There are a lot of variations on the theme, but the gist is the same: We like you and we want to help you make money. The poor English is most-easily explained by posing as being from China or some other land where English is not the first language.My name is Ma Jian; I represent the company Good Goods Co. Ltd, Сhina, Hong Kong. Your resume posted on the job website has impressed the human resources department of our company, and it is an honor for us to offer you the position Sales Representative/Project Manager at our company.
Thanks to one Consumer Ally reader who took most of the bait thanks in part to an elaborate and -- at first glance -- legitimate-sounding scheme, we all can have a look at what happens if you actually respond to one of these e-mails.
And despite some initial misgivings, he went so far as to set up an limited liability company (LLC) and a merchant bank account, per Good Goods Co. Ltd.'s instructions.
Fortunately, he contacted Consumer Ally before consummating the deal, and we were able to reveal the true nature of this offer -- an intricate Internet scam originating in Russia. But his story bears repeating as a cautionary tale of how even an educated and experienced professional familiar with Internet scams can almost get taken by sophisticated scammers.
The reader, who we'll call George because of his wish to remain anonymous, is a semi-retired, professional services technology territory executive from the greater Salt Lake City, Utah area, who happened to be looking for opportunities to work from home.
In early July, he received the above e-mail, which said Good Goods Co. Ltd. was entering the U.S. market and looking for people to manage its e-commerce websites, which would peddle a range of Chinese-made consumer products. If George was willing to register an LLC and establish a merchant bank account to handle credit-card purchases, Ma Jian promised him a 10% commission on each sale, which he said would amount to at least $2,000 per month.
George said he tends to delete e-mails like this one, but said it looked different from typical Internet scams, due largely to all the official-looking documents they forwarded him in response to his many questions about the venture. These documents included Good Goods' certificate of incorporation, a two-page page FAQ, a seven-page contractor agreement and a detailed set of instructions on how to get started, including how to incorporate, establish an LLC and and set up a merchant bank account.
Good Goods even provided a suggested list of banks, including a few which it did not recommend (perhaps because some of its customers have already been burned by Good Goods Co. Ltd.): "We don't advice the banks: Wachovia Bank, US Bank, Chase Bank."
Despite the poor English, George said he'd done business with people in Hong Kong before, and didn't find the error-filled communications unusual. So he spent $70 to establish an LLC in Utah and applied for a merchant account at his local Wells Fargo Bank. But even as he laid the groundwork, he became suspicious.
The first red flag concerned a background check. "They said it would take three to four days to perform a background check," said George. "But they only asked for my name, address and phone number and approved me the very next day."
Other elements of the deal also began to trouble George, so he voiced his concerns to Wells Fargo, who despite raising no objections to his merchant account application, began to share his suspicions. "I'm surprised their underwriter approved this," George says now, with the benefit of hindsight.
In response to a Consumer Ally request for comment, a local Wells Fargo representative said he was not in a position to discuss the merchant account approval and forwarded our request to the appropriate parties, who did not immediately respond.
Although George had all the pieces in place to launch his new venture, he remained hesitant, and contacted Consumer Ally a few days ago to see what we could learn about Good Goods.
"I always delete these sort of offers immediately whenever I get them, but this one, for some reason looked more legitimate, maybe not," he wrote in a e-mail. "That is my concern before I pull any triggers."
Luckily for George, we were able to quickly expose this scam and prove that Good Goods Co. Ltd. is completely illegitimate for the following reasons:
The phone number listed on the Good Goods website actually belongs to a legitimate Hong Kong company, ChemFreight Hong Kong Ltd.
The fax number provided by Ma Jian showed up on Fraudwatch International's fake job offer warning.
A demonstration e-commerce website sent to George by Ma Jian is "currently not available."
Perhaps even more damning, we used Whois to determine that the supposedly Hong Kong-based Good Goods site is registered to one Aleksandr Kotlyakov, who lives in selo Divnomorskoye, a southwestern Russian region on the shores of the Black Sea. Russia has long been recognized as major source of Internet scams, and a New York Times report on an global Internet security conference in April underscored U.S. concerns over the Russian government's failure to crack down on its cybercriminals.
Consumer Ally also attempted to contact Ma Jian; Donald Wu, "Chief Manager of the USA market of Good Goods Co. Ltd.;" as well as an e-mail address listed on the Good Goods' site for a comment. Despite the dozens of e-mails they exchanged with George, Consumer Ally has yet to receive a response.
When informed that Good Goods Co. Ltd., was another of the innumerable Russian Internet scams victimizing consumers around the globe, George said, "I can't believe at my age and experience I was almost duped by this. Am I the only sucker that has gone this far?"
Probably not. And probably not the last, either.