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Scams and frauds have long been targeting photographers, videographers, and other creatives. Family reunion, fashion magazine shoot, brother’s marriage anniversary—these are just some of the schemes eroding photographers’ message inboxes every day.

The crooks’ easiest prey are inexperienced photographers dreaming of scoring their first big gig. Yet, some scams are so sophisticated and well done that even the experienced artists may come to believe that their background checking came clean. They let their guards down and get ripped off for hundred or thousands of dollars.

With the coronavirus pandemic knocking the gig economy down and stripping many creatives of their only income, photographers become desperate for anything that comes their way. The risk of falling victim to such fraudulent schemes is even higher and the wave of ripoffs is likely to come. And, just like the virus, these plots may mutate so it is important to spot their imprint.

How Scams Work

There are several scams and frauds targeting photographers but the prevailing ploy is to make you send a check to the criminal. Why would you even do it if it is you who is supposed to be receiving money? The trickery is decades old—when they pay you, the amount turns out greater than needed. They wait to hear from (honest) you and pretend to have made a mistake by combining your payment with another vendor involved (say, a makeup artist, event coordinator, or a DJ). If you’re quiet, they’ll bring it up. What to do? You don’t want the lucrative deal with the money in your hand to fall through if you start over but thankfully, they are ok with you just sending a check for the price difference to the said vendor. There you go, you’re mailing that check.

Things go wrong when the payment they made to you tanks. If they used a cashier’s check, it takes up to a week to be cleared—and it wouldn’t because it was fake. If they paid by credit card, it had been stolen and may take quite longer for a chargeback. All the while, you already sent your real check. They cash it and disappear.

How to Protect Yourself

  1. First of all, look for the red flags. I highlight several in the case studies below.
  2. Insist on a phone conversation (better yet—a video chat!) at whatever time is suitable for them. Tell them there are several technical aspects that are best understood in a live discussion. If they reluctantly keep coming up with excuses to use texting or emailing (like they’re hearing-impaired, driving, outside the country, in bad reception area, etc.), stop wasting time.
  3. Ask the logistical questions that are inconvenient for them:
    • What’s the exact venue name and address of the shoot?
    • Who’s the contact person at the venue?
    • What’s that person’s email and phone number? Tell them you’d need to discuss your liability coverage and vendor policies. If it’s a private residence—that you need to discuss the space, lighting, electricity, and storage with them ahead of time.
  4. If they are prepared and provide you the address and names, thoroughly research them.
    • Use Google Maps and Street View to look around. One address revealed to me an abandoned house with boarded windows.
    • See if the address is legit and what type of businesses are also listed there. You may find some mismatches like a catering hall inside a two-family house or a huge solid-wall space inside a building that is all windows on the outside.
    • Check the business’ reviews and photos on Google. They may be missing or questionable.
    • If the location is all real, call them with the date, explain the possibility of a fraud, and ask if such and such is having an event. You’ll probably hear a denial.
  5. Pay close attention to the spelling of email address—they may be imitating a legit one. Replacing letters with numbers is one of the tricks. Top-level domains like .com and .net do not necessarily come from the same business and there is no copyright on them, so an impostor can freely come from vogue.net or weddingwire.org.
  6. If they email from a business-grade domain (that is, different from gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.), run a WHOIS check on it to see how old it is and where it is registered. They cannot run the same hoax for too long so that domain will likely be very new.
  7. If a website is involved, take it through a reality check: if it were a real business, what would it do to market and position itself?
    • Does it have functional links to social media channels (Facebook and Instagram, at the very least)? Are those real and active?
    • Does it have contact information? Google the phone number and address.
    • Do the photos look authentic or stock? Are they watermarked? Run an Image Search on Google to see if they come up in a different, authentic website.
    • Is there a privacy policy link, newsletter subscription, copyright information, About Us section?
  8. Similar notion may pertain to some private clients, particularly if they claim to be a rep or an agent. One must have a LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile or page. It is reasonable to ask them.
  9. If all the research looks good to you and you decide to give it a try, do not agree on the full payment upfront, do not accept an amount larger than agreed, and definitely do not send your own money to anyone.
  10. If in doubt, do not accept credit card payments. Insist on a check and give it at least two weeks after depositing to take any further steps.

Cases From Personal Experience

I’ve witnessed many such scams and frauds targeting photographers in my 15 years of professional photography career. Thankfully, never bitten the bait. Most of the time I delete the messages and block the sender immediately. Sometimes I involve into the discussion out of curiosity, especially when I see fresh stuff. Trash them once I lose interest. Thinking of a looming post-COVID-19 crisis, decided to start saving and sharing some. Here are the recent ones.

Lauriane Belair, Fashion Magazine Shoots

March 2020

Approach

They reached me via Zorz Studios’ contact form on March 26, 2020 and provided the following information:

Name : lauriane blair
Email : lauriane.belair@fashioniseverywhere.org
Phone : 9026469732
Shoot date : 05/01/2020
Message : I’m looking for an experienced photographer to work with me on an on-going fashion articles. If you are willing to work with me. kindly get back to me for more details. Thanks.

A few days after my response they sent me this:

Hello ,

I saw your website when I was searching for fashion photographers and would like to learn more about your services. I’m looking for an experienced photographer to work with me on an on-going fashion articles for FashionIsEverywhereMag

I’m compiling shots for Fashioniseverywhere.com “fashion page” segment and we are looking for professional photographers who want to create stunning images to feature on our website- Fashioniseverywhere.com is particularly looking for outdoor and urban looks.

If you’re interested this project, it is important to understand few details about the project. These are:

1. You will be required to work with two(2) models, one(1) hair stylist and one(1) makeup artist(MUA).
2. There will be 4 outfits per model, 4 looks for each outfit, which totals 32 looks/images.
3. Outfits/Wardrobe will be supplied by us.
4. Location, date, and time will be fixed by you.
5. We want 32 professionally taken pictures in High Res Digital Copies.
6. Delivery date: May 28th 2020
7. Compensation: $2,400 ($1,200 upfront and $1,200 final payment).
8. You will hold full image right (Licensor)

As the photographer we want you to handle other aspect of the gig and dictate the creative direction. If you can handle this, please reply with your full name/Business name (to be written on your payment and contract), phone number, and address.

I will forward a contract to be signed by both parties.

Regards,

Lauriane Belair
lauriane.belair@fashioniseverywhere.org |Author| (646) 439-4472
The contents of this email message and any attachments are intended solely for the addressee(s) and may contain confidential and/or privileged information and may be legally protected from disclosure. If you are not the intended recipient of this message or their agent, or if this message has been addressed to you in error, please immediately alert the sender by reply email and then delete this message and any attachments. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any use, dissemination, copying, or storage of this message or its attachments is strictly prohibited.

What’s Fishy?

  1. A photoshoot during pandemic, social distancing, and lockdown?
  2. Language is overly official and detailed, trying hard to look legit.
  3. Grammar usage and styling are somewhat unnatural and uncommon.
  4. They refer to Fashionseverywhere.com (real website) while their email is through a similar-looking Fashioniseverywhere.org domain. The latter returns “server IP address could not be found” error—the scammers didn’t bother setting up a website whereas it’s easy to setup email for any registered domain.
  5. Fashioniseverywhere.org domain was registered just 10 days prior to their first contact. The mimicked .com domain—almost 10 years ago.
  6. Attempts to lure a photographer with “hot topics” like logistics, copyright, payment, creative ownership, etc.
  7. A phone number used in the signature is different from the one on the contact form. Researching it brought about a curious connection to “get rich” spam content.
  8. The mimicked .com website seems to be on a passive side. Although there are newer articles, the copyright still shows year 2016 and Instagram account hasn’t been updated since September 2017. The impostors picked a site that didn’t appear too active to them or taken great care of.
Richard Howell, Daughter’s Birthday

March 2020

Approach

They reached me via Zorz Studios’ contact form on March 17, 2020 and provided the following information:

Name : Richard Howell
Email : rho2016300@gmail.com
Phone : 210-701-1668
Shoot date : 04/04/2020
Message : I will like to book you for my daughter’s birthday photographer service and which area do you service too

A few days after my response they sent me this:

Thanks for your response back and this is the info below:
Daughter’s name: Sandra Howell
Age: 20
Date: 4th of April
Time: 12pm Duration: 5 hours
Venue: 896 Dekalb Ave Brooklyn, NY 11221
Can you give me the total cost for the 5 hours service with the album for the photo to cover the event. I will be looking forward to hearing from you

Best Regards,
Richard Howell
Cellphone: 210-701-1668

After submitting a quote out of curiosity, they wrote:

I am very much okay with the estimate and I will like to make a down deposit because I need everything to be in a good shape before due date. I would like you to send me a proposal along with an invoice from the credit card reader to make the payment so you can have the date secure for me

What’s Fishy?

  1. A party during pandemic, social distancing, and lockdown?
  2. Language is overly dry and detailed, trying hard to look legit.
  3. Grammar usage and styling are somewhat unnatural and uncommon.
  4. Attempts to lure a photographer with “hot topics” like easy budget and eagerness to pay the deposit.
  5. The venue is real, called The Brooklyn Bank (true, a bank converted to an event space). When asked for the venue’s contact to check on the insurance policies, they gave me the number in TX (210-538-4320) unlike the official number on Google (646-706-6055).
Peter, Brother’s Marriage Anniversary

March 2020

Approach

The guy got to me via text on March 22, 2020. As you see, I had a gut feeling:

— Hello I’m peter I will like to know if you do photography service
— Yes, unless it’s a spam.
— Not a spam. I would need your service for my brother marriage 12 years anniversary the party will be held on the on 30 of March are you going to be available on the date?
— Great, let’s talk on the phone later this morning to discuss details and pricing.
— Okay

To my surprise, he agreed to get on the phone. I dragged him through a tedious interview (normal under regular circumstances but understandably annoying to a fake client). As I had trouble understanding everything through his Afrikan accent, he asked to switch back to texting. I had my curiosity fed and agreed:

— the party will be starting by 12 noon till 8pm and i hope you can handle 8hours service for unlimited photos. I want you to get back to me with all this information so we can proceed asap. I will be needing a Photo Size of: 4×6 5×7 8×10 11×14 16×20 and portrait Framed 20 x 24 in 7 potraits of my family,I will like to have the total cost now
— I need the address, please, and number of people.
— 212 W 44th st,New York, Ny 10036. 90 to 100 people will be there
— What’s the name of the hall?
— corporate events & Weddings GH. That the name of the hall
— Nice try, just what I thought from the beginning.

What’s Fishy?

  1. A party during pandemic, social distancing, and lockdown?
  2. Language is overly detailed, trying hard to look legit and unquestionable.
  3. Grammar usage and styling are somewhat unnatural and uncommon. I had several cases with Nigerian scammers in the past. While I cannot possibly pinpoint the exact accent, could not help recalling those cases.
  4. Attempts to lure a photographer with “hot topics” like big order and urgent booking.
  5. The above alone would be telling to me already but here comes the icing, showing the advances scammers are making to look real. They put together a fake location on Google Maps. Its name is awkward and blatantly sloppy from a marketing perspective; all the scant images were added by the “owner” (crook) and none by the people who visited; they date back to 2015 yet no reviews are to be seen; one of them shows an impossible view through windows in that part of Manhattan; another one is from another venue 40 blocks away, Angel Orensanz; it didn’t occur to the scammers that such a massive space would have problems fitting in that skyscraper; and finally, a website for such Manhattan gem was overlooked? Yet, a novice photographer unfamiliar with NYC might have bought it and be thrilled about a perspective of working there…
  6. Google search for a venue name brought a Facebook page for a venue in… Ghana, close to Nigeria. Alright, this one is a weak point.
Latasha’s Studio, Birthday Shoot

March 2020

Approach

This guy Daniel texted me from 512-355-7742‬ on March 4, 2020. A similar text came from Alfred from Latasha Studio at 858-771-8019‬ on March 18, 2020 regarding a maternity shoot.

— Hello. I’m Daniel from Latasha’s studio. I got your contact from Yelp. Would you be interested in a 50th birthday shoot on April 15, 2020?
— Hello, Daniel! Sure, I love those sessions! Have you seen a couple of my related blogs on that? 🙂 Let me have your email, please, will send the info.
— Photosby.latasha¡gmail.com It will be both indoor/ outdoor shoot. Package: Edited Portrait image on USB drive release plus printed on album only. And We are hiring your service for 3 hrs location is in 215 Bonair St La Jolla, CA 92037, Starting 3pm- End 6pm. Client budget $3,150.00 let see if that Ok?
— Where is your studio located?
— We are located in Texas. Our website is under maintenance you can look it here. https://photosmylatasha.wixsite.com/arlington/our-freelance
— Thank you, I’ll check it out later. I’m available for the project. How does the payment work with you, guys?
— Let me have your name and address. Payment made via cashier or personal check gone be mail by the client through FedEx once we had reach the final agreement between your Organization. Latasha’s studio, And the client.
— Sure, I’ll provide those. I’d like to discuss something over the phone, what is a good time for you?
— Maybe when I get home late tonight
— That’s OK, I work late. 10 PM?
— No problem Great, will give you a ring then.

I didn’t try hard to call, of course. Forgot to. The following day:

— I am texting to you know if you still interested in working with us?
— Yes. Sorry I couldn’t call last night. Are you available to talk now?
— Driving at this time. What more would you like to know?
— Let’s talk when you settle. Text or call me then.
— Am in a meeting. We can text now Ok. What will you like to know ?
— No worries, so am I. Alright let me have the name and address for the client to mail a check to secure the date with your organization

What’s Fishy?

  1. Language is overly detailed, trying hard to look legit and unquestionable.
  2. Parts of the introduction are obviously copy-pasted with grammar and styling somewhat unnatural.
  3. Attempt to lure a photographer with big budget and readiness to pay without any negotiation and delay.
  4. Lack of concern for travel considerations and expenses (I’m in NY, a birthday shoot for 3 hours is in CA).
  5. A photo studio from TX is hiring another studio in NY to shoot in CA.
  6. Avoidance of a phone call. One of the excuses – driving… as if texting is easier than talking while driving.
  7. All of the above should be enough to block the sender but they add something meant to instill trust with a casual observer yet sinking their plot big time: the website. It looks LEGIT, complete with the address and contact info, portfolio, About, contact form, packages, and even booking link (albeit, non-functional). I haven’t seen such complete fake websites in this scenarios! Why fake? My research revealed that their About was copied from CustoMYze Me studio. My next guess was the portfolio and surely enough, the first image I researched was taken by a photographer from Italy. I stopped here.
Mark Foster, 50 Kids in an Abandoned House

May 2019

Approach

This one was funny. A guy texted me from 402-396-5735‬‬ on May 9, 2019.

— Hi Good morning, I would like to know if am contacting a photographer
— Yes, hello! I’m Ed.
— My name is Mark, I will like to know if you’re available for event photography. I’m organizing a birthday party for my baby niece. Let me know if you can do this and I will await to read from you soon
— What is the date and location, please?
— The event will be on the 16th of May, About 50 kids will be there with a couple parents. It should begin around 1:00pm and end by 6:00pm. There will be face painting and magic show for 2 hours and you will be staying till the party is over also I will need just 80 printed pictures with custom album. The event will hold in my baby niece parent house here in NY.
— Where is the party happening, please? The venue.
— Are you in
— I’m available and can put together a package. I’ll need your full name and email address, please. Also, the address of the party.
— What package
— Service package.
— I want the print size to be (4″ x 6″). Let me know the total cost for the prints with album and the 5 hours service so I can have the date booked right away.
— <went over the pricing>
— I’m okay with the total cost. Will 50% deposit be enough to hold the date? Also what type of credit card do you accept?
— Yes, and the deposit is exactly 50%. All major cards are accepted. I’ll need your full name and email address, please. Also, the address of the party.
— Fostermark530@yahoo.com. 1521 Bryant Ave, Bronx, NY 10460

Looked up the address on Google Maps and check this out:

— So, this is the location?
— Yes. Anything wrong
— You don’t see? It’s boarded.
— The pic isn’t current okay. They just moved there not for long
— And this will fit 50 kids plus staff and parents? Not sure if photography will work out there. I don’t want to step on them.
— If it won’t work out they would use a hall. I think they need a event planner. You don’t worry about the location okay .
— I’ll be on board if the party is moved to the hall. Let me know when it happens, will resume the discussion.
— When should I make your payment
— Not until we have the hall.
— Okay I would keep you posted Mr Ed. Have a great day.

12 minutes later the venue is arranged, and it is indeed a banquet hall.

— 1554 miniford, PI , The Bronx, NY 10460. Is this okay
— Should work. I’ll put together the contract and email you the link to my booking.
— Waiting on you
— Sent
— Got it Okay that’s fine. I’m gonna need you to do me a favor.
— ?
— I’m arranging for bouncing castle and toys for the party but I’m yet to make payment for them and this is happening because they do not have credit card facility. In this case I would need you to charge my card for both your service and his so you can help me co ordinate his fee to him and i promise to take up the tax.
— I saw this scam coming. Nice story on the boarded home, man. Wasted my time. Don’t bother replying, your number will be blocked.

What’s Fishy?

  1. Language is overly detailed, trying hard to look legit and unquestionable.
  2. Parts of the introduction are obviously copy-pasted with grammar and styling somewhat unnatural.
  3. Attempt to lure a photographer with readiness to pay without any negotiation and delay.
  4. A boarded-up abandoned house to cramp a ton of kids…
  5. The dessert… an overpayment twist early in the game.
Pridge Production, Fashion Shoot

May 2020

Approach

This came via email from Sean Ryan, ryansean884@gmail.com,‬‬ with the subject “Paid Shoot” on May 31, 2020.

This is Sean Ryan, We saw your profile on Instagram. Your photographic works are quite aesthetic and I feel you will be perfect for our fall season photo shoot gig. Pridge production is searching for a Photographer to work with on an ongoing fashion style and footwear blogging.

Pridge production is a Production company based in Tokyo and just extending to the USA so we are starting a new project at our new branch here in the USA and As the Photographer, you will dictate the creative direction of the shoot and shoot a six-hour outdoor and style focused fashion gig involving a male and a female model, one hair stylist, one makeup artist, and a pro wardrobe stylist.

Pridge production is a new media platform that publishes the best, most diverse and most relevant voices in culture, period. We makes culture pop from its collection of partners and brands. Pridge production is one of the most sought after audiences of millennial influencers ever assembled.

What’s Fishy?

This is very similar to the first covered case (“Lauriane Belair, Fashion Magazine Shoot”). I will skip the analysis. Just wanted to reference it in case you receive something similar.

Rhiyen Sharp, fashion articles for Flaunt Magazine

June 2020

Approach

I was contacted via my online form on June 22, 2020. The person introduced himself as Rhiyen Sharp at Rhiyen.sharp@flaunts.org, leaving their phone number as 646-103-8544:

I’m looking for an experienced photographer to work with me on an on-going fashion articles. If you are willing to work with me. kindly get back to me for more details. Thanks.

I sent them a standard intro email designed for the fashion collaborations and received the following response:

Hello ,

I saw your website when I was searching for fashion photographers and would like to learn more about your services. I’m looking for an experienced photographer to work with me on an on-going fashion articles for FlauntMag . I’m compiling shots for http://flaunt.com/ “fashion page” segment and we are looking for professional photographers who want to create stunning images to feature on our website- Flaunt.com is particularly looking for outdoor and urban looks.

If you’re interested this project, it is important to understand few details about the project. These are:

1. You will be required to work with two(2) models, one(1) hair stylist and one(1) makeup artist(MUA).
2. There will be 4 outfits per model, 4 looks for each outfit, which totals 32 looks/images.
3. Outfits/Wardrobe will be supplied by us.
4. Location, date, and time will be fixed by you.
5. We want 32 professionally taken pictures in High Res Digital Copies.
6. Delivery

What’s Fishy?

  1. The styling and project deliverables are very similar to the case of Fashionseverywhere.com covered first in this article so I didn’t even look deep into this, just spotting a few more expected flags.
  2. They refer to the real Los Angeles-based Flaunt Magazine with the domain name flaunt.com yet his email comes from flaunts.org domain whose server IP address could not be found, unsurprisingly, and the web page does not open.
  3. Phone number is in Manhattan and does not link to any businesses on Google search.
  4. The name Rhiyen Sharp is, unfortunately, real and indeed of the Director of Digital Strategy at the actual Flaunt Magazine. With 65K+ Instagram followers, he isn’t likely to send you a message in person.
  5. The IP from which they visited my website is located in Nigeria.

Conclusion

To sum up with a cliche, if it’s too good to be true, stay away or be extra cautious. If someone is pressing you to proceed with a lucrative deal, think twice before wasting your time.

How often did you get such scams and frauds targeting photographers? Was there anything different and unique? Feel free to share below. Stay safe and healthy!

7 Comments

  1. Kagan Yochim says:

    Thank you! I will admit, I almost fell for the fashion one. The name checked out to be the same name on the website. What have me pause was the vagueness of whom the models were. I live in Montana, and asked if they had models here. It was quickly answered that they would be flown in to Montana. No particular city or date. There was some ground work being laid about paying for their fees in later email. I really appreciate you posting this!

    • Ed Hafizov says:

      Good point, thank you for adding it. I’m glad I helped some. Cannot imagine how many similar cases are out there that didn’t get to me… Take care, and good luck to your business!

  2. I got a text from Daniel from Latasha’s studio with the exact same wording. I knew something was fishy when he offered $2100 without even talking to me on the phone first. Glad I Google’d “Latasha’s studio” and found your website. There are a lot of jerks out there. If it seems fishy, it usually is. I’m so glad you posted this!

  3. Kelly Wilde says:

    Thank you for taking to the time to post this! I was suspicious from a Fashion is everywhere inquiry and I’m glad I googled her email and found this!

  4. Sophia says:

    Hi,

    My company received the same email yesterday on 8/18/20.

    Hi,

    I’m looking for professional and reliable videographers that is available to work with us to create stunning videos to feature on all our channels (website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, others) and all of our different magazine websites every season(that’s four (4) times a year).

    You will be required to work with a male and a female model. There will be 4 outfits per model. We want 2 professionally taken videos clips.( 1-2 minutes in length). And, the outfits/wardrobe will be supplied by us.

    Please note that;
    Location, date, and time will be fixed by you.
    However, delivery date: 2nd of November, 2020.(We are flexible because of COVID-19).
    Compensation: 2,900 (900 upfront and 2,000 final payment).
    You will hold full image right (Licensor)
    We will need you to handle other aspect of the gig, write creative storyboard and dictate the creative direction.

    If you can handle this, please reply with your full name/Business name (to be written on your payment and contract), phone number, and address. Then, I will forward a contract to be signed by both parties.

    Regards,

    Patrick McCreery
    President, Meredith Local Media Group

    Patrick McCreery is the real President of the Meredith Local Media Group and he even used a very good email address with in Des Moines, Iowa but when I looked up this address in using the website you showed earlier: https://whois.domaintools.com, It showed it was registered to Dan Armstrong in New York.

    Dates 1 days old
    Created on 2020-08-18
    Expires on 2021-08-18
    Updated on 2020-08-18
    Name Servers EARTH.MONOVM.COM (has 15,734 domains)
    MARS.MONOVM.COM (has 15,734 domains)
    MERCURY.MONOVM.COM (has 15,734 domains)
    VENUS.MONOVM.COM (has 15,734 domains)

    Tech Contact Dan Armstrong
    8th W. Ave,
    NY, NY, 10012, us

    (p)

    Thank you for the website and information. It was very helpful and I appreciate your post on this.

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