Feds arrest Florida man who allegedly conned Apple out of $309K

In a string of crimes from Florida to Oregon, Tampa Bay man bought Apple gear with empty debit cards, Secret Service claims

A Florida man was arrested and charged with wire fraud after he allegedly bilked more than three-dozen Apple stores across the country of more than $309,000 worth of products over a several-month stretch.

According to a complaint filed with a Florida federal court earlier this month -- but not published to the court system's database until July 18 -- Sharron Laverne Parrish, Jr. successfully tricked Apple clerks in 16 states 42 different times starting in December 2012.

Parrish, 24 and a resident of Tampa, used a scheme dubbed "forced post" to walk out with thousands of dollars in Apple hardware even though the debit cards he used for the purchases had no funds. In fact, the accounts had been closed months before.

When a credit or debit card is declined by its issuer, but the owner of the card protests, a store can call the bank. If there are funds in the account, the bank will provide a multi-digit override code to enter into the card swipe device.

Parrish allegedly used that end-around. After the clerk called the bank, Parrish, who was given the phone, pretended to talk to a bank representative, then gave the Apple clerks an override code. The numbers comprising the code, however, were meaningless, according to a story published last week by the Tampa Bay Times; only the number of digits was.

Parrish obviously got the number of digits right in the transactions where he scored the goods.

By the account of Special Agent Bryan Halliwell of the U.S. Secret Service, who filed the complaint, Parrish had expensive tastes. In the five scams outlined in the complaint, Parrish reportedly averaged purchases of more than $7,200 at each. He hit the Apple store in Brandon, Fla., a Tampa suburb, at least twice, Halliwell claimed.

In seven cases, Apple clerks refused to process the purchase, even with the bogus override code, or Parrish himself aborted the deal. If Parrish had been successful in those instances, Apple would have lost another $51,000.

Because store clerks overrode the banks' rejections, Apple is on the hook for the losses, the complaint said.

Parrish allegedly used the scam to defraud merchants, primarily Apple, of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a string of other states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Halliwell's complaint did not say what Parrish did with the Apple products he "purchased," or whether any had been recovered.

Parrish was arrested July 17 and has been detained pending trial since. "At the [detention] hearing ... the defendant did not contest the government's request for detention, base[d] in part, on fleeing during arrest," the order stated.

Parrish has been appointed a public defender, but the next court date has not been set or revealed in the federal court system's database.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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