Service of Genius II

May 19th, 2011

Categories: Cheating, Genius, Manufacturing, Technology


I am fascinated by brilliant, entrepreneurial people. I first wrote about geniuses from a different point of view in November 2010. I heard about Ayay Bdier, founder of littleBits, in “Meet the Makers” by Anand Giridharadas in The New York Times Magazine. [Online the story was called “The Kitchen Table Industrialists.”] Bdier sells $99 kits of electronics components that even the “technically ungifted” can make into things.

And then there are the techies who silently infiltrated Michaels’ stores so as to be able to suck money out of the craft emporium customer’s debit cards. The scheme was first noticed in Illinois and traced to an additional 19 other states. According to Gregory Karp in The Chicago Tribune, “The scope of the crime has surprised security experts and exposed the vulnerabilities of debit cards, a method of payment that many shoppers have come to rely on for everyday purchases.

fraud“Debit card fraud is worse for consumers than fraud involving credit cards because little stands between thieves and the money in bank accounts. In the case of Michaels’ stores, many customers had money stolen directly from their accounts via ATM withdrawals.”

The culprits altered 90 keypads in 80 stores, according to Karp. On Saturday, I bought a few things at the Poughkeepsie, NY branch and paid cash. We asked the cashier what the latest was and she said “I can’t speak about it.”

Wall Street Journal coverage detailed that “The thefts apparently involved the use of electronic devices called skimmers that allowed the crooks to record information from shoppers’ debit cards and steal their personal identification numbers (PINs).” The Journal noted that most of the money was taken from ATMs in California.

creditcardtheftThese techie thieves will eventually be caught and punished. Meanwhile, they might have started a business as the 28 year old Bdeir did, or directed their minds to invent the next competitor to Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter or any number of services or products that would have led them to pots of gold. Think of the potential results if they would collaborate with clinicians and physicians to discover how to delay the affects of Alzheimer’s or apply their technical genius to helping children with learning disabilities.

Why do brilliant people use their smarts to steal when they would make so much more money–often lifelong income–along with admiration and adulation by directing their brains to productive use? Is it the thrill? Lack of direction or of models? Frustration with what they see as a trying system to do things legitimately? How do you stop or redirect them: Through education or punishment?


8 Responses to “Service of Genius II”

  1. Dorothy J. Ehmsen Said:

    On Facebook, Dorothy wrote:

    “Excellent food for thought but you can address this same case across so many areas in business, politics, religion, etc”

  2. Lucrezia Said:

    The Michaels thieves are not necessarily geniuses – merely savvy thieves who know their way around cyberspace. Applying the term “genius” or “brilliant” to these people, without knowing them, is undoubtedly a stretch.

    Genius or no, there are those, who despite an ability to do otherwise, elect a life of crime because of the challenge involved, or perhaps that’s just the way they are. Because of that, it’s difficult to feel animosity towards them. However, since they are involved in ugly business, one should applaud those who catch them and delegate fines large enough to discourage further activity. Unfortunately, justice notwithstanding, they will return to society seeking sheep for future fleecing.

    There is no valid explanation. Some people are just like that, and will continue along that route until no one falls for their schemes. That won’t happen.

  3. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I think that they are suffering from immature, faulty thinking–they can’t think past the next scam and see that they will get caught and that their lives will be ruined.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    One of the victims of the debit card lost over $1,000 and would feel animosity not only for the loss but for the time she’d have to spend changing her account info. I heard from Michaels when the company didn’t know whether credit cards were also involved and I took steps to see if I’d been affected–not to speak of the uncomfortable feeling that I might be robbed in future. So I lost time. Multiply that by thousands if not millions of people who similarly aren’t charmed by the caper and lots of us would like these people caught and forced to return the stolen money [nothing can be done about the time] by working off the debt. Michaels had to spend a ton of money to retrofit the credit/debit card scanners so the theives will be working for quite a while [though who knows who will hire them]. I hope that this, rather than incarceration, will be their punishment.

    I can’t help but think that with direction, these people might adjust their talents to positive purpose.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’d add that maybe they are not sufficiently challenged in school or in their work lives or that they are overindulged and are bored. When they are caught, we’ll know more.

  6. Nancy Farrell Said:

    My mother never has any patience for those who used boredom as an excuse for bad behavior—especially since the bad behavior was usually cheating and/or lying.

    She couldn’t understand why a person would cheat on their spouse because they were bored when all that was required was for the couple to go out to a nice restaurant together. Simple as that. You’re bored? It’s up to you and no one else to fix your own psyche.

    She also had very creative ideas for her children when they said they were bored. She once used chalk to draw circles on our new wall-to-wall living room rug so that we could play marbles. Our one-car garage was also the go-to place on rainy summer days, as she allowed us to draw a hopscotch board on the floor. All the while our only car–a Ford Maverick–sat in the driveway in the rain. She knew what was important and what wasn’t.

    Thanks for the memories—maybe I can use some of this while I toast my mom and dad on their upcoming 60th anniversary!

  7. Hester Craddock Said:

    I’m not sure the issue is that some geniuses ran amock, and what should we do about them.

    It doesn’t take brains to know the difference beween right and wrong. My cat is bright as cats go, but she is no computer geek. If she gets caught in the wrong room, she knows it and gets the hell out as soon as the door opens.

    I think the problem is that, in the name of tolerance, we operate society on the basis that “anything goes,” and that everybody gets a prize, whether they earned it or not.

    We need far more limits on all aspects of our lives.

    Last fall, I saw a film called, “Social Network.” It was a great success, but I didn’t like it because it glorified self-centered people who made a lot of money, lived like animals, and didn’t care who they stole from. I suspect the Michael’s thieves would have enjoyed the picture and admired the “geniuses” in it.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My cat IS a genius! But that’s a comment for another post.

    I believe you are right about limits. It’s a shame that we can’t set them for ourselves. Isn’t that what a grownup is supposed to do and teach the youngsters?

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