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Mac fraud bust: the Inside Story

Sting for Christmas

Police in Markham, Illinois charged a 38-year old man this afternoon on two counts of forgery

The arrest is the result of extraordinary perseverance and pluck from a 21 year old New Orleans student, aided by the online Mac community.

Melvin Christmas obtained a G4 PowerBook from a student Jason Eric Smith, and paid for it using a counterfeit check from LaSalle bank.

"He has prior arrests for forgeries," the arresting office Sgt Jim Knapp told The Register today. Knapp charged Christmas at around 4pm ET today, and said it was likely that four more counts would be added over the coming weeks. Police discovered stolen IDs at Christmas' residence on Notthingham Avenue in Markham.

Returning from his Thanksgiving holiday, Eric Smith discovered that the buyer of a newly bought PowerBook had paid for the machine with a phoney check. Smith changed his mind over the machine, opting to buy an iBook and Airport base station instead. He took his appeal for information to the community boards, and was inundated with help.

"I wouldn't have got nearly as far as I did without their help," Smith told us today.

Collating cellphone subscriber information from other Mac users who had had similar experiences, Smith tracked down Christmas, and embarked a sting operation.

"I had two other auctions, and Christmas replied to both using identical emails," he explained.

But finding law enforcement representatives who were willing to participate in Chicago or New Orleans was proving fruitless, until Smith found Detective Knapp.

"Eric had some difficult times with agencies," Knapp told us. In fact Smith had contacted the FBI, the Secret Service and Chicago police without finding an representative who could
act quickly.

"But I kinda like this - I enjoy doing it."

Smith told Knapp that he'd been contact by five other victims with similar tales.

Knapp, posing as a delivery courier, made the arrest himself. For which Smith is hugely grateful:-

"Honestly, the real person who matters in this story is Sgt Knapp. For finding him and really going at it like he has. Chicago police didn't care."

Other victims who contacted Smith said they'd lost iMacs and PowerBooks too. All the equipment was Apple.

Smith has been an Apple user since he was five years old: his first experience he told us was with a Mac Plus in 1986 in Nashville.

"My father was an architect and was one of the first in Nashville to use computer aided drafting (CAD)", he explained.

Amazingly, Smith gave Christmas one last chance to turn himself in:-

"I called Melvin Christmas and told him what was going on. I said 'You've screwed me over and I know where you live'". By this stage photos of Christmas' residence had been posted on the Mac boards, but the alleged fraudster remained oblivious. Didn't he look, we wondered?

"He acted like he didn't know what email was," Smith told us. "He actually got really greedy."

Smith says he's file a civil suit, but doesn't expect to receive any damages. But there's a happy ending: a senior Apple executive who Smith declined to name has offered him a coutesy employee discount on a spanking new G4 PowerBook. ®

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