Ikea worker accused of giving himself fake refunds

The Baltimore Sun

All he needed was a fake name, a phony address and his bank routing number.

With that and access to the sales records of customers who ordered furniture over the phone from Ikea, a 24-year-old Middle River man working at the Swedish company's call center in White Marsh was able to steal more than $400,000 by issuing refunds to himself for merchandise that customers never really returned, Baltimore County prosecutors say.

Suraj S. Samaroo, of Middle River, was arrested last week after being indicted on charges of theft and theft scheme. He was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center on a cash bond of $300,000.

Samaroo worked at the Ikea call center for about a year, handling customer complaints and returns. He is accused of using legitimate customer purchase records to issue unauthorized refunds to himself.

"He would do that at a steady clip - two or three times a week - every week for a year," Adam Lippe, the prosecutor, said yesterday. "The money was sucked out of whatever big pot of Ikea gold there is and transferred to his bank account."

By the time police finished their investigation, detectives had identified $373,434.14 in fake refunds. That amount has since grown to more than $407,000 - "and Ikea's still counting," Lippe said.

Prosecutors said the yearlong scheme came to an end when Samaroo's bank noticed the unusual series of deposits and filed a report with police, which is required for any transfer of more than $10,000, lawyers in the case said.

Defense attorney T. Wray McCurdy, who is representing Samaroo, said the most shocking aspect of the case was that Ikea never noticed the thefts.

"It makes you stand back and wonder how he had access to such a scheme in the first place," McCurdy said. "Where are the supervisors? Are there any? I'm not saying he's not responsible for the loss - he is - but ... it makes you shake your head that a major corporation doesn't have enough checks and balances to prevent something like this."

After police arrested Samaroo, he wrote a five-page confession, detailing his activities for investigators, the defense attorney said. He also said that authorities seized from Samaroo's rented Middle River home several laptop computers that his client intended to send to impoverished relatives in his family's native Trinidad and some Swarovski crystal.

A 2008 Infiniti G35X, which was also seized, was the only indulgence Samaroo allowed himself, McCurdy said.

But Lippe, the prosecutor, said that Samaroo allegedly led such a suddenly lavish lifestyle that co-workers asked about his new spending habits. His explanation? That he had sold some property in Trinidad.

An Ikea supervisor who helped investigate the thefts referred questions to a corporate spokeswoman. She did not return phone messages yesterday.

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