After the president announced he would be sending 30,000 troops to fight in Afghanistan, a political cartoon that appeared on the TIMES NEWS Opinion page gave us a dose of reality on how technology is changing our world.

It showed four al Quaeda terrorist leaders texting each other about the president's decision on the troop surge. One was texting from his living room in Pakistan, the second was messaging from the mouth of a cave in Afghanistan, the third from a beach chair in Somalia and the fourth while lounging under a Palm tree in Yemen. All four were tapping away on their keypads, strategizing on how to deal with – and stay ahead of – the president's announcement.

It was a humorous portrayal, but in reality it shows how technology continues to change our world as we head into the second decade of the 21st century. Every facet of life is affected, from the way we shop for holiday presents to the way we fight wars.

The cartoon showing terrorists networking to each other is sobering to us. As much as technology is improving the way we live, there is a dark side in its application. This is seen in another national news story that tells us how scam artists enjoyed a big year in 2008. This was mainly due to the recession in our economy.

An Associated Press report shows that the recession caused nearly four times as many Ponzi scheme collapses in 2009 as there were the previous year. Thanks to his many upper income clients, Bernard Madoff's $50 billion Ponzi scheme may have been the largest in history but there were hundreds of other Internet scam artists who stole tons of money last year.

Not all of the victims were high rollers from the Madoff stable. Tom Annis, a retired Air Force sergeant living in Jacksonville, Fla., has a tragic story that was more in the public mainstream. After doing some preliminary investigating on the Internet, he placed most of his retirement nest egg in the hands of some investors he thought could be trusted. After all, their commercials were being run on a Christian radio show called "Follow the Money."

But this turned out to be an elaborate $190 million Ponzi scheme. The $270,000 that Tom placed in the investment scheme evaporated.

Although it was too late for the many who had been cheated out of their money, Madoff's high-profile case brought a tightening of regulations as well as a heightened public awareness to the Ponzi schemes and other Internet scams during 2009. Before persons commit their savings and retirement nest eggs, they should be doing homework ... and asking questions.

And when it comes to making those lifetime investment decisions, it's probably easier to "read" a person in a face-to-face meeting, than through something as impersonal as a touch-screen or a keypad.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com