ASK DR. CRIME LAB

And not only that, he says; one must also be aware that "criminals are getting more sophisticated, so each and every day there are more kinds of con games, actually more ways to commit crimes."

So I asked him.
"Hey, Dr. Crime Lab, could you give me an example of one of those sophisticated crimes?"

He leaned back in his plastic chair, thought a moment, and shared. "I go in to a ready tellerlike place, and I use a camcorder, put it up where people think it's for security. I got it zoned in on the number thing. People punch in their code, they throw their receipt in the trash, the camera records them doing this. I get their name and balance from that. I get a blank card, use an encoder and encode the numbers on the back, then I can go to any ready teller. That's a real sophisticated one."

So sophisticated that I was skeptical. I was troubled by a couple things: 1) If the Doctor was so good at crime, what is he doing in jail? and 2) Wouldn't his fellow prisoners get a bit upset with him revealing trade secrets?

Tut, tut, my friends. "In certain things I'm good, but I know people that are much better, the people that taught me are much better," he assured me. "And there is a code among confidence men; I don't tell certain key things. If I do that, then I'm telling people how to commit crime. I will only tell a potential victim what to look for." Ah, yes, honor among thieves.

I hardly know anyone who hasn't been burglarized--myself included--so I thought I'd test Dr. Crime Lab's wits. What does a burglar look for, and what can one do to prevent such an occurrence?

Once again, with the touching sincerity of a true con man, he gave me the lowdown. "If I was going to burglarize a house, certain characteristics would have to exist," he said. "Being a drug addict, first of all I would want cash or something I can convert into cash very easily. So if you've got a camper or motorcycles and stuff like that, I think, 'Ah, he's a sportsman. Maybe a hunter, maybe has guns.' "As far as an alarm, that basically wouldn't mean anything. The issue is, are the police going to come, or will it be some type of security agency? Now, if I can get through that window or break down that door, what I'm thinking about is can I get in and out before the police get there. "Neighborhood watches are good, effective against crime, as long as they make the calls, but it's still the same thing: Can I get in and out before the police arrive?"

Then the Doc dropped his voice a little, almost sounded like a lawyer cutting to the essence of the situation. "I've asked criminals around me several times, 'What's the best deterrent?' A dog in the house. If the people are asleep, I might go in there, because I can get in and out without waking them up. But if there's a dog, I'm not going in. He might not even bite, but if he's barking, I'm not going in there. Even a little dog, because he's making noise!"

Crime, of course, doesn't pay, and sometimes it's really a headache, too. I asked about the Bricks-as-VCR scam, and the Doc admitted it didn't always work out. "I used to make a living doing this," he bragged, then proceeded into a tale of dedication, attention to detail, and sheer stupidity. "I got a box like what a case of beer comes in, then I got some bricks--I actually bought the bricks--and wrapped them up in newspaper and put them in the box. Then I put brown wrapping paper around it and got a Radio Shack ad. I cut out a picture of a VCR, pictures of the remote control, what the features were of the VCR, then I pasted them all around the box and got a red pen and marked it as if it was being shipped somewhere. I got a square piece of wood, and the picture of the remote control fit over the piece of wood, and I took plastic and wrapped it up. "So I go out to sell this thing, and the first guy I ask was a construction worker. He says if I wait for him, he can go around to the ready teller and get $100 out, so I wait. He gets the money, but says, 'Just one thing before we do this, I want to see it first.'

"I said, 'I have no problem with you seeing it, but give me half the money now and half the money after you see it. If you open it, it's going to take the value down, and it'll be hard for me to convince the next person that it's brand-new.' "He says, 'You got a point there.'

"So we get in his truck, he gives me the 50 bucks and he looks at me and tells me, 'Get out my truck.'

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