Former Zulily software engineer charged for theft scheme inspired by ‘Office Space’ movie

Charges were filed last week against a former Zulily software engineer accused of stealing more than $300,000 from the company through a scheme involving software edits to the Zulily.com checkout page.

According to documents filed by Seattle police, Ermenildo Valdez Castro told detectives that the scheme was inspired by a similar one in the 1999 film “Office Space.”

Court documents state that Castro began making the malicious edits in spring 2022. There were reportedly three specific ways Castro stole from the company by editing the website customers used to buy products:

  • By writing a software code that applied a small percentage of Zulily customer checkouts and sent all shipping fees associated with those purchases to a Stripe.com account controlled by Castro, resulting in the theft of $110,240.71;
  • After Zulily began investigating that issue, Castro wrote a replacement code that double-charged certain customers for shipping and sent the shipping fee to both Zulily and Castro’s Stripe.com account, resulting in the theft of $151,645.50;
  • Castro changed the prices of items on Zulily.com and then bought the items for pennies-on-the-dollar, resulting in the theft of $40,842.31.

In total, Castro stole $302,278.52. He faces two counts of first-degree theft and one count of first-degree identity theft.

In late May, Zulily’s fraud team learned of the steep price adjustments Castro was making to items that were sold and shipped to his Tacoma residence, according to police. He was fired the next month after members of the company’s corporate security team went to his home and found several Zulily boxes piled outside the front door and driveway.

Between March 1 and June 2, Castro ordered a total of 1,294 items with a total value of $41,096.20. Police said Castro only paid $253.89 for the items.

In its certification for determination of probable cause, Seattle police included the plot outline of the “Office Space” movie that Castro said inspired him:

In the Initech office, the insecure Peter Gibbons hates his job … His best friends are two software engineers Michael Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar, that also hate Initech … When he discovers that Michael and Samir will be downsized, they decide to plant a virus in the banking system to embezzle fraction of cents on each financial operation into Peter’s account. However, Michael commits a mistake in the software on the decimal place and they siphon off over $300 thousand. The desperate trio tries to fix the problem, return the money and avoid going to prison.

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