Thursday, December 6, 2007

Scam Averted!!

If you've read this prior post, then you may think that my husband and I are suckers--or that we were a few years ago. Merely the fact that we bought two of the worst apartments investments known to man may cause you contemplate our intelligence levels. Well, after the events of the last couple of days, I can assure you that we no longer turn into lollipops when scam artists walk by.

As I've explained, we started a souvenir apparel business in the spring. We sell, primarily, to retailers, and have had a steady base of customers in town. On Tuesday, my husband received an unusual phone call. It was initiated by a relay service for the deaf. If you've never experienced one of these calls, the best way I can describe it is like speaking to someone on the phone from another country. There is a delay while your words are translated on a machine by the relay operator to the deaf person. Then you wait while the operator reads you the statements typed in by the other person.

Well, this customer asked for an order of 3,000 (yes, that's three zeros) blank white Fruit of the Loom 50/50 T-shirts to be shipped to Georgia. After the dollar signs cleared from my husband's eyes, it was time to get down to business. He asked the gentleman to e-mail him so that they may have direct communication. The man wanted these shirts to be sent to Georgia by this Friday. He indicated that he was Mike Jones with the "Latter Day Saints." Then he gave my husband two MasterCard numbers and asked him to charge half of the order to one and half to the other. He even gave the security code numbers off the back of the cards.

We both did research and found the least expensive shirt (by the way, it's not by buying directly from FOL) and shipping costs and sent the man an estimate. We would be buying the tees and reselling them to the customer for a profit. Yesterday evening, while waiting for the man to accept the terms, my husband called our automated credit card processor directly to check out the cards. Lo and behold, he received an "invalid transaction type" message. Hmmm. My husband did say that he thought the e-mail communications from the customer were "odd." He jokingly added that he doesn't trust anyone who writes with a lowercase " I ". He thought it was strange that someone would contact our souvenir business to buy plain t-shirts, when there are many other companies who specialize in blank apparel and sell them for less. When he asked "Mike Jones" how he found our company, he replied that it was through an industry association that we had joined.

Yesterday morning, working on a hunch, I googled "relay for the deaf scam." Guess what? It's a variation of the old "Nigerian Con." Here is how "The Reshipping Scam" works. After filling my husband in on the details that I found, he received an e-mail from "Mr. Jones" asking if we can ship the shirts to . . . .Ghana! He must have been unsuccessful in finding a reshipper. Instead of responding to him, my husband called the bank who issued the credit cards and found that the numbers were active cards, but the expiration dates and name (What? "Jones" isn't his real name?!) were fraudulent. At least the bank has been alerted and they can contact the people who have had their card numbers stolen.

If this con artist had been on the ball, he would have had all the valid information from the cards to complete the order. Then we would not have become suspicious and he would have been successful in receiving the goods while we were left hanging with a disputed payment, if any at all. I'm so thankful that my husband checked out the cards before ordering the shirts. Later, the huge supplier from where we intended to order the shirts called. When the rep was told about the Nigerian scam, he said that his company had been a victim several times.

We have found that it's sometimes hard to conduct business when there are people trying to take advantage of you at every corner. One guy said he would place our products in hotels in other areas for a percentage of the sales. He immediately wanted to place a special order for one of his existing customers. When my husband told him that he would be responsible for half of the costs up front, he never heard from the guy again. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Now we stay on alert for the next scam artist and hope that he is as easy to spot as the last one.