Monday, 1 October 2018

How to Steal a Million Dollars

      A while ago three men were arrested after a year-long crime spree bringing in $80,000. Sounds a lot, doesn't it? In point of fact, a third of $80,000 is chicken feed for a year's work, and hardly worth risking going to jail. They would have been better off getting an honest job.
     Crime is a mug's game: a high risk, low yield enterprise. If you decide on a life of crime, you are declaring war on society, which means you will be outnumbered and outgunned. No matter how clever or lucky you are, in the end you'll get caught. And apart from the sheer inconvenience of going to jail, once you get out, you can't logically go back to crime, because the police know your name, your fingerprints, your DNA, and your methods. At the same time, anything you steal will have to be "fenced" at a fraction of its nominal value. Even the few who do make it pay - the drug lords, the Mr. Bigs, the godfathers - probably have the enterprising skill to make the same amount of money in business without having to watch over one shoulder for the law, and over the other for their fellow crims.
      A few years ago I wrote an essay about how murder is a lot harder than the books and movies make out. So now I shall explain what needs to be done if you want to steal something and keep out of jail. You shouldn't do it, because (a) it's a bad thing to do, and (b) the danger is still very high. Nevertheless, these are the steps you need to take if you want to have at least some chance of getting away with it.

     (1) Do it once. I know this will go against the grain. Once you pull off a big heist and (apparently) get away with it, the temptation will be strong to try again. Resist it! The police will be on the watch for similar crimes, looking for a pattern. The more often you do it, the more likely you will make a slip-up. Remember the proverbs: the pitcher is taken once too often to the well, and is broken, and those who play with fire always get burnt in the end.
    (2) Do it big. That's why I suggested a million dollars. It is an obvious corollary of the first point. If you're only going to do it once, you should do it properly. In this regard, cash is more valuable than (say) jewels, because the latter have to be "fenced" at a fraction of their value, and they bring into play an extra person, the buyer, who may well be the weak link in the chain.
    (3) Do it alone, or with one or two trusted confederates at the most. The more people involved in the heist, the more chances there are that something will go wrong. Many a gang has come a cropper because, sometime after the event, one member let something slip, or did something stupid. This is also a reason for stealing cash. Anything else must be "fenced", which brings an extra person into play - someone who may be known to police, especially since he probably deals with lots of criminals. It is also important that you and your confederates, if any, are "clean" ie you have no criminal record, or are even under suspicion for anything. You must also stay clean. The last thing you want is to be picked up in a routine investigation for something minor, and your fingerprints found to match one carelessly left at the site of a big robbery years before.
     (4) Plan it thoroughly. Leave nothing to chance. One gang performed an absolutely fantastic heist in France, stealing huge amounts of valuable jewels from a bank vault, carefully planning how to get around every single camera and sensors. But they hadn't considered how to get rid of some of the rubbish used in the heist. They threw it out by the side of the road, assuming it could never be linked to them. The rubbish was found, and a tag on one item lead to their hotel. They went to jail.
     (5) But keep it simple. If this sounds like a contradiction to rule (4), you are right. That is one of the conundrums of crime. The more detailed is the plan, the more things can go wrong. If you require a very detailed plan, then the heist is probably too dangerous to attempt.
     (6) If anything fails to go according to plan - anything - pull out! I know the temptation will be great if the loot appears to be just within reach, but you are supposed to be leaving nothing to chance. Once you are forced to improvise, you lose control of the situation. Many a brilliant plan led straight to prison because a casual stranger passed by at the wrong moment, or because an unexpected delay occurred. You must be rigorous; get out!
      (7)  Finally, when everything is over, lie low. The police will be watching for unexpected purchases and other signs of sudden wealth. For the immediate future, you must act as if nothing has happened, and not draw attention to yourself. Go on a cruise. Hide the money in a safe place (where?), return to it regularly but surreptitiously (how?), and spend it on small items, perhaps allowing your regular income to accumulate in the bank. Pay off your house in larger increments, but not all at once. Keep your day job for the time being. Wait at least a year before you make any significant changes to your life.
      Which brings us to the obvious question: what are you going to do with the loot? A million dollars is not a lot of money. No, it isn't. Especially not if you have to divide it with confederates. But even assuming you have it all to yourself, what are you going to do with it?
  • Live the high life? You'll draw attention to yourself. And the money will soon be used up, so you'll have to plan another heist, violating rule (1). You'll go to jail.
  • Live a life of ease? Take it easy, drawing on your stash of loot to pay for both necessities and luxuries without the need to work. It sounds good, but on a standard of living equivalent to the average wage, paying no tax, but adjusting for inflation, a million dollars might last you 15 years. Then what will you do? Get a job? How will you explain the gap of 15 years? Unless the robbery sets you up for life, it's not worth it.
  • Buy something big? Owning your own home outright is always a good investment. So is a superannuation scheme. The trouble is, large sums these days are paid with cheques or money transfers, not cash. You can't just put down several hundred thousand dollars in banknotes in front of a real estate agent (for example) without questions being asked. Least of all can you put it in a bank. The law requires the reporting of large sum deposits for the very purpose of countering money laundering.
     Or you might seriously reconsider the value of a major robbery vis-à-vis the risks involved.
     In 1963 a gang of 17 British crims staged the Great Train Robbery, netting the equivalent of £52 million in today's money - not a bad haul, even when divided 17 times! They all went to jail. However, one of them, Ronald Biggs escaped after less than two years, and by devious means ended up in Brazil, from which he could not be extradited. But I can never forget an interview he later gave to a British journalist.
      Interviewer: Have you any message to give to the people at home?
      Biggs: Tell them crime doesn't pay. Crime never pays.
      Interviewer: But you seem to have made it pay?
      Biggs: Yes, but you don't know how much my poor heart has suffered.