Swindlers take the money, if not the cake

E-mail orders from out of town come in all the time at Our Kitchen Is Your Kitchen, a Bellingham, Wash., bakery.

So when “Steven Nicole” sent an e-mail order for a $1,500 five-piece wedding cake to be billed to his credit card, co-owners Miykal Gates and Terri Zweber and their staff created the elaborate cake, modeled after a photo their customer e-mailed, complete with silk floral arrays on top.

Nicole authorized the bakery to charge his credit card an extra $1,000 for shipping to Canada, and he asked the bakers to wire the money to his shipper.

That seemed a bit odd, so Gates Googled “Steven Nicole” as a precaution. Finding no red flags, they wired the money. The shipper was supposed to pick up the cake that Saturday.

But Saturday came and went and nobody showed. That Sunday, Gates said, Nicole asked them to wire more money.

Gates said she and her business partner got that sinking feeling. This time they Googled “Steven Nicole cake scam” and learned that for at least two years, bakers around the country have been targeted by someone using the same digital cake picture and, at least some of the time, the same name.

The address “Nicole” provided turned out to be a storage unit.

According to some online versions of the fraud, the perpetrator sometimes tells the bakers that wedding cakes are atrociously expensive in Canada, and it’s cheaper to order them in the U.S. even if it costs $1,000 to ship them across the border.

Gates said the scheme may involve a stolen credit card. The owner of the card can probably reject the fraudulent charge, but the $1,000 money wire came from the bakery’s account.

It’s a painful loss for a small business, in time as well as money.

“I did the floral tops myself,” Gates said. “The flowers alone were about 20 hours to do.”

Gates and Zweber donated the cake to a local mission for its spring banquet.

Gates hopes that telling the story will alert other businesses to the fraud. Among other things, they started a Facebook page titled, “Look Out for the Wedding Cake Scammers!”

Stark writes for the Bellingham Herald.