A few days ago, I passed along a warning to area cashiers: Con artists were reviving the old $20-bill-switch.

After paying for a small purchase with a $20 bill and receiving more than $19 in change, the crook "discovers" he has a $1 bill. By the time the hocuspocus and bill switching are finished, the cheater has both his own $20 bill and the store's $19 in change.

After reading that item, Tony Oliver told me about a variation on the scam.

His story began the same way. A small purchase is paid for with a $20 bill. The crook pockets his change and starts toward the door, but turns back. He says he wrote a telephone number on the $20 bill, so could he please have it back in exchange for another twenty?The cashier exchanges one twenty for another, and as she is doing it the conman says, in a disarming burst of phony honesty, "Don't forget to take out for my purchase." So the cashier charges him again for his small purchase, and for the second time gives him change for a twenty. "It works," says Tony. "It happened to me."

Tony, what was worked on you is a variation on a crooked theme I wrote about in 1931. In that one, two confederates worked together.

One paid for a small purchase with a $20 bill and left. A few minutes later, his confederate paid for a small purchase with a single - and began a loud protest when he was not given change for a twenty.

"I gave you a $20 bill," the second man would say."Look in your drawer and see if you don't have one."

The cashier would ask how the presence of a twenty in the drawer could be considered proof that any specific customer had tendered it.

"I had a girl's name and phone number written on my twenty," the crook would say. He would call out a female name, then make a great show of cudgeling his memory, and eventually he would "recall" either the exact phone number written on the first crook's $20 bill or a number very close to it.

In the face of this "evidence" that the cashier had made a mistake, there was seldom any further question about the matter. Another $19 was paid out - and in those Depression days, $19 was more than my weekly salary as a reporter.


In a recent column about errors that get into print, I said many newspapers use "pleaded innocent" instead of "pleaded not guilty" because the word "not" has a habit of disappearing.

Susanne Humphrey has sent me a clipping that indicates "not" has another annoying tendency. The clipping, a correction, says:

"The statement which read, 'This profit would not be exempt from income taxes,' should have read, 'This profit would now be exempt from income taxes.'"

In short, when "not" doesn't disappear, it often turns itself into "now." Heaven knows which is worse.

"Who" and "whom" are also giving many people trouble, not the least of them a Washington Post editorial writer and several editors. Marion Holland and Mrs. M. M. Wofsey were the first to send me clippings of an editorial that ran last Saturday and made the same error twice:

"The prosecutor, whom the Supreme Court had said would protect the public's interest . . . did not object." "The judge, whom the Supreme Court had said would protect the public's interest . . . said he had no choice."

My homemade test in these cases is to leave out the parenthetical phrase and see what's left. Let us say the sentence is, "Joe Jones, who (whom?) police allege fired the fatal shot, fled from the scene." Leave out "police allege" any you're left with an easier decision: "Joe Jones, who (whom?) fired the fatal shot, fled from the scene."

Mrs. Robert R. Phillips of Fairfax noted that on July 26, Mark Trail wore a long-sleeved shirt in the first and third panels of that strip, but in the middle panel he wore a short-sleeved shirt. John Sequeira of Arlington didn't like our saying that the USS Monitor "foundered and sank" because "to founder is to sink." John was even more unhappy when a picture caption said the Monitor floundered and sank.

Morton Raff of Chevy Chase was dismayed to note from a story and headline in the Sunday financial section that we spell "liquefaction" with an i in the place of the e. The Washington Star's Jack Mann spelled "impostor" properly last Wednesday but his headline writer made it "imposter." Our sports department also spelled it with an e on Monday, possibly to ease The Star's anguish. (Notice - we're not afraid to mention

heir name.)

My favorite blooper of the week was in a story that appeared under the headline, "Social Security by Telephone." In referring to birth certificates, it said: "It is not necessary to have the certificates before sending it in."