Identifying an Online Scam
[Posted here so it is accessible to non-members]

With the arrival of many new members lately I though it would be opportune to draw attention of members new and old to the seedier side of our hobby - the Online Scam.
There appears to be a bit of confusion regarding just how a typical scam works on prop/costuming forums.
Let me break the most common one down for you into steps.

Step 1.

A new member (let’s call them Bob) claiming to be a manufacturer or seller appears on a particular forum - let’s use an example called “The Space Battle Costuming Group”. They keep a low profile, perhaps only making innocuous comments on threads such as ‘Great!” “Nice Work!” “LoL!” – that type of stuff. 
Some costuming/prop forums have a minimum requirement of X number of posts to be made by a newbie before they gain access to other forum sections such as the ‘Buying and Selling’ sections, so these innocuous posts are critical for them to gain extra forum access.

Step 2.
Bob announces that he has some items he wants to sell – often they are items which are smaller items, but reasonably priced – blasters, greeblies, helmets etc. they could be complete or they could be kits. 
Bob sells these items and people are reasonably happy with them. One or two people may have an issue with delivery times or communicating with Bob but, Bob states, this is because Bob lives somewhere with intermittent internet access and/or limited access to couriers/post offices. Fair enough.

Step 3.
Bob gets some good feedback on the Space Battle Costuming Group forums. 
This is THE critical turning point. 
The Space Battle Costuming Group has many members and they all use the forums to interact with each other. The fundamental reality of a forum is that an element of trust MUST exist between members of the group in order for the forums to function. Forums live or die based on this trust. This trust is ripe for exploitation.

Step 4.
Bob advertises the fact that he now has some big ticket items for sale. They could be either hard to get items or previously expensive items which are priced very attractively. Bob has pictures of things similar to the item(s) he’s selling and asks for people to contact him via a non-forum method to arrange a sale.

Step 5.
If demand is low, Bob could well ship an item or two that is requested – this will again generate positive feedback and spur others on to buy.
If demand is high then the tango really begins. 
Without fail, the payments are requested via bank deposit; payment methods which allow for a refund claim being filed will not usually be permitted. 
No pickups will be allowed – everything has to be shipped; Bob living in a reasonably remote location away from major cities helps enforce this.

Step 6.
Bob isn’t replying to questions in his threads, or replying to PM’s. Bob has already established that he has ‘intermittent internet access’, so that explains it. 
Time continues to pass. 
Bob appears. “Sorry” says Bob, difficulties with sourcing materials, difficulties in other things, items will be ready soon. This return and explanation helps to ‘reset’ the psychological clock that is ticking in everyone’s heads. This ‘time reset’ may happen more than once, depending on how well the sales are going.
If he is pressed hard enough, then he announces that the first packages have been shipped and may even provide ‘Tracking Numbers”. 
Time passes at an alarming rate. 
Packages do not materialize: “Problems with the courier company” might be the excuse and “everything will be re-shipped out soon”.
Sale thread starts to fill up with disgruntled buyers. How many? Who knows – Bob made sure all the sales were conducted away from the open forums. Clever Bob.
At this point there is a reasonable chance that the Space Battle Costuming Group Forums start to get visited by people from other forums, angry people, people looking for Bob. 
No-one knows the full extent of how many people have bought things from Bob and not received them. Eventually some people just write off the money, some people don’t want to be seen as being gullible for being scammed and simply don’t come forward. 
Some people file a report with the police, but Bob has closed his bank account and moved on to somewhere else, lays low for a while - targets a completely different community with the same type of scam before starting all over again on costuming community.


There are many variations on these steps but the principle is the same; the scam works because people inherently want to trust each other on things like forums. By artificially generating “Good Will” with small ticket sales, big ticket scams are fantastically easy to execute. In recent history there have been at least two scammers who have passed through our costuming community and walked off with, conservatively, a cumulative total of around $100k from all the different forums they targeted.
It would be nice to say that the mods of all the forums we visit are able to 100% prevent these scams happening, but the truth is that they simply can’t. 
One only has to go and look at the “Banned” list on a website such as theRPF forums to see just how massive a problem it is.
Here on the Redback Forums we had, for example, one scammer who had used at least 35 different identities across multiple forums – probably more. They stole a LOT of money.
They and others like them, manage to commit fraud on this scale because they prey on the goodwill of the communities they target and exploit peoples’ better natures.
The freedom to enjoy our hobby comes with a price and that price is constant vigilance. There will always be people who see our community as an easy way to make a fast buck, and they will have no moral problem with who they use or what methods they employ to make that fast buck. 
The temptation sometimes is to sit back and say “It’s not my problem, I wasn’t ripped off” and the principle of Caveat Emptor is frequently invoked.
But when a scammer targets the community we are in (in this case the Costuming Community) then as a member of the community it IS your problem. Ignorance or blind luck are excuses with a very finite lifespan – if you are in the community long enough then you WILL be targeted by those wishing to separate you from your money. Unless we all look out for each other, then the community we inhabit through our shared hobby will not last very long.
The 501st Legion exists worldwide principally on the premise that we are all one big family. Those of you who buy and sell costume parts, trade patches, coins and pins, to members in all corners of the globe do so with a very explicit unwritten expectation – the expectation of Trust. We each trust each other to complete whatever transaction we undertake as members of the 501st Community. 
Without this trust the club would simply cease to function. We are therefore all equally responsible for ensuring the trust remains in the 501st Legion and the Costuming community in general – if you are not prepared to do that then this is probably not the community for you. 
So please be vigilant and if your spidey-sense tells you that something is not quite right, or a deal is too-good-to-be-true, or if you suddenly find yourself reading this post and it is eerily similar to a situation you find yourself in, then please seek advice from Forum Mods or Command Staff.

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