By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
During times of economic disruption it always seems like there are more people trying to make some easy (if not ethical or even legal) money through scams. A couple of new swindles have recently been reported that are trying to separate photographers from their hard-earned money. And then there are the old favorites, back for another round. Here are six scams that are going around the photography community today.
Overpaying for prints
You get an email message from a prospective client who says she saw your website and loved your photos. She wants a price for buying several large prints. You oblige and she sends you a cashier’s check to complete the purchase. But wait! The check is for ten times the amount you quoted! You contact her and, oops, it was an innocent mistake on her part. She tells you to go ahead and deposit the check and send her back the difference.
Did your internal fraud detector click into overdrive? It should! The check is fake and, if you send her the difference, you’ve just kissed those dollars goodbye forever.
Paying other vendors
You’re contacted about photographing some kind of event. It sounds like a good deal at a fair—even generous—rate, so you agree. All communication is by text or email, with the “client” claiming to have a hearing issue that makes spoken communication difficult. The catch here is that the fraudster says they are from out of town and arranging things remotely. He sends you a much larger check and asks you to pay a couple of the other event vendors with the excess. Since he’s far away, it will be so much easier if you just cash his check and pay the others (often cash is requested).
Of course, the other “vendors” are in on the scam. If you pay them, they take the money and run. There never was an “event,” the check is bad, and you’re flat out of luck if you fell for it.
This one isn’t exactly new, but it is elaborate and the locations keep changing. A professional travel photographer named Carly Rudd wrote a blog about her experience with a trip to Indonesia for a supposed job that was a scam, and a dangerous one at that!
She was contacted by someone claiming to be an assistant to Wendi Deng Murdoch (Rupert Murdoch’s wife) who wanted to hire her for a job in Indonesia. Many aspects of the scam seemed legitimate, but were based on details anyone could have gotten from Wendi Murdoch’s social media accounts. Rudd was bilked out of $1400 for a fake Indonesian photography permit and might have been robbed while there had she not been warned by a local friend of hers.
The scam has targeted pros in other professions and has operated in various Southeast Asian countries.
Photo contest and book
You receive information about a photo contest with some sweet prizes, including having your image printed in a book of the top entries that will be sold worldwide. So you enter. Congratulations, your photo came in fourth. No prize, but you’ll be in the book.
But that’s not the end of it. For a mere $40, they can put your bio and business contact info in the book. And, of course, you’ll want to buy a copy of the book with your photo in it, right? Well, that’s another $100.
As you might imagine, something’s off. Typically, you’ll receive a book, badly printed and on cheap paper. Sometimes, your photo is glued into the book. Everyone won fourth place and has their image glued into their copy of the book!
Someone you have never worked with or for posts a terrible review about your photography business on yelp or a similar website. Soon thereafter (sometimes before—the timing varies) you’re contacted by an private investigator or security expert offering reputation management services, for a tidy fee, that promise to convince the poster to take down the negative review. If you refuse, you’re then bombarded by negative reviews from fake accounts on sites like ripoffreport.com, iformative.com and complaintsboard.com. The bad reviews frequently don’t even talk about the services you actually offer (e.g. complaining about unsatisfactory portraits from a landscape photographer). Reputable review sites, like yelp, allow vendors to respond to negative reviews and some victims of this scam report success by responding that the poster has never been a client and is complaining about a service they don’t offer.
Broken item on ebay
A fraudster buys a broken lens (or other piece of photo equipment) really cheaply. He then buys the expensive and pristine identical lens you’re selling. When your lens arrives, he’ll substitute the broken lens and claim it arrived damaged. It’s shipped back to you and the purchase price refunded to him. He can now sell your perfect lens and you’re stuck with his broken one. Make sure the product serial number is part of the transaction.
On a related note, it’s not unusual for unscrupulous sellers to send buyers gray market equipment, which means you won’t get the manufacturer’s warranty or be able to get it serviced at authorized service centers.
As long as there have been buyers and sellers, there has been fraud. In tough economic times, there’s likely to be more of it. Keep your fraud sensors on and keep your hard-earned money for yourself and your photography business.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog and edits NANPA’s annual journal, Expressions.