State: Revere man made, sold millions of dollars' worth of unauthorized T passes

Coakley explains case as T police listen.Coakley explains case as T police listen.

A Revere man who worked for an MBTA pass subcontractor was arrested today on charges he used pass equipment to print up commuter-rail and subway passes he'd sell for a discount on Craigslist.

Andres Townes, 27, will be arraigned tomorrow on charges of larceny over $250 and conspiracy to commit larceny over $250.

Townes worked for Cubic Transportation Systems of Beverly, which handled online and telephone sales of the passes. Attorney General Martha Coakley said there is no evidence that anybody else at the company participated in the scheme, which allegedly began in 2007. Coakley said this is the largest fraud case in the history of the MBTA.

However, MBTA General Manager Richard Davey said the T today began to sever its contract with Cubic, and will insist the company reimburse the T for all the lost sales - as soon as state investigators determine exactly how much that is. Coakley said that just last month, Townes allegedly sold 400 passes worth $235 apiece. She estimated that since 2007, Townes has made upwards of 20,000 of the "ghost" passes.

Coakley and MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan said the scheme unraveled when the conductor on an unidentified commuter-rail line was handed a disccolored pass on March 11 The rider said he'd accidentally put it through the wash, but the conductor didn't fully buy that and turned the pass in. Coakley said that while the pass was authentic looking - having been printed on the same machine as actual passes - its ID number didn't match up with anything in the T's pass database.

Investigators traced the bogus ticket to Cubic, where they found Townes, a long-time "fulfillment management" with access to the secure room containing the machine used to print actual passes.

On his Facebook page, Townes described his Cubic job:

I put stuff in envelopes and mail them.

Coakley and T officials said riders need to be wary of any discount pass offers; the T itself never offers a discount. Coakley said that because Craigslist acted as "a billboard," it is not liable for any of the losses incurred by the T. She added that "it's not unlikely" there will be future attempts to defraud the T.

Although Cubic was responsible for the bulk of T-pass sales, Davey said the authority will begin audits of sales at the 170 retail outlets - such as convenience stores - that now also sell T passes.

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Comments

I'm no techie

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But you'd think that each T pass would have some sort of validation code that indicates it as a valid pass that is randomly generated at the time of printing and is digitally linked to the pass readers at the gates which would reject any number not in the database. There's probably a way around just about anything - but some basic security against counterfeiting like this should be in place.

and it works for sports tix

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lots of people find out at the gate they've been scammed when the reader rejects the code on the tickets - sounds like a pretty simple system and curious why the T doesn't have a similarly appropriate fraud deterrent. Can't imagine this is very complex in today's world.

And you'd think the company would have an audit system that counts how many cards they print and that the T would in turn audit this from time to time to cross-check.

Yet Another Reason

Yet another reason why the T should roll out a charlie card system for commuter rail. Its pretty incredible that the T still checks fares on the Needham line the same way that they did when Vanderbuilt laid the tracks to Providence in the 1800s.

No, this is yet another reason the T should

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completely abandon the expensive, mostly unreliable, and very wasteful CharlieCard system completely and go to a "proof of payment" system like most European systems have.

How does that work?

Not sure I know what a "proof of payment" system is. Any details?

When I was in Vienna (way too many times for biz), the local public transportation system was on the honor system. No checking at all to get on. However, every once in awhile after the doors closed, some plainclothes guy would announce himself and everybody had to produce a valid pass. Big fine if you had no ticket.

Proof of Payment/Honor System

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Doesn't work so well when the inspectors make commissions on fines and ticket machines aren't updated properly, as was often (until very recently) the case on the RATP (Paris commuter rail) system. Have seen some serious ugliness arising arising from this.

great if you trust the professionalism of those given power

When I was in San Francisco parts of the MUNI operated this way. The inspectors were straight up goons. Proof of payment gave incentive for people to cheat and try not to get caught, and yet more incentive for these low rent pseudo-cops to aggressively antagonize anyone they wanted to.

Would that work here?

Not sure we have the laws/systems in place in this country to allow for enforcement of these types of fines. Any idea where the European systems record the fines so that when the fined person attempts to do X (e.g. get a credit card) they can't until they pay up? The registry of motor vehicles is the only way of enforcing parking fines and the registry of deeds enforces things like tax liens, etc.

LA is as complex. SF uses it

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LA is as complex. SF uses it on buses. All the new systems (phoenix, San Jose, Houston, dallas, charlotte etc etc) use it.

We already have proof of

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We already have proof of payment on the Green Line. (Sort of. Nobody really knows the hideously complicated procedures, so it often ends up with drivers yelling at people to come up front and pay, or refusing to open the back doors.)

http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/Part... gives them the authority to suspend your driver's license if you don't pay a fare evasion ticket, just because it's the easiest way for the state to make your life difficult.

that's not proof of payment

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Proof of payment means that there are no fare gates. inspector steps onto the train, points to someone, and says "You, give me proof you paid." If you can't produce proof you paid, you get a *very* big fine.

That's what they do now, but only on the green line, rarely, and with a pretty measly fine. What the T should be doing is stopping people on the system at random anywhere on the system, asking to see proof of payment and running the ticket or card through a hand-validator, or radioing the ticket/card ID to someone at a workstation.

The fines should quickly escalate, or a repeat offense should be misdemeanor theft.

Honestly, there also would be less theft in the system if people go in-your-face at fare evaders. We need a culture where the theft is seen for what it is. If when someone tries to sneak in a back door or slip through a gate and people start chewing 'em out for it, we wouldn't need inspectors running around with validators.

Would it be cheaper

... to just enclose the green line stations? Like the do with the bus tubes in Brazil? It would certainly speed boarding.

Spending hundreds of millions

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Spending hundreds of millions on enclosed stations is cheaper than paying 10 guys to ask for tickets....and have their salaries be paid for with ticket revenue?

????

Wild conjecture and amoritization

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Hundreds of millions? Probably not, but let's say $100M.

10 guys? For what? One shift? The T runs about 20 hours a day, so you'd have at least 2 shifts per day, plus you need enough to check 7 days a week, so that's probably 3x10 at a minimum. Each guy gets paid what? $60,000/yr? With benefits and pension, payroll will probably be close to $180,000 per employee times 30 employees. That's $5.4M just for payroll. It doesn't include any administrative overhead for the new ticketing system or equipment. If the covered stations last 20 years without needing extensive repairs, then $100M is less than the estimated $108M just for payroll of the 30 employees.

Thats not how PoP works.You

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Thats not how PoP works.

You only need enough enforcement so that people believe if they cheat there's a good chance they'll get caught. The whole point is that you're not checked every time you ride. If you get checked once a week, as long as the check is always in a different time and place, that provides that feeling that you can always be caught.

10 guys can easily cover the entire system, 365 days a year.

Basically, thats 5 teams.

The T is open 140 hours a week.
5 teams working full time provides 200 hours of coverage a week.

Subtract time for paperowrk, and there you go.

As for the rest....it costs $10m to build a train platform. How many surface green line stations are there? 100m+ is a low side estimate.

You also say PoP would require "a new ticketing system". Uh, no. It's the opposite. You have LESS machinery, so it's cheaper.

Way underestimated

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I know how PoP works. I've been on PoP systems before. You're underestimating how many people 10 guys are going to be able to check in order to put the scare of punishment into anyone. The B Line alone will need 1-2 guys for a few hours easily to cover even 1% of the ridership in a day.

The "new ticketing system" is not for the riders, it's for the agents. They now have to hand out fines on the go as fast as possible to get better coverage (especially if you think they're gonna just breeze through a train in order to only need 10 guys total).

Finally, the current rider tickets won't work either. There's no way to PoP the current tickets. Most PoP systems have you "check-in" when you board with a paper ticket that gets time stamped at the door. Then your pass is good for a ride, the day, the week, etc. depending on what the ticket looks like. The CharlieCards don't record anything like that locally. The paper tickets don't either. So, the rider's tickets WOULD have to change...I just didn't bring them up, you did.

Wrong again. Charlie cards

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Wrong again. Charlie cards remember the last 10 transaction. Thats how the current green line PoP system works. Agents scan your card and see if you payed.

Cash and ticket people are supposed to get a receipt.

You're right and you're wrong

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I recalled the MIT Defcon talk about hacking MiFare cards (primarily CharlieCards) and looked it up again. The card records the ONE last station you checked in at and how much you spent, not 10.

I believe that's what he's

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I believe that's what he's talking about. You don't check in every time you ride but buy a pass which can be checked by officials.

They had a similar system in LA but had to abandon it because the subway was losing too much money.

False. LA is still proof of

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False. LA is still proof of payment and always will be. There brand new expo line (opens this fall) is just like all the other ones, completely open.

They installed turnstiles downtown because of the homeland security idiots. Heres the kicker: The turnstiles arent locked and theres no way to stick your paper ticket into it. Theyre as effective as the turnstiles at disney you pass through when leaving a ride.

They just look at the

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They just look at the commuter rail pass, no electronic checking goes on.

This Raises a Legitimate Concern

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Suppose one of the MBTA's licensed retail outlets decided to buy 100 of these bogus passes on Craigslist in bulk to "supplement" their inventory. They then sold these passes to unsuspecting MBTA commuters at the standard price, making a profit on each sale. An unwitting MBTA commuter then boards a train, has their pass confiscated, and is even issued a fine (or even detained/arrested) by the conductor for trying to defraud the MBTA.

What recourse would this commuter have?

Keep in mind the MBTA is NOT at fault (for once). One would think that the commuter SHOULD be entitled to some sort of reimbursement from the licensed MBTA vendor who duped them though.

Why would a retailer be

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Why would a retailer be buying bulk from someone other than MBTA? Seems like that would be fishy.

discount T passes

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"Coakley and T officials said riders need to be wary of any discount pass offers; the T itself never offers a discount."

There are plenty of people legitimately selling T passes at a discount on Craigslist -- anyone who bought a pass and couldn't use it because their plans changed.

More than a few folks get a

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More than a few folks get a free pass from work, but don't really need it.

Surprised by transferability

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I was about to write, "Those aren't legitimate reasons, because monthly T passes are non-transferable" but failed to find any evidence on the mbta website that that was true.

I don't know what would make a T pass non-transferable

You don't sign it, or put any other kind of identifying mark on it that ties it to you.

The fare gates have a lockout (I think it's 20 minutes long) to prevent you transferring the pass to your friend and having her use it right behind you.

"Abuse" is in the eye of the beholder

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In theory, when you buy a monthly pass you are entering into a contract with the T, in return for X dollars, you are allowed to travel as much as you want. If you then sell the pass to me, the T could, if it wanted, claim, with some legitimacy, that they never contracted to carry me and has no obligation to do so; that the pass, even though not marked or signed, is not a bearer instrument

In other places I've lived the railroads are quite strict in prevent pass-sharing... some places have a signature; others (I believe this was Metro North in NYC) would punch each pass either "M" or "F" to prevent husbands and wives from sharing it.

Another example: couriers

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Another example might be a courier business that operates 2 shifts, 6 days per week, and has 10 employees, three of which are working at any given time. Transferability vs not is the difference between the company buying 3 passes and 10. New York City Transit got quite sniffy about this about 20 years ago if I recall correctly.

(Note that I'm not arguing whether transferable or non-transferable is more reasonable and just and fair; I'm just pointing out some of the arguments used by the transit operators.)

You don't have to be gay ...

You can just team up with the couple next door. It also works out if your kids borrow your pass.

Of course the lockout doesn't prevent the "airport shuffle" trick, where one person scans the pass to let the other through the gate (usually when headed out of town) and then pockets the pass.

The Biggest?

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Please this pales in comparison to the Money Room thefts in Charlestown and the rail replacement on the Old Colony Line. That being said nice job by the Attorney General state police investigators

That was theft, this is fraud

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Yeah, it all comes down to money in the end, and the guy is actually charged with larceny, but they're not alleging he was grabbing fistfuls of quarters on the way out each day.

That being said

Nice job by the conductor (MCBR?) for catching the fake card to begin with -- at least one person was paying attention. THAT said, the carelessness and incompetence demonstrated over and over by MBTA management is just flat-out astounding, isn't it?

Yes, it was really washed

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This guy wasn't printing up replica passes. He was printing up actual MBTA passes, on an actual MBTA pass printing machine (not sure if you can call it a printer). Only difference is the ID numbers weren't getting registered with the T's database.

T Police Chief Paul MacMillan was only half joking when he said this is proof the "see something, say something" campaign works, because the conductor saw something (in this case a T pass discolored because it had, in fact, gone through the wash), so he said something.

Wasn't this a reported issue years ago?

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They shouldn't be surprised, we've long known there was no encryption on Charlie cards. This was a blunder from day one.

Well, same issue, different

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Well, same issue, different form.

Why bother with a card reader when you can do the same thing to the RFID chip in a charlie card without the hassle of stealing property.

I'm sure plenty of enterprising science / IT students have been doing this for a long time.

From the news reports it

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From the news reports it sounds like the tickets actually worked. If you swiped them you'd get through a gate. The only thing is that they didn't exist in the T's records and had never been paid for. So a buyer of the ticket is never going to notice that it's bogusw.

The only other way this would

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The only other way this would have been noticed is:

1) One of them tried to register it to mycharlie online
2) A groper used one and they tried to track him

Anyone remember a few years

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Anyone remember a few years ago where a couple of MIT students 'hacked' the Charlie Ticket system? And it was Charlie Tickets only, not Charlie Cards.

I think this proves that the T doesn't keep track of the paper tickets like it does the RFID Cards (the charlie cards).

Basically since he's been doing this for 4 years, its obvious that the system is flawed in this manner and has been since its inception.

MARTHA NICE WORK

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Coakley explains case as T-Police listen, does this mean Martha didn't trust the T- Police sleuths? Why do the MSP and BPD investigate all the big cases, homicides and fraud cases,what do t-detectives detect?

Why do you think the police were there?

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It was a press conference. Coakley spoke. So did Richard Davey. And so did Paul MacMillan, MBTA police chief. I just happened to run a photo of Coakley. Not everything is a conspiracy.

Sounds fishy Adam...

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...the fact that you're denying it only proves that you're in on it Gaffin!

MIT HACKERS

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If memory serves me correct didn't MIT hackers predict this debaucle and management at the T denied this could happen and sued the students for going public with the information.

yes

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They did. Only it was with the Cards, not tickets.

But both used the same tech. Technically this guy didn't even need those machines, only the format, which was already known, and any machine that would print magnetic strips.

No, the MIT kids figured out

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No, the MIT kids figured out how one could hack the Charlie CARD system. This guy apparently appropriate legitimate ticket making machinery to make bogus tickets.

Do we know yet

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how many people were beaten, robbed and violated on the T yesterday while all the cops were at this press conference?