Kevin Vater had been stiffed by his new Russian employer. Four hundred bucks, they owed him. Nothing is what he got.
Except for those 10 boxes. He was starting to worry. What was in those boxes? Drugs? Cash?
It was part of the new job he'd spotted, receiving the boxes at his Overland Park home and sending them along to another address.
“I’m looking for an easy job,” Vater explained, adding that he was out of work. “Something I can do from home. And this looked kind of easy.”
GNS Logistics, which claimed to be in Moscow, had hired Vater to reship the boxes. It emailed him prepaid shipping labels showing where the boxes would go next. An address in New York City. A guy named Oleg Glebov.
And it paid $40 a box — though that part never happened.
Vater was caught up in a re-shipping scam, one of the most prevalent forms of mail fraud.
The boxes typically contain electronics or phones, anything fraudsters can use or sell on the black market.
“They love clothes,” said Dennis Cunningham, a mail fraud inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Overland Park.
This is not at all what Vater expected when he applied for the job on CareerBuilder.com.
Inside the scam
A different shipping scam hit Kansas City resident Anthony Mangum. And it hit hard.
At Your Service LLC Worldwide Shipping hired Mangum after seeing his résumé on Indeed.com. The job paid $2,500 a month for reshipping 20 to 40 boxes.
"I never got a dime," said Mangum, who reported the problem to the Better Business Bureau of Greater Kansas City in April. "I was counting on that being my job."
Instead, he had to take out a title loan on his car. He has a new job now, repairing lawn sprinkler systems. But the damage has been done.
"I'm digging out, but it really set me back," he said.
Mangum and Vater's re-shipping jobs were largely the same, but with a few key differences. Mangum remembers sending the packages to many different locations. Not to one Russian guy in New York.
He also was supposed to open the boxes, and he did.
"One time, I had a $600 camera," he said. "I got two basketballs. It was a lot of stuff — one of those robots you put on the floor and it sweeps."
Before Vater took the job, he challenged his contact at GNS Logistics, who went by the name Alice Stanton in emails.
Is this job legit? Is it legal? his email asked. And how could the company afford to pay him $40 to slap on a mailing label and drive to the post office?
Stanton's reply explained that most U.S. merchants won’t ship directly to Russia. Turns out, that part is true; most have been burned by overseas buyers using stolen credit cards.
GNS Logistics, she said, planned to resell the merchandise for far more than it costs to buy in the United States. She offered three examples:
▪ Mercedes C230 2002 tail light: U.S. price is below $200; Russian price is above $500.
▪ UGG shoes: average U.S. price is about $100-$150; the lowest Russian price is $400.
▪ Tag Heuer Formula 1 watch: U.S. price: $1,900-$2,000. Russian price: $4,500-plus.
Vater said he accidentally opened the last box he'd been shipped. It was smaller than the others and he thought it was printer ink cartridges he had ordered.
Instead it was a small flashlight — a $299 V1 Vampire flashlight that emits normal and infrared beams, according to the website of the company that shipped the box.
The paperwork also showed that the flashlight had been purchased by another Overland Park resident, whom The Star has been unable to contact. That man got the bill. Vater got the box with that man's name on the address instead of Vater's.
Another of Vater's boxes came from Lehman's Hardware, an online version of an old-time general store. Instead of Vater's name, it showed up bearing a woman's name.
When the customer saw the charge on her credit card account, "she called us and said she didn't order this. So of course we refunded her money," said Glenda Ervin, vice president of marketing.
Ervin confirmed the woman's name was the same as on the box Vater got. Lehman's systems are supposed to prevent fraud, but "this one slipped through the cracks," Ervin said.
Other boxes were labeled as coming from Summit Racing Equipment, Jegs Automotive Inc., Bushnell Optics.com, Mountain Hardware, SureFire.com and other retailers.
Mangum said that, like Vater, he received boxes with his address but others' names.
Cunningham, the postal inspector, said to consider those names a list of people whose stolen credit cards or identities were used to buy the merchandise. He said shipping the goods to someone else, like Vater or Mangum, makes it harder for investigators to track the fraudulent purchases to the criminals.
Merchandise might be shipped more than once, essentially in an effort to launder the stolen goods in the way crooks launder money gained through fraud so it seems legitimate.
Cunningham urged anyone who has received property this way to report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. They are victims as much as the merchants who weren't paid and the individuals whose credit cards or identities were stolen.
"Kinda set us up to do the time for the crime," Mangum said. "And all we did was thought we were legitimately taking employment to feed our families."
'No legitimate scenario'
Vater complained to CareerBuilder.com, which is where he saw the GNS Logistics job posted and applied. So far, he hasn't gotten satisfaction.
The Star reached out to three media representatives at the company but received no replies.
The Star also asked Indeed.com about a shipping job posted on its website.
A well drilling company in Newark, N.J., offered $2,100 to $3,500 a month for two to four hours a day "forwarding merchandise to its final destination." Receive packages, take pictures of the deliveries and ship the goods on, just as At Your Service had instructed Mangum.
The Star contacted a New Jersey well drilling company with the same name, but it said it did not post the job.
Indeed.com responded with an email that offered a link to its "guidelines for safe job search."
"There is no legitimate scenario where an employer should require you to re-ship packages from your home. These are known as Reshipping Scams and offer work-at-home positions, sometimes advertised as 'merchandising manager' or 'package processing assistant,' ” the guidelines said, in part.
Although Indeed.com can remove job postings it suspects are malicious, the company declined a request to say how many it removes or the reasons it takes them off the site.
Monster.com, another widely used job posting site, acknowledged the problem.
"There are consistent attempts by fraudulent entities to post jobs as a means to lure unsuspecting job seekers into scams," said an emailed statement from the company attributed to Michael Jones, Monster's chief global privacy officer.
Monster's fraud prevention analysts work around the clock "to detect and terminate" posts that appear to be unusual or potentially fraudulent, the email said. It also claimed that the "vast majority of these jobs are detected and blocked before being made available publicly."
Cunningham advised job shoppers to beware.
"The internet's great, but it makes crime so easy," he said. “I’d be cautious of any job opportunity found online, because there are a lot of potentially fraudulent opportunities out there.”