Hello to another web design project scam

Just not too long ago, I got tricked into a chargeback scam. Even though I had eventually gotten all my money back (plus more!) I considered it a very useful lesson learned. Little would I expect I could put what I have learned into good use again so soon. Like, now!

I’ll cut to the chase. It started by me receiving this inquiry sent through my contact form:

Your website link: NA
Your budget: “I can commit minimum SGD 600 per month for 12 months”
Your organisation:
Your name: Martins Jefferson
Your email address: [email protected]
Your contact number:
Best time to call:
Your Skype ID:
About your business:

Hello Good day,

How are you doing? Please advice if you do web design? and do you accept credit cards.

Thank you and expecting to read back from you so i can forward more details.

Regards,

Martins Jefferson

Right away, I could raise a few red flags:
1) Suspicious looking name;
2) Even more suspicious looking email address!

Biggest giveaway is the way this person asked the question:

“Please advice if you do web design?”
Really? Couldn’t you tell already from my website?

Then the next question, “do you accept credit cards”.
Straightaway my scam radar got activated!

I wanted to give him the benefit of doubt, so I responded to him:

Hello Martins, thank you for getting in touch.

> How are you doing? Please advice if you do web design? and do you accept credit cards.

I’m well. I do web design. And I accept credit cards.

I would like to hear more about what you need and how can I help. Do tell?

His reply came in about 3 hours later:

Hello Dean,

Thanks for your swift response

Here is the job details

I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa so 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://www.agroamerica.com.… the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.

Note:

1. 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 yourtopfarmproduce.com
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.

My budget is $10,000 to $30,000

Kindly get back to me with:

(1) an estimate
(2) your cell phone number
(3) And will like to know if you are the owner?

Regards,

Martins Jefferson

What’s wrong with this email? The budget! I have received RFQs with higher budget before. But in this case, the quoted budget doesn’t quite commensurate with the work required. Either he is so inexperienced, or he is simply a very generous person!

I decided to give him one more chance before I can safely conclude if he was for real or not:

Hello Martins, thank you for the details.

I had a look through www.agroamerica.com, it’s really not difficult for me to create something as nice (if not better). You can see my past work from my project showcase page: https://deanloh.com/work/

> 3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as yourtopfarmproduce.com

yourtopfarmproduce.com is already taken. But you may consider the following (better) alternatives:
yourtopproduce.farm
yourfarmproduce.top

Or you may find check out all the other available domain name extension other than .com at http://store.domainsifu.com/domain-registration

Now allow me to answer your other questions:

> (1) an estimate

I have only one price scheme, which is SGD600 per month (for minimum 12 months). You may read about how it works from this page: https://deanloh.com/how-it-works/

> (2) your cell phone number

+65 xxxxxxxx [sorry guys had to omit this]
May I have yours too?

> (3) And will like to know if you are the owner?

I’m operating under my company name Kaia Pte Ltd, and I’m the sole owner.

In terms of timeline, I have couple of projects in progress, but if you refer to the “How it works” page again, you can see I aim to get the beta site up and running within first month, this gives you more time to come up with more content if you will, while I am able to work on multiple websites concurrently. As long as you continue to pay me $600 per month, I will continue to improve/maintain your website. And yes, I will host the site for you too. Your site will be secure with SSL and top notch server (our hosting partner is WP Engine).

Feel free to give me a call if it’s easier for you. I start my day at 8am each work day till 4pm.

Lo and behold, then came his reply:

Hello Dean,

Thanks for your response and my number is +1 657 222 4807 and will go with yourtopproduce.farm,I am okay with the total cost,everything sounds good and I’m ready to make payment now with my Credit card.

I understand the content for this site would be needed so work can start ASAP but i will need a Little favor from you and the favor is that I will send you my credit card to charge the sum of $16,000.00 plus CC company charges, You will deduct $6,000 for the deposit design of the website and you will send the remaining $10,000 to the project consultant that has been handling all my consultancy and she has the text content and the logo for my website so once she receive the $6,000 she would send the text content,videos and logo needed for my website to you.

I would have love to make the payment directly to her,but she dont have the credit card facility to accommodate.Kindly get back to me so we can proceed with payment as soon as you ready to make a start.

Best Regards,

Martins Jefferson

Once again he made a brutal mistake: Where in my previous email did I say anything about $6,000?! I mentioned “$600 per month”, do some calculations and he will get $7,200 after multiplying it by 12. In my mind I was thinking “Horseh liao! Let the game begins!”

Hi Martins, your instructions sound straightforward enough. Unfortunately I have a little problem here… In Singapore, the monetary authority is very strict on money laundering. I know this is not your intention. I don’t think you are out to scam me either. But if I receive a charge of such big sum, the authority is likely to contact me and I will have to furnish them with details of the transaction and payer’s information. So it will help if you can send me the following details of yours, so I can forward it to the authority in my country it get clearance, then we can move forward with the transaction.

Your full name:
Your passport no.:
Country of issue:

Alternatively, if you want to avoid all these troubles, you may also TT the payment to me. Since TT is done through banks, the banks would have done the legwork for us.

If you insist on paying by credit card, then I will have to hold the payment for 40 days before I can release 10k to your consultant. Then for the same reasons I need your consultants details as above too.

Otherwise there is nothing I can do. By the way I have booked the domain name for you. I can only hold it for 4 days so please tell me your decision.

I purposely emphasised in the last paragraph that I “have” booked the domain name for him, fact is I didn’t. I just wanted to keep him on the hook. Did he take the bite? You bet he did!

Dean,

Thanks for your response. I can’t do a wire transfer due to my present location on the rig and don’t worry because the consultant will send you an invoice before he receives the funds from you.  Holding the payment for 40days will affect us because she will need the funds urgently to release the logos and other things.

Let me know if you can release the funds to her on time to enable me forward the details you requested.

Martins

I was starting to feel playful.

I understand you are on the rig. Do you mean oil rig? How’s oil business these days? Do you need a website for your oil business too? We can use the same strategy if we can make this work!

Back to the payment. Looks like I have to get your full details so I can submit the request to our authority to inform them that you are a legit business and you genuinely want to do business with me.

Actually, there is a loophole but I hesitate to mention. That is if you want to speed things up a little? Let me know and I will show you how.

I intentionally highlight his oil business, just to see if he had forgotten he was suppose to be in, or venturing into agriculture business.

Yes Oil business and i will give you the details of the job after this present one. What loophole is that? Can you show me? what exact details do you need from me to proceed?

By this time I was getting bored. This guy seemed a little amateur for the game. But I eventually replied to him anyway, just to see where would that bring us. Big part of me was hoping he would just quit.

Hi Martins, sorry for the delayed reply. I had to make a few calls to confirm some information.

Since you have been upfront with me, I want to be honest with you too. Actually, I have been having trouble finding a way to move a sum of funds out of Singapore (as you already know our monetary authority here is very strict!)

Now that we have this unique situation, I can take this opportunity to execute it. I need to move SGD250,000 to China, not in one go, but $50,000 at a time. I couldn’t do this without a “legitimate” reason. But now that I know you, and you will send me your contact details that I can submit to authority for clearance. Once approved, I can transfer the 10k + 60k to your consultant. Then I will send him/her the instruction about where to redirect the 40k to. If we can make this work, I will repeat the process until I move the entire SGD1.5 million out!

Seriously, no person in right mind would not think that I was being funny. But guess what?

Dean,

That shouldn’t be a problem and i will help you out. I will talk to my Consultant and hopefully he will do that for you. What are the exact details you need from me for the clearance?

Martins Jefferson

His last reply was 10 hours ago. I kind of ran out of idea. Maybe I can use your help? What should I do next?

Update on 1 Apr 2017

After waited for me for a day, this guy got impatient and sent me a follow up email:

Dean,

I am still waiting for your response. Thanks

Martins

At first I thought of just ignoring him. But as I was waiting for my son to finish school, I thought I could kill some time by replying to him:

Sorry Martin, I meant to write you sooner. There has been some technical issue now.

This has to do with the money deal which I told you about. Someone from Indonesia contacted me via email, told me he is going to send me $1.5 million dollars, in return, all I have to do is transfer $250,000 to his contact in China, then I can keep the rest of the money. At first I thought this is a lousy job, that’s why I thought I could just let your consultant do it. But this morning I did the calculation, it dawned on me $1.5 million is actually a lot of money! If I get this deal, I dont need to make websites anymore! I can move to Thailand right away and open a car workshop. You are in car business right? Is it a good business to invest in?

Then came his final reply:

Please stop all this rubbish..

Martins

I guess this makes the end of it? This guy is such a bad sport!

How I got scammed by chargeback, won the dispute, and actually made unexpected profit!

Early July this year, a lady from United States by the name Kimberly Adams contacted me via email, asking for quotation for creating a new website. Part of the job scopes required me to purchase a software for the website, from a developer who would only accept bitcoin as form of payment.

She admitted that she didn’t know a thing about bitcoin, so she’d rather leave it to someone who does. Me, at the time, had never used bitcoin either. But in all learning spirit, I decided to help and took up the job.

So I sent her the invoice for full cost of the software plus 50% of the fee for putting together the website, totalling at $2,035, which included credit card processing fee. I was that diligent.

She made the payment in the same evening, I waited for 3 days for the transaction to be completed and the funds were sitting in my account. Then I proceeded to acquire the bitcoins needed for the purchase of the software.

To which, I had an unlucky start with bitcoin. The website I was trying to purchase bitcoin from, had some technical issue. The money was sent through, but not registered in the system, so I didn’t receive any bitcoin in return. I spent next 3 weeks, sending email after email to the bitcoin vendor to follow through the mishap (they don’t have phone number). In the mean time, I made it a point to send daily updates to Kimberly to assure her that I was still trying to get hold of the bitcoin and I wasn’t giving up.

Eventually, I decided to spent another $1,000 to purchase bitcoin from another vendor and used it to place the order for the software.

The real nightmare began.

After paying $1,000 worth of bitcoins to the software developer, I didn’t receive any license code nor login info. I started another email chase with the software developer (once again, no phone number!) Though the developer did reply to “assure” me that they will send me the license code soon.

Until several weeks later, I received an email from my credit card processing company (Stripe), that someone had filed a dispute against the charge of $2,035 — the payment that “Kimberly” has made. And of course, I still haven’t receive any license code.

I immediately hit the software developer’s website, as I had expected, the website was gone. Needless to say, my next email to “Kimberly” was bounced back.

I got scammed for the first time, after being in the internet business for 16 years.

Even though $2,035 wasn’t a huge sum of money, the fighting spirit in me wasn’t willing to let this rest. I immediately compiled all my email conversations with “Kimberly” into PDF, together with copy of my invoice, sent to Stripe to contest against the dispute. The date was 18 August 2016.

Day after day, week after week, I logged in to Stripe to check on the dispute status, which showed no progress.

Until 20 minutes ago, an email arrived in my inbox, with the subject line that says “A dispute on charge xxx has been resolved in your favor”!

In case you are already lost, let me sum this up for you: Not only I won the dispute, I got back my money, I had actually profited about $1,000 from it. Remember the 50% I have collected, which I was supposed to build a website for “Kimberly”? Well I hadn’t started any work on it at all, since I was so caught up with bitcoin and the software developer who never delivered.

And, one more thing: The first bitcoin I tried to purchase? I had eventually received 100% of it. So there was no loss in bitcoin department.

I guess this is when people would say: All’s well that ends well, eh?

Footnotes:

  1. The website Kimberly wanted me to build, was meant to be hosted at www.humancapitalventure.com (which is obviously defunct now)
  2. The software I was asked to purchase was from hubstack.io (which apparently, is also defunct now)

42, still not yet a dragon

Early last year, I went to see geomancy master. She asked me if I have had difficult years so far? I said yes. She continued to tell me I was about to enter an even difficult 10-year phase starting from 41.

Today, I’m celebrating my 42nd birthday. Which means to say, 1/10 of the journey down, 9/10 to go! How depressing! Though, this will only work if I chose to believe what she said. Which, can be quite a struggle for me.

My religion forbids me from believing such practices. But I also cannot deny it had indeed been really challenging journey for me. I don’t consider myself very suay. I’m blessed to have married a good wife, who gave birth to two awesome kids. In the department of “Personal life”, I have nothing to complain. But when it comes to everything else, I find myself constantly fighting uphill battles.

Outsiders may think of me as someone who’s having a good life, good job and probably making tonnes of money. But very few would know how much blood an sweat I have to shed, what kind of struggles I have to go through each day just to make the next dollar. In fact, I would do the epic split on top of two Volvo trucks just to make my point!

Though, I’m also a fighter too. A stubborn fighter! So what if there are another nine difficult years to go? Or 19? Or 29? I’ll take them on, one day at a time!

Happy birthday to me!

Wealth

Imagine all of us were born with good deal of wealth. Then our parents continued to take care of our wealth during early years of our life. As we grew older, we slowly learned to manage our own wealth, but instead of working on preserving our wealth, we spent it carelessly. Until we realised we have little wealth left. Then we tried to start cumulating our wealth again, only then we realised we had to put in much more effort to make up what we have lost. It was also when we wished we had done something about it long ago.

Now, replace all the word “wealth” in this post with “health”. See my point now?

Lesson

This story goes back in the days when I was working in an agency.

One day I was tasked to blast out an EDM to database of 130,000 email addresses. Since it was a major blast, I had to do it at midnight while the internet traffic was low (during the days when broadband was still 1mbps).

The marcom director of our client has given the green light to blast out the EDM. While I was doing one final round of checks, I decided to prefix the word: <Promo> to the subject line, thinking that was the right thing to do. Finally I hit the “Send” button.

Half-an-hour later, the marcom director called my phone, asking if I added the word “Promo” to the subject line. I said “yes”.

“WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?!” The exact word from the other end of the phone line.

“Don’t you know we don’t and will never use the word ‘Promo’?! Because we will never run any promo!”

Honestly, I had no idea about that. But immediately I aborted the blast while it was still going on, though it had made it to about 3,000+ recipients already. I spent next 10 hours going through the sent log to sift out who were those 3,000+, and sent them the clarification email.

Boss asked to see me the next day to understand the incident.

I called up the marcom director again to apologise to him officially. I told him I was prepared to be fired, but surprised why I wasn’t. To which his reply was, after accepting my apology, “I’m glad your boss didn’t fire you. I wouldn’t too! If he had, the next guy who join the company may make the same mistake. Why risk that, instead of keeping you, who are already better than the next guy!”

Those kind words have become one of my guiding principals since.

I forgot to tell, the client was Apple.

Outlook of life 2.0

Ever since the encounter with the numerology master, my outlook of life has changed.

I used to questioned why there have to be difficult people in my life. People who give me hard times or heartaches. People who, come back for payback.

Well, to my revelation, these people might just be here for payback! And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the saying goes, “Owe money, pay money”. What I owe, I’m happy to pay back. Because of this belief, I started to feel a lot better.

Don’t get upset with people who don’t offer help. It might just because they were not in your debt;
Even if they were in your debt, don’t get too caught up with it. Let them have it for a while more. The payback will come anyway, sooner or later.

Don’t get put off by people who keep coming to you for help. It might just because you were in their debt;
Even if you don’t think you owed them anything, help them anyway. It is better to let someone to be in your debt, rather than the other way around.

You may disagree with what I have written here. And that’s OK. You don’t owe it to me to agree with it.

He who doesn't know can do no wrong

I suspect people who have committed wrong-doings, most of them didn’t know what they did was wrong.

A serial killer who killed many may think he did it for liberating the victims’ soul.
A dictator who started war may think he did it for his own people.
A pastor who spent millions of church funds on some outreach projects may think he did it, oh well, because it was the right thing to do.

People who did wrong things without knowing what they did was wrong, I suspect they are the most dangerous.

Sell the benefits, not the features.

I drafted this a long time ago, yet never got to finish it. Now as I look through it again, I thought it would be a waste not to publish it…

  • The example of AXE (shower gel for men sold in US): “Smell good and get chicks.” — kind of sums things up!
  • When you are trying to impress a girl, you don’t flaunt the size of your wallet, your car or your penis (but of course, if you are out to get a specific type of girls only,) but you actually need to DO something to impress her.
  • When you are applying for job, do not spend all day flaunting your certificates and qualifications, show your potential employer what you can actually do for the company.
  • When people are buying a car, few people would care if the car comes with XXX, YYY, ZZZ. Let them drive the car around the block and let them decide.
  • Apple never bangs on features, in fact, Apple products always lose out in terms of specifications. But does Apple not sell more iPods, iPhones, MacBooks than any other companies in the world?

Bald statement

I finally made the bald statement!*

*Translation: I participated in this year’s Hair for Hope by Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) and had my hair shaved!

It was supposedly my last year’s agenda. But I blur sotong never registered in advance, until that day only realised walk-in would take slightly longer than forever. So I told myself, “Must do it in 2015.” And, I did!

My affinity with CCF goes way back in 2001 during my early days in Singapore. Being new in town, my social circle consisted only the cow-workers. I needed to find something meaningful to do after working hours, so I signed up as volunteer at CCF and was assigned to befriend a P1 kid who was recovering from leukaemia. Since then I started to visit the boy every week and hung out with him. A chirpy Malay boy, whose father was funny, and mother who made super-yummy Rendang!! I had eventually switched my job and started to get busy, then I had to end the assignment and lost touch with the family. If only there was Facebook then…

This is why, I had always wanted to do something for CCF again, though it’s a shame that I took so long… but hey! I did it at last!

The last time I saw myself with really short hair was in my Primary school days, since then, my hair had been… longer than short. So I was half excited, half nervous to see myself with little hair again. I thought to myself: If it turns out the short hair doesn’t work too well for me, I can comfort myself that it was all in the name of charity.

So, about the outcome. Turns out I was actually quite happy with the result! In fact, I wanted it to be even shorter, short as in, totally bald. Skinhead bald! Hmm… imagine that look, coupled with my Doc Mart! But, I scraped that thought very quickly as I started to imagine the itch it may cause. Or will it not?

Funny thing is, now on, each time I looked into the mirror I thought I look like one of the recruits in Ah Boys to Men. It also suddenly dawned on me, why soldiers had to shave their hair — When everyone became look-alike, imagine the confusing look on enemy’s face…

kill-already
Pardon me for using this picture, Tom Hanks was definitely not the bad guy, but you get the idea.

The journey ahead

So I finally gathered enough courage to see the geomancy numerology master the other day. My religion is against such practice. So I’m taking it more as a science + statistics analysis. It’s 5,000 years of wisdom, should be interesting.

I had prepared to ask only one question: Am I heading towards the right direction. The answer that she gave me, isn’t what I had hoped to hear  (with little surprise, actually.)

In gist, though I’m good at what I do, she said, I will have to continue to struggle. Because that’s what I was destined to be. And, if this doesn’t sound bad enough already, I have just entered a new phase of tough years. A tough. 10 years. Ahead.

My choices were to continue doing what I’m doing, and continue to face the challenges. Or, I might have better chances of surviving the tough journey ahead if I just go work for others.

This set me on serious thinking mode.

Am I able to give up all that I have put together all these years with sweat and tears, with so much of heartbreaks and sleepless nights, and just go back to work for someone?

In fact, as I’m typing this, it suddenly dawned on me: I have been working for others all these years anyway! Who were they? My clients!

Each and everyone of them who paid me to build their website, were my bosses! In fact, I have had a pretty good ride, all the way until I started to think about “expanding”, that’s when things started to go south for me.

Yes. I’m still good at what I do. I should continue to work for my bosses. The only thing I need to give up, is stop thinking of becoming a boss. Which, I’m actually fine with it.

So, to all you (and you know who you are) who believed in me, thank you. You can continue to believe in me!