In 173 days, we'll all find out whether our financial institutions fixed that pesky millennium bug.

But that leaves 173 days for scam artists to play on the fears of consumers worrying about whether their banks' computer systems will recognize the year 2000 as 1900.

Already the sleazeballs are sleazing around for victims. Here are some scams federal agencies and consumer groups say are being played out across the country:

Telephone solicitors are trying to obtain credit card information from people by offering "credit card insurance" or "Y2K-compliant magnetic strips" for credit cards. Typically, a victim receives a call from an individual claiming to be with a bank or credit card issuer. The caller offers to make the victim's credit card "Y2K-compliant" and immune to millennium-related problems by mailing a new magnetic strip the victim can affix to their card. The victim is then asked to give the caller the credit card number, which, of course, the caller will use to rack up charges.

In the bank examiner scam, a person calls claiming to represent your bank. He says your bank is having difficulty meeting requirements to become Y2K-ready, and that all customers must transfer their money to something he calls a "bond" account. To verify that he is talking to the proper person, the scammer asks the victim to confirm personal information, including account numbers, and verbal authorization to transfer funds, which is exactly what the crook wants to do.

One company was advertising hollowed-out books in which people could stash large sums of cash. Of course, the crooks get the address of people purchasing the books, and since they know what the books look like, they can break in and take the money.

Some con artists are trying to persuade people to take their money out of banks to avoid Y2K computer glitches and invest it with them.

Other related scams include offering phony "credit card insurance" to protect cardholders from any Y2K-related problems, schemes purporting to protect bank accounts, investments and other financial assets.

Some crooks are calling people and offering special bank accounts immune to the Y2K problem. They encourage people to deposit money with them for safekeeping until after Jan. 1, 2000. Con artists do indeed have some easy targets. Federal bank regulators commissioned a poll from the Gallup Organization and found that "exaggerated fears of losing access to funds for a prolonged time period could lead depositors to withdraw substantial funds from banks during the final days of 1999."

Even though 76 percent of the 2,700 people polled believed their bank will "definitely" or "probably" solve the Y2K problem before the end of the year, a considerable number of people are preparing for the worst.

According to the poll, 42 percent of the respondents think automated teller machines won't work and 38 percent consider it likely that check processing will be affected by Y2K problems, causing some checks to bounce. People don't think the entire banking system will collapse, but they do fear annoying glitches, including the possibility that people will be able to access other peoples' accounts or that the bank will lose track of people's money.

What I found most alarming by the survey is that 47 percent of the respondents with bank accounts thought people will panic and withdraw all their funds from the bank. That, folks, is exactly what crooks are hoping will happen.

Donna Tanoue, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., told me the poll's results worry her a bit, too. There are still too many people who might be vulnerable to Y2K scams in the remaining months of this year, she said. "Basically, Y2K is an opportunity for criminals to cash in on people's fears of the unknown," Tanoue said. "The reports of scams are increasing, and many of these scams are age-old with a Y2K twist."

Fewer than 2 percent of the nation's banks are still struggling with Y2K problems, Tanoue said. That means the overwhelming majority are ready for the turn of the century and have fixed their computers.

The nation's bankers say we shouldn't panic over the year 2000 date change, promising that ATMs, credit cards, checks and other banking services will work. They also warn that withdrawing massive amounts of cash could make you more vulnerable to being robbed.

I'm not worried about all this Y2K mess. I plan to make plenty of copies of my statements in the months leading up to the new year. I'm not taking out any more money than I would normally do over a holiday weekend.

I'm certainly not going to give out financial information to people who telephone me, no matter how sweet or legit they sound. My bank hardly calls me about anything now, so I'm not listening to anyone calling to say they are trying to take care of my Y2K bank problems.

The best defense against Y2K scam victimization is to become an educated consumer. There is a ton of information out there to help answer any of your Y2K questions. Get a free copy of "The Year 2000, Your Bank and You," from the FDIC Consumer News. Go to the agency's Web site ( or call 1-800-934-FDIC.

Whatever might happen when the clock ticks 12:01 on the 1st of January, I figure even if the banking system does break down, and I don't think it will, I'll get my money. I'm not going to give in to all this Y2K hype and become anybody's prey. And neither should you.

Michelle Singletary's column appears in this section every Sunday. While she welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations. Join her online on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at for a live discussion of this column. Her e-mail address is singletarym@ Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Who's Banking on What for Y2K

Here are some results from the Gallup survey on Y2K and the banking industry.

Will depositor withdraw any extra cash before the end of the year?





Probably won't


Definitely won't




If probably or definitely, will withdraw enough extra cash for:

Haven't thought about it


A week


A month


Several weeks


Several months


A long weekend


A year or longer


How likely is it that the impact of the Y2K problem on banking services will cause the following to happen?

People will panic and withdraw all funds:

Probably or definitely WILL happen


Probably or definitely WON'T happen




ATMs won't work:

Probably or definitely WILL happen


Probably or definitely WON'T happen




Will temporarily lose access to cash:

Probably or definitely WILL happen


Probably or definitely WON'T happen




Banking system will shut down:

Probably or definitely WILL happen


Probably or definitely WON'T happen




NOTE: Survey based on a poll of 2,700 people. Some figures do not add up to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCE: The Gallup Organization report "Y2K and the Banking Industry"