Amiss the requirements of social distancing, virus fears and desperation, there is another virus plaguing the internet world. One that attempts to steal those small business that are still working via the internet. It comes in the form of someone needing website work.
Recently , we have received a number of different request for website design or redesign. It was written oddly enough to invoke caution but yet in the event a judgement was made wrongly, we answer politely.
It starts with a simple, seemingly honest email. An inquiry for work.
What started out as a new client inquiry, quickly turned into a series of explanation and excuses. This was a scam. A scam aimed at designers and creative professionals. But it can also be aimed at those of an industry, the online equestrian industry, an ecommerce industry or anyone who does business online.
HERE IS HOW THE SCAMS WORK
- Third Party Payout Scam
- Payment Reversal Scam
- Advanced Fee Scam
- Overpayment Scam.
The Fraud Prevention department at credit card payment processor Stripe put it like this:
I can see that you work in web design. Designers such as yourself are common targets for a type of scam known as a Third Party Payout. Essentially, the scammer makes a payment (generally in the thousands) for a project, and pays more than they need so you can then transfer money direct to a third party (e.g. a consultant, graphic designer, etc). I imagine your correspondence with your ‘client’ has been along these line. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the fix is that the card used is stolen and the third party is actually the scammer. So when the legitimate cardholder disputes the payment the business is left holding the bag on the money retrieved from their account and what they transferred to the scammer.
Our initial correspondence went like this:
WHAT IS AMAZING ABOUT THESE SCAMS
What is truly amazing about these scams, is just how involved they are.
- How much time: by the time any money would have actually made it back to the scammers, a lot of work is devoted in email communication to each scam.
- How long these scams keep going. One vendor after another
- The scammers will email you, text you and sometime even talk on the phone with you! It is amazing just how easily a scammer can be totally anonymously hiding behind a throw away webmail account and a google voice phone number.
HERE IS HOW THE ATTEMPTED SCAN WENT DOWN
The first scam came from Shawn C Skaggs and seemed strange because it mentioned a budget right off the bat. Without knowing who were and the full measure of what we do. I don’t know a customer to date, that talks about how much money they have to spend, nor inquire as to whether I am the owner of the business. They are most interested in how their website will work, look and how it will increase their business.
From: Shawn C Skaggs <email@example.com>
Thanks for getting back to me my business name is DharmaTJ Indian Restaurant I want the site exactly like this example link site: https://n-naka.com/ or much more better than that, The site should be ready by next 3 month, I don’t have a domain name I prefer: HARMATJINDIANRESTAURANT.COM you will be updating the site for me I already have a project consultant that is taking care of the text content, logos for the site with the image artworkyMy budget for this is between $5,000-$15,000 are you the Owner of the company also I need you to get back to me with Estimate proposal including a year hosting for the web design, Thank you
SEE ATTACHMENT ON HOW I WANT MY SITE TO LOOK AND I DON’T WANT A RESERVATION
PAGE YET ON MY WEBSITE I MIGHT INCLUDE THAT IN THE FUTURE
Mis-spelled words, statement of budget too early, not interested in eCommerce for the business. Someone else is doing the content.
“Shawn” even sent a site map drawing of the website he wanted to make. One look at it and your realize that he wanted to remove the key elements that a resturant would want and need to have to be viable.
Out of respect and the outside chance, that “Shawn” was real customer, but extremely naive about website design, we went back and forth a few times and I gave him a UNDER HIS BUDGET estimate. This is what came back:
From: Shawn C Skaggs <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Perfect I’m fine with the cost everything looks good I would have loved to meet with you on this project to have a round table meeting but I’m presently out of states I’m in Germany taking care of my Wife, She’s recuperating from surgery confined to a wheel chair which makes her case a bit difficult so I have to be there for her I want the job done before I’m back to the states with my wife by end of July I will be paying for the deposit before you start what type of Credits card do you accept also the Name of Machine you used in charging Credits Cards and its % is it quickbook, pastripe, clovergo or Firstdata?
HOW TO HANDLE IT
Unless any money has been stolen from you, the best thing you can do is respond politely and test the waters.
Our response was as follow:
From: Multimedia Designs, <email@example.com>
That would be excellent. There is quite a bit of information we would need, including your Los Angeles based address, domain name information, sign-in credentials and a signed contract of agreement. We also do not accept deposits from new clients via credit card. It would need to be USA based check. After the signed contract and the clearance of the check, we can move to the next step.
Look forward to working with you.
We call him on his business and methods. Always remaining polite. Always giving the opportunity for a real customer be work within the parameters of proof. Some would say, why bother responding at all…. in the 1% chance that they are real, but naive.
The result of this polite but clearly defined parameters for business was frustration for the scammer.
I can’t be able to send you a check from here I can only make payment with my credit card.
Of course not.
He was not a restaurant owner in Los Angeles. He did not even live in Los Angeles, like his first email claimed. The game was done. We wished him well, but indicated that is our firm policy for new and unknown clients. We called him on his statements & actions.
The lesson….do not accept any payments with credit cards for large amounts of money, unless it is a known person or company. All initial business should be done with cash and a local check.
BUSINESS WITH MULTIMEDIA DESIGNS, LLC = SAFE
That is Multimedia Designs, LLC’s way of doing business. It is firmly rooted in our core values. Be polite but firmly will not accept anything but the full truth and honor. This is how we protect our clients too. To the best of our ability, keep the situation truthful, honorable and direct. We protect the client, but the buyer as well. A “Designed & Supported by Multimedia Designs, LLC” means “safe”. We will not even host a company that does not agree with the core values. Too big of a risk to ourselves or our customers. Our customers protection is the priority.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN A VICTIM : THE MONEY
If you have been a victim of the scam, money has been stolen from you. Don’t blame yourself about it. These are crafty persons, who specialize in playing on the good will of others. It is an innocent, yet painful mistake.
The lesson is: always be on the look out for products, services that do not tell the full truth. Especially on the internet. Investigate the full message. Check the facts. Verify the studies. Cross reference the statements. It is something to be diligent about by never assuming that “appearances” are real. You can use this situation to help stop it from happening to others. Unfortunately, the money, if taken, is probably gone.
You can reach out to:
- The Secret Service – we were referred to them by Stripe even though no money had changed hands. The Secret Service is responsible for counterfeiting law violations as well as financial fraud including banking, access device, advance fee fraud and computer fraud, financial document counterfeiting, and money laundering. They agency has confirmed just how widespread these web design scams are, but unless money had changed hands, they can’t help.
- FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – complaints filed via this website are processed and may be referred to federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for possible investigation
- Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debbie Kurth is the founder and CEO of Multimedia Designs, LLC. She is a computer engineer, designer, technical producer and a former Walt Disney Imagineer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org