New scam to steal money from lots of people in very small amounts.

There may be a new credit card scam making the rounds that involves very small charges to lots of people:

Several Internet complaint boards are filled with comments from credit card customers from coast to coast who have noticed a mysterious charge for about 25 cents on their statements.

The charge shows up on statements as coming from “Adele Services” in Melville, N.Y. There is no business by that name listed in Melville, or registered to any business anywhere in New York, for that matter.

Two theories of what is going on have advanced on message boards and among consumer advocates: Someone is trying to find out whether an illegally obtained credit card number will work before making a bigger charge, or they’re trying to rip off tiny amounts from tons of people.

The latter theory has more credibility at the moment. The Better Business Bureau in Louisville reports that, at least so far, those who have been hit with the small charge have yet to get slammed with a bigger charge. The bureau speculates that the number of possible victims could be in the millions.

It’s not clear how the numbers got in the hands of the people making the charge, but consumer advocates say it is most likely through either a data theft or someone using a computer to generate numbers.

Former Massachusetts assistant attorney general Edgar Dworsky, who runs ConsumerWorld.org, said the scam reminded him of an old adage: “It’s easier to steal $1 from a million people than $1 million from one person,” he said.

It’s a surprisingly clever way to scam money when you think about it. For most folks 25 cents is trivial and likely to be overlooked. If you can successfully charge 50,000 people 25 cents you’d net a tidy sum of $12,500. If they managed to hit a million people it jumps to $250,000. Not too shabby. So check your credit card statements and see if you’ve got a 25 cent charge from Adele Services and if you do then be sure to challenge it.