Nashville-Middle TN is home to numerous public and private colleges and universities with thousands of students. Those students are becoming easy picking to a scam that has serious consequences.
"Cracking cards", with origins in the Southside of Chicago, began creeping down south about a year ago with activity on many campuses around Middle TN. Card crackers start with an innocent question to unsuspecting college students, "Do you want to make easy money fast?" Rarely is there a "no". They are roped into the 'quick money, no work' scam. Students are told to loan the scammer their debit card and PIN to deposit a counterfeit check into their account. The card cracker then goes to another institution like a Check Advance Company and withdraw the funds the next day before the bank returns the check for being counterfeit. Most banks state the process takes about two days.
Students are promised a cut of the money and scripted to tell the bank that their debit card was stolen or lost to justify the amount that was withdrawn from their account. The students get shafted and are not given any of the money. Their account is in the red for the charge back, returned check fees, AND they have committed a serious crime. The amounts deposited are thousands of dollars. College students add even more misery to their life by lying to the bank and feds when they are questioned about the counterfeit checks. Lying to a federal agent can get you more time than the actual crime itself. By the time they do confess up, it is usually too little, too late as they sit staring across the table at bank corporate security, local police, Secret Service, and the FBI.
I have spoken to several parents who have experienced the above dilemma first hand. Most of their stories are very similar and the parents have been left dealing with the possibility that their children they sent off to college, to get an education, are being charged with a felony and facing serious jail time. Several parents are dealing with the financial repercussions of having to pay off the bank debt and the mounting legal fees to help protect any future their son or daughter may have.
Parents are usually blindsided with the news that their adult child participated in a criminal activity when their purpose in life as a college student is to go to SCHOOL. Many stated over and over, "I raised them better than this." But this is not about how they were raised or judgement of anyone. The reality is, students are putting themselves in situations where they could get a federal sentence longer than a drug dealer or a murder. It is that serious.
Very few college students have thousands of dollars in their checking account. The promise of getting a few hundred dollars for allowing someone to put a bogus check in your personal checking account at an ATM is a temptation that cash strapped students find hard to resist. But not every student is cash strapped. Some are just stupid to put it plainly; easy targets for professional thieves that seek out naive students who are willing to cut corners to buy sneakers.
Most students are met at clubs, intramural sporting events, and over Facebook. Before the card cracker strikes, they sum up who will be a willing participant. Students who want to be accepted by others, loners, and those who are careless with their personal identification are vine ripe for the picking. Some students have been known to have their IDs stolen. Students can be recruited by buddies who were initiated by other members of the card cracking crew. As in other gang recruiting activity, easy to coerce is first choice. Card crackers are usually young black males but card crackers are not exclusive to any race or even age. Young female college students are recruited as well and can rise up the ranks to be mid-level leaders by being the bait to lure college males.
Another group that has been infiltrated by the cracking card crime industry is the military. Young enlistees are promised a quick buck and they think "what harm" because they are ready to be deployed or move around often. But cracking cards crime travels and usually catches up with a member of the military no matter what part of the world they maybe stationed. This can cause them to lose their rank and they are often prosecuted as well. Being prosecuted for a federal crime as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces could lead to a dishonorable discharge and jail time.
Perplexed and wondering what can be done?
Become educated about cracking cards and spread the word throughout your community. Knowledge is power. Read as much information as possible and talk openly with your children about card crackers. As parents, our children will always be our children. It is a lifetime commitment. Listed below are words of wisdom that several parents shared with me that they wished someone would have shared with them to talk with their adult children.
1. Emphasize that cracking cards is criminal. Discuss this crime with your college bound, current college students, or young adult. No matter what the world may tell us, parents still have influence in their children's lives. Let them know the dangers of even thinking about it. And share with them real life consequences.
2. Know your college student's friends. An old saying, You are known by the company you keep, is relevant today. I am an advocate for knowing who is my children lives whether 5 or 25. Sudden friends out of the blue? Remember when we used to ask "Who are your people?" Unusual activities? Friends flashing money? Be watchful and be aware.
3. Ask questions. Nothing is more revealing than asking questions. Too often, parents see things out of the norm but brush it off. Trust your instincts. Did your son or daughter go on a shopping spree and you know they cannot afford the items? An inquiring mind finds answers.
4. Check your college student's bank records. Keeping tabs on what is deposited and what is withdrawn can help your students to manage their funds better but it also can give you the heads up if there are unusual activities. Be a co-signer on the account.
5. Teach your students the value of having good credit. Once a good name is ruin, it is hard to get it back. Bad credit is costly; higher interest rates, higher insurance premiums and can even cost a student future job opportunities.
6. Gangs are gangs. Parents can easily think that because their adult children escaped being recruited into gangs during their high school years, they can breathe a sigh of relief. Not so fast. Card crackers are gangs. They operated with the same hierarchy and are known to become violent if their livelihood is threaten or they fear their run is about to come to an end.
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