Between the Lines

The stories behind this issue's stories

What it Takes To Fight Fraud
Dennis Marlock is the anti - con man. He has busted virtually every fraud imaginable. That's why his law-enforcement peers consider him to be a "Master of Deception". But Marlock remains frustrated — not by how clever his adversaries are, but by how undisciplined his allies can be.

"There are some simple actions we can take that have a big deterrent effect," Marlock says, "but we lack the discipline to stick with them." One example: the time he was interrogating a suspect who was skilled in the so-called pigeon drop. It's a classic fraud, usually aimed at the elderly, where a person says that he has a big sum of money that he wants to share with you. But he won't be able to get the money for 30 days, so as a good-faith gesture, he puts $5,000 in a bag and asks you to do the same. But in the end, you're the one left holding the bag.

"This guy said to me, 'This is the bank's fault. Why would they let an elderly person withdraw $5,000 in cash without asking questions?' " Marlock recalls. "And he was right! So I created a 'cash-withdrawal alert' form. If a customer comes in and asks for a large sum of cash, the teller gives him a form that alerts him to various scams.

"That one-page form led to an 87% decline in successfully completed frauds in Milwaukee," he adds. "Months later, another con man I had in custody said to me, 'I don't know who the son of a bitch was who came up with that stupid withdrawal form, but it has really made life miserable for us.' "

Over time, though, the banks change management, tellers come and go, people basically stop paying attention — and most banks stop giving out the forms. Meanwhile, the con men are patient, persistent, and disciplined.

The result? "The problem starts all over again."

They Play a Different Game

Long before I met with Mark Hanson — whose Sony America team works to make sure that Sony's hardware innovations are "Translating Sony Into English" when they migrate to the United States — I visited Sony headquarters in Tokyo. At the time, I was curious about globalization and entertainment there: Could Japan's video games become something like Hollywood movies, universalizing Japanese pop culture and values abroad?

Sony's Kenichi Fukunaga looked at me (politely) like I was crazy. Americans have snatched up millions of PlayStations, but they typically don't like Japanese video games. Americans love sports games; Japanese do not. Puzzle games are big in Japan, but Americans tend to find them tedious. Later, I wandered around the crowded arcades of Shibuya, where Tokyo kids hang out. One impeccably hip teen played a bus-driving simulator, collecting points for obeying traffic laws. Nearby, a pair of high-school girls shook wired maracas, precisely mimicking a pair of maraca-shaking characters on a video screen. I looked in vain for a sumo-wrestling game. Suddenly, I began to appreciate how cleverly Sony navigates a global market rife with cultural differences.

Peak Experience
When I visited Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort last fall to profile Tim and Diane Mueller, two "Moguls With a Mission", the mountain's newest chairlift wasn't yet operational, so longtime employee Dan Petraska gave me a vertigo-inducing ride to the summit in his pickup. From the top of Okemo's new Jackson Gore area, the view included more than just brilliant fall foliage: You could see how much risk and complexity were involved in running a major ski resort. It had only been a week or so since a helicopter had flown the lift towers into place, and two workers were stringing cables from one tower to the next.

Looking down the mountain, I could see that the foundations were being poured for a base facility that will include shops and time-shares — even though a local resident was still appealing the state's approval of Okemo's expansion permit. Two ski trails will have to bridge an active freight railroad that cuts through the property. And Okemo can't start making snow at Jackson Gore until December 1 each year, since black bears roam the area on their way to hibernate.

What struck me was how the Muellers and Petraska handle all of that complexity: After 20 years in the ski industry, they are unflustered by it — just like true Vermonters.

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