Archive for February, 2009

Creative Way To Smuggle Weed
February 25, 2009

It is no surprise the cartels are working to find new and inventive ways to smuggle drugs across our border, but this one even surprised me. Here’s the report from Customs and Border Patrol Agents in Laredo who, thanks to some good old fashion police work, found $600,000 worth of marijuana encased in concrete highway barriers. I’ve also included some pictures.

CBP Officers Crack Open Cemented Marijuana

at Laredo Commercial Cargo Facility

 

Laredo, Texas – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers working at the World Trade Bridge commercial cargo lot at the Laredo, Texas Laredo port of entry seized almost 600 pounds of marijuana late Monday afternoon. The drugs were concealed inside a shipment of cement barricades or what are commonly known as jersey barriers or K-rails.

 

The Monday seizure was made just after 5 p.m. when a 1995 Freightliner tractor hauling a 1995 flatbed trailer entered the compound from Mexico. A manifest for an empty trailer was presented by the driver who also presented an informal entry for 19 pieces of stone articles. A CBP officer referred the tractor-flatbed trailer to the cargo x-ray unit for a scan of the merchandise and the conveyance. Another CBP officer determined that there were anomalies within the manifested cement barricades on the flatbed trailer. CBP officers conducted a physical and closer visual inspection of the barricades that revealed metal containers within the cement barricades. Once opened, the metal containers had tape-wrapped bundles that were probed and a green-leafy substance was extracted. The substance field-tested positive for marijuana. A total of 571 bundles were removed from the uniquely concealed metal containers within the barricades. The marijuana weighed 599 pounds and has a street value of almost $600K. Although there were no arrests in this case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents are pursuing leads and the investigation continues. The trailer and the marijuana were seized by CBP officers.

 

“Once again CBP’s innovative technology and our officers’ tenacity make for a highly significant interception of what is an obvious painstakingly unique concealment of the contraband,” said Gene Garza, CBP Port Director, Laredo. “Thwarting this smuggling attempt speaks volumes for our officers’ vigilance.”

-CBP-

 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control, and protection of our Nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.

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Higher Learning
February 23, 2009

Just want make sure everyone is aware of this new scam in case your phone starts rininging. Here is a news release sent to me by San Jacinto College…

San Jacinto College warns of scholarship scam

PASADENA, Texas – The financial aid department at San Jacinto College is warning students and the community of a scholarship scam.

People claiming to represent the U.S. Education Department are calling students to offer scholarships and grants. The callers ask for a bank or credit card number, saying the information will be used for a $249 processing fee, but the call is fake.

“The U.S. Education Department and San Jacinto College do not charge students a fee for educational grants,” said Robert Merino, San Jacinto College financial aid services director. “You should not offer your financial information to anyone making these claims.”

If you receive a call, please report it to 1-800-MIS-USED, or send an e-mail to oig.hotline@ed.gov. The government website http://www.ftc.gov/scholarshipscams shares telltale signs of fraud.

San Jacinto College disburses over $22.2 million annually in financial aid to more than 6,100 students who are not required to pay a processing fee.

If you are a student requiring financial aid, please follow the proper financial aid procedures set forth by San Jacinto College. For more information on how to obtain financial aid, visit the San Jacinto College website at http://www.sanjac.edu or call 281-998-6150.

San Jacinto College serves more than 24,500 students in over 140 degrees and certificates in university transfer and technical programs. The College also serves the community through workforce training. Students come with various goals and aspirations and we are committed to their success. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.

Even though San Jac caters to a somewhat smaller pool of students, I’ll bet a paycheck the scam artists will start including other universties and community colleges.

Where Does Your Personal Information Go?
February 9, 2009

At the end of 2007 I aired a series of reports on how Washington Mutual decided to send all of its loan files to Juarez, Mexico as part of an outsourcing agreement to have the files imaged into a massive computer data bank. This move would allow Washington Mutual to shut down its loan records vaults in the U.S. Part #1, Part #2 and Part #3.

The reason I’m writing this post is because Congressman Ted Poe recently filed a bill  that would require companies to notify customers when personal information is sent out of the country. Generally speaking, companies don’t have to tell you when your personal information is sent to a foreign country as long as the company considers it necessary to its business practices. CPA’s/accouting firms are required to notify customers when sending tax information to a foreign country for preperation. This is part of the tax code. This is the second time Congressman Poe filed this bill. Poe’s attempts aren’t the first ones either. Similar bills have been filed in the past and every time the bills get stuck in committee and never go anywhere. I’m taking a poll because I would like to know your thoughts on this subject.

Tax Scam
February 9, 2009

This latest variation of a tax scam comes from Local 2 viewer Craig, who passed along an e-mail he received.

From: Internal Revenue Service <refund@lnternalrevenueservice.com>

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $4990.55. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 2-3 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline. To access the form for your tax refund, please click here

Note: For security reasons, we will record your ip-address, the date and time. Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated.

Regards Internal Revenue Service.

© Copyright 2009, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.n

As Craig very astutely pointed out the e-mail has a dot-com address, not dot-gov. Also, look at the very bottom of the e-mail…why would the IRS need to copyright itself? Tax time is upon us so be careful because there are tons and tons of scams out there. One good thing to keep in mind is that the IRS will not contact you via e-mail. So if you get an e-mail from the IRS you can bet it’s a scam. In case you were wondering how many of these scams are out there, here’s a list

If you receive any e-mails (or snail mail) like this one pass it along to me.

 

Every Rose Has Its Thorn
February 5, 2009

All apologies for using a tired cliche and the name of a cheesy 80’s hair metal song to title this entry. (I call it cheesy even though I still remember all the words) I came across this note from Customs and Border Protection agents working at the Port of Entry in Laredo.  In addition to trying to catch illegal immigrants, drugs, guns and all manner of contraband it turns these agents also have to be on the look-out for nefarious flowers. During last year’s Valentine’s season– January 1st, 2008 through February 14th, 2008–roughly 500 million cut flower stems were imported into the United States to be used in Valentine’s Day bouquets. The Port of Entry in Laredo was second in the nation in the number of imported flowers (27 million). Inspectors have to check all these shipments to make sure these Valentine traditions aren’t carrying bugs or diseases that could harm US agricultural and floral industries. So when you hand your sweetie a Valentine’s Day bouquet you can confidently proclaim, “This is a US government inspected bouquet.” (although I’m not sure that phrase would carry as much weight as it once did).

Whoops!
February 5, 2009

What happens when your bank accidentally lets your personal information slip out? That’s exactly what happened with one Local 2 viewer (sort of). Kathleen sent me an e-mail after being involved in a strange situation with Wells Fargo. Before I post Kathleen’s e-mail I’ll summarize her story. Kathleen and her husband realized someone got a hold of their credit card number and was making charges on-line. Fearing the thief(thieves) would start in on their Wells Fargo bank account the couple acted quickly by closing their account and opening a new one.  The couple then received paperwork in the mail from Wells Fargo in Portland, Oregon. Here’s the rest of Kathleen’s e-mail…

This is the interesting part . . . the letter arrived with 6 pages of someone’s else account information.  Their full names, account number, receipt for a $25,000.00 transaction, a copy of a check to HCFLOSD (or something like that) for $58.00, a Relationship Change Application with their address, a customer information sheet including their social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, street address, home phone number, etc.  Also included is a form stated as Texas Only-Joint Account with Right of Survivorship with their signatures on them and dated 9/4/08 and again with social security number.  Also included is a Customer Signatures-New/Remaining Account Owner Relationships sheet which has their sigatures on them.  All pages are copies and all clearly state “WELLS FARGO CONFIDENTIAL”. 

I still have the pages.  I would think that if these would have gotten into the wrong hands, this couple would have had a really big problem complimentary of Wells Fargo.

**snip**

When I called the banker who is listed on one of the forms, she was really concerned and put me on hold to talk to the manager.  She came back on the line after a few minutes and said she spoke with the manager and they would make a note of the incident and tell employees to be more careful.  I asked if she would like me to send them back to her and she said she didn’t want me to waste my money on postage and that I had a choice to shred them on my own or take them to a local branch but it was my choice and I didn’t have to.  This is a little scary.

 

I was a little surprised Wells Fargo told Kathleen to either shred the documents herself or just bring the papers to the nearest branch. I then called the company myself and received this response…

        Thank you for bringing this to our attention.  We appreciate it.  Wells Fargo is committed to protecting customer information in every transaction, at every level of our organization. When we learn of an information security issue, Wells Fargo has a thorough investigation process. We immediately take action to determine what happened and make sure the customers’ accounts are protected and safeguarded. By continually re-enforcing our policies we can limit the risk. The incident you provided us is highly unusual, and we regret that it happened. However, we cannot discuss the specifics of this incident for reasons of customer confidentiality and security. We also are not able to detail our security policies and procedures.

  •  
      We are directly communicating with our customer about this matter. If we are informed that someone has confidential customer information that does not belong to them, our primary focus is on making sure the customer’s accounts are safe and secure. In general, we also will ensure that any customer information held by someone other than the customer is destroyed. The specific action we take depends on the situation.

Helen K. Bow, APR
Assistant Vice President
Regional Banking Communications

I understand how frightening and frustrating it is to have your identity stolen. I had my debit card number stolen a few years back. Turns out a convenience store I went to every day was the culprit (yes, I release the store itself can’t be a culprit). Seriously, you would have thought the clerk would have taken a moment of pause before  stealing the card number of an investigative reporter who is in the store on a daily basis. The idiot even used to ask me, ‘how do you get all that information for your stories?’ Here’s what happened…have you ever had trouble swiping your card? The magnetic strip is worn or the machine isn’t reading it properly. So the clerk just manually enters the number into the machine and, viola!, the transaction goes through. This is what happened to me. I swiped my card and it worked fine, but the clerk jotted down my card number off the receipt the store keeps for its records. Over the next two days that clerk would manually enter my card number into the machine to make it appear like it was a new a purchase. Long story short, $2,000 dollars vanished from my bank account in two days. When I saw a $2,000 hole in my account I freaked out and stormed into my local branch. Fortunately I had established a relationship with the branch manager who quickly moved to help me. I asked if she could tell from the transactions if the card was swiped or manually entered. At this point I knew I had not lost my card and was worrying it had been cloned. She figured out the card number had been manually entered. The clerk, again not the sharpest knife in the drawer, didn’t think the location and time of these transaction are also recorded by the bank. Figuring out who made the transactions wasn’t exactly rocket science at that point. As for the clerk, he became a guest of the state. The point of this rambling anecdote and Kathleen’s story should serve as a reminder to take precautions with all your accounts. First, check your bank account, credit card account, etc. on a regular basis. I look at mine once a day since this happened. If you check your balances regularly you’ll spot strange transactions quickly and clamp down on the problem before it spirals out of control. Put fraud alerts on all your accounts. Check your credit report at least once a year to make sure no one is opening accounts under your indentity. Also, whenever you open an account with a bank, make sure your establish a relationship with the manager or a have a bank officer’s name attached tyo your account. This goes a long way when you need help because you’re no longer just a bank account number, you’re a person with a face.