Friday, August 1, 2008

Stoopid Journalism, 99th Edition: Big Headline, No Story

This led the police blotter yesterday morning. Why would any responsible reporter or editor run four paragraphs about "a scam" that "a woman reported" and then in the fourth paragraph report the whole thing is an urban legend?

Credit card scams at gas pumps

Law enforcement authorities remind people to be careful when using credit c
ards at gas pumps. (Which law enforcement authorities? Judge Judy? Where in the story does the reporter describe how to be careful using credit cards at gas pumps?)

A scam that has been reported recently as gas prices rise involves a customer using his credit or debit card at the pump, getting gas, taking the receipt and then driving off. (Who reported the scam recently? Where in Our Little Town did this happen? What's the scam in getting gas, taking the receipt and driving off? What's the relationship between rising gas prices and the scam?)

If the customer does not hit the “clear” button on some pumps, it may be possible for the next customer to continue to pump gas under the same credit card, even though a receipt for the first delivery has already been issued. (It may be or IS? How does this happen? Which are "some" pumps: Shell or BP or Murphy Oil? Where's the "clear button" on a fuel pump?)

One area woman said she checked her account Wednesday morning, only to find someone had gotten $30 worth of gas, using her debit card, within eight minutes of her purchase. She had received her receipt but did not push “clear.” She believed another person came after her and pumped gas using her account. (Which area woman? Does she have a name and address? "Wednesday" says this happened July 30 in Our Little Town.), an Internet “urban legend” site, said pressing “clear” does not do anything and the transaction is completed as soon as you hang up the dispenser. (YOU?)

Far more common, however, is the use of “skimmers,” electronic devices that read information about an account from the magnetic strip. Skimmers can be installed and later retrieved. (If skimmers are the real problem, why bury the info in the fifth graf? What does a skimmer look like? How can one avoid using a skimmer? Have any been found locally?)

In any case, your best protection is to remain vigilant and check the status of your accounts frequently.

Sounds Like Fiction to Me: Most of the problems with this story stem from a reporter who -- against all her better training -- is allowed to use anonymous sources: "a local woman" and "law enforcement authorities." Anonymous sources make the story sound concocted, which is a fancy way of saying it's a lie.
Afternoon Edition Update: Despite an e-mail assuring OWW that the woman is real, the reporter, Susan Hoffman (not just a reporter, but an editor) refuses to disclose which law enforcement agency handled this call, what town the "area woman" lives in, why she must remain anonymous, where incident took place in, or what filling station was involved. How's that for America's Best Community Daily serving the readers who plan on using credit cards at local gas pumps?