Internet Fraud: How to Spot a Possible Scam on the Web
A sophisticated friend of our firm was in the market for a luxury car and found one for sale via the Internet. His concern was aroused when the seller said she was handling the sale through a company called Escrow Atlantic, an international payments company.
Our friend asked us to look at this company, and the results make for a nice case study in the detection of possible fraud.
We started with the Escrow Atlantic website. It looks professional enough, but we always like to know who has registered an internet domain since that can provide a good clue as to who is behind the operation. Sometimes this is hidden information, but in this case it isn’t. It turns out that by going to Network Solutions’ Who Is registry here, we found that Escrow Atlantic’s site is registered to a man in Florida who has an Italian telephone number. His email address is a hotmail account with the name of a different individual.
None of this is tantamount of a scam, of course, but it’s a little unusual. Why not a company email address? Why an Italian phone number when, according to the company website, the company has no office in Italy?
We pressed on and tried to call Escrow Atlantic, but the toll-free number went to the voicemail of “Escrow Atlantic” (and not a particular person). The numbers for the Florida and Missouri offices went instantly to voicemail, and we were unable to connect with the London number.
A search for a business registration record at the Secretaries of State in Florida and Missouri turned up no record of a company called Escrow Atlantic. Nor was it registered under that name at Companies House in the United Kingdom, where you can do a free search here.
Finally, we emailed the Missouri office of Escrow Atlantic, and here we got quick responses, up to a point. Where is the company registered? We were referred to the website’s contact page with the office addresses and phone numbers. We asked again and were told that Escrow Atlantic is “Registered in the United Kingdom with offices in America and Australia.”
Unfortunately, when we responded that we could find no registration in the UK, the company went quiet on us. Of course, Escrow Atlantic could be a “DBA,” or doing business as – a business name different from the official company name – but it would be easy enough for the company to tell us that.
While we can’t say that Escrow Atlantic is not a reputable company, if it is it could do two things to boost our confidence:
- Get someone - anyone - to answer the phone;
- Provide that most basic of information: the place of incorporation and the name of the company that was incorporated.