In 2009, roughly 5 percent of the global population owned a smartphone. Before 2015 is out, that number is expected to hit 35 percent, or 2.5 billion people—approximately the populations of China and India combined. Considering the ever-quickening pace of technological innovation and the shrinking cost of processors and chipsets, it does not take a particularly fertile imagination to picture the day when, perhaps as soon as 2017, half the world will be hooked up to the small screen of a smartphone. ... street theft of mobile devices—or “Apple picking,” as it’s known—has been such a widespread crime in recent years. According to Consumer Reports, 3.1 million Americans were the victims of smartphone theft in 2013, up from 1.6 million in 2012. The mobile security firm Lookout believes that one in 10 smartphone users in the US have had their phones stolen; 68 percent of those victims never saw their device again. Nationally, about one-third of robberies now involve a smartphone. ... estimated Americans spend $4.8 billion annually on premium phone insurance and $580 million a year on replacement devices.
In the days following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, word had spread that Union troops were seizing good horses. Garland had hidden Don Juan at a farm in the woods on behalf of its owners, but another freedman told the soldiers where to find it. ... For 150 years, it has been public knowledge that Custer owned Don Juan, but not how he acquired it. His many biographers have written that Union troops seized it during a wartime campaign, as they confiscated every horse in Rebel territory; that was Custer’s own explanation. Until now, the truth has remained hidden in the open, told in correspondence and affidavits archived in the library of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and the National Archives that have aroused little curiosity among those biographers. But the truth raises important questions about the man and his place in American history. ... And 16 days after Lee’s surrender, ten days after Lincoln’s death by assassination, with all fighting at an end east of the Mississippi River, George Armstrong Custer stole a horse. ... Was it greed that corrupted him? A passion for fine horseflesh—common to most Americans in 1865, but particularly intense in this cavalryman? Was it power—the fact that he could take it? As the military historian John Keegan memorably wrote, “Generalship is bad for people.” Custer was only 25, an age more commonly associated with selfishness than self-reflection, and perhaps that explains it. But the theft was not impulsive. It had required investigation, planning and henchmen. It may help explain his self-destructive actions in the months and years that followed.
Mr. Hardberger is among a handful of maritime “repo men” who handle the toughest of grab-and-dash jobs in foreign harbors, usually on behalf of banks, insurers or shipowners. A last-resort solution to a common predicament, he is called when a vessel has been stolen, its operators have defaulted on their mortgage or a ship has been fraudulently detained by local officials. ... Tens of thousands of boats or ships are stolen around the world each year, and many become part of a global “phantom fleet” involved in a broad range of crimes. Phantom vessels are frequently used in Southeast Asia for human trafficking, piracy and illegal fishing, in the Caribbean for smuggling guns and drugs, and in the Middle East and North Africa to transport fighters or circumvent arms or oil embargoes ... Usually the vessels are not recovered because they are difficult to find on the vast oceans, the search is too expensive and the ships often end up in ports with uncooperative or corrupt officials. ... sometimes, when the boat or ship is more valuable, firms like Mr. Hardberger’s Vessel Extractions in New Orleans are hired to find it. His company occasionally handles jobs involving megayachts, but more often the targets are small-to-medium cargo ships that carry goods between developing countries with poor or unstable governments.
Over more than 20 years at Buffalo Trace, Curtsinger had worked his way to a senior position on the loading dock, but it wasn't necessarily clear where he might go from there. ... Still, what might drive a man with a wife and two kids, who's worked some two decades for the same company, to start stealing from his employer? The simple explanation might be that bourbon prices were soaring and that stealing it was pretty easy. Buffalo Trace has 450 employees spread across 440 acres, and more bourbon aging in its 15 warehouses than at any time since the 1970s. ... Curtsinger started small. According to the investigation, around 2008 he began lifting bottles from display cases at the distillery. As a precaution, he would casually ask co-workers about security cameras around the facility. Curtsinger could be a generous colleague, loaning cash to co-workers but then asking that they repay him in stolen bottles. Eventually he got bolder: One night Curtsinger loaded more than 50 cases of Eagle Rare onto a pickup truck that was so weighted down it bottomed out on his driveway when he got home. ... Business was brisk, but there were only so many bottles of Pappy to be found, and eventually Curtsinger started stealing entire barrels, each containing the equivalent of around a hundred bottles.
A naturally occurring oxide, TiO2 is generally extracted from ilmenite ore and was first used as a pigment in the 19th century. In the 1940s chemists at DuPont refined the process until they hit on what’s widely considered a superior form of “titanium white,” which has been used in cosmetics and plastics and to whiten the chalked lines on tennis courts. DuPont has built its titanium dioxide into a $2.6 billion business, which it spun off as part of chemicals company Chemours, in Wilmington, Del., last fall. ... A handful of other companies produce TiO2, including Kronos Worldwide in Dallas and Tronox of Stamford, Conn. Chemours and these others will churn out more than 5 million tons of TiO2 powder in 2016. China also produces large amounts of the pigment, and its industries consume about a quarter of the world’s supply. Most of China’s TiO2 plants, however, use a less efficient and more hazardous process than the one developed at DuPont. Starting in the 1990s, if not earlier, China’s government and Chinese state-run businesses began seeking ways to adopt DuPont’s methods. Only they didn’t approach the company to make a formal deal. According to U.S. law enforcement officials, they set out to rip off DuPont. ... Most trade-secret theft goes unreported. Companies worry that disclosing such incidents will hurt their stock prices, harm relationships with customers, or prompt federal agents to put them under a microscope. Theft of trade secrets also rarely results in criminal charges because the cases are time-consuming and complicated, and it’s often difficult to win a conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage. A 2013 study estimated that China accounted for as much as 80 percent of the $300 billion in losses sustained by U.S. companies from the theft of intellectual property. Often, China won’t even release the records or serve the subpoenas that might contribute to a prosecution. To win in court, companies must prove they properly safeguarded their trade secrets, something many fail to do.
Cattle rustling, signature crime of the Old West, has returned to Texas. Rates of cattle theft in the state have risen fivefold in less than a decade. The thefts take many forms. Some resemble the Alvarado case, in which cattle are carried off and sold to a third party. Other times, rustlers will shoot and field strip the animals, then sell their meat to an unscrupulous abattoir. There also exist white-collar variants, whereby cattle are acquired fraudulently or invested in byzantine Ponzi schemes. ... Lawmen and rustlers now find themselves reenacting a centuries-old drama, one central to the creation myth of the American frontier. If the cowboy was the great American folk hero, the cattle rustler was his villainous twin. They were both lone figures seeking their fortune in the hinterlands, unbound by government or caste. But the rustler lacked an essential sense of nobility and fair play—he stole what the cowboy earned. ... In Texas, when a cow or bull is reported stolen, the case is assigned to one of twenty-seven men, the employees of a trade group called the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The TSCRA traces its origins to 1877, when forty ranchers, plagued by rustlers, gathered outside the courthouse in Graham and pooled their money to hire men with guns to protect their herds. The group now serves more than 17,000 businesses and ranching families who collectively manage 4 million head of cattle on 76 million acres of range and pastureland.
In recent years, nut theft has exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013. The number and style of the thefts—quick and professional, as if the characters from Ocean’s Eleven had descended on the Central Valley—have drawn the attention of federal organized-crime investigators and prompted the creation of a regional task force. ... California grows the majority of the world’s almonds and is the second-largest producer of pistachios and walnuts. Many environmentalists blame their cultivation for exacerbating California’s drought—nut trees are thirsty plants. ... The man tasked with finding missing nuts in Tulare County is sheriff Mike Boudreaux, and in 2015 he faced a growing problem. That year, thieves had stolen six shipments, valued at $1.6 million, from area processors ... food and beverages overtook electronics as the most commonly stolen cargo in 2010. ... food is the easiest target in an ocean of easy targets. A private investigator and transit-company owner from California named Sam Wadhwani said that he had tracked cargo thefts of tires, Xboxes, computer equipment earmarked for the military, baby formula, tampons, and iPhones. Inventing a fake trucking company is easy, he said, as is impersonating a legitimate one. The only people in the shipping industry responsible for verifying truckers are brokers, who connect customers with trucking companies. ... the situation is further complicated by the fact that many nut processors have avoided contacting the police, worried that reporting thefts could jeopardize future business.