Episode 4: All About Internet Scams and Scammers

An Internet romance can seem to be a good story until you discover some red flags. In our fourth episode of Long Distance Short, Ally and experts from RussianFlora.com discuss dating scams, ways to identify scammers’ methods and avoid them, and they’ll teach you what a scam’s true intentions are.

 

INTRO

 

Welcome to another episode of Long Distance Short, Gift Baskets Overseas.com’s podcast where we talk to real people about the triumphs and tribulations in all kinds of long-distance relationships. Your host is Ally Winters, an international gift consultant who’s found success in her own long-distance romances and friendships.

 

Today’s Topic is All About Internet Scams and Scammers. Our guests are Margaret Crow and Hannah Bailey (Oksana). Each of them has many years of experience at RussianFlora.com making sure customers receive gorgeous romantic gifts and excellent service – including protecting them from scams. Today, they’ll tell you how to spot a scam, and how RussianFlora.com handles a scammer when they’re discovered. You’ll be ready to find real love in your long-distance relationships after this episode. So let’s hand it over to Ally!

 

ALLY

Hi everybody! My name is Ally, and today we’re raising the question of dating scams. Our experts are Margaret and Hannah (Oksana) from an international flower delivery company, RussianFlora.com. These ladies deal with scammers on a daily basis and have a good understanding of who scammers are and how to deal with them. Hi, dears! How’s it going?

 

MARGARET

It’s going great, Ally, thank you, and you?

 

ALLY

Just fine! You, Hannah?

 

HANNAH

I’m fine, too — thank you for asking, Ally!

 

ALLY

So, Margaret, Hannah, can you describe what your roles in the company are, and how exactly you deal with scammers?

 

MARGARET

Sure! So, my name is Margaret, and I’m the head of the Customer Service and Support team at RussianFlora.com. While most of my time I dedicate to the team, its development, performance, and needs, I still deal a lot with the day-to-day gift orders, and their senders and recipients. Within the last six years in the company, I think I have gained some experience and expertise in these matters because we’ve come across a large number of scam issues.

 

In our format, scammers are individuals, of both male and female gender, who pretend to be lonely attractive women, often in financial need, willing to have strong, committed relationships with a Western man. Scammers play on emotional triggers of their victims to get them to provide gifts, money, sometimes even personal details — but we don’t come across those cases too much. The internet, with all its dating websites, applications, and social media, actually provides accessibility and anonymity for this deception.

 

The largest percent of scams we’ve observed are in the CIS countries, Nigeria, and Ghana. At RussianFlora.com, we deal with scammers being gift recipients: they provide senders with fake information about themselves. Therefore, our customers place orders for fake names, fake addresses, phone numbers — and since our gifts are hand-delivered by local florists, recipients are always called in advance for the arrangement of delivery time and place. And that is when problems begin and deliveries fail, because florists are unable to locate the intended recipients at the provided addresses, or get ahold of them over the phone numbers provided.

 

HANNAH

I’m Hannah, and I’m the head of the Customer Order Processing department at RussianFlora.com. I work on order processing together with the team. I deal with our local suppliers and recipients, and whenever a difficult case arises, I always pay special attention to it. During my eight years in the company, I have seen a lot of different issues, scam issues are among them. 

Margaret and her team do their best to identify scams at the early stages when the client has just placed the order on the website; and as for our team, we deal with scam deliveries once they’ve already happened. So I’m proud to say that, thanks to your team, Margaret, and thanks to your efficient work, the cases when a scam order goes further are quite rare.

 

MARGARET

Thank you so much, Hannah, I appreciate that. Your team deals very efficiently with the actual scam deliveries that, unfortunately, do happen. Thank you so much for your cooperation!

 

HANNAH

This is mutual, thank you, Margaret!

 

ALLY

You guys are so nice! (laugh) If we talk about the internet [as a platform to meet people], everybody knows that it can be quite tricky, and we never know what the person [on the other side] can end up being — but maybe you have some tips on how to detect scams at the early stages of communication, in order to prevent us from these negative emotions?

 

MARGARET

Well, I did a little research on this matter, and I found this website that’s called www.scamwatch.gov.au that, I believe, suggests reasonable things. Here’s a couple of signs to look out for.

 

  • You meet someone online and, after just a few contacts, they express strong feelings for you, and ask to chat with you privately.
  • Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page is not consistent with what they tell you. For example, they say they are university-educated, but their English is poor.
  • After gaining your trust, they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts, or your bank account or credit card details.
  • If you don’t send what they ask straight away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money or gifts, they continue to ask you to send more.
  • They don’t keep their promises, and always have an excuse for why they can’t travel to meet you, or why they always need more money.

 

ALLY

 

Yes, I totally agree. I also faced some scam orders in the past. I remember my first experience dealing with the scammers: I had been working as a freelance translator for a period of time, and once, I was working on a project where I had to translate some romantic letters from English to Russian and vice-versa.

 

So, my client was exchanging emails with a woman who didn’t speak English, and the client obviously didn’t speak Russian; everything was going quite smoothly until the lady suggested using a specific translation company to translate the emails. Basically, that was when I understood that the lady was just trying to make some money on translation and that she worked for that specific translation company.

 

So I had to gently notify the client about the money, and, although he’d employed me for the project, the lady wouldn’t stop insisting on using the services of her company — so I basically lost my chance of working for him, but I think I did everything right, and empathy was the most important thing at that moment.

But what are your criteria in detecting a scam, is there some kind of pattern?

 

MARGARET

Well, there are a lot, but on their own, they don’t necessarily point to a scam: we only start worrying when a number of criteria are combined in one order. For example, one of the most popular criteria is the strange email addresses of the recipients. To provide some examples, we had cases of [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] — you know, some… When it feels like it’s a fake email address, it is the first red flag for us.

 

Then, it happens very often that recipients claim they don’t have a cell phone, and the delivery must be made to an address provided, or to a post office, or to a friend, or whatever; and this is extremely alarming because it’s 2019 — everybody has a cell phone! So, whenever a woman tells you that she doesn’t have a cell phone, it is tremendously alarming — pay attention to that.

 

We had cases when the recipients were saying they didn’t have a cell phone, and the customers were actually giving them expensive cell phones — they were ordering expensive cell phones like iPhones or Samsung smartphones though our company, intending to deliver those smartphones to the recipients. And it happened that we identified scams on those stages.

 

Apart from that, other red flags are recipients being unreachable over the phone or email; remote delivery locations, like a tiny, tiny town somewhere in the post-Soviet Union, often with an incomplete street address; recipients’ words contradicting the couriers’, like when she insists that the gift must be delivered at the given address, or that no one called her or attempted the delivery, while our courier, who we trust and who we’ve been working with for many years, is saying that the delivery attempt was made, that the recipient wasn’t there, and so on. This is also alarming.

ALLY

Sure.

 

HANNAH

And I agree with Margaret — as Margaret said, we always call recipients to verify the delivery address, and in case the address is incorrect or incomplete, it could be one of the signs of a scam — surely, together with the other criteria we mentioned. But there could be cases when the address is completely searchable on the internet, but in reality, it turns out to be not a residential address, but an office or a company where nobody knows the recipient.

 

And I remember that the worst scam orders were when our couriers arrived at addresses that existed virtually, but there were no such addresses in reality. And in the majority of orders where there is an issue with an address, the recipient does not pick up the phone, or the phone can be unavailable. And if the recipient asks the courier to deliver to another address, or tells the courier to pass the order to some other person because he or she will get the gift on her behalf, it is also kind of a scam alert for us.

 

ALLY

Hannah, and by the way, why do scammers ask to send gifts to the addresses they’re not living at? For example, how can they get the gift sent to a corporate office, if they’re not there? What’s their goal, usually?

 

HANNAH

Difficult to say what the goal of the scammer is, but it [such tactics] could be used to ask to leave the gift at the reception desk and just give the name, so that when the recipient comes and asks: “Has anybody left a gift for me? Because I asked to leave it [at the reception desk].” Or it can just be an acquaintance of the scammer who works at the company, so nobody would know that the gift was received by the scammer — the gift can just be for someone in the company.

 

But that is only me guessing; in fact, I cannot tell you what the goal is, because it is difficult to understand the psychology of the scammer. But those are the speculations that come to mind.

 

MARGARET

I can also add something on the matter; I think that it also happens that a flower bouquet, or a gift basket with chocolates or fruit that people sometimes order on our website, is not actually the main goal of the scammer. And the gift basket or the flower bouquet that the sender might be sending to his recipient, who is, in fact, a scammer, is actually sort of a test. So the sender just wants to make sure that his recipient has provided him with truthful information, and that they can receive the gift that was sent to them.

 

But in fact, the recipient can just say: “Yes, I got your bouquet!”, when in fact they didn’t. And if they said they got the gift, the sender might think that it’s all right, that it’s a real person — “So, perhaps, I can now send her money!” Or a phone, you know. So, a gift basket or a flower bouquet can sometimes just be a test, to make sure the recipient is real — in order to send something more expensive afterwards.

 

HANNAH

I agree with you, Margaret, that it could be a kind of test, absolutely agreed.

 

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ALLY

And, of course, after the test has been done, the clients expect your company to tell them what actually happened, to make sure that everything went well, correct?

 

MARGARET

Yes, of course. There have been cases, actually, when the recipient just told us directly: “Just tell the customer I got the gift.” — When, in fact, we had issues and couldn’t deliver the gift because the address was incorrect, or the recipient didn’t answer the phone. So they send us an email or a WhatsApp message: “Just tell him that the gift was received!” And we never, ever lie to our customers, we never change the address without a confirmation of the customer, so it’s quite impossible to trick a customer using our company.

 

ALLY

Okay, thank you! Could you maybe share a pattern or an example of a scammy order?

 

MARGARET

Well, honestly, I try not to store this kind of information in my memory, but overall, most of the stories are quite the same: a Western customer, often from the US or the European Union, is ordering a gift for a female recipient in a CIS country, or Ghana, or Nigeria; the recipient’s details look incomplete, or incorrect, or inconsistent. Sometimes, the last name or the phone number is missing; then, of course, we put the order on hold, and we ask the customer to obtain the necessary details, or at least provide us with the recipient’s email address so that we have an alternative way of reaching out to her and verifying everything by ourselves.

 

Then we either get a working number and process the order as per usual, or the recipient remains unreachable — sometimes even to the client himself, when the client has insisted to get a working phone number. Sometimes the recipients just disappear — that’s when they understand it’s getting too serious and they can’t actually commit to this deception anymore.

 

Sometimes we have the necessary delivery information, but we won’t know it’s fake until the local florist actually attempts calling the recipient. It also happens that a florist or our team is calling the presumably female recipient, but a man is answering the call, saying he’s the recipient’s friend, or brother, or father, or whatever. And this is very weird, this is very alarming.

 

Sometimes, despite our warnings that it will likely result in a lost or stolen gift, the customers still insist on delivering the gift and leaving it at the reception, or by the door at the given address, or with the neighbors — just because the recipients insist they do so. In those cases, often florists cannot locate the recipients at provided addresses at all since other people are living there, who’ve never heard of the recipients.

 

Sometimes the recipients ask to deliver the gift to a post office, or a shop, or any other location but for their residential address — and this is also quite suspicious. And they ask us not to tell the sender about it. Which we do (laugh) — as I have already mentioned, we do.

 

HANNAH

And I do not remember many scammy orders, but I can give an example of one of the recent ones that seemed suspicious. It was a delivery to a small town in Ukraine, and the recipient was reachable on the phone, but what was suspicious was that on the very date of the delivery, the recipient herself called our courier and explained that she needs to go urgently to another city for a conference and that she will stay in that city for a few days.

 

She didn’t even know when she would be able to get back to her town, so she preferred the delivery to take place in the new city where she would be at the conference. Strangely, she did not know the address where she would be staying and thought that it would be better to meet with our courier somewhere in a shopping center or in a park.

 

Surely, our courier informed us about this, and we, in turn, relayed this information to the client — and this recipient’s behavior seemed strange not only to us but to the client himself. So we informed the client that we suspected a scam here, and he cancelled the order.

 

ALLY

So, kind of a happy ending — maybe not for the client, but at least he saved some money.

 

HANNAH

Yes! That was some efficient work of the entire company, and we saved the client’s money, though I’m not sure if the client was happy or not, to realize that the recipient is a scammer; but at least he had the common sense and decided not to proceed with that order.

 

ALLY

Yeah. So, how do you deal with a scam after you’ve identified it and decided you may want to check it?

 

HANNAH

So, if the Customer Service and Support team at RussianFlora.com detects a scam at the stage when the order is being verified, then they update the client about our suspicions and offer cancellation with a possibility of a full refund. But, in a case when we are not absolutely sure that the order is scammy, then we process the order, and we get all the items packed and prepared for delivery.

 

And in case the recipient is unreachable and it raises our suspicion, we offer the client a test visit by our courier. In such a case, the courier can go to the provided address and checks if the recipient really exists and if there is such an address. And, if everything is fine, then we inform the client about it, and the client will proceed with the order.

 

And in a case when there is no such address or the recipient does not exist, then the client only pays for this courier’s service, and doesn’t pay for the gift. But if the delivery attempt has already been made once, and then it turns out that the recipient is a scammer, then, unfortunately, a need could arise to cover the cost of some perishable items, as well as the cost of the courier service.

 

And, on our end, we do our best to smooth out the unpleasantness of the situation for the client. We never charge our clients in full when the order is scammy; we believe that, although it is a sad story and it is very unpleasant to realize that the recipient is a scammer, still, it is better to know the truth sooner than later.

 

ALLY

Yes, I totally agree.

 

HANNAH

 

But anyway, I’m sure that there are a lot of happy stories of people meeting online, and there are many happy couples who got married — so there is always hope!

 

MARGARET

Yes. Thank God there is! In fact, we have plenty, plenty of customers who have actually been ordering with us for years, and they keep ordering to the same gift recipients from the CIS countries, or Nigeria, or Ghana — so those are returning customers, returning recipients, and we know, as a matter of fact, that true love stories exist, and even though we come through a lot of negative experiences, there is still a lot of pure relationships. So, don’t stop looking for your love!

 

HANNAH

And people never know what their real love is until they finally meet it.

 

MARGARET

Exactly! Yeah.

 

ALLY

Thank you so much! That was very informative, and I hope that the listeners of this episode will get a lot of useful information and will apply it in their life. And I hope that there are fewer scammers and more happiness in our lives! So, thank you.

 

MARGARET

Thanks so much for having us, Ally, and GiftBasketsOverseas.com!

 

HANNAH

Thank you, Ally, for inviting us!

 

ALLY

You’re welcome, as always!

Thank you once again, and we hope to see our listeners again in a month’s time here on our website. It’s Long Distance Short — your long-distance relationship podcast.

Thanks for listening to “Long Distance Short” — GiftBasketsOverseas.com’s podcast with real people in real long-distance relationships. Make sure to subscribe, and keep tuning in for a new episode every month. If you have any questions or ideas for a future podcast, make sure to drop us a line at [email protected] — that’s [email protected].