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FAX-A-FRAUD
Scam Offers Cut-Rate Plasma TVs

05/21/07

Plasma-screen TV showing the word "Scam"

The unsolicited faxes to small businesses in and around Scranton, Pennsylvania, seemed plausible enough: Get a 50-inch plasma-screen TV for less then $800. A call to the company revealed an even sweeter-sounding deal: The more TVs you buy, the cheaper they are.

Intrigued, more than a few recipients called the company, Extreme Entertainment, to learn more about how to get a brand-name TV valued as high as $4,000 for the cut-rate price. The purchase required a 50-percent deposit, and the merchandise would be sent out the following day and arrive within two weeks. When the TVs never showed up and follow-up calls to the company went unanswered, it was pretty clear the deal was a scam.

On the case. Kevin Wevodau, a special agent in our Scranton office, opened a case more than a year ago, based on a complaint from a small company in the Pocono Mountains. His early investigation revealed several complaints had been filed by customers who made deposits but never got the goods. Then, in a stroke of luck earlier this year, one of the victims reported a new fax was circulating offering the same deal, this time with a new phone number. She forwarded the pitch to Agent Wevodau, who went undercover as a potential patsy.

"I called him, told him I won the lottery, and that I wanted to buy TVs from him," said Agent Wevodau, who had planned to order seven of the plasma TVs, valued for the clarity and brightness of their flat-panel screens, but eventually settled for 20 after succumbing to the salesman's pitch about bulk savings. Agent Wevodau was told he would only have to pay half up front, with the rest due upon delivery. The salesman then supplied a routing number to wire the money. The bank was in Las Vegas. Bingo!

The scope widens. Agent Wevodau called our Las Vegas office, prompting our agents there to track the salesman down at his condo and ask him about the plasma TVs, or the lack thereof. The next day in Scranton, meanwhile, Agent Wevodau's phone rang. Our office in Jamestown, New York, was running a check on the same scam and saw Agent Wevodau was on the case. In the Jamestown complaint, a former law enforcement officer had recruited a pool of buyers, including dozens of area small businesses and police, to purchase more than 140 TVs. The complainant had wired more than $50,000 in would-be deposits to a Las Vegas bank, but never got the TVs. On May 11, a Nevada man believed to be sending the faxes was arrested for his role in the scam.

If you've been taken by this scam or a similar one, we'd like to know. Agents believe the bogus offer appearing on fax machines may be much broader than what we've found so far. If you've been victimized, please contact your local FBI office.

Don't let it happen to you. Agent Wevodau said small business owners and individuals should be mindful of such suspiciously good deals. "One of these TVs sells in the store for $3,000 to $4,000," Agent Wevodau said. "These guys are offering it for $600 delivered to your door. I mean, come on."

Resources:
- Common Fraud Schemes
- Contact Your Local FBI Office
- Be Crime Smart Tips