Michele Saxman, owner, Rapid Rentals & Sales in Brookfield, Ill., was ecstatic when she received a request from a contact at Exelon, the utility company, to purchase five forklifts. That would be a major coup for her.
There were some oddities in the order that Saxman, who serves as secretary on the ARA of Illinois board, felt uneasy about, but she brushed them off. For instance:
She had never received a request from a utility company before, but everything seemed to check out. Saxman, who handles most of her rentals and sales online, thought this was a case of her company branching out.
Then there was the request for the equipment to be shipped to Philadelphia. She knew Philadelphia was not in Exelon’s territory, and she was not familiar with that shipping location. However, since the company has its own shipping department, she knew it would handle the freight. “I figured that was OK,” she says.
As the five forklifts were being shipped to Philadelphia, Saxman received another email from the same person requesting to purchase five more forklifts. As she was getting quotes from other companies because she didn’t have five more at her location, she received yet another request for forklifts from a different utility in Michigan.
“By this time I knew something fishy was going on,” she says. Saxman had someone who she had been working with on the delivery of the first five forklifts check out the Philadelphia drop-off location “to make sure the delivery was good and to get the warranty/acceptance cards signed,” she says.
That person called back, saying “the place of delivery was a small, rundown warehouse with no one working there. And as he was looking around, there were no forklifts,” Saxman says. “He also called the person from Exelon using the phone number that was on the freight documents, which was different than the one I had in my email. He was able to reach someone who had a foreign accent. I immediately called my other dealers and canceled the orders for the additional forklifts.”
Then she called her contact who had said he was from Exelon, using the phone number that was in his email. She got his voicemail and that person did not have a foreign accent. “Then I emailed him. He emailed back asking where the other forklifts were. We kept emailing back and forth. I said that I needed payment for the first five trucks before I sent any more,” Saxman says.
She then called the police in her area and Philadelphia. “The Philadelphia police officer said this was a good setup,” Saxman says, noting that her equipment has never been found nor has anyone been arrested.
“I learned that I have to keep my finger on everything, check everything and know that my female intuition is always correct. I was so giddy about selling five trucks that I ignored my own intuition warning signs,” she says.