I am a thief. You may not recognize the look in my eyes as I walk up to your vending machine, but I can assure you I'm not giving the product selection anywhere near the attention I'm giving the machine locks and the area around the machine. After all, this is my livelihood.
Admit it: You have a preconception of what a thief is supposed to look like. Unkempt hair. Ratty clothes. A shifty look in his eyes. Fine and good, but there's only one problem. I don't look like that. Nor do I wear a sign that says "Thief" in big bold letters.
You have probably seen 2 million people who look just like me, and never gave them a second glance.
Forget your stereotypes about thieves
I wasn't always a thief. My background includes over 30 years as a computer professional, including writing computer articles for business magazines. I wore a tie to work every day for over 20 years. When I became a thief, I dressed like any other professional, except I worked fewer hours.
So how did I become a thief? About 10 years ago, I developed a crack habit, and that habit was very expensive. I began stealing laptop computers from work and selling them to support my habit. Eventually, I got caught, and that ended my computer career. I spent six months in jail for computer theft.
For the next eight years, I worked at various jobs, including customer service, shipping and receiving, and temporary jobs. I did fine until about three years ago, when my employer went out of business. I had a hard time finding another job with the limited skills I had outside of the computer field.
How burglary skills are learned
One day, while sitting at home with someone I met in the county jail, he told me about his means of support: picking locks on video poker games. Being the techno-geek that I am, I started doing lock pick research on the Internet.
There are millions of websites devoted to either teaching lock picking or selling lock picks. I became hooked on the idea. And while many of the professional locksmith sites will only ship to certified locksmiths, there are many more sites that are simply drop-shippers for the toolmakers, and they are willing to sell to anyone who will send them a check.
Within a week, I had my first set of picks at a cost of $200.
A promising beginning
I don't want to give anyone information on how to pick locks in this article, but I do need to emphasize just how easy it is. While it is easy enough to buy a cheap lock to practice and learn on, it's also just as easy to go out into the field and learn how.
Upon reading the instructions provided, and after looking over a few articles on the Internet, I hit the street in search of vending machines. Needless to say, they are everywhere.
Being the careful sort, I decided that I didn't like the concept of standing in front of a machine situated outdoors with the entire world watching me fool with the lock. So I started looking in hotels, hospitals, schools and office buildings for machines located out of public view.
I soon settled on one in the vestibule of a local government building. After watching traffic flow for 30 minutes, I was ready to try my luck. I walked up to the soda machine, inserted my pick, and imagine my surprise when within 30 seconds the lock popped open.
I took a quick glance around, unscrewed the handle, reached inside, and I was $100 richer, with a heart rate that would have set off any hospital's emergency code system.
Nicely enough, the pick holds the lock settings, so I was able to close up the machine and relock it. Total elapsed time: about two minutes. I then proceeded to leave the area, watching carefully for anyone paying any attention to me.
Five minutes of work: $200
Within 30 minutes, I was satisfied that nobody had observed me, so I returned and reaped another hundred dollars from the candy machine next to the soda machine. Two hundred dollars from less than five minutes of actual work!