Practical Ecommerce

When a Big Ecommerce Order Is Really a Scam

The email inquiry seems honest enough. A customer wants to place an order; perhaps she is even going to place a large order and wants to know if she can get a discount and quick delivery. But, unfortunately, the order could be a scam.

Fraud is a significant problem for retailers that most often happens when a buyer places an fraudulent online order via a stolen credit card. But retailers might also be the target of email scams.

Frequently, the thieves will act like a buyer with a question, and eventually end up asking you to pay a third-party for picking up products or accept unusual wire transfers.

Key Scam Indicators

Square, the payment solutions provider, offers its customers several tips for avoiding scams, beyond being careful not to process orders placed with stolen or compromised credit cards. These recommendations include the following.

  • “Never use a third party delivery service that you are not familiar with.”
  • “Never use part of a payment to wire or send money to a third party recommended by the customer.”
  • “Do not split large orders into multiple small payments.”
  • “Always ship to the same zip code as the credit card’s billing zip code.”
  • “Research your customer and call to discuss and confirm the order.”
  • “If you suspect fraud, stay calm and let the customer know you can’t accept the sale.”

To this list one might add:

  • Be wary of large orders;
  • Be careful of foreign orders;
  • Poor grammar should concern you;
  • Avoid accepting payments via email.

The Glove Order

Here is an example from a real exchange between a “customer” and a dutiful customer service representative. The conversation is paraphrased, but the punctuation and capitalization is from the original.

“Hello, my name is Danielle, I would like to order (Gloves), send me a price list of the ones you stock, and also let me know if you take credit card payments,” the short email read.

“Good morning, Danielle,” wrote the customer service representative. “Thanks for reaching out to us regarding gloves. You can order using a credit card from our website. Take care and let me know if you have any more questions.”

“Thanks for your responds. i checked on your website and i am interested in your products but i am not comfortable placing orders online, what if i let you know what i am interested in can you send me a quote via email? I will phone in to discuss and make a payment directly to you. Thanks and God Bless, Danielle.”

“Danielle, we can do that, not a problem. But so you know, there would be zero difference between you placing the order online and placing it over the phone with me. I will use the exact same online checkout that you would. In fact, using the website is more secure than giving me a credit card via email or over the phone. But, not a problem if you want me to place the order. Just let me know,” the customer service representative wrote.

“Thanks for your email reply back to me. I am very interested in your product, i checked on your website and i am interested in the Kinco Unlined Deerskin Driver Gloves Large and the Heritage Performance Hg286 Cold Weather Glove x-large adult. I need 130 pieces of both gloves and this product is going go be picked up from your location so please go ahead and send me an email with the quotation with the total cost of my order plus tax so we can proceed from there.”

After a brief conversation with a manager the customer service representative replied. “Hi Danielle. I have a few questions regarding your order. We have a few locations which one will you pick up at. Will you be picking this up or a third party? What is your time frame?”

“I can pick up at any of your locations,” Danielle wrote back.

“I am sorry, I don’t believe we will be able to help you with this order.”

Although the store might never know for certain that Danielle was not a real buyer interested in placing a $5,000 order, there were at least four indications that this was attempted fraud.

  • The order is large. Although it is certainly possible for customers to place large orders, someone that wanted a total of 260 gloves could probably go directly to a wholesale distributor and save money.

  • The items ordered is easy to resell. Gloves are fairly generic items that can be easily resold individually or in bulk lots. And gloves are not easy to trace or track.

  • Picking up the order is unusual. Most customers would much rather have you ship a large order to them rather than having to arrange for pick up themselves.

  • Poor punctuation and grammar. Although there are certainly crooks everywhere, poor grammar or punctuation is common in email scams.

The Horse Feed Inquiry

Here is another example from November of last year. A man called a store that is part of a brick-and-click chain asking about placing a large, overseas order. The store manager gave the would-be foreign customer contact information for the company’s ecommerce department, and after an exchange of pleasantries, he sent the following email.


Here are the list of items i want:

Equine Junior horse Feed

Quantity 100 BAGS

Equine Senior Horse Feed

Quantity 100 BAGS

Purina Horse Chow #200 Horse Feed

Quantity 100 BAGS


Purina Ultium Growth Horse Formula

Quantity 100 BAGS


Purina Omolene #200 Horse Feed

Quantity 100 BAGS

Delivery Address:

17 Hammer Strasse,

Basel-Stadt 4007



Concerning the shipping, the likes of UPS, DHL and others always don’t take care of the charges down here. Charges like handling,customs and duties etc. We have experienced such situation before and i don’t want to experience such thing again,you do not need to worry about the stress involve and all documentations because i have a shipping company that have delivered to me in the past,i really like their services so i will like you to contact them about the shipping.I will be glad if you contact this shipper [name removed] for the shipping quote.

They will take care of everything including handling, customs and duties,Tax, insurance etc,also you will be responsible for payment to [the logistics company] then all costs as far as shipping, taxes, duties, and insurance in addition to the costs of the product should be sent to me in a proforma invoice to be paid in advance of shipment.

Always send me the copy of email you send to them, pls email them with pick up address, shipping address and the weight of the order. Pls get back to me with the following once you hear back from them.

cost of items.

shipping cost

all additional cost (transfer fee)

total cost

so i can send you my credit card details for you to charge the total cost from it and get the shipping fees settled, then my order can be shipped out asap.”

The seller chose not to fulfill the order because:

  • The buyer wanted the seller to pay a third party;
  • The buyer was ordering particularly large quantities of resalable products;
  • The buyer wanted foreign delivery;
  • The buyer’s grammar and punctuation was off.

Later the seller looked up the delivery address provided. It was not the sort of place that could easily receive 25,000 pounds of horse feed.

If the street view on Google Maps is accurate, the delivery address is an odd place for horse feed.

If the street view on Google Maps is accurate, the delivery address is an odd place for horse feed.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Rurik Bradbury September 29, 2014 Reply

    Helpful tips, but I think they are too conservative. There are platforms now (like ours, that analyze transactions as they happen, and tell you based on hundreds of datapoints whether a purchase is fraud or not. “Yes” or “No” answer. Very hard for fraudsters to sneak past. I’d be happy to send more info/demo it for your readers.

  2. tellingittrue September 30, 2014 Reply

    Another tip off is that they have no intention
    of actually paying and never ask for a discount or better price due to quantity. I’ve
    even had them using the state service that
    translates and types responses for the deaf.
    If unsure I have taken their information and called Visa(or others) to determine if this is
    a valid transaction for the account owner. Have not been wrong yet, when in doubt do not do the deal. The downside is much more
    costly than the upside is profitable. If your instincts are acting up trust them.

  3. Casey Whitcher September 30, 2014 Reply

    In your original example you said the customer may ask for a discount…fraudsters don’t ask for discounts, it’s never the end all be all, but big orders with no easy discounts requested…… another red

  4. Elizabeth Ball September 30, 2014 Reply

    I used to dismiss these type of emails as soon as they wanted to know the prices – they were clearly listed – and the credit cards I took – ditto – as I sold customised astrology reports which are not a bulk purchase.
    However, while there are many clues yours is not a legitimate order, the fact the customer wants you to deliver it to a different address from their billing address is not in itself a clue to fraudulent activity as many people, especially in the holiday season, and for birthdays, wish to get the gift item shipped directly to their recipient.

  5. Derek September 30, 2014 Reply

    In most cases detecting a fraudulent order purchased outside the United States is easy because: (1) they pay for the fastest shipping service, (2) if their country is not on our list of countries we ship to, they include it anyway in the city text box or zip code, (3) the order is usually over $100 and (4) at least one credit card had been tried but failed before the one they used worked (I’ve seen more than 10 different cards being used before one worked).

    Fraud within the US is another story. It’s harder to detect but can be figured out with some investigating (more than 1 credit card number failed before another one worked and asking for proof of shipping residence if both billing & shipping address are the same).

    But there will always be some fraudsters who will get what they wanted and it was hard to pick up on. Just live & learn and move on and don’t be hard on yourself if the transaction got through.

  6. Elizabeth Ball October 4, 2014 Reply

    And sometimes it can look fraudulent but it’s really just a case of geography. For example, I was recently in the USA, trying to book tickets for an upcoming theatre show in London on my Australian credit card, with no luck (unsurprisingly).

  7. Carrie November 20, 2015 Reply

    Hi there! I would love to understand how this fraud works. I have recently been contacted by a person in switzerland for a large order, that falls into all the risk factors you indicated. However, what I dont’ understand is how this plays out? If I feel for it, prepared the order for their third party company to pick up, do they eventually request a refund? I am unsure of what hte frausters do after they ship money for product?

    • Armando Roggio November 20, 2015 Reply

      Carrie, fraudulent orders can “play out” in many different ways. Here is one example.

      1. You get the order ready.

      2. When the customer pays, he asks, if can you charge the payment card for the cost of the goods plus the third-party freight?

      3. Customer then asks you to write a check to the third-party freight company when they pick up the goods.

      4. In the end, the credit card is stolen, you are charged back for the payment, you’ve lost the money paid to the freight company, and you are out the product too.

  8. Melissa Monteiro December 7, 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much! I am a home based bakery and have received 3 TEXTS from people trying to order 250-1000 cupcakes. I became suspicious with the language and how pushy they were regarding pick up and estimates. I would respond that I would deliver them at no extra fee and also explain that I don’t have the capabilities for extremely large orders. One response was I will order 500 from you and get the other 500 from the store.

    • The Cookie Lady February 19, 2017 Reply

      That’s interesting. I am a bakery and a scammer contacted me as well wanting a really large order to be shipped to Belize. None of the details he provided checked out. Bogus address and telephone number and no social media presence or internet existence. He purportedly had a “shop” and wanted to resell my products. Strange since my products have a short shelf life. I told him that and he didn’t miss a beat. Didn’t seem to care. That was the main red flag for me. That and the urgency. Buying baked goods is not a dire situation. He made it seem so and kept pressuring me about the shipping date.