Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Atlanta        Attorney Bachmann called our attention recently to an article in Harpers’ Magazine.  I had skipped by that piece reading with some fascination about the scams employed by a couple of young folks trying to make it down the Mississippi River on old oil drums.  There are very few people (I think) who were raised near the Mississippi, as I was, who have not thought about rafting down large sections of it on oil drums.  Luckily for the Coast Guard, most of us left the thought in our imagination.  

    The story was not about sailors though.  It was about scammers.  And, some of this culture was a whole different world!

    Here are some examples:

    “…reached into his backpack and pulled out what he called a ‘magic dollar,’ an ordinary bill save for its twelve-inch tail of cellophane packing tape.  He would dip it into a vending machine, select the cheapest item available, collect his purchase and change, and pull his dollar back out by the tail.  An unguarded machine could be relieved of all its coins and every last one of its snacks in the space of an hour.”

    It boggles the imagination.

    This guy had a number of “legal” scams as well as more sketchy ones.  Legal included:  “spanging” — bumming spare change; “flying signs” — asking for money with a cardboard sign; and food stamps.

    Illegal centered on “gift-card cloning” — copying the magnetic strip off an unused gift card, returning it to the store display, and then waiting until it is activated;” bar-code swapping (switching stickers to get better and more expensive items); and other tricks.   The highest yield trick was scary for frequent flyers and involved having a buddy “steal” your luggage from the airport baggage carousel, then call persistently until you collect up to $3000 from the airline.  Yow!
    We have Matthew Power to thank for a fascinating side tour through the land of the street life.
    Have to admit though that these scams sounded like HARD WORK.