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Software Engineer Bases a Fraud Scheme on This Popular Movie

How one low-key heist movie inspired more than $300,000 in fraudulent charges.

It's commonly understood that good art imitates life. After all, that's what makes it so moving. And now, thanks to the ubiquity of streaming platforms and social media, it's just as often now that life imitates art.

Mediums like music, books, and movies are more accessible than ever, making them an integral part of our everyday lives. It's not uncommon for people to exchange quotes from their favorite movies or cater the contents of their closets to reflect the style of their favorite musician or fictional character.

Visual media is particularly good at conveying products and ideas. You know it's a reliable phenomenon when major advertisers start to participate. As early as the 1920s, companies paid huge sums to have their products featured on big screens. The 1927 Best Picture Oscar winner "Wings" featured product placement for the Hershey Company's  (HSY) - Get Free Report famous candy bar. It's a time-honored accepted ideal that movies can influence the habits of audience members.

Advertising is all well and good, but not every idea that comes from a movie is as wholesome as a chocolate bar. Need an example? Just take this Washington-based software engineer who took too much inspiration from one cult classic movie. 

Zulilly Employee Bases Financial Fraud Scheme on "Office Space"

A former software engineer for the Seattle-based e-commerce company Zulily has been charged in a rather interesting case of fraud. Ermenildo “Ernie” Valdez Castro allegedly stole more than $300,000 using a variety of schemes involving altering site code to manipulate pricing or double-charge customers, moving the funds into his own personal Stripe account, Geekwire reports.

If you’ve seen the cult classic “Office Space”, this probably sounds familiar. In the movie, a disgruntled office employee does the same thing, stealing fractions of cents from the company and diverting it to a personal account. After waiving his Miranda rights, Valdez Castro told detectives that he was inspired by the movie, even referring to his plan as the “OfficeSpace project” in notes found by police.

According to Valdez Castro, Zulily was aware of his plans to a certain degree -- he’d been fired from the company in June of 2022 after an internal investigation. Once the evidence was found on his laptop, Valdez Castro was arrested. Last week, he was charged with two counts: first-degree theft and first-degree identity theft.

What is Zulily?

Online retailer Zulily started as a hub for young mothers looking for bargains on name-brand clothes, toys, and supplies for their kids. The site offers a new deal daily, prompting shoppers to stay engaged through mobile devices. After a brief stint on the NASDAQ, the site was purchased by Qurate Retail Group  (QRTEA) - Get Free Report for $2.4B. The same company owns QVC, HSN, and other brands.

While it's clear that the company dealt with the fraud expediently, the news might still deter some shoppers from visiting the site. Zulily reported a 39% decrease in revenue in its most recent third-quarter report, though several of Qurate's other shopping platforms saw a similar dip in revenue. 

Time will tell if the company sees any long-term effects from this incident, but one outcome stands out as likely. Streaming views for the movie "Office Space" may very well go up as the news makes its way across the internet. It's streaming on Disney's  (DIS) - Get Free Report service Hulu, if you're wondering.