The laptop thief who satisfied ’em all on eBay

If you own a laptop, you’ll want to read Scott Barancik’s well-researched article in the St. PetersburgLaptop
Times about Eric Almly, a career thief who stole 130 laptops in the last five years or so.

In March, a clean-cut stranger wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt
strolled into the Tampa headquarters of Outback Steakhouse, mingled
with company staff until they left for the day and walked out with 11
laptop computers crammed into his shoulder bag.

When a security
guard stopped him in the parking lot, the gifted liar convinced him he
was out for a jog. Later, at his $1,800-a-month apartment along Miami
Beach, the burglar erased the laptops’ hard drives and began selling
them via services like eBay, where he had earned a 99.4 percent
customer-satisfaction rating and tens of thousands of dollars in
profit. [Link]

I cringed when I read the part about erasing hard drives. I’m a grown man, but if someone erased my hard drive, I would definitely cry. "My columns! My stories! My Kournikova pics!"

Though his plain features defy Hollywood’s idea of a con artist –
think Leonardo DiCaprio’s rakish character in Catch Me If You Can –
Almly has the right resume. A determined thief since his mid teens, he
has made a near science of stealing and selling laptops over the past
five years. He’s even developed some acting skills, if you consider
perpetrating a faceless office-worker a form of theater.

"This
is a very intelligent young man," an Almly defense attorney said in
1993, moments after the 18-year-old had been sentenced to serve one
year on a work farm. "If he can put his intelligence to positive uses,
then the sky’s the limit." [Link]

I’d like to see him put his intelligence toward making license plates. Or picking up trash on the highway.

Shrewdly, he began focusing on laptops. Lightweight and slim, easy to
conceal, cheap to mail and a breeze to sell, they are, ounce for ounce,
among the most valuable items in any corporate office. Almly sold many
of the units to shady brokers in overseas locales such as Latvia; a
manifest kept at the U.S. Post Office in Carlsbad, Calif., showed he
had sent 35 packages to Taiwan in 2004 under the alias Jeffrey Scott
Siegle and the corporate name NBE Ventures. Almly sold many of the
remaining computers on eBay via the online name LaptopDlr55. [Link]

I bought my previous laptop on eBay and I hate to think it might have been hot. I hate to think that someone out there was missing his laptop, was hoping and praying that no one had erased his PhD thesis.

Like most adults, Eric Almly is two people.

In his private
life, he is quirky, emotional, demanding and sometimes mean. At work,
he is professional, civilized and unflappable, his body temperature
hovering somewhere between Frappucino and absolute zero. Neither half
is ever fully in charge.

Witnesses and police say the
high-school dropout is eerily good at projecting calm, even in
stressful situations. At Outback, one employee who observed him
loitering became suspicious. "She was about to confront him, but he
turned as if he was speaking to someone in a cubicle, so her alarm went
down," said Brass, the Tampa detective. "That’s the thing about these
guys, they’re actors." [Link]

It’s funny how thieves can be actors, and actors can be thieves.

Larry Brass, the Tampa Police detective who arrested Eric Almly this
spring, says he’s not permitted to endorse a particular product. But he
says if Outback’s laptops were not outfitted with software called
Computrace LoJack for Laptops, made by Absolute Software, there is "no
question" Almly would be walking free today.

Here is how it
works: after a computer is stolen, the victim notifies Absolute’s
recovery team. When the thief accesses the Internet via that computer,
the Computrace software on his computer silently broadcasts information
that allows the team to determine his physical location.

With a
street address in hand, police can make an arrest. The corporate
version of the software gives subscribers the ability to remotely
delete sensitive information from a computer. [Link]

And to begin punishing the thief, the software submits his email address to the widow of Sani Abacha in Nigeria.

Photo by Bahi P

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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