Scam Alert: Don't Fall Victim to Fraudulent Requests
Chris Morrissey, president of Fort Collins, Colorado-based Proforma Big Dog Branding has received one to two emails a day from prospective customers asking for information on products for about the last eight months. For any distributor, that doesn't seem out of the ordinary. If anything, that's great news. Business is booming, right? Not necessarily.
Morrissey, who has a background working corporate investigations and theft, could tell that the emails weren't legitimate, and, after a little digging, could prove it. Now, he worries that some industry professionals who aren't as well-versed on scamming techniques may fall victim to these fraudulent emails, and, possibly, lose a lot of money.
The scams are, in a way, similar to the "Nigerian prince" emails that many people have received. For those unfamiliar with the scams, an "official" related to some sort of authority figure reaches out to transfer a huge sum of money through a U.S. bank account. These "officials" then ask for banking information, and then, well, we can see where it goes from there.
At first, Morrissey said the emails came sporadically—about one to two a week—and the errors gave them away as fakes pretty much immediately.
"They were so bad that it was easy to go, 'Ha. Garbage,'" Morrissey said.
However, within the last six months or so, Morrissey has noticed the scammers adapting their tricks.
"They used to have bad English and misspellings, and really easy things to pick up on," he said. "And now, they've gotten much better at it. Very, very few times do I see any incorrect English or grammatical errors, or anything like that."
They even made their fake companies look more legitimate, too.
"What I'm starting to see now is that these scammers are getting more sophisticated in what they're doing," Morrissey added. "To the point where the emails now come from what looks to be a company website. They're referencing U.S. telephone numbers and setting up full-fledged websites."
There still are ways to spot the fakes, however. Morrissey said that, if you do check out the websites, you'd notice usual features: Facebook, Twitter and Google Maps links. But, if you dig a little deeper, you'd notice some pretty blaring inconsistencies.
"I looked at a website and I could tell it was fairly stock background graphics," he said. "But one of the things that I noticed was that they had all of their social media links, and they had a Google Map to show their address in Milwaukee, Wis. So what I did was, I clicked on that, and in Google Maps, you see the map, but I went to street view and basically drove down on [the street] to see if it was a building. … It was a dead-end street in a residential area. It was a fictitious house number. It wasn't even a legitimate house number."
He added that when he clicked on Facebook and Twitter links, rather than going to the company's profiles, he went to the Facebook and Twitter home pages.
The third strike he noticed was that the company used a misspelling in its company web address.
"There's a company [whose website is] aceline.com, but I'm assuming the scammer didn't think things through to see if that URL was taken when they created the website," he said. "So what they ended up with was acelinn.com."
So, other than deleting the emails right away, Morrissey said he took steps to stop the scammers altogether.
"When I see the emails where they have websites, I'll go to the website and do a little poking around," he said. "And as soon as I have enough proof, I will go to the domain registrar, whoever it is. In this particular case, they had registered with a domain registrar out of France. I contacted that registrar, and they actually refused to shut it down. They said I didn't have enough proof."
Morrissey told them that, in the past, he's contacted the registrar's competitors, and they shut down similar sites quickly. At the same time, he reached out to the Secretary of State's office in Wisconsin, where the company supposedly was based.
"They said, 'Well, look them up on our website,'" he said. "And if they're a corporation, an LLC or any type of registered [business], they have to be on the website.' If they're not on the website, then ask them for copies of their articles of incorporation or their sales tax license from Wisconsin."
Without those necessary documents, the state could shut them down itself. After a back-and-forth with the registrar, he convinced them to shut down the fraudulent site.
"I think that's probably the slam-dunk, the ace in the hole, that people need to know about." Morrissey said. "I don't know how often distributors get requests from companies they've never heard of in an area that they, themselves, aren't in for thousands and thousands of dollars worth of business. But if someone's going to pursue it, request their state sales tax license and articles of incorporation, or ask the state they're listed in, and check online and look up the company."
Have you received any of these emails? If so, we'd like to know how you handled it. Contact assistant content editor Brendan Menapace at firstname.lastname@example.org.