07 May 2012

Thievery, Mastery, and Artistry

Approximately one year ago, I was walking in downtown Moscow, less than half a mile away from the Kremlin.  Three men, without any apparent connection, were walking towards me almost in a single file.  The first dropped something as he passed me.  The second picked up the dropped package, appearing to be a stack of $100 bills, and asked me, with an innocent smile and a bushy tail, whether this were my money.  As I was explaining that he package probably belonged to the first man, the third man approached the second man and me, showed a police badge, and started to interrogate me.  The expectation was that I pay a "bribe" to the police, bogus or real, to get out of the sticky trap.  I just walked away.  The thievery attempt was clumsy by common street crooks and cons trying to make a quick coin.
  • Category:  Thievery
  • Expected Loss:  Multiples of tens of dollars
  • Actual Loss:  $0

Approximately a month ago, I returned to Russia from abroad with two new, unopened iPads in my luggage.  The Russian customs at Domodedovo, a flagship airport in Russia, asked me to place my suitcase in the X-ray machine.  I complied.  A customs official ordered me to open my luggage and took intense interest in a single, white tube sock.  Puzzled, I asked why thy liked my sock so much.  The focused changed immediately to a handful of vitamin pills I had in the luggage.  Puzzled again, I explained that those were vitamins.  The customs official was then satisfied, quickly zipped up my bag, and allowed me to enter Russia.  I arrived home, opened my luggage, and found that the two iPads were missing.  The focus on the tube sock and vitamins, however brief, was a diversion.  This is more than common thievery by street hoodlums; this is mastery by government law-enforcment officials.  Hats off to Russian Customs.
  • Category:  Mastery
  • Expected Loss:  $0
  • Actual Loss:  Multiples of hundreds of dollars

Exactly yesterday, I received a call from my Russian bank asking if I had made multiple, large ATM withdraws in quick succession.  I answered "no" and asked for my account to be blocked.  As it turns out, someone had replicated both my ATM card and matched it to my PIN code, thereby getting unfettered access to my account.  The probable methods of getting both pieced of information are: (1) someone in the bank leaked the information; (2) someone hacked the bank's security and stole this information pair; or (3) someone hacked an ATM to get the card data as well as using surveillance of some sort to get my PIN code, and then went to town with it.  If (1) is true, then this is a case of bank fraud.  If (2) is true, then we have a case of negligence by my bank.  If (3) is true, and because I only use large, well-known bank's ATMs, there is a fundamental problem with the integrity the banking system here.  There is no good possibility. 

I presented the case to a bank manager yesterday shortly after the event.  Her response was:  "Sorry, the bank cannot guarantee the safety of your funds."  Her statement was tantamount to "one cannot reasonably expect that his money will be in his account tomorrow or the next day.  Caveat emptor, and good luck."  

This situation is so mind boggling and unsettling that it can only be explained as artistry.  This artistic presentation makes a clear impression that nothing can be taken for granted.
  • Category:  Artistry
  • Expected Loss:  Negative dollars; in actuality, one should earn interest.
  • Actual Loss:  Multiples of thousands of dollars


Category Expected Loss Actual Loss
Thievery Multiples of tens of dollars $0
Mastery $0 Multiples of hundreds of dollars
Artistry None; actually a gain is expected Multiples of thousands of dollars

What's the next growth echelon after artistry?  Whatever it is, I do not like where this is going. 

1 comment:

  1. You may found it interesting, relevant to your latest incident:

    Police arrested a gang of waiters, who were stealing information from patrons' credit cards.