Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Aside: Scam Alert for Photographers

I was flying high when I got an email today saying that my listing on the Professional Photographers of America online referal program had netted a potential customer. But it turns out a con artist in a "fund forwarding" scheme is targeting photographers on the list!

Here's the note verbatim:

Dear Sheba Wheeler,

A potential customer has requested additional information about your photography business. Their contact information and/or questions are included below. Please make every effort to reply to them as soon as possible.

Name: Paul ******
Message: Greetings! I am PAUL ******* from ENGLAND, I came across your profile after an effortless search for a professional photographer. We are relocating to my new house that I just buy in Colorado ,USA. I mean I and my wife and children on July 26th 2009, but I will be celebrating my birthday on August 13th, So I want your service on my birthday August 13th 2009. My address which the birthday party will take place is below: 1890 S Marshall Cir Lakewood, Colorado 80232 USA That is my house address that I just buy and moving from ENGLAND to in USA. The birthday party will start 12pm to 4pm, so you can arrive the same day to our house if you like, or you can arrive at our house day for the party, just let me know which one you wish to do, but my house have adjacent rooms which you can stay in one of them if you like to come for the day of party. I invited 30 friends and that is all we are expecting on the day. So let me know your charges rate for the party including the Airfare or your transportation amount, and let me know the amount all together, so I can arrange for the payment in time and you can be able to book the day for my Birthday Party. I want you to contact me through my personal email, so i can always receive your message in time, because am always on it, (GET BACK TO ME THROUGH MY EMAIL) l am attending conference meeting in china now so you can reach me on this mobile number +8613720041272 Anytime from Monday to Sunday. Thanks.

After the surprise and amazement wore off in a few minutes, my journalistic-induced skepticism kicked in. I had received a letter similar to this in the past from a scammer who wanted to rent a room in my house and tried to send me a check for nearly triple the amount of my rental free. I checked the Lakewood address which did exist, but the poor grammar and the fact that the address didn't exist made me doubt this even more.

Thank goodness, I got an email from one my most respected photography colleagues, Mark Hayes confirming my suspicions. He had received the exact same letter! A little more digging and I found this message from the PPA warning about a rise in email scam activity.

Here is how the scam works: the photographer is contacted by e-mail from someone out of the country asking for pricing information for a wedding or other event. Once the photographer sets a price for coverage, the con artist offers to retain the photographer’s services - and sends a check for an amount well above the cost of the wedding coverage. The con artist then requests that the photographer forward the overage of the funds via wire transfer to the minister conducting the ceremony, who is also in another country. For example, if the photography fee is $1,000, the con artist sends a check for $5,000 and asks that $4,000 be forwarded.

The check, of course, will bounce - but the victim will not receive that notification for up to 14 days. In the meantime, the con artist has pocketed $4,000 that was wired to them and disappeared.

From the comment below, looks like they even tried to hit up noted photographer Richard Peterson too! The con artists have gotten smarter too, using real addressed they've taken from Google Maps, and promising to make payment by credit card or money order (before switching back to a check payment offer after they get a response). But I'm with Mark: They still smell the same!

Mark says there may be an upside: "On the bright side, most of the wanna be photographers never get scams." Guess that means I'm legit now! :P


larryhendler said...

Hi Sheba,
The biggest give away, of course, is the process. Anyone who offers to send more then the price quoted is up to something. How many times are you willing to pay a contractor more than he asks for, expecting the contractor to return the excess?
Another big give away in this type of scam is the quality of the English. People will make excuses that it is not a native language, or, even native speakers make grammatical errors when typing (I know I do), but very basic childish errors is a strong indication that this is not a professional moving from GB to the US.

Philip said...

I just received my payment for $3886.11 LOL
When I first got the email, I thought, wait a minute. Dude is JUST moving to America and he already has thirty friends that will not only show up at his birthday party, but can also be there on a week day from 12-4 PM? Heck, I would do good to find 10 that would come on their off days! I knew it was a scam, but I was interested in seeing just how they were going to work it and if they would really send a payment. They aren't that smart, one, for the reasons above, two, why target business people who are ones that would more than likely investigate something like this before just depositing it, I was actually worried that they had some way that if you did cash it, to somehow link it to your account information. But I guess they aren't high tech criminals, just criminals.

Sheba Wheeler said...

I received a so called "payment" too several years ago when I was renting out rooms in my house. A model from Africa wanted to rent a room. I told her I needed more information before I would consider renting to her, but I gave her my address so she could google it and find out how close it was to her "work." So instead of answering my questions about her personality, her work, what she needed in a roommate, etc. etc. She just sent me a check. I emailed her and told her I was sending the cop to the checks and she actually got mad and started threatening to call the cops on me! So I just sent the check back to the PO Box that it came from. Never heard from "the model" again. And it was that incident that made me wary when I got this letter from "Paul" about the photography.

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