Tag Archives: Geography of the United States

The Lego Scam

A man after my own heart: AP reports that a man has been arrested accused of stealing a truck full of Lego:

A 40-year-old man is behind bars, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of a toy geared toward the 6-and-up crowd: Legos. To haul away the evidence, agents working for the U.S. Postal Inspector said they had to back a 20-foot truck to William Swanberg’s house in Reno, Nev., carting away mountains of the multicolored bricks.

Swanberg was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Hillsboro, a Portland suburb, which charged him with stealing Legos from Target stores in Oregon. Target estimates Swanberg stole and resold on the Internet up to $200,000 of the brick sets pilfered from their stores in Oregon as well as Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California.

When no one was looking, Swanberg switched the bar codes on Lego boxes, replacing an expensive one with a cheaper label, said Detective Troy Dolyniuk, a member of the Washington County fraud and identity theft enforcement team.

Target officials contacted police after noticing the same pattern at their stores in the five western states. A Target security guard stopped Swanberg at a Portland-area store on Nov. 17, after he bought 10 boxes of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon set. In his parked car, detectives found 56 of the Star Wars set, valued at $99 each, as well as 27 other Lego sets. In a laptop found inside Swanberg’s car, investigators also found the addresses of numerous Target stores in the Portland area, their locations carefully plotted on a mapping software.

Records of the Lego collector’s Web site, Bricklink.Com, show that Swanberg has sold nearly $600,000 worth of Legos since 2002, said Dolyniuk.

Interestingly, folk seemed to have been quite happy to deal with Swanberg on Bricklink.com. He’s been registered on the site since 2002, earning praise from more than 6,000 users, and getting complaints from only 11. He was still shipping up until the last minute: Eight folk posted praise about dealing with him on the day or after he’d been indicted. Only one person seemed to harbour doubts: That person wrote on November 19, four days before Swanberg was indicted: “Wish I knew where these came from…”

Actually, this kind of scam is well documented, and may be a copycat theft. Eagle-eyed readers may recall a piece I wrote a few months back about Douglas Havard, a phisher who was jailed in June for conspiracy to defraud and launder money. According to an earlier piece in the Dallas Observer Havard used to steal expensive Lego sets by switching price tags on Lego boxes. The only difference was that Havard was printing his own price stickers.

What is it with Lego that turns people into criminals?

Paper Phishing?

Sometimes the old tricks are the best. AP reports of a man who allegedly claimed potion could turn paper into money:

ANOKA, Minn. – A 22-year-old Savage man faces charges of theft by swindling after allegedly claiming he had a chemical potion that could transform plain white paper into U.S. currency. Franklin T. Forlemu was scheduled to appear in Anoka County District Court on Monday for a hearing.

Police said Forlemu used a slight-of-hand trick to make it look like blank pieces of white paper were turned into $20 bills. A Coon Rapids grocery store owner fell for the trick and gave Forlemu about $70,000 in $100 bills, in hopes the money would be multiplied. Instead, the store owner got only white paper, and his money was gone, according to the criminal complaint.

Police said they found the cash in Forlemu’s apartment. Bryan Lindberg, an Anoka County prosecutor for 20 years, said the scam “is the most creative one I have seen.” The chemical potion Forlemu used was actually water, said Coon Rapids Detective Dave Westberg. Forlemu, an illegal immigrant from Africa, had no prior felony convictions and was released on personal recognizance. His public defender, Bryan Leary, said he needs to review the charges before commenting.

I particularly like the last sentence:

Westberg said the U.S. Secret Service did not file counterfeiting charges, but officials are watching the case.

Counterfeiting what, exactly?

Some other details from the Star Tribune:

According to the complaint, Forlemu went to Chang’s store, slipped blank pieces of paper between some $20 bills, donned a breathing mask and poured his mysterious concoction over the pile. When he was done, the blanks looked like twenties to Chang. Forlemu told him to get large sums of cash, and Chang came back with $70,000 in $100 bills.

He watched Forlemu put the blank slips between them and pour the solution on the stack, then wrap the wad in tinfoil and pour on more. Forlemu said the money and paper must be sealed for three hours before opening the windfall. But when Chang finally unwrapped the tinfoil stack, he found nothing but white paper.

I love the breathing mask touch. Classy.

 

Wi-Fi for the Masses Back On The Air

Lee Thorn, the former bomb-loader who I wrote about a few months back (“Wi-Fi is Aiming for the Masses”, subscription required) has been trying to help Laotians hook up to the Internet, and other Laotians, using Wi-Fi, tells me that he’s back in action again in Laos on a different site after some earlier problems with the military.

He also says he’s working on a similar project in South Africa, and, possibly, one on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

Update: More On E-Voting

 Further to my recent column on e-voting in FEER and WSJ.com (my apologies; available on subscription only), the story continues. Avi Rubin, the Johns Hopkins University computer scientist who identified security lapses in the voting system Maryland is adopting appeared before state legislators in testimony that illustrates the issues involved, and entrenched positions of those trying to defend weak voting software.
 
 
 

News: The Power Of The Net

 Pointed out by my old friend Robin Lubbock, here’s an excellent essay by Dan Gillmor on the self-righting Internet community, where one bad turn is usually overwritten by several good ones. He makes some sharp comments on the VeriSign ‘domain-stealing’ controversy, which I haven’t touched on in this blog. The bottom line: there are some pretty awful people out there, but they usually get drowned out by the decent folk. Long may it last.