Larceny 2.0

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Where have all the bad guys gone? To the electronic frontier, like other ambitious people, of course. Yes, the criminal world has upgraded from 1970s street offenses to high-tech fraud. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, the sociologist Dalton Conley gives a vivid first-person account of the transition to post-industrial criminality. A New York Police Department program sent officers to his family's apartment to mark their possessions to deter burglars -- engraving appliances with his mother's Social Security Number, a tactic hard to imagine now.

Today's criminals would be more interested in stealing my mother's identity than her toaster.

And as Conley observes, it's also harder to find the line between aggressive use of the limits of financial law and actual swindling. Bernard Madoff and other conspicuous villains are priceless boundary markers for the organizations and individuals in that gray zone.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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