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Cyber thieves targeting flower shops across Southern California

By Rob McMillan

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) — Identity theft isn’t just wreaking havoc on unassuming individuals. Cyber thieves are cashing in by stealing the identities of businesses, including flower shops across Southern California.

Angel Flowers and Gifts in Moreno Valley has run a successful business for nearly 15 years. The owners hope their customers don’t fall prey to cyber scams.

Hector Munoz, a loyal customer, said he came to the store to get flowers for his mother.

“They do such beautiful arrangements here,” Munoz said.

Lately, the owners say many of their phone calls are from telemarketers ever since a website popped up on the Internet. The site looks pretty slick with the store name and street address. The trouble is, the store owners say they have absolutely nothing to do with the website. It’s a fake.

The owners say the fake website is to blame for a downturn in business.

The fake website pops up when you search for the business on Google. The site includes a false phone number that does not lead to the store.

The owners say they’ve lost a lot of money this way, and it appears that they’re not alone.

Digging through the Internet, Eyewitness News found very similar fake websites for florists in San Bernardino, El Monte, Glendale, Carson and many other places like Texas and Canada.

“There’s no question that cyber-crime is a multi-billion dollar industry,” said Eric Feldman of the Department of Homeland Security. He said the concept behind these fake websites is simple.

“Basically hijacking somebody’s advertising in order to drive business to your own company,” he explained.

Could this be part of a larger scheme? Could the people who are placing the orders on these sites become victims themselves?

“Unfortunately putting your credit card information or your personal information on that website does expose you to risk,” Feldman said.

Eyewitness News called the phone number on the fake website for Angel Flowers and Gifts and placed an order to see what would happen. When asked about the store’s location, the woman on the phone answered, “Downtown California.”

The receipt from the website transaction did not say anything about Angel Flowers. Instead, it said Regal Flowers Store.

A couple days later, the flowers did arrive as scheduled but not from Angel Flowers. Instead, the dozen red roses came from Angelica’s Florist and Gifts located in Riverside.

When Eyewitness News called Angelica’s, the owner said the order came to her via a wire service. She had no idea she was an unknowing participant in this scheme.

“If there is a transnational organized crime syndicate behind this fraud scheme, and they are utilizing this particular fraud scheme to further that illicit enterprise, we are certainly going to target it from our end,” said Feldman.

As for the owners of Angel Flowers, they say they are waiting for law enforcement to act. Meantime, they can only hope their loyal customers don’t use the fake website and stick to the correct number listed on the good old phone book.

It’s unclear how much money is being made off the scam. From our order alone, the culprits behind the fake website made about $10. When we attempted to contact the fake number and asked to speak to a supervisor in response to the scam, they hung up multiple times.


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