Would You Fall for These Seven Photography Scams? I Was Caught by One

Would You Fall for These Seven Photography Scams? I Was Caught by One

You probably use or run photography businesses. Beware! There is a multimillion-dollar industry that runs solely to scam businesses and clients out of their hard-earned cash. Here are a few and how you should avoid them and why one of them caught me out.

1. Vanity Awards

Preying on those seeking recognition, vanity award businesses seem legitimate. In fact, there is nothing illegal they are doing. However, they will tell you something like you have been awarded first place for the “Most Outstanding Bespoke Wedding Photographer in Newtown Prestigious Award.” That’s brilliant, isn’t it? It may seem so until you notice that you are the only business in that category.

Meanwhile, the wedding photographer down the road has also won a prize. Theirs was “Winner of the Prestigious Award for Photographic Wedding Services in Newtown.” Just a couple of miles away is Oldtown... well, can you guess what awards their two wedding photographers won?

There are red flags you should be aware of. Firstly, they charge extortionate fees; vanity awards usually require substantial payments for nominations or participation. Receiving a certificate or plaque is even more expensive. They might even invite you to an awards event that you have to pay for. Then there is the promise of dubious exposure through unknown magazines and websites.

Vanity awards are less than worthless. You end up paying for something that gives you a bad name for trying to falsify your business's reputation.

True awards from legitimate bodies won’t ever charge you for the award or for attending their presentation ceremony. They are rewarding you for a job well done and will publicize your achievement free of charge.

2. Award-Winning Photographers and Photography Services

Related to those fake awards are those who try to use them to falsely improve their reputation. In this modern world, there is a craving for quick gratification. Therefore, it is easy to see why struggling businesses receive a boost to their egos and fall for the bait that vanity awards offer in the hope it will boost their business.

If you see a photography business displaying a vanity award on its website, it’s a clear indication that they are either gullible buying into the award or want to appear as if they are doing better than they are. Consequently, I find the posting of vanity awards on websites turns me away from using them. Would you use the service of a business that tries to hide behind fake awards?

Similarly, some advertise themselves as being “An Award-Winning Photographer.” Yet, there is no mention of the award they received. I started photographing at the age of seven, the same year I got my ten-meter swimming award, so I could call myself an award-winning photographer, but I won’t.

A good reputation is hard-earned and takes time. Those who try to shortcut it and attempt to scam you with unsubstantiated claims won’t be offering a great service.

3. Fake Qualifications

Similar to fake awards are fake qualifications.

There are some great workshops run by superb photographers who will show you the ins and outs of photography without offering you a formal qualification. Similarly, there are accredited courses that offer proper qualifications through proper educational establishments.

However, there are also rogue businesses taking advantage of this unregulated industry. They offer poor-quality training that claims to be giving certificates, diplomas, and other meaningless awards.

Before signing up for any online course, check their credentials. Ask them outright if their course is accredited by any government-approved qualification awarding body in your country, then double-check with that body.

4. Undelivered Goods From Legitimate Businesses

It’s becoming increasingly common for expensive gear to be stolen at warehouses and worthless junk to be posted to photographers instead. If you have any expensive item delivered to you, start recording it on your phone from the time of delivery until the parcel is opened. Always keep the parcel in the shot. If you buy expensive gear, then use a credit card because they often offer buyer protection. Here in the UK, it is written into consumer law that they must do that. However, that’s not necessarily the case everywhere. So, check the card and how robust their purchase protection is.

Otherwise, avoid buying expensive camera equipment from businesses that operate through online marketplaces. I always, wherever possible, buy from a high street retailer. I may sometimes pay a little more, but the level of service is great, it helps the local economy, and I know what I am getting. Alternatively, I will buy directly from the manufacturer’s website.

5. Fake Goods From Illigitimate Businesses

It was nearly nine years ago when Nikon issued a warning that their cameras were being counterfeited. Criminals were relabelling D800s as D800Es. Although this is a thing of the past, other fake goods appear in online marketplaces and discount websites. Memory cards are especially easy to fake, and it’s the big brands that are most targeted.

You can again avoid the issue by buying from reputable independent retailers. Also, don’t buy the biggest names and go instead for excellent, high-grade but less popular alternatives, like those made by Exascend.

6. Fake Retailers Using Cloned Websites

I once got caught out by a fake retailer. It was not for anything too expensive. I was in a hurry when I ordered, so I followed a shopping link at the top of the Google results and paid £70 for some art materials. Happily, I received a confirmation email and a tracking number. I was somewhat surprised that the package was coming from Shenzhen in China, and even more surprised when a cheap pair of plastic sunglasses arrived in the post.

My credit card issued a chargeback to the fake supplier, and I got my money back.

Many people have been caught out by cloned websites that pretend to be legitimate retailers of products, including cameras. Often, they will have prices that are too good to be true and will pressure you into buying now. For example, they may have a countdown clock telling you how soon the offer will end.

Stop and take your time when buying online. Remember that Google does not filter its results to remove scams. It could, but it chooses not to. It’s fortunate, therefore, that other search engines are available, including those run by the big antivirus companies which do offer a degree of protection. The browser plugin, Web of Trust (WOT), is also a useful tool. You can also double-check a website against TrustPilot and other online review sites.

However, sometimes these scam websites can be new and not picked up by online protections. So, always search the site for real addresses and phone numbers. If they are not there, there’s a good chance they have something to hide. Saying that, I found a convincing-looking website and the scammers had chosen the address of an old couple just outside London.

Most fake websites, however, are easy to spot as the sites have been poorly cloned from other retailers. Many of the hyperlinks don’t work and pages are poorly designed. However, they are becoming more sophisticated.

Sadly, most of the scam sites are based in China. I tried to get the police there to act on the scam I was caught by but had no joy. I had even tracked down the real address of the scammers, but the police didn’t want to know.

There are some reputable manufacturers of camera accessories with a great reputation that are based there. However, the authorities allowing scammers to operate in that country tars all businesses based there with the same bad name. Perhaps Chinese businesses like Benro, Neewer, K&F Concept, Godox, and Lexar, plus some camera companies such as Canon that still have a manufacturing base in China, should pressure the authorities there to act against the scammers.

7. First Place on Google and Other Spam

Related to fake websites are fake emails.

A few years ago, the main culprit of sending spam emails here in the UK was put in prison. Subsequently, the number of emails being sent out fell. Over the last year or so, they have suddenly risen again. Having a photography website with a contact email address, I get targeted. Most of these spam emails claim to get me a first-place position on Google. What they are offering is, obviously, poppycock.

I’ve got first place on Google. If you Google my name, I appear at the top of the results. That’s not so surprising because, as far as I know, I am the only person called Ivor Rackham in the world. (If you are my namesake, please let me know.) Similarly, if someone near me searches for a photographer, then I appear at or near the top because, among other things, my proximity to them.

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve to help my appearance on Google. But what I do is nothing that a spammer could achieve.

Spam can arrive over the telephone too. One Indian spammer was reported by Truecaller to have made 202 million spam calls, equivalent to 27,000 calls per hour.

You might wonder why they bother when they are so easy to see through. Horribly, these criminals are targeting the most vulnerable people who more easily fall for such scams. That spammer only needs to have succeeded with 0.01% of those calls, and they will have hooked 20,200 people.

Other Types of Scam Photographers and Others Can Fall For

Of course, those seven are just the tip of the iceberg, and new scams are appearing all the time. Authorized push payments are by far the most common type of scam. This is where victims transfer money to criminals because they falsely believe they are paying a genuine business for a legitimate reason. Always double-check the legitimacy of any service or product provider before paying them.

Adverts on social media are increasingly being used to scam people to visit cloned websites that look very much like the original.

I have received text messages supposedly from people I know asking for money to help them. Often, the giveaway is that I am nobody's mom. Stolen identities are becoming increasingly common. Dating scams are prevalent too. There are also frauds where criminals hack the lawyers’ and accountants’ emails, then change the account numbers in their messages to you and advise you to pay into that one instead.

Many amateur photographers are retired and need to be on their guard because stealing pension funds in diverse ways is a multimillion-dollar business. One tactic is pressuring you into buying an investment with your pension savings. Then, of course, there are the messages you get from fake parcel delivery companies saying you need to pay a fee. If you are expecting a camera to arrive from SpeedyParcels-R-Us, and you get a call supposedly from SpeedyParcels-R-Us saying you owe them money for delivery, your first reaction may be to pay them. You were just unlucky enough to be one of the thousands called who genuinely were expecting a parcel.

Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. Never be rushed into a purchase or deal; genuine companies will wait for you to decide. Don’t follow email links to log into any online account. Always look for evidence that a company is genuine. Don’t send anyone you know money unless you are sure that you know who you are sending to. Use long and complex passwords with two-factor authentication. And trust your gut. If you have a niggling suspicion something isn’t right, triple-check it.

What If You Get Scammed?

Falling for a scam is becoming ever more common. The scammers are becoming more sophisticated and will constantly evolve new tricks to rob you of your hard-earned cash. Sadly, although globalization has brought us many benefits, it has also made it easier for us to be scammed, especially when the countries where they originate have very loose laws and ineffective law enforcement.

If you get scammed, report it to the police. If the scam came through an online marketplace, inform their customer service desk. Tell your credit card provider what has happened, too.

Keep Safe

Never believe any unsolicited email, phone call, WhatsApp message, or other types of communication is genuine.

If the communication supposedly comes from someone you know – especially your bank – treat it with suspicion until you have verified its legitimacy by another channel that you know is genuine. Call them from another phone to a number you already have, and never follow email links to online accounts.

Never give away personal information such as passwords and PINs; legitimate businesses will never ask for these.

Keep passwords safe.

I hope you found that useful. Now I must stop writing and email the Nigerian Princess I promised to help. While I am doing that, have you fallen for a scam? It's embarrassing to admit it, but it's an easy trap to be caught in.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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I will never buy anything from anyone on Facebook. I got suckered once and never again. One email that I signed up with some nice images everyday said I could have my image displayed in a show. Only cost me $10 but never another word from them. This stuff is out there, so be aware.

Yes, I know people who have been caught by that one. Sometimes these scams offer your images to be displayed in a gallery in a foreign country so you have little chance of going and viewing them. Thank you for highlighting it.

Scams are all around us. Even big names are at sending out previously returned items masquerading as new with bits missing from the box. I had that recently with a flash unit which I promptly returned. I tend to buy all my gear face to face in a shop. I would never order a high ticket item on line. The only time I do is when I use a manufacturers site on Amazon when you are dealing with the actual company and not a third party vendor. Regardless of how deal with these things it’s all to easy to fall foul to a scam.
Qualifications in photography as in film mean little as it’s all about portfolio or showreel. I have an MFA in film that counts for next to nothing in the world of film as no one cares, as people just want see what you have done. Photography is the same. People who boast about having this or having that piece of paper should be avoided. A photographer is judged on their photographs as it should be.
Nor are they judged by the brand of camera they use or the size of its sensor. Like qualifications they don’t really count for much.

All very true, Eric. Thank you.

“Even big names…” You can’t say that unless you name names. Canon? Nikon? Sony? Or off-brand stuff?

Eric can't say it? I think he just did!

Seems like you need to learn about English idiom and vernacular.

I was able to infer exactly what Eric meant. It was okay for Eric to group large companies as "big names," and I think any reasonable or intelligent person could infer what he meant without him being specific. I do appreciate that some might not have the capacity to understand that though. If you didn't understand, it would have been far more polite to just ask, as opposed to telling him what he can or cannot say.

I don't think the issue was with me not understanding the idiom; I knew exactly what you meant. My reply was just a light-hearted comment playing on the words of the prescriptive comment you made. I hoped you would have taken the joke and comprehended its secondary meaning that it is unreasonable to dictate to other readers how they choose to express what they think. That is, as opposed to disagreeing with the content of a comment.

I can name big names which do this; Walmart, Home Depot. Just two of the top of my head.

Regarding Walmart, I bought then returned, because the item was damaged, with broken parts. I had written on the packing tape, “broken platter,” and told them that I was returning it because it had a broken platter. We then went to pick up a few other items in the store.

My wife suggested to me that we get another microwave. I told her that it was the last one on the shelf that morning. She suggested that we look again, in case they had done restocking since that morning.

Sure enough, when we looked, there was only one on the shelf, and sure enough, it had, “broken platter,” written on the packing tape.

Regrettable, but how is that a scam? "Brand-new condition" on the box would have been a scam—or a careless error.

Right! Like retailers are known to sell refurbished items all the time as new, so it is not a scam! No one shops retail and expects to find refurbished.

If a decent retailer sells open box items, they label it as such, and offer a markdown. Even at BJ's, if you return aTV because it did not fit on your TV Table, and everything is it the box, it is still sent back to DDR, and NOT placed on the shelf.

Besides, this was in response to the FACT that “Big names” put used and damaged items back on the shelf, and you said, “name them.”

I named names. …And it is NOT a careless error when they are known to do this all the time.

My daughter was looking for a job recently and I had to help her double-check and wade through employment scams. The obvious tell is that they want to send you a check to buy office equipment from a specific retailer.

Good grief. I hadn't come across that one. Thanks for sharing it.

Not claiming any superpowers, but in my 79 yrs and 10 months I have always been able to smell a scam, and I have yet to fall for one. Unless this article is a scam, that is.

It is! Ha ha.

I wonder how many people have been fooled by those offering vast sums to buy their work as NFT's, and presumably end up paying the gas fees for no return.

I am assuming that others like me are being hit frequently with such requests via social media. I offer to make available once the requestor pays a $1000 deposit as a sign of good faith - then immediately get ghosted.

I was getting those. They seem to have gone quiet now, probably because most people now realise that all NFTs are worthless. Thanks for the comment.

It's not scams that most people are impacted by. Retail incompetence causes more losses. Online and physical retailers routinely accept returns of damaged goods and then resell them without inspection. Is this intentional? Do they hope eventually a buyer will not notice until after the return window has expired? Or is it simply incompetence and a lack of proper procedures? Either way, I have personally experienced this kind of problem multiple times in the last 2 years. Much more than pre-pandemic times.

The return of online gooods is hugely expensive for retailers. Many use third parties who arrange the refunds and send the goods to refurbishment businesses who check them and sell them again through their own websites. I am sure that most quality-driven companies would rather have their good name that supply faulty goods.

I have been scammed by a Kickstarter Project from BENRO. I backed their "project" in April of 2023. They were supposed to start shipping a tripod in June of 2023. Nothing has been delivered as of March 13, 2024. I asked for a refund last November. After several very saccharine emails from them, they said I would receive my refund "Next Week". No refund, either as I write this. Their page on Kickstarter has the following:

4,494 backers pledged $2,452,958 to help bring this project to life.
Last updated January 24, 2024

So I am not alone. Benro USA offers no help. There are dozens of angry comments on the Kickstarter page and some have tried to organize a class action suit. I will never buy another product from Benro and certainly won't back any more Kickstarter projects. I thought Benro was a large, reputable company, but I guess large reputable companies don't need Kickstarter. So if anyone has any information or suggestions, please let me know. I have put in a dispute with my credit card company and they cancelled the dispute because they say they contacted Benro and Benro said I received my merchandise, which is a lie. I restarted the dispute. So that credit card is also going to the shredder. I am very disappointed in several entities I've dealt with regarding this incident, but heartily agree with Eric that Scams are all around us.

I am contacting Benro for comment. I've had several dealings with them and they always seemed very reasonable, so I will give them the right to reply. If you DM your contact details to me, I will pass them on and help you get this sorted.

I know a lot of people consider the Telly Awards to be legitimate, but I've always considered them similar to the vanity awards mentioned here. I used to work at an ad agency that submitted to them and found that being a part of it cost money at every turn. They seemed OK with it and I see a lot of people showing off their Tellies, but it always seemed scammy to me.

The only awards I have ever specified that I have gotten, are the Jamaican Cultural Development Committee Annual Festival Photography Competitions & Exhibitions. (Yes, I proudly call myself an awards winning photographer for those many years which I had participated).

For any year, we know who the judges are, we know that the exhibit travel the entire country, and we can go to the exhibit in any parish to see our work. Better yet, to hear someone call you and say, “I saw your winning entries at [Name of Place] in [Name of Town].”

Only other competition/exhibition I cared about was our own (University of the West Indies Camera Club, UWICC) annual exhibition/competition, where again, for any given year, we knew who the judges were, and we knew where the exhibition was, (the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, PSCCA, at UWI, Mona). I generally do not take credit for winning any of these in my “award winning” accolades, since there is some conflict of interest, as an executive member & lecturer for many years.

I also sometimes submit my images to monthly “competitions” for free, where everyone gets a prize, and the prize is free constructive criticism. That is almost always a good prize.