Crime might pay, but only in volume

Employees-turned-thieves take advantage of an IT director's apathy and hapless office culture

Wall Street isn't the only place where nefarious losses occur. Internal theft of software or even hardware is not all that rare in IT circles -- which is nothing to celebrate -- but I have to stand in awe at the apathy of an IT guy and the hapless office culture at a previous job site.

I once worked at a big cable company, and even in the swanky corporate office there were crooks aplenty. I was there as a contractor and had no authority over anyone, but had full access and a working set of eyes. The cable company was merging with another big company, and from discussions I had with employees discovered that thefts had been a longstanding problem, made worse by the chaos of the merger.

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This place had 24/7 security staff and cameras around, but I soon figured out that they were there mainly for show and didn't really do anything. I saw a surprising amount of hardware and other items mysteriously go missing and never any follow-up to find the items or to punish offenders. For instance, laptops would routinely disappear, particularly under the auspices of "sending them off for service." There was a quirk with the most common laptop the company bought, where it didn't take too much jostling around to inspire the memory to come loose, and when that happened some enterprising thief would "send it off for service" and presumably reseat the memory and keep the laptop, claiming it had been lost in "transit."

The most blatant example occurred during a time when people were being moved into the fancy building where I worked. One fellow who already worked in the building stole his computer, monitor, printer, desk, and chair. He'd emptied his entire workspace except the phone -- even the desk bits that were part of a modular system that needed to be attached to the cubicle walls in order to be useful. I came in one morning and was surprised to find a huge empty space with only a desk phone on the floor, and the cubicle's occupant standing there covering his crime with only a vacant expression on his face. And true to form, this guy was given a new desk, computer, and equipment and went on working as if nothing had happened.

I went to the head of IT (who was surely the inspiration for "Lumbergh" in Office Space) and suggested that he do a hardware or asset audit, since all assets were tagged upon arrival. I was shocked by his reply: "There is no way in hell we're doing an asset audit!" I asked why not and he said, "Because I don't want it known that we only have 20 percent of the hardware we own."

How do you respond to that? I went back to my desk and was pleased to find it still there.

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