June 15, 2017

#99 Black Hole, New Jersey

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

A mysterious thief has been using the internet to steal a bizarre array of items - watches, scooter parts, clown costumes. This week, Alex heads straight towards his hideout.

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ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.

PJ VOGT: I’m PJ Vogt.

ALEX: And this week, PJ--

PJ: Super Tech Support’s back--


BRINA: Hello?

ALEX: Hi, is this Brina?

BRINA: Yeah.

ALEX: This is Alex Goldman, how ya doin?

BRINA: Pretty good, how are you?

ALEX: Good.

ALEX: So, recently, I spoke to this girl named Brina. She’s 16 years-old. She lives in Pennsylvania. She works at a gas station. And she had a pretty odd tech support issue. So, awhile back, she decided to save up to get an Apple Watch.

ALEX: Why did you want an Apple Watch?

BRINA: Um, I don’t know. I guess I thought it was cool. And like it’s better when you’re driving instead of having to look at your phone for directions you can just look at your wrist.?

ALEX: It must have been like six months that you had to save up for that thing.

BRINA: Yeah. It was like a while I worked at Subway making $7.25 an hour, so I don’t know. I guess you have to do the math on that, but like, I worked a lot of hours.

ALEX: I did the math: 55 hours. After she got it, she was not too into it, and so she decided to sell it on this auction site called Poshmark.

PJ: It’s like one of those sites that’s Ebay, but it’s not Ebay.

ALEX: Exactly. And someone bought the watch, which she was super excited about. And they asked her to ship it to this address in a town called Port Reading, New Jersey. 600 Markley Street.

PJ: Is that supposed to mean something to me?

ALEX: It's not! But it will.

BRINA: So I had my Apple Watch, and someone bought it, so I did like what I would usually do, shipped it right away, because I like to ship it as fast as possible.

ALEX: You don’t actually get paid on poshmark until the buyer receives the package, so Brina wanted to ship it fast. And then a couple days after she shipped it, the person who bought it said, "Hey, my Poshmark account has been hacked. Some hacker ordered that Apple Watch. I don’t even live at 600 Markley Street.” And Brina was just like, “Oh, god.”

So she's freaking out a little bit. She gets in touch with the post office and does a thing that I didn't know you could do, which is, you can pay 13 dollars to have a package intercepted.

PJ: Cool!

ALEX: Basically what that means is they flag the thing, so when they, you know, swipe it with a bar code reader, it will say, uh, "This package should not go out, keep this at the post office, or return it to the sender."

BRINA: And I called the USPS, like the post office that it was going to, and they said it'd be intercepted, and then all of the sudden on my tracking it said it was delivered.

ALEX: God, you must be really pissed off.

BRINA: Yeah. (laughs) $400 watch. Kind of pissed. (laughs)


ALEX: So this Apple Watch is long gone. And the company that she sold it through, Poshmark, they tell her they’re not going to refund the money.

But she knew the address where the hacker had the watch sent, and so I start looking into 600 Markley Street, and the first thing that I notice is that whoever is getting stuff sent there is insanely brazen and prolific--

PJ: What do you mean?

ALEX: So I Googled the address, 600 Markley Street, and a LOT of people complain about having their Ebay or Etsy or Poshmark accounts being hacked, and having their stuff sent to this address. And there’s just no rhyme or reason to the stuff that’s being sent there. Like, there were scooter parts, a Fitbit, uh--$545 dollars in designer clothes. Someone on Twitter said that a bunch of clown costumes were bought?

PJ: That is so weird.

ALEX: (laughs) Yeah, it's a--it’s a weird mix. And Brina has a theory, which is, she’s convinced that this is not just one guy who is hacking peoples’ accounts and keeping all of this stuff, but that this is some kind of organized crime, like, it’s a hacking ring. And that it even has a fake company serving as a front. And the reason she says this is because 600 Markley Street isn’t like a street address, it isn’t somebody’s house. It’s a warehouse owned by a company called Meest.

PJ: M-E-E-S-T? Sounds like something Gollum would say.

ALEX: (laughs, then, in Gollum's voice) Meest.

PJ: (laughs)

ALEX: And Meest has a website. And, if you look at it, it says that they ship to Eastern Europe, Middle Asia, and the Caucuses.

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: But when you Google Meest, you find tons of people saying it’s a scam, about how their accounts got hacked, about how stuff is disappearing to this address, and it has like, a Better Business Bureau rating of a D-. It does not have a good profile on Google.

ALEX: And Brina started talking to the other people who were victims of these hacks, and started hearing all kinds of crazy rumors.


BRINA: People online are saying it's an abandoned warehouse, someone comes and picks it up at the post office, they don’t actually deliver it to this place.

Like she’s saying, the post office is pulling the packages aside and were getting kickbacks from this fake company to send these packages somewhere. And she wanted to go investigate.

BRINA: I--I wanted to go check it out, but my parents wouldn't let me (laughs).

I just want like, this whole--the whole scam to stop, that's what I was trying to do, but no one's really doing anything about it.

ALEX: So, Brina’s parents wouldn’t let her go investigate this. But, um--I’m a grownup. And I have a car.

[Alex driving]

GOOGLEMAPS: In 800 feet, turn left onto Port Reading Avenue.

ALEX: So, the first place that Brina wanted me to go was the the Woodbridge post office, which is the post office where they were supposed to intercept her Apple Watch, just to see if they were somehow involved, like if anything shady’s going on, if they are taking bribes. This is an idea I was skeptical of, but I wanted to just go make sure.

[Car door slams, Alex enters the post office]

ALEX: Are you in line?

MAN: No, yeah, I’m in line.

ALEX: (laughs) So, I got there, and I just walked up the counter, and I had my, my recorder rolling, and I said:


POSTAL WORKER: What's up?!

ALEX: Uh, I'm a reporter. And I am work--working on a story about a bunch of packages that seem to be getting delivered to an address in the Port Reading area.

POSTAL WORKER: Oh, I know what--I bet you it's 600 Markley.

ALEX: Yeah (laughs).

POSTAL WORKER: How bout that? Did I get--did I get it right?

ALEX: Yeah, yes. You got it exactly right.

POSTAL WORKER: Hey! Yeah, Boy, I must be--I must--I’m psychic.

ALEX: Do--do packages get delivered there all the time?

POSTAL WORKER: Yeah. We get a lot. A lot. A large volume. More than, total more than Woodbridge gets all told.

ALEX: That, that specific address gets more mail than all of Woodbridge?


ALEX: Oh my god, go ahead, I'm sorry.

POSTAL WORKER: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. Overnight. Insane.

PJ: That's great. It's like the haunted house in the neighborhood.

ALEX: And so I said to the--to the guy who was working the front desk.

PJ: You were like, "Are you dirty?"

ALEX: I said, “You know, someone told me they got, they sent an intercept, and the package went out anyway.” And he said, what, to my mind seemed like a pretty plausible thing to say.

PJ: Uh huh.

ALEX: “We deal with lots of packages. People make mistakes!”

PJ: Yeah, that's what I assumed the whole time.

ALEX: Yeah, me too, but the interesting thing was that the post office--they’re also suspicious of 600 Markley Street.

POSTAL WORKER: The inspectors, they were down here checking it out. Someone, somebody in there must be hacking the credit cards or something.

ALEX: Like the post inspectors were down here?


ALEX: Do you know when that happened?

POSTAL WORKER: Oh they’ve been going all on and off, for a long time.

ALEX: So, I decided to go check it out for myself. I drove to 600 Markley Street.


ALEX: I passed a bunch of strip malls, through some suburbs, uh, and then down sort of this like, industrial park, and there were a bunch of different companies there, one was like a gypsum company.

PJ: Gypsum. Is that a--?

ALEX: It's like a mineral.

PJ: Mineral?

ALEX: Mineral.

PJ: God we know--

ALEX: We're very stupid--

PJ: Nothing about the world. There's all these gypsum miners listening, like, "You idiots."

GOOGLEMAPS: Turn left onto Blair Road.

ALEX: And uh, at the, at the very, very end of this of this road is 600 Markley Street, which is just like this gigantic warehouse.

PJ: Is there a sign?

ALEX: There is a pretty utilitarian sign that says, “Meest - America Incorporated.”


ALEX: So I go in, and there's like a very small waiting area. A couple chairs, there’s a table with some magazines on it. And then there’s window, like at the doctor’s office, where you sign in. And, um, I just walk up to the window, I’m wearing my headphones, I have this gigantic microphone. And um, I’m pretty nervous.


ALLA: Yeah, hi.

ALEX: Um, I'm a reporter? And I was hoping that I could talk to someone here, um, about a story that I'm working on. Apparently a lot of packages are ending up being sent to Meest, that, are ... somehow being purchased on hacked Ebay accounts, and I was wondering if there was anyone I could speak to.

ALEX: Her--her expression totally didn't change. She picked up the phone. Said like 1/2 a sentence in what I assume was Russian, and put it back down.

PJ: Huh.

ALEX: And then another a woman came out and said:

FEMALE EMPLOYEE: I think that you're supposed to talk to our general manager, Natalia, but she's not in today.


FEMALE EMPLOYEE: So she will back on Tuesday.

ALEX: Sure.

FEMALE EMPLOYEE: Yeah, because um, it's not usually, you know, we have some kind of reporters coming.

ALEX: (laughs) Right, I understand.

ALEX: And then she said something I think she really wasn’t supposed to.

FEMALE EMPLOYEE: Yeah. Usually police or FBI is here.

ALEX: Oh really? You have the police and FBI visit?


ALEX: And as soon as she said that, the receptionist, the one who did--who maintained a totally, uh, neutral expression, kind of looked at her with a, "Please shut up," face.

PJ: (laughs) Well yeah. [pause] Wow!

ALEX: So I left. I emailed Natalia, and she told me that I could come back for an interview. So, I went back, and I brought producer Phia Bennin.

ALEX: You ready?


[MUSIC - “Driving to Meest”]

ALEX: Phia was nervous.

PHIA: Yeah, cause we were going to like some weird warehouse in the middle of New Jersey. Like nowhere, New Jersey, where all of these stolen packages were disappearing and we were going to confront some complete strangers to find out what the hell was going on.

ALEX: We arrived at about 5 pm, just as the company was, like--the company was closing for the day.

ALEX: Hello! We're back, we have an appointment this time!

[Muffled talking in the background.]

ALLA: Yeah, take a seat please.

ALEX: Oh, sure.

PHIA: So, we both sit down in this little like waiting area, and we’re just staring at this black door that’s in front of us that Natalia’s going to come out of.

ALEX: And it also happened to be the end of the day, so there were people pouring out that black door,

[Sounds of employees leaving the office for the day]

ALEX: And every time the door opened, I was like, "Maybe THIS is going to be Natalia." But it was uh, a lot of people, mostly women who spoke Ukrainian or Russian and they were saying goodbye in another language to the receptionist. And then, finally--

Natalia: Hello!



ALEX: Alex, nice to meet you.


ALEX: This is my producer--

ALEX: Natalia came out into the lobby.

PJ: What'd Natalia look like?

ALEX: She was um, very put together. She was very well-dressed, she seemed very professional, she was very polite.

PJ: How old?

ALEX: Uh, maybe early 40s? She bought us back into her office, which was a very big room with a conference table in it, and we sat down at her desk. And the first thing that she says is, “You’re not recording this.” And Phia’s like, “Ok. But if you’re voice isn’t in this piece, it’s going to make it seem like you have something to hide." And Natalia thinks it over and says, “Ok. Turn on the recorder.”

ALEX: And the first question I ask her is just, "Can you tell me what Meest does?"

NATALIA: Meest America is a mail-forwarding company. We are a freight-forwarder, a shipper. Uhhh.

PHIA: What does that mean, what is a freight forwarder?

NATALIA: A freight forwarder is basically a shipper: a company that ships. (laughs)

ALEX: So, according to Natalia, here is how Meest makes money: They ship packages to former USSR countries and they do this at a much cheaper rate than like, FedEx or UPS. And one of the ways they do this is by taking packages that are sent to them in the US and consolidating them.

NATALIA: For instance, I live in, let's say, in Lithuania, and I want to buy goods from three online stores, different goods. Well, we offer, we receive the goods here. We, um, repackage the goods from these three stores, into one box, and a customer saves on shipping as well.

ALEX: So, according to Natalia that’s how Meest makes its money. But I wanted to know: if that’s the case, why are there so many reports of fraud?

ALEX: Is something that you guys are aware of, is this something that you're trying to deal with, and if so, how are you trying to deal with it?

NATALIA: Yes, of course this is something that we are aware about (laughing). And, uh, what we do when we found out that this happens and let’s say the owner of that account calls us we immediately return the good to that store or the owner, but unfortunately it often happens late, and the goods are already shipped or even delivered. And it's damaging our image, the image of our company.

Obviously, I’d seen all the pages of people complaining about Meest when I Googled the company, but there was this other thing that I found. It was a website, it was in Russian, and there was a post on there that basically instructions on how to use Meest to steal stuff. And I wanted to show it to her.

ALEX: I found a website that was in Russian that was basically like, it was, it was ... um, it's basically like a hacker saying, like this how you, how steal from people. I don’t know--

NATALIA: Oh boy--(laughs). I-I don't know about this. What is that called? It's a blogger?

ALEX: It's a, it's a forum for hackers, it's like instructions, and if you go down to the bottom, it says like--

PHIA: Do you read Russian? Is this--?

NATALIA: Yeah. Mm. Mhm. It, it looks like it's instructions, yeah. (gasps) Oh my god! And they put our address. That’s horr--

ALEX: I mean, how does that make you feel?

NATALIA: Terrible (laughing) Terrible. I have to go there and um, and give them instruction that every package that arrives here with a hacked account or stolen credit cards will be reported to FBI and sent to Interpol. Oh boy (laughs). Can I have this link sent to me? Please send me this email.

ALEX: Yeah sure, I'll—

ALEX: She was very upset.

PHIA: She was rattled.

ALEX: She was super rattled.

NATALIA: Uh, we, we try to be reliable and honest, we are honest with our customers, but this online fraud that's happening at the online stores, um, this has to be fought. What you showed me right now upsets me a lot.

ALEX: The reason that these frauds are so upsetting for Natalia even though this fraud represents an incredibly small percentage of the thousands of packages they send a day, if eBay or Poshmark or Amazon decides to stop shipping with them, like--they could shut down. And even just trying to approach these companies, she’s worried that’s going to put them on their radar and just, they’ll blacklist Meest and not let people ship to them anymore.

PJ: Which seems like a totally reasonable concern.

ALEX: And she said it's happened before. That some companies just don't send to the address anymore.

PJ: Huh.

PHIA: At one point, Natalia actually reached out to the FBI to get help from them, and the only thing that ultimately came of it is that they did an audit of Meest.

PJ: That sucks!

ALEX: So she's reached out to the FBI and (laughing) has not had a lot of luck.

PJ: Huh.

[MUSIC - Sad Marimba]

ALEX: We talked with Natalia for about 45 minutes. And, toward the end of our conversation, I told her about Brina and the missing Apple Watch. And I said, “Would you be willing to give us like the name or the phone number or any kind of contact info for the person who stole her watch?” And she was like, “We have a whole list of accounts we’ve closed because of fraud. Would you like us to give you that contact info?” And we were like “Yes, of course we would.” And so, she said she’d send it along.

ALEX: But in the meantime, we were trying to come up with other ways we could get to Brina’s watch thief, and Phia came up with a brilliant idea. She was like “Why don't you send a package to Meest, care of Brina’s hacker’s account, and put a tracking device in it, and see where it goes?”

PJ: What?!?! That is brilliant.

ALEX: It is brilliant. Right?

PJ: I mean the other thing that you could do, do they have a weight limit on packages that they'll send?

ALEX: I don't think so. [long pause] You want to send me?

PJ: Yeah!

ALEX: (laughs) Um, my battery life is not 12 days.

PJ: (laughs)

ALEX: But--

PJ: You can put some water and some food pellets.

ALEX: I will say you are not the first person to make that suggestion.

PJ: Oh man, I think it could be really good.

ALEX: (laughs) Um, so, on Tuesday, me and Phia and Tim and Sherina, decided to buy five GPS tracking devices.

PHIA: These are the cutest little GPS devices in the world. Looks like it could be like, a cute little bleep-blorp thing in Star Wars.

ALEX: (laughs) Phia means a droid.

[Box taping noises]

ALEX: We sent one to Brina’s hacker, and then four to other accounts we know were used in hacks. And, we sent each of them with an account number associated with it. With a Meest account number.

PJ: And you sent them to account numbers that had shown up in frauds before.

ALEX: Yes. Put them in boxes. And we got um, a Russian-speaking friend to translate a note for me, that uh-so--

PJ: “Hello criminal!”

ALEX: I mean, honestly, it’s very close to, “Hello criminal!” I basically wrote like, “Hi, I’m a reporter. I wanted to know how you hacked the account, how easy it was, why you chose Meest, and also I was curious about where this package was going, so I put a GPS device in it. Please get in touch!”

PJ: Oh man. (laughs) It's so funny to imagine a bunch of freaked out criminals reading your note angrily.

ALEX: So um, we sent them out. So here is the web interface, I've got the password typed in.

PJ: So now I log in?

ALEX: So yeah! Just press login.

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: And it'll tell you where all five of them are that moment.

PJ: I'm at Spytech, login. This is exciting. Ohhhhhh! Six hundred Markley Street. They haven't left the reshipping place.

ALEX: Right. So we'll uh, tell you if they go somewhere.

PJ: Cool.

[MUSIC - Basement Marimba Loop]

ALEX: After the break, the case goes international.


ALEX: Welcome back to the show. So it’s been a week since we send out the GPS devices, and I’ve been checking in on them intermittently, and um, while I’ve got you in the studio, why don't we, just check in to see how far they've gotten. Let me just log into the um, the tracking site. [typing noises]

PJ: Weird. Ok. So. (laughs) How many--we sent five?

ALEX: Five. 

PJ: The fifth, the third, the second, and the first are all at Meest. And their batteries are all either like dead or nearly dead. The fourth package, on the other hand, made it all the way to the airport.

ALEX: I think that that package actually is going to get delivered.

PJ: The battery’s at 38%.

ALEX: Unfortunately, that's not the package that was headed to Brina's hacker. And, on top of that, I think the battery's probably going to die before it reaches its destination.

PJ: So … 

ALEX: Some person is going to receive a thing that says, “Hey, uh, this was purchased from a hacked account. Here's a dead GPs--(laughs)--here's a dead GPS.”

PJ: What a stupid waste of money. What a stupid, stupid waste of time and money.

ALEX: Kinda, yeah, I mean.

PJ: No not kind of. 

ALEX: Ok, totally. Yes. But I actually have some good news. Natalia got back to me with info on the specific hacker who stole Brina's watch. She gave me everything. She gave me his name, his email address, his phone number, and his mailing address.

PJ: Where was the address?

ALEX: The address is in a City in Russia called Izhevsk. 

PJ: Ihzevs [sic]. 

ALEX: Izhevsk.

PJ: Izhevsk. 

ALEX: It’s the home of the Kalashnikov.

PJ: The Kalashnikov rifle.

ALEX: Yes. Um, it’s a pretty big city, there’s about 600,000 people, um, it is known as the electronic music capital of Russia.

PJ: Really? 

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: I feel like electronic music is big in Russia, too. At least in the stereotype that I have’t really filled in in my head. 

ALEX: In my head, I was thinking like, um, very minimalist Kraftwerky stuff, but you’re probably right, it was probably like EDM music. 

PJ: Hold on, Izhevsk, electronic music [typing sounds]. Do you want to hear? The sound of Izhevsk?

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: Ok. This is from Ildar Spacehealer. [moving around] He was, just for the record, he was born in Izhevsk, but now he lives in Inner Izhkar. 

ALEX: Ok. 

PJ: This song's called "Old Computers."

ALEX: (laughs)

["Old Computers" plays]

ALEX: This is way more what I was imagining!

PJ: Really?

ALEX: Yes. 

[Music stops playing]

PJ: Ok, so that's Izhevsk.

ALEX: Uh, yeah, the point is that’s where our hacker lives.

PJ: And what is our hacker's name? 

ALEX: Abdullah Maskim.

PJ: M-A-X-I-M, like the magazine?

ALEX: It was M-A-K-S-I-M. But I think that is, since it's written in Cyrillic originally, there are a lot of different spellings, including, like, the magazine. 

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: Um, you wanna see where he lives?

PJ: Yes, I do.

ALEX: It's on Google--it’s on Google Street View. 

PJ: (whispering) What a weird world we live in. 

ALEX: Yeah. 

ALEX: So, um, here's a picture of it. 

PJ: It is a big … sad, it's just like a big block apartment building, like it looks like a, it looks like uh-- looks like familiar--in--the--Russia-scenes-of-The-Americans type apartment building. 

ALEX: So, we obviously wanted to call a guy. And, to do that, we brought in a hired gun.

PJ: Who? 

ALEX: Uh, uh, a reporter named Ashley Cleek, who also speaks Russian. 

PJ: And? 

ALEX: And, she's a great. And she came into the office, and the first thing she said to us was “Listen, here's what I can tell you. Abdullah Maksim: made up name.”

PJ: Why?! 

ASHLEY CLEEK: Because Abdullah is like the most generic, like, Muslim-sounding name. 

ALEX: Huh. 

ASHLEY: And Maksim is one of the most generic Russian names, I mean I know it doesn't seem like it to us, but--

ALEX: Ok. (laughs) So it was like, “John Smith lives here.”

ASHLEY: Yeah. Except for it was like--it was like, um, Hussein Bubba. 

ALEX: (laughs) It was--?

ASHLEY: You know? Like John Hussein--two first names.

ALEX: Ohhhhhh.

ALEX: So, Ashley took all the information that Meest gave us--the phone numbers, the physical address, and she started searching online. And eventually, she found some accounts that were connected to the phone number, and they were associated with this guy name Nikita.

PJ: Nikita? 

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: Ok. 

ALEX: Not Abdullah Maksim. 

PJ: Nikita? 

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: Also sounds like it could be just like a made-up, generic Russian name. 

ALEX: Sure.

PJ: But it's not. 

ALEX: No, it’s not. And we know that because we called him.

[Sound of dial tone]

NIKITA: Hello? 

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

ALEX: So, Ashley told us that he was super polite and sweet. And when she asked him, “Have you ever used this company Meest?” He was like, “No,”

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian] He said he doesn’t have an account with Meest, “I don’t work with Meest.”

ALEX: Wait, if he doesn’t work with Meest, then why was his phone number on there?

ASHLEY: Exactly. I said they gave us your number, your phone number and your account number. That's why we're calling you. And he was like, "I--I don't know why."

ALEX: But Nikita had a theory. He told Ashley that back in March, someone had hacked his bank account and his email, and he thought that maybe someone was using his identity on Meest, and his best guess was that it was someone in Ukraine.

ASHLEY: I said are you in Izhevsks [sic]--in Izhevsk? And he said, “No, I don’t even live near Izhevsk, I live in a town that’s many kilometers away.” And I said, “Where do you live?” And he said, “In Orenburg.”

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ALEX: He said, “I’m 17, I don’t go to school, my mom cleans floors in the hospital.”

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ALEX: “I’m trying to get work cutting wood in the forest,” because apparently there’s a lot of forests around there. And after 10 minutes or so, he told us that he had to go. So after he got off the phone, Ashley relayed to us everything that he said and we just sat in the studio, sorted through it, tried to figure out whether he was telling us the truth or not.

ALEX: I don't believe him. What do you think? 

PHIA: I believe him.

ALEX: You trust him.

PHIA: I trust him.

ASHLEY: I don't believe him. I did until the forest. 

ALEX: Ashley just felt like he was laying it on too thick.

PJ: The only thing I'll say in favor of like, maybe telling the truth. I mean first of all, like, you just don't know. But if you are him and you are a scammer, you could just hang up the phone, too. You know what I mean? Like you don't necessarily need to tell a story.

ALEX: Right. So we called him back. 

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ALEX: And Ashley said, “Can you prove to us that you were hacked recently? You said your email address was hacked. Can you give us your email address?”

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

ALEX: He said, “Oh I don't remember it.”

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: (laughs) And--and she said, “How can you not remember it?”

PJ: Did--did the hacker steal his memory?

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ALEX: We said, “Can you give us your email address?” He said, “There's very little internet in Russia.”

PJ: (laughing) It doesn’t make any sense. 

ALEX: “It's very hard for me to remember stuff like that because I don't use the Internet very much, so I just have it saved into my browser.”

PJ: God, that is--not credible. 

ALEX: And then, we said, “Ok, so you know, we're not the police, we're reporters. But we're going to send someone to this address, and we're going to ask for you, and see if people know--know you.”

PJ: Ok. 

ALEX: And his response was to say, like, uh, “When are you going to send someone? Is going to be tonight? Is going to be tomorrow? Are you going to send the police? Um, is it going to be you that's coming?” And this is a person who just a moment ago claimed they'd never heard his address. They live 400 miles away. 

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: So, Ashely says to him, “Look, we want the watch.” And he says, “I don’t have the watch!” And so Ashley says, “Fine, all we want is an apology.” And he says, “Well if you find the hacker who was the watch, tell him I want an apology, too.” And finally, it just wasn’t going anywhere, so we hung up.

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

NIKITA: [Speaking Russian]

ASHLEY: [Speaking Russian]

[Ashley hangs up phone]

ALEX: We got off the phone with him and, um, we actually found his Facebook page.

PJ: (gasps) Really?

ALEX: Yes. 

PHIA: Well, we found a Facebook page also associated with that phone number. 

ALEX: Yes. 

PHIA: Also with the full--Nikita's full name. 

PJ: Is he wearing an Apple Watch in his profile picture? 

ALEX: Uh, let me just show you. Let me just show you.

PJ: Let me see. (laughing) He's got the stupid Anonymous mask. Oh! What a dork. He’s got an Anonymous mask that’s like actually in plastic packaging, like he just bought it, his--his Anonymous mask.

ALEX: Yeah, so at this point I thought it was time to just call Brina and let her know everything we’d found out.

ALEX: Hey, is this Brina?

BRINA: (laughs) Yeah. 

ALEX: How’s it goin? 

BRINA: Um, pretty good. How are you?

ALEX: I was super excited to tell Brina about everything that I had discovered because like, I knew everything about this guy! I knew everything about where her watch had been. Um, I knew the name of the person who'd taken it, I knew the final destination of it. 

ALEX: So I’m curious, (clears throat), given all of this information, how you’re feeling right now? 

BRINA: Um. Like kinda bummed that like that guy won’t send my Apple Watch back or even like, apologize or anything. But I guess like, kind of like relieved that like Meest isn't like, a big hacker company our anything. 

ALEX: Right.

BRINA: But it still like, kind of like bums me out a lot that the person--because I could have sold it to someone who actually like, really wanted an Apple Watch, but instead it was given to someone for free who doesn’t even deserve it. 

ALEX: Right.


PJ: Do you feel like this is solved? 

ALEX: (sighs) I felt like a conquering hero (laughs), who managed to figure out all of this stuff, but then, um, I guess didn’t think for like, two seconds, that the thing that I didn’t come back with was ... the watch.

PJ: The thing that she lost?

ALEX: Yeah. But what she did say was, she was like, "You know, now that we have all the info, like maybe I'll go to the local police in Izhevsk, and see if I can get this guy in trouble."

PJ: Really? 

ALEX: Yeah. 

PJ: She's just going to call the Izhevsk PD?

ALEX: If it weren't for her parents, she would've driven (laughs) to this warehouse, and been like, "Where's my watch?" It doesn't seem like Brina's really afraid of anything

ALEX: Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt, and me, Alex Goldman. The show is produced this week by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, and Damiano Marchetti. Our editors are Tim Howard and Jorge Just. Production assistance from Sherina Ong. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan. Special thanks this week to Brandon Garcia, Bobby Deaton, Vitaly Kremez, Yelena Batchko, Julia Meter, Runa Sandvik, Emily Kennedy, Efrain Dieppa, Greg Kleinisch, and a huge extra special thanks to Dalia Wolfson, and Denis Vitchevsky. Matt Lieber is a potluck dinner at a picnic table in the shade on a balmy evening. Fellow Gimlet podcast Science Vs. just released the last episode of their season, and um, it features me and PJ talking about our addictions to artificial sweeteners. Uh, you should check it out. And you should check out their entire catalogue. That's Science Vs. And you can get it wherever you can get podcasts. The song that played us out at the end of the episode, is "Simplicity," by Macroform, also known as the greatest hold music in the world. Reply All is now available on Spotify, go check us out. You can also listen to the show on Google Play, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get our podcasts. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you in two weeks.