Watch Out for Helpful Strangers!

Cyber security does not only mean intrusions by email or on your computer. Remember, the operative word is “Security”. A security breach can start with something that looks innocent. Be careful of anyone who is too helpful, especially if you don’t really know that person….


Years ago, before I met my late husband, Tony, he was working as a turnaround specialist for a venture capital company. That company would buy failing companies and would try to make them profitable. Tony’s job was to go in and try to make that happen.

The venture capital company bought a company that made a very high-end product that had clients who spent a fortune for this product, but for some reason, they weren’t making any money.  After buying the company, the venture capital company sent in four different accountants to go over their books. These accountants couldn’t find out why they were so unprofitable.

They told Tony about the problem. He said, “Make me a background as a janitor and get me a job there.” So, they did.

Tony was a stocky Italian and he decided to dress the part of a janitor. He went in wearing old clothes, a slouch hat and smoked a stinky cigar. He could speak in any accent, so he went in speaking broken Italian, just like someone right off the boat. Now, Tony had a Master’s Degree in Psychology, but he could appear to be a normal working man. He also had a talent for making people talk to him. After only a few minutes, people would tell him EVERYTHING! When I say everything, I mean it. Women would tell him about their periods and how often they went to the bathroom! Men would tell him about all their problems with women and anything else that bothered them. He had the ability to really listen and people couldn’t shut up around him.

So, here he was, in this company, working as a janitor, cleaning the offices, cleaning the bathrooms and listening, always listening. He would empty the trash at night and read everything in the wastebaskets. When there was a meeting going on with the company president, he would be there, cleaning, cleaning and listening. People weren’t careful with their computers. They would leave the monitors unattended and left their passwords under their desk blotters or taped to the machines.

It took him a couple of weeks, but then he found out what was happening.

The company would manufacture the high-end product, sell it at the expensive price, but put it on the books as a lower-end product. Since they also made the lower-end products, they had gotten away with this for years. The company president and the CFO were getting very rich.

The following Monday morning, the company president came to his office and Tony was sitting behind his desk, wearing a suit and tie. The president was surprised, “So, you want my job?”, he asked.

“I’m from home office. Sit!” was the answer. Now, Tony was speaking in his normal voice, without an accent.

All the color drained from the president’s face!

Tony had him call in the others who were in on the scheme. He had already notified the venture capital people and they had agreed to let these people pay back the money they had stolen and quit their jobs. These were very different times. Today, they would have gone to jail.

The venture capital company got full restitution and the company they bought immediately became profitable.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t steal – that’s a given – but you should be careful about your computers, your trash, and talking around people you don’t know. You may give away all your company’s secrets – and your own secrets if you aren’t careful.

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