Police inquiry under way after emails and phone calls from criminals placing large repeat orders.
Major brands Luke, Pretty Green, Canterbury of New Zealand and John Smedley have been targeted by criminals trying to scam tens of thousands of pounds out of the fashion trade.
In what is thought to be a first for the sector, Drapers has been alerted to claims that bogus callers have been ringing and emailing brands pretending to be from indies and placing large repeat orders. The scammers, who quote specific product codes, have asked either to collect the goods themselves or get them delivered to another address.
Pretty Green, winner of Drapers Menswear Brand of the Year in 2010, was affected by the scam earlier this month and has since contacted its stockists to warn them. A Pretty Green spokeswoman said: “There was an incident last week which we’ve reported to the police and we’re following their advice.”
Young fashion brand Luke was almost duped out of £3,500; the bogus order was discovered when it was double checked before being sent. The brand now has a policy of checking all orders taken over the phone or via email.
Lifestyle brand Canterbury of New Zealand was hit when a caller pretending to be from Notting Hill menswear indie Woodhouse placed an order for £6,270 of stock. Canterbury declined to say whether the order was sent.
Knitwear brand John Smedley has also been targeted. Freya Oliver, the brand’s customer service manager, said: “At the end of September John Smedley received a small order which was subsequently released before it was realised to be fraudulent. The next day a further order was received which was challenged by a member of the customer service team.” The police were immediately informed and are investigating.
Graeme Nichol, sales director of footwear distributor 33 Joints, who was made aware of the scam, said: “It’s terrible for the brands involved, especially when the market is so tough out there anyway.”
Drapers understands that in one instance those behind the scam pretended to be from six-store Lancashire menswear indie Originals. It subsequently issued a reminder to stockists that orders should be accepted only if received from certain members of staff.
Indie Mainline Menswear, which has two stores in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, introduced the same procedure after its details were used in an attempt to obtain products from a brand.
Manchester premium young fashion mini-chain Aspecto is also taking precautions, with orders accepted only with authorisation from senior management. Aspecto operations manager Graham Edwards said the company had not been affected.
Roger Wade, founder of the Boxfresh brand and pop-up mall Boxpark in London’s Shoreditch, said: “If I was a brand I really would not be happy. They need to look at their procedures, deliveries need to go to a designated address and be signed for properly.”
Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive and communications director of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), said: “We’ve seen it in other markets in the last year or so. The orders are always very substantial – the type that make suppliers lick their lips, especially in these recessionary times.”
One source told Drapers: “Whoever it is, they obviously know what they are doing. They were ringing up and quoting specific item codes, so it’s got to be someone familiar with the industry.”
Don’t get caught out
Fraud prevention charity Action Fraud recommends that businesses take the following steps to prevent such scams:
- The single most important thing you can do to protect your business from this kind of fraud is to be aware of the risk
- Be wary of delivery addresses which are PO Boxes or those that are different from the billing address, or telephone orders
- Proceed with care when processing priority shipments for popular products
- Be alert to changes in a customer’s usual buying habits
- Develop an anti-fraud policy statement and clearly communicate it to all employees
- If you suspect any instance of fraud, report it to the police