I Can Make Money Lying in the Sun
October, 2006I walked around the floor at the 2006 PIE conference in Chicago and was heartened that I found one of my major customers, a city in the heartland, was using state-of-the-art equipment, and it was making my life much easier.
This wise parking manager had installed a fully online real-time system that communicated over the ‘net. Every bit of data, from revenue summaries to individual commands by each cashier, was available online to someone with the proper credentials – one of those would be moi.
This feature not only helped capture a criminal, but also saved the city time and a lot of kibble paid out to this old dog.
A few weeks later I was dozing in the sun, dreaming of poodles and Paris, when the phone rang. It was my customer. He thought he had a problem, but didn’t know what to do. I was to catch a flight immediately. “Hold it,” I said. “I’m in the middle of something. Let me call you back.”
I then rolled over so I could reach my laptop, which was running on the local Starbucks hot spot next door, and I pulled up the city’s system. I looked at exceptions – I always check there first, because it’s easy, and because when people steal, they usually cause something to stand out.
This city had a couple of validations – most were routine, but handicapped validations were special. Handicapped parkers could park for free. Now I didn’t like this validation, but those were the rules. What was supposed to happen was that when a handicapped person came up, they were to show their handicapped decal to the camera and the cashier would then run the transaction with a “handicapped” validation. That way we could audit each one.
Most cashiers had an average of two to four handicapped validations per shift. One, however, had 20. Now either handicapped folks were on the same schedule or something was fishy. I began to think my customer’s suspicions were correct. I then honed in on that shift.
I also am able to access the city’s security camera log and so I could compare the handicapped transactions with the video of what was actually taking place. Well – the cashier would simply display the actual amount due, collect it, cancel the transaction and then immediately rerun the transaction with the handicapped validation, let the person out and keep the money. I also noted that she always put the money from that transaction in a separate slot in the cash drawer.
The canceled transaction brought up another problem, so I ran all the canceled transactions for the week. Most cashiers had a few per shift, but this one was out of control. There were, on average, 40 canceled transactions per shift – 20 for the handicapped and 20 more. On the second type, the cashier would simply key in a manual transaction (used when the ticket can’t be read) after the canceled transaction, and the person would be let out during the grace period. Once again, the money was placed in the “special” slot.
From time to time, the cashier would get up and lean over the cash drawer, masking her actions from the camera. When she sat down again, the “slot” where she had placed the money was empty.
I reported all this to the parking manager. He called the police, and she was arrested the next day. The manager told me he could take it from there, but based on the amount taken on the days I checked, the cashier had enough to afford a Ferrari and a house at the beach.
The big deal? I did all this from my spot in the sun on the back porch. I could have been in Hong Kong, Shanghai or anywhere with a broadband Internet connection. Rather than travel two days and have all the expense of airfare, hotels and the rest, I was able to provide the service to my customer and save it some big “expense” bucks.
Oh, did you notice that in the third paragraph I used the word “criminal?”
This one frosts my toenails. I was speaking to my editor about this column and told him I figured that more than likely the cashier would plea bargain, lose her job, and get off by returning part of the money stolen. I thought this was sad.
If someone walked up to a cashier and stole $1,000, that person would be in jail. However, this criminal-cashier abused the trust placed in her by her boss, devised a complicated scheme to steal a lot more than a grand, and will most likely get off basically scot-free.
It happens all the time. I know of a case where a garage manager was caught stealing and went to court. His lawyer argued that he was a poor downtrodden immigrant who was barely getting by and had mouths to feed and etc. etc. etc. The D.A. agreed to let him go, providing he returned an agreed amount. Let’s see: He was bailed out of jail with cash, not a bond. When he agreed to the amount he was to pay, there was no argument; he paid it that day, in cash. He also paid his attorney, court fees and other costs. What’s wrong with this picture? The guy’s a thief and should be treated as such.
Just one dog’s opinion..