When I first started making soap, I joined an email soap making group. These groups typically provide incubation for the newby soap maker. There is a list mom who moderates the list and many generous members who dole out advice, recipes and their precious soap making secrets. In the larger soap making community outside of the typical Yahoo or other email list there is still a sense of shared destiny, opportunity and camaraderie that comes from being part of a community of shared interest.
Into this mix comes the opportunist. It is clear that scam artists abound on the internet, making use the captive audience of subscriber lists and groups that welcome anyone who wants to join to learn about their special topic.
Many scam artists are introduced to a wide audience by joining such groups, posing not so much as con artists with money to claim or any lame stories (even though these may exist) - but rather as the nonprofit that needs supplies, the person that wants samples and the large and small orders placed that will never be paid for.
You see, just as consumers change with the times, internet scam artists that prey on indie crafters and small businesses have responded to the changes in the economy by changing their tactics.
Kelly Bloom, owner of the Southern Soapers Yahoo Group says that instead of trying to get credit card information, crooks are taking tangible goods instead of the harder to get credit card information. And while she urges those on her own group to ignore the scam artist members who want to place very large orders and have it shipped overseas, she is aware that there are even more subtle and more benign ways that such crooks can dip into your pocketbook and make off with goods.
Crooks have figured out that it is easier to order free samples or place smaller orders that will never be paid for. Many online merchants, and especially smaller business owners assume most people who order their handmade goods are decent folks. Oftentimes, people who have a strong passion and attachment to the goods they make, have a hard time seeing it as pure merchandise. So they offer free samples just to get the product out into the marketplace and to share their handmade goodness with others. But on user lists when you multiply one order for samples times 100, then you have the makings of someone who has figured out how to take advantage of the numbers that such groups have.
Placing orders, large or small is another tactic used by crooks. The hope is that the merchant will ship out the goods before the check or money order arrives. Kelly Bloom says that after being burnt by that scam, she does not take orders paid with checks or money order anymore. "The problem...", says Kelly, "... is that you don't know when the check will come, and you are left holding goods for an indefinite period of time."
Ways to protect yourself
1. Always ignore emails asking for help with money problems. Remember no one gives away money. If it is too good to be true, it is not true.
2. If you receive a very large order - call the contact number and speak to someone about the order and verify the information. If the order is from overseas, get payment in full before sending order out. Another option is to not take overseas orders, or to exclude certain countries from the list of countries that the shopping cart will allow ordering and shipping from.
3. There are many legitimate nonprofit companies out there, but there are also scam artist pretending to have nonprofit status in order to get discount on goods and services. It is important to have such organization show documentation of 501(c)(3)status.
4. If you are a member of an email list or forum, alert the list mom or moderator of anything suspicious including solicitations for monetary help, large overseas orders, requests for samples from several members, etc.
Kelly Bloom, owner of Southern Soapers Yahoo Group and Southern Soapers Soap Supplies website was interviewed for this article.