The original collet was a poacher's snare, a loop of wire set to tighten around the neck of the unfortunate rabbit or hare. The prey has now changed, and a different kind of poacher is at work. His victims have two legs, and the tool of his trade is what is known as the collet marseillais.
It is at the same time a simple yet sophisticated scam, usually practiced on weekends, and it works like this. You insert your credit card into the cash machine outside a bank and press all the appropriate buttons. Nothing comes out. No cash—and even worse, no card. However, there is a friendly stranger waiting behind you for his turn. He tells you that this often happens with these unreliable machines, and cards are always getting stuck. Try tapping in your personal identification number once again, he says. That usually works. This time, unfortunately, it doesn't, and as it is a Sunday, the bank is closed. All you can do, he tells you, is to come back on Monday, when someone at the bank will be able to extract your card.
Collet Marseillais /Conduite à la Provençale
Not wanting to call up, cancel the card, and go through the tedious business of getting a replacement, you decide to take the advice of the friendly stranger. You thank him and go on your way.
Alas, when you do come back the following day, your card has already been extracted, not by the bank, but by the friendly stranger once the coast was clear. Not only that. Unnoticed by you, he had looked over your shoulder and memorized your PIN. And now he has had the use of your card for a most agreeable twenty-four hours—withdrawing cash, dining out, shopping energetically, and generally having a whale of a time, as you will see when your next statement arrives.
When this happened to me, I couldn't help but admire the audacity and the technical ingenuity required to make this scheme work. I was later told that the idea of inserting fine wire into the slot of the machine to block the card was a local invention. And so, although I'm sure it's something that happens all over this wicked world, in Provence poor old Marseille gets the blame.
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