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How to Detect A Fraudulent Customer on the Internet

Updated on May 25, 2018

Are You an Easy Mark for Internet Scammers?

I had an online bookstore for 22 years. I now occasionally advertise on Craig's list. I love genuine customers, but there are a few scam artists that only pretend to be customers. What they are after is not your products, but your money. These thieves send emails with questions, or they haunt sites like Craig's List, just hoping to find a victim. Will you be the victim they are looking for?

Will You be a Fraud Victim?


Sellers Need to Be on Guard Against Fraud

Most internet users are aware that it can be dangerous to buy from certain online sites, or on E-Bay or Craig's List, and they keep their guard up. They are careful about to whom they give their credit card information.

Sometimes, though, especially in this recession period when sales may be slower, sellers aren't so careful about the way they vet their customers. So when that email comes asking if they accept credit cards or cashier's checks, they don't recognize a scam artist at work. Please note that in my examples, the mistakes in spelling and grammar are quotes from customer emails.

How Can Merchants Can Protect Themselves Against Fraud?

Examples of Fraudulent Emails

Let's look at this one, which closely resembles most of these emails I receive:


Subject line: Purchase Inquiry

There are a couple of books i want to order from you on behalf of
customer.I just want to confirm how soon you ship after processing and
confirming payment.
Also, i intend to pay by check,if you are ok with it, please email
me your name, address and phone number which i'll use in making out the
check for you. I'll be paying the price tag on the books as i've seen
on your website including the shipping cost. Regards,
"Jim" (quotes are mine)


Let's look carefully at this. The first thing to check is the English. You will notice several mistake, most prominently the small case "i." It ought to be a capital. There are also spacing errors. This person is not himself the customer. He appears to want a drop ship arrangement for "his" customer. He wants to know how soon I will ship after processing his check payment. (Long enough to see if the check clears?)

He has asked for address information which is clearly visible on all my sites. Has he even been to my site? He has not mentioned what exactly he wants to order so that I may confirm that it is in stock. He states he will pay the price listed on my site for the books, but does not inquire about how much he should include to cover shipping.

Does this not seem strange? Would you order something from a dealer you don't know, offering to pay with a check, when you don't know how much the total will be with shipping? Wouldn't you want to know that the dealer has the item you want for sure before sending your money? Most real customers would want all the facts up front before sending a check. I am quite sure this is a fraudulent customer.

I Don't Sell These

Pressing Garlic with a Garlic Press
Pressing Garlic with a Garlic Press | Source

The Case of the Garlic Press

A variation of this approach is seen in this email I received from a customer this December. As I often do, I shared this on a booksellers discussion list. Here's my post with the email intact:


I love this one I just got. Garlic Press is the name of one of my publishers from Eugene Oregon. Subject heading is "order needed."

Dear Customer,
My name is Larry ...and this order is an individual order. and i will like to make a purchase of a (Garlic Press) and i will be more happy if you can email me with the types and Prices that you have for sale as well........Please let me know if you do accept credit card as a form of payment, and that will be pick up at your location ....

Hope to read back from you soon..

Kind Regards

Shows a really close reading of my web page, huh? He even forgot to remove the parentheses where he's supposed to fill in the product name. How stupid do they think we are.


Again, note the broken English and the indication that this fellow has no idea what I really sell. He doesn't want to buy anything. He wants to pay me with a fraudulent credit card have someone pick up the product at my location so that they can make away with it before I know the card isn't good. Or, they will want to pay much more than the product's price and have me give the change to the fellow who picks up, knowing that I will never see the money. Usually a person like this will want to pay with a large cashier's check (fake) and have you give the messenger a lot of money. It's the old Nigerian scam again.

My Garlic Press Math Book Catalog Page

This is what a customer would have seen had he read my offerings from Garlic Press, the name of an educational book publisher which was then located in Eugene Oregon. Do you anywhere see a picture or description of a tool for pressing garlic?
This is what a customer would have seen had he read my offerings from Garlic Press, the name of an educational book publisher which was then located in Eugene Oregon. Do you anywhere see a picture or description of a tool for pressing garlic? | Source

Take-out Order Emails

This is a new one for me in the scam emails. They even want multiples of books I don't carry.

Hello how are you doing today my name is Thomas My Mom birthday is coming up on the 20th of march and i will like to place an order for 150 grilled chicken salad in individual pack for the 150 guest, it will be pick up by 3pm on the given date and i will like to inform you that am ready to make the full payment with my credit card today so can i know the total cost for the order plus tax.....get back to me with this following information below.

Restaurant address:

Personal cell number:

Total cost for my order plus tax:

Type of the credit card you accept



Aside from the topic, since I'm a bookseller and have never advertised as a restaurant, by now you should be able to recognize all the signs that this is a scammer. I and the booksellers I passed it to got a good laugh out of it.

Do You Take Cashier Check?

My boss need house by this weekend.
My boss need house by this weekend.

Craig's List Fraud

I don't use Craig's list very often because so many scammers hang out there, but we did have a house for rent -- a nice expensive home -- in a very nice area of California. Unfortunately, my email from the scammer who replied to our ad is on my old computer, so I can't share it with you. The gist of it was that he wanted to rent it for his boss in London who would be coming to this country by the next weekend and needed the place now -- sight unseen, and wanted to put the deposit down by cashier's check for an amount that was higher than called for, wanting the difference back when the fellow came to the property.

We did not bite. No one in his right mind will rent a property he has not looked at that requires a lease, and then want you to accept a cashier's check over the required amount so you can give some of it back to his representative. Oh yes. The email was also in broken English with many mistakes.

New Bibles Not for Sale Here


Booksellers Beware

Booksellers seem to be frequent targets of these scammers. Most of my fellow booksellers at pass these scam emails around for a laugh on our list because we've seen enough of them to smell them from across the ocean. Occasionally someone gets one so "good" he really is unsure if it's a scam or not, and then we see how many got the exact same email.

The most frequent one that gets sent to booksellers is the one from the customer who would like to buy 50 Black's Law Dictionaries or 100 of a specific kind of expensive Bible that none of us have for sale. If you reply to say you don't sell that item, they will try something else to see if you have it. They obviously don't care what it is -- as long as you will take their fraudulent check or credit card.

The other frequent scam that hits only Christian booksellers is the very "Christian" plea for free Bibles for their church in Nigeria (or some other place on the African continent). It usually begins something like "Beloved in Christ." It then goes into the reasons why these Bibles are so urgently needed, etc., with the normal mistakes in English I've come to expect from scammers. Again, these scammers ask for specific high-value Bibles, new, that are not advertised anywhere on my websites. Sometimes these "pastors" who use spiritual language my Christian friends would never use to ask for something, just want you to send them money, and their appeal is the usual Nigerian scam with a spiritual disguise.

Don't Let This Cyber Crook Fool You!


Remember to Read Emails Carefully to Detect Fraud

I hope these examples of fraudulent customer contacts will help you to discern when someone is trying to victimize you. Be on your guard whenever the English is bad, there is no specific product mentioned -- just payment methods -- and it's evident the person has no idea what your product is and has probably not even been to your site. This customer will usually also ask for the speediest form of shipping if he hasn't told you someone will pick up the item. Be careful out there.

What's Your Experience with Fraudulent Customer Emails?

Have you ever received one of the types of fraudulent email inquiries described above?

See results

© 2011 Barbara Radisavljevic


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