July 24, 2024

Homeowners in Massachusetts are being put on alert regarding a transnational criminal racket suspected of carrying out an intricate contracting fraud. The scam involved counterfeit websites, deceptive reviews, and sham corporations.

The NBC10 Boston Investigators have discovered several victims in the Boston area, and the majority of them have been scammed out of a few thousands, with some having lost much more.

Dan Kirshenbaum, a victim of this scam, hired a company named Greater Boston Masonry for repairing the front steps of his condominium in Brookline, Massachusetts. Kirshenbaum found the company online via favorable Google and Yelp reviews. However, he quickly became suspicious upon capturing a heated altercation involving a worker over unpaid wages on his doorbell camera.

The Brookline Police Department’s findings linked Joseph Connors, the contractor hired by Kirshenbaum, to a masonry scam run by alleged “Irish Travelers” operating within Massachusetts. Connors also had a outstanding warrant in Malden related to a similar scam.

When Malden police apprehended Connors, he only had an image of an Irish driver’s license on his phone. Soon after his arrest, the website of Greater Boston Masonry vanished, along with Connors, leaving behind a trail of fraud, damaged properties, and judicial consequences.

Increasing Trend

Medford Police Chief Jack Buckley remarked on the rising trend of such scams, with seven cases crossing his desk within the month. The scammers are growing bolder and more sophisticated in their methods.

Buckley advised homeowners to be cautious of unsolicited home visits by contractors claiming to have spare materials from previous work. Once contracted for work, these fraudsters find additional issues that need remedying, resulting in escalated costs.

The NBC10 Boston Investigators found other instances of such scams, such as the case involving Hughie O’Donoghue and Michael Nevin of Above All Masonry and Construction, who had to pay $105,000 in restitution after defrauding an elderly man in Maynard.

Transnational Scam Artists

Michael Krol, the Special-agent-in-charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New England, did not comment on individual cases but did acknowledge the existence of the organized group of Irish nationals known as “The Traveling Conmen Fraud Group,” recognized by ICE and HSI.

To appear legitimate, these conmen also register their businesses with state agencies. For instance, Connors had two businesses registered with the Secretary of State’s office and his home improvement contractor’s registration was only recently revoked.

The group ostensibly transfers the money back to the UK using “trade-based laundering,” involving the purchase of expensive jewelry which is worn on a flight back home.

Victims of this scam urge others to be vigilant and thorough when reviewing online testimonials for businesses. Many of the testimonials can be faked. Law enforcement also urges reporting of such instances to help connect patterns in larger scams.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the scam called a transnational scam?

It is referred to as a transnational scam because it involves criminal activities that cross national borders. In this case, the fraudsters are Irish nationals operating in Massachusetts.

What is “trade-based laundering”?

Trade-Based Money Laundering (TBML) is a complex form of money laundering which uses trade to move value and disguise the true origins of illicit wealth. In this case, the culprits buy expensive jewelry and wear it on a flight back to their home country, making it difficult to track the transferred money.

How can potential victims protect themselves from such scams?

Prospective customers can protect themselves from such frauds by conducting thorough research about a contractor or company before contracting their services. They can check for irregularities in online reviews, report suspicious behavior, and avoid contractors making unsolicited home visits.