July 7, 2023

I’m getting nostalgic for the days of card fraud and the Cold War.

In his fascinating autobiography Tough Guy (which ends with his prison conversion to Judaism!), the former Gambino crime family mobster Louis Ferrante gives a wonderful description of card fraud in the years before mobile phones, the Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Tik Tok. Back in the day, Louis’ enterprising confederates had discovered that you didn’t need to be able to forge cards terribly well to enter the counterfeiting business, provided you had the right collaborators…

For years I made big wood with Sonny’s “dupes”, phoney credit cards with real numbers. He sold them to me for a hundred bucks a piece. Sonny had salespeople in retail stores on the take, boosting charge card receipts… I’d visit a jeweller who was in on the scam and buy a Rolex. If the watch retailed for five grand, I’d tell him to hit the card for ten. I’d leave with the watch. He’d made money. Both of us happy.

What the wise guys, as I believe they are known, really wanted though, rather than Rolex watches and the like, was cash. Card fraud was a means to that end.

If I knew a guy who sold stuff I didn’t want, like Paulie Flowers, I’d work out a cash split. I’d show up and tell him “hit my card for four grand, keep two and give me two when you get paid”. He’d tell the card company he’d delivered arrangements to a wedding, and send them a phoney bill of sale, and that was that.

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