Ex-criminal thinking of committing new crimes.
August 19, 2008 11:17 PM   Subscribe

Ex-criminal thinking of committing new crimes.

I'm considering a new business wherein I show people how vulnerable they are to robbery, burglary, identity theft, kidnapping and any other form of criminal mischief.

My proposed plan of action is to 'target' Top 100 CEO's and the like, sending them a 'teaser' package pointing out some of the obvious, yet specific to them, risks to their current life security. This package would ideally prompt them to contact me for further, in-depth security consulting.

My credentials are also my dilemma in this endeavor: I am very criminally minded, genius level IQ, with a high thirst for risks and thrills. Nearly 20 years ago I was on the Most Wanted List for over 14 months during which time I committed or planned most every crime for money imaginable. Then came 13 years in state and federal prisons. I have been out now more than five years crime free. I want to use my powers now for good, not evil.

My question: will my past limit my future? How do I protect myself - and my clients - in this endeavor. I certainly have the credentials and know how to protect them, but at the same time I don't want my proposed business to come off like some old mafia shakedown of clients thinking that they're "paying for protection."

How does one trust an ex-con who is trying to help others from being connned?
posted by TooSlick to Law & Government (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Probably you need to align yourself with someone whose credentials are beyond reproach. Ex-FBI, ex-other major LEO, that sort of thing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:25 PM on August 19, 2008

To make a non-quack, non-sketchy career out of this type of "service" you'd need a lot of marketing and the type of projection only a professional publicist can provide.

I mean, I suppose you could do it on the cheap, but without a substantial business model (and seed money) I can't see this as being anything other than a pipe dream.

There are already private security consulting firms out there - maybe you should try working with one of them? It'd probably be easier to market yourself to them, than to private (and touchy) citizens directly.
posted by wfrgms at 11:28 PM on August 19, 2008

There are equivalent services for computer security - people who previously broke into 'secure' systems advise on how to take better care of your data. Might be worth a look into their methods to gain trust for their business, since it seems like they would face similar problems with getting customers.
posted by harriet vane at 11:37 PM on August 19, 2008

Yeah, if you don't have a partner with unimpeachable credentials, this will look like a blackmail attempt.

In fact what you have described sounds like blackmail already. I'm a CEO, and some guy sends me a letter that amounts to "I know where you live?" I am not going to engage that guy - I am going to engage some other people I trust to take care of the threat from the letter writer.

On the other hand, this would make an awesome reality TV show. You walk into the subject's life, identify all the security problems, demonstrate an exploit, consult on the fix. The subjects will have agreed in advance with the production company and the lawyers will make sure you are indemnified.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:46 PM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think your background gives you a certain degree of authority and credibility. However, you definitely want to affiliate yourself with someone else who is beyond reproach, ex-law enforcement would be best. Reminds me of a TV show I recently saw, check out It Takes A Thief if you haven't seen it.
posted by sophist at 11:47 PM on August 19, 2008

In IT, identifying and exploiting exploits within a system without prior authorization in order to publicize the exploits to the owner of the system is called (in some circles) black-hatting and will get you fired.

You may wish to consider volunteering with your local police department offering your services in a legitimate way... If you were to embark on this career you would have to be on good terms with the police and the FBI anyway.

You can also explore this career with your local career services agency. Often the Chamber of Commerce or someone like that offers seminars for start-up companies. Treat it like a business venture, get plenty of advice and info, and build your network. I'm sure you will be successful if you give yourself some time.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:52 PM on August 19, 2008

What if you frame this so that the client comes to you, and then with their permission you give them their free teaser package? I certainly agree with the others in this thread that have said that C-level execs are just going to forward any unsolicited communications from you to their corporate attorneys who are going to see it as a shakedown and probably respond first with a C&D or restraining order.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:04 AM on August 20, 2008

If you don't have someone credible to back you up, use accomplishments in your post-criminal career to give yourself ethos.

Community involvement of any type will do the trick, but I'm sure you've done something noteworthily positive in the past many years.

FWIW, I think your plan has incredible potential.
posted by bradly at 12:07 AM on August 20, 2008

Write a book about your exploits first. Get it published and into stores. That'll build up your name and buy you some credibility at the same time.
posted by decoherence at 12:19 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Spectacular advice and input. Thank you.

Yes, I have seen "It Takes a Thief" and have thought of that as a type of model.

As for community involvement, I've spoken at dozens of high schools, detention centers and college about my past criminal involvement and the taking of responsibility for one's choices.

I've been pondering this business venture for a number of years, working different models to make it work without coming off as shady or suspect. I greatly appreciate the feedback thus far offered.
posted by TooSlick at 12:22 AM on August 20, 2008

Hmmm. This sounds remarkably like an idea a friend of mine had... he wanted to scan open wifi networks until he could sniff around and get some corporate data that might be sensitive, print it out, and then show up and speak to the president/CEO/etc. I told him that would be an EXCELLENT way to get arrested if the person he talked to freaked out when confronted with the information, which a lot of them probably would. It's a lot like showing up with their coin collection and going "Hey, do you wanna know how I got this?"
posted by barc0001 at 12:24 AM on August 20, 2008

Witing a book as decoherence suggested is an excellent way to build credibility, but in the short term, try to get as much press as you can.
posted by ignignokt at 12:42 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As alluring as the shock-value of the "look at how vulnerable you are to crime" package sounds, I think you just can't deliver such an assessment unsolicited. It doesn't even really matter if it could legally hold up or not: nervous rich folks who are probably control freaks being freaked out by you is no way to do the business you want to do and is probably a good way to get caught up in costly and time consuming legal unpleasantness sooner or later.

If this assessment of insecurity is solicited, however, then you're golden, and your shocking portfolio of vulnerability carries nearly the same punch. So it's a foot in the door issue. Think of consultancy as your model. Can I suggest the book Million Dollar Consulting? I think you'll find a lot of value in how the author conceptualizes the nature of consulting. I think the bottom line is you need to find some legitimate ins with rich people. Word of mouth, personal introductions are going to be your real ticket. If you can get one client, one advocate, it opens the doors and starts that domino effect. They will want to introduce you to their friends, because you will be unusual and dangerous and exciting. You have to find venues in which to tell your story. Because what you really have to sell is your experience, which you communicate through stories, and yourself - your intelligence, personality and charisma.

You might also find ins with wealthy people who are a bit shady, e.g. they got theirs through legitimate sex industry business and probably have a better affinity for risk-taking and dark-side credentials. Investigating what sorts of adrenaline-rush hobbies the more bad-boy richies are about might suggest some ins. Trickier to approach but possibly fruitful is the wives: they might well be more involved in (and more concerned with) home-security type issues. I can't remember who it was but some rich dude was once asked what he would do if all his money were gone and he basically said he'd work until he could be a sufficiently expensive suit and then go where the rich people hung out. You've got to stalk them on their own ground, right? But not in the manner of a criminal, which is kind of what you're suggesting (until, as I say, it becomes a consensual exercise). You've got to approach them as someone in their league, even if from a somewhat murky side of things.

I agree that studying the black-hat to white-hat hacker stories (Kevin Mitnick springs to mind), although their backgrounds probably carry less stigma than yours. As far as legitimacy goes, you might thing partners - private investigators, people who provide the kind of security support you will be consulting on your clients acquiring, be it tech or bodyguards - it's definitely another world you'll need to be plugged into, and maybe a more accessible one.

Anyway, good to have another Twin Cities man up in here, slightly scary recent addition.
posted by nanojath at 12:54 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

You might also talk to local private investigators, many of whom are former LEOs.

You could benefit from their established reputation and they might appreciate your ability to drum up new business.
posted by quidividi at 1:47 AM on August 20, 2008

My limited experience in computer security is that no one wants to think about it or budget for it unless they get burned. You can't scare them into it without them fearing you, but maybe you could work an angle where you look for businesses/CEOs who've been burned recently and try to get your foot in the door while they are feeling vulnerable. The smart/paranoid ones are going to be looking very, very hard at you though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:23 AM on August 20, 2008

I strongly suggest you look at Frank Abignale's Book the Art of the Steal. Abignale is the guy that the movie "Catch me if you can" is based on. I'd suggest that book too (but I haven't read that.) I'm not sure either book will give you what you need...merely a point in the right direction; as the first book is a prevention book, and the second is his biography.

Abignale makes his living doing exactly what you're talking about: he was convicted, his parole officer got him talking to FBI and other Police services (where he wasn't allowed to charge.) He then took that consulting to banks and businesses.
posted by filmgeek at 3:52 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Filmgeek beat me to it. But it's Abagnale.
posted by eritain at 4:31 AM on August 20, 2008

Most of Abagnale's business is (or at least, was) consulting on the subject of check fraud. This was back in the 80s, anyway. Don't know what he's doing now that the movie is out. Point is, people have to seek you out. Like in the movie Sneakers--the bank pays the hackers to break in. It's not like the hackers break in, then say, "Look, I broke in!" and the bank throws a bunch of money at them for their cleverness.

Most of the time, people don't want to know how insecure they really are, because frankly, most of the time there's not a whole lot they can do about it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:18 AM on August 20, 2008

My proposed plan of action is to 'target' Top 100 CEO's and the like, sending them a 'teaser' package pointing out some of the obvious, yet specific to them, risks to their current life security. This package would ideally prompt them to contact me for further, in-depth security consulting.

Most of these guys already have their own corporate security guys, many ex-FBI, and the most likely response to receiving such an unsolicited package would be to set their own security force on you, possibly involving you being reported to law enforcement or being sued for harassment or at the very least having a restraining order sought against you. Given that they already have their own security experts your biggest task is convincing them to talk to you without first scaring them off. What can you offer that their own people can not? That is what you can sell.
posted by caddis at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2008

My proposed plan of action is to 'target' Top 100 CEO's and the like, sending them a 'teaser' package pointing out some of the obvious, yet specific to them, risks to their current life security. This package would ideally prompt them to contact me for further, in-depth security consulting.

This package would prompt me to contact the police.
posted by ND¢ at 7:48 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a professional computer security consultant & penetration tester, I'll agree with all of the ideas so far. You've absolutely got to scratch your idea of a "teaser," it's just got "fail" written all over it. Getting a beyond-reproach partner is going to be pretty much a requirement, I think; many corporate clients will want you to have either business insurance or bonding for this kind of work, which will be impossible without somebody who has the credibility & reputation to offset your own. If you need help finding such a person, drop me a line & we can talk. I like the idea of a book, too; it's a safe (so to speak) activity that can expand your social network, give people insight into how far you've reformed & whether you can be trusted & make some money in the process.
posted by scalefree at 8:23 AM on August 20, 2008

I guess that I should add to my previous comment that I think that it is great that you want to use your past experience in a positive way, but that you may wish to channel that desire into working for an established security consulting firm, rather than acting independently, because an existing company would have relationships with clients already established and can avoid a sales pitch that looks like a shakedown for protection money.
posted by ND¢ at 8:25 AM on August 20, 2008

I'd say this idea has some potential, but that your legitimacy will consistently be questioned. On top of that, as has been pointed out by many others, selling security is very hard, and approaching Top 100 CEOs unsolicited is likely to land you in more trouble with the law. I'll second the idea of getting someone with a solid security-related background (and more importantly contacts) to help you.

I really came here to recommend you check out some videos of Bruce Schneier - his focus in his videos often relates to network security, but I think he can give you some insight into the mindset of potential clients who need to purchase an abstract non-quantifiable concept like "security".
posted by antonymous at 9:44 AM on August 20, 2008

I am very criminally minded, genius level IQ, with a high thirst for risks and thrills. Nearly 20 years ago I was on the Most Wanted List for over 14 months during which time I committed or planned most every crime for money imaginable. Then came 13 years in state and federal prisons. I have been out now more than five years crime free. I want to use my powers now for good, not evil.

Actually, it just sounds like you want to "use your powers," but you don't want to risk going to prison again. What happens when this plan doesn't pan out like you planned? If you start indulging this urge, you will act on it - illegally if no other option is available. You sound more like a man contemplating scoring drugs after being clean than someone hoping to offer their services to the public sector. Have you ever been to therapy?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:22 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: TLFantastic, you're not far from the truth; yes, I do wish to utilize my 'talents' as they may be, and no, I certainly don't want to return to prison. As for the question of what happens if this plan doesn't pan out...then I will simply move onto another plan (and still keep it legit).

I'm not in it for the money, per se, but then neither were my criminal endeavors of past for strictly the money either. At the time of my arrest when I was 18 I was working three jobs, had a college scholarship and had never been drunk or high in my life. Now at age 39, I'm quite well off financially, have a college degree in computers and psychology, still never been drunk or high, married to a beautiful lady for over a year and we live in a 7000+ sq ft home, so I'm not on any trail of destruction.

I find other ways to obtain my adrenaline thrills (went skydiving not too long ago), but I'm well studied in the criminal world. I am just amazed at how little people are aware of their surroundings, how very unsecure most people are in their homes and lives, and rather than bring turmoil to people's lives, I'd like to find ways to help them from letting others of my past ilk destroying anything they may be building in their life.
posted by TooSlick at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2008

If what you're after is an adrenaline rush, stick to skydiving. Penetration testing is a controlled experience, with contracts and boundaries and meetings with the client and deliverable reports. It can be a lot of fun when you get to take the leash off & do what you do best, but at the end of the day it's still a job.
posted by scalefree at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2008

Best answer: I know this is sort of the "trendy" thing to do nowadays, but have you considered doing a blog/website? You could solicit friends to volunteer their property for your analysis and then publish the results. Actually it would be a lot like doing "It Takes a Thief" on your own, but it could become something to build on and generate publicity .
posted by Horatius at 11:11 PM on August 20, 2008

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