Imagine this: you’re the owner of a web design agency and someone fills out your contact form asking for your services. Awesome, right?!
The email comes in as:
I hope this e-mail finds you well! This is Mardam Bay. I would love to know if you can handle website design for a new company and also if you do you accept credit cards ?? kindly get back to me ASAP so i can send you the job details.
The email is sent from Mardam Bay with an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. I pause for a moment and recognize the not-so-great English, but not everyone speaks English so the next thing I do is check where the email originated from. It has an IP of 18.104.22.168, which is based in Nigeria.
Okay, orange flags start going up now. Hmmmm. Why would someone in Nigeria contact a New York-based design agency? There’s only one way to find out — ask for more information. So I reply with “Yes, we accept credit cards and we can handle web site design for a new company. Would you like to schedule a phone call to discuss the details of your project?“
Within 40 minutes, I receive a reply back from “Mardam”:
Thanks for the prompt response. I need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible. [URL redacted]. 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.
1. I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as [domain redacted]
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
6. i want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My Budget is $3500 to $6000
Kindly get back to me with:
(1) an estimate
(2) your cell phone number
(3) And will like to know if you are the owner ??
Interesting. It sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. This is still all reasonable and consistent with someone requesting our services, so I quickly shoot off my next reply:
Yes, I am the owner of the company. The best number to reach me at is +1-914-347-2899.
This sounds like an exciting project! I’d be happy to have my team and I take a look and provide an estimate. Is there any way you can provide us with the logo, images, and text before we give the estimate? That will help us better understand what we’re working with in order to give you an accurate price. I’m happy to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement if you are worried about us having access to that information.
I see that the [domain redacted] domain is already taken by someone else. We can try to contact the current owner and see if they are willing to sell it. Or search for an alternate domain that is available.
We can handle hosting for you. Do you have an estimate of the number of people that would be visiting the site on a daily basis? That will help us determine the appropriate hosting solution.
Would you like to discuss this in more detail on the phone or via Skype?
I’m not in the habit of giving my mobile number to strangers, so I provide my office line (which is on our site anyway). And again I stress the desire to talk this through over the phone or Skype. It’s very difficult to get a gauge on a project solely based on a simple email exchange.
Within a few minutes, he replies with: “Let me have the estimate first then. The consultant will contact you along with the logo and images okay“.
At this point, in the back of my mind the foreign nature of this is still nagging me. So first I review the web site logs to see how he found us. It was through our YellowPages.com listing. Nothing suspicious there. Then I decide to search for him on Google and I find his email address listed on http://blog.ihenix.com/nearly-got-scammed/.
Bingo! I find dozens, if not hundreds, of other design agencies and service agencies being approached with similar messages dating back to February 2015. It’s from this site that I learn the real scam comes later in the conversation, after he agrees to the price quote that’s presented.
Armed with my newfound knowledge, I decide I’m now going to play along with the game and mess with him. I reply with “Okay, we have reviewed the [URL redacted] site you provided. That’s quite an elaborate site! I’m sorry we won’t be able to do it for the price you suggested. We would need at least $15,000 to complete a site like that.“
Much higher than his “budget”, but why not see if he actually reads these replies or cares.
Three minutes later, I see the following in my Inbox: “Thanks for your responds, will like to proceed and am okay with the estimate, i will depositing $2500 using my Credit card so work can commence ASAP, I understand the content for this site would be needed as for the job to commence, so regarding the content i will need a Little favor?“
I already know what his “little favor” is, but let’s indulge him: “What’s the favor?“
And just as predicted, he comes in with the money shot!
The favor i need from you is….. I would give you my card info’s to charge for $5600. so $2500 would be a deposit payment for my website design and the remaining $3000 you would help me send it to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he has the $3000 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you also the funds would be sent to him via cash deposit into his account, sending of funds would be after funds clears into your account and also $100 tip for you stress. You will be charging my card for remaining balance upon completion of work. Kindly get back to me so we can proceed with payment ASAP!
Quite an elaborate scam, I must say! Even if I hadn’t already known the ploy at that point, the red flags would have definitely been going off. You want to send me money just so I can send it to someone else? Why not just pay them directly? Besides the fact that I would have needed business records and a lot more information from him before signing a contract or accepting a credit card.
I have learned that not all spam and scams are obvious from the start. Some are perpetrated by individuals with a lot of time on their hands and are willing to go for the “long con”.
I am publishing this in hopes that other people will not waste their time with this nonsense, like I did. And hopefully no one gets as far as actually accepting a credit card in this fashion!