Stupidest scammers ever?
September 30, 2008 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Why would a credit card scammer ship fraudulently purchased items to the legitimate credit card holder's address?

Posting for a friend: She was recently notified by her credit card company that numerous purchases were made on her card in a three or four day period. These were all very small purchases (none were above $8), and the company took them off her account. Here's the kicker though -- the items started showing up at her house. What's the catch? First thought was that whoever has her information is trying to see if the cards are active in preparation for larger purchases, but then why would they ship the items to her house and tip her off that something is going on with her card? The items (most of which she returned unopened to the companies that sent them) appear to have ranged from grant-writing accessories (part of her job is grant-writing, but this might be a coincidence) to vitamin supplements (which immediately made me think that spam is somehow involved). If we're reading the credit card report correctly, the items appear to have been shipped from a variety of U.S. states.

This is not a frequently used card. She has used it for online purchases once, when she needed to make hotel reservations abroad in July. Any idea what's going on here? The card company is dealing with the problem on its end, and she's taking the necessary precautions to nip this in the bud and protect herself, but we're pretty puzzled about why these people would ship the items to her address. Thanks in advance.
posted by lassie to Work & Money (12 answers total)
I've heard that when credit card thieves can't ship to an alternate address, they'll try to get packages rerouted from an approved address. It may be that they tried and failed to change the delivery location, but it's strange that they'd do that with such small packages.
posted by Hermes32 at 2:51 PM on September 30, 2008

They hang around outside your house waiting for the UPS man to show and they sign for it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:52 PM on September 30, 2008

damn dirty ape: I don't know if that would work, since this isn't a suburban house we're talking about, but a huge apartment complex in Brooklyn. The delivery company rings your bell and then comes upstairs to your apartment with your package and gets you to sign for it. If you don't answer your door, they take the package away and leave you a note.
posted by lassie at 3:06 PM on September 30, 2008

Grant-writing accessories? I still think they are "prepping" the card for larger purchases. By picking things she might think she ordered herself there is less chance of her stopping the card.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:08 PM on September 30, 2008

Rock Steady: The reason I thought the grant-writing stuff was a coincidence is because even though she writes grants, she doesn't buy accessories to do so and even if she did, they'd be shipped to work and paid for by her employer. Besides, I have no idea how they could possibly know that she is involved in grant-writing. The other stuff she's getting (vitamin supplements and stuff) is most definitely not the kind of thing she'd order.

Hermes32 might be right, but I'd still be interested in hearing from anyone else who has experience with this, or other bright thoughts about what's going on.
posted by lassie at 3:16 PM on September 30, 2008

I work for an online business and we occasionally see these kinds of transactions. Our theory is that, as you say, they're using us to test the card for validity.
Once the small order goes through, they can use the card at a big electronics site - or sell it online.
Presumably, there's a window of a couple weeks before the small items are delivered to the unwitting consumer.
posted by mrnutty at 3:23 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

FWIW credit card thieves also like to run small amounts through charities or nonprofits for the same reason--just to check if the number is actually good.
posted by flug at 3:26 PM on September 30, 2008

An older version of this (possibly still in use) was to use the card to purchase $1 of gas, running the card through the pump. If the card is rejected, you can just drive away.

I suspect that this is why gas pumps now ask for your zip code.
posted by zippy at 5:38 PM on September 30, 2008

If they're purchasing grant-writing accessories and she's involved in grant writing, then she *might* want to look at this as more than a credit card scam. This could be the run-up to a full-blown identity theft.

My thinking here: there aren't many grant writers, really, so the odds that the scammers just "happened" to order something closely related to her job are pretty slim. If they were just scamming a credit card, there's no reason to know what her job is; ergo, there's something more at stake here.

If I were in her position at this point, and suspected a possible identity theft, I'd want to change all relevant passwords and PINs, and check my credit report ASAP (and probably again in a couple of months, just to make sure).

This might be a little alarmist, but that's not my call.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 5:40 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with 5MeoCMP and would err on the side of caution; tell her to put a freeze on her credit.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:25 PM on September 30, 2008

Just to clarify, she is already taking steps to protect herself and her credit. I'm more interested in why these people might have shipped these items to her address. At this point, I suspect that Hermes32 and mrnutty might be closest to an answer, although I'd love to hear from anyone else who thinks of something else. Thanks to all who've weighed in thus far.
posted by lassie at 8:31 PM on September 30, 2008

They ship it to your address because credit card companies sometimes won't ship to a new address and require you to add your new shipping location to the list of approved addresses.

I tried to order a computer from NewEgg and ran into some Wells Fargo anti-fraud protection. Had to call them up and tell them to ship it to my apartment (different from my permanent address).

I assume the crooks wouldn't want to do this.
posted by abdulf at 8:41 PM on September 30, 2008

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