US Record Search & Information Services, Inc.: scam and fraud info
If you believe you have been defrauded by Fred Joseph or US Record Search, call the Florida AG's consumer complaint hotline 850-414-3990 (or1-866-966-7226 inside Florida only) so they can make a tally.
Next, fill out this form (it will take only two minutes): Florida Attorney General Consumer Complaint Form. Use category Fraud and address:
After they get 200 complaints, they will open up an investigation. As of April 1, 2010, there are only 47 complaints.
Also, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know you did this.
Here is the complaint I filed against US Record Search. I won the lawsuit, but the punitive damages were reversed on appeal, which I think was a mistake by the judge since Fred Joseph did not produced documents or appear as he was required by law to do. Therefore, the facts should have been decided per my representations as a discovery sanction.
They are all run by the same guy: Fred Joseph using phone 1-800-250-8885 with fax 1-800-619-6731.
I get a lot of complaints about Fred Joseph and his array of asset search firms. And the people who complain tell a similar story. In my case, he up-sold me to the $495 nationwide search claiming he's one of 10 firms in the country that can do this legally through the banking system, he takes the money from my bank account via electronic check, I hear nothing back from them, when I call to ask I'm told it's still in research and he can re-submit my search, etc.
On his website, it says he only uses public records searches. According to professionals in this area, it's very rare to get account # and current bank balance information from a public record search (generally only if you are lucky enough to find someone who just filed for bankruptcy or divorce which is really rare and then, even if you have those accounts, they are likely to have no money left). So it's impossible to have a business doing this and not have at least 99% of your customers unhappy. And from what I found, that's what happens.
When I sued him, he did not object to producing records showing the search results from the banking system. He produced nothing. I asked him to produce any evidence he lifted a finger to do my search. He produced nothing. He lost both the original case and the appeal and was ordered to refund my money. He admitted to me via email he does searches electronically using ChoicePoint. I asked him for electronic proof he did that for my search. No records produced. Why would he produce nothing? He hired a lawyer so clearly he wanted to win the case. So why not produce evidence that would help him win? The only reason I can think of that he produced nothing is because he did absolutely nothing after taking my money.
In the interests of balanced coverage of this matter of public interest (Fred claims to handle 25,000 people a year), I received a rebuttal from US Record Search to the information on this page. Some of the statements they make are outright lies such as "call our office almost everyday." His own phone records would prove that that is an outright lie. Other statements are misleading, e.g., there is an invoice to the DOJ, but there was only a single invoice. If he's half the price of any other search service, why did the DOJ only use him ONCE? The rebuttal also fails to identify how it is possible for them to perform these searches successfully. If they want to send me an explanation of how it is possible to get more than a 99% failure rate for doing the "current bank account balance and account number" search I contracted with them for, I will be more than happy to publish it here.
Famed fraud investigator, Barry Minkow, has appeared on 60 Minutes (with a segment dedicated solely to him!) and has helped the FBI uncover more than $1 billion in fraud. In late 2006, Barry contracted with Fred's firm to do a search. They did a charge of $1,750 on Minkow's bank account. Minkow, unlike the rest of us, is an expert in fraud detection. Minkow discovered the fraud and caught it just one day before the legal limit and was able to reverse the bank charge. He got lucky. The rest of us were not so lucky.
I sued US Record Search in my local small claims court and won $2,500 on my $495 loss. If you've been ripped off, you can do it too. Even though I only lost $495, I sued for $7,500 for fraud. The remaining amount being for punitive damages which, when there is fraud, you can get. And you can get more than 10 times actual damages when there is a repeated history like there is here. That's why I asked for $7,500. The judge awarded me $2,500 and US Record Search appealed. At the trial, they produced no evidence that they did anything to do my search. They produced no evidence that they paid "the banking system" anything. They just produced the worthless Accurint search that they paid $2.50 for (and only did it after I sent them a demand letter) and one communication from a satisfied client. When I contacted the "satisfied client" to confirm the letter, he told me that they didn't know what I was talking about. The judge reduced the judgment to $625 saying I provided insufficient evidence that there was fraud.
This page is about the following web sites which advertise various information searches:
According to the public records I obtained from the Florida regulators, complaints against US Record Search started coming in as early as November 5, 1999. Remarkably, the complaint Kenneth Kemp filed in 1999 was virtually identical to what happened to me: promising to find the information you wanted, refusing to listen to any additional information on the subject of the report, using a telephone check, no call with results, you call to complain and they say "it is still in research," and you call again to complain about why you haven't heard anything and Fred Joseph insults you. The court documents below include these letters.
From all the evidence I've gathered, this appears to me to be a scam where they promise to find all this stuff for you and then do (virtually) nothing to find it until you complain. In my case, it was only after I complained that they ran an Accurint search which cost them a whole two bucks and change (but they charged me $495.00). That search that they ran for me was an Accurint Asset Report, and not the "bank account number and balance" information that I had contracted for.
Also, what they represented to me that they would do for me (use the banking system to find the assets), is something that appears to be quite impossible as all of the people who have been in the business for years that I've asked about this say there is no such thing as "the banking system in Washington, DC" that can be used to get these records.
This is impressive...7 years now and as far as I know, there have been no criminal charges and I bet very few lawsuits. If you feel that you've been ripped off and you want to recover your money, you have to sue them yourself; you cannot rely on the police to file a report and have the DA pursue it.
If you are looking to do an asset search, here are two reputable sources I'm aware of and have used successfully:
US Record Search is definitely not on my list as one of those reputable firms I use. And when I contacted them to give me the names of law firms that use them on a regular basis, I got the run-around. No names of any people I could call. So if they are on someone's list of reputable services, please contact me and I'll publish it.
US Record Search advertises heavily on various web sites. Here's their contact info:
U.S. Record Search & Information Services, Inc.
Former address (1999):
Based on database searches I did, the AKA's of the owner (who is 45 years old) include:
Other people associated with or having knowledge about the company
Because I only tried one bank search, I don't know if all of the US Record Search websites are scams, but I wouldn't be surprised if they all were. In my case, I found that they took my money and I got nothing within the promised timeframe. When I called and complained, they first told me it is still in research. If you keep calling, they start insulting you. I searched the Internet and found others with an experience similar to mine.
Here is my story...If you have an experience similar to mine, please use the contact link and let me know.
I had a large judgment against one of my debtors and I wanted to do an asset search to find out if it was worth my while to collect.
After doing an Internet search, I found the URLs above which seemed like a better deal that the reputable services I had been using.
July 6, 2006. I called their 800 number at 1-800-250-8885 (their other number is 954-757-6070) and spoke to a person who identified himself as Fred Joseph. I was told the following:
My bank account was charged $495 on 7/10. They basically print a "check" with my account number on it, print "this drafted authorized by your debtor; NO SIGNATURE REQUIRED", and fax it to the bank. The bank then pays from that. It's too small an amount to call you to see if you really authorized it. This is a major hole and source of fraud in the banking system. Anyone who has your account number can basically forge such a check and take the money and run.
August 8, 2006. It's a month later, I hadn't received anything. Not even a call to apologize about the search taking longer than it should I called the 800 number and again talked to Fred. He said I'd have to wait for the response and that it is in the banking system and that I'd just have to wait until they called me. He said he only makes $35 on the whole deal. He said he wishes he could rush them but that they take their own sweet time. He said I should stop being a "cry baby" and just wait. I asked who my search is handled by. He said "our research department." I said I wanted to call the research department to see what is taking so long. I asked, "What is their phone number?" He said, "I am the research department." After a few more insults hurled my way, Fred hung up on me. At this point, I had believed I had been scammed and that I'd never see any results (or else, now that they know I'm serious, they'd do a half hearted search to cover the tracks so it looks good in court).
So I did the Google search on the company name and scam, and this time found results I hadn't found the first time:
So I see that what has happened to me has happened to others. It is certainly possible that this happens to everyone who gives them money since:
After they removed the money from my bank account, I never heard back from them within the promised timeframe. When you call, they just tell you it's coming and you have to wait for the banking system. If you persist with more question like exactly who do they send the search to that actually perform the search, they can't answer that. They call you a "cry baby" or other type of insult. You're told just to keep waiting.
I will be suing both Fred and his company for my money back plus $7,000 in punitive damages so they stop doing it to others. All of his employees who knew what was going on and aided the fraud are also co-conspirators on the fraud and would be liable as well. And debts incurred via malice and fraud and not dischargeable in bankruptcy which is really good for me. You can sue both the company and the people who knowingly participated in the fraud.
Here's a demand l faxed them to their fax number: US Record Search Demand Letter.
The receptionist says they've been in business for 20 years, but as far as I can tell, the business didn't start until around 1999. There are at least 4 reports at Rip-off Report.com about them which had the same results I had.
I also contacted the Coral Springs Police Department. Hopefully, the DA will bring criminal charges against them. I'd bet that few, if any, customers are satisfied.
August 12, 2006: I call the 800 number and talked to a woman who identifies herself as "Sue." She is able to pull up my nationwide asset search. She said she cannot tell if the search results have come back yet. I'd have to call the main office. She said she's located more than 50 miles away and rarely goes there, but that it is in the Wachovia Bank building at the corner of University and Sample Road. She says she's worked for the company for 6 years. She said she knows the company has been in business for 20 years because there is a certificate on the wall that says that. I told her that as far as I can tell, this business appeared to me to be a scam and nobody ever gets their money back. She said I'd have to talk to the main office and hung up on me. Her reaction was such that it was clear to me that this wasn't the first time that someone had called and complained about being ripped off (which I confirmed later when I found the rip-off report mentioning Sue above). As soon as I mentioned the word "scam," she knew exactly how to handle the call.
August 13, 2006. I call up a friend of mine who is an expert in the asset search/collections business. He does asset searches for leading law firms and is one of the top guys in California. He says that, as I suspected, there is no such thing as "the banking system" that someone can use to do these asset searches.
August 14, 2006. I call up US Record Search again, but this time during the day. The person I speak with identifies herself as Ellie. I ask for a status on my search. She looks up my records and says the search results were mailed yesterday. True. What's in my inbox is this email saying they couldn't find anything :
Not credible. I had offered to give Fred a copy of the judgment at the start and he said it wasn't necessary. And there is no "banking system" that they use for the search and I'll bet every bank search they do finds nothing. The Nationwide Property Record Database Search is simply an Accurint "Asset Report." The cost is only $2.50. That's right: two bucks. He charged me $495, did nothing until I complained, then, after I complained did a two-fifty search on Accurint, a commercial database that I use too (only he didn't know that). However, I'd guess most everyone would be fooled by the cover-up since relatively few people know about Accurint. So the email looks like it finally "came back" from research and someone spent a long time researching it. In reality, they spent two dollars and it took about 1 minute of their time and they only did that after I threatened to sue.
That doesn't get them out of the lawsuit, though. I contracted with them via telephone agreement with Fred Joseph for BANK assets within 20 days and they delivered nothing. Their story about using the banking system which they used to convince me into contracting with them is, as far as I can tell, a complete fabrication. So I have 2 causes of action: one for fraud (enabling me to get punitive damages) and the other for breach of contract.
I give them one more shot. I call back at 10:27am Hawaii time and ask for a collection agency or law firm that uses their service. Surely, if they are the world leader and one of only 10 firms that can legally do these bank searches as Fred claims, then they must be inundated by collection agencies and law firms that use them on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, I was told that "we can't give out that information." I'm told I'd have to talk to the owner, Fred, who is in after 6pm.
I also call another asset search firm, CheckMate - The nation's leading asset search specialists. I talk to Terry. I ask him if he's ever heard of Fred's firm. He said he gets complaints about Fred's firm at the rate of almost one a day...which is very impressive since there is no link between his firm and Fred's. He told me he hears a consistent story:
That sounds just like what happened to me! And it's virtually identical to the pitch I have an mp3 of where Fred is pitching a potential client. Terry has never heard of a satisfied customer of US Record Search. He refers people to Lisa Trimble (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Division of Licensing) at 850-245-5499 to complain.
I email Fred and tell him I'm thinking of using him for 5 more searches, but I've checked with his competitors and they give me the names of major law firms as references. Fred tells me to "call 1-800-250-8885 and speak to a representative. They will be more than happy to help." I told him I already did that and that they couldn't give out that info and said I had to talk to him. He replied that I'd have to call the 800 number and talk to Fred. Unfortunately for him, I was able to determine that it was Fred himself that sent that email.
August 15, 2006: I found out that Fred used to have a private investigator license (it expired on July 25, 1998), but I was told he can't get one anymore, e.g., this might be due to a felony conviction or something like that. So if he limits his business to public records searching, he doesn't have to be licensed. So that's what he does. And Florida doesn't license or regulate people doing public records searching, so all the complaints haven't been pursued since it isn't in their jurisdiction.
The proper contact is Fred Speaker 561-640-6144. They have an open investigation on US Record Search.
If you want public record info on Fred Joseph, contact Marsha Stroud at 850-245-5459. This was pretty interesting. They now have an investigator on this: Brian Mccormack 561 640 6144. You should contact Brian to relate your story. Kenneth Kemp's 1999 complaint was dismissed because there was no evidence that Fred was doing "private investigative activities" so they didn't have jurisdiction to pursue the case. That makes a lot of sense; as far as I can tell, there is no evidence that I'm aware of that Fred does much if any research at all for his customers (other than the Accurint search he did for me that I never requested).
Based on what happened to me and the research I did, I believe that there is reasonable case to be made for criminal Internet fraud going on here. This would be a violation of Florida criminal statues (felony in the third degree which is up to 5 years in jail):
A quick search of the US DOJ website shows that they've had criminal convictions against people who sell Beanie Babies on the Internet and fail to deliver it (or deliver products of inferior quality). See Internet Fraud.
What happened here is no different than those cases. I believe it is fraud when someone promises to do something that they don't intend to (or know that they cannot) do.
I cannot see how at least one crime didn't occur here. Fred says (I have an mp3 file that someone sent me in the mail) that he logs into the banking system to enter the search. If Fred can't provide the website, username and login that he uses to access the "banking system" and can't provide a list of happy customers who have had successful searches ever month, he's running a fraudulent business and Fred and his co-conspirators (those employees who know of the scam and look the other way) may also be guilty of criminal conspiracy.
But if Fred can show virtually all the people that he received income from over the past 5 years received bank accounts and balances, then I'd be absolutely astonished. But it doesn't change the fact that I was defrauded. What he told me (and what I have on tape) are lies which I believe are specifically fabricated to induce people to part with their money.
You can get more than your money back. I got a $2,500 judgment for my $495, but on appeal the second judge said the evidence was insufficient to justify punitive damages and just awarded me my money back. Obviously, different judges rule differently on the same set of evidence so you never know.
The second judge asked, "well, isn't this like a car dealer who sells you a defective car and then offers to fix it for you?"
I should have said: "no, it's like ordering Beannie Babies over the net. The seller says to you on the phone he's a dealer authorized by the US government, that he has a $2M bond, that there are only 10 authorized dealers of beannie babies in the country, and that he'd ship my order in as little as 2 days, but he's required by law to quote 12 to 15. The product never arrives after 30 days, you call and he says "it's backordered. we'll get it to you soon." Reality: nothing of what he said was true and he never ordered anything. He says "I'll re-order it for you." Nothing ever comes. If you hire a lawyer, he then offers to refund your money or actually order the product. Since few people go that far for a cheap item, he pockets your money in almost every case. For the few people that sue him, the worst that can happen is he returns your money. Great scam, isn't it? And he's not so big an operation for the DA or DOJ to go after him on criminal charges."
Scamming other people
Here's an email I received on 3/4/09:
An email I received on May 5, 2009:
The process I used to get my money back plus punitive damages
I sent the firm a demand letter
File a police report in your local jurisdiction
At some point, maybe they will refer this over to the DA for criminal charges against Fred and possibly his employees as well. You can't close your eyes to a fraud and escape liability pretending not to know. It doesn't work.
Collect enough admissible evidence to make sure you win at trial
File a lawsuit
Serve the lawsuit
Serve a subpoena on the corporation
Here are other US Record Search customers who claimed to me that they were ripped off by Fred:
My trial was on October 23, 2006 at 3pm in Palo Alto. Small claims Case 206-SC03702. I won a judgment for $2,500.
Here are the materials that were admitted as evidence in that case:
Note: Junkfax.org received a rebuttal from US Record Search to the information on this page.