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A Series of Unfortunate Events ....

If you have kids -- particularly kids aged 12 or older -- you're probably familiar with the Lemony Snicket books entitled "A Series of Unfortunate Events" about the misadventures of the Baudelaire children. Book 13 in the series starts, "If you have ever peeled an onion, then you know that the first thin, papery layer reveals another thin, papery layer, and that layer reveals another, and another, and before you know it you have hundreds of layers all over the kitchen table and thousands of tears in your eyes, sorry that you ever started peeling in the first place and wishing that you had left the onion alone to wither away on the shelf of the pantry while you went on with your life, even if that meant never again enjoying the complicated and overwhelming taste of this strange and bitter vegetable....The end of this unhappy chronicle is like its bad beginning, as each misfortune only reveals another, and another, and another, and only those with the stomach for this strange and bitter tale should venture any farther into the Baudelaire onion. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that is how the story goes."

And, unfortunately, that is how this post goes. While I am by no means a skilled writer and storyteller like Lemony, I will do my best to share with you the series of unfortunate events The Story Teller's Pipe has recently experienced in the hopes that it will help you to save yourself from having thousands of tears in your eyes.

This story starts at exactly 10:04 am on Wednesday, the 26th of June. At that time, on that day, we received an order from a new customer for two Salvinelli tobacco pipes and a Kiribi pipe lighter that was purchased using a credit card. We noticed, however, the shipping address for the order was not the purchaser's billing address. So, being cautious, we contacted the purchaser by email at the address provided on the order form and requested confirmation of the purchase and shipping instructions. The purchaser responded within the hour and confirmed the purchase and shipping instructions, claiming the pipes and lighter was a gift he was sending to a client who enjoyed pipe smoking. Since the transaction had not been red-flagged by our merchant card processor as fraudulent and the purchaser had confirmed the order and shipping arrangements, we fulfilled and shipped the order as requested.

Now, fast forward to 12:02 pm on Sunday, the 7th of July (you can borrow my time machine if you need to). At that time, on that day, we received another order from another new customer for three more Savinelli pipes and a Kiribi lighter that also was purchased using a credit card. Like the June 26th order, we noticed this order was scheduled to be shipped to an address other than the purchaser's. This time, however, the email address provided with the order was for the person receiving the order -- not the purchaser. So, while the transaction had not been red-flagged by our merchant card processor, we still took the precaution of trying to contact the purchaser by phone at the number that was provided. Unfortunately, the phone number entered was not a valid number. So, we decided to wait and contact our merchant card processor the next day to see if they could investigate and ensure this wasn't a fraudulent transaction before we fulfilled and shipped the order.

And, thank goodness we did! As it turns out, the person whose credit card was used to purchase the three pipes and lighter the day before is astute and monitors his credit card activity. He called us as soon as we opened shop on Monday morning, thereby giving us the opportunity to avoid a catastrophe only Lemony could write about. We refunded the charges placed against his card, but that unfortunate "Baudelaire" soul now has to go through the process of having a new credit card and pin issued to him and contend with all of the fraud paperwork this kind of unfortunate event requires.

Now, we're going to get back into the time travel machine and fast-forward again to exactly 10:16 am on the 12th of July. You have to be precise when moving about in time and space or you could end up somewhere and some-when unintended rather unexpectedly ... which would be very unfortunate indeed! So, at 10:16 am on July 12th, we received an email from our merchant card processor. This email informed us the customer who purchased the two Savinelli tobacco pipes and Kiribi pipe lighter on the 26th of June "doesn't remember making the purchase" and is disputing the charge. Ouch!!

As you many know, credit card holders have the right to dispute charges made against their credit card. And, rightly so! In this age of technology and the mischievous and ingenious methods in which bad people steal other people's identities and credit card information, it's good to be able to tell your credit card company, "Hey! I didn't purchase that." and have the matter properly investigated and the charge reversed if it's determined to be fraudulent.

However, fraudulent transactions are not so good for the retailer. The short answer to "why?" is:

1) the credit card company takes back the money it paid the merchant card processor in the fraudulent transaction, and the merchant card processor takes back the money it paid the retailer; and

2) in most cases, the retailer has already shipped the order and has no way to recover the product.

As such, the cardholder is no longer liable for the charge, the cardholder's bank has recovered the money it sent to the merchant card processor, the merchant card processor has recovered the money it sent to the retailer, but ... the retailer has lost not only the money from the transaction, but also the product... a double whammy that is definitely a series of unfortunate events for the retailer.

For small and start-up retailers, even one fraudulent transaction is sometimes enough of a financial catastrophe to cause the business to close. Other times, while the retailer may be able to weather the financial loss, the retailer's voluntary (or merchant card processor-required) implementation of stricter practices/policies can drive customers away, which still causes the retailer to close.

Even though The Story Teller's Pipe is able to weather this financial loss, we have decided to implement a policy that requires customers - particularly new customers - to send us a copy of their photo ID if and when they wish to ship an order to another individual. The reason for this policy is to weed out fraudulent transactions from the real deal ... because identity and credit card thieves won't have their victim's photo ID to send to us. Brilliant, eh? We hope so! For 99.99999% of our customers, this policy probably will never be applied and won't affect you.

For our readers, the lesson of this post is to avoid thousands of tears in your eyes by regularly monitoring your credit card, if you have/use one, and being careful in how you use your card. There is a lot of information available on the internet as well as a plethora of companies that specialize in helping to protect you from credit card fraud. Regularly monitoring your credit card's activity will allow you to quickly contact a retailer if you don't recognize a charge ... which may give the retailer the ability to cancel the order before it is shipped and reverse the charge made to your credit card, thereby avoiding a bigger series of unfortunate events for both you and the retailer.

The Story Teller's Pipe values and appreciates all of its customers, and we will continue to be vigilant in the fight against credit card fraud ... not only to protect our business, but to help protect our customers as well ... because nobody wants to experience misfortunes like the Baudelaire children!

Happy Piping!

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