Anatomy of A Scam Investigation, Chapter Three

Effluvia

[Wondering what's going on here? Check out the Chapter Index on this series.]

Welcome back. In Chapter One we introduced the fraudulent pseudo-invoice sent out by UST Development, Inc. of Ontario, California. In Chapter Two we talked about Google technique, building search and issue lists, and what the Better Business Bureau and the California Secretary of State told us about UST Development, Inc. and its principals and affiliates.

Enough preparation. Let's do some Googling. Please note: I'm only hitting the highlights. I'm deliberately excluding many boring and duplicative results. If you see something fun through Google that you think I missed (which is perfectly possible, I'm stupid and lazy) feel free to post it in the comments.

So.

As I told you in Chapter One, my first very quick-and-dirty, no-preparation Google search turned up this Scam Informer post with comments. From that we learn a series of things:

The First Hit

1. Eleven consumers reported getting $175 "invoices" from UST Development, Inc. despite never having received services;
2. David Bell and Brandon [sic] Bell (it's actually Branden Bell, as it turns out) are affiliated with UST Development, Inc.;
3. Someone claiming to be a former employee asserts that David and Branden Bell hired him and promised him salary but never paid;
4. David and/or Branden Bell may or may or may not have declared bankruptcy (meaningful because it will lead us to check bankruptcy court records on PACER); and
5. The unnamed alleged employee describes a pattern of behavior typical of career con men:

I agreed that if UST, Brandon and David Bell would just pay me for the money I was out for all the court filings and service fees, I would go away. The amount was a scant $250. They both agreed and then the REAL fun began. First David Bell told me he would pay me and to just stop by his office later on that day…he wasn't there and the doors were locked. Two days later he finaly returned my calls and said he had to wait until the end of the month when all checks were writen and paid out. On the 3rd day of the next month I contacted David Bell to ask if my check was there. He told me it had showed up but the name on the check was wrong so he hads to send it back but a new check would be issued in the next day or so. Three days later David told me to stop by the office and my money would be waiting for me. I stoped at his office but the guy there said he knew nothing about a check, had never heard of me, and that it was between David Bell and myself. I immediataly called David and was told he forgot to leave the check but he was heading to the office and would call when he arrived so I could then stop by and pick up my money. He never called. Over the next two weeks I spoke with David Bell several times and each time he apologized for the way things were going and that he was going to be in his office later and would call me…he never called. So I started driving by his office periodically and one day found David there. I parked my car and went into the office where I found a smiling David Bell acting like I was an old friend, he shook my hand and asked me back to his office where he eagerly apologized once again, claimed he was going to make up for my troubles, and proceeded to write me a check in the amount of $300 ($250 for the agreed amount and an extra $50 for my troubles). This check was writen on a UST Development account at Chase Bank. After leaving Davids office I promptly went to the nearest Chase Bank branch and tried to cash the check. The teller said the check was no good. I then called David who informed me that the account was a "something something" ( I dont recall his exact words) accont and I needed to just deposit the check. I deposited the check into my WellsFargo account and "Presto." Three days later the check was returned by my bank unpaid. I called David Bell and he acted suprised and said he would give me cash and to just bring the check by for a trade. He said he would "be at the office later" and that he would "call me when he arrived." He never called. I called him a few more times and head the same line of B.S. so I quit calling.

Remember that these things are just claims by someone anonymous on the internet. But we're looking for corroboration — like the corroboration that my firm is not the only one to get the bogus "invoice." We're also going to be watching for other people telling stories of the sort of long-term lulling we'll-pay-today-I'll-be-there-in-an-hour behavior described here. [Hint: it's coming. Big time.] That sort of behavior is absolutely stereotypical of hardcore, sociopathic scammers I've encountered.

6. We also learned something interesting: Branden Bell may not exactly be a rocket scientist. In the comments of that post, a "BBell1024" shows up to say this:

Good afternoon all, I thought I would post that I have found this is to be a legitimate company with about 25 people working there. They have been in business developing properties as well as a certified low voltage installer( phone systems wiring etc) we took them up on their offer which does say on their invoice " preventative maintenance" and that "this is not for service rendored" We called them and asked for their services with re-wireing our complex and repairing 3 stations that needed programming. They were there the next day (last week) and the dept manager offered to credit our $175.00 already spent towards the 8 hours of work. Coincidentally prior to them stepping foot on our property, our voicemail acted up and they were able to fix that as well..It is a marketing tool but nothing more than a magazine subscription would be when they send out a invoice when you recieve your last issue. And as far as the contact I have been able to reach someone each time that I have tried. Good luck to all

Note that "BBell" can't even spell their bogus disclaimer correctly. Note also that someone using a different alias has posted almost the same thing in response to other complaints on the internet under the handle "blizzard." "Blizzard" was so eager he even posted his defensive rebuttal in connection with one of UST's addresses on YellowPages.com even though that location hadn't drawn a complaint yet. Now, is this necessarily Branden Bell? No. It could be a huge coincidence. Someone could be posing as Branden Bell to make them look guilty and stupid. (Of course, I note that someone with the handle bbell1024 has been researching the Bell family tree. Maybe I'll get a free membership at ancestry.com and chase that down later.) Or maybe — just maybe — Branden Bell is so unearthly-moronic that he used his own handle to post an astroturf comment in the same thread in which he was already called out by name. In which case, wow.

7. Another commenter gives us links to other internet complaint sites, and points out that UST Development, Inc. has had its contractor's license revoked for failure to pay a civil judgment. Query: without an active license, can UST Development, Inc even do what they are "soliciting" to do?

8. Another commenter posted allegations about a Bell family member. I'm leaving those aside while I search for corroboration.

So: onward with more Googling.

More Hits:

RipOff Report: another person receive the "invoice."

UST Development

305 N Sacramento Avenue Ontario CA 91764 Ontario California 91764 United States of America

UST sent us an invoice which claimed that they were owed $175. Invoice states "This is not a statement for services rendered but for preventative maintenance".

We have never heard of this company. Total scam!

Another:

Pure scam. No such vendor in file. On invoice states"This is not a statement for services rendered but for preventative maintenance." As to what they are maintaining we'll never know as the phone number listed is only a recording. Website is bogus as well. Bottom line is it's a SCAM.

The Museum of Hoaxes was the first to post a copy of the bogus invoice.

Another: either the same angry employee above, or another employee who was not paid.

Mywot.com reports that www.ustdevelopment.com has a bad reputation as a result of sending out scam invoices.

Merchantcircle notes the scam.

Even reviews on Google Maps get in on the game. This is classic:

This company sent me a fake invoice for $175. When I called, they said that it was an optional service that I could start using with them, even though the invoice clearly says, "Telecom Maintenance/Service Call." When I called him on this, he backpedaled and claimed that the printer messed up and that he "was calling everybody to tell them about it." Avoid this SCAM!

Here's a series of complaints I found by Googling UST's phone number rather than their name.

And then there's the California Department of Labor, which keeps some orders online. Gee, look at this: a judgment against UST Development, Inc. for various Labor Code violations. Remember how I said we were looking for corroboration of employee complaints?

The nature of the violations of the Labor Code and the basis for the assessment are as follows:
Violation of Labor Code Sections 1771, 1774 for failure to pay prevailing wages to all workers employed on the project; CPRs falsely report wage
paid; all hours worked were not reported or paid; illegal deductions were taken from workers checks as if there were legitimate H& W, pension,
vacation funds and plans; worker Lazaro )Nas misclassfied for some hours when performing Operating Engineer work; some wages were paid on
a check all which payment was stopped; training fund contributions were not paid as required in violation of Section 1777.5; daily overtime
was worked but paid at straight time in the beginning of the project; but then overtime was not reported at all, nor was it paid, in violation
of Labor Code Section 1815,

Remember: having a financial collapse and not being able to pay bills — even salary — is not proof of fraud. But it can be combined with other evidence which, taken together, proves fraud.

This is getting dull. Let's move on.

Other Entities

I think we've got UST Development, Inc. pretty well figured out. But what else have David Bell and Branden Bell been up to? Scammers are prolific. It's rare to catch them in their first scam. What else can we find through Google?

You might remember from Chapters One and Two that the name "US Telecom" came up repeatedly, sometimes as "US Telecom, Inc." sometimes not. That's a very generic name; there are lots of legitimate businesses out there with very similar names. We'll have to pull the relevant ones out by searching for "US Telecom" in connection with other terms from our search list — like "David Bell."

That yields plenty. A number of online company profiles link "U.S. Telecom, Inc." to David Bell and Branden Bell. That profile also yields a new number — 626 256 8911. What do you think that number will turn up if I combine it with, say, "scam"? Hmmmmm.

It all started with a good credit card order, An employee named Gabriel Menchaca then asked for terms, we did a little checking and they seemed okay so we extended NET 30 terms, Then 3 PO's with 30 or so days dating back to Sept 2005 and a total of about $1600.00 in equipment.

Repeated calls to different people have led to more lies and stories. Contacted the President of the company David Bell. He has also made payment promises that never happen.

Stay away from these guys – they are all smoke and mirrors.

Let the seller be aware!

David Bell is the President

A 2008 update reports, very briefly, that the debts were paid. But bear in mind that fraudsters routinely reimburse the loudest complainers (after a long wait) if they want to keep their scam going. On the other hand, bear in mind again that this was merely an anonymous claim on the internet — its worth depends on how we can corroborate such behavior (for that, wait for the PACER analysis).

Now, US Telecom has all sorts of listings out there claiming that it is a corporation. But is it? If so, in what state? UST Development, Inc. and David Bell really mean to associate themselves with the corporation "US Telecom, Inc.", which one are they talking about?

In some places David Bell lists himself as the CEO of "US Telecommunication" and "Ust Dry Utilities," but in other places he's the CEO of "US Telecom, Inc." in Overland Park in Kansas. There seems to be no "U.S. Telecom" or "U.S. Telecommunication" or "US-Telecom" corporation in California. But there's a U.S. Telecom Long Distance, Inc., a Nevada corporation. Huh. There's a U.S. Telecom Long Distance, Inc. in Kansas, too, showing the same Nevada address. Also in Nevada, there's a U.S. Telecom, Inc. — and it shows four new names, all at an address in Overland Park, Kansas. Is it the same address that David Bell uses for his U.S. Telecom card? Why yes, it is. That address is also the Sprint headquarters. Maybe Sprint is picking up a few extra bucks by lending office space? Maybe it's an office park? Not sure yet. But, gee, it sure looks as if there may be some connection between David Bell and the U.S. Telecom, Inc. of Nevada. [Updated September 19, 2011: based on what I've found, I think the more likely scenarios are that (1) the Jigsaw profile connecting David Bell and UST Development to the Kansas address are some sort of error, or (2) they were fraudulently posted to make it appear that the participants in UST Development are connected with reputable companies.]

And it looks as if US Telecom of Nevada and U.S. Telecom Long Distance have a lot of fraud complaints against them for cramming unauthorized charges. This bears further investigation to determine if there is a connection between the UST Development, Inc. fraud and this fraud. [Edited on September 19, 2011: Not finding a clear connection so far, but still looking.]

Next up: oh boy, bankruptcy court records, what fun! Also, as promised, crime.

Remember: scammers are scum.

Edited to add: Chapter Four is up. So is Chapter Five.

Additional update: please read this important note.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

28 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Chris Berez  •  Sep 13, 2011 @5:36 pm

    Fantastic. I can't wait until the next installment. The best thing is that these posts will likely draw other people to Popehat looking for info on scammers and provide them with valuable tips on digging deeper. I know I'll have these posts tucked away– both because I'll enjoy re-reading them countless times while giggling gleefully and because they'll be good stuff to pass around to friends and family.

  2. David  •  Sep 13, 2011 @5:50 pm

    Apparently this is Branden Bell's MySpace.

    (a) La Crescenta
    (b) President of UST Dry Utilities in Ontario
    (c) "Heroes: Only one true living hero David. Hes been through some of the worst but has embedded in me that giving up IS NOT AN OPTION. And for this im grateful."

  3. Michael  •  Sep 13, 2011 @6:47 pm

    Perhaps I'm getting ahead of things here, but Daniel Hesse, one of the four new names listed in the Overland Park US Telecom, is the actual CEO of Sprint. Also, way back in the 80s when what would become Sprint was still United Telecom, they did have a subsidiary or something called US Telecom. Who would've thought it was still around.

  4. David  •  Sep 13, 2011 @6:50 pm

    Yeah. The "David Bell" of Overland Park, KS and Sprint and US Telecom is probably just a coincidence of name.

    The "US-Telecom" associated with the scammer is probably a deliberate variant of the real deal.

  5. Ken  •  Sep 13, 2011 @6:57 pm

    Well, through the Jigsaw link above showing David Bell as being CEO of a US Telecom in Kansas, if you click on US Telecom, it takes you to a page that links the UST Development website. The possibilities are, I think, that (1) Jigsaw has the wrong information, (2) David Bell's US Telecom does have some sort of relationship with the other U.S. Telecom, or (3) David Bell created the profile with false information for some purpose.

    If the Jigsaw page is wrong, that still raises the question of why David Bell is using US Telecom Inc. when there is no such California corporation. Which one is he claiming to be associated with, and what does it actually do?

  6. Doug  •  Sep 13, 2011 @6:57 pm

    Thumbs up

  7. Scott Jacobs  •  Sep 13, 2011 @7:34 pm

    And being a Kansas boy by birth, and frequently going there to see family, I can say that yes, the Sprint offices are in an office park.

    Next time I go out there (likely in a month or so), I'll be sure to swing by the office and see what's up. If you'd like.

  8. Michael  •  Sep 13, 2011 @7:47 pm

    Probably option 3 since the jigsaw link lists David Bell as the CEO AND owner of US Telecom, when it's almost certainly owned entirely by Sprint. Looks to me like he's claiming to be the CEO of some legit US Telecom (though what an incredible twist it would be if Sprint were involved!) that's still around doing who knows what, if anything.

  9. ecurb  •  Sep 13, 2011 @9:08 pm

    Something tells me you will have a hard time collecting anything from this one. How many (otherwise) billable hours are you willing to donate to the cause of putting this scumbag away for… however long scams like this get folks put away for?

  10. Mike De Lucia  •  Sep 13, 2011 @9:13 pm

    Loving this series. Go get 'em, Ken!

  11. Damon  •  Sep 14, 2011 @4:29 am

    loving this. bookmarking it for future reference in case i need it. :)

  12. Erica  •  Sep 14, 2011 @6:59 am

    When you're done with this series, you should make it available as a full PDF or book for the accounting offices of companies. I can say that there's a lot of older people in our acct department who haven't even thought about this 'telecomunication' stuff and might actually pay these bills without hearing about the scams. I'd love to have a whole 'lesson' to send them so they can learn! :) Or maybe this is the start to a project or a book? :)

  13. Andrew  •  Sep 14, 2011 @7:10 am

    Note also that someone using a different alias has posted almost the same thing in response to other complaints on the internet under the handle “blizzard.”

    Now I know why Diablo 3 is taking so long.

  14. mojo  •  Sep 14, 2011 @7:58 am

    10:1 the whole "telecom" thing started in high school or thereabouts when the Bell brothers learned about Alexander Graham Bell.

  15. NLP  •  Sep 14, 2011 @9:53 am

    ecurb, Ken isn't looking to collect anything. His office received what appeared to be an invoice, he's decided to do help wreck (at least temporarily) the scammers and he's decided to give his readers a lesson in how to do research.

    I thought I was good at googling. I'm getting a lesson from a master.

  16. EH  •  Sep 14, 2011 @12:35 pm

    why David Bell is using US Telecom Inc. when there is no such California corporation

    Muddying the waters.

  17. Ken  •  Sep 14, 2011 @1:32 pm

    Searches here, for today only, as of 1:30 PST:

    david bell ust
    http://www.ustdevelopment.com (3)
    "branden bell" "ust"
    david bell ust development inc.
    ustdevelopment.com (2)
    ust development david bell
    ust development scam

    If just one business is spared from falling for this because of what I've written, it's worth it.

  18. Ken  •  Sep 14, 2011 @1:35 pm

    Interesting. At the moment, http://www.ustdevelopment.com won't open, while http://www.us-telecom.com takes me to the site. Wonder if they are trying to hide their tracks?

  19. Kevin  •  Sep 14, 2011 @2:05 pm

    Thanks for all this information. Got one of these invoices today and the first Google search for UST Development had your site on the first page. Kudos for your perseverance.

  20. Ken  •  Sep 14, 2011 @2:14 pm

    Thanks for letting us know, Kevin.

  21. Ken  •  Sep 14, 2011 @4:11 pm

    Just got another email from another person who Googled when they got the invoice and found us.

  22. Joe  •  Sep 14, 2011 @4:41 pm

    I can also shed some light regarding their alleged payroll scams. They have contacted numerous payroll companies to process their payrolls and did not pay the payroll companies. They provided fake checks/banking information and ran fraudulent payrolls. It is my understanding that they have hit over 10 companies to the tune of about $2.0M.

    The Bell's are in Chapter 7 or have completed the BK. UST was in Chapter 11, but was not completed and the company is still in operation with a suspended license.

    Watch out!

  23. Brian  •  Sep 22, 2011 @2:51 pm

    I'm just catching up….but not only is bbell a moron for using his email (if he did), but he's also a moron for using an email that is likely a combo of name and birthday. Forgive me if you've touched upon this, but many people often use first initial, last name, birth month, birth day for email addresses. Just might be more info to help.

  24. Reader  •  Sep 27, 2011 @6:57 pm

    United Telecom (a different company by the same name) was part of the original group of companies that merged in the 1980s to form Sprint. See the full detail here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprint-Nextel#United_Telecom

    Clearly, the scammer is just borrowing the name and address of a legitimate company that pre-dates the internet era.

  25. Unfortunate Vic/employee  •  Sep 29, 2011 @6:02 pm

    Thanks for doing what you are doing. Everything is true!! The [edited by Ken]

    UV: I elected not to post your accusation, though it has been posted openly elsewhere. I hope to investigate it. If you would like to provide me with information backing what you say, email it to ken at popehat dot com. I do this not because I am obligated to police our comments, and not because I am liable for what you say in comments (under federal law, I am not), but because I feel like it.

  26. Will  •  Oct 3, 2011 @9:27 am

    Here's Branden Bell's (brandon bell) Facebook
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002825226176&sk=info
    and David Bell's
    https://www.facebook.com/dbell04

    They have 3 "fake" company's US-telecom (UST, Inc.), US Dry Utilities and UST Development. The send "statements" fishing for payments. When you call, they respond that they are solicitations. This is a violation of federal law as mail solicitations must be identified as such in 30pt bold face font. I'd say someone should sue, but doubtful these idiots have any money. Brandon Bell and David Bell are common criminals; do not pay them.

  27. Ken  •  Oct 3, 2011 @9:29 am

    Will, I don't think you've read Chapter One.

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