If you’re at all like us, then you’ve undoubtedly watched a few movies wherein characters attempt to pull off the perfect crime. Given the current tough economic climate, we’ve certainly looked at a few of those schemes and thought to ourselves “Hmmm, I wonder if that could really work?” We immediately rule out things like Ocean’s 11 (too big and complex) and any movie that involves ripping off the mob/yakuza/drug dealers (that never ends well) or counting cards (we can barely count, period) – but that still leaves a few heists that look pretty doable. Take, for instance, the scam in Mike Judge’s cult classic Office Space.
In that film, a disgruntled employee comes up with a program that siphons pennies at a time off of various financial transactions – with the assumption being that since they're only pennies, no one will notice. The problem is that the plan goes awry when those fractions of pennies add up to a huge amount of real dollars overnight.
Back in 2008, Californian Michael Largent had the bright idea to mimic the Office Space scam – and it worked, except that he forgot to watch the second half of the film, where the entire scheme backfires. Rule number two of picking a movie crime to emulate in real life is determining if you can do it without getting busted and going to prison. Apparently, Largent didn’t read the “Use the Movies to Become a Master Criminal” manual from start to finish.
Largent’s plan involved using a computer script to sign up for thousands of online stock trading accounts and other financial services. When a user signs up for one of these accounts, the company will deposit a few cents to a few dollars into the bank account of the new subscriber to verify that the account is real. Thanks to Largent’s script, he wound up with $50,000 in his bank account – and the attention of the Federal Government.
While what Largent did on the surface is not inherently illegal, the problem is that he created this multitude of accounts with fake names (he had a fondness for cartoon characters) and fake social security numbers – which is definitely frowned upon.
When confronted about his crime, Largent told authorities that he’d read the fine print of the sites and that he was legally in the right – and that he needed to earn money to pay off his debts. Too bad for him that he used those fake names and SS numbers – which opened him up to charges of bank and wire fraud.
Largent eventually pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 15 months in prison (he was facing up to five years), ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution (so this little escapade wound up costing him more than he made in the first place), and was restricted from using a computer and the Internet for three years. Guess that means crime really doesn’t pay and that we can scratch this one off our list of potential income increasers…