It's a growing problem in North Texas. Scammers are targeting businesses and individuals alike. And, they're getting more creative at going after big hauls.
That was a lesson learned by Graham business owner Steve Doyle. Doyle has been in the manufacturing and construction business for 28 years. He recently began branching out into green energy, forming Variable Energy Systems. The company will specialize in solar and wind power.
Through a referral, he received his first orders before ever officially opening. The first was for $18,000 worth of solar panels. But, there was one big problem. The credit card was stolen.
On a hunch Doyle called the credit card company to confirm the purchase through the card holder. Doyle said the company representative was reluctant to make the call. After some persuading they called, a move that saved Doyle a lot of money. The card holder denied making the purchase.
Doyle said while there are many protections for cardholders, those same protections rarely exist for merchants. If he hadn't called to verify, he would have been stuck with the charge and been out the merchandise.
Doyle did some research. He said the scam works like this: the scammer uses a stolen credit card to make the purchase. They ask for tracking information so someone can pick up the load precisely when it's delivered. When the card holder gets his or her bill weeks later, the charge is contested leaving the merchant responsible for the bill. Doyle said the merchandise can be sold at a cut rate, further hurting honest businesses.
That may have been the end of it, but Doyle received a second order. This time, he said, it seemed legitimate. The customer used official-looking letterhead and ordered the correct components of a complex system, indicating he knew what he was doing. Doyle would normally have placed the order. But, the scam was fresh on his mind.
Doyle verified the purchase through that credit card company. Again, he had to twist arms to get them to call. The card holder, again, denied making the purchase.
"So we get over it," Doyle said, "and finally get a little bit of trust built up, you know, on starting this business up. And then turn around, the very second charge is exactly the same thing."
Because of his diligence Doyle was spared a huge cost. But, he has already changed his credit card policy, he won't accept them for large orders over the phone or Web, and he worries about the future of his business. Doyle said this kind of thing is hurting honest businesses.
According to law enforcement officials, Doyle's right. Graham Police Chief Tony Widner said he has seen an increase in all kinds of scams in Graham, ranging from credit card fraud to third-party check scams.
Special Agent Fernando Benavides with the FBI's Dallas Field Office's satellite branch in Wichita Falls said the number of scams targeted at North Texas has skyrocketed. Many of those, though, are aimed at individuals. Benavides said the most common involve Craig's List and foreign lottery scams.
Both Widner and Benavides said the best way to avoid being scammed is to use common sense and do some research. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.