The Confidence Man

Confidence men trade upon certain weaknesses in human nature. Until human nature changes perceptibly there is little possibility that there will be a shortage of marks for con games. So long as there are marks with money, the law will find great diffic…

Confidence men trade upon certain weaknesses in human nature. Until human nature changes perceptibly there is little possibility that there will be a shortage of marks for con games. So long as there are marks with money, the law will find great difficulty in suppressing confidence games, even assuming that local government officers are sincerely interested. Increased legal obstacles have, in the past, had little ultimate effect upon confidence men, except perhaps to make them more wary and to force them to develop their technique to a very high level of perfection. As long as the political boss, whether he be local, state, or national, fosters a machine wherein graft and bribery are looked upon as a normal phase of government, as long as juries, judges and law enforcement officers can be had for a price, the confidence man will live and thrive in our society.

David W. Maurer, The Big Con, 1940

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

"Two Stage" BMW Theft Attempt

Modern cars have alarm systems that automatically connect to a remote call center. This makes cars harder to steal, since tripping the alarm causes a quick response. This article describes a theft attempt that tried to neutralize that security system. In the first attack, the thieves just disabled the alarm system and then left. If the owner had not immediately…

Modern cars have alarm systems that automatically connect to a remote call center. This makes cars harder to steal, since tripping the alarm causes a quick response. This article describes a theft attempt that tried to neutralize that security system. In the first attack, the thieves just disabled the alarm system and then left. If the owner had not immediately repaired the car, the thieves would have returned the next night and -- no longer working under time pressure -- stolen the car.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Sticky Fingered Grandmas

     Although retail stores once tolerated shoplifting among the elderly, some big-box stores have installed zero-tolerance policies for the crime, which has led to the arrest of more seniors for stealing everything from dentures and hearing-aid batteries to fruit. Whatever kinds of things elderly people shoplift, their crime incites more than its share of rage and suspicion.

     In 2009, Ella Orko, eighty-six-years-old, was arrested for shoplifting at a Chicago supermarket. It was her sixty-first arrest since 1956. The police referred to her as both a “career” shoplifter and a “habitual” shoplifter. Among the items Orko shoplifted were wrinkle cream, canned salmon, instant coffee, and batteries. Over the course of her life, she had assumed at least fifty aliases….

     At sentencing, Orko rolled into court in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace and pleading deafness, although when arrested two days earlier, she was wheelchair-and neck-brace-free. The judge, who wore hearing aids on both ears, sentenced her to time served in light of her advanced age.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011 

     Although retail stores once tolerated shoplifting among the elderly, some big-box stores have installed zero-tolerance policies for the crime, which has led to the arrest of more seniors for stealing everything from dentures and hearing-aid batteries to fruit. Whatever kinds of things elderly people shoplift, their crime incites more than its share of rage and suspicion.

     In 2009, Ella Orko, eighty-six-years-old, was arrested for shoplifting at a Chicago supermarket. It was her sixty-first arrest since 1956. The police referred to her as both a "career" shoplifter and a "habitual" shoplifter. Among the items Orko shoplifted were wrinkle cream, canned salmon, instant coffee, and batteries. Over the course of her life, she had assumed at least fifty aliases….

     At sentencing, Orko rolled into court in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace and pleading deafness, although when arrested two days earlier, she was wheelchair-and neck-brace-free. The judge, who wore hearing aids on both ears, sentenced her to time served in light of her advanced age.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Retail Theft: Protecting Items Shoplifters Want To Steal

     In our anything-goes time, shoplifting forbidden objects is more difficult than you might think. Take cigarettes: A lot of people used to shoplift them, particularly young people. That is no longer possible now that the law mandates…

     In our anything-goes time, shoplifting forbidden objects is more difficult than you might think. Take cigarettes: A lot of people used to shoplift them, particularly young people. That is no longer possible now that the law mandates that cigarettes be placed behind the cash register. You have to commit an armed robbery to steal smokes. Or take pornographic magazines, once widely stolen. (For the articles.) Today, with Internet porn available at the click of a mouse, why bother shoplifting Playboy?

     But take condoms. After two decades of selling them on the open shelves, chain pharmacies, citing shoplifting in the 1990s, began locking them up. In the spring of 2006, an article about CVS doing so in its twenty-two D.C. stores appeared in The Washington Post.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach’s Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine…

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had recieved about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know abut the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Rise of Shoplifting and the War to Stop It

     Shoplifting came of age in America in 1995, when the FBI reported that it had jumped 93 percent in the previous five years and was “the nation’s fasted-growing form of larceny.” The crime was part of President Johnson’s Commission o…

     Shoplifting came of age in America in 1995, when the FBI reported that it had jumped 93 percent in the previous five years and was "the nation's fasted-growing form of larceny." The crime was part of President Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement; his "Special Message to Congress on Crime and Law Enforcement in the U. S." It marked the first time a president ever mentioned shoplifting. The shoplifting spike also inspired three men in different parts of the country to launch the modern anti-shoplifting technology industry, which in the past half century has claimed multibillion dollar profits, evoking both rags-to-riches tales and a morality play about the costs of trying to suppress the crime.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Gas Pump Hack

This is weird: Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers. The theft, reported…

This is weird:

Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers.

The theft, reported by Fox 2 Detroit, took place at around 1pm local time on June 23 at a Marathon gas station located about 15 minutes from downtown Detroit. At least 10 cars are believed to have benefitted from the free-flowing gas pump, which still has police befuddled.

Here's what is known about the supposed hack: Per Fox 2 Detroit, the thieves used some sort of remote device that allowed them to hijack the pump and take control away from the gas station employee. Police confirmed to the local publication that the device prevented the clerk from using the gas station's system to shut off the individual pump.

Slashdot post.

Hard to know what's true, but it seems like a good example of a hack against a cyber-physical system.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Gas Pump Hack

This is weird: Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers. The theft, reported…

This is weird:

Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers.

The theft, reported by Fox 2 Detroit, took place at around 1pm local time on June 23 at a Marathon gas station located about 15 minutes from downtown Detroit. At least 10 cars are believed to have benefitted from the free-flowing gas pump, which still has police befuddled.

Here’s what is known about the supposed hack: Per Fox 2 Detroit, the thieves used some sort of remote device that allowed them to hijack the pump and take control away from the gas station employee. Police confirmed to the local publication that the device prevented the clerk from using the gas station’s system to shut off the individual pump.

Slashdot post.

Hard to know what’s true, but it seems like a good example of a hack against a cyber-physical system.

Samuel Cohen: The Unrepentant Con Man

     In 2002, Samuel Cohen, a 44-year-old San Francisco con man, talked the founders of a nonprofit foundation called Vanguard into investing millions into his company, Ecast. Vanguard, created in 1972 by actors Danny Glover and Harry Be…

     In 2002, Samuel Cohen, a 44-year-old San Francisco con man, talked the founders of a nonprofit foundation called Vanguard into investing millions into his company, Ecast. Vanguard, created in 1972 by actors Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, issued grants that helped support environmental, anti-war, and other liberal causes.

     Cohen told his investors that Ecast, the manufacturer of electronic jukeboxes for bars, was about to be acquired by Micosoft, and that the acquisition would make Vanguard and its donors a lot of money. Relying on Cohen's word, the foundation's founders, and a hundred other investors, gave Cohen, over a six year period, more than $30 million. Cohen kept the scam going by telling his marks that regulators in the U.S. and Europe were holding up the acquisition. He needed the money to pay the fees and bonds needed to get the deal approved. His victims bought his spiel, and the money kept rolling in. In typical con man fashion, the product Cohen was selling was himself. And the marks went along because they thought they were going to make a killing.

    Confidence games cannot go on forever, and in 2008, Cohen's swindle fell apart. A federal prosecutor in San Francisco charged him with wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. His victims were devastated, and the Vanguard Foundation collapsed.

     Samuel Cohen had pulled off what criminologists call the "long con" by using his ill-gotten money to create a facade of enormous wealth that impressed and influenced his marks. He rented a $50,000 a month mansion in Belvedere, the exclusive enclave just north of San Francisco. The fake financier hung fake art on the walls of his rented palace, and bought his wife a $1.4 million diamond ring with money he had lifted from his investors. In his rented garage sat a $372,000 Rolls Royce, and a $260,000 Aston Martin. Cohen spent $6 million flying around in a rented jet he boasted that he owned. (Two of his celebrity passengers were Elton John and Jennifer Lopez. While they were not marks, they were props.)

     Con man Cohen lured his victims to the mansion where he held lavish parties in their honor while separating them from their money. It was easy. The scam artist even bilked his father-in-law out of his retirement savings. For the con man, it's not the money so much as the thrill of making suckers out of trusting people. It's economic lust killing.  

     The federal prosecutor, after a San Francisco jury found Samuel Cohen guilty in November 2011 of 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, and 3 counts of tax evasion, asked Judge Charles Breyer to send this con artist to prison for 30 years, order him to pay $60 million in restitution, and fine him $250,000. In justifying what would be the stiffest penalty in the history of white collar crime (Jeff Skilling at Enron got 24 years, 4 months), the prosecutor pointed out that Cohen, instead of experiencing remorse for his on-going, cold-blooded swindle, has blamed everyone but himself for the harm he has caused so many victims. (When con men are caught, in their minds, they are the victims.)

     Cohen's attorney, in arguing for a more lenient penalty, requested a prison sentence of under 7 years. The defense lawyer told the judge that 30 years behind bars is excessive punishment for a 53-year-old first time offender. Moreover, Mr. Cohen had given $2 million to charity. (Yes, but with stolen money. Samuel Cohen as Robin Hood.)

     Judge Breyer, in May 2012, sentenced Cohen to 22 years in prison, and ordered him to pay $31.4 in restitution. Calling the con man "nearly sociopathic," (nearly?) the judge said the sentence would have been more severe had there not been sentencing guidelines holding him back. If Cohen serves his full sentence, he'll be 75 when he gets out. Many of his victims will be dead, and the ones who are not, might still be broke.


from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/