DENVER - Security breaches at major retailers like Target, Neiman Marcus and Michael's have highlighted the importance of knowing how to protect your personal information.
RTV6 sister station KMGH's CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon found it's not just where you swipe your card that counts, thieves are targeting bank accounts and you might not know it until it's too late.
Fort Collins resident Melanie Baker says, "Look at it every day. Look at those five charges from today and just make sure that you know what they are."
Baker's vigilance is a result of nearly $1,000 taken directly from her bank account without her knowledge or consent.
Each month for nearly three years, $29.35 was withdrawn directly from her checking account. According to Baker it was "less than a tank of gas," "less than a grocery store trip" which made the small charge easy to overlook.
The expense appeared on her bank statement as "VOIP" followed by series of numbers. In a virtually identical story, Tina Bertram and her elderly mother living outside Pittsburg, Pennsylvania saw the "VOIP" charges on their accounts for two and five months, respectively.
"I was being charged $29.35 for a service I never ordered or knew anything about," said Bertram.
Not only did Bertram's mother, who lives on Social Security payments, incur the VOIP charges, but on top of it her bank charged overdraft fees each month because of insufficient funds in the account.
Bertram and Baker spent weeks trying to determine who was charging them and why. They learned the numbers following "VOIP" on their bank statements were in fact a phone number. The number led them to an answering service.
When Baker called the number, she spoke with a representative of Cheyenne Network Telecom.
The Cheyenne Network Telecom website lists a Cheyenne, Wyoming address as the mailing address and purports to provide long-distance phone services.
"We don’t even have a home phone," Baker said. "We have cell phones and we have unlimited long distance on our cell phones so I would have no reason to have ever signed up."
The same goes for Bertram.
In Wyoming, the law allows business owners to remain virtually anonymous as long as they have a registered agent in the state with the proper accompanying administrative filings.
Cheyenne Network Telecom is a trade name registered by Platinum Services Group, a company designed to register businesses or trade names on behalf of someone else.
The Wyoming system made it difficult for both Baker and Bertram to resolve their dispute with Cheyenne Network Telecom. They were unsure where they should file their complaints against the business -- Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, the FBI, local law enforcement, or the Federal Trade Commission -- because it's virtually impossible to pinpoint where the company is actually located.
The BBB has received 24 complaints against Cheyenne Network Telecom and grades them with an "F." The complaints listed mirror the stories of Baker and Bertram.
"We can't catch them. We can't find them. We don’t know who they are because they (Wyoming) allow that to happen. They allow them to stay anonymous," said Baker.
When Rabon contacted the company, the Cheyenne Network Telecom representative would not provide any information about the owner or location of the business. After repeated inquiries, the Wyoming Attorney General's office also refused to comment on Wyoming incorporation and business laws, which impact consumers across the country,
In an attempt to get answers, CALL7 investigators went to the address listed on Cheyenne Network Telecom's website. We found a woman who told us the building was a virtual office and that she had been hired to accept the company's mail. She was unable to provide any further information.
Then we contacted Charles Tendell, a Certified Ethical Hacker with Azorian Cyber Security, to help us track down who was behind the website and tell us how the $29.35 charges were taken directly out of people's bank accounts.
Because of Tendell's Internet expertise, he was able to put us in contact with Dan Desindes, the person who developed Cheyenne Network Telecom's website.
"Either he was the developer and just built it," Tendell said about Desindes. "Even in that case, he knows the guys who are running it and who paid him. Or he is the mastermind behind it all, which could be."
Desindes, who lives in Quebec, Canada, told Rabon that he does not know who hired him because they never met. Desindes said he only communicated with "them" over e-mail and was paid via PayPal.
Tendell explained that Wyoming law is "there to protect the business owner, but it does leave the door wide open for consumer fraud."
According to Tendell, many people leave a trail of personal information on job applications, official documents and online. This information can be pieced together to provide access to bank accounts. He also says information located on personal checks can lead unscrupulous people straight your bank account.
Tendell recommends everyone start reviewing his or her bank statements on a regular basis. If you find a fraudulent charge contact your bank first, then file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and with the Attorney General of the state where you believe the business is located.
For now, the CALL7 Investigators have traced the company across state and national borders, but continue to pursue who exactly is behind this organization and how they gained access to the bank accounts of Melanie Baker, Tina Bertram and dozens of others.
Still searching for answers, Bertram said, "I don't believe it is a company. I just believe that they're just out there taking innocent people's money for their own selfish needs."