80sTees is a Graphic Tees enthusiast’s paradise. The site sells a wide array of t-shirts with iconic scenes, quotes, and characters spanning the hit list of the last 40 years of pop culture. Founder and CEO Kevin Stecko defines the company’s mission as “to provide people who love the same things I love with a way to share their memories with the world”.
We sat down with Kevin to talk about how a company with such cool and unique merchandise handles eCommerce fraud prevention. He shared his thoughts on how to fight chargebacks, the credit card dispute process, and eCommerce fraud prevention as a business scales.
1. As a 1984 birthday, let me just say your site is awesome. I feel the need to start off the interview by thanking you for creating it. Where did the inspiration come from, and how did you manage to bring it to life?
Are you just trying to get me to talk about myself? Because if you are… I will gladly do so! In written form!
2. Ok, putting my fanboy hat down and getting serious. How prepared were you for fraudulent orders when you were just starting out? If you could go back to the first day you started selling things online and give yourself one piece of advice about fraud prevention, what would it be?
Well when I started was a long time ago, and I had no idea about fraud. I thought I had this amazing customer from Singapore who was buying thousands of dollars worth of tees from me. He placed so many orders in a short period of time it caused me to look into it and then I figured out what had happened.
Back when I started it was so different than it is today. Someone starting today I would recommend outsourcing the job to one of the companies that will insure your orders.
3. Your store sells highly unique and specialized merchandise. Do you notice any patterns about which items fraudsters tend to target? How do you determine your fraud prevention strategy for each category or brand?
The biggest giveaway is laziness. I can tell someone placing a large legitimate order because it makes sense from a merchandise perspective. A fraudster can’t put themselves in the shoes of an actual customer because they aren’t one, and that shows.
4. What was the biggest chargeback you ever got hit with? How did you try to fight it? What was the biggest lesson you took from the experience?
The guy in Singapore got me for over $1,000. I didn’t fight it because I had no grounds. The lesson there was to be extra careful on international orders, especially from Singapore in the early 2000s. Now Singapore isn’t an issue.
5. Have you ever won a chargeback dispute? If so, what was your strategy and how did you execute it?
We’ve won quite a few with Amex because they are actually reasonable. Fewer have been won with Visa / MC. The most memorable one I didn’t actually win, but I got the person to admit they received the package and allowed me to charge her card again.
I figured out that the order was placed at a hotel. The hotel actually confirmed that the person was a guest at that time and that they were accessing the internet at the time of the order and that they signed for the package. But that wouldn’t fly with the processor. So I determined where she worked, and started sending faxes about the fraud she committed. Her bosses and coworkers were seeing the faxes and that’s when she relented. I had defeated her.
Truth be told all the effort I put into that one wasn’t profitable in terms of my time. But for some reason that one bothered me so I wouldn’t let it die.
6. How did you handle the organizational challenges of combating fraud as the company grew, and how do/did you maintain a sense of proportionality between the fraud threat and the amount of resources dedicated to it?
My mother works with me and she’s done fraud reviews for the last 18 years. Other people do it as well when needed. Knowing the amount of resources to put in is hard. I have always erred on the side of too much effort because I don’t want our site to become known as an easy mark. It’s kind of like how people say you don’t have to run faster than a bear to escape. You just have to run faster than the other people. So our job is to be harder to commit fraud on than other websites so that we aren’t posted on some dark web forum as an easy place to test cards or get goods.
7. Did you have to deal with any major problems maintaining your customer experience while scaling your fraud prevention operations? How did you overcome them?
This has always been tricky. How do you investigate someone without tipping them off / how do you tell someone they “look” like a fraudster without telling them that but getting the required information? I feel like this is somewhat of an art. And sometimes we’ll flat out tell people we need more information before we can ship an order because it looks like a fraudulent order.
I had a guy just last month who had a working phone number that I spoke to on the phone who was trying to use a stolen card. Luckily he used the actual name and address of the cardholder and I was able to do a reverse address lookup on that cardholder. The actual card holder was an older gentleman who knew nothing of the order. I informed him what happened, advised him to call his credit card company, and gave him a valid phone number for the fraudster.
8. What is your current fraud prevention strategy, and how has it changed over the years? Do you use any of the fraud prevention tools currently available to merchants?
We use Signifyd to score all of our orders, and we submit orders that we think might be fraudulent to them for insurance. If they insure them we ship them, if they don’t we will decide to dig further or cancel the order from there.
That’s definitely different than in the past because 10 years ago it wasn’t so easy to get a service like that up and running.
9. What tips would you give new merchants just starting out in eCommerce, both in fraud prevention as well as in selling online generally?
I would advise to follow the same steps we do from above. Insuring every order is needlessly expensive.
For general ecommerce my best advice is to keep it as simple as possible and keep costs extremely low. Don’t believe the hype of any vendor that tells you that using their service will increase revenue by “x” percent. Never accept revenue share. Never use a service that doesn’t publish its prices.
About Kevin Stecko
Within three years of starting 80sTees.com, Kevin was making just as much money as with his regular full-time job. He really didn’t like wearing Dockers every day, so when sales grew to the point that he had no idea how he’d manage the 2002 Christmas season, he quit and hasn’t looked back.
He feels so lucky to have a business where he can provide people who love the same things he loves with a way to share their memories with the world. He plans on offering retro t-shirts for as long as he can, and not just because the alternative is to get a job. He is where he is supposed to be and doing what he is supposed to be doing.