BOAZ, Ala. (WHNT) - This story will amaze you. We hear quite frequently about the various scams that are out there. Well, this one goes beyond anything we've ever seen. It's a special Taking Action investigation that has gathered the attention of U.S. Postal Inspectors and even the FBI.
A Boaz woman first brought this to our attention. She wanted us to warn people that not all work from home jobs are legitimate. We began looking at it and found a web of deceit that stretched all across the country leaving a trail of victims in its wake.
Our initial victim didn't want to be identified here, so for the sake of the story we'll call her Jane. She had gone online to look for a job and found what seemed to be a perfect fit. The company, PackAnyWere, had a huge online presence and hired her as a logistics coordinator.
Yes, that's the name, and 'anywhere' is indeed misspelled. We'll get to that a bit later.
"It seemed perfect. I could work from home and the money wasn't bad, either," Jane explained.
The company provided her with an employment contract, tax forms and within days, she began receiving packages in the mail. Her job was to open, inspect and inventory the packages, and then ship the merchandise to an address provided by the company.
"All kinds of things, computers, iPhones, even hunting supplies," Jane explained when asked about the merchandise she was receiving.
Jane was to be paid by direct deposit. After about a month and roughly a dozen shipments she had handled, the company made a deposit into her account, some $28,000. Luckily for her, the bank was paying attention. Never before had her account seen a deposit anywhere near that large, and they checked it out.
"We verified that those funds were fraudulent that had been deposited into our member's account," says Daniel Friend, a security specialist with Family Security Credit Union.
The bank called Jane immediately to warn her something was going on, and she called the company. She says they told her it was a bookkeeping mistake and to just send the remainder of the money to their associates, in Romania. Had the bank not warned her, she could have been forced to repay every cent of it.
"They'll take advantage of anybody. Stay-at-home people, college students, elderly, especially the elderly. Anybody that wants to try to make a quick buck, they'll find a way to scam you out of your money," Friend explained.
We contacted U.S. Postal Inspectors and they sent an agent to Huntsville to speak with us about the case. Tony Robinson says Jane was the victim of a reshipping scam.
"There's nothing out there that I'm aware of that is a legitimate reshipper as in 'hey, we'll send you packages for you to ship to somebody else'," Robinson told WHNT News 19. He says the company has victims all over the state. In fact, he showed us a stack of packages that one of them handled in the course of just one week. The merchandise in these packages, as you might have guessed, was stolen.
"I checked my bank account and I had two charges that weren't made by me," said Arlene Smith, who lives in Guntersville. Smith has no idea how or when her debit card information was stolen. But her card was used to order some of the merchandise online that was shipped to Jane, only to be reshipped to a thief.
"I just feel sorry for everybody involved that was an innocent person in this because, I mean, it can devastate lives," Arlene told us.
"These types of scammers usually go after the folks that aren't very sophisticated, could use some extra money, and they wrap their poison apple, if you will, in a wrapping that looks appealing and makes it look easy for the people to make money. And that's the catch, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Robinson warned.
WHNT News 19 tried repeatedly to get in touch with someone from PackAnyWere, but all of the numbers we've found are inactive. Investigators tell us the thieves have probably moved on and set up shop under a new name, new web site, new set of telephone numbers. We can tell you that both the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office and now the FBI are actively investigating the matter.
So how have they been able to dupe so many people? Jane told us she thought she had found the perfect work-from-home job, but as it turns out she was lured into an international theft ring and became the victim of a scam.
Everything seemed perfectly legitimate in the beginning. The company had an extensive online presence, there was an employment contract, tax forms, and the offer of a decent income. But none of it was real. It was all a carefully concealed and well-rehearsed hoax designed to lure the unsuspecting in to help steal from others.
The name of the company alone should have been a red flag. Pack Any Were? It's misspelled.
"Yeah but I didn't want to ask them about it because I didn't want to mess up the opportunity," Jane told us. "I mean, I checked their website and everything. It really almost sounded too good to be true."
"And that's the catch, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Robinson explained. He's well aware of this scam. In fact, Robinson says the company has victims all over the state and in many parts of the country. Like Jane, they were hired to receive and reship packages, and like Jane, they didn't know the merchandise inside those packages was stolen.
"Well the power of a real good, a scammer that's really adept at what he does, is to make himself appear to be legitimate. I've gone out to talk to people that are responding to these scammers and are actually reshipping goods elsewhere and they'll pull out the contract that the scammers sent them to sign."
Jane showed us the contract she was asked to sign. The company's website she went to is packanywere.com. It's an extensive site with well over a dozen pages that makes the company appear to be quite legitimate with their warehouses, delivery trucks, and lots of friendly, smiling employees, who all seem to be wearing different uniforms. In fact, on one guy's uniform, the logo has been blurred out. And if you'll notice, the company's logo doesn't appear on any of their vehicles. In fact, if you look real close, you'll see the vehicles have European car tags.
And then there's the address, Dutch Neck Road in Middletown, Delaware. We checked that also, and borrowed an image from Google Street View to show you what's really there. It's an abandoned farm house with trees around it. We talked with the Delaware Highway Patrol in that area and they confirm there's no warehouse or shipping company in that area, and no business by that name anywhere in the region. It simply doesn't exist.
"If we could train people to be able to recognize when the scam passes in front of them and not bite, these scammers would move on to something else 'cause they're only going to stay there as long as they're making money," Robinson explained.
We tracked some of the packages that Jane shipped out. Some went to a mail drop in Brooklyn, New York. They acted like they didn't know what we were talking about despite the fact we have the records showing that's where the packages went. Others were delivered to a freight company called the Ukraine Express, and they made no bones about it, those packages went to Russia.
Saturday, we were contacted by yet another victim of what might be a different reshipping scam. She had just shipped off her first package when she saw the promo for this story. It only took a few minutes to verify the group that hired her, Package Planet, is as bogus as that PackAnyWere group of thieves. We alerted Postal Inspectors so they could intercept the package she sent, and as for other packages on their way to her home, well, they won't be going to Russia!