Tag Archives: Portland

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?

Faux Blogs And The Art Of The Dupe

Are fake blogs savvy marketing tools or the thin end of a wedge that will undermine the credibility of all blogs?

Dennis Nishi has a piece in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune about fake blogs or faux blogs, a topic I’ve blazed off about before.

He points to Beta-7, a fake blog conceived, if that’s the right word, by the New York office of Portland, Ore.-based advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. ”The blog was intended to create a buzz for Sega’s “ESPN NFL Football 2K4” game and draw attention away from Electronic Arts’ “Madden Football 2004″–the game that dominates the segment,” Nishi writes. “The Beta-7 blog and two others featured pictures of injuries suffered by gamers during blackouts, and bulletin-board messages were posted across the Internet about the adverse side effects of playing. Confidential company memos–purportedly acquired by another game tester–were posted that portrayed Sega as increasingly worried about the problems.” The whole thing was basically a scam: “Beta-7 ran for four months and ended with the September release of the game. The beginning and end of the campaign were scripted ahead of time, but everything in between was created on the fly and in response to how the audience reacted.”

Of course, we can get all snotty about this. But the bottom line is that the site attracted 2.2 million visitors, and sales improved over last year by 20 percent, selling about 360,000 games. It was certainly more successful than Dr Pepper/7 Up Inc.’s Raging Cow, a flavored-milk drink targeted at teens and young adults. Nishi writes that when legitimate bloggers discovered that company-sponsored shills were recruited to post comments to blogs, some bloggers responded by creating a Web site to boycott Raging Cow. “The boycott is going a year later.” Warner Bros also got sliced when editors of blogs traced suspiciously positive comments about a band Warner Bros.

To me the whole thing is silly and misleading. Blogging is a new medium and doesn’t need this kind of Trojan Horse pretence. But I guess there’s also an argument that if users are dumb enough — or wise but willing to be entertained — then it doesn’t really matter. Hell, what passes for news on TV these days is more often than not just dressed-up reality TV. I guess I’d hoped blogging would remain a raw, honest medium for a while longer, and that a keen and clear understanding of the blogger’s background and motives would be the first thing readers would look for.