By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
It seems like we barely digest one type of fraud aimed at photographers when another arises. Earlier this week, I wrote about a travel guide scam and, within days, there comes another story about some scoundrels trying to scam photographers by pretending to be well-known professionals looking to hire freelancers. Here are the details
As reported by our friends at PetaPixel, a street photographer based in Mexico received an email purporting to be from National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala. The message contained an invitation to be the photographer/videographer for a team doing field research in Iceland funded by National Geographic that Sala would be leading. The expedition would be investigating connections between social distancing from the pandemic and climate change. Pretty exciting, right?
So, the photographer, Frederik Trovatten, replied that he was, indeed, interested in the role. He then received a detailed itinerary and an offer of $3,500 plus travel expenses. Perfect! The photographer accepted.
Then Trovatten gets a message saying that, because he is located outside the United States and because a freelancer failed to show up for a previous assignment, an $850 “commitment/registration fee” was required, which would be refunded after the assignment was complete.
Are your hackles rising in alarm? Is your fraud meter blinking red in warning?
While first thinking a deposit might be a reasonable request, Trovatten started Googling and found that Enric Sala’s name had been used in several scams. It was enough of a problem that National Geographic has prominent fraud warnings on their webpage about Sala. A similar email scam using the name of National Geographic Explorer Corey Jaskolski has also been reported.
In a similar vein, swindlers have been using Art Wolfe’s name in a scam involving modeling for apparel companies.
Last year, we wrote about a somewhat similar international scheme using the names of VIPs, such as publisher Rupert Murdoch’s wife, promising exciting and well-paid work but first needing payment for permits and permissions in a foreign country.
And there’s another scam where someone claiming to represent a major publishing house contacts people who have self-published books. They say they’re interested in buying and publishing your book but … wait for it … they need you to send them money for attorney’s fees or image clearance costs or something else.
Large media companies sometimes discover artists and photographers on social media, so a contact from out of the blue isn’t automatically fraud. If you’re asked to send money, well, that’s the first sign this may not be on the up and up.
While we enjoy the ability to reach a worldwide audience with our photos, the stories behind them, and the meanings they convey, the same technologies enable anyone to reach us. It pays to be skeptical and do your due diligence before acting on anything from someone you don’t know.
Trovatten found the warnings on the National Geographic web page, but there were other things he could have checked. If you’re contacted, out of the blue, purportedly by a well-known photographer like Sala, take a look at the email address it was sent from. (The message to Trovatten was from firstname.lastname@example.org.) You could check the website and social media accounts of the real person and see if the email address or anything else checks out. You could try contacting the person through his website to verify the offer you received.
The National Geographic page lists no active grants for Sala. There’s nothing on his website about this social distancing research project. Instead, his Twitter feed and Instagram account are full of posts about saving the oceans (he founded Pristine Seas, a project to protect and conserve the remaining wild places in the world’s oceans.)
When a little research yields lots of red flags it’s time to proceed cautiously, not charge ahead like a bull.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photography services to nonprofit organizations. He also manages NANPA’s blog.