Scammers in DistributorLand
by Frank Hurtte
Internet scamming has become an industry in itself, with some estimates putting the cost at $12.7 billion in 2014. I have received some pretty bizarre scam messages. Most are pretty easy to spot.
- My rich uncle died in a car crash in Nigeria and left me a fortune in Captain Crunch decoder rings.
- The daughter of husky and cannibal-toothed dictator Idi Amin has 120 million in a Swiss Bank and now she wants to share it with me because I am a nice guy.
- I have won a team of flying reindeer and a magical sleigh full of toys, and all I have to do is send a Western Union money order with a very nominal shipping fee to have them drop shipped to my office for Christmas.
Fortunately, my limited common sense and a dash of web research have allowed me to keep my cash.
Now, finally, after all these years, Distributorland gets its very own scam. I suppose it had to happen sometime. Are we finally getting the recognition our industry deserves? We should be honored and terrified.
Here’s the scoop; all of our websites identify us as distributors. We publish a lot of information and our email addresses are all over the web. To the untrained eye and Google key word searches, we at River Heights Consulting probably appear to be a distributor. A couple of months ago, we received this request for quotation from a major public university:
Attention Sales dept,
It's our great honor and privilege to have you as one of our vendor or supplier. My name is Nathan Andridge, Senior Director- Purchasing for Ohio State University. we are directed to your location to purchase some of the below Listed items.
UNITS DESCRIPTION40 FLIR CM85 Power Clamp Meter40 FLIR ONE for Android1 ZA4208TX-Q Enerpac Air Hyd Pump - Torque Wrench
1 ZA4204TX-Q Enerpac Air Hyd Pump - Torque Wrench
Please indicate all prices FOB our place of business with our payment term via Net due in 30 days after the invoice date and indicate when your price quote shall expire. Advise as soon as possible with price quote so I may prepare the PO and have it send to you to finalize the order.
Senior Director- Purchasing
Ohio State University
2650 Kenny Road Columbus, OH 43210, USA
800-217-2051 Phone 614 350-4878 Fax
Looking at it closely, I debated as to whether it was fair for me to forward it to a friend near the school. But I looked again. The email address for the university didn’t look exactly right. Sure, the “from” heading in bold looked legit, but hovering over the name, I could plainly see the originating address. How many big time public institutions have their purchasing department using a Yahoo email address? Still, maybe there was a reason, so I did some research on the college. This warning message came up from the purchasing department:
Procurement and Contracting Services Notice to Suppliers: Fraudulent Purchase Order E-mail Activity
We want to alert you to an active e-mail scam involving purchase orders and requests for quotes that purport to originate from UC Davis, but are in fact fraudulent. While the University cannot prevent this illegal activity, we are actively working with law enforcement to investigate these fraudulent e-mail contacts.
Here are some common traits or themes of these fraudulent e-mails that may help reduce risk to your company in becoming a financial victim of this scam:
• The e-mail message is poorly written, with misspellings and awkward sentence structure
• The sender's e-mail address or website link are not authentic to UC Davis
• The message requests shipment of products to non-UC Davis addresses
• The message may include an attachment that is designed to look like a purchase order, may include a logo or other graphic, and a signature that may look legitimate.
Prior to responding to the e-mail or filling the order, you may verify its legitimacy by contacting Procurement and Contracting Services by phone, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm at (530) 752-0370.
UC Davis values our partnership with you - and appreciates the very important role you play in providing goods and services to our faculty, students and staff in support of their academic, research, and patient care endeavors. Please know that we are assisting to the fullest extent we are able with the investigation of this illegal activity by reporting all fraudulent e-mails to appropriate authorities.
If you believe you have received a fraudulent e-mail, you may forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the next week, I received multiple requests for similar products from other organizations. Here are a couple of examples:
Let me have the price cost for these product.
1,ESV373N04TXB - Lenze AC Tech SMV Series Drive: 50 HP (37 kW),
480V 3Phase input in NEMA 1 enclosure
2,ESV183N04TXB.Lenze AC Tech SMV Series Drive: 25 HP (18.5 kW), 480V 3 Phase input in NEMA 1 enclosure also With the shipping cost to Romulus, MI 48174 Via Ups next day delivery.
Let me know the type of credit card you do accept for the payment.
This is Paul Graves from FMC Corporation, we would like to have price quote for ACS550 spec given below;
***ACS550-U1-157A-4 – ABB Wall Mounted Drive, NEMA 1, 3-Phase 380-480V, 125HP....10 units
Thanks and looking forward to your response.
Paul Graves Sr. VP and CFO
FMC Corporation FMC Tower, 2929 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: 215.220.3872 Fax: 215.299.5998
Following the latter message, I decided to reach out to the number listed. After several rings it was picked up and answered "FMC Corporation" in a less than professional manner – not a good sign. I asked the person answering if he was Paul Graves, which he confirmed. Playing the part of a local distributor, I indicated that we provide freight with our orders so in order give a proper quote, a shipping address was necessary. Things got quiet for a moment. Then “Mr. Graves” said the products would be shipped to Wisconsin, Australia or someplace garbled and unpronounceable.
The person on the other end of the phone asked if we could email our questions rather than discuss by phone. I plan to reach out sometime in the near future, just as soon as I set up my own scam email address; something like W. E. Coyote Distribution of Arizona.
These things are more prevalent than you think
One excited newbie on the order desk could easily read any of these messages and send out information which could damage your business. I have heard first hand of distributors who have fallen prey to the requests. I received a call this week from the channel manager for a major manufacturer of motion control products. She related that she had received six calls from distributors asking about proper pricing for one of the parts listed in a recent scam request. Further, she indicated one distributor may have made at least a partial shipment to the address provided by the scam artist. Typically, these folks use the address of vacant buildings or empty lots and arrange to meet the driver in route, thus making it harder for them to be identified.
Others have mentioned scammers using their company name in messages, leading recipients to trust they already know who is on the other end.
Don’t think it can’t happen to you or your company. These scammers are often smarter than we give them credit. I believe the guidelines from UC Davis are appropriate. Further, I believe we as a group must be vigilant.
Finally, if you receive a message like one of these, please forward it to me at email@example.com. I’ll be sure to check it out.
Frank Hurtte of River Heights Consulting is a regular Industrial Supply magazine contributor. Frank speaks and consults on the new reality facing distribution. He blogs on “The Distributor Channel” at http://thedistributorchannel.blogspot.com. Contact River Heights Consulting at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at (563) 514-1104.