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Monday, December 11, 2023

Software engineer busted after being inspired by Office Space scam

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A software engineer who worked for online retailer Zulily has been charged with stealing roughly $301,000 from the company, Komo News reports, claiming to have been inspired by the plot of 1999 Mike Judge movie Office Space.

The engineer wrote code for Zulily’s checkout page, and allegedly took this opportunity to have $260,000 in shipping fees diverted to his own bank account. He’s also been charged with altering prices to buy roughly $41,000 worth of products from the site for “pennies on the dollar.”

Astute readers will have noticed that this is not how the scheme in Office Space is supposed to work. A classic salami-slicing tactic, the movie scheme involves manipulating software to ensure that fractions of cents from financial transactions are diverted into a secret account. Gus Gorman, Richard Pryor’s character, tries a similar scam in Superman 3.

In Office Space, suspicion is only aroused when a rounding error results in $300,000 being dumped into the secret account all at once. The Zulily theft seems to have involved the full amount of each shipping fee being taken, resulting in a similar amount being taken in a single month.

Unsurprisingly, this was noticed by Zulily, and a team was put together to investigate. Funnily enough, the engineer who was later arrested was part of that team. His involvement was apparently uncovered when a document was found on his computer that detailed a plan to alter logs of audits and alarms to cover up evidence of theft. It was called “OfficeSpace project”. 

When investigators arrived at the engineer’s house, they found delivery boxes from Zulily piled up outside his door. He’d ordered over 1,000 items from the site, which specializes in brand name goods aimed at young mothers. We’re not exactly talking Richard Pryor buying a Ferrari with his ill-gotten gains here. 

Given that Pryor’s character gets caught, and the protagonists of Office Space also arouse suspicion almost immediately, it seems like criminals aren’t paying enough attention to these movies. Even small amounts of missing money get noticed by accountants, who are famously detail-oriented sticklers who are paid to keep track of the little things. And also the big things—like $260,000 worth of shipping fees and $41,000 worth of baby goods piled up in an employee’s driveway.

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