When some larcenous computer genius figured out the PIN for Tailpipe's ATM card recently, first thing the cyberthief did was make four $100 purchases at a San Antonio gas station.
The bank alertly shut the card down.
The 'Pipe's not sure what the tipoff was, but, for smart security operatives, a big purchase at a gas station nowadays probably has the same sort of mackerel smell as a street kid checking out diamond rings at Tiffany's.
With a gallon of gas almost the price of a matinee ticket, it was bound to happen. Crooks go where the money is. Look for the telltale signs at your local gas station. Take the Shell station on Broward Boulevard, just west of I-95. See the round silver padlocks on each corner of the pump? If you had x-ray vision, you'd also see the steel rod inside. That's to prevent pillagers from prying open the pump and opening the fuel floodgates. Gas station thievery has evolved. Gone are the drive-offs. This is a pay-before-you-pump world now. They're just plain breakin' in.
Kennetra Stewart, an attendant at the gas station, has slung unleaded at local gas stations for nearly six years.
"They get a crowbar and pop the lock off the cone inside and pay for $3 of gas," Stewart says. "[But the pump] goes and goes and goes until they fill up."
Not bad. Three bucks for a full tank. Until the station locked down, it was getting hit every other night, she says.
Gas stations have also taken electronic fraud countermeasures, limiting the purchase amount to $75 and requiring a PIN or Zip Code for a debit or credit card.
It's not just the gas stations that are on guard. Apparently, parked cars are fair game. Motorists parked in darkened lots or along unlighted streets are finding their tanks lightened, according to a guy named Miles at Advance Auto Parts on South Federal Highway.
"Most of the new vehicles have an anti-siphoning device in the filler tube," Miles says. "If they're getting past it, they have to punch a hole through it."
Advance Auto Parts hasn't been able to keep locking gas caps on the shelves.
"There's a lot of [model] numbers I'm out of because demand is so high," Miles says. "I've got to raise my figures."
Credit-card thievery at the pump is nothing new, says David Robertson, publisher of the consumer payment industry newsletter the Nilson Report. It's a way to steal gas, but it's also a prelude to bigger steals.
"Unattended pumps are a way of determining if a card has been reported stolen," Robertson says. When crooks with pilfered plastic mosey on up to the local Shell pump, at least they're "not dealing with a clerk behind a counter who could identify [them]."
None of this seems to have hit local law enforcement's radar. The Broward Sheriff's Office and its counterpart in Palm Beach County, just to name a couple, haven't noticed anything untoward. But those who have their fingers on the petroleum vein see what's coming down the pipe.
"Gas is so high, people are just going crazy," Stewart says. "They do anything to keep ridin'."
If only mental hospitals really were places where patients stood around pretending to be Napoleon or Julius Caesar, people would line up to get in. Tailpipe himself could use a few weeks on a Victorian estate somewhere, surrounded by grassy meadows and century-old trees, with pretty young nurses pressing tranquilizers on him.
The 'Pipe would use a sheet as a toga, proving his claim to be a hopeless hombre loco by saying things like, "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look" or "Watch out for that guy Brutus. He's got a knife."
Of course, that's so pre-Y2K. The new standard for delusional behavior, as any emergency-room psychiatrist will tell you, is manic presidential aspirations. Hallucinatory campaign syndrome or oratorical dyskinesia, a condition similar to "restless leg syndrome" but pertaining to arms waving involuntarily like a candidate making a speech.
As we noted last week, Ryan Lipner, a 24-year-old from Tamarac who will appear on ballots this November as a candidate for U.S. president, was rightly seized by police after some aggressive campaigning in front of the Broward County Courthouse. The cops sent him to University Pavilion for observation.
Before he was released three days later, on June 15, Lipner tells Tailpipe, he eavesdropped on the exit interview of a fellow member of the psychiatric ward.
"The social worker asked him, 'Now that you're being released, what are you going to do,' " Lipner recalls. "He said, 'I'm going to run for president!' "
At this, Lipner leaped to his feet and declared, "I am a candidate — I filed the paperwork and everything." Indeed, Lipner is listed among the registered presidential candidates on the Florida Division of Elections website.
Tailpipe couldn't reach a hospital spokesperson to confirm a report that there's a ward full of HCS sufferers there. For the record, though, the old car part wants it noted that South Florida authorities could have made huge inroads into the disease last January when five national candidates showed up at the Florida Atlantic University campus for a debate. The most flamboyant of the lot was a guy named Rudy.
Where are the cops when you really need one?
When last Tailpipe heard from Judge Ana Gardiner, it was Super Bowl Sunday and she was sitting mutely in her BMW after having driven into the rear of a new Mercedes Benz. It seemed that Gardiner, chief judge of the Broward Criminal Court, had been so preoccupied with checking up on an ex-boyfriend in Fort Lauderdale's upscale Sunrise Intracoastal community that she forgot to look where she was driving.
A minor hitch in South Florida's course of events. Gardiner got a ticket from an accident investigator, who wrote in her report that the damage to the parked Mercedes was $350 (though the 'Pipe has learned that repairs on the Mercedes cost ten times that).
But the accident cast some unwanted light on Gardiner's allegedly cozy relations with other lawyers. In April, New Times columnist Bob Norman followed with his feature "Judging Ana," which reported on Gardiner's improper relationships with lawyers and prosecutors who appear before her. One of the lawyers named in the story, veteran homicide prosecutor Howard Scheinberg, left the State Attorney's Office shortly after publication.
Tailpipe can't answer the $64,000 question of whether, as rumored around the courthouse, Gardiner is being investigated by the Judicial Qualifying Commission. But he can say (as no other newspaper has reported) that Gardiner has been removed from her vaunted position as chief criminal judge of Broward County.
Gardiner is currently (and ignominiously, according to some courthouse observers) a civil court judge.