News and marketing for California's coastal vineyards, wineries and food producers.
I write blogs and manage social media for small wineries and artisan food producers in California's beautiful Central Coast region. I have 20 years of experience in wine hospitality and sales. I create customized marketing plans, and provide copywriting, marketing, and media outreach to wine and food artisans. I love my job.
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Although I specialize in artisan food and wine accounts, I also engage with a variety of clients and tasks. I've done everything from working on a website about semiotics to drafting an e-book for a former NFL star.
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Last month I was selected by Tripbase as one of the top ten bloggers in their World Wine category. Please bear with me as I do a little chest-thumping, because my real intent is to share with you how you can make your blog impactful.
"To whom do lions cast their gentle looks? Not to the beast that would usurp their den. The smallest worm will turn being trodden on, And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.'"
William Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 3
At first, the callers are hesitant. "Hello, my name is . . ." "I’m a chef in the Midwest, and I sell gourmet products online . . ." "I’m with a skin care products firm in San Francisco . . ." "We broker handcrafted jewelry to catalog buyers . . ."
After a stumbling start, they race to the finish. "We almost made a huge mistake."
Through their calls and emails, I learned that even sophisticated firms can be targeted by this shipping scam. "We frequently send wine overseas in containers," reported one winery. "Although the email seemed a little odd, it was the price of shipping that alerted us, as we get much lower rates. While researching the shipping company online we came across your articles. Our customer was ‘John Nelson’."
Another caller explained that they ship products overseas to catalog buyers. "They are usually English speaking, but often dictate personal correspondence to a native-tongue assistant. Sometimes the emails we receive have very quirky English, so when I received the ‘birthday’ request, I thought it was odd enough to investigate, but I would have filled the order had I not been warned. Thank you!"
And as they say, the worm turns . . .
Maria Bruhns at Kirigin Cellars emailed to report: "I did some Googling and got nowhere, until Betaway emailed me where to send the $3300…to an Ashley Lowe, at, you guessed it, 315 N. Main St, Aline. I googled the address…got a café! Called the café, disconnected. Next search result gave real estate offices…it’s abandoned!"
In my last post, customer John Nelson asked me to run four stolen credit cards, accept the stolen funds, and then wire $2500 from our bank account to a Ms. Jeanette Springer.
He requested a Western Union wire transfer. However, in order to receive the wire transfer a living, breathing person must show up, produce identification, and be able to identify details regarding the transaction. (In Alpha Trans’ full communication, they ask for our location address, the money transfer control number and the exact amount of money sent.)
I expected our ‘front man’ and ‘shipping company’ to be based in San Francisco or Los Angeles—far enough away to get lost in a crowd, near enough to pick up the wine order. I also assumed right off the bat that anyone showing up to receive the money would have false identification. I imagined a nervous Nigerian immigrant who splits his time between swabbing restaurant floors and stealing electronics. Or a dreadlocked pimp with gold chains, gold rings and gold teeth, perfumed by Turkish coffee, opium and Moroccan cigarettes. Or a pale, anorexic computer engineering student with severe gambling debts.
But our anonymous law enforcement advisor is right—they want me to send the money several states away. Even then, I expected someone in a city, anonymous and unnoticed by most.
Instead, our trail takes us to Aline, Oklahoma. Population: 415 (and dropping).
John Nelson sent me four Mastercard credit card numbers for his wine order. As I related here, they were all stolen.
"Identity theft is the # 1 crime in America today, even ahead of murder," said Angela of Sears National Bank as we went through the credit cards one by one.
Nevertheless, I contacted John’s shipping company, Alpha Trans, and these are the instructions they sent . . .
HERE IS THE INFORMATION FOR YOU TO GET SHIPPING PART OF THE PAYMENT SENT OUT VIA WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER.
NAME: Jeanette Springer STREET :315 N Main St CITY: Aline, STATE:Oklahoma ZIPCODE: OK 73716 COUNTRY: U.S.A
EXPECTING TO HEAR BACK FROM YOU SOON .
After some amateur sleuthing on Jeanette, I contacted the FBI regional office in Oklahoma. "What’s this all about?" snarled an agent. "Um, who am I speaking with, please?" I asked. "We don’t give out our names for security purposes," he said.
Thoroughly intimidated, I didn’t want to point out that I was looking at their website, which lists at least a dozen names—including first names, last names, and middle initials, presumably to prevent inter-cubby confusion. Moving on, I explained the scam and the fact that a front man was operating in their area, and we might like some help observing or catching him or her. "This isn’t TV, lady," he sighed. "We have legal issues."
He asked for all the details . . . and after trying my best to explain, I finally asked, with some degree of exasperation, "Do you have an email? I can simply send you a description of what’s going on, with all the correspondence, including email headers for tracing." "Oh, yeah, that would be good," he replied. "Hold on, I know this office has an email . . ."
In the meantime, a northern California law enforcement professional (who asks to remain anonymous due to jurisdictional protocols) agreed to an interview on these scams . . .
If someone feels they have been scammed, whom should they contact first? What can they expect to happen?
I received an email from a Mr. 'John Nelson' offering to buy some wine. Here is John's initial email.
Hello, my name is John Nelson, an American . I live and work here in Seoul, South Korea. Actually when I was around last year for christmas holiday, I got a bottle of one of your wines from a friend as a gift and I love the taste .Since then , I have been planning on getting your wines for my birthday party ...coming up soon here in Seoul, South Korea. I will be making my payment via my American based credit card . I am registered with a shipping agency here in Seoul, which has representatives in USA . So you are not get the wines shipped but the wines will be picked up at your winery by this licensed shipping agency .The shipping agency have all the appropriate exportation documents and permits. . . Kindly get back to me so that I can make my orders . Thanks. John
Let's find out a little bit more about 'John Nelson.'
This isn't the first time a wine blogger or reporter has written about the Nigerian wine scam. There's a pretty funny riff on the 419 'advance fee' scam, written by Jack at Fork & Bottle and published by Alder Yarrow at Vinography. Ric at TORBWine holds the evil Nigerian forces at bay even though they want to order Dom Perignon.
Nigeria is a poor country, but you've got to give them credit for hard work. FraudWatchers offers internet chat forums for victims and fraud watchers, but the moderators there also have a separate forum for scammers who post there. The subforum heading reads, "This forum is where all posts made on this board by criminal scammers (yes, they really are *that* stupid!!) are placed for the search engines." I got a kick out of Another Genius Scammer.
Recently, some small family wineries in our area were hit by internet thieves. One small winery was innocently engaged in a fraudulent transaction for $80,000 and 4 pallets of their wine. Then another winery also reported the loss of an entire pallet of wine in a fraudulent transaction. They thought they were dealing with an overseas distributor and so the poor English in the email orders did not alert them. When I got a similar email with shady details, I proceeded to snoop, lie, and cheat my way to answers with the best of the best.
Unfortunately, when I called a law enforcement office to tell them I could actually arrange for the perp to be at a specific place, at a specific time, easily identified, and engaging in crime at that moment, the response ranged from, "this isn't TV," to, "We don't give out our names for security purposes."
So the best I can do for the future of internet safety is publish my rather long account of my voluntary investigation with wine customer 'John Nelson.' I will show you how the wine scam works, why it works, who the real criminals are, and who the front men here in the United States are.
Over the next few days, my 'Inside a Wine Scam' report will be published in five parts:
Here are some recent notes and letters from internet readers who found Inside a Wine Scamhelpful.
From Melbourne, Australia:
Recently, our hospitality business in Australia received a bizarre request in substandard "American" English. i googled wine shipment scam and got your blog. Thanks very much for posting this ... it was highly enjoyable reading.
We are not a winery. We are a hotel/motel/B & B about three hours outside of Melbourne, Australia... but a few years ago, as a lark, we [produced] a very limited edition label with a lovely image of our beloved kelpie dog (who actually loves a good lick of shiraz!).
Loved your way of dealing with the scam ... the biker bar was an especially nice touch. Australian authorities are a bit nicer but also relatively useless when i've reported scams in the past. So thanks again for your posting.
From Napa, California:
I just wanted to thank you for your posts on the Nigerian wine scam. My in-laws own a winery in Napa and were about to wire off the money when my father-in-law had the good sense to call me and see if I could find out anything about the shipping company. I was so glad to be able to point them to someone else's experiences, instead of just pointing out, "They don't speak English! The email address says flightlogistics instead of freightlogistics! The address for the shipping company is an empty lot in Scranton! The other address for the shipping company is in the middle of a field in New Jersey! And don't they have wine in Korea? I mean, really, your wine is good, but KOREA?!"
I wanted you to know that two years later your posts are still doing good. They would have been out $3000 in 'shipping costs', which wouldn't shut them down but wouldn't be much fun for them either.
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