The Rise of Container Scams And How To Get In Front Of Them.
Shipping container scammers are making waves across Canada as they attempt to piggy-back off of the hard-earned reputation of many legitimate businesses, preying on innocent consumers who simply want some storage space. These scammers often walk away with thousands of dollars and leave people in the dust with hardly a trace left behind and little recourse.
Secure-Rite Mobile Storage has taken stock of the characteristics and details that some of these shipping container scammers have exhibited over the years, and we hope to equip consumers and businesses with some of the red flags to be aware of amidst these scams:
How Container Scammers Are Operating
Container scammers are operating from illegitimate websites, Facebook Marketplace, and Kijiji ads, and they are using several tactics to try and sway innocent consumers.
Some of these scamming tactics include:
- There are scammers that are intercepting company e-mails and recreating the look and feel of them. They will then proceed to send a message to the client stating that they have changed bank accounts and prompting the client to send their payment to the new bank account. The fact is, most established companies seldom change bank accounts. If you get a message from any of your suppliers with new banking information, it is best to phone them and ask if they have just changed their bank account. This little tip has saved many companies from sending payments to scammer's bank accounts.
- Customers being invited to come and view containers, but told they need to put down a deposit first prior to viewing because inventory is selling out fast. Alternatively, the company in question claims that they do not offer delivery, or indicates over the phone that you are not allowed to visit their “Yard”.
- Customers are told they have to send an EFT, and that they will not accept a credit card (credit card payments can be reversed a lot easier than an EFT). Once the payment is received, the scammer stops responding and the container is never delivered. This impacts both the customer, whose money is lost, and the container business whose name was used and whose reputation is now tarnished.
- Scammers are telling customers that they are supported/affiliated with legitimate and established companies to try and gain trust. If this happens, call the company they are allegedly affiliated with to confirm.
- Facebook Marketplace is a hot spot for container scammers – interested prospects will message the Facebook seller and ask to see the unit at the yard, and end up in silence as there will be no follow-up. Check to see when the seller joined Facebook and steer clear if they just joined and have no connections.
- Scammer prices are far below industry (sometimes by half). As we have all heard so often – “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”
- None of the containers listed on these websites have company names or serial numbers on the containers, and when you speak to them on the phone, they come right out and say those units are just “samples” and not available. Scammers will often use what are clearly generic stock photos.
- When you receive a quote from them, the e-mail address is a Quickbooks or obscure e-mail address not related to their business, and one that does not match their website address or business name. You can confirm with Quickbooks whether or not this e-mail address is “inactive”.
- Their IP address keeps changing, making them very difficult to trace or locate.
- Fake companies usually have many typos and poor grammar on their website
- These companies rarely answer your call, but will call you back once they have screened and verified you as a potential customer (versus law enforcement, for example). When you call/receive a call from the numbers listed on their website, they will render as different locations on your call log.
How Consumers Can Protect Themselves Against Online Container Scams
Though the internet can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to e-commerce, there are ways to use the internet to your advantage and protect yourself by researching business legitimacy through domain checkers, reviews, industry articles, social media presence, reports, and more.
Here are some ways that consumers can safeguard themselves against container scams:
Do Not Share Any Banking Information!
The success of these container scammers depends on how quickly they can acquire money from an unsuspecting buyer’s bank account. Beware if you are asked to provide this information too early on.
Confirm How Long A Website’s Domain Name Has Been Active
A great way to avoid being caught up in a container scam is to validate how long the website domain has been active. We recommend using Whois to verify the legitimacy of a domain. Most legitimate companies will have a website that is older and established while a scammer’s site will be new since they put them up and take them down on a seemingly daily basis. The younger the site, the less you should trust them. Also be sure to check the website’s URL spelling: one trick scammers use is to clone popular websites, changing only one or two letters of the URL or by adding a hyphen, hoping people don’t notice that they are the fake version of the website.
While reviews can be faked, it is another step you can take to help avoid dealing with scammers. Depend on Google or Facebook Reviews to avoid being taken by illegitimate referrals.
Consult The Better Business Bureau
This is an excellent way to research a business’ legitimacy and ethical standing in the marketplace. You can see whether this business is registered at all, and if so, if there have been any complaints filed, as well as their rating.
Ask About Customs Clearing
Shipping containers were merely a transport solution once upon a time. If you are thinking of buying a shipping container through an online supplier, make sure it is cleared through customs. This process starts with the provider, who will provide necessary documentation certifying that the container is customs cleared.
Survey Prices With Other Suppliers
Just like you would with other products, ask comparable vendors for a quote. This will give you an idea about how much containers are going for in the marketplace. Scammers like to advertise prices that are unusually low and too good to be true.
Verify Company Address And Name In Google Maps
An established and legitimate business will likely have a verified listing on Google Maps. If the company shows up and the profile is verified, but the contact information doesn’t match what you see on the website, then trust the contact information on the verified Google Maps profile. Google uses strict verification methods to avoid scammers abusing the platform and violating consumer trust.
Ask To View The Container On-Site
If you ask to view the container on-site and the voice on the other end says “no,” then that is a major red flag. A real company has no reason to say ‘no’ to you viewing containers in person. They will actually encourage it because that ensures a customer is confident in what they’re buying.
Used containers are wind and water tight, but legitimate companies are not able to offer warranties on them. If you are being offered a warranty for a used container, there is a good chance the seller is fraudulent.
What Legitimate Container Businesses Can Do To Protect Themselves And Their Community
Secure-Rite Mobile Storage’s Calgary location was targeted in a shipping container scam in January 2021; luckily, no customers were tricked out of any money, and there were several steps that we took to combat it and inform the public immediately. Read the news story, or our press statement.
Here is what we learned:
- Take legal action – though it is difficult to catch and stop online scammers, it is everyone’s duty to report scams when they see them happening, especially if it may affect innocent clients. Have a Cease-and-Desist Letter drafted if the scammer is claiming your name, business addresses, or other proprietary information. Document everything and report it to the RCMP and local police, as well as to the Anti-Fraud Centre. There is always residual evidence left over by scammers that could lead the authorities to identifying them or locating them, whether it be IP addresses or even contacting the webmaster to shut them down.
- Put a sign in your yards to warn of scammers, and telling people to only buy containers from you, with your markings on them.
- It is important to point out if you are not affiliated or partnered with any other companies or brands.
- You can point out where you advertise and what your typical purchase process is. Say, “WE DO NOT …”:
- For example, Secure-Rite DOES NOT ask prospects to send us pictures of the unit they wish to purchase. We will send photos or invite you to look at the container first hand. Scammers often ask people to send pictures, when in turn they can just use these photos in the future with clear serial numbers and claim them as their own.
- Equip your staff with the information and procedures they need to field inquiries or other reports of these scams.
What You Can Expect From Secure-Rite
We would like to reassure our community, that Secure-Rite Mobile Storage has been in business since 2005, and when you come to us, you can expect consistency, transparency, and excellent service.
- You can expect to see our advertising on Google, Kijiji, Facebook, and our website.
- Secure-Rite sells and rents its own containers, we do not go through third-parties or other vendors. Secure-Rite Mobile Storage is a family-owned and operated business with no franchising or affiliates.
- While mobile storage is what we offer, we are community lovers and advocates. Take a look at how Secure-Rite does some good.
- Customer Service Representatives with local knowledge at each of our locations will answer the phone, and will happily welcome you to our yards and provide you with straight-forward information.
- We offer delivery and we insist that our clients come to the yard to hand-pick their container first.
- All Secure-Rite containers have shipping lines and numbers clearly indicated on them, as well as our logo.
- Any quotes or e-mails you get from us are always sent from a Secure-Rite e-mail address.
We ask our community to be diligent in their research, and if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If you come across a scam of this nature, please call the police immediately, make it known to your community if your business has been targeted, and continue to equip your staff and community at large with the information they need to identify these scams and avoid falling victim to them.