Over the last few days, I have been dealing with this issue. I hope that by reading about my experience, it will help you to avoid scams and prevent you from becoming the next victim of “James Collins”.
On a random Saturday, a text message came through on my personal phone from somebody named James Collins, requesting a web design. I had no idea how this individual had gotten possession of my personal phone number, but assumed he was directed to me via word of mouth. His exact text was this:
“Hello, My name is James Collins, I would like to know if you can handle website design for a new company and also if you do you [sic] accept credit cards ?”
I thought, “Great! A potential client willing to actually pay!”. I responded professionally to the message and asked to speak over the phone. “James” responded almost immediately, asking for my email address before we moved forward.
In less than a minute after sending it, I received an email from a “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
“I hope this is correct email? please reply me so i can give you the scope of work. Thanks”
After a couple of emails from my end requesting to speak over the phone and being properly ignored, I received an email on the scope of the project:
I have business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in IL and the company is based on Heavy Haul and transportation , i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible .http://acmetruck.com/…. I have a private consultant that has the text content and logo for the site . the site would only be information, so i need you to give me an estimate.
I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to
check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
6. i want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My budget is $2000 to $5000
8.Give me your personal cell phone number
9.Are you the Owner
Another variation of this same scam can be seen over at Treehouse
Being busy, the obvious screaming red flags were not noticed. Plus, I had dealt with paying clients who have been much poorer at communicating. In the past, their money was still green, so I answered the questions and gave “James Collins” a quote. He was happy with the price, but still continued to ignore my requests to speak on the phone. That caught my attention, so I googled the phone number that the texts were coming from, nothing. Calling the number was even more fruitless as the answering machine was of a young girl speaking, maybe 5-8 years old. Scam.
The next day I decided to contact James again and ask him why he disappeared. He texted me now from a different number, claiming it was his other line. At this point I knew it was some kind of scam, I just wasn’t sure of what kind exactly.
Wasting time being a favored hobby of mine, I decided to take the scammer for a ride. (You can read the full text conversations at the bottom of the page) The goal here was to find out exactly how this scam worked and warn everybody that I could, as well as to waste the scammers time. Lastly, to contact the credit card companies with the stolen card numbers in which “James” had possession of.
So I played along with his requests to overcharge the card and deposit cash into his “graphic designers” account. By this time James was, again, using a different phone number to converse.
I knew this scammer had a long list of stolen credit cards, probably purchased off of the deep web. So I figured that that if I said one was declined, he would quickly provide another stolen card number. This way I could report two cards and prevent a couple people from being victims of this fraud.
With very little effort I was able to get a couple credit card numbers, googled ‘which credit card begins with 5466’, then called Mastercard. It turns out that Mastercard wasn’t entirely prepared for the event- apparently not many people call saying they have stolen credit card numbers that are being used in an online scam involving Nigerians and web developers.
Long story short- avoid scams. Keep your head up for anything out of the ordinary. Business is extremely static and most professionals handle situations in a very similar fashion. Take this experience as another lesson out there for the independent contractor. Finally, be wary of credit cards in this line of work; since anyone can file a ‘fraudulent charge’, and most of the time the merchant pays the refund giving the buyer the benefit of the doubt.
If you’re still here, you can read the full scam text conversation below.
Thanks for reading and take care,