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When Your Customers Steal

by Chris Malta

You know it's a slow news day when the news programs on TV turn their attention to their favorite new consumer warning.
"Beware of online businesses!" they cry. "YOU could be SCAMMED on the Internet!"

Every time I see one of these news stories, I groan, and wonder how many sales my sites just lost. Then there are the ads for credit cards that "protect" consumers against online fraud. They make Internet business people look like a bunch of thugs who meet in a sewer all day long to torture innocent consumers.

There a lot more honest, hardworking Netrepreneurs out there than scam artists. That doesn't make for a good news story, though, so we all take the lumps for the transgressions of a sordid few.

You know what I've never seen, though? I've never seen a headline story about the CUSTOMERS who scam the Netrepreneurs. I've seen stories about thieves robbing convenience stores. I've seen exposes featuring the practices favored by professional shoplifters. What about the "consumers" who target online businesses when they steal?
My partners and I market both informational products and brand name merchandise on the Internet. And we've been taken on both sides of the fence.

We publish the Internet's Premium Product Sourcing Directory, OneSource, which lists thousands of pre-verified wholesale suppliers, willing to work with home-based eBiz owners.

A few years ago, I received an email from someone who bought OneSource on EBay, and had questions about how they were to receive the information updates we send our customers every month. (At that time, our Directory was a downloadable product. Today, it is a huge online database that grows on a daily basis.) There was only one problem with the email I got.

We didn't SELL our Directory on EBay.

I was forced to write back to that person and tell him that he had been scammed. It was obvious to me that someone had purchased our product from us, downloaded it, and was reselling it to others illegally. How this scam artist expected to get away with reselling the product, I'll never know. At that time, it was a download that contained nearly a thousand pages. (Now, it's a much larger online database). There is a copyright notice on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. It's like me buying Stephen King's latest book on Amazon, typing it up into electronic form, and then reselling it on EBay. I'd have to be nuts to try something like that!

Also a few years ago, a site I was working with received an order for some moderately expensive jewelry. Nothing out of the ordinary. The credit card processed just fine, with the AVS (Automatic Verification System) coming back "green".

This means that the online processing system had checked the card's information against the on-file address and zip code of its owner, and everything was OK. The Ship-to address was different from the card owner's Bill-to address, but that's nothing out of the ordinary either. LOTS of people buy jewelry and have it sent as a gift to another address.

A while later, we received a "chargeback" letter from the customer's bank. A chargeback means that the card owner has disputed the charge, and we have to show cause why we should not refund the money. At about the same time, we got a phone call from a police department in West Virginia, asking about that same order.

Turns out that a woman in West Virginia had inadvertently left her credit card on a checkout counter at a large department store.

A clerk at that store picked up the card, and used it to make several online purchases. The clerk was having the purchases delivered to a vacant house RIGHT NEXT DOOR to his own. This guy must have left his brain cell in the 'fridge that day.

The above are both good examples of how WE, as Netrepreneurs, get "scammed". Maybe I've been luckier than most, but it has not happened to me all that many times.
We caught the guy who was reselling our Directory on EBay. What we did was this: The person who purchased the bootleg Directory was naturally very upset. I told him that if I were able to catch this person and confirm what had happened, I would see to it that his purchase was made good, and he would receive full access to our REAL Directory. He immediately sent me all the information he had on the auctioneer. Sure enough, the auctioneer was a customer of ours. I notified EBay's fraud department ( I then contacted the perpetrator and elaborated on the penalties of copyright infringement. He pulled his auction listings immediately. We came to an agreement for restitution that I was satisfied with. I suggested to him that he refund the other people to whom he had already sold bootlegs, before THEY came after him.

The police in West Virginia caught the store clerk. They set up surveillance at the vacant house next door, and waited for more of his online purchases to arrive. After the case was prosecuted, we got the jewelry back. All we lost was a few dollars in shipping charges.

If you're in business, you're a potential target. Protect yourself as best you can. Use an AVS system when you accept credit cards. Confirm large-dollar purchases before processing them. When people charge thousands of dollars to buy large-ticket items from my sites, I always contact that customer to verify the purchase. I caught two stolen cards that way, BEFORE I got burned. Watch for multiple purchases of the same item by the same person. They'll end up being re-sold out of the trunk of a car, and you'll be stuck paying the REAL card owner back. Be aware of protection programs like EBay's Safe Harbor. And if you think you're being ripped off, don't just wait around to hear from someone about it. Contact the bank that issued the card, and the police in the area you think the perpetrator purchased from. The banks take credit card fraud very seriously.

Who knows? Maybe someday, someone will write a news story about it.