How This Photographer Beat a Check Scam

May 30, 2014  •  1 Comment
I've heard of people getting the shaft from bad photographers before but you really have to read this to believe it! 
 
So I get a text from a photographer acquaintance from another town who tells me he that he was contacted by a bride that was getting married in two months and he couldn’t take the date.  I thanked him and waited with no expectations as that sort of thing happens all of the time.  I did however get an email via my website's contact page from said bride and the email started out sounding for the most part, pretty legit. Here's how it starts
 
Hi, I'm Veronica X. Jon & I will be getting married soon. We are looking for a package list which includes 6 hours of Photographer's time and talent to shoot the day of our wedding. Package to exclude the engagement/ bridal sessions. Date- Saturday, 06/21/2014. Time- 4 pm. Please confirm you have the day available.
If you would just get back with the necessary pricing information to discuss in further detail. Thank you.

Veronica X
 
Her next email to me sounded very convincing since it even included an address as to where they lived and where the wedding would be held.
Hi Chris,

Thank you for your email. So total would run $2500 for everything you have listed below? That works fine with us. We simply want an event Coverage of our Wedding Preparation, Ceremony and Reception. Again, event at our residence address @ 6000 E X St, Sioux Falls, SD 57110** invited guests of upto 150 ppl** outdoor shooting** We are currently in Canada visiting family and friends, as well as planning from here. Most Importantly, We are both physically impaired (Hearing). So e-mail works fine for now. We can work out details via email and meet at the of arriving back home to the states to sort out the final details and times. A quick question though, Will you be sending us something like an email agreement knowing for sure you have availability on Saturday, 06/21/2014 beginning at 1:30PM? Please get back to me soon so I know you are blocking the date for us.

Thank you

Veronica X

 
     For the most part the whole plot starts out somewhat pretty detailed and certainly pulls on the heartstrings with the tie-in with a disability. Being as accommodating as I was, I just so happen to work for a school district that employs several sign language interpreters, so I contacted one to see if she would be available sometime to help interpret for me during a consultation. So the first couple of emails seems pretty normal and ordinary, but after that, that's when the weird kicks in.
     
     After sending my contract, a little over a week later I get another email from the supposed bride. The email states that she sent a check for the deposit but because she's been busy with her chemo treatments of which was never explained to me in any prior email. She further explains that she didn't send the check, rather it was sent from one of her family members. The weird gets weirder when she asks or rather states that the person who sent the check accidentally sent it for more than what the deposit required. She then states a wild request for me to take it to my bank cash and wait for it to clear and then send her cousin the difference for preparations and party planning for the wedding and reception.  Way too many red flags and the plot thickens! 
 
Hi Chris,
 
This is Veronica X. I'm sorry I have been sick receiving my chemo treatment. I just wanted to confirm if you received the check payment yet?
 
An issue came and I have just been informed the check was accidentally issued out to you for more than the required amount. I understand the additional amount on the check would have been sent out separately to my cousin to begin preparations and arrange for the necessary items needed for the wedding.
 
You will have to understand with us seeing as the check was made out from a member of our family. I'd hate for things to get any further delayed. So what I am asking is that you forward on the extra $$ as soon as you have received and cashed the check.
 
It should be fine. I will JUST email the name and the address info where to return back the extra $$ as soon as the check clears. Please let me know how you would like to handle this. Thank you
 
Veronica X
     
     With the last email being the last straw and although I was born during the day, it wasn’t yesterday, I started delving deeper.  I proceed to drive to the property mentioned in the email and when I got there, it was completely vacant. I noticed a for sale sign with a reputable realtor in town so I called him and asked some relatively simple questions without having to give too much information about his clients.  First of all, the couple that was living there were elderly, not deaf in any way, and moved into the city (this was a beautiful sprawling acreage). The realtor never heard of my client ever and mentioned that he has never heard of any wedding going on on said property.  That’s when I knew the jig was up.  Feeling angry, I went back to thinking that I originally wasn’t targeted and this was a referral. I felt a little better but still angry that I could have been duped.  I'm glad that I saw enough red flags and did my homework and didn't get suckered in for the final part of the scam. I called the state’s attorney as well as the sheriff’s department and the local police. The police were the most helpful and I say that truthfully. They have heard of that happening and told me that by the time they get a call from someone, that the deal has done gone down and it was too late!  I once again was glad that I saw the warning signs and stopped the process.  What did I write back you’re probably wondering? I wrote back stating that it was not my policy to write checks out in such a fashion and that any money I receive extra I would apply toward their second installment of payment.  I then told them I went out to their property and told them how lucky they were to live in such a beautiful place that isn’t furnished, completely vacant, and on the market to be sold.  I closed the email saying that I knew they were scammers and they should be ashamed of themselves for being scammers and that they sucked at trying to rip people off! 
 
     I’ve never heard of a photographer getting scammed like this ever but I figured this is how they plan it: 
  1. Find a mark - groom someone who looks like they could be duped. (Again, I wasn’t the first choice, thank goodness!)
  2. Find a property on the market in the listings and make sure it’s ritzy enough to be a photographer’s dream wedding property and say that that’s the address they live at and will be getting married at. 
  3. Construct a well written, tear at your heart strings email and do so with urgency that a date can be secured so there seems to be s a rush.  I could see how this is most important part of the scam because it seems like many wedding photographers I know, especially the younger, just starting out ones will do just about anything to book a wedding.  It seems like they would slit their own mother’s throat to undercut someone else so they get a wedding.  Bravo scammers!  Way to smell desperation.
  4. Send another email pleading mark photographer to have some compassion that with being so busy with chemo treatments, scam mam didn’t have time to write the check out so another family member who took care of it wrote the check for more than what the first deposit required.  Because the date is so close and because their cousin who is “preparing for wedding in town” needs the decoration money, could I send them a check for the remainder.  
  5. Sit and wait to see if mark takes the bait with a fake check.  
 
     What about the check? I did get it just a couple of days ago and it looked pretty convincing but it had no watermark and the print quality was poor.  Here is what the check and the package looked like:
 
 
This check was made out from a bank in Utah but the package was sent from Missouri. Crazy!
 
 
 
     People who fall for this take the check to the bank, deposit it (or some photographers might go out right away and spend it on some equipment they will need), send the money on to the third party, and after a couple of days when the check bounces, the mark is left stuck with a bill.  Any money that comes out of the account, the mark is responsible for and they don’t get anything back except an education.  
 
Here are some red flag tips I’ve come up with now to make sure that someone should check for.  
  1. Check to see if words like out of the country, or out of town come up.
  2. Avoiding direct phone calls and requesting email only. 
  3. Look for emotional tie-ins like medical treatments, disabilities or deaths and any other tragedies. These are often used with sense of urgency to get you to “help” them out.
  4. Checks written for more than required amounts and asking to forward on balance.
  5. If an address or venue is given, check it out. Make sure it is legit and not a front.
  6. If any vendor is mentioned, contact them and ask if the date is secured for said party.  I often call and mention that I am working the wedding for whichever date they gave me and then their name and if the vendor says “who?”, then there is a red flag.
  7. Ask to meet in person right away. Avoidance is something that scammers look for. 
  8. Rushed timing. People do some amazingly stupid things when in any hurry.
  9. Ask to friend them on social media.  See if they are who they say they are.  (I realize there are a few people that still aren’t using social media).
  10. Anything else that doesn’t make sense. The bride used a last name in which the ethnicity didn’t quite make sense having family originating from Canada.  Not totally unrealistic but it just didn’t click with me so again, threw up a red flag.
  11. The check is made out from an entity in one state and mailed from another. 
  12. In some cases, the scammer uses a courier instead of the US Postal service. Not so in this case.
 
     I don’t want to dismiss every long distance wedding as I have booked one a couple of years ago.  Both bride and groom were out of state (groom was overseas serving our great nation (Marines) and bride was stateside (Air force)) and had to plan while away.  I did Facebook friend them right away and was able to see that they were real people.  It’s unfortunate that these kinds of people try to take advantage of others especially through posing with a disability.  I suspect that the bride who contacted me probably wasn’t a bride at all.  It was probably some guy who sits at his computer all day trying to scam like this when he's not busy playing video games in his parent's basement.  
 
     Final parting thoughts, remember that there is only one letter that separates scam from scum. Please let this post help bring about awareness that photographers as well as other professional services are subject to getting scammed as well. 
 
Take care and look for my next post soon,
C

 


Comments

1.Wolfgang Bluhm(non-registered)
Thanks for the post. I just got contacted by the same spammers. Different "bride's" name, different address. Yes, the residence (in San Francisco) is for sale. Nice $4 million property. :-)

I only got the first two emails before I googled it, so I didn't get further than that. What's interesting is that the spam apparently still continues.
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