Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My On Crime & Security Column: Beware of Business Directory Scam

My On Crime & Security column today covers the increase in businesses being targeted by the business directory scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning business that they are seeing an increase in the business directory scam.

Back in June, the FTC filed suit to halt the operations of three telemarketing “boiler rooms” in Montreal, Canada. The FTC alleged that the telemarketers bilked thousands of small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses and non-profits organization, such as churches, schools, and charities, out of millions of dollars by deceiving them into paying for listings they never ordered in worthless business directories.

According to the FTC, the filed lawsuits are part of a joint initiative with Canadian law enforcement agencies called “Operation Mirage.”

The operation is aimed at cracking down on the growing business directory scams. The FTC charged that the three telemarketing operations targeted businesses and other organizations with schemes to mislead them into paying hundreds of dollars each for unwanted business directory listings. The court has issued temporary restraining orders in the three cases.

The FTC states that the alleged crooks pose as well-known local “yellow pages” directories, and they tell the people who answer the business’ phone that they are calling to verify addresses and telephone numbers. The telemarketers then use the “verifications” as the basis to claim that these organizations agreed to listings that often cost $400 or more.

The FTC also alleges that the telemarketers sent their victims invoices that again often imply that they are well-known yellow-pages companies. Many businesses and organizations paid the invoices. Those who didn’t were threatened via phone calls and letters. To hide their true location, the telemarketers used mailing addresses across the United States.

The FTC’s complaints allege that the telemarketers made three misrepresentations that violated the FTC Act. First, they led the targeted businesses and non-profits to believe that there was a pre-existing relationship between them. Second, they falsely claimed that those organizations had agreed to purchase directory listing services. Third, they falsely claimed that the organizations owed money for these supposed services.

This is not a new scam. In November of 2006, Terrence Croteau was sentenced to prison for 151 months for committing this crime. The year before a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Illinois returned a 29 count indictment against Croteau, then 30.

Croteau, who lived in Ontario, was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service with assistance from the FTC in Chicago. The Niagara Regional Police Service in Ontario and the Ontario Provincial Police, assisted by the Toronto Police Service, conducted a concurrent investigation. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the investigation resulted from the efforts of the Toronto Strategic Partnership, a partnership consisting of regulatory and law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada formed to address cross border mass marketing fraud.

Croteau was charged with operating a business directory scam out of Montreal, Quebec and Welland, Ontario between 2000 and the late spring, 2004. According to the Indictment, Croteau employed telemarketers who telephoned U.S. businesses under the false pretenses that they were from a legitimate business which published business directories, including an on line business directory on the Internet. The Indictment stated that Croteau’s telemarketers used a variety of deceptive tactics to close sales, including duping businesses into thinking that they were renewing or continuing supposedly pre-existing listings, or simply confirming a shipping address.

Croteau entered a guilty plea to 25 counts of the 29 count indictment and he agreed to cooperate with the U. S. government in connection with ongoing investigations.

 I’d like to pass on the FTC’s information on business directory scams and their tips on how to avoid being scammed:

How the Scam Works

The Call. First, con artists make cold calls to offices. They ask the person answering the phone to “confirm” the address, telephone number, and other information, claiming it’s for a listing the company has in the yellow pages or a similar business directory. The scammers then fire off a rapid series of questions they may tape-record, sometimes sliding in a confusing reference to the cost. The scam works because fraudsters convince the person who picks up the phone that they’re just “verifying” an arrangement the company already has with the directory.

The Bill. The con artist then sends urgent “invoices” for $500 or more — sometimes including a copy of the “directory.” They’re usually worthless and are never distributed or promoted as promised. Often, they’re just websites with listings of various businesses. In many cases, the person paying the bills will simply cut a check, not realizing that the company never agreed to pay the hefty fee for the directory. But if businesses resist, the scammers turn up the heat, threatening collection or legal action to get payment. They may use the name of the person who answered the phone or play a “verification tape” as “proof” that the company owes them money. Often these tapes have been doctored or the nature of the transaction was rattled off in a way no one could have understood. If companies stand firm in their refusal to pay for services they didn’t authorize, the scammer may try to smooth things over by offering a phony discount. Or they may let the company return the directory — at the company’s own cost, of course — but insist on payment for the so-called listing. At this stage, many companies pay up just to stop the hounding. What they don’t know is that they’ll likely get more bogus invoices — either from the same scam artist or from others who have bought their contact information for a new scheme.

How can I protect my business?

Take the following four steps to protect your company from business directory fraud.

1. Train your staff to spot this scam. Educate your employees about how this scam works. In addition to your regular receptionist, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone. Put a copy of this alert in employee mailboxes. Mention it in a staff meeting. Post it on the break room bulletin board or where employees clock in and out.

2. Inspect your invoices. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. At a minimum, designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay the bills. Train your team to send all inquiries to them. Compile a list of the companies you typically use for directory services, office supplies, and other recurring expenses. Encourage the people who pay the bills to develop a “show me” attitude when it comes to unexpected invoices from companies they’re not familiar with. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.

 3. Verify to clarify. Many business directory scam artists are headquartered in Canada, but use post office boxes or mail drops to make it look like they are in the United States. Before paying, check them out for free at bbb.org, and read the BBB’s report on them.

4. File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Visit bbb.org to complain to the BBB. And let the FTC know by filing a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Your complaints help shape the FTC’s law enforcement agenda, so it’s important to sound off when you spot a scam. Concerned about business directory fraudsters’ threats to tarnish your credit if you don’t pay? Many will simply drop the matter — and may even provide a refund — if they know you’ve complained to the BBB and law enforcement.

Don’t fall for the business directory scam. As noted above, if you believe you are being scammed, contact the FTC.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Book Shows Historical Link to Ian Fleming's Thriller Moonraker

The British Daily Mail offered an interesting piece on a new book by military historian Sean Longden.


According to the newspaper, Longden's book, T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945, reveals uncanny resemblances between historical events and Ian Fleming's thriller Moonraker.

Fleming, who served as a Royal Navy Commander and personal assistant to the admiral who was the director of British naval intelligence during World War II, was a position in to know about the secret T-Force unit assigned to capture Nazi secrets and rocket scientists just ahead of the Soviets at the end of the war.

Forget the awful film, but Fleming's novel Moonraker is a very good thriller and Longden's book sounds interesting.

More to come.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Crime Fiction: "Stick 'Em Down"

The below short story originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2009:

My late father enjoyed the repeated telling of old, corny jokes to his children. I in turn often told the same old jokes to my children.

One of the old jokes was about an armed robber who confronted a man in an alley and said “Stick ‘em down.”

“Don’t you mean stick ‘em up?” the would-be-victim asked the robber.

“Don’t confuse me,” the robber said. “This is my first job.”

I thought of this old joke as a friend told me about a rather inept trio of armed robbers who attempted to rob his bar.

Frank Tamburro owned and operated a corner taproom in South Philly. Tall, lean, with a beer belly from tasting too much of his own product, Tamburro was an outgoing and jovial barkeep in the old tradition of neighborhood “tapies.” His bar had a small dining room in the back where they served great food. Accompanied by my wife and friends, I often went there to drink, eat, listen to music and gab.

I was leaning on the bar and sipping a vodka on the rocks when Tamburro came up to me and said he had to tell me about what happened in the bar the day before.

Tamburro said there were only a half-dozen customers in the bar on a Thursday night when two guys came in just before closing time at two. Tamburro described the first man to the police as a young white guy, about 25, who wore a blue baseball cap with the peak turned sideways, a long white t-shirt, worn-out jeans and white sneakers. He entered the bar sheepishly, sat at the bar and quietly ordered a beer.

Less than a minute later, a young black guy came in. He was wearing an outfit identical to the white guy at the bar. instead of sitting at the bar or taking a seat at one of the tables, the black guy stood at the bar entrance with his arms folded across his chest.

“We were all looking at this odd couple, wondering what the fuck they were up to, when the white guy pulled out this big, silver revolver and turned it sideways - you know, like the gangbangers do in the movies - and screamed he was holding up the place,” Tamburro recalled.

The man at the door also brandished a gun. Slanting the large black automatic, the man pointed it towards the people at the tables.

“We were sort of shocked, you know, because we’d never been robbed before,” Tamburro explained. “Poor Ginny, my bartender, was told to open the cash register by the white guy, but she was so scared she couldn’t open the damn thing.”

The armed robber didn’t believe her and he shouted threats at her.

“Ginny was pounding away at the cash register, trying to get it open, and she looked like she was playing a fuckin’ piano,” Tamburro said, laughing at the memory of the scene.

The white robber fired off a shot over the bartender’s head and she screamed and fell to the floor behind the bar. Tamburro threw his hands up and ran behind the bar, saying he would open the register and hand over the money.

One of the customers sitting at a table and watching the crime go down was a 72-year-old bookmaker named Joe Hess. He didn’t fear the young man waving the gun wildly, as Hess ran in tough gambling circles all of his life and he was a veteran of a half-dozen mob wars.

After the shot went off, Hess bolted out of his chair, picked up another chair, and hurled it at the shooter. The shooter collapsed when the chair hit him across the back. Hess rushed up to the young man and began kicking and stomping him. The gun flew across the floor. Several of the young guys pounced on the robber at the door, punching and kicking him. He dropped his gun and tried to scramble out the door.

Despite the severe beating the two robbers received, they were able to get out the door and run towards their getaway car, which was double-parked outside the bar. When the driver of the getaway car saw his two partners being pursued by a small, angry mob, he gunned the car and took off in a lurch down the small street, sideswiping several parked cars as he sped away. The two robbers ran frantically after the car, as Tamburro and his customers stood on the sidewalk laughing.

“They were like the Three fuckin’ Stooges!” Tamburro said.

I wrote about the botched armed robbery in my column in the local paper. I later ventured to the police station at 24th & Wolf Streets, which housed the 1st Police District and South Detectives. I went there to meet and interview the detective who was handling the armed robbery as I planned to write a follow-up column.

Ernie Pine was a veteran detective. He was a short, burly, tough-looking black cop, but he was also calm, soft-spoken and had a keen sense of humor.

Pine said he believed the three men who held up Tamburro’s bar were the same armed robbers who were engaged in a wild crime spree across South Philadelphia. They held up several bars and stores over the course of a three-week period. Had they not been heavily armed and nearly killed a man in one of their robberies, the trio would be amusing.

“We’ve identified the trio of armed robbers,” Pine told me as I sat next to his desk. “Two of them are John and Joseph Allen, twin brothers with a long history of robbery and other violent crimes, even though they are only 26-years-old. John Allen was only recently released from prison.”

Pine said the third bad guy was identified as William O’Brian, another young knucklehead with a long arrest record.

“Together they have an IQ of about 50,” Pine said, laughing softly. “We have warrants out for the three of them.”

Pine described O’Brian as a white “wanna-be-gangsta.” O’Brian grew up poor and dumb and he teamed up with the black Allen brothers before the three of them dropped out of high school.

Although I didn’t know O’Brian, I knew nitwits like him. They acted, dressed and spoke more street-black than the blacks themselves. Although these clueless kids thought they were accepted, most of the black kids thought of them as fools.

So did Pine, who chuckled and said “Dopey white boys like O’Brian are a bit of pay-back for slavery and years and years of racial discrimination.”

The Allen brothers, who were not too bright either, according to Pine, were amused by O’Brian and they took him under their criminal wing.

Pine told me about some of the robberies they believed the trio committed. They hit several bars and fast food restaurants, mostly scoring small amounts of cash, which they quickly blew on drugs.

They also attempted to rob a drug store the day after their beat-down at Tamburro’s bar. They were stuffing money and allergy and cold medicine into a large brown bag when a patrol officer happened to walk into the drug store. One of the Allen brothers barreled out the door, shoving the cop aside and leaving O’Brian holding the bag - literally.

O’Brian turned his gun sideways and fired two shots at the cop. Naturally, he missed. But his wayward shot hit an unfortunate 68-year-old customer.

O’Brian dashed out the door with the cop in hot pursuit. O’Brian attempted to dive into the open car window and onto the back seat of the getaway car - just like they do in the movies - but his head hit the top of the car door and he fell violently back into the street, blood gushing down from his head.

One of the Allen brothers laid down a wild field of fire from the front passenger seat and the cop took cover behind some parked cars. Allen grabbed O’Brian and the car took off, dragging the bloodied robber alongside the fast-moving car.

The cop called the crime incident in and then he recovered the paper bag with the cash and the drugs from the street. The police found the getaway car illegally parked five blocks from the drug store. As they suspected, the detectives learned that the car had been stolen that morning.

Pine said they had a task force working the trio and they had stake-out units covering stores and bars the armed robbers might hit in the future. Pine told me that he would be in touch if anything broke on the case.

A few days later I received a call from Detective Pine.

“We got ‘em,” Pine said.

I met Pine at Tamburro’s bar. I sat next to Pine at the bar and he told me that John Allen, apparently the smartest of the three, came forward and offered to turn himself in. He said he was willing to lead the police to his brother and O’Brian, providing he could get a deal for a lesser prison sentence. Pine said Allen did not want to return to prison for a long period, so he was willing to give up his twin brother and his childhood friend.

“We moved in on Allen and O’Brian, who were laid up in this shithole house and we took them without a struggle,” Pine explained. “O’Brian was passed out from his head injury and Allen was so high he could not keep his eyes open. They came along nice and quiet.”

In celebration of the arrest of the armed robbers, Tamburro set up drinks on the house.

“Here’s to dumb criminals.” Pine said as he raised his glass.

© 2009 By Paul Davis 

My Threatcon Column: Semper Paratus, The Coast Guard is Always Ready

I live within minutes of a potential terrorist target - the Port of Philadelphia - so I'm thankful for the diligence and dedication of our intelligence, law enforcement, military and homeland security personnel.

Philadelphia is a target due in part to the Delaware River, which is one of the world's largest freshwater ports and the second busiest in the country in terms of tonnage. The river also supports one of the world's largest petro-chemical industrial complexes, with six major oil refineries along the river.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with the U.S. Coast Guard personnel who are responsible for guarding the Delaware River and its assets. I reported to the Marine Safety Office/Group Philadelphia's offices in South Philadelphia.

Called "Station Philadelphia," the Coast Guard pier-side facility is shared with the Philadelphia Marine Police and a Philadelphia Fire Department Unit. The Coast Guard operates a number of utility boats, including two 27-foot Boston Whalers and the newly acquired 25-foot Defender Class Response boats.

I met with Lt Commander Timothy E. Meyers, who gave me a tour of the station and explained the Coast Guard's many missions. Myers, an army brat who traveled widely with this soldier-father, said the longest he ever stayed in one place was the four years he attended the Coast Guard Academy.

Meyers joined the Coast Guard because he wanted to do something for the country and because he was interested in the wide range of exciting missions the Coast Guard performs.

"The Coast Guard performs missions such as search & rescue, enforcement of laws and treaties, recreational boating safety, marine environmental protection, short range aid to navigation and last and most importantly, homeland security," Meyers told me.

Meyers said that the Coast Guard coordinates their patrols with local law enforcement agencies, not only on the water, but also in the air. The Coast Guard is a member of a port security committee that meets monthly. The committee includes a large number of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as industry representatives.

"The Coast Guard is a member of the armed forces and a law enforcement agency as well," Meyers explained. "Now, with this new emphasis on homeland security, and as a new member of the Department of Homeland Security, there's a lot we can bring to the table."

Meyers said they identify incoming vessels 92-hours out from where they plan to enter port. Sea Marshals, the Coast Guard's law enforcement officers similar to Air Marshals, go out to the vessel and they'll "ride it in." A Coast Guard ship will often accompany the vessel into port.

During my visit I boarded one of the Coast Guard's 25-foot Defender Class Response Boats and we shoved off down the Delaware River. The boats have twin-Honda 225hp outboard engines and they can go more than 45 knots on the water.

That's fast.

The boats are armed with M16 MOD 8 mounts, fore and aft, and the boats also have advanced communications gear.

I rode with the crew on one of the two boats as they ventured out on patrol. I told the boat crew that I was a Navy veteran, so I knew something about boats and working on the river. After serving two years on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, I went on to serve another two years on a Navy harbor tugboat at the nuclear submarine base in Holy Loch, Scotland.

Onboard the boat were a couple of members of the Coast Guard's Maritime Security and Safety Teams (MSSTs). The young petty officers were friendly enough to a writer and a ex-Navy guy, but they were a tough interview. They didn't want to talk about threats, targets or their training. With my own Navy/Defense Department security background, I understood and respected their reluctance to talk to the press.

One of the petty officers, who asked that I not use his name, told me that he had recently reenlisted in the Coast Guard for another six years.

"I love what I'm doing and I think it is important work," the petty officer told me over the noise of the boat's engines and the splash of the water as we sped along the Delaware River.

The MSSTs are a rapid response force assigned to vital ports like Philadelphia. Meyers, who came along for the ride, said that MSSTs were formed specifically for this mission after 9/11. All of the teams have designations that begin with 911 and the first one was 91101. The Philadelphia Detachment's designation is 91110.

"The MSSTs are SWAT teams on the water," Meyers said. "The MSSTs are rapid deployable. They can be sent where needed at a moment's notice."

The two Defender Class boats performed remarkable maneuvers out past the docked and anchored freighters and cargo ships. We also sped past the mothball fleet at the now-closed Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Based on my Navy background, I can attest to the fact that the Defender Class boats can out-run and out-maneuver nearly any craft on the water. With these boats on patrol, I doubt that any boat loaded with explosives could slam into a ship, as we saw with the attack on the USS Cole.

Perhaps the "Coasties," as the Coast Guard sailors liked to be called, were trying to make the old Navy man sea sick, as the boat made several fast, tight turns on the gray, choppy river. Thankfully, I upheld the Navy's reputation during the patrol.

"The Coast Guard is a humanitarian organization," Meyers explained when we returned to the pier. "Most people think of the Coast Guard as lifesavers and our homeland security duties are the same type of mission. It's keeping America safe, it's keeping our homeland safe."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My On Crime & Security Column: Be Ready: September is National Preparedness Month

The national web site Businessknowhow, published my On Crime & Security column today.

The column covers National Preparedness Month and explains why business people, and all Americans, should be ready and prepared for disasters like fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and terrorist attacks.

You can read the column via the below link:


Friday, September 4, 2009

My Q & A With New Jersey Homeland Security Director Richard L. Canas

My Q&A with the New Jersey Homeland Security Director appears in the latest issue of The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International (www.iacsp.com/publications.php), a quarterly magazine for more than 100,000 law enforcement, government and the military world-wide.

You can read the interview above and below:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: True Crime Stories Show Bad Guys At Their Worst And Writers At Their Best

 I’ve been a student of crime since I was a 12-year-old aspiring writer growing up in South Philadelphia in the early 1960’s.

As a teenager I read crime fiction and thrillers and that led to my closely following crime stories in newspapers and magazines. I also read books about true crime and crime history.

I began covering crime as a crime reporter and columnist for the South Philadelphia weekly papers some years ago and I later moved my crime column to other newspapers and finally to the Internet.

And after all of these years, I’m still interested in the crime beat. Crime stories are dramatic, tragic and funny. They are the stuff of thrillers.

I spend a good bit of my time talking to prosecutors, federal agents, police commanders, detectives and patrol officers. Cops are very good story-tellers. I also go out on ride-alongs with the Philadelphia police, which enables me to get a first-hand look at crime, crime victims, criminals and the cops who have to deal with it all.
I’ve seen people at their worst and cops at their best.

I’ve recently read a couple of true crime books that offer the reader a sense of the police ride-along.

“Crime is by turns comic and tragic,” Otto Penzler wrote in his introduction to The Best American Crime Reporting 2008 (Harper Perennial). “This year’s Best American Crime Reporting reflects these critical extremes, along with much that lies in between.”

Penzler is the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York, the founder of the Mysterious Press, the creator of Otto Penzler Books, and the editor of a good number of books and anthologies, including the annual Best American Mystery Stories, and along with Thomas H. Cook, The Best American Crime Reporting.

This latest book on crime reporting is edited by crime fiction writer Jonathan Kellerman. Kellerman, who received is Ph.D in psychology when he was 24, has written 27 bestselling crime novels, including Compulsion.

“A small proportion of human beings - perhaps 1 percent of any given population - is different from the rest of us in ways that wreak havoc on the rest of us,” Kellerman wrote in his introduction to the book. ”The cardinal traits of this bunch include superficiality; impulsiveness; self-aggrandizement to the point of delusion; callousness; and, when it suits, outright cruelty.”

Kellerman goes on to state that truth and principle don’t intrude upon the world of these disrupters.

“When they don’t lapse into tell-tale glibness, the more socially adroit among them come across as charming, sometimes overwhelmingly charismatic,” Kellerman explained.

Kellerman calls this book a page-turning look a the myriad faces of evil. I agree. Writers from Mark Bowden to Calvin Trillen offer truly interesting true crime stories in this book.

“This is the new face of quality true crime,” Kellerman wrote. “Bad guys at their worst, writers at their best.”

Another good collection of true crime stories is The Playboy Book of True Crime (Playboy Press/Steerforth Press).
Edited by the editors of the men’s adult magazine, the book offers great stories by great crime writers on organized crime, outlaw biker gangs, and serial killers.

I grew up reading Playboy. Yes, I looked at the photos of the girls - once or twice - but I also read the Playboy Interview, the fiction, the features and the true crime stories.
Although I don’t think the magazine is as good as it used to be, this collection shows that the top crime writers - from Jimmy Breslin to George Anastasia - are still contributors to the magazine.

So if you want to sit in a comfortable chair and go on a ride-along to learn about the dark side of life and crime, you should read these two collections of true crime stories.