Stealing your money

Thursday, April 29, 2004

With high-tech assistance, scams have kept up with the electronic age.

Con men used to be content to bilk people out of their money by offering them easy ways to make it. The come-on might be 25 cents for each envelope you stuff without having to leave home. "Earn $250 for stuffing 1,000 envelopes while watching TV," the ads in the backs of magazines promised.

That's a lot of envelopes but still too good to be true.

If you bit on this pyramid scheme you were asked to send a non-returnable payment entitling you to nothing more than information about how the scam works. To follow through, you also had to pay to place an ad in a local newspaper ad. This ad solicited people who, coincidentally enough, also wanted to make money addressing and mailing circulars at home.

These people responded to the ad by sending a self-addressed envelope and a 25-cent service fee. When the responses came in, you stuffed the self-addressed envelope into a larger envelope and sent it to the company. You kept each 25 cents sent you but had to pay the postage on the larger envelope.

You were out the introductory fee, the cost of the newspaper ad and postage for the larger envelope. The company received your fee and thousands of envelopes already stamped and addressed to their market: People seeking an easy way to make money.

In the electronic age, the cons have become much more sophisticated. Thieves are hungry for credit-card numbers, PIN numbers and security codes. A new device that retrieves some of these attaches to an ATM machine. It reads the card number when inserted and transmits it to the criminals in a car nearby. A disguised wireless camera records the PIN number punched in. The thieves then have all the information needed to pirate a bank account.

Local police say ATM machines here probably are not vulnerable to this scam because alarms are set up to go off if anyone tinkers with them. Over-confidence is not advised. Thieves are always thinking of new ways to steal your money.

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