Toner cartridges, credit cards, even office chairs have been disappearing from Bldgs. 10, 40, 13 and other locations on campus. Tough economic times and easy access have spurred thieves to increase their activities.
How do they do it? Many of the suspects are not federal employees, but have a legitimate reason for being here. Their familiarity with NIH facilities has led to knowledge about offices that remain unlocked and unoccupied.
In one case, suspects entered an unlocked office and left with 12 chairs. The perpetrators were contractors in uniform, so employees presumably did not suspect any wrongdoing.
In another case, someone entered a laboratory in Bldg. 40, stole credit cards and promptly used the cards at local retail outlets. Fortunately, someone reported seeing a person who was not supposed to be in the area at the time. Subsequent investigation by NIH Police confirmed the suspect on video camera using a stolen card.
Tips to Thwart Crimes of Opportunity
- Report suspicious activity. It doesn’t have to be an emergency. Call the police non-emergency number, (301) 496-5685.
- Lock exterior hallway doors, office doors and desks. Even lock unoccupied desks and doors when the rest of an office is occupied, whenever possible.
Do not leave purses, iPods and other valuables in unattended or unlocked compartments while away from work areas, even when you are absent for only a short period of time.
- Mark toner cartridge boxes with your organization, your building number and your room number, such as “NIH, Bldg. 31, Rm. B3B17.”
- Challenge people you don’t recognize when they are in areas of question.
In a follow-up interview, the suspect confessed to stealing the credit cards and was charged with theft. Without the help of employees taking the time to report him in the vicinity, on the day of the crime, he might never have been caught.
In another case, the NIH Police received a call that a suspicious person was on the 10th floor of Bldg. 10. The suspect was observed checking doors to see if they were unlocked. He was then seen carrying 4 toner cartridges out of an office. When challenged by an employee, he provided a false name, dropped the cartridges and fled. A lookout was broadcast and the suspect was seen attempting to leave via the loading dock area. He went back into the building and was later apprehended in a vehicle on campus. The suspect was wearing a coat that matched the description of a person seen on camera using stolen credit cards in local stores.
The suspect was questioned and charged with theft of toner cartridges. He is also currently under investigation in four other cases involving thefts of employee wallets and credit cards. A review of regional pawn shops indicates that the suspect has also made numerous sales of new toner cartridges to pawn shops in Prince George’s County. The suspect had been on campus some 15 times since September 2008. On 8 of those occasions, theft reports were filed by employees.
Employees called police when noticing a suspicious person or activity. Aided by the helpful, quick response of employees, the NIH Police have been able to close 10 theft cases; several more are close to being solved.