Last week, I received a short but polite text message from “Janet Thomas.” She said that she was hearing impaired but would like to discuss a new website for her business. This didn’t seem too unusual, but I was a bit skeptical. I asked her to email me full details about the project and budget, and we could continue the conversation from there. Janet followed through and emailed a very thorough list of what she needed. She answered all my questions in good detail, telling me that her Tennessee business is “based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa.” She already had hired someone to do her logo and content, both of which were ready to go.
Based on her answers, her legitimacy started to increase slightly. However, there were still a few red flags. First, her email address was very suspect. It wasn’t a business email address; instead, it was firstname.lastname@example.org. (An email address with a name followed by a number and using Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or similar providers are often associated with spam.) Second, her phone number had a Nevada area code even though her business was supposedly in Tennessee and lastly, her grammar and punctuation were less than perfect. Nevertheless, I thanked her for her reply and asked some more targeted questions, including requesting a site map which is something I assumed her content writer could easily provide. Lastly, I asked her which of our past or present clients had referred her to us, so I could thank them (95% of our work comes through referrals, so I always ask this question). Up to this point, the red flags were at half-staff. But her response? Well, that’s when the red flags were fully raised.
Although she did an impressive job answering my questions, her “site map” did not match some of her earlier requests. Then the final hoist of the red flags occurred when she said she found us on “a local Google.” Um, yeah.
I had already searched online for her name, Gmail address and business (which returned no results), but I decided to use our “local Google” to do a little more sleuthing. I Googled something obscure from her message, and it turns out the good ol’ Gacillia Nut (or lack thereof) is what revealed Janet’s true colors. That’s when I found a handful of results with similar stories to mine.
For the people who didn’t realize it was a scam (or chose to proceed to see how far it’d go before reporting it to the authorities), the stories all had similar endings. Janet (or Paul, Brad, Tara or some other generic name) immediately agreed to the estimate and offered to pay right away….however, she had one minor favor to ask. She needed to pay you significantly more than you requested and asked that you would, in turn, use the extra money to pay her other “contractor.” When questioned about this, she often has a story about being out of the country or in the hospital (oh, poor Janet!). From what I read, most people halted at this point (thank goodness), recognizing it as a money laundering scam and stopping “Janet” from pocketing the money.
What surprised me most about this scam was how targeted and precise the request original request was, as well as Janet’s dedication to answering all the specific questions I asked. I just hope the next person that “Janet Thomas” contacts has read this post first, and it saves them time from entertaining a similar work request or any possible implications from being tied inadvertently to a scam.
Meanwhile, if a Gacillia Nut really does exist, best of luck to it because it’s reputation is shot, and it’s SEO has gone down the drain!