Hatboro company becomes the innocent front for a check-cashing scam
Jan 07, 2013 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The first curious call to Delta Market Research came Dec. 19 from a check-cashing company in North Carolina. Over the next week, dozens more came, all asking about job offers as "product testers" and "customer-service evaluators."
Each call concerned a letter sent nationwide on letterhead emblazoned with the Hatboro company's name that included a $1,450 check to provide "shopping" money and tester pay.
According to the pitch, Delta was "running a survey for Western Union," among other companies, and sought the testers' "honest and productive opinions" about them.
Recipients of the checks were told to keep $300, spend $150 at specific stores that were being evaluated, and wire $1,000 by Western Union to a specific address.
It was all an elaborate scam -- at Delta's expense. The check with each offer was bogus, which the unsuspecting would learn too late if they deposited it and used other available cash to wire off $1,000. Delta was the unwitting front the scammers used.
"We handled [the first call] by asking what bank the check was drawn on, and for what amount," Delta vice president Bob Norman said. "It turns out it wasn't our bank. So I said, 'That's not us. You are calling the wrong company.' "
But the calls kept coming, swamping the switchboard at the company, which has just six full-time employees. Fearing damage to Delta's reputation if he did not respond quickly, Norman even had the calls forwarded to his home on Christmas Eve.
Norman says he has no idea why the scammers chose Delta as the front for their cagey come-on. Founded in 1982, the Montgomery County company specializes in entertainment, energy, and nonprofit industry research.
Anyone with an e-mail inbox knows financial frauds are a daily nuisance. But this one seemed more sophisticated than most.
"The check looked legit . . . with security encryption" on substantial paper, said a clerk at Express Stop, a convenience store near Macon, Ga., where a couple tried to cash one of the checks last week.
With third-party checks, "We always look up the company on the Internet and give them a call to verify," said the clerk, Patrick, who declined to give his last name.
He said his first hint that something was amiss was a discrepancy between the address on the check and the address on the Internet, so he called and spoke with Norman.
"He told me the check was a fraud," said the clerk, who immediately put the call on speakerphone so the couple could listen in. "They are local people. We know them. They were in shock, too," he said.
Norman said he had received inquiries from at least 10 states, but none from Pennsylvania. Using information gleaned from the letters, he has done some sleuthing.
"We determined there were two mailings that went out: The first in early to mid-December [that listed] two telephone numbers: an 877 number" and another for a defunct business. The second mailing was in late December, around the 21st or 22d, and we were actually able to trace [the telephone number] to the Bronx.
"I called it and spoke to the guy and said, 'Where are you ' He said, 'Eleventh Avenue in the Bronx.' "
With those leads, Norman called the FBI in Philadelphia.
He told an agent he was calling to report a crime and gave him the Bronx telephone number.
"I said, 'This is the guy. He is answering the phone today. He may not be answering next week.' "
According to Norman, the agent said that he would pass along the information and that someone would get back to him.
"That was the last we heard from the FBI," Norman said. "I guess they aren't interested."
J.J. Klaver, an FBI spokesman in Philadelphia, said his office does "not confirm or deny anything about a potential investigation unless someone is charged with a crime."
Most of the calls to Delta have been from check-cashing services.
Starting Monday, Norman says, he expects to hear from irate people who deposited the checks at their banks and only now are finding out they bounced.
"These people are going to wake up to a lot of bank fees" and possible damage to their credit, he said. "I am sorry for them. I don't know what to tell them. I wish they had called us before, instead of now."
Contact Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or email@example.com.
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