As if running a small business in Humboldt County wasn’t enough of a challenge, imagine having to deal with an invisible entity posing as your business and scamming your customers.

Landry and Ensworth. Image contributed.

That’s what’s happening to Shelise Landry, co-owner of Humboldt Houseplants, an Arcata-based brick-and-mortar and online shop that sells “uncommon and rare” indoor plants. Since she and her husband Jeffrey Ensworth opened their store in early 2022, Landry has garnered a significant following of more than 74,600 followers on TikTok. Her online presence has given her business a big boost, accounting for about 45 percent of total sales. 

Everything was going great until Landry found out someone was stealing her content.

“It started a few months ago with a couple of people sending us messages on TikTok saying, ‘Are you closing? What’s going on?’ because someone was using my videos,” Landry told the Outpost in a phone interview. “I didn’t think anything of it at first, but then I got an email from a customer asking why the plant they ordered was in such poor condition. I asked what the name on the order was and said, ‘I’m sorry but this didn’t come from us … I don’t have an order for you in [our system].’”

That’s when the messages started pouring in. People started asking Landry about a bogus 90 percent clearance sale that they had seen advertised on social media. 

Just a few screenshots of the messages Humboldt Houseplants has received.

“We would have at least one person a day coming in and asking about it,” Landry said. “Eighty percent of the messages we receive are about this situation. I really can’t express how much of a time suck this whole thing has become. I’m trying to operate our small business while also having to try to report these ads on Pinterest and respond to our customers.”

One of her customers shared a screenshot of an ad from promoting the fraudulent clearance sale. The post states that Humboldt Houseplants is “closing due to unfortunate circumstances” and – to prevent their plants from “wither[ing] in vain” – the owners have decided to hold a final liquidation sale. “If you encounter problems during the payment process and the payment fails, please try to pay with another credit card.”

Scrolling around on Pinterest, I found an ad from the same source featuring one of Landry’s videos. When I clicked through to the post, which you can see in the screen recording below, I was redirected to the scam site.

A quick Google search for “tipioneshop” yields dozens of results from various scam detector forums calling the website a “suspicious shop” and “a total scam.”

“On the surface, appears to be a legitimate online retailer selling various discounted items to shoppers at prices significantly lower than major retailers,” according to an article on Malware Tips. “However, in reality, [it] is a scam website that engages in deceptive tactics to trick customers into placing orders and handing over their money or sensitive personal information.”

Malware Tips warns that the scam site is “likely part of a larger interconnected scam network based in China” that operates “countless fake online retail sites with the sole intent of defrauding customers.”

Landry has tried to report the scam site to various social media platforms but has had little success. The scam account has her blocked so she can’t interact with or report their posts. She can’t claim someone is impersonating her because she isn’t classified as a “public figure” on any of her accounts. “Nothing has come of it,” she said.

“I know that people get content stolen all the time, but it’s the fact that they have my face in my store … it’s not like they’re just using the photos I took of my products,” she said. “I haven’t really made videos since [this started happening] because I just have so much anxiety about the situation. Every time I pick up my phone this is something that I have to deal with. I’m at a loss, like, I really don’t know what to do about it.”

Reached for additional comment on the matter, Arcata Police Officer Luke Scown suggested Landry file a police report but said, “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done.” 

“If there’s an actual loss we will at least take a report and document it for insurance, but when it’s a true internet scam, as it is in this case, it is very unlikely they’d be able to get anywhere with it,” he said. “It’s almost certainly a dead end. That’s why it’s really important to be educated and aware [of internet scams]. If something doesn’t feel right trust your gut. That’s your best bet for all of internet safety.”

Identifying fraudulent websites can be tricky but, in this case, it’s actually pretty easy. Scam sites often mimic the design of the website they are posing as to make it more difficult for users to determine what is real and what is fake, but the knuckleheads at Tipioneshop didn’t even go that far, as seen below.

Humboldt Houseplants website (left) and its imposter, (right). Screenshot.

Scammers will often lure customers by advertising extravagant markdowns or deals well below average market prices. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

The Federal Trade Commission has a lengthy FAQ for folks wishing to know more about getting scammed online. That list can be found at this link.