Scam Targets Fire and Security Product Resellers

Dealers warned of scam that seeks bogus deal on specialty units

A more and more common offer is hitting some fire and security installing companies and equipment resellers. The offer often arrives in the form of an email with a request to purchase a number of pieces of specialized equipment, such as smoke detectors or security cameras.

The offer comes like a business God-send: A buyer willing to pay full price for a high number of units, willing to pay for fast shipping and ready to pay immediately by credit card. It sounds too good to be true, and apparently it is.

According to a number of businesses who have seen the scam arrive in their in-boxes, the criminals have the reseller, distributor or installer sell them the equipment, ship it overnight, and pay by a bogus credit card. The goal, apparently, is that by the time the credit card companies flag the transaction as bogus, the equipment is already in the hands of the bad guys, and you're stuck with a loss on possibly hundreds of units. The equipment ends up in online auctions and online classified advertisements, and you're left empty-handed.

"They get you to ship them overnight and then the credit card charge is cancelled," explained Robin Phillips, the fire systems manager with a large, Texas-based fire detection systems installer, who keeps a close eye out for such scams targeted toward his staff. "By the time you find out, they have closed up shop and have your detectors, and are on their way to selling them on eBay or other auction sites."

Recent emails from members of a national alarm installing association indicate that the scams are continuing to hit a number of installing and reselling companies. Fortunately, most respondents report that they have not been fooled.

Identifying the Scam

Often the scams first arrive in a generic manner, addressed simply to sales and request a product that you may have listed on your website. Sometimes the scammers don't even list a specific product, but are just seeking a price. The M.O. of the scammers is to find a total cost including shipping (often overseas) and then to provide credit card payment information via email.

Typically written generically by those without a mastery of English, the scams come across as awkward. Most often, the buyer knows very little about the product he/she is ordering. The best identification, of course, is that a theoretical customer (the scammer) is willing to pay full retail price, plus expedited shipping and willing to work with a company that he or she has never done business before.

The overseas nature of these scams, of course, makes them exceedingly difficult to prosecute, and the most that most businesses who fall for the scam can hope for is that their shipping company can catch the shipment before its delivered and that they will be able to return the equipment overage to the vendor. Some have reported that they were completely taken by the scam, while others were able to recover the equipment from the shipper.

A real-world scam

One security and fire protection company provided with the actual email trail of a potential scam that was caught before units were shipped. Here is how it worked in its progression (privacy information removed by The scammer asked for a number of smoke detectors, but no brand was initially specified.

The salesperson, eager to make a sale, replied to the scammer's email:

We have [item brand name removed] smoke detectors. There are several models. Do you have a specific model in mind? Are you trying to meet a specification? Or do you just have a specific application in mind? The more information, the better.

The scammer then replied:

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