The Indy's newest addition and telemarketers' latest scam 

For ten eye-widening months, we here at the journalistic manufactory known as the Missoula Independent have had the pleasure of working alongside a real pro: Ruth Thorning. We looked on in awe as she rattled cages. We watched quietly—and learned—while she unspooled some beautiful stories. And we giggled from a distance as she went about jiggling the handle of the system. But now, our colleague is leaving us to go public.

Last week, Ruth submitted her final copy as the Independent’s Bitterroot reporter, bringing to an end a long run of unparalleled coverage. After about a year in the alternative press, chronicling bureaucratic shenanigans, political missteps, human achievements and a fire season that Montana will never forget, she is filing away her reporter’s notebook to hit the campaign trail. For those of you who have not yet heard, Ruth has begun running for Ravalli County commissioner, and the demands of the campaign–along with the mounting conflicts she faced as a journalist-cum-candidate—led her to part ways with us.

The move marks the end of a full two decades in Ruth’s career as a journalist in the Bitterroot, and finding someone to fill her post was a tall order indeed. But we found the perfect fit in Carlotta Grandstaff. Anyone who cares about the people and events of the Bitterroot already knows her: From 1985 to 1992, she worked as a reporter for the Ravalli Republic, where Thorning herself was editor, long before that paper caved in to Montana’s media carpetbaggers, Lee Enterprises. From there, Grandstaff moved to the Bitterroot Star, where she served for five years, and now, after spending the summer on fire duty, she is taking her place in the Independent masthead.

She is kindly and no-nonsense. She is sensitive and unyielding. Look for her every week in the Independent, starting now, and welcome her aboard.
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Somebody out there obviously thinks that we Montanans are a hapless bunch of rubes. First it was the Nigerian bank scam that hit the state early this summer, when anonymous pitchmen were calling us at home and telling us they need our bank account numbers to help transfer money out of hamstrung African banks. Yeah, right. Then there was the threat posed during the wildfires by bogus charity groups, who rang us up during dinner to ask if we would please contribute to their various fire-fighting causes, causes that had names very close to, but not quite in line with, real and reliable aid organizations. Now, the Year of the Sting continues with the latest installment of Montana’s telemarketing frauds: the credit card “protection” scam.

A group of mountebanks based in Canada, the state Consumer Affairs Bureau told us this week, are now calling Montanans to tell us that a change in federal law has required that we “register” our credit cards with them. For the low, low price of $299, we’re told, we can get a security sticker and four-digit user code that supposedly will protect us from fraud. But, as the Consumer Bureau folks point out, the reality is just the opposite.

“That’s not true. Absolutely not,” says Janet Harper of the state’s Telemarketing Fraud Unit. “Under federal law, you’re only liable for $50 of unauthorized charges. That hasn’t changed.”

The best rule to remember, she advises, is to never give any account numbers over the phone, and be wary of anyone who asks for them. It’s advice that has proven itself useful throughout this whole mean season. “It’s just been a difficult year for everyone,” she says.

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