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Avoiding Scams: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

A week or so ago, I received an inquiry from a man in Indonesia about buying multiple copies of certain items on my website. I immediately suspected fraud, so I explained that I only had one piece of each. The man, who wrote impeccable English, said that was fine. I asked why he wanted to buy so much money's worth of jewelry (it was around $250). He said it was for his wife and daughters.

He then asked if he could email me the billing and shipping info instead of using the catalog. I told him the catalog was better, since it was more secure, and figured if he was a scammer, it would be too much work for him.

No such luck. He was unusually together. He placed an order for the same items he had asked about (most scammers forget). I started allowing myself to feel happy about such a large order and the money that would bring. At the same time, I started researching shipping to Indonesia, as well as fraud protection, and found that a) Indonesia is second only to Nigeria in credit card fraud levels, and b) jewelry is prohibited to ship to Indonesia.

Per suggestions on another site, I asked the customer for a CVV number, the bank listed on the credit card, and the customer service number on the card. He sent me the CVV and customer service number. He also said he had just received a diamond ring sent to him, so he didn't think the prohibition existed.

Today I started checking. I called the customer service phone number he gave me; it was for a Canadian bank, and the number didn't belong to one of their cards. The fishy smell grew stronger.

I then contacted an American bank to find out where the number originated. They gave me the runaround for a while until someone there gave me the number for Visa International, 800-847-2911, since the card number started with a 4. Visa International told me which bank to call.

When I finally got to the right bank, and told them I was a merchant checking on fraud, they confirmed my suspicions. The card was at an American address, and it had no other suspicious charges on it. I asked if there were any tiny charges, like for penny amounts. Indeed there were. This part is important!

In Indonesia, they are very sophisticated; one of the ways they get credit card numbers is to run random computer-generated numbers with expiration dates until they get some that go through. They put through charges for tiny amounts that people won't bother to contest, and if the charge goes through, they know it's good. So do watch out for penny amounts showing up on your credit card bills.

I asked the woman to check the CVV number as well, and she said it did not check out. So the charge would not have gone through anyway, but I feel better having checked, even if it took way too much time.

Lesson: the scammers are getting more sophisticated all the time. They can also read materials on the internet that give warning signs about scammers. So they are trying to avoid some of the more obvious signs. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Author Susan Midlarsky of Aspiring Arts handcrafts jewelry with stones that harmonize well and are beneficial to the human body, color combinations that are connected to refinement, and sometimes offerings from nature. She has also recently started making glass beads; you can see her progress at her online blog. Susan loves the magical glow people feel upon finding a piece of jewelry that is exactly right for them.

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