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Traffic website business for sale scam 4

It took a few days, but I finally figured out the business I was ready to buy was a scam. I knew it sounded too good to be true from the start – a business that earns $40K per year selling for only $25K with little money down. Long story short, the website for sale was www.toptrafficesource.com and I exchanged emails with the owner Daniele Sorres for over a week. He provided bank statements that looked pretty legit and the monthly sales numbers matched the screenshots he sent me of his order history on yahoo small business. He also sent screenshots of the traffic summary.

Some of my due diligence and research:

  1. www.domaintools.com
    I paid $15 to www.domaintools.com for an upgraded membership where I could look up whois history on the domain.

    1. Red flag number one was that the domain was “created” on Nov 2009, while Daniele said the site has been running since 2006. After inquiring with Daniele, he said the domain expired and they had to re-register it at that time. Seems like only an idiot would let the domain expire on a website business earning $40K per year.
    2. Also on domaintools they have historical screenshots of what the website looked like previously http://www.domaintools.com/historic-thumbnails/toptrafficsource.com . You’ll notice screenshots from 2007 that the domain is obviously parked and not a real website business earning money, which is red flag number two.
    3. With my upgraded membership, I found the previous domain registrant was Chris Souraes. I contacted him with the listed email explained the situation and let him know of a couple concerns I had about the legitimacy of the business. He responded and said he was the web developer of the site and that Daniele had put a lot of time and money into it etc etc.  The problem was, in an email exchanged with Daniele earlier that week he said his web developer’s name was Brian.
  2. Advertising
    I tried to find some of the advertising he was paying for on MSN/Bing and found nothing.
  3. Googled his name
    I Googled Daniele Sorres and came up empty. I then Googled his web developer’s name Chris Souraes and found a ton of rip off reports. Ripoff report 1, Ripoff report 2, Ripoff report 3, Ripoff report 4
  4. Searched for a duplicate website
    By now I was 99.9% convinced this was a scam, but the icing on cake was to take a full sentence from the website’s homepage and performed an exact phrase search on Google with it. A number of results came up and three websites in particular had the exact same website design featuring a different name. Of course, these websites were for sale too on various businesses for sale websites.

The images below include the documentation he provided on the business. It looks pretty legit from what I can tell and there aren’t any obvious signs of doctoring the images. Also there are a few screenshots of the duplicate websites featuring the same design with a different name. Also one of them is another business listing for sale and features the same business description.

Update: Mr. Sorres has since read my blog post and created a phony rip off report about me not providing some SEO services. He said his lawyer would be contacting me, which never happened either. I am also being contacted by many people that have been scammed by this guy; I’m sorry I cannot be of more help and I’m sorry he took your money. Toptrafficesource.com seems to have been taken down, but I’m confident this guy with come up with another website for sale scam shortly.


Selling on Amazon.com sucks! 143

Finally! A class action lawsuit against amazon for screwing their sellers!

Contact Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC to participate.
More info on the lawsuit:
http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020568463_amazonsellersuitxml.html
http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2019705292_amazonseller18.html

Amazon.com will screw you if you’re a seller!

1. They will hold your money for months while they “review” your account.  Nobody is actually reviewing it and you can’t talk to anybody as they explicitly state “we are unable to offer phone support”.  I’ve been selling on amazon.com for nearly three months and last month they started holding my money while still allowing me to sell.  After the 30 day “review period” where they held my money, then suspended my account for another 30 days, “but may take up to 45 days…” .  I have a good track record and good feedback on amazon.com.

2. Amazon.com will regularly supply you with outdated customer shipping addresses and will hold you responsible for paying the UPS address correction fees.  My suggestion of requiring customers to verify their shipping address before ordering was not taken seriously.  I was told this is a “business expense” and I’ll have to eat it or cancel my account with them.

Amazon’s notice of account suspension

Take note of their reasoning for holding our money and account suspension – “Because your sales volume or inventory level is not supported by sufficient buyer feedback or established sales history”.  Also, they want me to email them a bunch of data to expedite the review (that nobody is performing) including “Tracking numbers of items shipped with corresponding Amazon.com order numbers”.  This is a request for information they already have!  We’ve provided tracking numbers and timely shipments for all orders.

Hello from Amazon.com.

As previously stated, we have been conducting a review of your Amazon.com selling account. Because your sales volume or inventory level is not supported by sufficient buyer feedback or established sales history, your selling privileges will be suspended and your funds will be reserved in your Amazon Payments account for up to 30 days.

During this review we will be evaluating the performance of your account, including customer feedback and A-to-z Guarantee claims received. It is important that you continue to fulfill any orders completed before the removal of your listings, as we will use buyer feedback from your orders as part of the review.

While our review can take as many as 30 days to complete, you may be able to expedite the release of your funds by providing us with the following information:

1. Tracking numbers of items shipped with corresponding Amazon.com order numbers
2. Current retail or online sales channels including links to selling pages
3. Detailed explanation of your business including your source of inventory
4. Amount of inventory you plan to list for sale on Amazon.com and availability of items for delivery

Please e-mail us at merchant-approval@amazon.com to provide us with information regarding your seller account. Amazon sellers can confirm shipments in Seller Central or seller account by clicking the “Orders” tab and then clicking “Confirm Shipment” for the orders.

We will evaluate the information that you provide to us and respond accordingly.

You will be notified via e-mail when our account review is complete.

Regards,

Seller Performance Team
Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com

 

And their automated response to my email message

Thank you for writing to us at Amazon.com,

We are currently reviewing your Amazon Selling Account. We will respond to your inquiry within the next business day.

While we review your Account, your funds will be reserved in your Amazon.com Payments account for up to 30 days. Although we will delay the transfer
of funds to your bank account, we will continue accepting orders for items you list for sale on Amazon.com. Once your funds have been released, you
will be notified via email, and funds should arrive in your bank account within 5 business days.

You may be able to expedite this review by providing any of the following information if you haven’t already:

* You may submit tracking information for your shipments. Please include the corresponding 17-digit Amazon.com order numbers with any tracking
numbers. This information may be submitted in plain text, Word or Excel formats
* You may also give us information about any other channels through which you sell.
* We also encourage you to send a friendly reminder to your buyers requesting that they leave feedback on your account after they have received
their orders.
* If you are currently being reviewed due to recent poor performance, you may submit a plan to for improving your selling performance to
seller-performance@amazon.com

While tracking and/or sales information may help expedite the review, it may still be necessary to wait the full review period before funds can be
released. Reviews are typically completed within 30 days, but may take up to 45 days if deemed necessary. We will inform you if that should be the
case.

Please note that, due to the volume of information we receive, we are unable to offer phone support to accept this information or expedite the
review. For this reason we ask that any pertinent information be submitted via email to merchant-approval@amazon.com. We will evaluate the
information you provide and respond accordingly.

It is important that you continue to fulfill your orders and list only
items that you will be able to deliver during this process. Once we have completed our review, we will notify you via e-mail. Please note that
until then, the “Transfer funds to bank account now” link will be visible in your Amazon.com Seller’s account, but transferring funds will not be
successful.

We would like to thank you for your patience during this process.

Best regards,

Merchant Approval Department

 

What now?

Contact Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC to participate in the class action lawsuit against amazon for these reasons.
Also, sign this petition as I did http://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-crushes-small-business-marketplace-sellers

The practice of holding people’s money, in this case thousands of dollars, for stupid reasons like this shouldn’t be legal.  Here is another blog on the same topic http://vorg.ca/1065-Selling-On-Amazon.com-Sucks .  The two complaints I’ve mentioned here are also mentioned frequently by other sellers on this blog post.  One comment on this blog was the following –

“I used to work for amazon (work at home) and guess what, If you sell at amazon, we will take all your money!

If you sell over $1000 a month. Your account well be investigated and guess what, all the money coming in will be forwarded to our account. And guess what? I get 50% of all accounts being investigated.

haha. Keep on selling!!!
comment by Amazon on March 27, 2005″

I do not know if this user comment is legit, but it seems pretty inline with what is going on.  I am unsure what to do at this point other than fill out the better business bureau complaint form that is open in my other browser tab.   Do you have a similar experience selling on amazon.com?  How do you get your money from them in a timely manner?

Probably the best thing you can do is file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at http://www.bbb.org/western-washington/business-reviews/internet-selling-services/amazoncom-in-seattle-wa-7039385/complaints. It seemed to get their attention when I did this.

 

Update 11/2012

I’ve been getting automated emails supposedly from a sales person (Ben Danzo) at Amazon – “I would like to discuss the possibility of bringing you on board as an Amazon Pro Merchant”. After sending him a link to this post and turning him down, I continue to get this same email from him every few weeks. This proves even their sales people are automated! There is nobody there!


Magento is difficult to modify and customize 47

Update:

This post is a number of years old and I’ve got the hang of Magneto these days. Yes, it has quite a learning curve and will take many hours weeks or months to become effective with Magento. Initially development will be slow while frustration and learning will be high :).

 

 

I’ve recently started a side project for a friend building an ecommerce solution that requires some customizations.  I’ve read about Magento and attended a presentation about it at ZendCon 2008 by a couple guys from Varien, the company that built Magento, and viewed a few of their sample sites.  Because I have years of experience with oscommerce ecommerce, I was eager to dive right in and customize one of these!  Unfortunately, it turns out Magento sucks to work on.  Yes, I said Magento sucks.

Features

Magento has nearly all the ecommerce features you could imagine.  It has pretty much everything that oscommerce ever had, even after installing a hundred community contributions. They support downloadable products, grouped products, different customer types (retail, wholesale) and pricing for each, and a variety of payment and shipping modules.  Magento has “current” features such as tagging and tag clouds and on the backend also has a caching mechanism to speed things up on the site.

Bugs

There are some bugs in Magento and this is expected with any software.  They’ve been releasing an updated version every 2-3 weeks.  I’m still waiting on the payment subscription feature and a bug fix that will allow me to assign downloadable products to a group product.

Interface

Looking over a Magento store from the front end and peering into the source code you’ll quickly notice it uses very few tables.  On a given page, there was one small table in one of the sidebar objects.  That’s it!  Very good for search engine optimization.

Admin

The admin took a little getting used to.  Especially the product configuration as it’s laid out a little differently than the oscommerce I’m used to.  The main problem with the admin is that it’s freak’in SLOW!!!!  The ajax page content thing is cool and all, but not when it takes a minute to refresh!  It’s ridiculous.  At one time I had four tabs open and three of them loading a page in the admin while I worked on another.  I’ve tried it in firefox and google chrome and after reading the forums, I’m not the only one with these troubles.

Modifying code

The code… well, sad to say, but the learning curve is extremely steep.  I’m not talking in hours or days… weeks is getting closer, and I’d feel comfortable with months if you’re putting in a few hours per week.  It would probably make things a hellava lot easier if you’re a Zend Framework master as Magento is built on top of the Zend Framework.  Look into the code and you’ll just dig into directories eight or ten levels deep.  Many of the directories contain sub directories with the same name, making things even more confusing.  Each sub directory may contain one to four files and each file has about 50 to 100 lines of code that seem to only call an object or set a variable.  Where is the meat and potatoes?  You know, the controller containing all the logic?  Oh, and the XML config files for every modules and chunk of code in the system are kinda cool, but I really don’t know how they work at this point.  Below is a screen shot from my Zend Studio looking at a project and a sample file.

untitled-12

Customizing

After looking at this code for an hour, I decided to try the old way of locating something in a file.  Yep, I went to the product detail page and copied the text “product description” that was printed on the page, then search the whole codebase for it.  Nothin.  Ok, it must be in the database somewhere, so check the database… damn… over 200 tables!  I tried this a few times and came up empty.

If you don’t have 100-200 hours to learn the Zend Framework and play around with Magento, then I’d say forget about making customizations to it.  Yeah, it’s open source, but not too many do it yourselfers (if any) are going to be able to modify and taylor this thing to their needs.  Sure, it’s an awesome piece of work, but take it as it is or find something else.

How they make their money

They build the most complicated open source package I have every seen… by far.  Sure, it’s open source and maybe they “gave back to the community”… no.  It’s obvious the first time you hit their website that they’re in this for big bucks.  They make it easy to download, but as soon as you need something altered, it’s damn near impossible for any casual coder.  It’s still a challenge for a PHP Expert and Zend Certified Engineer without the proper training and experience.  They do have a tutorial on “how to customize Magento” at http://www.magentocommerce.com/wiki/groups/174/changing_and_customizing_magento_code , which pretty much just tells you how to merge a new release into your existing one and show you how to create a module.  Professional installation currently goes for $149 from Magento.  I was able to install Magento on my local server, but it took some tweaking and working around a few of their bugs to get it to work.  Speaking of bugs, if you want support from them it’ll cost between $42 and $1500/yr.  Why not just look on the forums?  There are a zillion questions on their forums, but no answers.  Figures… you gotta pay for the answers. How about professional training?  Yes, they offer 19 hours of professional training for $1000. They’ve done a great job at ensuring they have jobs for a few years supporting this beast.

If you want to master this solution

  1. You need to be an object oriented PHP expert.
  2. You need an awesome IDE to work with that has intellisense. Zend Studio is a good choice. Don’t even think about using Dreamweaver here folks.
  3. Gain experience with Zend Framework.
  4. You must have a lot of time available to learn this solution
  5. Pay for their training and figure out how this damn thing works.

Thanks Varien for the cool product, but it’s not for me right now.  Don’t have the hundreds of hours to learn your system; there are much easier shopping cart solutions available.


How to detect fraudulent transactions

As of right now I have five online ecommerce shops selling fitness supplements.  Pretty much anything you’d find in GNC is listed on my websites.  Since I work with another middleman company that stores most of the inventory and does the packaging and shipping for me, margins on my end are very slim.

After the first year in business my company received seven or eight chargebacks, which occurs when anybody that owns a credit card goes to their bank and says “I didn’t purchase this” or “I’m not happy with the product or service I received.”  Chargebacks are a whole post in itself, so I won’t ramble too much about their pain right now.  Anyway, this past year we’ve received one chargeback and it wasn’t because of a third party fraud, the guy ordered a product that was on backorder and wasn’t happy that he was too ADD to notice the website or read the email stating the product was on backorder.  Anyway, I’ve become much more acute to identifying fraudulent transactions as they arrive in effort to minimize losses, but I’m not perfect by any means.  I’ve probably canceled a valid order or two in the past year because the risk of filling the order was too high.  Today for example, somebody ordered $15 worth of product and paid $55 for second day air shipping.  I stand to earn about a buck… no, actually, I’d lose about fifty cents if all goes well, and risk losing $70 plus bank fees, which can be up to $50 depending on how mean your bank is, on this order it it were fraudulent and the card owner performed a chargeback.

Methods I use to determine fraudulent transactions:

1. Require the customer to enter the CVV code on the back of their credit card. The idea is that the customer would have to have possession of the card in their hands at the time of the order.  This is not foolproof by any means because they might just be an untrustworthy online merchant that stores all this data in plain text.   The CVV code may deter some fraud, but in reality, this information can be just as easy to obtain as the credit card number itself.

2. Use Address Verification Service (AVS)

3. Pay attention to the products ordered. With most fraudulent orders, the customer will order a high quantity of just one product.  They will not order a variety of products or be very selective or price conscious.

4. What speed of shipping did they choose and how much does it cost it relation to the product cost? Speed of delivery is important.  We offer 1-3 day UPS ground shipping on our sites, but still offer UPS 2nd day air and UPS 1 day air delivery options.  Typically, what would cost $10 to ship via UPS ground will cost $50 UPS 2nd day air and $100 UPS 1 day air.  The scammer in these cases cannot get the product in their hands fast enough; they will choose an upgraded shipping option as the cost means nothing to them.  Occasionally a valid customer will order $50 worth of product and pay $50 to have it shipped, but it’s about 1 in 250 orders.  I do have a regular customer that buys $30 worth of product and pays $22 for UPS 2nd day air instead of $7 for 1-3 day shipping.  The more reliable delivery date is worth it to some people.  However, be very weary of these transactions, especially if it’s the first time a customer has ordered from you and the shipping prices is as much or more than the product total price.

5. Watch for a customer that tries multiple declined credit cards right after one another.  The most likely reason they’re being declined is because they’ve been reported stolen.  I’d be cautious of anybody that must use three or more credit cards to submit  valid transaction.

6. When is the last time the customer ordered from you? It’s common that you’ll have new customers and it’ll be the first time they’ve ordered from you, so don’t get too worried about that.  With my sites, I estimate 50% of our orders are first time customer orders.  The one to watch out for is if the customer placed multiple orders with you with a short time span between orders, say less than four days apart.  Back when I was a rookie at this, I had a guy place an order for over $300 worth of product, then placed another large order, which contained many of the same products as the first, only two days later. Then a third order was placed shortly thereafter.  I was very excited to get a few great orders, but really just had the blinders pulled over my eyes.  By the time I received the chargeback for the first order a month later, I’d sent him over $1200 worth of product and he was long gone.  That’s a $1200 out of pocket mistake I don’t want to make again.

7.  Attempt to communicate with the customer either by email or phone. More often than not, somebody who is out to scam you wants no communication with you whatsoever.  They might provide a very odd looking email address and phony phone number.  I have received email responses from some frauds and they’re usually very short emails; about half the time they respond with one word.  Calling the customer and verifying the billing address on the credit card is a pretty good way to catch them off guard, if they gave you their real phone number.  If they hesitate on the billing address, don’t send them anything!

8. Email address should not be that of the person on the shipping address. The person ordering the product will usually provide their email address in case of any billing issues. Be very cautious if the email address belongs to the delivery person as that indicates they’re in charge of the purchase while using somebody else’s credit card.

9. Phone number should not be that of the person on the shipping address. This is for the same reason as #8. Look up the area code on google and find what state and cities the phone number could be from. Be cautious of it matches the delivery city/state and not the billing city/state.

10.  Validate the shipping address and phone number on whitepages.com. This website will tell you who lives at the residence.  It’s a useful tool to help guide your decision, but it’s not foolproof by any means.  A lot of my customers live in apartments and hop around frequently, so the records are many times out of date.  You can do the same with a reverse phone number lookup, but it doesn’t work on cell phones.

11.  Require that the customers Enroll in Verified By VISA. This program allows customers to assign a password to their credit card so the password must be entered each time when making a purchase online.  If all merchants required this, it would be a great success.  The customer will complain because it’s a few extra clicks and pecks on the keyboard and takes an extra minute, so you will most likely see an increase in abandoned orders during the checkout process.  The bad news is, even as a customer, if you enroll in Verified By VISA, the scammer will simply purchase products from a site that does not have this program implemented into their checkout.