Workplace wonderings : Stop giving them ideas


I have a long history of randomly musing out loud about things that are … illegal and or immoral, and other people overhearing and going, hey, THAT’S an idea! As I’ve explained often before, I could be a criminal mastermind.  If it weren’t for executive dysfunction and a healthy fear of prison.

Sometimes this is useful.  When working at Chase, I commented on an idea about how to steal credit card numbers from our computer system and not get caught while chatting with the trainer. I laughed and said, of course, “we’ve just started learning the system”(I was two weeks into training) “I’m sure there’s something we just haven’t been shown yet to prevent that.”

Trainer starts to sweat. “Yeah… sure…. Uh… I’ll be right back.”

He passed it on to Fraud and Security. Who panicked, looked at the system, and from what I later heard, found out someone was doing exactly that, and patched it. (Never caught the person though.)

This story though… I worked for a couple years for a company that had a contract to do tech support for Logitech.  We did audio, video, and gaming. So, speakers, headsets, webcams, and everything gaming. 

A couple years in, our company lost the contract and began a 6 month period of rolling over. We were ALL going to lose our jobs eventually, it was going to happen in waves.

Backing up a bit to some of our processes.  If someone calls with a failure of a product that appears to be under warranty, there’s a few things we can do.  If it was less than 20 bucks and we didn’t have record of this person doing it before, we got their address and shipped them a replacement. Throw away the old one. More than 20, they had to mail it back to us first, and we would mail them a replacement. This was called an RMA, Return Merchandise Authorization. We gave them an address and number to put in the package.

The exception?  Electrical shock or fire. If someone was hurt, or potentially hurt, we send a replacement next day mail, and then set up to have a courier show up the day AFTER they get the replacement, with a box for the malfunctioning unit.  And those went straight to corporate to look at and see what happened.  All very quick and clean, in large part because Logitech didn’t want people to sue them. We called them Emergency RMAs.

Now, there was a particular speaker set that caused us trouble. Z-5300’s.   Surround sound with subwoofer.  400 dollar speaker set, back in the early 2000s. It had a POWERFUL subwoofer.  “I blew out the windows of my apartment” powerful. The subwoofer had a heatsink inside of it that was open air and part of the air flow caused by the sound it put out.  The heatsink was a bunch of wide ribbons of metal, and… it tended to get static build up. Which means, it tended to attract DUST.

We would get this call daily.  Especially during vacation season, as a lot of richer people had one at their summer / winter homes, where the speaker had sat, with static, for a few months without being used.

Guess what happens when a bunch of dust gets heated up a bit?   Think of that smell the first time you turn on your heat in the winter.  Yeah.   Plus, since it was right there, not only was there that hot metal smell, but there would sometimes be a touch of smoke coming out the hole.

It wasn’t a fire. It was never ON fire, not once. Just a puff of smoke and a smell, and then its fine. But…  it qualified.  We ship them a new 400 dollar speaker system overnight, no more questions asked.

So… I’m in the breakroom.  The first wave has been announced, people that have 30 days till laid off. Lots of grumbling.  I mention, jokingly, something that had been in my brain for a year.  “Man, someone should clean house.” 
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, like, we know the way things work.  Make fake email addresses, call in, report broken headsets and microphones for free ones. “  (We did support for the Rockband Microphone. It was a free , no mailing the broken one in, replacement with a non branded version that was actually a better mic.)

One person at the table with me laughed. “Yeah, that would show them. Pfft.”
I waggled my eyebrows.  “Not big enough? Man, if I wasn’t such an honest person… you know what I would do?”

Ears perked, eyes looked, heads swiveled. I had an audience. “Tell us Alex… what would you do?”

“I’d have friends call in, sometimes while I’m on shift, sometimes while I’m not, so that I have an alibi but also not an OBVIOUS ONE, you know?”   A couple people are nodding.

“And I’d have them all say their Z-5300s were puffing out smoke. Emergency RMA and boom, next day, four hundred dollar speakers.”

One of the reps gives me the look, like I’ve said something amazingly stupid. “Yeah, and next day knock knock on your door, pickup courier reporting that they don’t have a broken one to send back.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen for sale signs on empty houses all over the place.”  (I should note, this was during the big housing bubble pop a decade or so ago, when there were LOTS of foreclosures)

“Use those addresses, go snag the box in the middle of the night from the front door, and when the courier shows up the next day… welp, nothing they can do, right?”

More laughing, a couple odd looks. “Naw but seriously, I’m kidding. They’re being cool with us and giving us time to find new jobs. No need to screw them over. Nobody do that.”  I got up to go back to my desk, turned around. “But if any of you do… I want a set. K?”  More laughing.

Three weeks later, the floor is shut down suddenly, everyone off the phones.  We have a quick meeting and are told that ALL Emergency RMAs were now going to an on call supervisor to process if we had one. We were informed that over a dozen z-5300’s had been delivered to random addresses around Phoenix the last few days, and that when they realized what was going on, they stopped another 20 that were about to go out, because the couriers went to all the address and found foreclosed homes with no one there.

Several people looked at me, then looked away.  My own supervisor talked to me later, “Alex, I KNOW you are not stupid enough to actually do the thing you joked about. You’re fine.” Phew.

But whoever the fuck it was…  I never got my set… 

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