Lee Courson had a bad feeling about a phone order for expensive tires that required shipping the merchandise to California.
The Jan. 8 call began as a lengthy relay through a Sprint operator with the caller typing his requests and replies through his computer, according to Ms. Courson, owner of Courson's Tire in Douglas, Ga. The caller gave her a name and said he wanted four sets of Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires size P265/70R16 that would cost about $2,000. He gave a credit card number and instructed Ms. Courson to ship the tires by FedEx to an address in California.
But after the call and credit card transaction were completed, Ms. Courson said she worried about the order and decided to call Visa to double check on the number. She discovered a bank in the United Kingdom had issued the card, and the money needed for the tire purchase was on hold.
``I just ordered the tires and I sent them back,'' Ms. Courson told Tire Business. ``I said, I am not risking losing $2,000.''
When the tire buyer called Courson Tire back-twice in that same day-she only told him that she couldn't have the tires sooner than the following Friday. He even left her with an e-mail address. After that call, Ms. Courson said she decided to report the incident to the local law enforcement authorities, and she said she hasn't heard from the ``customer'' since.
Billy Cox, owner of C&S Tire Co. in Cordell, Ga., was not so fortunate. Mr. Cox also received a Sprint relayed call, claiming to be from Ghana, West Africa, in September. Mr. Cox accepted the order after an approval number for the Visa card came through. He said FedEx picked up the tires the very day they arrived, and he thought nothing more of the transaction until a Visa official called five days later to inform him he had accepted a stolen credit card.
``I picked up the phone and called the bank and said, `Have they made that deposit?''' Mr. Cox said of the conversation. ``They said, `Yeah. I'm like, `Don't let anyone have it. We're on the way.'''
Mr. Cox said he sent his cousin to the bank to withdraw the dealership's funds before the creditors could claim their money, then he called FedEx to see where the tires were shipped. He discovered the tires were sent to London and that it would cost $11,800 to get them back.
``I said (to FedEx), `Congratulations, you all got some tires,''' he told Tire Business, noting he lost several hundred dollars on the sale but didn't report the scam to any authorities.
These examples of credit card fraud should remind tire dealers to be aware of crooks and question callers, according to Trent Merrill (See photo on page 1), general manager of American Tire Distributors Inc.'s Byron, Ga., distribution center. Mr. Merrill's area of responsibility includes servicing Courson Tire and C&S Tire. He has heard of several cases in his region of mom-and-pop dealerships that received relayed calls asking for tires to be shipped to West Africa.
``Why would somebody in Ghana call a guy in Cordell, Ga., for tires?'' Mr. Merrill asked. ``That should throw up a red flag right there.''
Mr. Merrill said he hasn't heard of the scam hitting multi-store chains or neighboring states, but he advises all independent dealers to be careful and spread the word if they do get such a call-either by reporting it to local authorities or the Better Business Bureau.
Bobbitt's Tire Co. in Macon, Ga., and Peach Tire Service Inc. in Byron, Ga., also found themselves the targets of scammers via relayed phone calls as well.
Debby Nickel, secretary for Bobbitt's Tire, said the caller gave an address in Accra, Ghana, to which he wanted Bridgestone Duelers, Firestone Destination LEs and Yokohama Geolandars in sizes 265/70R16 and 265/70R17 shipped.
Ms. Nickel, who fielded the call in October, said she e-mailed several tire sizes and prices at the caller's request and hesitated when the caller gave a West Africa address. The e-mail address listed two different names from a supposedly ``international'' company.
``When they said, `We want this shipped UPS,' they gave their account number and they wanted it shipped today, and we said we're not doing that,'' she told Tire Business.
Danny Peed, owner of Peach Tire Service, received a similar call in January. It raised red flags, he said, when the caller wanted 30 SUV tires in various sizes and didn't care about brand, tread or white letters. The order amounted to $2,500, and the caller wanted the tires shipped to South Africa via UPS.
Mr. Peed didn't take the order, but said now he wishes he had.
``I thought of a great idea: Send them scrap tires instead,'' Mr. Peed said. ``They would have had to pay the freight. My charges on the credit card would have been taken off.... The cost would have been close to a new tire anyway.''