The old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” continues to be words of wisdom even in the 21st century. I have lost count of the number of scams we have been exposed to since we started this little soap endeavor. First, I question how we even end up on anyone’s criminal radar. Second, they must be small-time criminals to be hitting up a handmade soap company. Lastly, I would like to say I’m too smart and savvy to be taken, but that simply isn’t true.
Internet and telephone scams are abundant. We receive several emails per month beginning with, “Salutations Sir or Madam.” Those emails are a dead giveaway: they are “sus,” as my former military friend says, meaning suspect. We never fall for those, ever. Also, the language used is often a clue that whatever they are offering/peddling/inquiring about isn’t legitimate. We don’t even open those emails; they go directly to the Junk Mail folder. However, there was one instance that both myself and The Bibbed Wonder were almost on the brink of falling for a scam.
We received an email from an individual stating that he owned a bed and breakfast and would like to purchase our products for his guests. He inquired about size, weight, scent, and inventory. The grammar was impeccable. The language was professional and accurate. The name given sounded believable. We emailed the individual back, asking for more information and detail but being careful not to give out any information. The individual asked if he could call us at the number given on our website. We, of course, agreed. When we spoke to this man, he was professional, polite, articulate, and very convincing. However, as the conversation went on, red flags began to appear.
First, he inquired about our inventory. I could only give him a ballpark figure and told him I would count and get back to him. He responded with, “I don’t need specific numbers. I’ll take it all.” Hmmmmm, what business owner isn’t worried about exact numbers? The next red flag appeared when he wanted to use his shipping company. The third red flag was when he wanted our debit card information to give to his shipping company. The last and final red flag was when he got belligerent when we needed time to consider his offer. When we looked up the address of his “bed and breakfast,” it appeared on Google Maps as an abandoned warehouse. When we Googled his business name, there were no matches with the address given. When we Googled “private shipping company scam,” we were flooded with information. We wasted hours on this guy. Luckily, we didn’t fall for his scam. Thank goodness for Google and following a gut feeling. However, we came too close to being taken for comfort.
We have not always been so lucky. The Bibbed Wonder intercepted an email from a charitable group I will call The Starving Orphans of Tennessee because I can’t remember the name given. This “charitable group” contacted us inquiring about soap for a back-to-school program for underprivileged kids. They offered to purchase the soap at a wholesale cost, which seemed legit. Eric Googled the group, and they appeared to be authentic. We did some background checking and leg work to ensure they were not a scam and felt confident the group was genuine. We offered to donate soaps to the group because it seemed like the right thing to do; we both advocate education and want to give back when we can.
We created a special soap for this group, boxed it, labeled it, packed and shipped it to the address given. We emailed the contact that it was sent and asked for confirmation that it had arrived safely and on time, as well as asking for a tax receipt. We heard nothing again, ever. That was the first time we were taken. The second incident was an email from a down-and-out mother of four asking for seconds, ends, or “anything we could spare.” She stated she wants to provide her family with natural products but can’t afford them. We looked this mother up on Facebook and found her. We Google Mapped her address, and it was convincing. We scoured the internet for possible scams and found nothing. So, we packaged up a big box of first quality soaps, moisturizers, and a few extras and mailed them out. We emailed the down-and-out mom a message of good wishes and again got nothing in response. We chalked it up to perhaps bad manners, too busy to respond, or ungracious behavior until we received a similar pleading email at the same time of year from a different down-and-out mom. As the saying goes, burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me. I’m not sure there is a black market for handmade soap, but it seems to be a commodity. Sigh.
Today, we are cautious about charitable groups, wholesale accounts, and making donations. If it is community-based, someone we know, a familiar charity, or a vetted friend of a friend, we are always happy to donate. As a small business and trying to be a decent human, we have our pet projects and groups we have personal ties to that we give to regularly. It’s crucial not to allow bad experiences to jade one, but it is also essential not to let someone take advantage of kindness. I will not allow kindness to be a weakness; I just have to be smart and cautious. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like there are more criminals out there than good people. We have to be careful who we allow into our world and, of course, guard our bank card information with our lives.
As always, dear reader, stay safe, be smart, be cautiously generous, and of course, wash your hands-preferably, not with soap bought on the black market.