Briefly Noted in the East Bay 

Is Rep. Dick Pombo trying to save delta fish, or gut ‘em? Sophisticated thieves rig local ATMs to swipe account info; Are eBay buyers rational? Nope, says Cal business prof.

Pombo, Environmentalist

How's this for weird: Congressman Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee and one of the country's most ardent opponents of environmental regulation, has promised to launch a congressional investigation into why the Sacramento River Delta's fish population has collapsed.

As water diversion and pollutants have decimated the delta's striped bass and threadfin shad since 2002, Pombo has dedicated his career to destroying the Endangered Species Act, easily the most important federal protection for the wee fishies. Nonetheless, he's sworn to get to the bottom of this mysterious marine massacre.

For the record, here's a short list of endangered species of flora and fauna that use the Sacramento River as their primary habitat, courtesy of the federal Department of Fish and Wildlife. It includes the winter-run Chinook salmon, delta smelt, California red-legged frog, Alameda whipsnake, riparian brush rabbit, California clapper rail, Solano grass, Contra Costa goldfields, and longhorn fairy shrimp. And really, who doesn't want to save a shrimp that's so butch and femme at the same time?

Under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, federal regulators must protect critical habitat for species that make the list -- in this case, the very river whose problems Pombo has promised to solve. But last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would severely limit the government's capacity to set aside such habitat. Who conceived of the bill and used his power as Resources Committee chair to push it through? We'll let you figure that one out for yourself. -- Chris Thompson

PIN Pricks
Thieves rig local ATMs to steal customer 411.
A frightening new trend in ATM fraud has nailed bank customers in at least one East Bay location, and possibly others. The scam, called "skimming," involves placing a identical, fake front over the machine's card reader. The unsuspecting customer is prompted to enter his PIN, which is then sent wirelessly to the laptop of a thief skulking nearby. On January 29, a customer inserted his card into an ATM at the Washington Mutual at Oakland's Broadway Shopping Center, but didn't get it back. He returned the next day to reclaim his card but found his account had been wiped clean, according to his posting on a Yahoo group for the Lakeshore area. Branch manager Josh Anderson confirmed the tale of woe, noting that it was the first time he's seen this type of fraud at this location. The bank refunded the customer's loss promptly, he added.

In response to the man's Yahoo posting, another local claimed the same thing had happened at a Wells Fargo ATM in Emeryville, although the bank would not verify this. Chris Hammond, a Wells Fargo spokesman, insisted the bank's ATMs are secure, but warned that customers should "trust their instincts." -- Kathleen Richards

High Bid Loses
Want to maximize your eBay profits? Jack up the shipping cost.
Turns out the people who buy CDs and Xbox games on online auction site eBay are no rocket scientists. A recent four-month study of eighty auctions by John Morgan, a professor at Cal's Haas School of Business, found that people bid higher and more frequently on items with a lower starting bid and higher shipping costs than on items with a higher starting bid and lower shipping costs. The difference: Low-bid, high-shipping-price buyers paid about 15 percent more on average. That's $2 more per CD, $7 per Xbox games -- no chump change for music and game addicts.

Morgan says psychology may play a role here. Some people, he says, create different mental accounts for the base cost of a product versus shipping cost, and actually give more mental weight to product costs. Others simply don't pay attention. Some economists believe these "irrational" buyers will ultimately turn into "rational" ones who consider overall price. But Morgan says he sees no indication of this happening in the, er, real world. -- Kathleen Richards

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