Archive for the 'crime' Category


Paris day 2: watch the gang of thieves in action

I may just be one of tens of millions of tourists who’ll visit Paris this year, but maybe if enough of them complain about the gangs of thieves roving the popular spots of this great city, something will finally get done.

Day 2.

I went back to Montmartre by myself the morning of my second day to catch the views now that the sky had cleared to an impossible blue.  I also went there to try to film the gang of thieves that had harassed us the day before.  My camera doesn’t take the greatest video, but the clip below will give you a good impression about what tourists have to deal with here.  Not just at Montmartre, but in front of Notre Dame cathedral and the Tuileries gardens to name just two places my friend has been forced to yell at them this trip just to keep the herd at bay.

Watch how they swarm around these Asian tourists, who are forced to flee in fear:

They carry these clipboards they thrust under your nose to distract you while the rest of them – having failed the courses in the finer arts of pick-pocketing – start patting you down like some TSA officer on too much coffee.

I hung around a bit hoping to get a closer shot of them, but by that time three of Paris’ finest flics ambled past and the gang had disappeared.

As the police trio strolled toward the grand staircase leading up to Sacré-Coeur, I approached one of them and said, “Bonjour Messieurs, I’m sure you’re aware of that gang of young women accosting tourists up here.”

Ah, oui,” said the tallest one.  “You mean the Romanians.”

“Yeah, the Romanians,” I said.  “They are SO AGGRESSIVE!  Yesterday I had to yell at them in English to get their paws off me.”

“That’s what you have to do,” he replied.  “You have to get rid of them.”

“That’s what you have to do on the street,” I said, “but don’t you think that’s trying to take care of the problem at the wrong end?  It’s like drug trafficking.  Can’t something be done to stop them before they even get out here?”

He gave me a Gallic shrug, sighed, turned toward the stairs and said, “Yeah, well, you know….”


A week in Paris: Day 1

I may be pining for the canals of Holland and hoping they freeze over again, but for now, a trip that’s been in the planning for quite a while before Europe turned hard and frosty is finally under way.

It’s great to be back in France.

Things have changed a lot since I was this blond kid of 22, faking a photo in front of a wall plastered with pissing forbidden.

I’ve come to Paris to meet up with an old, old friend, who’s so old he’s here because he just retired from 25 years of teaching and is on a celebratory tour of France and Morocco.

By the end of this week, we won’t have spent this much time together since we tramped through forests and across beaches far beyond the last reaches of Tofino, BC more than 10 years ago.

We met 26 years ago at university in a programme of professional teacher training.  My friend went on to have a fine, rewarding career in teaching for which over the years he won the respect of countless students and colleagues.  I found I hated teaching and failed the course miserably, starting what turned out to be a four-year downward spiral of failed attempts to get going in another direction that only really stopped when I left Vancouver for good.

We’ve remained good friends all this time, but don’t see each other that often.  In the last 10 years  I’d say we’ve hung out fewer than a half-dozen times.

But meeting him today at his short-term apartment in the 20th Arrondissement, it was like he – and the way we’ve always been hanging out together – had never changed.  We had breakfast together jabbering for what seemed like ages about our lives, wives, plans, and such before heading out in the cold.

Day 1.

We walked for miles through the streets of Paris, my friend as my guide.  We saw a few old men along the way, and I remarked that you don’t see many of them of that age in Germany.

We ended up inside Sacré Coeur at the summit of Montmontre after running the gauntlet of an extremely aggressive gang of Eastern European street thieves.  A tight pack of 20 or so girls between I’d say 16 and 22, they swarmed around us like hornets, thrusting petitions in front of our faces to get us to sign – and hopefully distract our attention – while accomplices threw their hands all over our clothes in a brazen attempt to figure out where our wallets were hidden.  Turning around and hissing DON’T TOUCH ME, GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME was the only thing I could do to get them to back off, but they only paused for a second or two before attacking a passing Japanese tourist with the same tactics.  As the poor woman tried to flee down the steps of Montmartre, we yelled at them to leave her alone or we’d call the police.

My friend said they’ve actually been hauled to Paris and are held in a type of slavery, forced to steal upward of €300 a day and if they fail to do so, they get the shit kicked out of them by their captors that evening.  Forget having police patrol the area so the tourists don’t get hassled, what about throwing in jail the mafia that organise it all?

With that happy thought in mind, we went down the hill to buy cinema tickets for a showing at 3pm.  It turned out to be one of the most horribly depressing movies I’ve seen in ages, highly inadvisable if you’re suicidal or have loose razor blades lying around.  It’s called Louise Wimmer and tells the story of a fiftyish woman who’s left her husband and is waiting endlessly for a place in social housing, sleeping in her car, working as a chambermaid and pawning off her few possessions in a slow, desperate attempt to stay afloat before she finally goes under.   I suppose if you’re in France anyway and haven’t had your daily dose of Albert Camus (everything is meaningless, the best thing you can say about any day is that you haven’t decided to kill yourself –  hah-hah, Gosh, don’t you just love the French…) Well, just go see this film.

After the film we parted.  He went home to bed, I went over to the Théâtre Antoine near to where I’m staying where I bought us two tickets to go see a play for tomorrow evening: Inconnu à cette Adresse.  (Address Unknown)

This time the choice was mine.  It’s a two-man play based on the book by Kressmann Taylor and tells the story of the relationship between a Jewish American and his German business partner during the early 30s as the Nazis were gaining power.  I’m sure it will be equally as uplifting.


Hamburg car burnings hit close to home

A wave of car torchings that started in Berlin a couple of years ago and spilled over to Hamburg hit close to home over the weekend.  This burned out lump of charred Mercedes was sitting just around the corner from our place when I came across it this past Sunday afternoon.

There have been well over 300 car burnings in Hamburg so far this year.  It’s even worse in Berlin, where more than 500 have gone up in flames.  Police are powerless to do anything about it because it’s completely random who’s doing it and for what reason.  Putting an extra 200 Hamburg police on night patrols didn’t work out, so now they’ve scaled them back to 20, with just as much effect. 

Some say there’s a political motivation behind the attacks, that it’s the marginalised of society roving around getting their kicks watching fat-cat Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches reduced to scrap.   But there’s no pattern to the burnings or their timing, and there are never any notes left behind.  A couple of yahoos here and there have been charged and thrown in jail, but it just keeps on happening.  

We always thought we were living a decent life in a safe and modern country.   But having once again been the victims of theft and adding up everything that’s going wrong right in our midst, sometimes we get the feeling we’re living in some besieged Middle Ages village, its citizens left to fend for themselves and wondering when the next attack will hit.


Remember the bike we made look too crappy to steal? It got stolen.

Careful readers of this humble blog will recall a post almost exactly three years ago – the last time the little red-haird girl’s bike was stolen – telling how we slapped some rust-stain stickers on her new bike to make it look too crappy to steal.  I’d ordered them from an artist in England who produces them.  And it really did look beat up once we’d put them on, at least at first glance.

And they worked – for three years and 10 days.  Saturday morning, sometime between 9am and noon, a wave of bike thefts hit our building.  Her bike, complete with all the stickers and scrapes and scratches it had picked up along the way – was ripped off.  A downstairs neighbour had it worse: his family had two bikes stolen.




Not only because at the same time we’d bought her new bike, I’d spent hundreds of euros and countless hours setting up a safe, secure place in our cellar area – behind three locked doors – to store them in.

I’d picked up a special concrete drill bit to install three wall anchors to lock all our bikes to, and we somehow got used to laboriously carrying them down the stairs to the basement every night.

We thought at the time that with all the work and cost involved, maybe we were over-reacting a little, but we saw no other way to store them overnight.

I’d also always thought that locking them up inside overnight was the reason the bike hadn’t been stolen.  Not, of course, because of some stickers.

But now it looks as if they’ll get stolen outside our place in broad daylight, too.  On a Saturday morning, a time you’d think there’d be enough people milling about to keep the scumbags at bay.

At least it’s some consolation that it’s insured, and that we might be able to pick up some sort of a deal on a new bike.  Fall isn’t exactly the time the bike stores are crowded with shoppers.


Almost trampled by fake ugg boots

The red-haired girl needs warm boots for the winter, so we go online for some UGG boots.

“And they’re really a great price,” she says.  “Only 64 euros.”

Completely unaware of the hundreds of sites out there selling fake UGG boots, of which the list at left is merely one page of dozens to scroll through, and also unaware that these boots go for about four times the website’s price in German stores, I go to, register, and order the boots.

I key in my Mastercard details and hit Payment, but get an error message.  Something about the bank fraud scan failing, and that I should try again with another card.

Hah, but what’s this?  The message is written in sing-song English, has a number to call in case of error with a Chinese country code, and hey, why is there Chinese writing up there in the top corner?

Then I go back for a closer look at this dog’s mess of a website over which I’d just spewed my credit card information right down to the three-digit code on the back.

Now, I’m not saying they’re selling fake UGG boots.  Maybe they actually are the real thing and they just fell off the back of a truck, but take a look at that site.  Gawd, what a mess.  The formatting is all over the place.  The home page is in German, but when you register, you hit a button labeled login in English.

Then when you click on an item to buy, up comes another page with the text in English and the buttons in Italian.  So I now know that Aggiungi al carello means put in shopping cart, sucker.

Already having ignored so many red flags I thought I was standing blindfolded on Tiananmen Square, I write an email anyway asking why, when I key in my credit card details, I get an error message from China.

Back comes the answer overnight:

     We have accept  pay with a Mastercard. You can try it again or you can use another card to pay it. Thank you !
Right.  Fully aware my credit card could be in danger of being hit for something I now want nothing to do with, I phone Lufthansa’s Card Control hotline.
Whenever I buy something online, I get a text message right after it goes through saying what was ordered, where, how much it cost, and the time of transaction.  At the bottom of the message is a number to call.
So I called it and got them to temporarily block the card.  I also wrote an email to them detailing the site I’d ordered from, asking them not to process any transaction that might be coming from them.
So the red-haired girl gets a lesson, and I get a reminder: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Like this woman who bought an iPad for 180 quid in a McDonald’s parking lot only to find she’d picked up a great bargain on a block of wood. 

Merkel lines on bin Laden

They say that bin Laden
Got shot through the noggin
Flown to the Arabian Sea.
Wrapped in a shroud as white as a cloud
And dumped overboard.  Now he’s just shark sushi.

In New York, in DC, when they heard the news
They flew to the places Al Qaeda had burned.
And crowed out so loud, so long, and so proud
Bin Laden is Dead!  But the news cycle churned

And in reaction, Frau Merkel, said she,
Was glad that bin Laden was as dead as can be.
Poor ol’ Frau Merkel, her words didn’t fit.
You just can’t say that.  It’s un-Christian, you twit.

But if she’d have said she’s sorry he’s dead
I suppose they’d be calling right now for her head.

So here’s some advice for dear Angie to take,
Reflecting on all that’s come in its wake,
Better to say in a roundabout way – just to keep the judges at bay
I’m pleased that he’s no longer able to harm

Or just keep your mouth shut.
Works like a charm.


We all get to play the terrorist on the security theatre stage

You never know when you’ll be called upon to play a minor role in life’s ongoing stage of security theatre.

I found that out yesterday morning after printing out a boarding card at my hotel the morning I left Nuremburg, where I’d been sent for a seminar.  I’d asked the front desk if I could use the lobby computer terminals, but they told me that before they could give me the access password, they’d need a copy of my ID.

OK, I thought – maybe they think I’m going to damage their computer, stuff the wide-screen monitor into my back pocket or cram the desktop tower into my carry-on – whatever.  I just needed to print out that boarding card, so I handed them my passport to copy.

After five minutes online I returned to the desk to say I was through, and could I please have the copy of my passport back.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t do that,” said the cheery young woman behind the counter.  “Under German law, we’re required to hold on to it.”

“But I’m finished,” I said.  “Why do you have to hold onto it?”

With a big smile and a double head-bob, she cheerfully said, “Because just now, you could have been planning a terror attack.”

I was stunned.  Flabbergasted.  I’d say blown away, but the slaughterhouse floor scenes from the smoke-filled Moscow airport terminal suicide bombing are still too fresh in the mind.

“I beg your pardon?” I said. “My passport contains vital personal information.”

“Your document copy is safe with us,” crooned her male colleague.  “We have a locked safe.”

“That’s not the point,” I said, but decided not to press it further, leaving for the breakfast buffet shaking my head.

But while gathering my plateful midst the morning crowd I couldn’t just forget it.  I got to wondering if somehow my information might be stolen sometime over the next 10 years.  I wondered how long they’d hold onto it, whether it would one day be destroyed, and whether I’d receive any notification of that.

So I went back to the desk and asked them how long they intended to keep my passport copy.

“We have to keep it for 10 years,” she chirped.  “It’s the law.”

Stunned again.

“Do you mean to tell me that for five minutes of online time you are going to keep a copy of my most important personal document for 10 years?”

What seemed like farce to me they took as routine.  “It’s the law,” she repeated. “We have to do it.”

“Good,” I said, not wanting to debate the existence or strict interpretation of a law I’d never even heard of.  “In that case, I think you should inform your customers before they use the terminals that their personal information is going to be on the files of your office for 10 years.  If I’d known that, I’d never have bothered.  Never.”

I returned to my breakfast – chewing over the screenplay and script of yet another production of security theatre and how I could have played my role better –   and suddenly realised that I had no proof that I’d logged out.

Carrying out their absurd scenario to its bizarrest extreme, I wondered: what if someone were  sitting at that terminal logged in under my login and password – the one with a hard copy of my passport copy attached to it – and were in the process of sending coded messages to fellow cell members to blow up another airport?  I had no physical proof that my session was over, nor that I’d logged out.  What if nine and a half years from now someone stumbled upon the connection and I’m hauled before a judge and sent to prison for the rest of my life?  Hey, and what if there were some sanity in the way we live our lives, and is it any wonder people my age get nostalgic for times when we all weren’t assumed to be guilty before proven innocent?

Overcoming my desire to just forget the whole thing, that it was nothing but trivial bureaucratic bullshit and really doesn’t matter anyway, I went back to the front desk and said, “Look, I don’t want to belabour the point, but about the Internet thing, could you please print me out some proof of when I actually used the computer, and confirmation of the time I logged out?”

The woman with whom I’d mainly been dealing overheard my request got up from her desk in the tiny office off the main counter.  As she turned to face me I could see her face was bleeding red with rage.  “All right,” she said. “If that’s the way you feel about this, we’ll do it a different way.  You can have your passport copy back.  I’ll just take down its number.”

As she was searching for my passport copy she added, “Never before have I had to deal with anyone who objected so vehemently to this procedure.”

I resisted the urge to remind her that Germany is full of people who put up with crap simply because someone in authority is shovelling it.  But picking up on the word “vehemently” I pointed out to her and the other two desk employees  looking on that I had dealt with them throughout in a calm manner, never once raised my voice, spoke with them in even tones, and was merely asking for something that I felt was my right to possess: my personal information.  “Data protection and privacy is a two-way street,” I told them.


How I got to know a neighbour, stole his music, and gave it back again

Bert lives in my neighbourhood one street up and one street over in a small apartment one floor up.

I didn’t know Bert before a couple of weeks ago, but even before I met him, I knew a lot about him.

I knew, for example, that he was a fan of the Bielefeld German Football League team and had recently been to one of their games.  I knew that he was a fan of the Beatles, old Dr. Hook, and the German one-hit-wonder Nena, that he collected old magazines and 45 vinyl records, and that he buys books and CDs on

How did I get to know so much about a stranger before even meeting him?  By stumbling upon the contents of his softcover suitcase, which lay strewn in a jumble in the lane behind our place.  It was 6:30 in the morning and as I looked over the rain-dampened disarray I thought, this guy probably left his bag in his car, someone saw it and smashed the window, brought it over here, rifled through everything, took what they thought was good for re-sale, and took off.

I gathered up the lot and brought it upstairs to our apartment.

Now what?

I go through the bag and discover a receipt from for some books he’s recently bought.  I look up his name on an online phone book but he isn’t in it, so I write a note to the guy, then walk over to his place thinking I’ll just leave the bad news for him in his mailbox.

I ring the bell just in case, and he’s home.  Half-way into explaining who I am he buzzes me in and I walk up the stairs.

A slim man with short hair in his early 30s is at the door to meet me, curiosity and suspicion on his face.

“Uhhh… I think you’ve been the victim of a theft,” I tell him.  “I found this along with a lot of your clothes and stuff in a suitcase behind our place this morning.”

“Ohhhh, shit! he says, raising his hands to his head, his face clouding to shock.  “Oh my God.  I got home so late last night and had to park a few streets away, and I didn’t feel like carrying home my luggage in the rain.  Shit, shit shit!”

I let him know he can come and pick up what’s left of his stuff back at my place, so he throws on a jacket and we start to go over.

We fill the time walking down the street and waiting for the crosswalk lights with the kind of talk you have when you’re forced to be with someone until it’s over.  Like riding an elevator for 20 floors with a colleague you vaguely know, so you feel compelled to make small-talk.  But in this little vignette there’s an element of accidental intimacy.  He knows that I’ve had a look into his private life, however indirectly.  But does he know that I’ve looked through everything?   I guess the thieves overlooked the selection of  um…adult entertainment DVDs I found tucked in a side pocket.  In the whirl of activity since discovering he’s a crime victim, does he even think of it?  If so, does he even care if I know or not?  Is porn now part of the travel checklist along with toothbrush and wallet?

I’m not going to mention it, but in the conversation’s pauses I get to thinking about what airport security people get to paw through and what they find, only with them it’s different.  They rarely get a chance to put a face to a name, and if they do, it’s all in a day’s work.

We get to my door and I show him in.  I gesture to the floor and his bag and its jumble of contents I’ve put back in as orderly a fashion as I can.

“I guess you should be checking on your car now,” I tell him as a way to say good-bye as he’s on his way out again.

The story doesn’t end there.

I’d told my wife about the find as she was heading out the door that morning, so she had a look around the same spot, too.  She comes home that afternoon with three CD boxes, one of which is “Time Flies” a beautifully crafted and obviously expensive 4-disc boxed set of Oasis music and videos.


“I guess I’d better head back over there,” I tell her.

First though, I fire up iTunes and proceed to copy the three Oasis CDs, contemplating as the discs are spinning how I’ve come to be stealing a great collection of music from a famous British band thanks entirely to the misdeeds of some anonymous smash-and-grab thief.  I start to wonder if what I’m doing is actually theft twice over, because neither Bert nor the band has said I’m free to rip it into iTunes.  But then again, does my giving it all back to him – the same day and no questions asked – absolve me?  Does copyright theft even compare to original theft of the actual goods?  And should I tell him that I copied the disks before giving them back to him?  Would that taint his enjoyment of them forever?

I pack up the boxes and head for the second time that day to the home of someone who 12 hours before was a complete stranger to me.  He answers the buzzer right away and again, I walk up the stairs.

“You were right about the car,” he tells me as I approach the door.  “The back window was smashed in and my blue overnight bag is missing.”

“My wife found these near where I found your suitcase,” I tell him, holding up the CDs.

He takes the Oasis box and holds it between his fingers as delicately as if it were made of fine crystal.

“My God,” he says. “I thought it was gone forever.  This album is almost like a holy relic to me…. Uhh…wait here.”

He disappears into his apartment and I can hear him rummaging around.

“I’m not much of a connoisseur, but if this is anything it’s to say thanks for all that you’ve done for me today.”

I laugh a little awkwardly and take the bottle of wine, telling him it’s nothing, really, and that I’d hope that if something like that ever happened to me, that someone out there would do the same.

And that was that.  Haven’t seen him since.


Bank fraud still incredibly easy in Germany

A work colleague had her bank account emptied over the past weekend, 10-thousand bucks gone in six separate transfers of about €1,600 each into the scammer’s account.

I’ve always touted the advantages of the safety of online banking in Germany, simply because they make it such a pain in the ass to transfer funds.

For my account in Canada, all I have to do is log on to the site, enter my password, and transfer away.  I’d often thought the Canadian bank should make their site safer by setting up the system they have in Germany.

In Germany, you not only have to first log onto the site via password, but every time you do a payment or transfer you must first receive a text message on your cellphone with a 6-digit code number.  You then key in that code number on the site to OK the transaction.

I’d always thought that extra hoop to jump through meant that my German account was pretty well bomb-proof, but it seems there’s a huge flaw in that system, and no – it’s not phishing.

In my colleague’s case, the criminals set up an account at the same bank as hers, I suppose to speed up the transaction time.

To transfer the funds they used the same forms we used to fill out with a pen all the time when we actually had to get up off our butts and walk in a building to do our banking.   They took the forms off a pile at the bank, filled them out in her name and bank details, faked a signature, and dropped them into a slot to be processed later.  Just like cheque fraud in days of old, only they didn’t even have to get their hands on any of her cheques.

They must have opened their account in a fake name, which is another thing I find quite unbelievable.  How could the bank be so lax?

I also hear that, in contrast with days of old, those forms are nowadays mostly machine-read.  That’s another bank failure to ensure proper handling of customer funds.

By the time my colleague noticed the fat hole in her bank balance the money had already been transferred.

She called her bank right away and they immediately stopped payment, so she’ll get her money back, but what if she’d been on holiday or leave of absence for a few weeks or months and never noticed?  Would she have had to have eaten the loss?

And what about all those strangers who have access to our full name and account numbers?  You have to give them away if you’ve ever bought or sold anything on eBay without using PayPig.   Not to mention the thousands of supposedly honest bank and store employees who have access to your account details.

Oh, and a bonus if you haven’t heard yet: should anyone in Germany receive a transfer of funds in the amount of one cent from an unknown party, contact your bank and the police.  Scammers have been known to shoot off computer-generated transfers to thousands of randomly generated account numbers in the amount of one cent. Should they fail to receive notice their transfer did not go through, they know they’ve hit on a real account and can let the plundering begin.


This story smells like the south end of a bull facing north

When someone tells a story that just reeks of urban legend, I want to call bullshit.  Problem is, it was a colleague, and she told it as an aside in front of a half-dozen people at a meeting, so I didn’t want to put her on the spot.  She swears it’s true, though like all urban legends, it sounds vaguely familiar.

A man and a woman are at a party in Winterhude, a wealthy area of Hamburg.

They get up to leave and the woman notices that her purse has been stolen.

They go home.  Two days later, they get a phone call from a man who introduces himself as Dr. So-and-so, who apologises profusely for his wife.  “She’s a kleptomaniac, you see.  This has happened before, and she’s getting psychiatric treatment, but sometimes she falls back.”

He then invites the man and his wife to come pick up the handbag and have a glass or two of champagne with him at a restaurant as a small gesture of goodwill.

The couple accept the invitation, but upon returning home with the handbag discover that in their absence, their house has been robbed clean.

Maybe it IS true.   Con artists are pretty good at what they do, and even the police have tricked fugitive criminals into showing up to receive contest prizes, but you can pick so many holes in this story.

A case for

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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