“Will you accept a relay call?” the operator asked. And that’s how it started. A what? Not being from the South, there are lots of times when I don't understand what is being said, so I asked my usual “I’m sorry, could you repeat that please?” Apparently, she explained, the person on the other line was deaf. Since I only have a standard telephone, the operator would be reading what the person typed, wait for my reply, and type my answer back for the deaf person to read. Rather cumbersome, but who wants to sound insensitive.
The person making the call needed a wedding cake. Simple enough. For 300 guests. Still simple enough. Fondant. Ok. Could he pick it up? A little unusual (since we deliver most wedding cakes), but still Ok… After giving me the facts and asking if we were available to bake the cake, the person, who said his name was "Mike Williams," offered to continue the “conversation” via email. Hindsight being 20/20, "Mike" could have skipped the relay call and gone directly to email, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Mike wanted a fondant cake to feed 300 people for his wedding in Toronto (this is the actual photo he emailed me). Never mind that this is the first time in my history of making wedding cakes that a man (forget the deaf part) has ever ordered the cake. Ever. But for about $2000, I decided to overlook that particular anomaly.
He wanted strawberry cake, covered in fondant (white with small pink dots) and gum paste roses. He said he had tasted our cakes before and really liked them (I don't remember him, but our cakes ARE good...).
He was sending a refrigerated truck, and the cost of our cake, even with the transportation to Canada, was still less that a similar cake purchased "up north". Said he had done this before. I was flattered. He offered to pay in advance. For the cake, for the flowers, for the shipping (we could pay the shipper when they picked up the cake), plus $100 for our troubles "handling" the shipment. The shipper would pick up the cake on a Thursday about a month hence, at 10:00 am, for a Saturday wedding. It takes 16 hours to get to Toronto from here, so that seemed legit. I overlooked the fact that he was ordering cake to serve 300, to be shipped over 1000 miles, a mere four weeks before the wedding. We are often booked a year in advance for local weddings. But hey...
He gave me two credit cards. Not so unusual, as a lot of people don't have room on one card for such a large expenditure. The numbers on the two cards were remarkably similar, just a couple of numbers different at the end. That was a little weird, but the charges went through so I figured it must be OK. He said he would forward the shipping particulars in a week or so.
By now, it should have also bothered me that:
- I didn't know the name of the bride
- I didn't know exactly where this cake was going or who the shipper was
- I didn't have an exact billing address or phone number (only an email address -- He did give me a fax number to fax the receipt, and it had a (206) area code - in Seattle.
- None of his 300 expected guests could help make a phone call to confirm any of the details of the transaction
I ordered supplies (fondant, shipping boxes, etc.) and smiled at my good fortune. After all, this is Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And someone in Canada likes our cake so much they are willing to send a refrigerated truck to ship it over 1000 miles for their wedding.
About a week later, I got an email from him instructing me to wire money to the shipper. Just the name of a person, who would accept money via Western Union. DING DING DING DING.
This was the beginning of the end. When I emailed him that I could not wire cash, that I would need an invoice and write a check, he backed down and said the shipper would pick up a check with the cake. Then I called my credit card processor. They said scam. The names on the credit card numbers I gave them did not match my customer. I had two choices - I could reverse the transaction, or they would do it for me. Said I should be happy I did not actually bake the cake or send any money.
I called the police, who were not really able to do anything since a crime had not been committed (yet). They did send an undercover officer out to the shop at the appointed time just in case someone showed up looking for money. But that was the end of it and I never heard from Mike Williams again.
Please tell me I am not the first idiot to fall for this. A quick search yielded some interesting results.