Web Stories Thursday, April 25

Count the US Postal Inspection Service as the latest law enforcement agency to get impersonated by an increasingly brazen group of scammers who are looking to shake down victims with threats of crippling fines and jail time.

The law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service — which in addition to federal mail fraud cases has taken on high-profile criminals including “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski — has lately received upward of 30 complaints about scammers claiming to be a top inspector at the agency, The Post has learned.

Indeed, one of the scammers cold-called a reporter at The Post on Jan. 24, claiming the USPIS had intercepted a package from Mexico addressed to the reporter that contained drugs, asking whether the reporter had traveled to Mexico recently and knew someone named “Maria Sanchez.”

Peter Rendina is deputy chief inspector for the US Postal Inspection Service. US Postal Inspection Service

Just as the reporter was about to hang up, the scammer insisted he was legitimate, identifying himself as Deputy Chief Postal Inspector Peter Rendina — giving a badge number, email address and telephone number, and suggesting that the reporter look up his name online.

Both the email address and phone number were set up by the scammer, not the USPIS — and the reporter later confirmed that the badge number was also fraudulent, containing fewer digits than a real one.

A 22-year veteran of the law enforcement agency, Rendina and his name have become part of the toolbox of an increasingly popular scam called “vishing” (voice phishing) that involves impersonating law enforcement officials, including FBI and CIA agents and local police.

“I’m not happy that this individual has decided to use my name and my title to perpetrate this scam,” Rendina told The Post. “My name is my brand, [but] I do feel confident that the Postal Inspection Service will work to bring justice to me but also to anyone he has victimized.” 

Federal Trade Commissioner Lina Kahn said Americans lost $2.7 billion last year because of vishing.

Charlotte Cowles writes a financial advice column for New York Magazine and was recently scammed out of $50,000 by someone posing as a CIA agent. Charlotte Cowles/X

She disclosed the figure last month after a New York Magazine columnist wrote a first-person account about being scammed out of $50,000 by a fraudster claiming to be a CIA agent — a wild story that included her placing the cash in a shoebox and handing it to a guy driving a white Mercedes SUV.

With the US Postal Inspection Service, the scammers threaten victims with arrest and ask them to send money — whether it’s gift cards, checks or cash — to avoid law enforcement action, according to Michael Martel, national public information officer for the USPIS.

The usual angle: “I know you are involved in this and you can clear it up by sending us money,” Martel told The Post.

Americans lost $2.7 billion last year because of vishing, according to FTC chairman Lina Kahn. PR Image Factory – stock.adobe.com

There are a couple more inspectors who have been impersonated, but none as frequently as Rendina, who reports directly to the chief postal inspector, Gary Barksdale.

The agency has been investigating a string of scams involving Rendina impostors since September and believes they’ve attempted to defraud far more than 30 people. 

“Most of the reports involve people who caught on quickly, but these guys are good and are going to try new things,” Martel said, noting that the agency isn’t aware that any of the Rendina-related incidents resulted in scammers walking away with cash. “They establish their position of authority and manufacture a threatening situation.”

Nevertheless, the scammers have varying levels of sophistication.

The one who called the Post reporter, for example, had an Indian accent.

Asked about this, the USPIS forwarded a YouTube video of Rendina warning consumers about “fake charity” scams — clearly showing Rendina is a native speaker.

Fraudsters are able to easily generate new telephone numbers when they are discovered by law enforcement agencies. terovesalainen – stock.adobe.com

“A lot of these [calls] are going to track back to foreign nations,” including India, Martel said.

Even more worrisome, Martel added, is that “there have been a number of incidents where these people can show up at your doorstep.”

Last month, Charlotte Cowles, a New York Magazine personal finance columnist, penned a first-person account of how a scammer in October revealed that he knew her Social Security number, home address, the names of family members and that her 2-year-old son was playing in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment.

Cowles’ saga began with a telephone call, too. When the telephone numbers scammers are using are shut down by law enforcement, they simply generate new ones.

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