Caveat Venditor! (Seller beware!)

I monitor a lot of different sites, looking for more business for my design firm. Sadly, a lot of the sites that match those who need a designer with people like me are filled with scammers, looking to make a quick, illicit buck off of coders, scribes, and graphic artists. Here’s a prime example of a scammer’s job request:

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Job type: Web Design

Additional details: i have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in CA and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa so i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible .http://www.agroamerica.com…. the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.

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So let’s break this down. First of all, note the clumsy grammar, bad punctuation, and overall vibe that it’s written by someone for whom English is NOT their first language. Now, I’m not saying that immigrants don’t legitimately purchase websites, but I’ve learned that this (combined with other clues) is an indicator that something is hinky.

Note that the business is located elsewhere and it’s an importer. This will be used later to justify a phone number that is not local. It’s also an attempt to create a plausible business that might explain away some of your concerns.

Here’s the big red flag: He wants a site that looks “more perfect than this one, if possible” and they give you the URL of a “competitor” site. Right.

Next, we learn the site will only be “informational.” That says two things: No eCommerce (so they don’t have to provide legit transaction processing info) and it will be a fairly simple site (appealing to your desire for an easy job with a quick payout).

The next couple of sentences are badly written, attempting to emphasize how much he wants the new site to look and work like the competitor’s. But that leads into the final red flag: he has a “private project consultant” (oooh…sounds important!) who has the “text content” and the logos for the site. This detail proves to be the lynchpin upon which the scam rests.

Here’s how it works. They’ll tell you they are either out-of-the country, or in the hospital, and can’t talk over the phone. They want to conduct all business over the Internet. They likely don’t speak English well enough (or at all) for you to communicate with them. Next, they’ll ask if you accept credit cards for payment. If you don’t, they’ll disappear. If you do, they’ll  explain that their “private project consultant” doesn’t accept plastic. They’ll ask you if they can pay YOU for both your fee and his, and have you then pay him with a cashier’s check or money order. They’ll even generously offer to throw in a couple of hundred for your trouble.

What’s really happening, is they’ve given you a stolen credit card number. They’re counting on your good nature and/or greed to comply with their instructions. The card will go through – at first. They want you to get a cashier’s check or money order because they are as good as cash AND CAN’T BE TRACED. You send the funds to the “private project consultant” (the scammer in a different guise) and wait. A few days later, when the owner of the card discovers his account has been stolen, they’ll contact the credit card company’s fraud department. All of a sudden, the credit card company comes after you for a refund. And they’ll get it. All of it, Sorry, Charlie! You’re out that money, AND you’ll never see the funds you sent to the “consultant” again.

These scams are pretty easy to spot, once you know what to look for. Sadly, the job sites do a lousy job screening legit customers and keeping the scammers out. Caveat venditor, indeed.

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