Indie Beauty Entrepreneurs Sound The Alarm On Scams

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 13 brand founders and executives: What scams have you faced via e-mail or otherwise, and how did you address them?

Murphy D. Bishop II Co-Founder and CEO, The Better Skin Co.

We have had the following at least three times this year. They email and say, “My boyfriend/girlfriend bought your product at a store. It broke her out, and she had to rush to the doctor. She said she will let it go if you just send her a different product. She was so excited about your brand.” They say they can’t return it because they threw it away, and the store asked them to contact us.  

Here’s how we catch them. We say, “Oh, was it our eye cream from Anthropologie?” They always say yes. We then kindly let them know that we do not have an eye cream nor do we sell to Anthropologie.

We also get many emails from people with debilitating illnesses or single moms with multiple kids. They all ask for free product or swag or a gift card. We always say, “Sure, we are happy to email you a $10 gift card.” They never redeem it and often come back with other excuses why they can’t and ask if we can just send the product instead. 

Ieva Deroui Founder, Ametrine Organics

On a daily basis, we receive email requests from “influencers” who would like to promote our product in exchange for free products. Most of the time, they are people with small personal accounts who just want to try free products.

Recently, I stumbled upon some influencers who sell the products after a company partners with them. They may share a photo of them with the new product (never opened or tested) and, after that, they post it on eBay and try to sell it for less money.

IRA KAGANOVSKY GREEN CEO and Founder, Freedom

There is one that we fell for and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were told that they were distributors in central America. My sales team wanted the deal. We sold them our inventory at 50% of wholesale, very large quantities. Our goods never made it there. Instead, they ended up on Amazon under multiple sellers. 

Since we could not pinpoint who the seller was—they use aliases and Amazon won’t help—we kept selling to the “distributor.” Little did we know we were undercutting ourselves. Our Amazon account went to almost no traffic as the other sellers kept lowering their prices, practically killing our Amazon arm. We have since learned not to put all our eggs in one basket and to ask lots of questions.

Caitlyn Chase Founder, Caviar & Cashmere

Right before I launched, the brand’s Instagram account @caviarandcashmere was hacked, and I could not access it. It was a full panic moment as I had spent six months building the page to almost 5,000 followers ahead of the launch. I had content, real followers and engagement that could potentially all be lost because of the person who phished the account.

I spent hours scouring the internet on how to get your account back, to no avail. I decided to take matters into my own hands and write a C-level female executive at Instagram to tell them what was going on and plead for help. I got very lucky as she kindly replied, sent it directly to the tech team, and they were able to recover my account within 24 hours. I’ve heard horror stories of this process taking weeks or months. Even worse, some people do not regain access to their hacked accounts.

The big learning lesson was to pay attention to emails supposedly coming from Instagram. Hackers will send you an e-mail that says you must log back in to secure your account. The e-mail contains a link to a fake Instagram log-in page. When you log in with your e-mail and password, they receive your credentials and quickly change the e-mail address, phone number and password to the account so you cannot get in. 

To protect your Instagram account, always check the e-mail address from which you’ve received the e-mail, choose a very strong password, turn on two-factor authentication, and revoke access to unnecessary third-party apps.

JENNI TUOMINEN Founder and Creative Director, Henua Organics

Related to trademark application, we’ve received several fake invoices. Accidentally, we paid one of the fake ones, which was about 1,500 euros. There was really nothing we could do to fix it, only learn from the mistake.

Julie Longyear Herbal Chemist and Founder, Blissoma Holistic Skincare

Several times, we have gotten hysterical sounding e-mails with someone saying they found a piece of glass in one of our masks or some other serious quality problem. The e-mails usually mention how disappointed the person is, how much of a hazard this was to them personally, and how they are so disappointed to have this experience with our company. The length and tone of these e-mails is usually a notch above a typical complaint.

One of our first protocols when dealing with any complaint is to ask for the batch number from the product so we can identify which lot of products we are discussing with the customer. Interestingly, most of these extreme complaints dribble out at this point. The person may not respond at all or they may reply that they already discarded the container and, usually, the reply e-mail will layer on some more emotional statements. Usually, no proof is ever provided that they ever purchased one of our items, either through a receipt, photo or batch number on the product.  

If this was a real case where someone got hurt, their next step would be to contact a lawyer. Thus far, none of these type of complaints has ever resulted in that happening. We can only assume that the individual who wrote to us is phishing for us to mail them a free product or extra items to compensate for their "terrible experience," which I'm sure works some of the time with some companies. Asking for the batch code really puts a stop to these incidents as it susses out the real customers from the pretenders right away.

NASIMEH YAZDANI Founder, Seaside Medical Technologies

In the beauty space, a lot of contract manufacturers, brand advertisers and web developers want your business. There is also a serious glitch on the Shopify site that hackers have enlisted to send auto e-mails from seemingly legitimate email accounts using your contact page. At first, we would respond to these emails, but, after reaching out to support on Shopify, we realized it was a scam. Can’t get away from them hackers!

Feisal Qureshi Founder, Raincry

Scams? There are plenty! Everything from fake influencers and media inquiries to “replacement” requests without proof of purchase or possession.  You have to come up with a method that can wean out the false claims, but make it easy to address and service the real ones.  

Our first step is from our customer support team to vet if there is a legitimate claim or is it just phishing. After some due diligence, it then gets sent to the appropriate team member, and they reach out directly to the requestee. There are usually forms to fill out and some asks from us. The legitimacy of the request becomes apparent very quickly. The scams typically fall off, and the legitimate requests are handled swiftly.

Aisha Shannon-Bates Founder, Coil Beauty

We get emails regularly from “bloggers” who want us to send them products to try and they will give us exposure by reviewing these products. We typically do a bit of research on these people and do not respond. In the off chance that we do respond, we usually ask them to send over a portfolio showing their reach as well as previous work. Usually, after that, we do not hear back from them.

ROZY KRISTON Founder, Ampersand

Before, we had samples of our serums we used [when we received] requests from beauty and skincare enthusiasts for free products all the time. More often than not, it would be because they suffered from sensitive skin so they wanted to try before they buy. If they had a substantial following on their social media accounts, they would offer to review and test our products in exchange for freebies. We even received a request from a bride wanting to give out our serums as wedding favors. Needless to say, almost none of the product we gave away led to subsequent sales.

Tracy Brown CEO and Co-Founder, Priya Apotheca

Instagram, like all social media, has its good and bad. It's an amazing way to connect, but that immediate connection does leave a brand open to many random outreaches. There have been a few where we really had to do our homework. It might still look good from the outside, even when you do your homework.  

At the end of the day, however, sometimes you just have to go with your instinct. We’ve had to walk away from a few things that sounded promising, but ultimately just didn’t feel good. So far, it’s not steered us wrong.

Ada Polla CEO, Alchimie Forever

We are fortunate in that we have not faced free product request scams. Perhaps we are too naive to know they’re a scam! I do take pause when customers who purchased DTC via our website reach out to us and say that, while a package shows as being delivered, they have not received it. This is, of course, not necessarily a scam. Indeed, package theft is a thing, and items can get lost in the mail. 

When we receive such messages, we look at the person’s order history, check to see if this has happened before, and what type of address this was supposed to reach. Overall, I have to admit, more often than not, we end up resending the package. It’s good customer service.

Brian Oh Founder and CEO, Venn Skincare

We often receive e-mails asking for free products in exchange for reviews. When we first launched the brand, we would reach out to beauty influencers for product reviews and postings, but we’ve learned that, because our customer demographic is people who are more interested in prestige/luxury beauty and are willing to spend for products in such category, it is a better investment for us to focus on certain influencers who cater to this demographic. So, we’ve shifted our strategy to invest in influencer campaigns with select influencers. Otherwise, we haven’t encountered any other scams yet.

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