After theft, tech support call lands man in jail

A Missouri man is facing 10 years in prison for allegedly stealing a government printer. He was identified after calling tech support for printer drivers.

Here's a tip: if you steal a printer used to print driver's licenses, don't call the manufacturer asking for driver software.

It's a lesson that Timothy Scott Short learned all too well this month, when he got arrested after placing a couple of calls to Digimarc's tech support line.

Short, 33, is facing felony charges for possession of "document-making implements," in connection with the theft of a Digimarc printer used by the state of Missouri to manufacture driver's licenses.

The printer, along with a PC, were stolen on the evening of October 5 from the St. Charles contract office of the Missouri Department of Revenue, said Trish Vincent, director of the department. These offices are run by individuals who are subcontracted by the department to issue driver's licenses, Vincent said. The pilfered printer could be used to produce a license, Vincent said.

The PC, however, was locked with a key and because the key was stored in a secure location, the PC was unusable to the thief, said Vincent.

So what do you do when you have a stolen driver's license printer, but can't use the PC that goes with it? Enter Digimarc's tech support line.

According to a sworn statement by Secret Service Special Agent John Bush, someone who identified himself as "Scott" called Digimarc two days later and asked if he could buy printer drivers for the model of printer that had been swiped from the St. Charles office.

The Secret Service agent later listened to a recording of this call and recognized Short's voice from a prior investigation, Bush said. The caller also gave Digimarc the same phone number Short had used in an unrelated identity theft case, Bush said.

Short was charged on October 11, and is facing 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine, according to court filings.

"The stolen equipment contains the identifying information and photographs of between 200 to 500 Missouri residents," Bush said in the statement. "The only use of the equipment is the manufacture of state identification documents."

The state has sent notification letters to those affected by the theft, Vincent said. The computer contained name, address and date of birth data, but not Social Security numbers, she added.

Digimarc declined to explain how the Secret Service ended up listening to its customer support calls. "Because of a confidentiality agreement with our customer and because this is a criminal matter, we are not able to comment on the incident," wrote Digimarc spokeswoman Leslie Constans via e-mail.

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Robert McMillan

IDG News Service

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