Double-search, carded, victims or villains

That plastic print-your-own money is not only expensive, it's potentially lethal for your finances. It doesn't matter if you keep PINs safe - or maybe even use a "smartcard" with further levels of authorisation added - if the vendor screws up and doesn't keep the transactions secure.

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- Double the search hit

- Carded!

- Victims or villains?

Double the search hit

Side by side, the search engines face off… hours of result-comparing fun with this one.

Carded!

That plastic print-your-own money is not only expensive, it's potentially lethal for your finances. It doesn’t matter if you keep PINs safe — or maybe even use a “smartcard” with further levels of authorisation added — if the vendor screws up and doesn’t keep the transactions secure.

Clothes retailer Polo Ralph Lauren appears to have done just that, causing credit card grief for hundreds of thousands of bank customers. The banks are keeping schtumm about the actual number of customers affected, but it involves all credit card transactions between June 2002 and December 2004, according to Computerworld US.

It’s not the first incident of its kind, and I doubt it’ll be the last. In other words, keep an eye on those credit card statements (but not from a keylogged internet café, please).

- British bank warns 180,000 over retailer's security breach

- Scope of credit card security breach expands

Victims or villains?

So, members of the Skybiz.com pyramid finally look set to cash in on the scheme. Well, get redress that is.

We’re talking lots of money here: the US Federal Trade Commission won a court case against SkyBiz and has managed to recover US$20 million already, but the total sum of claims could be a staggering $140 million. (I'm surprised I haven’t received a 419 spam on that topic yet, actually).

Chew on that figure for a while and I'm sure you will wonder, as I do, if the members of such schemes really are victims who deserve redress. Sure, there are some particularly feeble minded people out there who do fall for even thinly-veiled scams, but aren’t most “investors” just unscrupulous “downline builders” who know exactly what they’re doing?

When I wrote about a local scheme called Cash Evolution, it was quite apparent that many participants not only knew what was going on, but were veterans of many previous pyramids. Incidentally, the Commerce Commission only issued a warning of sorts to Cash Evolution directors Craige Mayo and David McQuoid that the scheme was risking becoming a pyramid. Mayo said Cash Evolution had some 50,000 subscribers who paid at least US$25 each into the scheme per month. It’s hard to say how much money it all amounted to, but the liquidator put it down to NZ$2.4 million in total. None of this was recovered, apparently.

What happened after Cash Evolution folded was enlightening: 4,000 members transferred to a new scheme called Total Marketing Live. Mayo was involved in that one too, having his picture on the website and everything.

I still think the authorities should go after the pyramids, but not necessarily to “protect people against their own stupidity”. It’s far from certain that the pyramid scheme economy is fuelled by stupidity. Instead, shouldn’t the funds that are recovered on rare occasions go into state coffers? Think of it as a tax on greed and a way to recoup the costs of enforcing the anti-scam actions.

- New Zealand victims of SkyBiz scam still able to claim redress

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