Last year I wrote a post, Too good to be true, in which much of the post was devoted to bait and switch camera dealers online and in certain photography magazines (many of which are far more paid ads for dealers than they are magazines with articles for consumers). A recent event made me decide to write a follow up, but this time looking at email scams towards photographers, and no doubt there are other types geared towards other professions as well.
I recently received an email off a professional organizations public contact list. The email was in regards of providing photographic coverage to a birthday party in August. A quick look and I knew it was just a scam. Poorly written sentences (really, even worse than my own) yet from someone who is supposedly a well to do and well travelled british business person who is having their birthday party at their new address in my area. Key parts of the email repeatedly capitalized, like a mail merge letter. And of course the offer to pay my airfare was also a pretty good give away. Yeah it’s the other side of town and sometimes traffic is a bear, but airfare?
Now if you’re wondering where the scam is in all this it’s part of what’s known as a “money forwarding scheme”. Once a price is agreed upon an international money order is sent to the photographer, but for much more than the agreed upon services. The photographer is asked to deposit the money and if they would be so kind to arrange payment to another vendor for the rest of the funds (also overseas at the moment so payment must be sent out of country).
Still don’t see it? It’s not like you didn’t get paid up front. Well the problem is that first international money order is a forgery, but since it’s international it takes a fair amount of time for the banks to figure it out. You can deposit it, but those funds will be removed when the check fails to clear, but it will be weeks or in some cases even months down the road. You’re out everything that was forwarded to the other vendor.
I’ve also heard of variations of this where the scammers ask for your banking information to wire the money directly, information that can sometimes be used to withdraw money from an account as well and lead to identity theft.
Well I didn’t think much more about it, dragged the email to my trash and went upon my way. But then I saw a post from another local photographer, and a friend of mine, about how excited they where to have gotten a referral from a professional organization, the same public listing the scammers used to find my email address, for a birthday party in town on the same date as mentioned in my email.
While I think my fellow photographer had already started to have doubts about the offer by the time I contacted them and gave them my own opinions about the email.
Just for fun and to confirm my suspicions dug the email out of my trash and did reply with a quote for the birthday party, I quoted my most expensive wedding collection along with about $1000 extra for airfare and travel expenses to cover getting across town. Well late last night I was notified that everything looked great on my pricing and payment would be sent as soon as they received my address. While it’s almost tempting to provide an address, just to cost them the postage, this is where I’ll drop it.
So photographers if you get an email offer for business, and it seems too good to be true, it’s probably is a scam. Before getting too excited take a minute and do a few google searches. Check with any professional membership organizations you belong to, many will have something up about recent scams (PPA, WPPI, BBB, etc).
If you have been contacted by e-mail with such a scam, the Federal Trade Commission asks you to help them by forwarding the e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org The email goes into their database.
If you have lost money on this type of scam, you’re asked to contact the nearest U.S. Secret Service field office immediately. A list is found here:http://www.secretservice.gov/field_offices.shtml