Thursday, August 1, 2013

To Catch a Thief

Like many news junkies, I am constantly looking for the unusual and different story that drifts to the top of the 24 hour cycle. This story  (H/T Weasel Zippers) about the start of a trial of some guys that used silicone mask to hide that they were black to rob a check cashing store caught my attention, not because the race change thing, but because I was curious as to how the police went about finding them. They went to a great deal of trouble to hide their identity, and witnesses thought they were white, so I was interested in the process the police used to track them down.

This story gives a bit more information on how that happened. From there I learned that there were two key items that led the police to them. The first was a 'tip' that made the police reassess the surveillance and discern they were wearing masks. Where the tip came from is not indicated. Once the police knew this they somehow discovered the company that made the mask, then obtained email from that company indicating the real identities of the robbers. I did a quick Google search on 'realistic mask' and got hits for dozens of companies. I imagine that narrowing down the one that made the mask was rather difficult. That of course assumes that such companies handle thousands of orders for 'three white guy masks'. Perhaps not... especially if these geniuses ordered the masks from the same company at the same time. Alternatively, if the 'tip' came from the company that made the masks, the search would be significantly easier. I am a little surprised that they weren't more creative. There are numerous realistic masks available on e-bay.  They could have selected this one:

to look like a 'real' white guy. Or even gone the 'full Monty' and used this one:

to look like a real white women. Their choices were endless, but they chose plain old white guy faces. What fun was that?

The other clue that they left was a picture they gave to a witnesses of the witness's house to prove they knew where they lived and would come after them if they talked to the police. Oddly enough this did not deter the witness from giving the picture to the police, which was used to track down the Walgreen's where it was developed. This in turn led them to the robber's home address which was obtained from a receipt. This 'oversight' clearly moves them out of the criminal mastermind division. To their credit, I was not aware that commercially developed photos had such origin information encoded. On the other hand, why would they use a 'real' photo and risk the paper trail when photo quality printers are ubiquitous and anonymous? It's not like they were presenting a portfolio to Better Homes and Gardens.

Finally, they apparently marked themselves by spending their ill gotten gains like the proverbial drunken sailor, buying some really nice threads and even a Rolex. If we have learned nothing else from the movies, delaying spending the loot is way up there on the list of the Habits Of Highly Successful Robbers. So in the end, these guys are a bit of a disappointment who probably watched way too much TV and are not particularly schooled in critical thinking. Of course if they were highly functioning individuals, they probably wouldn't have needed to do the crime anyway - they would have been operating the Check Cashing Store which finds it necessary to have $200,000 on hand daily to conduct business. Given the rates those places charge for their services to people without bank accounts, they have to be making at least $20,000 a day. If they are careful about validating the checks they cash to minimize their losses, that has got to be an insanely profitable business.

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