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I was surprised to read step-by-step instructions for the construction of a fraudulent Metro card in this Saturday’s Washington Post. The story on a well-organized scam to produce fake Farecards appeared below the fold, trumped by a snooze-fest on the resurgence of the hula hoop. But the pay-off was in the reporting. Reporter Lena H. Sun quoted an anonymous source explaining how operation worked:
Thieves took a legitimate paper Farecard with $40 in value, sliced the card’s magnetic strip into four lengthwise pieces, and then reattached one piece each to four separate defunct paper Farecards. The thieves then took the doctored Farecards to a Farecard machine and added fare, typically a nickel. By doing so, the doctored Farecard would go into the machine and a legitimate Farecard with the new value, $40.05, would come out.
I’m usually a proponent of reporting what you know, even if that means explaining smart ways to do bad things. The academic reasoning is that the more details you add, the more legitimate your story becomes — and journalism needs all the legitimacy it can get right now. That might smack of putting the scoop ahead of public safety, but who’s to say keeping info under wraps makes us safer? In this case, it looks like the police are fixing the technical loopholes that allowed this to happen. Even so, I bet a few entrepreneurial souls are trying to use the Post’s recipe for free rides.