It's Not Always Easy Avoiding Scams and Bad Business Opportunities During a Global Pandemic (but It Is Possible)

When a business opportunity comes into your life during a tough time, it's easy to lose all the precautions in the hope of a promised success or fortune. But, if you are not careful, you can lose a lot more.

Unemployment and stifled or completely bust business in this industry is a common sight during the pandemic. So many industries are interconnected which means our photography or video business can be affected in various levels, whether it is the loss of clients, inability to operate, production disruptions locally or overseas, and more. The buzzword "pivot" gets thrown around a lot in the community to describe the effort of trying to turn things around and adapt your business to the current situation, for example, using remote shoots, focusing on jobs that can be completed at home, or creating a completely new direction for an income that pays the bills during times of uncertainty and maybe beyond that. Others have simply paused their business and taken on a completely new employment role, especially in industries that are currently booming and growing, such as, delivery services.

However, this situation has also brought out more individuals and businesses that know that when there are uncertainty and loss of income, it means that there are more people who are vulnerable and thus more susceptible to be encouraged to take risks. These risks may include dubious investment opportunities while the photography and video business is not bringing much in or it may even be a suspicious job position opportunity, which is a front for either scamming you out of money or misusing your personal details and sensitive information.

Before you say anything, it is important to understand that it can happen to anyone and it can happen even more so when people are at their lowest and in sheer desperation to get by and not lose the business they have built over the years. There should be no shame attached to admitting and realizing that times are tough so it's even more so important to have a clear understanding of the opportunities or offers that come your way these days so you don't end up jeopardizing your health and finances.

Fake Clients

If you are a family or wedding photographer, you have probably already seen someone post in community groups about suspicious client inquires. These could include the client informing the service provider that they are currently traveling or overseas, and need the photographer or videographer to help with finalizing some of the wedding details or they may need someone to record a family reunion. For example, the client may say that they will pay you for the service and add extra payment which they then ask you to pay to a florist or a cake maker, or another fake supplier, because they can't as they are out of the country or for another reason.

This is a typical over-payment scam because the money that comes into your account is fraudulent, while the money that you pay to the other business is real. Some scammers may even try and entice you by increasing the fee because this scam relies on you making a payment. If you offered to cover the event for free, you would soon see that the scammer will try and get out of that situation fast. 

Look out for oddly worded requests, although some of your clients may be legitimate even if they make grammar mistakes, especially if English is not their native language. Other things to look out for include asking you if you take credit cards without actually seeing or discussing your portfolio, willingness to overpay you, asking you which areas you work in before revealing the location of the event, and more. 

Fake Job Offers

You know the ones I mean. All of those "Work from home and earn $50 an hour just using your Internet and laptop" job adverts that we already saw prior to this pandemic are still going strong today. Working from home is the new norm for many of us so it's no surprise that scammers are targeting those who are unable to go to work or whose businesses have slowed down.

I had a company get in touch with me with a job opportunity after finding me here on Fstoppers. The first red flag is an individual getting in touch with you for a job and making it seem that you are the perfect fit for the role even though you haven't put yourself out there in the job market as someone who is seeking new work opportunities. For freelancers, this may actually be a red flag that accidentally gets missed because many of us are so used to people getting in touch with us for commissions or to hire our services. When something like this lands in your inbox, it can be easy to think "what if?" and to just go for it. 

The second red flag is broken communication and missing information. In my case, the emails were signed by a person who was nowhere to be found, neither on LinkedIn nor on the official company website. The company itself had a website but there was not a lot of information about it anywhere on the Internet. The communication and emails contained a few grammar errors but the information itself was very specific to the field and the industry which is what threw me off at first and made me overlook the grammar mistakes. Maybe, subconsciously I did that because English is not my native language and perhaps it wasn't this person's either. Eventually, the company sent me a "contract" that had suspicious information and made it clear to me that it is a scam.

All in all, the lack of clear information on the company website, unclear job details, and description, representatives finding you without an actual job posting, instant hiring or unusually fast hiring process, consistently incorrect grammar or mistakes, and no information available on the representatives who are contacting you can be signs of warning that this job offer is not legitimate and the goal is to obtain private or sensitive information from you or to scam you throughout the process of recruiting. For example, if the company requests bank details or promises a large down payment that is not in line with normal practices in the industry, it is possible that your details will be used for their gain. 

It can be very tempting during times of slow business to pick up a new job opportunity that just happened to land in your inbox when you needed it the most but make sure you put the time to research the job position, including the salary and how it compares to other similar jobs in the market, the company itself and the representatives who are contacting you on behalf of the company. There is no question that it can feel good when someone gets in touch with you directly and tells you that your skills and expertise are exactly what they are looking for. After you indulged in the compliments, you need to conduct research to see how legitimate this opportunity is, though. The last thing you need is to jeopardize your financial situation even more when things are tough.

Unethical Businesses

Pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses are somehow still thriving despite the destructive impact they have on individuals, their businesses, and families. Photographers are apparently no exception because, in my research of how to supplement income during slow months or a global pandemic when some photographers and videographers have had to completely shut down their business, I came across a photographer and coach giving some advice on how to generate extra income. The three things she recommended were focusing on brand photography, teaching photo classes, and joining an MLM, although, she called it "partnering up with".

Not only is this a false promise of a financial gain, because the majority who join, do not earn enough and are more likely to just break even or to lose money. You are also "groomed" through their constant attempt to sell a falsely created lifestyle with inflated benefits. Furthermore, their advice, if followed, could lead photographers and videographers to lose even more money, contacts, and reputation. Although money can be recouped in the long run, if you ruin your reputation through working with an unethical MLM business, it can be extremely difficult to rebuild it. 

They will prey on your insecurities or needs and exploit them for financial gain.

Unethical businesses like these will target those who are vulnerable and, unfortunately, many of us fall in that category due to the current financial and health issues all over the world. Businesses like these are heavily saturated with female representatives who also target other women, especially, if you are working part-time photography whilst looking after children and your family. When business is slow, there is no surprise that many can be convinced to join these dangerous schemes through the exploitation of vulnerabilities, such as, feeling helpless and unable to contribute to the household finances.

There is no reason why you should join any of these businesses because the vast majority of people will not earn more than the minimum wage jobs, and you will also risk ruining the reputation and contacts you have built over the years. 

Pay to Receive Leads

Companies that promise leads for photographers and videographers not just in the wedding industry but also in other fields, such as, portrait, commercial, and others, have been operating for a while now. The general premise is that a client posts a job, which usually contains their budget, description, location, and so forth. You, as the service provider, can bid on the job, and usually, you need to either purchase points or credits which you can then use to send your bid to the client. Other companies allow you to pay per lead without the need of purchasing credits in bulk, however, it generally works out cheaper to buy in bulk and thus many are enticed to pay out a larger sum upfront. 

Each company has a different way of processing the bids. Some allow you to see if the client has seen your message, some give you the client's contact details after sending off your bid, and some even show how many users have bid on the job and if the client has taken the action to hire someone else. There are a couple of things that these companies have in common.

Firstly, the jobs tend to be on the lower budget end, but there are exceptions. This means that your current price list may be completely unsuitable for these jobs and you will need to make a decision whether you want to undercut your previous clients by offering a similar level service to others for a lot smaller fee. It also means that the jobs you may receive, may not contribute to your portfolio nor will they result in generating new word-of-mouth leads that fit your business needs.

Credits themselves tend to be relatively expensive considering there is absolutely no guarantee that the client will get in touch with you. Some companies do offer a refund if the client has not seen the message after a certain time has passed, however, you are generally not refunded the money you spent but the credits.

Do the homework and really dive into reviews before you spend your money on bidding.

I have tried these types of websites before and I have actually got a few jobs and contacts, however, they were definitely on a lower budget than what I normally offer. A lot of times people would simply read the message but not respond or some responded by saying that they actually don't need the service anymore. This can be very frustrating because you are paying out a lot of money to be able to bid only to be ghosted.

I don't think it's a viable way of running your business at all, and I am sure that some will completely disagree with me which is absolutely fine. However, I want to point out that it is a big investment for a small return. You may get a handful of jobs to get you through the month but it is not sustainable and is costly, too. Many of these websites can be very persistent in sending out bulk emails to get photographers and videographers to sign up with the promise of great leads that will land in your inbox every day. If you are on the receiving end of one of these, take a moment to search for user feedback on this website first. It will give you a good indication of whether this is something to consider or not. 

Too Good to Be True

You know what they say about things that seem to be too good to be true. This is even more so important today than ever because we are still going through global changes, restrictions, and financial losses. Although not everyone is experiencing instability and loss of financial income, and many have been able to turn onto something else to maintain the business but lead it in a different direction, there are still plenty of those who have not had enough support from the government, have lost bookings due to travel restrictions, have not been able to freeze business bills, and so forth. 

It is with care and compassion that I wanted to write this because when things are not looking great, it creates a sea of opportunities for those who know how to exploit it. Many of us have put a lot of effort, time, and love into building our businesses which can feel like a deeply personal failure when we are unable to continue or start seeing losses. If you are one of those who have been able to glide through this without creating a big dent in your business, it is still important to look out for others who have been less fortunate because they will be more susceptible to predatory tactics and bad business opportunities. 

Luckily, there are many community groups where photographers and videographers post suspicious inquires or job offers to gather feedback from others. Sometimes we simply need another person's unbiased look at it because we may overlook certain red flags or suspicious requests.

If you have experienced or heard about other shady business tactics that other photographers or videographers may come across, please share them with us!

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5 Comments
Robert K Baggs's picture

Great article, Anete. It's far easier to get scammed than people think. Though there are still invitations from foreign princes, many scams these days are significantly more advanced. One that I see a lot of people fall for is the overpayment scam, particularly when people are selling their equipment. Twice in the last year, I've seen someone sell a piece of equipment, the person overpays "by accident", then after the seller sends the item, they dispute the transaction, get the money back plus whatever the person sent them for overpayment, AND get the item.

I'm about as paranoid as they come with online security; I use LastPass, 2-factor authentications, VPNs, the lot, but 5 or 6 years ago even I got caught by a minor phishing scam. I was working with a new client and a scammer saw the images, found the director of the company I was working with, found his email address, created one remarkably similar, sent an email to me with a PDF of a new campaign brief, and as soon as I clicked it, I lost access to my emails for an hour. Had I not had all my extra measures, this could have been much worse. Stay vigilant, folks.

Anete Lusina's picture

No wonder you're so careful! That's the thing, it used to be just blatant online scams that inexperienced users would fall for such as younger children or maybe the elderly. Now people use all sorts of tactics to track down who you know or what you do and use that against you with quite sophisticated looking offers or opportunities.

microteck's picture

Good article Anete. Has being a graduate in Criminology helped you avoid scams in any way?

Anete Lusina's picture

I think it's more because of how uni students are taught to process and analyse information regardless of the degree they study. I think that helps to be more perceptive and double check things. Having said that, being interested in crime can't be a bad thing I suppose. Keeps you up to date with how people find ways to steal and scam others!

John Simmons's picture

Great write up Anete!

I just received an email asking if our company would be interested in doing a tv feature. Guess what, after some digging on reddit you have to pay $4500 for the spot which they obviously don't mention in the email. This might not be a scam perse but still.

Also don't forget about all the crypto scams that are going on right now due to Bitcoin being in the news so much. I feel like our cyber security is out of most importance right now. With people working from home, we need protect our online privacy at all cost. There are plenty of guides out there but i did come across this guide that i did find useful: https://dealaid.org/do-good/cyber-security-guide/