By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
"When that happens, I just do a little more research on the customer and try to figure out why somebody would come in and ask for them," he says, adding later, "I found out that this company is in fact having people pay for things and not provide them that service. At that point, I chose to cancel them."
So if the operators are no longer using the MGR name or a Houston address, should Texas authorities even be concerned anymore?
Well, only if they want to know the names and addresses of the person who rented the Houston P.O. box. Wisnevitz says he requires his customers to provide two forms of identification, along with notarized paperwork from the U.S. Postal Service.
"They can request the file and we can turn over the file in a heartbeat," Wisnevitz says of the state Attorney General's office. "We welcome that...I don't want people like that associated with my company, so that's why we kind of welcome the opportunity to have the law entities involved."
Wisnevitz adds: "The information that I have on them is pretty good information...and I just hope that, you know, one of the law authorities takes it a little step further because they can obviously nail this guy very easily because of the addresses and the files that I [have] on the guy."
Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's office, stated in an e-mail: "As a policy, we don't acknowledge investigations or give information about our contacts with companies or individuals who may be engaging in deceptive or fraudulent practices. I strongly recommend that anyone who has a bad experience with such companies to file a complaint with us immediately at our consumer protection Web site, including complaints about MGR Solutions."
Just across the border from Montreal, in the small New York town of Champlain, sits an accidentally infamous mail service warehouse.
The good folks at Freeport Forwarding provide helpful services to many Canadian consumers and businesses in need of a U.S. address. But Freeport's convenient location is perfect for the practice of telemarketing fraud. Freeport's address, 1320 State Route 9, is like the Mark of the Beast. It is the address used by many telemarketing companies, including, at one point, MGR Solutions.
David Polino, president of the BBB of Upstate New York, is quite familiar with 1320 State Route 9. "Let me put it to you like this," he says. "With 1,500 total population in this little burg, we have over 350 'companies' operating out of that address."
Using addresses in Champlain and the neighboring hamlet of Plattsburgh, scammers are able to rip off an incredible number of people. Polino says his office has received more than 12,000 complaints in the last three years against businesses operating out of those towns. Moreover, he says, 40 percent of all business-to-business complaints from BBB offices worldwide are related to businesses in Champlain. (Deana Turner of the BBB of Greater Houston says her office has received 210 complaints and 2,558 inquiries about MGR this year.)
Polino says his office has worked with U.S. and Canadian authorities to try to track the scammers, but it's often like trailing a ghost.
"It's like quicksilver — you almost have one and then they're gone," he says. "They're just gone. There's no more address, the mail is returned. The next day, there's another [company] — similar name, similar mail address."
But even connecting a mailbox address with an actual person is not enough to nail them, says Sergeant Yves Leblanc of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Leblanc is a spokesman for Project COLT, the interagency task force charged with nabbing the scammers. (It consists of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, the RCMP and provincial Canadian police forces.)
Leblanc says the typical setup includes a rented office space with cubicles for 15-30 people. Often, the people making the sales calls don't know they're in on a scam. That's why the boiler rooms have a "customer service department," where the head scammers handle disgruntled victims.
"They're not 100 percent sure what they're doing," Leblanc says of some of the sales callers, who are often students looking for extra pocket money. "Often, [when] some of them...figure out what they're doing is illegal, they'll just quit. And others will just turn a blind eye."
As for collecting the checks, "They're not afraid to open up boxes under real names," Leblanc says. "They'll use their brother's, sister's, friend's kind of thing...They'll receive the mail at Champlain; they'll send a runner to go pick up the mail once every two or three days. And they'll bring it back here and cash the checks."
Leblanc says officers in Montreal have shut down 15 government-grant boiler rooms in the last three months. But this doesn't mean that anyone was arrested — often, police only have the resources to knock on a door and issue a stern finger-wagging. Shooting for an actual arrest and prosecution is a bit trickier.
Leblanc explains: "U.S. Postal could get the names [for the rented post-office boxes] like right away. I could make a call and get the names. That's not the problem...Even if you shut down that box, they're just going to open up another one. You have to connect the box to the telemarketers up here...You can usually do that quite easily, that's not a major problem. But you have to get a U.S. attorney involved who wants to perhaps press charges..."