a place to go, it's also predicated on the fact that something *may* happen. Like with insurance, how seriously to take the risk is what people have to evaluate for themselves.
During the drought this summer in Ft. Worth, we had a water line burst and people didn't have water for awhile. Since I've been storing water, I knew that my family had water, which was a nice comfort. The same is true with food. The worst thing that can happen if you have some food stored is that you eat it.
Audri: What things do you recommend people do?
Karen: I am simply recommending to people that they do some common sense things to protect themselves in an emergency: have food, water, power or energy, medical necessities and money.
One of the good things that is happening is people are really starting to begin to think in terms of community and networking because they realize they can't survive on their own, so they're starting to get to know their neighbors. They're starting to talk to people and starting to plan together. Those small community groups are popping up all over and are going to continue to do that.
The whole intent is to communicate what the problem is and how we can prepare to really avoid panic and help people to be able to sleep better at night knowing that their family is protected. I try not to be too extreme.
Jim: Tell us about the scams related to Y2K. What should people be cautious about when they read about Y2K (so they don't get ripped off or mislead)?
Karen: This is where the road gets muddy and I'll tell you where I think some of the potholes may be.
There have been people selling and involved in "survival" products and information around for many years. They range from people who have built bomb shelters in their backyards for protection from a nuclear holocaust to Mormons who have been practicing emergency food storage as part of their religious beliefs in preparing for possible emergencies. Now, Y2K has developed into a swelling "survival" market practically overnight.
Jim: What exactly do you mean by "survival" market?
Karen: Well, the biggest concern by and large is the power grid. If the electricity should go out for any significant length of time - and the millennium change is in the middle of wint
er - there could be potentially devastating results.
Given that, many people want to prepare for the possibility of being without electricity and are looking for all sorts of products and information both for their homes and for other possible ramifications. For example, if there isn't any electricity and you can't pay for food at the grocery store with your credit card, then many people want to have food on hand so they won't get caught in this situation. That means people selling food specifically designed for long term storage are being flooded with new business.
Obviously, you can buy bulk food from your local grocery store or Sam's Club, but there is a lot to be said for the convenience of buying pre-packaged "food storage." Right now there is price competition on the positive side, but there is a lot of confusion on the negative side.
Audri: Is this happening on the Internet?
Karen: Absolutely. Most of the people on the Internet are more up to date on what's needed because they've been reading. That's the upside: the best way to prevent getting scammed is education. Don't spend tons of money buying food storage on the Internet until you've done your homework.
There's tons of information out there and people need to find out everything possible and price compare before they purchase, should they decide that buying food storage is right for them.
Audri: What else should people be aware of?
Karen: Y2K information is an exploding market. As in any other area, there are always some bad apples in the barrel. In this case, one of the best ways to check out a site is to look at where their links are coming *from*. That is, who is linking to *them*? Do they have links from reputable sites by credible Y2K "experts"? They may link to the experts to look like they have an implicit endorsement when in fact, they just have a page of links.
Mind you, my experience with the vast majority of Y2K sites out there is that they are done by good folks giving good information. But the map is changing daily. With Y2K, there is a definite hockey stick curve on awareness and information and we are just now on the up swing of the curve. More and more sites are popping up daily with many people wanting to jump on the Y2K bandwagon.
Jim: Tell us a little about your Web site.
Karen: I created a Web site called y2kwomen.com. I found that most of the Y2K Web sites and information was not exactly "user friendly" to women. By that I mean, most of it was concerned with the technical or business side of Y2K and was often hard to understand if you didn't live in that world.
My site was designed to give women, many of whom have little or no computer experience, information on what Y2K is and what they can do to protect themselves and their families, particularly since most women (single, married, young or old!) are still the ones that have primary responsibility for their homes.
Audri: Is there any other advice you want to give?
Karen: I would only reiterate that as Y2K awareness grows, and the millennium change gets closer, that people should not panic and take the necessary time to get the most accurate information possible before making any purchases. And don't just read the commentaries - go to the source documents and see for yourself. Most people believe there will be problems from Y2K. The big question is: how long and how bad? Do your homework (the Internet makes it pretty easy and takes much less time) and then make your decisions for yourself. If you choose to prepare, prepare wisely by being well informed.
Audri: As you know, Jim and I are much more skeptical about how big an impact there will be than you are. What would you say to people like us, who recognize there is a problem - and are taking precautions - but who have problems with all the doomsday stuff?
Karen: Well, I think every person has to evaluate their own situation. For example, my sister-in-law works for a major bank and lives in Manhattan on the 43rd floor of an apartment building. Her needs, if there are problems from Y2K, are going to be very different than mine since I live in suburbia and have kids. (She has told me she plans to not be in New York City around the millennium change!) If you have children, your concerns are going to be different - you certainly can't be as flexible when you have young children and are in any kind of emergency situation.
Jim: One last question. Where do you recommend people find good resources to learn more about the Y2K problem so they can make informed decisions for themselves?
Karen: There is a lot of good information available on the Internet. A site referencing the government is the President's Council and Y2K Conversion. Yahoo also has one of the most exhaustive sets of reference links and daily updates.
Jim: And some non-alarmist articles that I found interesting are at Cnet.
Audri: Thanks, Karen.