Just like everyone else, photographers are often the target of scams. And since I have a number of photographers who regularly read my blog, I thought I’d share some tips on avoiding them.
I’ve had email inquiries like the one I received yesterday, and usually I can spot them right away. Bad grammar, too many capitalized words, and usually there’s some religious reference in them (signed “God be with you”, or some such…). It’s the basic ‘Nigerian Letter’ scheme.
The email I got yesterday, from a Reverend Peterson Brent email@example.com (or Brent Peterson…it seemed to have changed as we corresponded), was a little suspicious at first glance. But it wasn’t over the top, so I needed to proceed cautiously. He mentioned his daughter’s wedding in San Diego, and was willing to pay mileage. He even listed the event hall he claimed to have rented for the occasion. The venue was a real one, but a slightly odd choice for a wedding. So I gave him some basic rate info.
He got back to me quickly, said he was doing missionary work in the UK (no doubt converting all those pagan English), and wanted to hire me. And – wait for it – he wanted to send me a cashiers check.
A quick search of his email address on Google showed a history of attempted scams with music equipment.
So how would the scam had worked? He would have gotten my address and hooked me a little more with some details. Then he would claim he had to send me a cashiers check for an amount considerably over the total, and would I mind making change for him by sending back the difference. There would be some good excuse for why he could only send a cashier’s check in a larger amount. The cashier’s check would turn out to be bogus, but in the mean time I would have sent him real money as his “change”. This scam is played out with many variations, but it is essentially the same.
So here are some tips so you don’t get scammed:
1. First off, as a photographer you should never give someone “change” or refund an over-payment of a cashier’s check or money order.
2. Never assume that a cashier’s check is legitimate. It might even clear your bank briefly, appearing to be real. But as it winds through the banking pipeline, the fraud will become apparent, and your bank will debit the money from your account. This is especially true with overseas cashiers checks, as they don’t clear the bank nearly as quickly as do domestic ones. Either wait a good three or four weeks before acting on funds you receive this way from overseas, or simply refuse to take them. You can always accept funds via wire transfer or PayPal instead.
3. If you’re unsure, ask questions. Find out the event venue and date, and also the contact person’s name and number at the venue. If it’s a scam, your ‘client’ probably won’t have that information. Then call the venue to make sure that person has booked the date. I had considered calling the venue that Rev. Brent had claimed, but after his second email I didn’t feel there was any need.
4. If the prospective client seems to have a lack of knowledge about your work, or a lack of concern about finding out more about your services, then you should be concerned. Let’s face it, just about every legitimate client has done a lot of research before contacting you. Anyone who seems unconcerned probably has another agenda.
5. Some other things that should raise a red flag, but are not signs of fraud in themselves: bad grammar or unusual wording, excessive capitalization of words, or an international element to the process.
That said, you have to remain professional. Just because someone uses bad grammar or emails you from another country, that does not mean that person is pulling a scam. You don’t want to lose a client by overreacting. But you do want to proceed with eyes wide open.
I haven’t hear back from the Reverend, after I told him I could only accept cashiers checks drawn on a US bank, for the exact amount. And I don’t expect to hear from him!