Busted!!!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Todd gets ripped off....twice!
Sometime last fall Todd "the Vinyl Junkie" Green got a phone call from a customer interested in his Pinnacle headphone amp, a $10,000, top-of-the-line piece of gear. The customer seemed well versed in the world of high-end headphone listening, and nothing in particular seemed amiss. The amp wasn't in stock, so Todd did a little sleuthing in the mean time to ensure that all the addresses and security codes matched. All seemed good, so the card was charged without trouble and the box was put into the hands of UPS to be shipped to the address associated with the credit card.

Todd happily went on with life as a high-end vendor thinking he had another satisfied customer until a short time later when he discovered the credit card company reversed the charge and he found himself with a $10,000 hole in his bank account.

That's a whole lot of money for a small business to lose. Todd was shocked...and angry. Evidently the perpetrator had contacted UPS to have the shipment diverted from the credit card address to be held for pick-up at a UPS office. Then, using a fake ID that matched all the purchasing information, the perpetrator picked up the Pinnacle and walked out the door with a free amplifier. Todd made inquiries of UPS and the credit card company, but found no remedies. He considered pursuing recovery using a private detective, but that just began to look like throwing good money after bad. He decided to simply round up all the evidence he could and file a report with the police in Orange County where the crime had been committed...and then just carry on as best he could.

I've known Todd for more than 30 years (we worked together before I started HeadRoom), he's a stand-up guy. He rolls with the punches life doles out, and just keeps working it as best he can. In this case, to cover his losses, he dug into his stash of fabulous mint vinyl and offered it for sale at bargain prices. He survived...even thrived, by knuckling down, working hard, and making good deals for customers.

Then, just a few months later, it happened all over again, this time with a pair of E.A.R. 509 mono-block power amplifiers valued at $14,700. Different names and addresses, but the scam went about the same. This time, however, there was a security camera picture of the perpetrator picking up the boxes. Todd decided to tell the story on Head-Fi with the pix and asked for the community's help in solving the crime. A desperate measure, but one that eventually paid off.

Enter HeadAmp's Justin Wilson
About a few weeks ago, Justin got a call from a customer interested in a pair of $5000 Stax SR-009 headphones. Again, the customer seemed legit and well versed in the world of headphones. Oddly however, he claimed to be unaware of Head-Fi.org. This got Justin's spidey-senses tingling as it would be rare that someone interested in a $5000 headphone would be unaware of Head-Fi. Even though it was looking very legitimate, the buyer was in southern California, and Justin being well aware of Todd's troubles from the Head-Fi post started digging.

He called the customer and asked for a photo copy of his ID and credit card. The customer refused to send an image of the credit card, but did agree to send a copy of his billing statement. While waiting for the proof, Justin Googled the shipping address and found it to be a business. He began calling the business, but the phone went unanswered. Eventually (and I may be getting the series of events a bit jumbled here), Justin did contact the business owner(who had been in Europe), and who was correctly identified on the card but had not made the purchase. By the time he received the customer's photocopy of the ID and billing statement he knew he had a scammer on his hands, and careful observation of the documents sent showed a number of errors.

Justin contacted the Torrance police department and provided all the info needed to get them to move into action. A box of appropriate size for a Stax SR-009 was loaded up with two aluminum bars Justin had lying about to give it the right heft. The shipment was made to the credit card address, and the customer was emailed the tracking number. All that was left to do was for the Torrance PD to keep hitting the refresh button on the Fed-Ex tracking page to see when the perpetrator changed the shipping from the credit card address to hold for pick-up, and to find out which Fed-Ex office was chosen as the shipment hold location.

...tick...tock...tick...tock...

Many refreshes later...Bingo! The Fed-Ex tracking showed the customer had elected to change the shipping to hold for pick-up and revealed the chosen location. On delivery day---April 1st, how appropriate---the Torrance police, to their great credit, positioned an officer behind the counter at the Fed-Ex location, and had an unmarked vehicle outside the office.

...tick...tock...tick...tock...

And then it happened, at about 3:49 PM, the perp came in with proper (fake) ID and picked up the box. He walked out of the Fed-Ex office and got into a car with another person in it. With the undercover Torrance police following, the perp and accomplice eventually found their way to an apartment building. The perp got out of the car and went inside with the box. Then came back out, at which point the police evidently confronted the thieves. A foot chase ensued. Eventually, the perp was caught and brought into the police station for questioning. At this point the police had to find out which apartment the box had been delivered to and had to get warrants to search the apartment.

Now, here's the weirdest part of the story. At 7:20PM Justin received an email from the customer: "I've just filed an IC3 complaint. Returning your "product" for a full refund today." Evidently, the real (fake) customer was in the apartment. The guys who picked up the box were simply 'mules' making the pick-up and delivery. It was later found they got paid $100 for the task. So picture this, a thief who went to great extents to scam Justin out of gear, receives his Stax SR-009 delivery and opens the box only to find two aluminum bars. And then has the gaul to email Justin threatening an IC3 complaint.

The IC3 is the Internet Crime Complaint Center---a joint venture between the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center. I was unaware of this office. Are you aware of this office? Probably not. But for damn sure this internet criminal ripping off high-end audio gear was aware of the IC3, and he was now threatening Justin with actions through them.

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha! Little did he know what the evening had in store for him.

As soon as Justin received the email, he called the cops to let them know. Now it was obvious to all that a third party was involved---the real criminal---who remained at the apartment building. Evidently the police got enough info from the mules to figure out which apartment the main perpetrator was in, and they got the warrants they needed.

At about 10PM, they bust into the apartment. The perp is in bed. The apartment is loaded with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of various and sundry stolen audio and high-tech gear...including Todd's E.A.R. 503 mono-blocks and the Pinnacle amplifier...and, of course, two aluminum blanks. :)

A Happy Ending
Now, because Justin and Todd had been so thorough with the record keeping and communications, the police have all the evidence they need to prosecute the criminals, and they have no need to hang on to Todd's gear as evidence. Todd drove to California last week and received his stolen gear---fortunately still in very good condition.

Justin from HeadAmp may never get his two aluminum blanks back, but I'm sure he doesn't care. His help bringing these criminals to justice, people that hurt Todd, is by far his greatest reward. Great job, mate!

130403_Blog_Busted_Applause

Also a huge shout-out to the Torrance PD! In these times of ever shrinking budgets these guys seemed to have pulled out all the stops to be extraordinarily responsive and effective. The headphone community thanks you!

The Moral of the Story
The moral of this story, if there is one, is this: It is WAY harder being a small specialty company in high-end audio than you might think. When I worked at HeadRoom we had about one case of being ripped-off per month. This, among many other things, is a hidden cost that very few enthusiasts think about when buying from these companies. It really sticks in my craw when people look at the parts cost inside an electronic product and complain, "Why does the gear cost ten times as much as the parts in it?" Well, advertising, employee health care, R&D, and myriad other expenses occur in the normal course of business. And on top of that, small, on-line business firms have to deal with all sorts of caustic problems like credit card fraud and cyber attacks.

My hope, dear reader, is that you'll be just a little more understanding of the enormous effort it takes to to bring specialty products to your doorstep. Paying a fair price for product received is a bit easier when you realize the price these vendors/makers pay to bring product to this market is often far from fair. And if you get asked to present a lot of verifications or maybe have to follow strict shipping policies, it's because these guys have to be very careful.

Oh, and if you've got a yen for a Pinnacle headphone amp or a pair of E.A.R. 503 mono-blocks, I hear Todd at TTVJAudio.com has some that come with one hell of a story.

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Comments
n_maher's picture
Awesome

I love this story.

spritzer's picture
This is just pure win. 

This is just pure win.

MexicanDragon's picture
Team HeadAmp

I'm on it! Great job Justin and the Torrance PD, and a hearty Congrat to Todd!

donunus's picture
Awesome! Torture the perp

Awesome! Torture the perp hahahaha

Torpedo's picture
It feels great when the good

It feels great when the good guys win. I'm glad for Todd recovering his expensive goods, and proud of Justin going beyond his own benefit giving all the information and help to the police. Great team work!

Seth195208's picture
Give those officer's a donut!

Usually, things don't work out so well. Man,this story bumps my goose!

ysyung's picture
Awesome!

Glad to hear that Todd recovering! Justin, well done!

MacedonianHero's picture
Awesome story! Both Todd and

Awesome story! Both Todd and Justin are real assets to our hobby and glad to see the criminals get nabbed too!

 

Great work Justin!

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture
How the World Works

You have the Good Guys and you have the Bad Guys.  Sometimes the Good Guys win.  This is such a time.

Jazz Casual's picture
All too rarely unfortunately.

All too rarely unfortunately. This positive outcome is almost heart warming.  

xzobinx's picture
perfect ending

Justin is batman of headphone community. 

btw Tyll, I think you should consider writing some detective book. It will be a big hit for sure. 

ultrabike's picture
Great!

It's really great to hear that Todd got his equipment back. Also, very quick and effective thinking by Justin yes.

Impulse's picture
Wow nice, never thought he'd get that gear back

Kudos to Justin and the Torrence PD! Great story, when they posted the heads up with the pictures at Head Fi a while ago I thought TTVJ was screwed for sure, glad to know it worked out.

Can't believe the audacity of some people, dude had been paying two other lackeys to rip businesses off for who knows how long, and he's so sure he's getting away with it he even threatens Justin after getting a bogus package, seriously?

I hope the police put the fear of God in him when they busted down his door! Hopefully he gets an appropriate sentence.

ALSO's picture
How it's supposed to work--

Great narrative, and to several truly good guys.

ednaz's picture
FANTASTIC story

A story like this every once in awhile does the heart good, and shows that the system CAN work. I've had my credit card skimmed and then watched the bank and the police just write it off even though I was able to tell them which restaurant it was and sent them a photo of the device used and a video of the waiter doing the second swipe with other cards (went back for dinner again once I'd traced it and photographed).  The fact that the big card companies don't pursue the problem is what keeps the lowlifes in business.

Bravo to Torrance PD for not shrugging it off.

Beagle's picture
Wonderful story with a happy ending..

I am so happy for Todd.

Not_A_Fool's picture
Well I have to say it,

Well I have to say it, audiophile products are so incredibly overpriced that complaining that people sometimes realize how overpriced they are is hilarious. A lot of people are being ripped off with those "fair" prices and that money could have gone in to any number of important things instead. Stealing from rip off artists isn't such a terrible thing in my view. No good guys here.

 

Hifihedgehog's picture
Endorsing crime.

Endorsing crime. Nice.

Not.

This guy just does not get it. If you cannot afford handcrafted audiophile equipment from skilled craftsman who solely do this to make their living, then buy lower priced, mass produced alternatives like Fiio brand products but do not resort to crime and make the rest of us suffer. This is totally the wrong mindset. It will lead to a sad life of lazyness and lost opportunities. You will just learn to become a good leach to society and a bad contributer to it. You will have to always hide within a shell of secrecy and cut your true self off from the world as you know it. No pride or joy ever amounts from this lifestyle.

Justin@HeadAmp's picture
i would have been in the hole

i would have been in the hole for 85% of the retail price of the Stax SR-009 had i actually shipped the item.  yes, HUGE margins here.  barely even worth it with the risk of fraud.

donunus's picture
If you think its a rip off

If you think its a rip off then don't buy it. Stealing it is just proof that you want it because it is good. You should be questioned in relation to this crime for saying that LOL

Impulse's picture
Trolling is bad, larceny is worse, 'kay?

This hobby is 100% luxury, if your money is better spent on more important things then by all means... No one needs nor are they forced to buy high dollar audiophile equipment. By that logic then any luxury item is a rip off, a Lambo doesn't cost half a mil to assemble and a Pagani surely doesn't cost a million bucks, doesn't give you the right to commit grand theft auto... Hell, a MBP doesn't cost even a fraction of the three grand Apple may charge you for it and there's a lot more people buying those. Tongue (and laptops are actually something many need in this day and age)

Voltron's picture
Not_A_Fool?

Is_A_Douche.

Hifihedgehog's picture
Heartwarming closure...

I do not participate actively on Head-Fi anymore but the TTVJ entry caught my eye a while ago. Needless to say, I thought that the dirty dealers behind this caper really needed to be busted but I hardly expected a victorious and heartwarming conclusion in which they would actually get hauled to the slammer! Props and kudos to you, Tyll, for an excellent share and in it giving us a special viewpoint of how this all fits into the often overlooked economy for the little talented guys in audiophilia who make the hobby possible for us and yet have to suffer this abuse on an ongoing basis. Props and kudos to Todd and Justin for each making ends meet during those monetary doldrums and then using their heads to get this turned around! Props and kudos to Torrance PD for tracking down and nabbing the baddies for good!

eggil's picture
real audio heroes!

Congratulations to Justin.  Go team Headamp!

And very happy for Todd also.

This story made my day. Thanks Tyll for sharing it.

BTW I think is Torrance PD, not Torrence.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Woops!

Fxt.  Thanks.

neo's picture
Instant Karma!

Todd is very lucky to get back his goods.Very...

I do not know how someone can enjoy music out of a stolen product..My conscience would never allow me too

FHC's picture
Congratulations

Way to work together.

Todd, so glad you recouped your EAR's, but sorry you had to sell off even one record.  ( When Tyll visited you to look at some gear, I couldn't get my eyes off of all that vinyl.)  Still, a very happy ending.  Justin, nice heads up play.  I had similar guys try to place an order from me, (was burned on a Fostex TH-900 order my first month in business), but now, if it doesn't seem perfectly clear, I hunt down the credit card owner to be certain they exist, and if so, that they actually ordered something. 

Tyll, way to go to bat for your friend.  Cudos.

Fred

Justin@HeadAmp's picture
if that TH-900 was sent to

if that TH-900 was sent to the LA area you probably know where to find it

Tuco1965's picture
Great ending

What a great ending to this.  Gear recovered and culprits caught!

MorbidToaster's picture
Pinnacle

The craziest part of this whole story to me (other than Justin being a badass) is that this same guy also had the Pinnacle which was news LONG ago. It's pretty crazy to realize that this person has been preying on a pretty small community like this.