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Software On Metro Farecard Machines Upgraded After SmarTrip Scam Uncovered

Metro recently uncovered a scam involving farecard machines, causing the transit agency to upgrade the software on all of the machines.
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Metro recently uncovered a scam involving farecard machines, causing the transit agency to upgrade the software on all of the machines.

A recent scam that allowed Metro users to charge their SmarTrip cards but still walk away with their cash caused the transit agency to upgrade the software on all the system's farecard machines.

As part of the scam, a user would put cash into the farecard machine and repeatedly press the buttons to add and subtract value, before canceling the transaction to get their cash back. But even though the cash had been returned, the user would still be able to touch their SmartTrip card to the machine's sensor and add the value to the card.

In one case in September, a Metro user at the Brookland Red Line station was arrested by Metro Transit Police after allegedly manipulating a farecard machine to give him $60 worth of value on two different SmarTrip cards, one of which had $115.95 on it and the other $286.15.

According to court records, the individual was observed "manipulating the fare machine by tapping his Smart Trip card, entering $20.00 U.S. currency, continuously pressing the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons, then hitting the cancel button causing the fare machine to return the $20.00 he had original (sic) put in the machine, and finally tapping his Smart Trip card causing [WMATA] to be deprived of money."

He was charged with second-degree theft, a misdemeanor, and has pleaded not guilty. He is set for trial next week.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says that the scam was caused by overloading the software on the farecard machines, which is two decades old. "If you pressed enough buttons rapidly enough, it's the equivalent of putting a pinball machine into tilt," he says.

Stessel says that Transit Police detected the scam early on and ultimately arrested "a few dozen" people, but that the loss of revenue to the transit agency was "minimal." The SmarTrip cards were deactivated, he adds, and all the software updates will prevent the scam from being repeated.

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