About Whiskey Scam Alert
Feb 28 2023
I've been using Twitter since 2009. Like most of you, I use it mostly to discuss trends and hobbies, keep up with others, stay on top of emerging news, and to enjoy communicating with a wider audience. Accessing such a huge platform with over a 100 million active daily users has pros and cons and can be a bit intimidating to many.
One of the bigger issues is authenticity. How do you know the person you are communicating with on Twitter is a good faith account? You really can’t, which makes things very difficult regarding trust. Twitter has always had an issue with scams and fake accounts but recently, especially over the past 3 years, instances of targeted fraud have sharply increased. Social media in general is now a gold mine for scammers. According to recent 2021 FTC statistics, more than 25% of those who reported losing money in online fraud stated that it started on social media.
Over the years, there have been many communities develop among groups of people with similar interests on Twitter. This includes the whiskey community, and at one time, there were lots of accounts swapping samples, trading bottles, buying and selling; it was a real online marketplace for a while.
Back in 2020 during the start of the pandemic, I started to notice targeted accounts supposedly selling bottles of bourbon. These accounts started to gain a large following and, it was clear that many people were being scammed. Replies to tweets indicated dissatisfied customers, reports of non-delivery, and accusations of fraud. I started to notice these accounts were following me as well and when I inquired about things like pricing, shipping, location I started to notice inconsistencies and red flags. I also started to see trends between accounts, such as the phrasing used and images shared. Most were very similar and using images stolen from other legitimate accounts and websites. When these issues were brought up, I was promptly blocked.
After confirming scams with some of their victims, I decided to create Whiskey Scam Alert (@WhiskeyScam) to try and help track and expose these scammers targeting our community. Initially, I thought this issue was quite small. However, over the past three years and through collaboration with other like-minded individuals and groups, I’ve determined that these scams are part of large multinational criminal networks involved in all sorts of fraudulent online activities targeting every type of product, merchandise, activity possible. We’ve all heard of puppy scams. Well, these accounts are the leading edge of the whole network, funneling victims deep in to specialized merchandise scams (like bourbon and other whiskies), firearms, online adult content, cannabis, illegal drugs, pharmaceuticals, even taxidermy, farm equipment, cattle gallstones, and hay supply. You name it, there’s a scam for it.
About Whiskey Scams on Twitter
After months of investigation, I’ve discovered that most of the whiskey scam accounts on twitter are operating out of places like Africa (Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana etc). These scams aren’t just conducted by individuals; organized crime groups have also set up sophisticated operations involving websites, salespeople, intermediaries, and bank accounts. The scams will often involve more than one country in order to confuse victims and complicate investigations.
Most involve what’s referred to as a non-delivery scam, where you pay for a product that does not exist and will never be shipped. Some scam accounts simply set the bait and wait for their victims to contact them, while others actively pursue their marks.
Scammers create profiles with false identities using fake photos to attract potential victims. They steal photos and video of rare whiskies and then offer them at reasonable prices to bait people into buying. The social media accounts are usually set up to direct traffic to the larger website operations. These scam websites often look completely legitimate.
They prefer to use direct messages (DMs), SMS, WhatsApp, or email and anonymous payments such as gift cards, wire transfer, Zelle, Venmo, and Cashapp. If you push for more secure payments, they will have pre-planned excuses at the ready.
Then, when you've already paid, they often introduce a fraudulent shipping company or insurance arrangement. This is another scam to get more of your money. They will appear legit with login credentials, tracking numbers etc. All fake. You may be asked to continue paying invented fees until you realize you've been had. Some folks are taken for thousands. Scams constantly evolve and they change tactics once they stop being effective.
Avoiding Common Whiskey Scams Online:
There are often 3 major red flags in these types of scams:
- The 1st is unsolicited contact. Sellers jumping into your mentions or DMs to sell you bottles on Twitter is not something a legit seller would usually do. At this point you should be asking yourself: Did I initiate this contact? Do I know this person? Did I ask for this?
- The 2nd is urgency. Scammers want to get the deal done quickly. Boiler room tactics are a major red flag. Take your time and think the deal through.
- The 3rd is that at some point they're going to demand payment, usually through unconventional means such as gift cards, wire transfer, or apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App.
Tips to prevent becoming a victim of Whiskey Scams on Twitter and other social media
- Do your research! Purchase from reputable dealers. Check Twitter accounts selling whiskey with Whiskey Scam Alert and suspicious dealer websites on Scam Adviser before you make any purchases.
- Avoid those too-good-to-be-true offers. Sure, this should be common sense but so many people get hooked. Scammers rely on the open and trusting nature of this community as well as the attraction to rare bottles at good prices. Legitimate businesses run sales, but if a deal is hard to believe, you need to take a second look.
- Don’t buy a bottle from a stranger online without confirming it physically. On Twitter, most of these scams are run out of African countries and there is no product at all.
- Watch out for sellers initiating contact, especially via social media. That new account with the loads of pretty photos of hard-to-find bottles that just DM'd you? Very likely it’s a scam. Legitimate businesses rarely contact first, and if they do it's usually through a clear form of direct marketing.
- Conduct a reverse image search of the picture of the bottle you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites or social media posts, it’s a fraud. You can also search for distinctive text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
- Think before making unconventional payments. Scammers prefer gift cards, wire transfer, or apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App. When using these apps, transfers are not protected unlike payments on a traditional credit or debit card. These payment methods offer no way to get your money back if you are the victim of fraud.
- Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the bottle you are considering. If someone advertises rare bottles at deeply discounted prices, it's a fraud.
Remember to Stop, Think, and Verify.
STOP - Watch out for a sense of urgency. Scammers want this deal done NOW so they can ride off with your money. They want to strike fast before you've had any time to think it through carefully.
THINK - Avoid those too-good-to-be-true offers. Sure, this should be common sense but so many people get hooked. Scammers rely on the open and trusting nature of this community as well as the attraction to rare bottles at good prices. Legitimate businesses run sales, but if a deal is hard to believe, you need to take a second look.
VERIFY - Some profile clicks. A quick 10 second search of replies and mentions. That's all it takes sometimes to research an account before getting sucked into a scam. The speed of social media has people out of the habit of investigating before spending. Watch your money.
IF YOU'VE BEEN SCAMMED
If you've been a victim of these scams, in the US you can report the site or account to the Better Business Bureau, your State Attorney's General office, and contact your credit card company about its fraud protection policies.
- Contact your bank as soon as you know you've been the subject of fraud. Advise them and ask for guidance.
- Scammers prefer gift cards, wire transfer, or apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App. When using these apps, transfers are not protected unlike payments on a traditional credit or debit card. These payment methods offer no way to get your money back if you are the victim of fraud.
- If you paid using a credit card, call your bank’s customer service (on the back of your card) and tell them you would like to start the chargeback process to dispute a charge. Your bank will tell you the next steps.
- If you used PayPal, open a dispute in the PayPal Resolution Center. The payment in the seller's account will be frozen until the dispute has been resolved.
When you come across an amazing deal or bottle for sale on social media, step back for a moment and think. Some profile clicks. A quick 10-second search of replies and mentions. That's all it often takes to research an account before getting sucked into a scam. The speed of social media has people out of the habit of investigating before spending. If you do some minimal research and ask yourself some questions in these situations, you're very unlikely to get scammed. Watch your money!