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Silicon Valley Theft Losses Reach $1 Million a Week

May 28, 1997|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Theft losses from Silicon Valley's high-tech industry have reached an estimated $1 million a week, and area businessmen and political leaders pleaded Tuesday for more help from the FBI.

Worldwide, "it would seem reasonable to place theft losses in the billions of dollars" in the $800-billion computer industry, the American Electronics Assn. said in a statement.

A major sting operation last year has all but stopped the invasion-style robberies often perpetrated by gangs who raided Silicon Valley computer chip warehouses and manufacturers. But that hasn't stopped thefts, said Sgt. Don Brister, head of the San Jose Police Department's high-tech squad.

The gangs are now more likely to track and break into delivery vans, making off with $50,000 to $100,000 in chips or computer parts at a time, Brister said.

The FBI Computer Crimes Division has estimated the average cost of each high-tech theft at $500,000. The record is a $12-million armed invasion of Centron Electronics in Irvine in 1995.

Many of the chips head overseas to Asian computer manufacturers who use them in their own equipment, then sell them back to the United States, police said. Some that lack serial numbers are sold right back to their unsuspecting owners who must meet production deadlines, Brister said.

Silicon Valley's congressional delegation, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, has asked FBI Director Louis Freeh to upgrade the agency's satellite office in San Jose to a full bureau and send in more agents.

"You can lose a whole lot more money from high-tech crime than a bank robbery," Lofgren said.

Insurance companies have estimated the total cost of Silicon Valley computer part thefts--both outside and inside larceny--at $1 million a week, she said.

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