Clark Beermann is talking about the phone bill for his business—lots of phone lines and a bill with multiple pages.
“This one particular item kept showing up. This is where I found the charge they were sticking on my bill,” says Beerman.
It was buried below taxes and fees. And for most people who got targeted in this scam, it ranged from around $13 to $40.
The number of victims?
”In this case, there were tens of thousands of cramming victims and losses totaled over 22 million dollars,” says Andrew Wang, US Postal Inspector.
Two scam artists, working through a middle man, told phone companies that various consumers and businesses had agreed to pay a monthly fee for their service – an internet directory.
”They were perpetrating a false billing scheme,” says Wang.
In other words, the con-artists were billing people who never ordered their service. It`s called telephone cramming.
”The placement of unauthorized charges on to a consumer or business` telephone bill,” says Wang.
The victims, most of whom never noticed the charge, included thousands of business owners like Clark Beerman who eventually complained to their phone company.
Those complaints ended up in the hands of US postal inspectors who busted the operation.
”It might have been going on for a year; it could have gone on forever,” says Beerman.
Two brothers pulled off this scheme. One was convicted of mail fraud and money laundering and sentenced to 30 months behind bars.
The other was convicted of mail fraud and served a 20-month sentence. They invested most of their illegal proceeds in real estate, some of which the government seized. The victims received only pennies back on every dollar they lost.