This story happens much more often than any of us would like to believe. A beautiful model receives a text from a highly respected photographer asking if she would be interested in doing a swimwear shoot at the beach. The model has heard great things about the photographer or maybe has even worked with the photographer before and jumps at the opportunity to shoot with him. The model, back home for the holidays, drives 7 hours across the country for an opportunity of a lifetime only to find out that she has been catfished by a creeper posing as a real photographer.
The above story is basically what recently happened to a popular Instagram model two weeks ago. She received a text from an unknown number who acted like he was someone else. That someone else was swimwear and lifestyle photographer Joey Wright. The model, whose name we will call Kaitlyn for privacy purposes, did not expect anything out of the ordinary when she received the text claiming to be Joey. Below is the initial conversation.
From the text above, it is easy to see how with just a little persuasion someone could easily fool you into believing you are talking to a friend or acquaintance. The "creeper photographer" obviously found Kaitlyn's cell number, but he also knew that she had shot with photographer Joey Wright in the past through social media. By simply acting like a flirty photographer, the imposter was easily able to make the unsuspecting model feel like she was talking with Joey himself.
Over the next few days, the photographer posing as Joey persuaded the model to drive over 7 hours down to Miami, Florida for a shoot on the beach. Miami is a hot bed for swimwear and catalog photography during the first of the year when many fashion cities like New York and London are buckled down during winter. For many models, any excuse to escape the snow and head down to paradise is a very welcomed invitation. Unfortunately for both Kaitlyn and Joey, the deceptiveness quickly reached a scary threshold once a photoshoot arrangement was agreed upon.
As you can see from the string of text messages sent to the model, Kaitlyn never questioned the authenticity of this new phone number. What she should have done was call the number to speak with Joey directly or even sent Joey an email through his website to discuss the photoshoot in detail. However, you can't easily see how this sort of thing could happen since corresponding through text and email are often the preferred way of communication for many people.
As you can see from the final string of text messages below, Kaitlyn arrived in Miami 10 days after the initial contact only to find that the person behind Joey Wright's new cell number had flaked out on her. For Kaitlyn this was a bit of a godsend . You can easily imagine what could have happened had the meet up actually taken place. Without knowing what this creepy imposter looks like, there would be no way to truly know what or who the unsuspecting model might have encountered. Luckily for Kaitlyn the text messages went cold the day of the actual shoot. In a bit of frustration she messaged Joey through Facebook only to realize that he had not been in contact with her at all through this new text thread.
In the end, it appears the person behind the text messages was either harassing Kaitlyn or was too scared to go through with the original plan. Either way, this is an insanely scary situation that far too many unsuspecting girls are faced with in this industry. Joey and Kaitlyn have both contacted the proper authorities and currently the New York 347 number is being investigated. To help prevent this sort of thing from happening, I have put together a few tips on how both models and photographers can prevent themselves from falling victim to those wishing to prey on girls in this industry.
Set Up Actual Phone Calls
The most important way to prevent being catfished by a photographer is to actually call the photographer directly. By talking with someone on the phone you can easily figure out if the person on the other line is infact who they say they are or if they are trying to pull a bait and switch on you. In the case of Kaitlyn, she was friends with Joey and had worked with him in the past. A simple phone call would have instantly tipped her off that the person behind the new phone number was in fact not Joey Wright. If you are working with a new photographer that you have never met before, make sure you contact them through their commercial or personal website. Never assume any unknown number is the actual business number of a photographer without doing a little digging around online.
Only Email Through Confirmed Addresses
Another important thing to do when scheduling a shoot with a photographer is to make sure you are in contact through a direct and authentic email address. An authenticated email address should be found on the photographer's website and usually looks official by the way it is formatted. Joey for example might have email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. However, as you can see, multiple emails can easily look authentic but one might be owned by the real photographer while the other one might be setup to look like the real photographer. This means that you might have to search an email address and make sure it corresponds with the photographer's other social media accounts before accepting it as the real address. This is more important when you receive a random email in your inbox than when you are emailing the photographer directly from his or her website.
In writing this article, Joey has told me that he has heard from models that photographers have emailed them through fake emails. Something like JoeyWright2012@gmail.com or JoeyWrightStudio@gmail.com might not actually be registered to Joey Wright after all. The best way to confirm an email is to research the photographer's official website and make sure you are only corresponding through that email. It is also wise to confirm any emails over the phone when you set the initial phone call as mentioned above. Save those confirmed email addresses into your contacts so you can more easily recognize if a suspicious email matches the one you have on file.
Photographers Should Have Bio Photos On Their Sites
As a photographer, having a profile photo on your website needs to be a top priority for your business. Not only does it allow you to market yourself as a fun, approachable, and professional individual, but it also prevents other people from completely stealing your identity without you knowing. Imagine if Kaitlyn had not worked with Joey before and Joey did not have a profile photo on his website. Someone could easily act as if they were Joey, setup a shoot with an unsuspecting model, and perhaps even complete an entire photoshoot without the model knowing she was shooting with someone else. In an even worse case scenario, if the model has no idea what the photographer is supposed to look like, she could place herself in grave danger if she were to get into his car, meet him at a private location, or meet him alone in a public area. If a model knows what you actually look like it will greatly help her not fall victim to a scam or something worse.
If Something Seems Off, Dig In Deeper
No matter if you are a photogapher, model, makeup artist, or some other creative, if something doesn't quite add up or seems out of the ordinary, you should always do a little investigative work early on rather than later. In the case of Kaitlyn, she instantly recognized that the person behind Joey Wright's new cell number was acting unusually flirty which is not something Joey does with his clients and friends. That red flag should have been a warning sign to setup a phone call or to try reaching out to Joey through a more trusted means of communication. In the end, it was a message through Facebook that exposed the lies from the imposter photographer. Unfortunately by that time Kaitlyn had already made the journey down to Miami.
Speaking of digging in deeper, you should also be 100% comfortable with the type of shooting you will be doing. If a photographer is known for lingerie or swimwear photography, yet hints at doing nude or implied nude work, you should be comfortable with that upfront or raise an eyebrow if those requests seem out of line for the type of work that photographer is known for publishing. I have actually heard of a story where a model new to the industry showed up to a lingerie shoot in a hotel only to find not one photographer but a group of much older photographers waiting. None of them were the acclaimed photographer she thought she had been in talks with and the conversation was quickly moving towards something more risque than she had agreed to shoot. Instead of having to deal with an awkward departure, this model might have saved a lot of frustration by doing a bit of due diligence before agreeing to meetup.
Stories and situations like those Kaitlyn recently experienced are unfortunately not too uncommon in the photography industry. It breaks my heart when I hear so called photographers manipulating girls who for better or worse give them the benefit of the doubt. It is also infuriating being a photographer whose identity has been stolen in an attempt to exploit talent for their own gain. While this particular story deals with the inner workings of fashion models and swimwear photographers, Fstoppers has all too often reported on similar stolen identity stories among wedding photographers as well.
Photographer Matthew Simon's recently wrote an article on Fstoppers called How to Not Be A Creepy Photographer which all photographers and models should read. I hope articles like this one and Matthew's article can help make everyone more aware of just how scary a situation like Kaitlyn and Joey's can be for both models and photographers. In the end, always make sure you protect yourself when dealing with new emails, texts, and phone calls and if something seems out of line, speak up and say something.