Bay Area lumber dealers are on high alert after thieves tried—in some cases successfully—to obtain building supplies using fraudulent credit card numbers over the phone.
Building materials are attractive targets for such swindlers, because they are expensive, in high demand, and commonly sold by the truckload.
After being hit with two such scams within 30 days, Economy Lumber, Campbell, Ca., briefed all employees and stopped allowing credit card orders by phone except to known customers. When a third suspicious call came in soon after, the transaction was spiked.
In early May, San Mateo Lumber Co., San Mateo, Ca., received a similar phone order, but warned the caller he would have to show the card and ID, and sign when he arrived. San Mateo pulled the $9,000 worth of materials. But when a common carrier truck arrived to pick them up, the driver drove off upon realizing no card, no signature, no merchandise.
Here are several red flags that tipped these dealers off:
- The buyer is from out of the area. San Mateo’s suspicious order, according to John Myers, “came from across the Bay, which is close to Economy Lumber. It didn’t make sense that they would drive across the bridge.”
- Orders are big ones. The first Economy thief ordered four highly expensive tools, totaling $1,800.
- Facts or requirements suddenly change or are oddly flexible. The most recent Economy scammer originally said his job was in Sun Valley. When questioned about the distance, he said it was actually in Santa Clara. He wanted 350 sheets of OSB. When told he’d need to show his card, he was willing to settle for 250 sheets instead.
- Their first card is declined, so they offer others. The first Economy crook tried four bad numbers, before he found one that was approved. John Saunders explained, “They can buy lists of credit card numbers with expiration dates. One out of 20 might work. So they’ll try the first one and if it fails, they’ll say, ‘Try this one.’”
- The buyer won’t show the card. Dealers are now limiting phone sales to small amounts or to regular longtime customers. “Sixty percent of my credit card sales are over the phone,” Myers said. But if he wants to make sure the bank stands behind the sale, he needs a paper trail.