KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When a UMKC student discovered her new job was part of an elaborate internet scam, which involved sending thousands of dollars to Russia that appeared to be stolen from a woman's Vanguard retirement account, she alerted the feds.
But when more than two weeks passed and no one from the FBI ever contacted her, she called FOX 4 Problem Solver Linda Wagar for help, anxious to clear her own name and get that stolen money back to its rightful owner.
The first sign that something might be wrong was when Victoria Johnson received her first pay check from the company she had started working for a month earlier.
When she checked her bank account, where the money was supposed to be direct deposited, she found far more than $3,000 she was expecting. There was $41,000.
Her employer told her to wire the rest of the money to a corporate client in Russia, but an employee at her bank, Bank of America, told her the request sounded strange and she might be the victim of a scam.
Bank of America put a hold on the check, but a few days later it cleared. Johnson said she was still concerned that her employer, who ran a web design company and is supposedly based in Indiana, might be scamming her.
She asked Bank of America to tell her where the $41,000 was wired from. She was told it was taken out of two Vanguard Investment Accounts, belonging to a Louise M. Hill. Johnson had never heard of Louise Hill.
When she called her employer to ask what was going on, she was ordered to immediately wire the money to Russia, as instructed.
"I told them if this is illegal I'm not going to be part of it," Johnson said.
Johnson ordered Bank of America to put a freeze on the account and immediately contacted Vanguard, the FBI and its internet crime unit. Two weeks later, Johnson still hasn't heard from anyone and Louise Hill’s $41,000 is still sitting in her account.
"I want my name cleared and for her to have her money back," Johnson said.
FOX 4 Problem Solvers tried to contact the company that had employed Johnson. It's called ‘Programs at Work.’ It lists an Indiana address, but when FOX 4 contacted a man at that address, he said he was also scammed by the same people.
He told us ‘Programs at Work’ was a company he started in 1985. He said the company’s purpose was to help people manage their business accounts online; however a few years ago he closed his doors when he decided to retire. It was only a few months ago he realized his name, address and company name were being used by someone else on the internet. He tried to file a police report, but was told there was nothing police can do since he wasn't out any money.
The false ‘Programs at Work’ appears to only have an online presence. Its website, which has now been taken down, tracks back to someone in Hong Kong. Its phone numbers have all been disconnected.
FOX 4 Problem Solvers then contacted the FBI and Vanguard to find out why no one appeared to be looking into the scam and whether Vanguard account holder Louise Hill, whoever she might be, was ever going to get her money back. We were told by someone close to the investigation that Vanguard did discover fraudulent activity in Hills' Vanguard accounts. But all Vanguard would say is that it is resolving the problem.
Vanguard also said it feels confident about the security measures it has in place to protect account holders and the public should not be concerned about fraud.