If you have a strong online presence or pay to market your photography business, bogus leads can bombard your inbox. Atlanta photographer Katie Coon received one recently.
An article published by Fox 5 Atlanta reported the story which would be familiar to many of us photographers: a new lead comes in, providing what sounds at first like a standard wedding, event, or portrait shoot. However the client doesn't want to, or apparently cannot, speak on the phone.
According to Coon, she received a text inquiry for a birthday party shoot and the following day, without as much as a phone chat, a check for $3,200 (scammers usually try to avoid phone conversations, as most of them are overseas, and their poor English or accent can raise suspicion).
Although the "I can't talk" excuse is common with scammers, do keep in mind that there could be another legitimate reason a client may not be able to speak on the phone, the main one being a hearing impairment. In these situations I've always been given a heads up from the client that this is why they aren't taking calls.
After sending the check — of course, fraudulent and worthless — the thief's next move was to tell the photographer the event was canceled and the $3,200 should be returned.
The con works by the photographer sending legitimate funds to the scammer before discovering that the scammer’s check has bounced. Now the photographer has been conned, in this case for $3,200.
Another red flag that Coon notes is the scammer's quick display of anger when the victim is slow to take the bait. Having encountered several scammers myself, I think this behavior involves more than just a defective personality. The anger and lashing out is a form of manipulation. Scammers prey on those who are weak-willed, and showing anger is a sure-fire way to get meek people to bend to your will.
I've dealt with this exact same con trick before. Years ago a scammer sent a series of emails each day after mailing me a check, each one more hostile than the last. Checking my email one morning, I had a good laugh seeing that the email subject had gone from "please send moneys immediately" to "GET ME MONEY NOW OR I CALL FBI.”
If you've been in the photography business long enough, this might not be news to you. But there will always be enough novice photographers that this scam keeps providing occasional victims.
Let's do our part to beat the scammers by sharing Coons’ story. And please share your own experiences and "red flags" in the comments below.
Photo by Maklay62 via Pixabay.
Haven't heard of this particular one yet...but unfortunately it's a decent idea for those that might feel bad and want to return the funds ASAP. I wish more of these people would be caught...such a bummer.
Quite similar to the pay forward scam (please forward $x of the payment to the designer) which relies on you paying someone with real funds while the scammers fake cheque is failing to clear.
This is basically the exact same scam but without a middleman. I've read that often the middleman you send funds to (the designer, event planner etc.) is a dummy account or even a bank account that was taken over by scammers.
This actually happened to me THIS morning. He sends me a message through the knot with his email. I emailed him asking for more info. He responded immediately with a legit address of a hotel, his and his fiances name, and estimated guest count. He then asks if I will be the one taking the pictures. When I gave him a price, he immediately responding asking for my address and phone number to send the money. I said I need to check to see if I'm available since I work a full-time job, he responded back super quickly saying he's paying the other vendors on Monday and needs my address and phone number immediately so he can send the money. When I asked to meet with him, he said, "I am not in the city for now, the check can only be mail to you, send me your details." My gut told me this was weird and then I saw this article and KNEW IT! Thanks FStoppers for confirming my gut. What trash people! Hopefully other people will not get caught like this person and I almost did. Listen to your gut, people!
Adam, I'm glad that I could help you reaffirm your suspicions. I agree, listen to your gut!
It is also important to take the time to report scams like this to the proper authorities even though it takes a ton of time and effort.
Mail fraud=report addresses to USPS
Phone fraud=report numbers to FTC/FCC
Fraud attempts=State Attorney General will collect and follow up if enough people complain.
If we don't report these crimes then they will become even more common.
The government is as worthless as the scammers. I have had a few things happen and filed reports with FBI and FTC....a waste of time. If it is under millions of dollars - they don't care. All it does is put YOU on their radar.....
I guess it is like reporting a theft to the police in Germany. Leads nowhere. Other than paperwork.
BUT how do you know that you will be put on the radar of the FBI if you report something ?
And if so - how did you find out about it ?
While I completely agree that every government is inept at best, this does not excuse us as humans from reporting illegal activity and doing our best to put an end to injustice. Any inaction on their part will be their own problem but at least I have not become complacent and as crooked as them.
In the past I have seen the USPS investigate a mail scam and I actually 'caused' a district supervisor to be 'let go' from a phone company due to my reports of shady ISP practices to government agencies in Indiana. Does it solve the big problem? No, but at least some consequences were met and I didn't keep quiet about bad guys doing bad things.
I also reported every theft to the authorities. But mainly for insurance reasons because then I have a documented "proof" of theft. But I never got something back.
If - in Berlin - you are a victim of theft you have to be lucky if the police comes to you. Mostly you have to go to them and report it. My car window was broken in the winter because somebody smashed it. I had to drive thru the snow with the open window to the police station. They have too many cases and not enough staff and money.
But in principle I agree with Refrac Sean .
Once I heard from a friend that a laptop was stolen from his car in Berlin and 1 year later he got it back from the police. They retrieved in Russia because they shattered a whole cartel of professional thieves. But this the absolute exception.
Wait a month to see if the check clears....if it does then you can send them the money back.
But a bigger scam is this. They send you a check for the whole event amount. Then they say they have to cancel but they feel so bad so keep 1/2 for your time and trouble. Then you send them 1/2 and are left with nothing.
That's a sneaky one, too. It almost builds confidence, since you think "Aw, what a nice person to let me keep half".
I am really wondering. Is this a US thing still ? You all still use checks in daily life ? Honest question...
I am from Europe and the last time I used a check was probably 1999.
Cheques/checks are widely used around the world especially for large amounts.
It is still reliable in terms of non electronic transaction between two parties.
In France, they still use them. In the Netherlands, they do not exist.
In Poland we used them around 90', but we don't anymore. Not to reliable, easily destroyed and too easy to counterfeit, I suppose.
I'm curious what the countries who have phased out checks have replaced them with, please let me know!
I’m Irish but live in Shanghai. I had more than one or two American clients ask if they could send me a cheque. I genuinely didn’t know they still existed and had to expalin to them that an American cheque coud not be cashed in China anyway. They were quite shocked. Cash is hardly used here anymore. Everything is paid for by phone.
Here in Germany nobody uses checks anymore. Like I said - the last check (called "Eurocheque") I wrote was at the end of the 90s. I just read on Wikipedia that it was eliminated 2002. That is why I was wondering that people in the US still use them.
At least here in Germany we use cash as non-electronic payment - also for bigger amounts. But that only makes sense up to a certain amount because of security and transport reasons.
Otherwise we use electronic bank transactions. This is most commonly used. Some people use Paypal. In stores they also accept credit cards. But they mostly prefer "EC-Cards" now called Girocard. This is mostly used in stores. In Berlin - for example - it is oftentimes only possible to pay cash in Restaurants - or EC Card. But not credit card. That is a mess.
Apart from cash we cannot make a non-electronic payment. At least no to my knowledge. But then it cannot bounce. ;)
any scammer say sure send a check make them pay postage etc... bleed them a small bit if everyone did this they might give up
they only do it cause some suckers buy into it
OH never got the check can you please send me another one :)
OR if you know its a pay forward just give them the local PD address and say please include all your info and a physical check as my accountant needs that and give them the address :)
I've had a scammer mail their check to my local PD. He tried the overpay with a check and ask for some money back scam. He kept texting me asking where the money was so I told him to Google the address. Never heard back after that. :)
The scam that has been tried on me several times is......a phonecall from a tech from microsoft saying they are getting warnings that someone is trying to hack my computer and they want to walk me thru the process to fix it....lol...yeah sure i am going to give them access to my computer.....lol. I used to keep them online to waste their time now i hang up on them.
my record is 26 min for the computer scam keeping them on the phone. i get this call in one form or another daily.
One guy I heard been interviwed on the raidio changed his number to a premium line number. So when the cold callers called him the longer he kept them on the phone the more money he made. Funny thing is the cold calls stopped coming in very quickly.
If you love the idea of messing with scammers (something I don't condone but find amusing) check out this YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnNlJNSRxa3PF8XrKHOEPug
The reason I don't condone it is because these people are criminals and you never know what they're capable of. Be careful if you mess with them and if you do it, do so anonymously.
you have to be a complete moron to fall for this. i'm sorry i'm harsh but really ? anyone should question something like this.
When I was selling my Nikon D3200 with a few lenses in Brazil (important) I got a few scammers contacting me. It was pretty funny...
I was selling in a website in Brazil which is similar to Ebay. They contacted me (multiple scammers, literally) saying that they wanted to purchase, but didn't wanted to go through the website, so they ask me to email them. I send them an email (they are speaking almost a flawless portuguese) and say that they want to buy the camera for their son's birthday that is in a few days (or other excuse) and ask my Paypal account to send the money. They even say they will pay 15% more than what I was asking so we can close the deal faster.
I send the Paypal account to them and immediately receive an email from "email@example.com" informing me the money was transferred. 2 minutes later they start sending emails asking me to ship the items to NIGERIA. Yes, I should ship immediately a camera from Brazil to Nigeria...
I already know it's a scam and once I start asking questions, they start to answer more aggressively and the grammar starts to decay fast. Of course that once I state that I know the email is fake, he never answers again....
That's probably a worldwide scam, but to me was sad to think that so many people prey on the goodwill and innocence of people....
There were so many red flags, really! But foreigner scammers know the American culture is based on trust, and they take advantage of that..... However this could also be a domestic scammer....
That's a good point Lou, there are plenty of domestic scammers as well. From what I've seen, those people operate different types of scams. Ever heard of the "Money Flip" scam on Instagram? Look up the hashtag #moneyflip, it's absurd.
I had the Fader magazine scam. They send you a bogus cheque and the modeling agency demands payment in advance for the shoot before the cheque can clear. They sent a contract, mood boards, model cards, a cheque, etc. A call to Fader's creative director confirmed it was a scam but I had a lot of fun for a while leading them on and making crazy demands, including Fader T-shirts with their names of them for my crew, more money, told them I was a convicted criminal and my assistants were bikers, etc, etc ... Then I fired the fake modeling agency which really confused them. They finally gave up. The next week an "ad agency" in Singapore wanted me to shoot a Coke ad campaign!
These guys reach out to me at least a few times a year. I have a standard line: "absolutely, but we only take certified US Postal service money orders". That ends it pretty quick.
I had one of these, but there were two red flags - "we are having an event IN YOUR AREA", rather than stating exactly where, plus the request to pay immediately was in the first mail. It was signed with an unusual name that was easy to google, so I quickly found that others had been scammed.
I had a similar encounter, I attempted to sell a couch on craigs list, a potential "buyer" contacted me by email and said he could only send a check for 100 dollars over the sale amount, and that I was to ship the couch and the overage to him. I asked him to western union the cash to me, then I would ship the couch. I never heard from him again.
It's best to use their own tactics (Western Union/MoneyGram) against them. It's a passive way of saying "I know what you're up to."
Just a simple bank transfer, no? I think 99% of businesses in UK would not even accept a cheque.
Even when I was younger, 15 years ago, the only people to ever give cheques were grandparents at your birthday.
I usually fax my checks....
Same in Germany.
This con has been around a while and some are just now getting caught up in it. About 4 years ago I had a guy from Los Angeles wanted me to photograph a wedding with everything by text. I was living about 450 miles from the venue. He wanted to pay with a credit card, and I said I wanted cash from a local bank. The client wanted me to front money for the business where the reception was going to be from the funds. The longer this played out the more the scam reared its ugly head. I finally said it wasn't worth my time and told the person to go find someone local. Always talk to your client in person, never accept a check and if you do verify the funds. Get a signed contract so you have something legal to back up your assignment.
So sad to hear of all the scams thanks to the internet. I am quite savvy and experienced on the Web, having been on it since the days of 28.8 KILObytes/second dial up modems. (I will not tempt fate by claiming to be immune to scams though i can generally smell them. )
This discussion reminded me of an early email exchange with a US customer ( I am in Canada) who was surprised that I would send him a part worth about $20.00 ( this around 1997) and ship it to him, waiting for him to receive it and send me a cheque. I just replied, as I typed on my clunky keyboard, looking at the green letters on the second hand CRT monitor... " You have an honest face." He was amused. And I was paid.
It is basically the same scam is the Craigslist sale, renting your apartment sight unseen, etc. Send you a bogus check for more than the sale is and come up with some reason for this and "just wire the balance back to me". Any legitimate business transaction should't require you to wire money back or wire money at all with all the traceable ways to send money instantly that are available.