In my 15+ years of doing business online, I have lost money to scammers many times, so I thought I would show an example of one particular scam I fell for, as a warning for other webmasters who might be in a similar situation. And, what makes it unusual is that eventually I was able to get an admission of guilt from the scammer. Here’s what happened:
A year ago I decided to setup minisites (small, content based sites) on 4000 of my unused domain names. Because Google frowns on having duplicate content on sites, I decided to make it so each of my minisites had mostly unique content. I could have paid article writers to write articles for each of my domains one by one (like on GetMortgages.com for example they would write mortgage related articles), but since I have domains that cover almost any topic, it was a lot cheaper and faster to instead just buy pre-written articles in bulk from dozens of different writers. Many article writers have a big backlog of unsold articles, and some also have articles that they have written for other customers but then never got paid for because the customer backed out. It is usually very hard for anybody to sell articles like these in bulk because most webmasters only want very specific types of articles for whatever site they are building, so I was able to buy these articles at less than half the usual prices.
Over a 2-3 month period I bought around 14,000 articles from dozens of different writers (most of which I found at http://forums.digitalpoint.com/forumdisplay.php?f=76). The problem is that either I had to trust the article writer by prepaying them or they had to send me the articles ahead of time and trust that I would pay. This worked out fine for most of my transactions, but the article writing business is notorious for fraud. Many writers sell articles as “unique” even though they have already sold them to other clients (this makes them almost worthless), or they sell articles as unique but which were really copied from other sites (these are also worthless), or they sell articles as unique but they are really automated article rewrites (there are a bunch of inexpensive programs called article spinners that take an original article and then change the words by using synonyms and changing the order of the words, which work but the articles sound awful). There are also some writers who ask for prepayment, and then for one reason or another never get the work done.
I had all of these types of problems on a small scale with various writers but overall I was happy with the articles I purchased, and over time I learned how to avoid getting ripped off. But, there was one writer that scammed me out of $2000, and I am still mad about it over a year later. What it came down to was that I was busy that day and in a rush and made a critical mistake. I will get to that in a minute though. Here’s what transpired:
I made a deal with Navendra Pillai (email: email@example.com) to buy $2000 worth of articles (I think at $1 per article) he had written already but had not sold. He convinced me to prepay him, which I did, but he never sent me any of the articles. Normally I would just dispute the charge with Paypal.com and try to get my money back, but the critical mistake I made was that I was out of my office when he sent me the request for the $2000 so I paid using the Paypal app on my Blackberry. What I did not realize at the time was that all payments made that way went through as personal payments, not as business payments (even though the app used my business Paypal account), and there was no way to request a refund from Payal for personal payments. So, I was screwed.
Then, a few months later, Navendra Pillai tried to sell me more articles using a different name and email address (Ganesha Pillai – firstname.lastname@example.org). By then I had dealt with so many article writers I did not recognize he had the same last name but luckily after going back and forth with him a few times I got suspicious and did some checking and found a forum posting talking about how email@example.com is really Navendra Pillai and how he defrauded a bunch of people. When I confronted him with this info he wrote: “I’m sorry you are talking to the wrong guy here my name is Vinod ganesha Pillai.. If you’re not interested just please tell ur not interested.. Will look elsewhere to sell those articles…don’t determine another person because you were fooled before. Thanks and regards. Nice doing job with ya..”
After I sent him a few more emails (I kept the conversation going by pretending I might buy some new articles from him if he first delivered the ones he owed me) he finally gave in and admitted his guilt. He wrote: “I’m really sorry to scam you… And others i did not scam them is just that sometimes they work as writers for me and the clients dun pay so i couldn’t pay.. Thats the matter. In your case i supposed to send the articles and than somethings happened and it made be to be a scammer.. Will make sure such incidents wont happen again. Sorry and thanks for asking for articles from me again..”
The next day he then wrote: “Well i would like to tell you this, I got to know about freelance writing thing and all at the age of 18 and i recruited certain reliable writers and started our work as a team of writers and wrote lots of articles for clients and websites. The work was going on all and after sometime certain clients so called clients made bulk orders and so on so we worked on it and they suddenly disappeared with the articles. And i was the one to be blamed and i took all the responsibilities and i paid some of them from my own pocket and i lost lots of money because few writers threatened to lodge police report against me and certain writers understood my situation. Thats why you can see lots of people posted that i’m a scammer and so on. If anyone in my position also would have done so. I’m not a very rich guy either studying somemore. Can’ be expecting my parents for all my studies expanses and so on. I was a scholarship student doing my Chemical Engineering Degree. And my scholarship was ripped off because i didnt do one of my semester well. It was all because of the clients scammed and the things i got from my writers. I even do not know whether the writers have sold my articles not.. Maybe they would have sold them as PLR articles too i’m not sure. Thats why i’m not confident at all that the articles may pass copyscape. Moreover, because i was mad at a client who scammed me more than $10,000 where he promised and never kept the promise and just disappeared. Than that time i got to know you and you requested articles from me from my previous email. I thought i want to be honest and provide all the articles to you. But the hatred against the client made me to scam you.. I am in regret doing such thing to you. But this time i really wanted to do business with you and clear all the articles. But like what everyone says you can never run away from the mischiefs you do. I agree with that. Even i gave my mothers particular and her account because i want the money to go to her. Let’s say the articles don’t pass copyscape and the have been used by others i know it is fair for me not to be paid. But, i’m really in a bad situation that i am in need of money i’m ready to do anything for you and even ready to work for you for years if only you can give me $3000 to $4000. I will really appreciate your help friend. i am ready to do any task for you. Please do help me. I have a big faith and believe in you. Just if i manage to finish my course i can pay the amount borrowed within months. I am to finish my studies next year begining friend. I am really looking forward for your help. I know you came up in your life with hardwork and so on. I would like to take you as my role model and start working harder with your guidelines if you’re to help me friend. SO really looking forward to your help.”
I of course did not do any more business with him, but I was at least happy I got him to admit his mistakes. Also, in case it helps potential future scam victims identify him, he emailed me his wire payment info:
MALAYAN BANKING BERHAD
NAME : MAHESWARI D/O RASANGAM
Swift Code: MBBEMYKL
Account Number: 112455313678
When he emailed me this wire info, he wrote “..this account belongs to my mother. So i can never scam friend.”
When you run hundreds of sites like I do, bad situations like this are just the cost of doing business, but each time something like this happens I learn from it and in the future try not to make the same mistakes again.
To help other people avoid getting scammed when paying for goods or services online, I have the following tips:
1. Always Google the person (or company) you are dealing with. Google their name, and then separately Google their email address, and see what comes up. Also, put quotes around their name so Google only shows results matching that exact name. If there are a lot of results, try Googling their name or email with the word scam after it like: “Navendra Pillai” scam
2. Be vary wary of prepaying somebody by wiring them or using Western Union, because there is no way to ever get it back.
3. Most people will tell you that if you pay by Paypal there is no risk because you can just dispute the charge (like with a credit card), but they are misinformed. I have initiated dozens of Paypal disputes and, assuming you are disputing a transactions for virtual/intangable goods (not something that is physically shipped) or a service, it is almost impossible to win. Paypal will not even listen to a dispute involving virtual goods (like articles). It does not matter if it was a total scam or you are just not happy with the quality of what you received. The only time I have won a dispute like that was then the seller did not respond at all (or maybe they approved the refund when Paypal emailed them that I was disputing it).
4. Refuse to pay anything up front. If needed, give partial payments as the work progresses. For example, if it is a $2000 project, pay them $100 immediately after they do the first $100 worth of work, and then keep making payment as they do more work.
5. When possible, use an escrow service, such as escrow.com. This greatly reduces the risk for both the buyer and the seller.