Whilst most of us are aware of the Nigerian scams offering a large percentage of money if you help them handle their funds, those of you running an online business are prone to a much more sophisticated (and seemingly legitimate) breed of scammers.
In this blog I’ll describe a few scams that I’ve encountered and explain how to sniff them out.
THE PURCHASE THAT EVERY BUSINESS DREAMS ABOUT
No matter what size the order is, it’s always nice to get a sale in your business. But what about a big sale? Imagine what that could achieve for your business. Maybe it’s enough profit to finally upgrade that piece of equipment you have been wanting, enough to invest in some collateral or even enough just to give everyone small bonus because you all work so hard. Whatever your immediate reaction, this is exactly how these scammers hook you in early.
First, you get an email or a contact form through your website that seems like a legit enquiry about a rather large order that they would like to make. It states that they would like to order XX amount of your products (usually adding up to $3-$4k) and want you to send them an invoice for the total amount and also a price for shipping.
Here’s an actual contact enquiry that made me aware of theses types of scams:
mark is my name will like to know if you have the Espresso Blend Coffee Bean, am looking for 250 pounds also want to know the surcharges for using visa or master-card for payment as well as your contact information so that i can reach you back for us to proceed.
Best regards. Mark Williams
At first glance, you think “Finally, the huge order i had been dreaming about” but if you stop to think about it for a few more seconds and take a closer look at the email you’ll discover a few things that should set off alarm bells.
1. POOR ENGLISH
This is the biggest giveaway. Although they may have a common western name, they write with such poor English that it’s easy to recognise that English is their second language.
2. FOREIGN UNIT OF MEASURE
If your online store is in metric units (ie: kg) and they use the word “Pounds” then you can be assured they probably aren’t even looking at your website. Your emotional brain will try to tell you that it’s just because they are ordering internationally (which they generally are) and therefore you ignore that slight oversight.
3. ONLY WANT TO COMMUNICATE VIA EMAIL
When I engaged with “Mark” further he refused to give me his phone number as he said he preferred to discuss this over email. Again, this COULD be because they are international, but at Pixel Palace we deal with many interstate and international clients and Skype is such an easy tool to use that most businesses will happily deal with you via Skype if not by the phone itself. Why would a legitimate order refuse to speak to you over the phone?
4. THE BUSINESS USES A GENERIC EMAIL ACCOUNT
If they use a Gmail, yahoo, AOL or any free type of email and they are ordering huge amounts of product, it has to set off alarm bells. It’s easy enough to copy and paste the business name in google search and see what information pops up. If they have a business name (often misspelled) without a website or any indication that the business exists, this is a clear sign of a scam.
5. THEY WANT TO SHIP LONG DISTANCE
It’s natural to overlook things that seem obviously fake when you want to believe in a legitimate sale, but you have to ask yourself “why are they asking you to ship YOUR product overseas when they could probably buy something similar locally?”
6. THEY WANT TO USE THEIR OWN COURIER
This is the biggest giveaway and it’s where they make their profits. Most times they will ask for you to do up an invoice so they can pay via Mastercard/Visa but without the shipping costs included. They will organise their own shipping couriers to pick up the order from your warehouse or place of work and so all you need to do is quote on the product itself. This seems legitimate and since they are buying the product upfront, you don’t really question how they transport the goods. However, this is how they sting you.
HOW IT WORKS
This scam uses a bit of misdirection to get your money. You will be so busy making sure you get paid for your products that you won’t realise they are stealing your money through the shipping arrangement. They’ll often ask you to contact their courier to give them details about the size and weight of your packaging and get a quote. They’ll get you to pay for the shipping and ask you to send them a invoice for the entire amount. This will normally take place within a day and they’ll pay straight away via credit card. So, if you had any doubt about the legitimacy of the order, they are now gone.
It will only be a few days later that you discover that the credit card was used fraudulently and you’ll have to refund the money and you’ll get your product back (or they won’t even turn up to collect it). Only problem is when you try to reclaim the money from the shipping and you find out that the Courier is part of the scam and the shipping money won’t ever be coming back to you.
All these points seem really obvious and you might be thinking there is no way you would fall for this sort of scam, but if it didn’t work on some people they wouldn’t do it. All we can do to help is to give people as much knowledge about these scams and ones similar, and that they recognise one when they see it.