11/25/2014

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Problem Solvers

Scam victim: 'I'm afraid because I don't know how big this is'

Scam victim: 'I'm afraid because I don't know how big this is'
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SEATTLE -- A local woman believes she became an unwitting accomplice to a new sort of organized crime ring. And, at the very least, it involves deliveries of suspect goods to Russia. When the woman feared retaliation for trying to quit, she turned to the Problem Solvers for help. And we discovered these new type of crime rings can be linked to drugs, laundered money and even terrorism.

"It's just eating away inside of me," said Mary, "and I've got to find a way to get out safely." 

For Mary's safety - for her family's safety - we are not using her last name or showing her face. 

"I'm afraid because I don't know how big this is, I don't know who it involves, and I have kids," she said.

This all started just a few weeks ago as Mary took delivery of boxes filled with high-end products. An internet-based company contacted Mary through her online-posted resume.  She was looking for a second job, and Mary said a company called "Starlight Research Group" contacted her offering her a position as Quality Control Manager examining prototype goods. 

"It's exactly what I was looking for," she said.

But when the boxes started arriving, Mary realized the items weren't prototypes. She started taking photos of every item she received.

"99.9% of those items are electronics, they're iPhones, iPads, computers, laptops," she said.

And Mary said her new bosses told her to re-ship the boxes across the globe. 

"They're all going to Russia," she said.

A documentary about the Russian mafia titled "Thieves by Law" outlines the western spread of Russian organized crime to Europe and North America, where they're thought to even be selling nuclear secrets and weapons parts.  

It's a chilling thought for Mary, who sees too many similarities between how the Russian mob works and what she was hired to do. Especially because she said Starlight told her to ship out the packages the same day she receives them.  And she adds they gave her strict orders not to look inside any sealed boxes. 

"They don't want me opening those vacuum cleaners because the compartments could possibly be holding money, drugs or anything else," she said. 

Now she wonders what - and who - she's involved with. 

"They are foreigners," she said. "I'm afraid they're into something really really bad." 

That fear prompted Mary to contact the Problem Solvers. We tried to get in touch with Starlight ourselves, but we keep getting the same recorded message.  They've never returned our calls and our emails are returned "undeliverable."

We also helped Mary contact the FBI. 

"The FBI takes these kinds of scams very seriously because it hits upon a wide range of possible risks," said  FBI Spokeswoman Ayn Sandalo Dietrich.

Dietrich couldn't talk specifically about this case, but she confirmed these type of crime rings often use unsuspecting "mules" as middle-men.  And adds they can be extremely dangerous. 

"It could be drugs it could be explosive material, it could be money that is counterfeit or maybe it's going to an organization that will use it for elicit purposes," she said.

The FBI is now investigating.  They've told Mary to stop accepting packages and stop communicating with Starlight.  She's done both and In the meantime, Mary's tried to track the people listed as buyers  to warn them their identities may have been stolen. 

"I can't match anything up, everything comes up zero - blank," Mary said.

She's left wondering what dark, potentially dangerous world she's unwittingly entered. 

"I hope these people are caught," she said.

A check of Starlight's New York address led us to a strip mall where the Staples Office Supply Manager told us he'd never heard of the business.  We got the same response from the New York Secretary of State and the Better Business Bureau.
 

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