Brief reports and tidbits from the info-sphere

Make money fast on the Internet!

Published December 7, 1998 11:15AM (EST)

Feeling the pinch as the Christmas shopping bills mount higher? Fear not, for the state of California has discovered perhaps the best use of the Web yet -- distributing free money.

Well, it's not exactly free: a better word might be "forgotten." The unclaimed property bulletin board lists money belonging to California citizens that has been left unclaimed for more than three years -- usually, as the site FAQ explains, "savings or checking accounts, stocks, dividends, uncashed checks, certificates of deposit, matured or terminated insurance policies, and safe deposit box contents" that were forgotten or misplaced when an owner moved or died. The bulletin board includes a search engine that does simple name queries.

Numerous other states also offer this service -- a quick search turned up databases for Alaska, Washington and Maryland. There's even a free membership service that tracks the databases nationwide.

One happy Salon staffer discovered that she had a $202 check waiting for her, and millions of other Web users could be next: The state of California alone has more than $2.1 billion in unclaimed property for 5 million people. That's a lot of potentially merry Christmases.

-- Janelle Brown

SALON | Dec. 10, 1998

- - - - - - - - - -

PalmPilot-assisted auto theft

Attention, Palm owners worldwide -- your nifty organizer is also, it turns out, a great tool for breaking into cars.

According to the New Scientist, a European computer journalist recently discovered that the infrared port of a PalmPilot could be used to break into cars with infrared remote-controlled locking systems. Using software that was written to enable Palm owners to remotely control their TV and VCR with the PalmPilot, the hand-held computer can apparently record the infrared "code" of a car's locking system. The PalmPilot can then unlock the car and disable the alarm by playing that code back.

The problem has been reported in the United Kingdom, where the New Scientist article estimates that nearly 3 million cars could be vulnerable to the hack. No one has publicly determined the extent of the problem in the United States. Palm, however, isn't apologizing, especially since it didn't write the software that's being used.

"We aren't responsible for third-party applications, though we think it's unfortunate that our product is being used for an illegal use," says Palm PR manager Elizabeth Cardinale. But, she perks up, "there might be a good thing that will come of this. Say someone wanted to have the key to their car code stored in their PalmPilot, just in case they forget their keys."
-- Janelle Brown

By Salon Tech Writers

MORE FROM Salon Tech Writers

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Auto Industry