There are a lot of bad people out there, trying to trick you out of your hard-earned dollars—Nigerian royalty, a long-lost friend stuck in Istanbul, work-from-home scams and more. There’s even a type of scam out there specific to photographers. When the bad people find out you’re a photographer—by scraping your email from your photo-related website or subscriptions, presumably—they send you an email designed to hit you where you’re most vulnerable: They pretend they’re a paying customer.
Here’s a typical scam solicitation, a variation on the type of email I receive every few months, annotated to help you spot all the little inconsistencies that add up to a scam.
Hello, [Notice it’s not a greeting by name. A real prospective client usually greets me by name.]
I want you to check if you have available weekends in October/November. If you have a date open [because, of course, they’re going to schedule their large family reunion based on the date the photographer is available], I want you to work on the estimate cost for the 5 hours photo coverage from 11am-4pm and 6-16×20 prints family photo portraits because we have 6 families coming together for a reunion event. [They know the prospect of selling six large prints is enough to make any photographer salivate! But also notice that nobody in any of those families wants an 8×10 or a 5×7 or, heaven forbid, some wallets—you know, the reasonable print sizes all of us order whenever we have a family portrait made.]
The event will be held locally about an hour or two drive from your location. [Which is it? That’s awfully vague. Why not “The event will be held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Anytown, USA”?] I will cover the travel expenses. [How generous!] I got your information on the Internet and I hope you can handle this event.
I’ll be making 60% down payment in advance with my credit card to book the date [I’ve never had a real client stipulate that they would make a 60% down payment in their initial message. A, why 60%? B, they don’t even know my cost. C, what if I don’t require a down payment? D, the mention of a credit card is so we’ll assume it’s all above board, yes? Just wait. It gets better.]
Also I will forward you the event venue once the event planner book the hall. [But don’t they need me to tell them which date first?] I will be looking forward to read from you with the estimate with your cell number ASAP. [Just because someone writes in broken English doesn’t mean they’re a con artist. But the implication that the emailer is from a foreign country slightly increases the odds of a scam, and more important, it makes you wonder why they’re having their family reunion here. Even more alarming is the need for my cell number ASAP! Fast is the hallmark of the scammer, so you don’t have time to stop and think about it. And even though they want your cell number, you don’t need theirs in return.]
Regards, [Again, no name. That’s just weird. How many legitimate business emails do you receive that do not include even a first name with the valediction?]
PS: Do you accept credit card payment? [Again with the credit card. This customer is very concerned with my ability to accept credit cards.Very few people—actually, none—have ever emailed me for legitimate jobs and been so concerned with discussing my methods of accepting payment prior to our discussing even the most basic details of the job, such as when and where and what I’ll be shooting. The fact that those details are missing, coupled with all the detail about payment methods, is the biggest alarm of all.]
All these little details add up to reveal that this emailer isn’t a prospective client; they’re a scammer. And, the scam, presumably, is a variation on an old con in which an initial payment (that deposit, perhaps?) or an overpayment is sent, and then the job is cancelled and a full or a partial refund is requested. When the photographer refunds the money in a timely fashion, they’re burned when the bank later reveals that the initial payment was fraudulent and has been voided. So the down payment they sent—say, $1,000—is removed by the bank. But only after you’ve sent an actual $1,000 back to the customer as a refund. That’s why you should never assume because someone is willing to pay that they’re not trying to con you.
Bad people spend a whole lot of time thinking about how to outsmart honest people. Keep your guard up so you don’t fall for it. This is particularly difficult when it comes to those who prey on your weakness of wanting to find new customers and bring in new work.