Software Engineer Allegedly Stole $300K From An E-Commerce Site By Copying Office Space

A former employee of the e-commerce site Zulily has been charged with stealing more than $300,000 from it. It is said that the 1999 movie Office Space gave her the idea. The New York Times reported that a police report (pdf) says Ermenildo Valdez Castro, 28, is accused of changing the prices of products and changing the company’s code to send shipping fees from Zulily to his own account.

According to court documents, Castro started changing Zulily’s checkout software code in February 2022. This let him steal around $260,000 in electronic payments by sending shipping fees from Zulily customers’ purchases to a Stripe account he controlled. In some cases, he charged customers twice for shipping.

Software Engineer Allegedly Stole $300K From An E-Commerce Site By Copying Office Space
Software Engineer Allegedly Stole $300K From An E-Commerce Site By Copying Office Space

Here are the three things the authorities said he did:

(1) an original code that diverted some customer shipping costs from Zulily’s account to Castro’s personal account beginning on February 28, 2022, through which Castro unlawfully obtained $110,240.71 from Zulily;

(2) after Zulily began investigating that first issue, a replacement code that doublecharged a small percentage of Zulily customers for shipping, allowing Castro to route a ‘full’ shipping cost to both Zulily’s accounts and his own account, through which Castro unlawfully obtained $151,645.50 from customers; and

(3) unrelated to the first two issues, by reducing the cost of expensive items that he was purchasing on Zulily.com to pennies per unit, a method by which he unlawfully obtained $40,842.31 from Zulily. Through these three methods, Castro stole a combined $302,278.52 before he was terminated in June 2022.

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Castro is said to have planned to use the stolen money to live “off the grid.”

In 2018, Zulily hired Castro as a software engineer. According to court documents, Castro was fired by Zulily in June 2022, after the company looked into his plan to change prices. A file called “OfficeSpace Project” was found on Castro’s work computer. It was said to contain codes used in the scheme and a note saying that he would need to “fudge exposure metrics.” A police report states that Castro was caught on June 21. During an interview, he told detectives that he named his plan to steal from Zulily after the movie.

The main plot of Office Space is about a group of software engineers who use a computer virus to steal a lot of money from their boss by skimming tiny amounts of money from company transactions. They were inspired to do this by a similar plan in the 1983 movie Superman III.

According to the “OfficeSpace Project” file, Castro planned to use the stolen money in the Stripe account to live “off the grid” if his plan was found.

In the police report, Castro said he had used the shipping fees for other things. He told the police that the money was “gone” and that he had invested the stolen money in the stock market, especially in GameStop.

According to court documents, Castro also changed the prices of items sold on Zulily. This let him buy more than 1,000 items worth $41,000 for only $250.

Castro admitting to placing orders for over 1,000 items that were shipped to his house. He stated that the orders were part of a testing process that Zulily was aware about, but he claimed that there was a script that was to be run shortly thereafter that would essentially cancel the order and ensure the orders did not process. He said the test orders would have to be billed to a personal credit card, thus his changing of the items’ prices, as to avoid incurring a large expense on his personal credit card. He said he forgot to run the script; therefore, the orders shipped. He admitted that he did not ever notify Zulily staff of the orders being delivered. When asked what he did with the items delivered, he stated that once he was fired, he threw many of the items away.

When asked why he never returned the items to Zu.

On December 20, 2022, Castro was charged with two counts of theft and one count of identity theft. On January 26, 2023, he will be arraigned in court.

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