Industry scam alert: Fake journalist requesting outdoor, fitness gear

A fake reporter is trying to score himself some free outdoor and fitness gear. SNEWS has the details, plus tips on how to avoid being scammed.
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It’s that time of year: Industry trade shows are ramping up and journalists, such as ourselves here at SNEWS, are calling for information on the latest gear.

But outdoor and fitness marketers beware, the caller isn’t always legit. Last week, one industry manufacturer told SNEWS they almost were taken for thousands of dollars in gear — luckily, their suspicion perked up.

The "journalist," going by the name of David Weissman, phoned the manufacturer and claimed to be a senior editor at Fitness Magazine, an actual publication. In subsequent emails, Weissman appeared to legitimize himself with a signature, logo and address similar to those used by actual reporters at the magazine. After chatting about some of the brand’s latest gear, Weissman requested an item to be shipped to California for a photo shoot around Big Bear Lake.

The manufacturer agreed, and the gear — a pair of shoes — was on its way. Then the fraudster got greedy. Seeing that the brand also made skiing equipment, he requested information, and eventually gear from that side of the business.

“Suddenly, it went from a pair of shoes to thousands of dollars of skiing equipment and we got suspicious,” the brand’s marketer told us. Company officials began to do their own sleuthing. They soon discovered that Weissman had called a separate division of the company with a request for gear as well.

With alarms starting to go off, officials did a web search on the shipping address (30986 Via Pared, Thousand Palms, Calif., 92276) not only to discover it was a residential address, but also a bank-owned foreclosure. The final confirmation of the fraud came by directly calling Fitness Magazine, where editors told the company they had no knowledge of Weissman.

Fortunately, the company acted fast enough with FedEx to intercept the shipment of one piece of gear and retrieve the other from the porch of the home. Authorities have been notified and are attempting to track down the suspect. It’s unclear if he even lived at the residence, or was just using the foreclosed home as a front.

It isn’t the first time SNEWS has heard about this type of scam, nor will be the last. (Update: Since this story ran, several other outdoor and fitness manufacturers have said they were targeted by the scam.) Here are some tips to make sure you’re dealing with a real reporter:

  • Check the reporter. If you’re dealing with a legit publication, and you are unfamiliar with the reporter or freelancer (this profession uses many), the best advice is to call the company directly and speak with a top editor. Call the main line listed on the organization’s official website or printed publication. Do not use any numbers the reporter lists. Confirm not only the reporter’s name, but his/her contact information as well. There’s nothing to stop a fraudster from impersonating a real reporter.
  • Check the email address. Everything may look official at the bottom of an email, but go through it with a fine-tooth comb. In this case, the scammer used the @fitnessmagazineusa.com as the domain for his email address. But the actual domain is @fitnessmagazine.com, minus the "usa." It’s tricky, because fitnessmagazineusa.com will lead you to fitnessmagazine.com.
  • Check the postal address. If you’re shipping any product, make sure it’s to the publication’s main offices. If circumstances require another address, call the main office to confirm.
  • Check the publication. Scammers can go as far as setting up fake publications, websites, articles and offices of a "new" online industry publication to gain access to free gear. If you’ve never heard of a publication, ask those knowledgeable within the industry to make sure it’s legit.

--David Clucas



This story was inspired by a reader tip. Send your news tips to us at news@snewsnet.com or submit anonymously at www.snewsnet.com/got_a_tip

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