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If I total up the amount available on my unsecured line of credit and the limits on my credit cards, it comes to over $100,000. This amount of money would last a long, long time in somewhere like Honduras or the south Pacific. What is stopping me from withdrawing to the limit on all of these at once and then fleeing the country? Why don't we read about this happening more often?

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Moderator's note: Interesting question, but let's keep the answers limited to the ways in which such a scheme would be caught or foiled by the system. i.e. please do not provide any how-to guidance or suggestions on how to perpetrate such a fraud. –  Chris W. Rea Nov 13 '10 at 17:34
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@ChrisW.Rea If I knew a way to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars and get away with it, I wouldn't be sitting around talking about it on a forum. I'd just do it, and then I wouldn't want to give the police any hints to help them track me down. :-) –  Jay Apr 22 at 14:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 24 down vote accepted

It's harder than you think.

Once card companies start seeing your debt to credit line ratios climb, they will slash your credit lines quickly. Also, cash credit lines are always much smaller, so in reality, such a scheme would require you to buy goods that can be converted to cash, which dilutes your gains and makes it more likely that you're going to get detected and busted.

Think of the other problems. Where do you store your ill-gotten gains? How do you get the money out of the country? How will your actions affect your family and friends?

Also, most people are basically good people -- the prospect of defrauding $100k, leaving family and friends behind and living some anonymous life in a third world country isn't an appealing one. If you are criminally inclined, building up a great credit history is not very practical -- most criminals are by nature reactive and want quick results.

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I think this last paragraph is important: you're not just stealing $100k in a week, you're stealing over however long it takes you to build up the income and credit history that will justify people lending you so much money. –  poolie Dec 6 '10 at 6:24

Because most people aren't willing to sacrifice their ability to live in the US for 100k.

Remember that you can't pull this off multiple times easily. So as a one and done kind of deal, 100k isn't a great trade for the right to live in tthe US or whatever country you have roots in, particularly once you factor in:

  • If you have 100k in credit on cards, you are likely well-employed with some savings
  • you can't easily convert that credit to cash. Sure, you can try to buy gift cards and whatnot, but they may not be accepted at Casa de Honduras Hotel for Refugees, and it's not like you can pay with the cc cards- once you stop paying and go on the lam, they'll cut you off.
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You have up to 35 days before a minimum payment is due, which is a lot of time to run up the card and withdraw cash. –  Ether Nov 13 '10 at 18:01
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I would say that also morality comes into play here - I dont think that most people do a cost-benefit analysis about this thing, most probably never even consider it because its clearly dishonest –  CrimsonX Nov 13 '10 at 23:41
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@CrimsonX, agreed - my assumption was that the OPs question is already implying, "given that there is a some meaningful subset of people who seem to be able to get past the moral resistance to stealing, how come more of them don't do it thusly: ..." –  Jaydles Nov 14 '10 at 14:13

Even if you could get it with no major hassle, $100,000 is just not that much money.

In a cheap third world country, as an expat you're looking at spending about $800-$2000/month, plus unexpected expenses. Locals live on less, but very few of us would be happy with the lifestyle of a Honduran or Thai farmer. Your 100k will last 4-10 years. This is hardly a great deal considering you're cutting off ties back home and almost becoming a fugitive. With USD going down the drain (e.g. in Thailand it went down 25% in 3 years), this period would probably be even shorter.

Of course, you could work in the new country, but if you do then you don't need 100k to start with. The initial amount may improve your security, but from that standpoint being able to go back and work in your home country is worth more.

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Quality of life, success and happiness are three factors that are self define by each individual. Most of the time all three factors go hand by hand with your ability to generate wealth and save. Actually, a recent study showed that there were more happy families with savings than with expensive products (car, jewelry and others).

These 3 factors, will be very difficult to maintain after someone commit such action. First, because you will fear every interaction with the origin of the money. Second, because every individual has a notion of wrong doing. Third, for the reasons that Jaydles express.

Also, most cards, will call you and stop the cards ability to give money, if they see an abusive pattern.

Ether, skipping your country has some adverse psychological impact in the family and individual that most of the time 100K is not enough to motivate such change.

Thanks for reading. Geo

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I take it the premise of the question is that we're assuming the person isn't worried about the morals. He's a criminal out for a quick buck. And I guess we're assuming that wherever you go, they wouldn't arrest you and extradite you back to the U.S.

As others have noted, you can't just walk into a bank the day you graduate high school or get out of prison or whatever and get a credit line of $100,000. You have to build up to that with an income and a pattern of responsible behavior over a period of many years. I don't have the statistics handy but I'd guess most people never reach a credit limit on credit cards of $100,000. Maybe many people could get that on a home equity line of credit, but again, you'd have to build up that equity in your house first, and that would take many years.

Then, while $100,000 sounds like a lot of money, how long could you really live on that? Even in a country with low cost of living, it's not like you could live in luxury for the rest of your life. If you can get that kind of credit limit, you probably are used to living on a healthy income. Sure, you could get a similar lifestyle for less in some other countries, but not for THAT much less. If you know a place where for $10,000 a year you can live a life that would cost $100,000 per year in the U.S., I'd like to know about it. Even living a relatively frugal life, I doubt the money would last more than 4 or 5 years.

And then what are you going to do? If you come back to the U.S. you'd presumably be promptly arrested. You could get a job in your new country, but you could have done that without first stealing $100,000.

Frankly, if you're the sort of person who can get a $100,000 credit limit, you probably can live a lot better in the U.S. by continuing to work and play by the rules than you could by stealing $100,000 and fleeing to Haiti or Eritrea. You might say, okay, $100,000 isn't really enough. What if I could get a $1 million credit limit? But if you have the income and credit rating to get a $1 million credit limit, you probably are making at least several hundred thousand per year, probably a million or more, and again, you're better off to continue to play by the rules.

The only way that I see that a scam like this would really work is if you could get a credit limit way out of proportion to any income you could earn legitimately. Like somehow if you could convince the bank to give you a credit limit of $1 million even though you only make $15,000 a year. But that would be a scam in itself.

That's why I think the only time you do hear of people trying something like this is when they USED to make a lot of money but have lost it. Like someone has a multi-million dollar business that goes broke, he now has nothing, so before the bank figures it out he maxes out all his credit and runs off.

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