How one US business escaped a scammer’s net

cyber-crimeIn these tough economic times, it can be hard for a small business to turn down customers, even if they seem a bit odd.

That’s what Patrick Seward, owner and manager of Nyssa Machine and Welding Inc. in Nyssa, Ore., south of Ontario, was thinking when he was contacted by a mysterious customer claiming to be from Ghana.

“He knew all the right things to say,” Seward said. “He must have done his homework.”

In early June, Seward was contacted by a supposed customer identifying himself as David Kays, who asked for a price on a 3,000-pound onion lifter.

Kays said he was starting an onion-picking operation in Accra, Ghana, and that he wanted to pay by credit card. The only kicker was that he needed the onion picker shipped to Ghana by air, and Seward had to use a shipping company he provided.

Seward contacted the shipping company, headquarted in India, and everything seemed legitimate.

Still, he couldn’t help shaking the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

It wasn’t until the shipping company told Seward about the shipping costs that things started to seem strange. Seward was told that payment for shipping could only be made from the point of delivery in Ghana.

Kays said he was more than happy to cover the shipping costs with his credit card, but the shipping company would only take cash. Kays asked Seward to send him a money order with the cost of shipping so that he could pay it, promising to pay it back with his credit card when he paid for the onion picker.

“That’s pretty much when I knew it was a scam,” Seward said.

Wanting to be sure, Seward contacted his bank. The bank told him that if he sent a money gram into a foreign country, any money lost would be unrecoverable.

Payment on the almost certainly stolen credit card that Kays offered would be stopped immediately, and Seward would be out several thousand dollars.

Seward contacted the Ghanaian embassy to ask about the shipping address he was given, which included a five-digit code at the end, like a U.S. zip code.

“The embassy worker was from the city the onion picker was supposed to go to,” Seward said. “She told me that she didn’t know of any place like that, and that it probably wasn’t a legitimate address because Ghana doesn’t use zip codes.”

Dale Dixon, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon, said this sort of scam is more common than you might think.

“The scammers call a business and place large, unique orders,” Dixon said. “They want to get the business excited. They’ll ask for something large and unique so that the business has to either take a gamble trusting the thief or take a loss and not send the product.

“Timing is critical,” Dixon said. “They’ll ask for a rush job. If they pull this off in just a few days, the bank won’t be able to figure out it’s a stolen credit card, and by the time they do, the money’s gone.”

There are a few things to look for if you want to avoid this sort of scam, he said.

“If you get a large, unique order and the customer says they want it fast, you’ve got to have due diligence,” Dixon said. “Make sure the customer can pick up the order. Call the bank. Don’t feel pressured to do things fast just because the customer asks for it.”

Source: Idaho Statesman

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