Professional Photographer Almost Caught With Elaborate Scam

Scams these days are getting more and more complex and it's easier than you might anticipate to get caught out. Here's how one veteran of our industry came close to being a victim.

One of the brutal and sad truths of coronavirus is that in times of desperation, scammers become more predatory, looking to capitalize on weakness. Just this week, Anete Lusina wrote an article on how to avoid scams and how it's easier than you might think to get caught by one. In the comments, I included a story of my own, which I'll quote here:

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.

Too many people in all industries find comfort in the fact they can spot obvious scammers, but it's not an area that rewards you for confidence, but rather skepticism and vigilance. It's not remotely uncommon for scammers to send you money that (for a brief time) you could even spend, only to sting you later. In this video, Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens goes through a scam attempt by someone posing as Esquire Magazine which had him sign a contract before he realized what was happening. Morgan has been in the industry a long time and it should go to show that if you take your eye off of the ball, even briefly, it can hit you square in the face.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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Great Video, Thanks for sharing it :-)

I think we've all been approached with some kind of scam if you've been in business for long. I see nothing but red flags if they have contracts generated before I draft an estimate. I generally do not finance a project but to rush to pay out to unknown entities will stop communication on my end quickly. After twenty-seven years, it's safe to say that I'm suspicious of anyone that doesn't checkout or I've never heard of before.

There are many flavors to this scam but at the root it's a request for paying subs or contractors after they "overpay" you for the work so you can take care of them.

It's tough enough to get legitimate clients to pay so any situation where I'm supposed to pay a sub-contractor without a history of being paid by that client is money going in the wrong direction!!

LOL! A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from someone in California saying they'd seen my "portfolio" and wanted me to shoot something for a theatrical group. I responded and asked for more information. But, I never got anything that made a lot of sense. Clearly, they couldn't possibly have seen my "portfolio" as I really don't have one beyond my website and IG account ( and IG: @artemcogitatio [shameless self-promotion]). If they had, they'd have known that I clearly don't shoot what it is they were supposedly after.

Thank you for the video, it'll surely be helpful to many people. But Jay, you weren't REALLY fooled by this, even for a minute, were you? Variations of this "overpayment" scam have been around for over ten years.