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Unpacking a Potential Wine Scam

A little more than a decade ago, I got a scam email that was a fairly sophisticated attempting to cheat us out of thousands of dollars in shipping charges. I posted it on this blog, breaking down why it was a scam and what would have happened had I followed through, and heard from dozens of other members of the wine community that they'd received the same email and in researching its validity ended up at my blog. In a few cases I heard from people on the verge of wiring money to the fraudsters. And as versions of that scam email kept circulating over the subsequent decade the blog, I and other commenters kept updating the details until it became a kind of evolving archive of scam attempts and the names that the scammers were using. 

So, in that spirit, I'm sharing the following scam email I received a couple of weeks ago:

From: TONY NOVICK [mailto: [email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, April 27, 2023 10:51 AM
Subject: TOUR

Dear Sir/Madam,

How are you? I hope this mail meets you well and in good health. I"m writing to make an inquiry.

I am one of 20th members in a private wine club in the United Kingdom that we call "TERROIR ELITE CLUB". 20 of us are going to visit your place and we are staying in a house around your area.

From there we will travel around and see different places and especially we are going to see some wineries, estates, cellars, Vineyards, breweries, distilleries, Museums and extra virgin oil facilities so we wonder if it's possible to visit your facility on FRIDAY, 25TH OF AUGUST, 2023 and maybe taste some of your wines, beer, spirits, extra virgin oil or any other of your regional products?

However, We are also free to undertake in any other kind of tours, guided tours, visits, leisure experiences or adventurous activities.

If you will be available on the requested date, urgently send us your quotation and total cost for the 20 persons coming to your facility for "TOUR" or "VISIT" on FRIDAY, 25TH OF AUGUST, 2023.

Finally, if our date is not suitable for you, get back to us since our date of visitation is still flexible.

Thanks in advance

Yours Faithfully,

Mr. Tony Novick.

ADDRESS: 33 Great Queen St, London
United Kingdom
EMAIL: [email protected]

NB: All replies and correspondence to be forwarded to "[email protected]

As I did last time, I'll break down why it's tempting, what gives it away as a scam, and what might have happened had I followed through.

Why it works
Like most scams, the note plays on a winery's desire to believe that their profile is high enough that people they don't know will search them out. And we do get inquiries to visit from people and groups that we don't know all the time. Getting 20 visitors who are members of a private wine club in the United Kingdom seemingly offers a pretty good chance of a substantial sale. And unlike many scams the written English in the email is believable. Not flawless, but believable. And there's no hard ask here... no request for money or banking information, nothing even that seems suspicious. That might encourage someone to reply, thinking that they have little to lose and allowing the scammers to make further contact with someone they know is potentially interested.

Why it's a fake
First, there is no mention of the name of the winery or even more suspiciously the town or region in the letter. If you're going to try to reach out to Tablas Creek to schedule a visit, wouldn't you mention Paso Robles in the note? Second, it's pretty clear they're casting a wide net. They're interested in visiting not just cellars, estates, wineries, breweries, and distilleries, but Museums? Apologies to our adorable Pioneer Museum, but no one comes to Paso Robles to go to museums. And also open to other sorts of "tours, guided tours, visits, leisure experiences or adventurous activities"? Stretches credibility. Third, there was no visible "to:" address, and my address was in the hidden "bcc:" field, presumably because this was sent to many hundreds or thousands of emails hoping one or more would bite. Fourth, when I plug the address that Mr. Novick gives into Google Maps it returns a barbershop, Ted's Grooming Room. Fifth, the return address is a yandex.com address, a Russian domain not widely used in the UK. And sixth, how many people named Tony Novick are likely to have their actual email be "[email protected]"?

What would happen if I followed through
There is a tremendously informative Facebook post by Bacchus Winery in Virginia, from January of 2020. They share a nearly identical letter, though at that time it was purportedly from a Gabriel Dawney, and the name of the club was "Bacchus Klaus". Bacchus's owner replied to the note quoting a modest tasting fee and received a check for more than £3,500, or over $5,000: 

In his notes, he reports that if he'd deposited the check he'd have given routing information to the fraudsters. I don't think that's right, especially if (as I'm sure is the case) the check is fraudulent. Instead, what seems likely is that the purported visitors would ask that the overpay be returned to them in some non-cancellable form like a wire transfer or a Western Union payment. If the business resists, they would likely become more and more insistent and eventually threatening about repayment. When your bank rejects the fraudulent check, you'd be out whatever you'd refunded for their "overpayment". The fraudsters, probably in Russia given their email address, face little risk of enforcement.

It's not clear that there's anything that the American authorities can do about this. Relations between the United States and Russia are far from cordial at the moment, and a report of petty crime is unlikely to be pursued, let alone lead to any action against perpetrators. Plus, email addresses are easy to spoof, and at relatively small sums law enforcement usually doesn't even bother to try. So, Tony Novick, or Gabriel Dawney, or whoever you are, you'll have to make do without a visit to our winery, estate, cellar, vineyard, brewery, distillery, and/or museum. Seller beware.