I got the following scam email over the weekend:
From: Tim Ferrone [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2011 2:44 PM
Subject: wine order
I don't know if you got my last e-mail but am resending it again due to the problem i had with my mail account. please respond as to know how to proceed.
Hello, My name is Tim Ferrone an American .I live and work here in Thailand. Actually when I was home last time in NY, I got a bottle of one of your wines from a friend as a gift and I loved it, Since then I have been planning on getting your wines for my wedding coming up soon, here in Thailand ,I got your contact through your website and I want to know if you will be able to supply me some cases of those wines.I will be making my payment via my American based credit card . I am registered with a shipping agency in USA, which has other representatives in USA .So you are not to get the wines shipped but the wines will be picked up at your location by this licensed shipping agency. The shipping agency have all the appropriate exportation documents and permits, Therefore concerning the shipping of the wines , I will refer you to this shipping company that will come for the pick up of the wines in your location once I have made my payment .They have got like items shipped to me here twice without any delay .Kindly get back to me so that I can make my orders.
At first, I was just going to delete the email, but then I thought that I might as well publicize it a bit should other people have received similar letters. It's actually fairly clever for its kind.
Why it works
The note plays on a winery's desire to believe that their fans are so loyal that they would go to the trouble of securing their own shipping agencies and their own importation permits just to get their wines into a country where the winery doesn't have distribution. And it's not unheard of; we have had several of our club members arrange to purchase wines for their domestic weddings. Plus, they offer the apparent security of payment with a US Credit Card. Wineries might feel comfortable letting the wines go if they thought they had already secured payment. Finally, the supposed orderer has a nice American name and an American-looking email address. Who knows... Tim Ferrone might even exist (though he's almost certainly not trying to order wine from us).
Why it's a fake
First, the writing is not quite credible for a native English speaker (and, honestly, who named "Tim" isn't a native English speaker). Second, there is no mention of the name of the winery in the letter. If you're going to try to convince Tablas Creek to send wine through an unusual arrangement to a faraway country, wouldn't you talk a little about what it is about Tablas, specifically, that would warrant such an expenditure of effort and money? That fact suggests that it was sent to hundreds or thousands of California wineries in the hopes that one or more will bite. On a related note, the "to" address is not to any visible address at Tablas Creek. The address to which it was sent (visible only when you view the headers) is firstname.lastname@example.org, not an address that many people would choose to address a letter like this to. Fourth, though most people wouldn't be expected to know this, Thailand has such expensive import duties on wine (adding nearly 400% of the wine's cost) that no one imports anything other than the cheapest stuff. Fifth, there is no Tim Ferrone in our mailing list database.
What would happen if I followed through
If you haven't read it before, there is a wonderful series on Mary Baker's Central Coast Wine Blogs site called Inside a Wine Scam. Her five-part exposé reads like a detective story, but the gist is that these sorts of wine scams almost all originate in (of all places) Lagos, Nigeria. The goal is to get wineries to receive payment for the wine on a credit card and then to wire money for shipping fees to a bank account. As the wines will have to be shipped overseas, the shipping fees are typically in the hundreds of dollars per case. When the credit card turns out to be stolen and the charges are reversed, the money for the shipping is gone. An American accomplice has removed the money from the account to which it was wired and (minus a fee) sent the rest off to Nigeria. Mary, in her piece, reprints the correspondence with the Nigerian scammer and even tracks down the American accomplice in Oklahoma.
It's not just wineries who have been victimized by these scams; wine retailers have been targeted, and as there's nothing specific about wine in the crime, it's easily transferrable to other consumer products. But shipping laws for wine are sufficiently labrynthine that it's just possible that wineries who are unfamiliar with export protocol will fall for it. And at a few thousand dollars as the potential payoff and with a fraction of a cent cost for each spam email, it must pay handsomely. The letter I received reads very much like the letter Mary posts, so it's possible it's even written by the same person, years later.
So, Tim Ferrone, whoever you are, you'll get no wine (or shipping fees) from us. And hopefully, another winery who might have been taken in will read this and save themselves both headache and money.