Long-time readers may remember my Anatomy of a Scam Investigation series, in which I documented my investigation of apparent mail fraud by a company called UST Development and its principal David Bell. UST's gambit, as you may recall, was sending misleading solicitations crafted to look like invoices.
Yesterday a fan of that series sent me a tip about a new subject for investigation: an invoice for a company called "RMZ Fire Safety." The tipster — let's call him G — works for a business in Los Angeles County that received an invoice from RMZ Fire Safety. G reports that RMZ Fire Safety did not do the work reflected in the invoice for the business and that the business had never heard of RMZ Fire Safety, and suggested the invoice might be worth an inquiry.
The game's afoot! You know my methods.
The Invoice: The invoice is here. I've redacted identifying information about G's business. The invoice is extremely cursory. Note that it states a charge of $413.11, including tax, for "Annual State Required Fire Safety Equipment Inspection, Test, and Certification." The invoice comes from "RMZ Fire Safety" with an address of 1407 Foothill Blvd., #614, La Verne, California 91750, and a phone number of (626) 373-8717.1 There is no indication whatsoever that the document is a solicitation rather than an invoice for services rendered. Again, G reports the services were never rendered and that his company has had no contact with "RMZ Fire Safety."
Company Search Techniques: The California Secretary of State's Business Search website reveals no corporation, LLC, or LLP called "RMZ Fire Safety," and no companies with "RMZ" in the title with matching addresses. Could "RMZ Fire Safety" be a fictitious business name — a d.b.a.? Perhaps, but even though both G's business and "RMZ Fire Safety" are in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk website reveals no fictitious business name statement filed for "RMZ Fire Safety." I like to emphasize resources anyone can use in these posts, but I also searched public records databases on Westlaw, including "Combined Corporate Records & Business Registration Records" for all states, and found no record of a "RMZ Fire Safety."
License Search: If RMZ Fire Safety is performing "Annual State Required Fire Safety Equipment Inspection, Test, and Certification" at G's business, like the invoice suggests, then it would require licenses, unless that description is quite misleading and is only intended to refer to portable items like fire extinguishers and not to equipment like sprinklers. California requires fire protection contractor's license in some circumstances and a State Fire Marshal's license in others. The website for California's Contractors State License Board reveals no license in the name of "RMZ Fire Safety." I inquired with the California Fire Marshal and found no record of a license with them.
Google Search: A Google search for "RMZ Fire Safety" (with quotation marks) reveals one false hit on a spreadsheet uploaded by a user "rmz" but no hits about the business. A broader search for RMZ Fire Safety (without quotation marks) reveals nothing about the business. Google does reveal an Indian real estate developer called "RMZ Corp" with no apparent presence in the United States. For what it is worth, it is not unusual for scammers to use business names similar to those of established businesses, as my investigation of David Bell and UST Development discussed.
Contact Information Search: A Google search of 1407 Foothill Boulevard in La Verne reveals it to be a commercial mailbox establishment. There are no apparent Google hits for that address with box #614. I find no useful Google hits for phone number (626) 373-8717. This is unusual for a genuine business.
Better Business Bureau: Searching the Better Business Bureau's database reveals no hits for "RMZ Fire Safety" or the phone number it lists on its invoice.
Shoe Leather: Some investigations require a direct approach. I called (626) 373-8717. I got a series of recordings, one saying that it was trying to reach the Google Voice customer. Eventually I got a voice-mail box for RMZ Fire Safety. I left a message identifying myself and leaving a phone number, explaining that I write about fraud investigations, had reviewed an invoice from RMZ Fire Safety for services the recipient says were not rendered, and could find no record of RMZ Fire Safety existing. I asked for a return call. I haven't gotten one.
Conclusion: This evidence, taken together, strongly suggests that the "RMZ Fire Safety" invoice is fraudulent. It's not conclusive. It's possible that RMZ Fire Safety is just a name that a real business is using, and it hasn't registered it as a fictitious business name for some reason, and it's brand new and that's why it has left no web traces, and that the invoice was sent to G's business by accident. It's possible that RMZ Fire Safety did perform services at G's business and G just doesn't know about it and RMZ Fire Safety just coincidentally has left no trace of its existence online. RMZ Fire Safety might (as UST Development did) fall back on the "this is a solicitation, not an invoice" defense, though that defense would be unconvincing given the text of the invoice and would also be invalid under federal law, which requires clear disclaimers on solicitations designed to look like invoices.
I will try calling "RMZ Fire Safety" again. Meanwhile, this post will establish a presence for "RMZ Fire Safety" on the web, so others receiving invoices and Googling it (or its phone number or address) will see this post and perhaps send me tips or other invoices. If you want to help with this investigation, I welcome your insight, and particularly welcome you posting something elsewhere about RMZ Fire Safety with a link here to increase the chances that business owners who receive invoices and Google RMZ Fire Safety will find this post.
Meanwhile, I am reporting RMZ Fire Safety to appropriate authorities by methods explained in this post.
To be continued . . .