A New Mail Fraud Investigation: "RMZ Fire Safety"

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 . . .

  1. Usually I don't list phone numbers in posts. Here I submit that it is material to the story and the investigation.  

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Comments

  1. Mercury says

    Fraud is still fraud of course but with the ever increasing amount of government compliance red tape that businesses have to deal with these days this kind of scam just gets easier and easier to pull off.

    Same with law enforcement: now that every government department under the sun has its own police force and SWAT team I can see how it might be pretty hard to tell a real law enforcement officer from an imposter. After the Boston Marathon bombings there were about 24 different types of official looking dudes running around with guns. Washington DC isn’t much better on a normal day.
    “We’re conducting spot checks on bags and other personal belongings…”
    “Uh…OK…”

    Plus, with pretty much everything under the sun rapidly becoming illegal in some way, shape or form, it’s not completely implausible at first blush that you might actually be currently in violation of XYX as the letter/man with a gun is claiming.

    Mexican roadblocks are coming next.

  2. Peter H says

    What is the deal with fraudulent invoices and La Verne, CA? Wasn't UST using an address there too?

  3. naught_for_naught says

    Every time I hear about one of these invoice scams, I imagine the social engineering process that must go on when deciding on the amount. It must resemble this, only a lot sleazier:

  4. Alan Bleiweiss says

    People will do anything they can to scam consumers and business owners. While you believe it may be fraud, due to a lack of conclusive evidence, I, as an individual non-lawyer believe it IS fraud. In all my decades here on earth, have the willingness to state my opinion with less cautionary wording.

    Companies like "RMZ Fire Safety" should be shut down and their owners put in prison.

  5. Al M says

    Might there also be a tax fraud issue here? I am not a lawyer or accountant, or a resident of California, but the invoice charges 9% tax for what appears to be a charge for services rendered. But in most states (and it appears from a quick google search that CA is among them) that sales taxes apply to tangible goods sold to retail customers. Use taxes may apply to goods that weren't subject to sales tax when purchased, but in any case would we expect a service that was mostly inspection, test, and certification to be considered a tangible good? At most, it seems the tangible part of this might be materials for recharging fire extinguishers, and maybe some safety labels, stickers, light bulbs for burnt-out "EXIT" signs and would either be considered incidental to the inspection service and not taxed at all, or invoiced separately.

    Of course this is assuming anything about this were legitimate….

  6. sorrykb says

    Oh, it's definitely a scam. And apparently a fairly common one. Here's a note from the District Attorney's office: http://da.lacounty.gov/consumeralert/fireinspectors.htm
    How to tell if someone is trying to rip you off with this scam? In LA County, at least, these inspections are done — at no charge — by local fire department officials. Have doubts about someone who's shown up at your business? Get the person's name and call the local fire department to check on them.
    I saw this sort of thing all the time when I was an office manager: Copier toner scams, ads in phone directories no one uses, useless print website directories, and "invoices" of all sorts. Plus the fake but official-looking notices about "Labor Law Poster Compliance". All they needed was one person in the office to believe them, and suddenly you'd be saddled with a useless product (or nothing at all) with demands to pay. We never paid, by the way. I hate scammers. On the plus side, I did manage to frighten the office interns when I was on the phone with one of those scammers once — Apparently they'd never heard me use that tone of voice — nor that kind of language — before. So at least there was some entertainment value.

  7. En Passant says

    Just FWIW, and with no links or detailed citations. Google search for the numeric sequence 626-373-8717 yields common phone number lookup sites with this general information:

    Phone numbers in the 626-373 area code exchange, are located in West Covina, California. Zip codes in the area are: 91722, 91723. The geo-coordinates are 34.0754 latitude and -117.91 longitude.

    One indicates it's a landline in Baldwin Park.

    Many indicate it's a landline and the exchange is owned by U.S. Telepacific Corp, which is a smallish CLEC with about 40K subscribers according to Wikipedia. So the phone number could be fairly readily traceable.

    Intelius.com, which has a good reputation, claims to have a name and address for the phone number subscriber they'll sell for cheap.

  8. says

    In CT, if it involves money changing hands for pretty much anything, there is a state sales/use tax. http://www.ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?a=1477&q=269930 has the list of services covered, and it's almost impossible to find something that isn't covered by a use tax. I think medical and legal services are about the only things of which the state doesn't demand its "fair share". Given that we aren't quite as far gone as CA, I'd expect to see everything taxed in CT and then some taxed in CA. (Which is one of many reasons we'll probably, regretfully, be looking to relocate in a few years after the kids are finished with high school.)

  9. Shane says

    I had one of these sent to my small business when I was in Tempe, Arizona. I dealt with so much fraud and scams that invoice was the least of my worries. I don't think the name was RMZ though. Sorry it is been too long for me to remember the details, so no help there.

  10. Cat G says

    Ken – Whatever did happen with UST? That series was a pretty snazzy read. Also, the CT Consumer Protection has noted that invoices may still be going out as of May of this year – despite the C&D concerning them.

  11. Suedeo says

    David Bell has yet to see justice, despite all the evidence gathered and 13 chapters of reporting on his behavior. I read that series of articles and enjoyed them, but did not get the happy ending I was hoping for.

    I'd love an update on how Mr. Bell and his wife are doing — still far better off than us working stiffs, I presume.

  12. Tim says

    Might I suggest Lee & Associates who appears to be the real estate company for the property? 1407 Foothill….

    [edited]

  13. Wynnsfolly says

    If they are collecting sales tax and remitting it to the state, they will have to be registered with the state. If they are not remitting sales taxes collected all kinds of state-backed fun can ensue

  14. naught_for_naught says

    Hey Tim,
    I don't think it's a good idea to post phone numbers for businesses or individuals that in all likelihood are not affiliated with RMZ.

  15. says

    Tim, if you mean the real estate company for the commercial mail box location, how would they have any information on the holder of one of the boxes?

  16. LTMG says

    When I rented a box at a mail box location I had to complete USPS Form 1583. Completing this required that I provide my name, home address, phone number, other details, and show two forms of acceptable identification. Perhaps somebody purporting to be the person behind RMZ had to complete one of these forms. If so, that person's personal details are available, provided they were not falsified. The bottom of USPS Form 1583 has the usual warnings about providing false information.

  17. En Passant says

    Suedeo wrote Sep 4, 2013 @3:12 pm:

    I'd love an update on how Mr. Bell and his wife are doing — still far better off than us working stiffs, I presume.

    NY AG got on the case in 2012.

    See NY AG's C&D letter [PDF].

  18. Sterling Archer says

    Payment would probably take place with a check and ultimately the perps have to cash or deposit it. Since there don't seem to be any entities with exactly that name, it may be a modification. For example, "RNZ Fire Safety" or "Robert Michael Ztupid Fire Saftey". Banks may not notice a single character difference or may accept abbreviations. The single character changes from "RMZ" are feasible to search for in Google with automated tools, but discovering an abbreviation would be more difficult without a list of all legal entities in CA containing the words "fire safety".

  19. Christophe says

    The reality is that if you shove the check into an ATM (or use phone deposit if you stay up with what the kids are doing), the chance of the bank returning it for a mismatched name is essentially zero these days.

  20. AlphaCentauri says

    @Christophe, true, but if they deposit the check, it still leaves a paper trail. The victim will get information from the cancelled check about the account the check was deposited into.

  21. SocialB says

    I'd really like to know how the San Bernardo criminal case was resolved. I googled then searched the San Bernardo Superior Court site, but didn't find anything relevant. It is cool that NY and Missouri have sent scary letters to David Bell, but after seeing how much attention he pays to legal threats, I don't think it will do much good.

    Maybe I am too impatient, but after watching a year of Ken's impressive research define an apparently airtight case of fraud and payroll violations, then not hearing about a liberty depriving result was like watching a fencing master appear to be warming up for a championship bout, but instead grabbing a flyswatter and missing a big fat housefly on the dinner table.

    Scammers may be scum, but anyone who survives a very public airing of his crimes either has the toughness of a cockroach or is not faced with prosecutors capable of taking what is served up on a plate for them.

  22. Jon says

    If I remember correctly, the last time Ken addressed the UST case in public was during his Reddit AMA; in essence, he said wheels are turning, be patient, I can't go into details at this time. Then again, I think he's said that here as well.

    The San Bernardino criminal case mentioned in Chapters 7 and 13 (not directly about the UST matter) is apparently still active; it shows a "readiness calendar" event for September 27. If my Google-located sources are correct, that suggests the trial should begin shortly after that.

    And while I'm here, I'll just note that while the USPS Form 1583 LTMG mentions could be useful to prosecutors, seeing it will probably require a subpoena or similar order (at least, I hope it does), so it's not available to us amateur investigators.

  23. Kat says

    Those of you wondering whatever happened to UST, Inc. might find this interesting:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1aokls/iama_federal_criminal_defense_attorney_and_former/c8zalx1

    Incidentally, Ken, my Walmart store received one of the invoices from UST. Turns out they had just gotten around to papering my area and all those stores in my market got similar invoices within a short amount of time. I got to give a little mini-presentation to our Asset Protection staff about who UST was and what red flags to watch out for with mail fraud. It was fun, and also only possible thanks to you making that series. So, go you! :D

    "The game's afoot!"

    I love it when the game's afoot.

    Best first comment. :D

  24. gramps says

    Bell is still at it, or so it appears.

    A post today on Coyote Blog (I can't figure out that tricky link stuff, but they are on Ken's blog roll, above left) tells of a UST "invoice" landing in their mailbox. The AP folks caught it… there are links to Ken's earlier work on Mr. Bell's saga over at Coyote. It goes full circle.

  25. En Passant says

    gramps wrote Sep 5, 2013 @9:53 pm:

    Bell is still at it, or so it appears.

    Thanks for pointing out the coyoteblog.com update on the ongoing scam. If I may add my $.02 gleaned from coyoteblog in the form of a link which has more links to some of the recent legal actions. See this invoice fraud alert posted by the legitimate company USTelecom, The Broadband Association.

    I'll also note that the fine print on the bottom of the bogus invoice displayed by coyoteblog contains a domain name apparently owned by the perpetrator of the scam: US-Telecom.com

    A whois lookup for the owner of US-Telecom.com reveals an interesting piece of the puzzle. I don't know whether the domain registration information is fraudulent or not.

    Were I a prosecutor for any government entity, I would be inclined to follow up that ownership trail because it's a gimme that can be pursued almost trivially with a couple of mouse clicks and phone calls. But I'm not a prosecutor for any government entity. So, I'll just put the information out here. I do not suggest that anyone visit the US-Telecom.com domain.

  26. Steve says

    As a social experiment, I would be curious to see what the success rate would be if 1000 fake invoices which were explicit the invoice was for no practical service.

    "INVOICE FOR SERVICES NOT REQUESTED. PAYMENT OF THIS INVOICE WILL CREATE AN AD FOR YOUR COMPANY ON DONTPAYTHISINVOICE.COM"

  27. says

    I usually just toss these, and I was ready to toss a postcard for my business burglar alarm license with my city, because the address was a P.O. box, not a city building, and the URL for information wasn't a .gov or a gov.ca.us domain.

    But it turns out it was real! The idiots who run the City of Sunnyvale didn't think before they set up the domain and post office box. I called the city and got written verification from a city official before I sent my check in.

  28. Anony Mouse says

    @AlphaCentauri
    "true, but if they deposit the check, it still leaves a paper trail."

    I suppose if they're really paranoid, they could cash it at a currency exchange and view the exchange's cut as the price of confusing any tracking.

  29. online says

    We received an in invoice today from RMZ Fire Safety for $413.11 and our accounting department ask me about it. I Googled it and found this blog. Very bold scam directed at businesses. We have a tight ship at my company but I can see how easily this invoice can be paid. I provided the information to the City of La Verne.

  30. AlphaCentauri says

    It would seem like businesses paying other businesses would have checks that already say, "For deposit only" on the back. I can't think of any situation where anyone would try to cash a business payment at our office without depositing it in the corporate account, unless it was embezzlement. It would be a convenience to us for all our payments to have that on the back of the check before any employee could lay hands on it. Why isn't that standard practice?

  31. kowboy says

    It seems their not even trying to hide anything. These letters go out right about the time the real inspection letters go out, luckly I recieved my real letter last week, that's what caught my eye. I went straight to google. CROOKS!

  32. Bubba says

    The RMZ Fire Safety is definitely a scam. One of my customers called me today regarding the invoice they received from RMZ since I am their main contact for fire protection related services. For one, any legitimate contractor is required, by law, to have their State Contractor's license number on all printed material with their business name. Secondly, for those familiar with the City of La Verne, the #614 would typically represent unit #14 on the 6th floor of a building of which La Verne does not not have. Thirdly, a Google search of the address reveals as being a "Post Masters Plus".
    I believe that, by just the fact that the invoice is delivered via U.S. Mail, this also constitutes mail fraud which should be punishable by Federal law.
    In any case, don't pay the bill if you didn't order the services. But if you still feel compelled to follow this further then request a copy of the inspection report be mailed to you. Perform this request by mail to the billing address shown on their invoice. DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR PHONE NUMBER NOR CALL THEM! Google voice, which their phone number is through, has caller ID and they will do nothing but harass you once they have your number.

  33. Stout says

    well, well… they have really got balls! I knew there was something fishy about this "RMZ Fire Safety" I handle the accounting for our company here in Valencia, Ca. When I didn't recognize the name I addressed it to the owner and he too was a bit iffy about it. glad I googled this.

  34. Bonnie says

    Hi- we also received the same invoice. I left a message yesterday and did not get a call back. Today I found this so I left another message & told them they were bogus and we would not be paying. We're also in the Orange County, CA

  35. Waves says

    I just received this same invoice and was investigating. I have a service that does come to the business each year to refill and maintain and test my fire extinguishers, but they are reputable. They don't bill as a State Required Inspection. This was suspicious at the get go. I too called several times and had not received a return call. I'm glad I came across your post. I now know for sure that it is a fraudulent invoice.