Monday, August 12, 2013

A Scandalous Internet Scam

Internet Scams are all too common these days. Faceless characters with fake names and what would seem like a fat wallet. I've had to deal with too many of these since opening my company online. Luckily I've learned the signs to recognize a scam. Hopefully my experiences can help others avoid loosing money to these financial gremlins.

August 3rd, 2013: My company receives an email from a man with an alarmingly fake name and poor grammar. He is interested in my products and would like to know where he can buy them online. I kindly email him links to places he can find Tiny Tipis online. I'm already 25% sure this is a scam.

August 6th, 2013: He emails me back stating he would like to purchase 10 of my most expensive items. He needs the price excluding shipping. Now I'm 50% sure it's a scam. Who needs 10 tepees and why is the shipping cost not a concern? Also, the price is listed online - is he so bad at math he couldn't multiply by 10? The more likely option is that this is a scammer who never bothered to click the link and see what a Tiny Tipi is. I email him back with the basic cost and request an address for a shipping quote.

August 12th, 2013: I receive an email from him stating he would like me to contact a freight company he uses. He sends me the shipping address and asks me to let him know what the freight company will charge so he may send me the money and have me pay them upon pickup. Now I'm 99% sure this is a scam. I Google the address and see that the location I am supposed to ship to is a BP Europa Property. Is BP buying Tipis now? I think not. Now I'm really onto him. I Google his fake name and find that the person I am emailing is either dead or not in existence. Now I look at the contact info for the freight company. Another quick Google search turns up a fishy looking page for a company with no contact info to compare to. I politely let him know that my company only ships via USPS or FedEx. He sends me a reply almost instantly saying it has to be his freight company with copied and pasted text from the previous email. I politely decline to use any other courier and have yet to hear back again.

Here are things that immediately send up a red flag for me:

- A customer wanting to take care of the shipment details. If I buy something on Amazon do you think I waste a second thought on who or how it is being shipped? No. I care about the cost and how quickly it will arrive. I don't try to hire my own shipping company.

- A name that just sounds fake. If you can't Google it and find traces of a real person with a real life they probably don't exist. Everyone and their grandma has a Facebook or email these days. If it's a real person chances are you will find them.

- The address goes to an industrial area. My company provides consumer products, not industrial materials. I expect most of my sales to be shipped to a house or apartment.

- A complete disregard for the cost. Most people care how much they spend. If you were going to fork out several hundred dollars (or in this guy's case almost $15,000) wouldn't you have questions about the product? I know I try to make my descriptions as detailed as possible but I would still expect some conversation to be needed on such a large purchase.

- Poor grammar or English. At several points in the email conversation the "customer" refers to my product in terms of Units. "I would like to order the units." Who calls a tipi a unit? No one! People call them Native American Lodges, Tipis, Tepees, Teepees, Native Dwellings... not "units."

- Requesting a Wire Transfer because they sent too much money. While this didn't happen in the current incident I have seen it before. One of the first scam attempts I avoided I recieved a check for nearly 4x the cost of the item. The customer basically said "Oops I sent to much. Wire transfer the extra back to me and keep a little extra for yourself." Yeah, fat chance. I don't ship until every penny is in my account and cleared. A "pending" transaction can be canceled or pulled leaving you with a negative balance if you already withdrew some of that.

Tips to keep yourself safe:

- Only sell through an online venue such as Etsy, Storenvy, Zibbet, ArtFire, or other similar sites that offer addition protection for both seller and consumer.

- Clearly state that products do not ship until payment has FULLY cleared. Do not ship if payment is still "Pending." If you cannot physically hold the money in your hands the item should not ship yet.

- Ship large items or orders you are nervous about with tracking and signature confirmation. Get insurance on it. Keep all receipts so that if something goes wrong you have a way to prove your side.

- Keep a separate bank account that sites like PayPal do not have access to. Transfer the money without linking to this separate bank account so that PayPal and other payment processing sites don't have the ability to tap into that. If everything is linked they will take what they feel you owe them and leave you wondering how you went wrong.

- Google it... Bing it... Yahoo Search it... Just make sure you get the full story on anything that seems fishy.

- Follow your gut. If it seems to good to be true or too easy... it probably is. Nothing in life is easy.

Have you had scammers attempt to rip you off? How did you know it was a scam and what did you do to avoid it? Leave a comment below to share your experience with others.

Tiny Tipis provides high quality canvas products and custom sewing services. This article is written to inform others of my own experiences and should in no way be taken as professional legal or financial advice. Find out more about Tiny Tipis by checking out the links below:

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