Scams are nothing new to photographers, but scammers are getting cleverer and more thorough. A scammer who targeted me in November was the most convincing one I’ve had yet. I’m going to share the scammer’s emails and the clues that gave him away.
I’m not a fan of email in the first place; it always feels like drudgery to me, so I usually scan things pretty quickly to decide whether to respond. Unlike more obvious scam emails pitching family reunions, this one was harder to parse. I researched the sender and found that it was a real person in a real position with the magazine mentioned in the email. This confused me because, on the second reading, the strange capitalization, punctuation, and grammar made me suspicious.
Here is the email I received.
When you’re busy and reading quickly, it’s easy to miss some of the signs that become obvious only in hindsight. I suspect scammers know this. To make matters worse, the desire for work can make photographers even more susceptible, and scammers take note of what works and what doesn’t. In order to avoid getting taken advantage of, it’s important to pay attention to both the obvious, and the more subtle signs of a scam. Poor grammar and improper punctuation should make you hesitate and pay careful attention to the rest of the email. The generic opening, which includes nothing specific about why the magazine might have been interested in hiring me, smacks of a form email that might be sent to many people. And you should always steer clear of emails that offer to overpay you so you can pay other people. That’s a sign of classic check fraud. But those are the signs we already know to watch for. What about the more subtle clues we might not be aware of?
I reached out to commercial and editorial photographer, Alexis Cuarezma, who is well versed in chatting with magazine editors over email, to see what red flags he could find in the email. He picked up a few things that photographers with less experience may not notice. Here are the things he pointed out:
The chances of an editor using their personal Gmail on a first contact email are slim. They’re much likelier to use a work-associated email with relevant contact information in the signature line.
The scammer gave too much information. According to Cuarezma: “This person wrote out every single detail without even knowing if you're available or willing to do the job. No one is going to send out such a long email and waste so much time.”
They asked for way too much information. My full name and detailed address in a cold email? Why would they need that, especially if I hadn’t even agreed to do the job?
Another thing Cuarezma pointed out was that in my research, I could have looked for the contact info to verify the proper email address was being used. It wasn’t. The sender of my email was using a generic Gmail account instead of the business email associated with his job description. So, I responded to see if I could get the scammer to give away the game in the hope of writing this article, so you could see how a scam might give itself away in real-time.
Here is our exchange.
As you can see, the scam was clearly revealed when the scammer told me that I would be overpaid in the expectation that I would pay the team from a talent agency they had already contracted. That’s the canary in the coal mine. Classic check fraud. Just to clarify, I made sure the expectation was that the money would come to me, and I was expected to pay the team. That’s when I cut off communication and reported it. I also did a quick web search to see if the wording was reported in other photography scams, and look what I found...
I hope this exchange will be helpful in catching the current round of scammers before they take advantage of any other photographers. Please share this article if you found it helpful, and make sure to comment below with any scam emails you’ve received and how you were able to spot the signs. The more we know, the better we can defend ourselves.