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Beware of Credit Card Scammers Targeting Our Businesses

I don’t know how they are finding our business, but I’ve asked around, and we aren’t the only one being targeted.

My mother drilled it into my head when I was a kid that, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.” The days, I use those same words to clients when they produce a competitor’s proposal for less than half of what are bidding.

I have a colleague who recently told me a story of when he first started his business five years ago. He is a custom integrator and does not have a retail or online store. He got an email asking for some quotes on TVs. He priced some TVs out with the distributor he had recently signed up with and provided a quote. The customer didn’t blink an eye and ordered two TVs delivered to a home about an hour away. The dealer was psyched. He had just started out, and he was going to make a quick sale and a few hundred dollars having a couple of TVs shipped. It may not have been his primary business model, but, hey, who’s going to turn away a quick profit?

This integrator had gotten a Square reader when he launched his business, so he took the credit card number via email, ordered the two TVs, and had them shipped direct to the home. A few days later, the same person emailed back to buy two more TVs. Things seemed fishy, so the dealer called the credit card company. They said the card seemed fine, but to hold on while they called the cardholder. Turns out, the cardholder wasn’t ordering any TVs and the card had been stolen. Since the dealer had never physically taken the card, he could have been on the hook for the fraudulent purchase, but since he was the one who discovered it and alerted the card company, they didn’t pursue him. Those were a tense couple of days to see if he was on the hook for more than $5,000 in fraudulent charges.

This all came up because more recently there are a some scammers out there who seem to be targeting our business and our industry, and I wanted to perform a bit of a PSA to let everyone know what is going on and remind you to be careful. We have gotten a few emails from people asking about a quote on an installation, and they give enough information to seem legitimate.

ThinkStock Image 

Here is part of the actual email I received (poor punctuation and grammar left in intentionally):

Hello my name is John I will need your help on my new house,i want you to install 42inch to the parlor with the in-wall speakers and the remaining 6 bedroom with a 32inch Tv with in-wall speakers installation. Will you be able to do that for me? If yes I want you to get back to me with the total estimate?

Then after providing a ballpark of the price, they say everything sounds great, and they offer to pay a deposit via credit card. A day later or so, I got this as part of a larger email:

I’m having a little problem with the Realtor in charge of the property who is yet to be paid for upkeep and maintenance of the house i paid him 60% out of his fee,i shld have balance up unfortunately he doesn’t have a credit card system working and i will be needing a little favor from you.

They asked to pay $2,000 as a deposit for our work and an additional $3,000 for the realtor, to whom I would provide a bank check, as that is the only form of payment they will take, and then the realtor will give us the key so we can do the work. I got suspicious and told the person that I required a picture of both the front and back of the credit card (something the dealer who sold the TVs in my story above was told by the credit card company to do in the future). I even went further and told them I would have to call the credit card company to ensure the card was valid, as I haven’t met the client in person. I never heard back.

I had a very similar experience with someone calling using a service for those who are hard of hearing, where there is an interpreter who types your responses and reads back to you what the hearing impaired person types. This “conversation” soon led to a similar chain of emails as above, where they asked me to charge funds to their card and then pay someone else, in person, in cash.

I don’t know how they are finding our business, but I’ve asked around, and we aren’t the only one being targeted. Make sure if you get a “lead” like this that you ask for an image of the front and back of the credit card and tell the person you will check with the card company. Or just ignore it all together, as I have started to do when I get these emails with terrible grammar, poor spelling, and non-existent punctuation.