So you want to commit a perfect crime. Good for you. I’m all for helping the helpless. Take a notebook, a pen, and pay attention, because I’m going to say it only once.
Perfect crimes requires planning, calculating your actions for the best outcome, anticipating complications. And, most importantly: profit.
Why profit? Well, for starters, because you need motivation, a reason to break the law (unless it’s a hobby of yours–I can totally relate to that). People commit crimes because they want money, or because their emotions drive them to commit the crime. And you better lock up your emotions and toss them aside; because most of the ‘emotional’ criminals get caught before you can even think ‘procedural drama.’ Sure, you can feel all sorts of emotions, as long as they don’t mess with your judgment.
Once you realize that money is the best possible motivation, you need a victim. Before you get ahead of yourself, when I say ‘a victim’ I don’t mean you have to find yourself someone to kill. You won’t be a very good villain if you limit yourself to the most obvious solutions.
A victim means somebody, anybody, who suffers because of the crime you commit. With murder it’s simple, the person you kill is the victim. But when you steal something, the victim is the owner of whatever it is that you took (because obviously, you deserve to have that ‘something’ more than the idiot that allowed you to take it). Now, the crucial thing is to pick your victim carefully.
First of all, you don’t want to make it too easy for the cops, the private investigator and the receptionist who solves crimes in her free time. So it’s best to pick complete strangers. After all, every crime fighting wannabe knows that the family and friends are usually the ones guilty of the crime.
Yes, complete strangers require more patience, as you need to study them beforehand to make sure you can anticipate their actions and you know their routines. Yes, you need to be careful during the time you’re watching them because somebody can notice you (avoid old ladies, kids and pet owners; they always see things they aren’t supposed to) and will be more than happy to provide a description of you or your car. But! It will be that much harder to point a finger at you. Give it some thought.
Once you have a victim you need to do some actual planning and decide what kind of perfect crime you want to commit. As that choice will impact all your later actions, I suggest you write down pros and cons and decide what works best for you this time (because once you start getting away with things, it’s very hard to stop).
There are two types of Perfect Crime: the Not-Guilty One and the Never-Been-There One. I wouldn’t recommend the Not-Guilty, as the whole point is being a suspect but not getting charged with the crime, or being found not guilty by the jury. It’s risky and it leaves your fate in the hands of twelve idiots. It’s for the criminal masterminds who have years of experience under their belt.
There is also the good old Frame-Up Job, but nowadays there’s always somebody who decides to believe the idiot you framed. And they take it upon themselves to right the wrong and they get their ex-boyfriends involved (you know, those annoying ones who work in law enforcement) and change a nice clean frame-up into one huge mess. Take my word for it, it’s not worth it. So I’m just going to ignore that one.
The Never-Been-There type of crime is the most popular one, and to be honest, the one that works best.
You commit a crime and leave little to no evidence that could lead the cops to you. Obviously, you wear gloves. I recommend thick latex gloves. Leather gloves leave prints that can be matched once the police recover the glove and the regular latex gloves are thin enough to actually leave fingerprints on the scene. You wear a hat, because any hair you leave behind can point the investigation in the direction you wouldn’t like.
And for the love of God, don’t plant yourself in the investigation. Don’t try to pose as a witness or a friend of the family. It’s best not to interact with anyone even remotely connected to the crime. If you really need to know what’s going on with a case try to befriend the lead detective or a CSI in a diner or some place equally safe. Be friendly, helpful and appear not interested in the case at all.
What you really need to work on is actually stopping. Most serial killers, thieves, gamblers and other professional criminals are caught because they don’t know when to stop. Each new crime and each new crime scene gives the cops the opportunity to see patterns, gather evidence. Be smarter than that. Move around, don’t commit crimes in your immediate location, and change your MO to avoid patterns. And avoid pissing off retired FBI agents.
That said, given that everybody’s a crime fighter nowadays, you’ll probably get found out by some 21 year old psychology major after you steal her table at the local coffee shop. It’s difficult to be a villain.
Note: Dan Ariely’s new book, “The Upside of Irrationality,” was released this week. See the video below for more from Dan about the book.
There is a certain perverse pleasure in contemplating the perfect crime.
You can apply your ingenuity to the hypothetical issues of choosing a target, evading surveillance and law enforcement, dealing with contingencies and covering your tracks afterward. You can prove to yourself what an accomplished criminal mastermind you would be, if you so chose.
The perfect crime usually takes the form of a bank robbery in which the criminals cleverly bypass all security systems using neat gadgets, rappelling wires and knowledge they’ve acquired over several weeks of casing the joint. This seems to be an ideal crime because we can applaud the criminals’ cunning, intelligence and resourcefulness.
But it’s not quite perfect. After all, contingencies by definition depend on chance, and therefore can’t ever be perfectly thought out (and in all good bank-robber movies, the thieves either almost get caught or do). Even if the chances of being caught are close to zero, do we really want to call this a perfect crime? The authorities are likely to take it very seriously, and respond accordingly with harsh punishment. In this light, the 0.001 percent chance of getting caught might not seem like a lot, but if you take into account the severity of punishment, such crimes suddenly seem much less perfect.
In my mind, the perfect crime is one that not only yields more money, but is one where, if by some small chance you did get caught, no one would care, and the punishment would be negligible.
So, with this new knowledge how would you go about it?
First, the crime would need to be obscure and confusing, making it difficult to detect. Breaking a window and stealing jewelry is too straightforward.
Second, the crime should involve many people engaging in the same type of crime so that no one can make an example of you à la Martha Stewart. This is why looting, though easy to detect, is much more difficult to get a handle on than a single robbery.
Third, your crime will need to fall under the shady umbrella of plausible deniability so that if you do get caught, you can say you didn’t know it was wrong in the first place. With this kind of defense, even if the public cares, the legal system may let you off easy. Moreover, plausible deniability allows you to apologize in the aftermath and ask forgiveness for your “mistake.”
If you really want to go all out, do something you can spin in a positive light, and maybe even create an ideology around it. This way you can then explain how you’re actually on the side of progress. Say, for instance, you’re “providing liquidity” and “lubricating the market” and thereby helping the economy – even if it happens to be by taking people’s money. You can also resort to opaque and promising-sounding language to make your case; you’re “restoring equilibrium,” “eliminating arbitrage” and creating “opportunity” and “efficiency” across the board.
Basically, just bottle snake oil and tell them it will cure, rather than cause, blindness.
Something to avoid, on the other hand, is anything involving an identifiable victim with whom people can sympathize. Don’t rob one little old lady blind, or any one individual for that matter. It’s human nature that we care so much about blue-collar crime, even though the average burglary only costs about $1,300 (according to 2004 FBI crime reports), of which the criminal only nets a few hundred. Crimes like burglaries are the least ideal crime: they’re simple, detectable, perpetrated by a single or just a few people. They create an obvious victim and can’t be cloaked in rhetoric. Instead, what you should aim for is to steal a little bit of money from as many people as possible—little, old or otherwise — it doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t reverse the fortune of any one individual. After all, when lots of people suffer just a bit, people won’t mind as much.
So, what is the ideal crime? Which activity is difficult to detect, involves many people, has plausible deniability, can be supported by an ideology and affects many people just a bit? I think you know the answer…
Seriously, what we have here is a problem with our priorities. We have tremendous regulations for what is legal and illegal in the domain of possessions and blue-collar crime. But, what about regulations in banking? It is not that I really think that bankers plan and plot crimes for a living (I don’t), but I do think they are continuously faced with tremendous conflicts of interests, and as a consequence they see reality in a way that fits their own wallets and not ours. The recent turmoil in the market is a symptom, and unless we remove conflicts of interests from the banking system, we are going to be part of a long stream of perfect crimes.
Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University. His latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, was just released. The book examines some of the positive effects irrationality can have on our lives and offers a new look at the irrational decisions that influence our personal lives and our workplace experiences.