Phony pay stubs a license for larceny?

The Tampa company selling them says they're for amusement only; others say they're a thinly veiled invitation to cheat.

Published January 20, 2006

TAMPA - Stuck in a dead-end job but still want to impress an old girlfriend or a potential boss with your earning power?

A Tampa Internet company may have just what you need.

For $89.95, Noveltypaycheckstubs.com promises to dress up your credentials with a phony but authentic-looking pay stub, right down to your real Social Security number, accurate withholding calculations and deductions for insurance.

On its Web site, the company says you might need its product if you're depressed about your lousy income and want to "look like you make big bucks." It also suggests buying a fake pay stub if "your spouse thinks you've been at work and you need proof."

But a real estate industry watchdog and a federal lawsuit against the company call it an invitation to lending fraud.

The company, which uses a West Tampa mail drop as its address, recommends its fake documents be used for entertainment purposes only, not for credit applications or qualifying for an apartment lease.

Yet a question and answer section on the Web site suggests that fooling lenders is one use for the bogus pay stubs.

"If I am a construction worker and work under the table for cash, will this help me?" the company asks on its Web site. The answer: "Yes. Anyone can be fooled by our paycheck stubs."

Last year, the site caught the attention of Ralph R. Roberts, a Michigan real estate broker, best-selling author and real estate industry watchdog. Roberts asked his own investigators to look into the company, then filed complaints with the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

In his letter to Crist, Roberts characterized the business of the Tampa company as "criminally deceptive," and suggested the phony paycheck stubs were among the documents contributing to the huge growth in mortgage fraud across the country.

"Now that everything is done by computers, the bad guys use them to do everything they can to defraud the system," Roberts said in a phone interview. "They think they are insulated by their disclaimers, but if something can be used for fraud, why should it be allowed?"

Crist's office is considering whether to take action, spokeswoman Joanne Carrin said this week.

Noveltypaycheckstubs.com also made executives sit up and take notice at ADP, an $8-billion-a-year provider of computerized payroll and data processing services with 550,000 clients worldwide. The Tampa company used the ADP trademark on its phony pay stubs without permission, ADP attorneys say.

In November, ADP filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Noveltypaycheckstubs.com and its operators in federal court in San Jose, Calif. ADP asked a judge to grant an injunction restraining the Internet company from using ADP's trademark. It is seeking compensatory damages, up to $1-million per use of the counterfeit ADP trademark and other restitution.

"It is plain that defendants are peddling counterfeit ADP earnings statements for others to use to engage in fraudulent financial transactions," the suit says, noting that one such sale was made to a customer in California. "Such crime and fraud necessarily tarnishes and smears the reputation of ADP, and erodes the goodwill that has been built up" by the ADP trademark.

A hearing on the request for injunction is scheduled for Feb. 6.

Named as defendants in the suit are Tampa Bay residents Vito Angelo Bosco and Vincent Michael D'Angelo (also referred to as Angelo Bosco Vito and Michael Vincent D'Angelo).

Neither man could be reached for comment. Their Pensacola attorney, Michael S. Burtt, did not return a call from the St. Petersburg Times.

In Hillsborough Circuit Court papers, Bosco and D'Angelo are listed as managers of a Tampa used car dealership that in 2004 sold an inoperative 1992 Mercedes to a Maine couple on eBay.

In the local lawsuit, which remains unresolved, the couple say they paid $8,661.45 for a car characterized as being in "mint condition," only to learn upon delivery that it had no title, was missing its sound system and needed its engine rebuilt.

The car dealership at 13001 N Florida Ave. has since gone out of business.

The Internet company used as its mailing address a box at a Mailboxes Etc. on W Linebaugh Avenue. But Noveltypaycheckstubs.com was never issued an occupational license, according to Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden, nor has it declared any tangible business assets, according to Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner.

Meanwhile, the company's latest Web address (https://dprhensim54.doteasy.com/admin197/index.html) has gone dark, following a pattern of switching to new computer servers in order to continue offering its product.

In what ADP lawyers call "an apparent attempt to evade U.S. court jurisdiction," the company initially housed its Web site with a Canadian Web-hosting service. After ADP contacted the Canadian company, the site was taken down in October, but then reappeared under a Web hosting site believed to be in Kentucky.

ADP officials, according to their lawsuit, say they believe "whenever a Web-hosting service takes down the offensive Web site, the defendants will simply find other means to get the site back to the Internet."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this story. Jeff Testerman can be reached at 813 226-3422 or by e-mail at testerman@sptimes.com