This morning, it came again: a robo-call from Kent, Washington — at 253-246-8503. The recording was of a chipper woman saying she was from "Credit Card Services" with an "important message" about my credit card.
This is perhaps the fifteenth or twentieth such call I've gotten on my cell phone. I've never pressed one to get more information; I always hang up. Even though it sounds like an obvious scam, even though I'm on the do-not-call list, even though they are illegally calling my cell, I've never bothered to look into it.
But today it's raining in LA, and people drive like lunatics, and I was late and in a bad mood. Today I slept badly and am feeling off. Today things at work are annoying me. Today I also got an email from a Popehat reader who has been annoyed by the same calls from the same number, and who had read my Anatomy of a Scam series about investigating a crook. [A quick aside: watch for an update on that soon!]
Upon such little coincidences our lives turn. Scammers, I may decide to pursue you, or not, depending on how last night's dinner is sitting. Your fate may turn on Scrooge's fragment of an underdone potato.
Time to drop the hammer. And I'm sending up the Popehat Signal, because it's time for you, ungentle readers, to help. We're crowdsourcing this motherfucker.
So: first. You know our methods, Watson. Preliminary Google results for 253-246-8503 reveals many hallmarks of a scam: multiple results on nearly every "who is calling me" site on the internet, consistent stories about robocalling to people on the do-not-call list and to cell phones, consistent stories of pressing "1" leading to rude and abusive and evasive telemarketers (including, but not limited to, threats of violence and attempts to induce children to give up their parents' credit card numbers), and potentially related scam enterprises at the same 253-246 prefix. Many people have apparently already contacted authorities; I recommend that everyone continue, using optimal reporting methods and looking to the FTC, the Attorney General of your state, the Attorney General of Washington state, and possibly the King County Prosecuting Attorney.
A note about publicizing this: for God's sake, if you are complaining about a telemarketer and posting your experience on a site like 800notes.com, don't post something like "these people called my cell phone number, 213-555-1000, and I want that number removed from their calling list, and my name is Gullible Numbnuts." People. Don't post your name and phone number on the internet.
So. I need some help:
1. Anyone in or near Kent, Washington, who could scope out locations once we start to find them?
2. Some of you are awesome Google wizards who put me to shame. Any thoughts on using public resources to track the number to individuals, named companies, or addresses before I start spending money to do so?
And, finally, there's a specific group I need help from: current or former employees of "Credit Card Services" from 253-246-8503. People who work there or have worked there, I'd like to address you for a moment. I bet some of you will get here eventually.
You probably worked there because you didn't have a lot of other options. I'm guessing they treated you like shit, right? They paid you poorly, and maybe sometimes the paychecks didn't arrive, or they bounced, or they docked you pay for bogus reasons? Scam artists usually treat their employees very badly. They probably also harassed you, belittled you, screamed at you. Scam artists tend to be sociopaths. A lot of them are sexual predators. A lot of them get off on demeaning other people over whom they have power.
Did any of that happen to you? Is it happening right now? Did you work hard, and they ripped you off?
I can help you.
I will help you by finding the right place to file complaints if they ripped you off on your pay (the Washington Department of Labor & Industries, for example). I will use my contacts in Washington State, and my audience here, to find competent attorneys in Washington to help you — whether its good lawyers willing to work on contingency or lawyers willing to work pro bono. If you worry that you're in the government's crosshairs right now because you participated in a scam, I'll work to find you pro bono criminal defense counsel to protect you and convince the government to see you as a witness rather than as a target for prosecution. In short, I will go to bat for you. I can't practice law in Washington, but I will do everything I can.
All you have to do is help.
By that, I mean that you have to provide the full name of everyone you dealt with at 253-246-8503. You need to provide their home addresses if you have them. If they paid you by check, I'll need a copy of one of the checks so we can see where they bank and under what name and what the account number is. You'll need to provide the names of any corporations or other entities you saw or heard there. You'll need to tell me about assets that the scam-leaders flaunted — the cars, homes, and boats. Finally, I'll want to hear about every scam they were running — every pitch, every bogus company name, everything you were trained to do. I won't ask you to commit to cooperating with the government — that's between you and the attorney I will find for you. But if I'm going to help you, you need to give the scammers up. You can reach me at ken at popehat dot com. I'll be waiting.
Let's take down some scammers. Together.
Edited to add: People in the comments have made the perfectly fair point that the Washington number may be spoofed or forwarded and that the callers may reside physically someplace else entirely, perhaps even overseas. Even so, let's find out what we can, publicize it to make it easier for people to find on the internet, and follow up on the leads. If there are readers in, say, Pakistan who are employees of this enterprise and want to drop a dime on it, I don't have as many contacts there, but I will do what I can for you.