Monday, January 5, 2009

Sometimes it seems like our most creative people are on the wrong sidE.

One has to read the local crime blotter with a certain amount of amazement sometimes. People embezzling from their workplace in long and complicated fashion, creating and executing exacting forgery schemes, hacking, brewing up powerful chemical-reaction drugs in an attic or car trunk, programming some internet-based scam to take advantage of others, inventing or pilfering new identities complete with all the necessary IDs to *poof* a new human being out of thin air.

On occasion, crime is as ingenious as it is stupid.

Most of the time, our local evil geniuses wind up with plenty of time to think about the one detail that went wrong as they cool their heels in the county jail or the state pen.

The thing is, these kind of crimes take time, planning, ingenuity, often technology, usually some cash investment, and lots and lots of effort.


Wouldn't it just be easier to actually get a job? Often, had a person with some brains just gone to work and put in the same amount of effort, they would have come out with the same or better money.

Instead of going to jail for robbing their company, they might have become executive VP in short order.

I have never understood this kind of crime.

If someone is starving and they shoplift a can of tuna, I get it. But people around here steal everything from Baby Jesus statues to cologne - true story.

I was reading about a 22-year-old guy named Michael Largent who spent at least half a year patiently bilking E-Trade and Charles Schwab of $50,000 - a couple of pennies at a time.

Largent discovered that such brokerage companies use a little trick to verify routing information when a customer opens a new stock trading account direct-linked to their bank account - sending a "micro deposit" - usually just pennies - so they can verify it was received before making any serious payments.

Largent created an automated script to open about 60,000 accounts, linked up to a handful of spurious online banking accounts, and watched as thousands of micro desposits trickled in. He then gleefully laundered the money into his own debit cards.

It's brilliantly clever - a geek of that caliber could earn a fortune in computer programming, finance, Congress, or wherever such capering can be appreciated without the risk of 25 years in The Slam, which is what our boy faces now.

As always, even a smarty-pants criminal turns out to be box-of-rocks dumb in some way, and young Mr. Largent undid himself by getting too cocky.

He started choosing his fake names from TV cartoons and comic books, favoring the likes of "Hank Hill" from the King of the Hill animated series and the comic book hero "Johnny Blaze," among others.

This rang some bells for the trading companies and the several banks he used in the scheme, including the Storm Lake-based Metabank, reportedly.

A team of experts from the FBI and U.S. Secret Service finally tracked him down. When asked, he proudly told the whole story, thinking he had outwitted the system. And he had, sort of - there is nothing illegal about taking the money the brokerages were basically giving away. But to do it, he forged Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and fake identities - all serious no-nos.

Lesson is, don't try to outwit the world and then go naming yourself Green Lantern. Or maybe the lesson is just to go get a job and earn some money the old-fashioned way. It doesn't come with much of a vicarious thrill, but you don't have to worry about dropping the soap in the shower because of it.

* We all read about a bailout of the U.S. automakers industry to the tune of $25 billion. Now I could point out the relative likelihood of the government bailing YOU out when hard times come and you struggle to make a payment on that ride, but that would be sour grapes.

So instead, I suggest that we ask for something in return. If American taxpayers are going to bail out giant automakers with our own hard-earned American dollars, why not demand that they go back to making American cars out of American parts? And that their foreign plants making U.S. cars and parts be relocated back onto American soil again? And finally, that Americans who buy all-American cars get a bit of a tax break on their American income tax bills for helping to support their own economy?

That put Americans to work, and helps to sell American cars, so perhaps we won't be right back in this same American mess again.