Scam artists, not Y2K bug, may be citizens' top worry

July 30, 1999

West Virginia's top regulatory officials said this week that they're more concerned about how the public will react to the threat of the so-called "millennium bug" than they are about the potential damage the computer glitch may cause. Avoiding panic and approaching the problem sensibly is good advice, no matter where you live.

For anyone who's been living in a cave, the millennium bug, or Y2K as it's commonly referred to, involves a problem related to computer programmers' practice of representing a year with its last two digits. What worries some people, including some experts, is what will happen when "99" changes to "00."

Will the computer interpret that 00 as the year 2000, or as the year 1900? As one expert noted, without corrections, a medical computer that figures dosages based on a patient's age might accidentally give an infant a dose designed for a 100-year-old.

Because of all the publicity about this problem over the last two years - and the probability of lawsuits against companies that don't at least make a good-faith effort to fix the quirk - most experts don't expect any major problem. Banks, utilities and other providers of essential services have spent millions to prevent any shutdowns, but some folks still worry.


It's those people who are unsure and afraid who the experts feel will be most vulnerable to scams and gouging. They offer these simple tips to prepare for what they feel will be a few days' disruption at most:

- Don't withdraw large sums of money from the bank. Take out enough to cover several days' expenses, but do get statements in advance, verifying what you have on deposit. The same goes for other investments like stocks.

- Store enough non-perishable food and bottled water for five to seven days at most. If there's any disruption, experts feel it will last no longer than the typical winter storm.

- Have your home oil tank and your car's gas tank filled up prior to Dec. 31, in case of any problems with fuel companies' computers.

- If you feel you must purchase an auxiliary power source, like a generator, do it now, because as Dec. 31 draws near, the diminishing supply will raise the price.

- Beware of scam artists. Anybody who proposes a Y2K fix that involves separating you from a large sum of your money is probably not a computer guru, but a crook.

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