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Business nearly scammed while buying vendor booth for Niles festival

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT
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NILES, Mich/ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) - Chris Beckham thought he found another opportunity to expand his blossoming Elkhart business, Urban Streetwear Skate Shop & Screen Printing located in the 600 block of Main Street. Last week, Beckham said a woman posted that vendor booths were still available on the ‘Discussion’ section of the Facebook Event page for the upcoming Niles Apple Festival Spring Market. She also listed her phone number. And Chris texted her.

“Everything seemed legit,” said Beckham, who provided screenshots of the text exchanges to 16 News Now.

The woman asked Beckham to provide photos of the items he sold at the store. Each 10x10 booth space cost $55. Beckham agreed to pay $110 for two spaces with his PayPal account, using the ‘Friends and Family’ option.

“I tried to pay her ‘Friends and Family,’ and there was a fee. There shouldn’t be a fee when you’re using your checking account, so automatically I knew something was wrong,” he said.

Beckham contacted festival organizer Abby Zeider.

“I got the text from Chris. And I was like, ‘Whoa, don’t pay anyone. Please don’t pay anyone,’” recalled Zeider, Vice President of the Niles Apple Festival.

Chris held off on paying. It was a scam.

Festival officials only accept cash, checks, or money orders for booth payment. Also, they charge $100 for 12x12 spots - not $55 for a 10x10 spot like the scammer alleged to Beckham .

The other red flag to Beckham was PayPal instructing him to pay a fee, despite the business owner trying to send money via the ‘Friends and Family’ route. It turn out, accountholders can only send money for free to others in the U.S. The woman ultimately admitted in a text: “Our PayPal is an interactional account.”

Zeider said she wasn’t aware people were commenting on the Spring Market’s Event page due to a Facebook setting.

“You have to click to allow notifications. So I didn’t know that when I made the event. So I wasn’t getting notifications for comments on the event,” said Zeider. “But I think that this person knew what they were doing.”

After warning the public about on the scam on Facebook, the Niles Apple Festival learned from a longtime vendor that the woman who tried to trick Chris also posted on another local festival’s Facebook.

“It was the same person - the same type of comment she left on our page, but on their page as well,” she said.

Beckham said the woman removed the post after he questioned what she was doing. She hasn’t responded to his calls. Zeider and 16 News Now each called the woman but received text messages to message her back. She never responded.

Beckham reports PayPal told him to call the FBI. On Wednesday, PayPal’s media relations team released the following statement to 16 News Now:

“Thanks for reaching out. The security of PayPal users is a top priority, and we take all the necessary steps to protect our customers. We have a zero-tolerance policy for fraudulent activity, and our teams are working tirelessly to protect customers against anyone attempting to defraud well-intentioned individuals.

We offer robust Purchase Protection that covers all eligible purchases where PayPal is used, as well as payments made through our website. Nonetheless, we encourage customers to always be vigilant online, to thoroughly research the merchants they are buying from and to only use the Friends & Family payment option for its intended purpose --- as a means for friends and family members to send funds for personal matters where no goods or services are being exchanged for payment. Additionally, our Customer Service team is available to help customers understand our policies and processes.”

The Niles Apple Festival Spring Market is on May 15th at the Apple Festival Fairgrounds.

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