“And you’re working for no one but me”
–George Harrison, Taxman
“Let me tell you something about money, Mickey. It ain’t real. It doesn’t even exist. If you know this, you can have as much of it as you want.”
We were making breakfast. I have a flat top griddle on my stove and I take every opportunity to use it; I love that thing. We were making sausage and pancakes. Jack Cade wasn’t much of a father, but he taught me to cook – and we made most everything from scratch since we were usually broke.
“That’s bullshit,” Michael said, “you wouldn’t have your privilege if you didn’t have money. Money is power, kiddo. And you know it.”
Michael thinks I inherited my wealth. I have never told him that I use the electronic banking system to syphon money. He isn’t ready to graduate to full-blown pirate. He thinks we are just playing. I allow it, but someday soon I will raise the curtain. For now, I am laying a broad foundation, showing him a little here and a little there.
He was manning the spatula, the ham-handed fool. I said, “See the little holes on the pancakes, Mickey? That means it’s time to flip those suckers.” He dropped one half on, half off the griddle.
“Oh, sorry. I’ll clean it up.” He went in search of paper towels.
I flipped the others, checked the sausage, and salvaged the flopped one, wiping the stainless around the stovetop with a rag I keep on the warming shelf. One of Jack’s frequent odd jobs was line-cook in a busy lunch joint. He taught me to multitask on an eight burner. “Don’t hassle over it,” I called, “I got ‘em.” Michael was rooting around in the pantry.
I checked the toast in the salamander and said, “What the hell are you doing in there?”
He returned with an empty towel tube and a porcelain cream pitcher in the shape of a dairy cow. “This is cute, where’d you get it?”
I said, “Be careful with that, it’s rare.” I lied about finding it in a curiosity shop in Seattle. It was actually one of the few items that Jack gave me. I bet he found it in someone’s garbage or stole it. I said, “I don’t use it; it’s too fragile. Put it back, ‘k?”
We ate and lounged. Snow drifted by the uncurtained industrial windows near the kitchen table. The city sky looked like a dirty steel pot; the snow would probably turn to sleet in a few minutes: fucking New York winters. I poured more coffee. Michael read on his laptop. I said, “Here, give me that, have you ever heard of an ACH file?”
He folded the last pancake, poured syrup on it, and stuffed it in his mouth. Licking the excess from his fingers, he spoke around the mouthful, “Nope.”
“ACH stands for Automated Clearing House.” I opened a text file from one of my cloud drives and spun the screen toward him. “It’s just a text file.” I pointed at a line. “The funds come from here, and flow there. This is the amount, and this is the bank. The rest is a description. Files like this move all the money in the world.”
He was chewing. “Hmmm.”
I said, “You have to be a bank to upload one– but it’s easy to hack in and insert extra lines into an existing file. They upload them every night and download return files in the morning. That’s it. That’s all money is. Numbers in a text file.”
He wiped his mouth and finished the last drips of his coffee, tipping the mug over his opened mouth and smacking his lips. Michael had some peculiar, yet endearing habits. He said, “Show me.”
I lifted my sweatshirt and stuck out my tongue.
“Very nice,” he said, “but that’s not what I mean. Yeah, no, do something. Show me how money moves. For real.”
“Ok smart-ass. But I have to set things up, and it’s Sunday, so we have to wait. If you really want to see an ACH hack in action, we’ll do it Thursday when the most deposits are made. Files drop at midnight; Friday morning is the best time to withdraw funds.” He was standing behind me now with his hand inside my sweatshirt, massaging my left tit. I leaned my head back against him.
“So,” he said, “We can do it later? Good. That leaves this morning free.”
Michael is such a horn dog. That’s part of the reason I keep him around.
Making an ACH file is cake. As I told Michael, it’s just a simple processor file, like the ones the SUXNET virus infiltrated to take control of Iranian centrifuges. As long as you give the processor proper instructions, money moves. If there are insufficient funds the transaction comes back in a return file.
ACH transfers are internal bank to bank transactions, and normally banks are the only ones who use them. But banks give FedWire network access to certain non-banks. They call themselves financial services; collection agencies, check recovery firms, and the like. I have access to everyone, but these companies are easier to hack than a bank. Unfortunately, stealing from a bank is a one shot deal; you can never do it the same way again. I’d been planning a project for months that I would initiate on Thursday. Michael and I would craft a file to move small amounts from several sources. These transfers have to be masked through many accounts to avoid detection long enough cover erase our tracks. I’d to show Michael a map of the transfers, he likes graphics. ACH hacking is more art than science; it’s a slight of hand.
I told him I was busy until Thursday so I’d have enough time to get everything ready. The file we made would syphon off a few thousand micro-amounts and aggregate them in forty other accounts around the world. No one would notice, and even if they did, unauthorized debits are always refunded. The complexity makes them impossible to trace.
From there I’d shuffle them around over a couple days. Bellagio called it crossing. Eventually they will be posted in an off-shore account and withdrawn. We’d end up with ten thousand or so, but Michael would be suitably impressed. I would put his transactions my insert for the check recovery company and his tests would upload at the same time as my attack. I never burn a bridge without making it worth my while.
My project will involve much larger sums and have bigger consequences. It makes me wet just thinking about it.