There is currently a scam running rampant throughout the photography community and it has damaged countless reputable businesses already. The scam usually perpetuates from your contact form or direct email if listed on your website. Hopefully you won’t encounter this at all, but if you do here are some steps to protect yourself.
What is the scam?
One word: extortion. At first they were targeting the newborn photographers niche, but has since expanded into the rest of the community. There are two variations that I have seen throughout Facebook groups. The first is a two-part scam where an individual emails straight out stating they do not want anything except to damage your business. This is usually followed by an email claiming to be a business reputation management company in lieu of the rampant blackmail plaguing our community. Suspiciously convenient, eh?
The second is a three-part scam. A potential client contacts you via your contact form to confirm your validity as a business and if you are worth extorting. This may be totally indistinguishable from an actual client. The email that follows, unlike the previous version, is the reputation management email. Their hope is you’ll delete it, but when the inevitable third email arrives you’ll recover this ever so helpful email from the trash bin and summon their help. The third email is some variation of a fake past client that is unhappy with your services and is threatening to deface your business on all review sites they can find.
It seems hit and miss if the extortionists follow through on their threats. If they do, you’re likely in for a headache, but all is not lost.
What should you do?
Firstly, do not respond. That is only confirms that you are indeed a valid business and they have your valid email address. I know the rage that is building inside you wants you to tell them off with various expletives in all caps, but doing nothing will yield a better outcome. I asked PPA support what should we do with said emails. Their response was to ignore them and that PPA is well aware of the scam and have reported it.
The most important step towards protecting yourself is to document and save every single email and other relevant communications. These will prove helpful when you refute the false reviews.
You should also set yourself up with Google Alerts if you have not already. You can set up a Google Alert for practically anything. It can be delivered via email or you can have it packaged into a nice RSS feed, which is awfully handy and less intrusive than email. See my post about RSS feeds. Also, like Google Alerts, you should set up Social Mention alerts, which searches social network mentions and reviews.
Luckily people are out there are on our side, fighting against those who are making a business out of ruining other peoples. Hook SEO has a great post on what to do when you receive fake reviews. Vorys Law Firm has some great information on how to retaliate and put yourself on the offensive.
Lastly, spread the word. The more people that know and protect themselves, the less revenue for these scammers. Hopefully the return for their efforts becomes inefficient and they take their crap elsewhere.
[via Eden Bao Photography]