Nobody is using keyrings with tracking devices to stake out burglary victims

February 1, 2013

You could also call this post, “Sometimes, even the authorities and the news media get roped in by a hoax.”

I’ve got some Google Alerts set up to help me find interesting topics for potential articles. While digging through the past week’s results, I ran across this item, from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: LPD warns locals of possible new scam.

If you don’t want to click the link, here’s the crux: “These criminals are handing out key rings that have tracking devices inside them. This way, the criminals are able to know where their targets are at all times if they are carrying the key ring.”

Well, I’ve heard of this one before. First in a forwarded email from my mom, then at Snopes: Key Crime.

Again, if you’re not interested in reading the whole thing, here’s the really basic jist:

snopes-falseOr, if you’d like a little more detail, this sums it up nicely (emphasis mine):

Aside from some technologically questionable aspects to these warnings, one prominent point of skepticism is the lack of obvious utility behind the scheme – that is, how would the ability to track unknown, randomly-selected motorists facilitate the commission of burglaries and carjackings? Especially since both of those crimes are overwhelmingly crimes of opportunity, engaged in as perpetrators spot or stumble across their chances, rather than crimes typically pursued through the elaborate staking out and tracking of targets.

So it’s a hoax. Please spread the word whenever you see this in an article, or when it shows up on Facebook, or when your mom forwards it to you.

The real issue, however, is the fact that, apparently,  nobody researches anything. In the article from Lubbock, it cites the Fort Worth PD as a source. So someone there got this forwarded email, passed it around, and then somebody told the newspaper. And nobody along that path checked it out, or even thought, “Man, this doesn’t sound at all like the way burglars and carjackers actually work.”

So you might say, “But isn’t it okay to just believe all the hoaxes, so then you’ll always be prepared for everything?”

I don’t agree. Mental energy is a finite resource, and if you waste all yours freaking out about your keychains, you’ll have less to spend on actually being vigilant in a useful, productive way. The point of fraud prevention is not to go through life in a state of sustained panic. It’s about being cautious, calm and skeptical of wild claims.

It’s also a bad habit to believe everything you see on the Internet, because that’s exactly what scammers want. Hey, if believing the keychain hoax is harmless, why not believe the email about investing in Iraqi Dinars, too? After all, the person who sent you the message SAID “this is not a scam,” right there in the message they typed, right?

Hoaxes are destructive. Don’t believe them, and please don’t spread them.


Walmart Cash Back Scam: For once, a scam that isn’t real.

November 9, 2009

Here at the Fraud Prevention Unit, I do my best to keep readers informed of the latest clear and present dangers—all those different types of fraud and identity theft that actually occur and that you should be wary of.

However, I also feel like it’s important to dispel the occasional false report of a scam. It takes enough mental energy watching out for the real deal; it’s a waste of time and energy to worry about rumors and hearsay.

That’s why today I’m bringing up a fake scam report that is still making its way around the Internet via email: the Walmart cash back scam.

There are a few variations, all circulated by hysterical emails with a thousand “Fw:’s” in the subject line. The alleged scam works like this:

  1. You pay for a purchase at Walmart with your credit or debit card, electing to only pay the exact amount of the purchase
  2. The cashier “orders” $20 or $40 cash back but doesn’t tell you
  3. The cashier either pockets the cash or passes it off to a friend who is in line behind you

The problem is, cashiers can’t order cash back on your purchase. There is only one way to do that—at the PIN pad, where the customer is the one pushing the buttons.

Now, those buttons are pretty close together, so it’s extremely possible to hit something other than “No” when the machine asks if you want cash back. If you thought you’d pressed the right button, and the cashier wasn’t expecting a cash back transaction (because you said “no” when they asked), it’s possible that neither party would notice the error. In other words, these occurrences were most likely due to a mistake on the customer’s part.

Of course, nobody ever wants to admit they messed up, so they write long screeds and email them to everyone they know. Is it a deliberate hoax? I don’t think so. I think somebody pressed the wrong button and didn’t catch it until later, and it never occurred to them that they might have erred.

Then again, there are some people who don’t like Walmart even a little bit, so maybe there is some malice behind the message. I couldn’t say. In that case, it seems like “Whirl-Mart” would be a much more fun, albeit weird, way to protest consumerism, or whatever you’re on about.

Information from this article was mostly taken from Snopes.com, which I used to really like, but these days they’ve got too many popup ads (the kind that blast right through my popup blocker) and the site is always trying to install some Office component on my computer, which I don’t like at all. Maybe a permanent switch to Firefox is in order after all…


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