Online scams are nothing new. In the early days of the internet, I photographed an orthodontist who gave a Nigerian con artist a series of payments totaling over $500,000 before realizing he had been duped. But even digital natives can fall victim to increasingly sophisticated phishing schemes. Photographers in particular tend to be ripe for these tricks because they’re hungry for work and inexperienced in business. So we’d like to explain how the fraud work and how to protect yourself.
How The Most Common Photo Assignment Scam Works
- A prospective “client” emails you out of the blue with what appears to be a dream assignment.
- Once you accept, they send you a fake advance check and ask you to pay a third-party vendor (like a modeling agency) an advance on their fees.
- You deposit the fake check into your bank account.
- The bank initially credits your account, making it seem as though there is real money there.
- You them send the fake model agent (who is actually an accomplice) a real advance check in order to book the models.
- Your bank eventually realizes that the check is fake and debits the amount from your account.
- The fake client and the fake model agent stop responding to your emails.
What to Look Out For
- Did the email come from a company email address or from a personal gmail address? Most legitimate clients are going to have a company email account.
- Does the email have a branded email signature? Most people who work for reputable publications, agencies, and brands sign off with a branded email signature.
- Can you find the person on LinkedIn and are they linked to the company they say they’re working for?
- Do they provide you with a phone number? When you call, is it a company phone number or a mobile line? Do they answer in a professional manner and discuss the project in a professional way?
- Are they asking you to pay out advances to a “preferred vendor?” It’s not unusual to get advance payments when there are a lot of expenses, but when clients have a preferred vendor, they normally pay them directly.
- If they attach a creative brief to the email, does it appear on company letterhead that looks authentic?
- Does the language in the email and creative brief sound like it was written by someone who is experienced in our industry?
How To Protect Yourself
It’s only natural for freelance photographers who are trying to market their business to share information about themselves and their work with as many people as possible. This, of course, includes strangers.
The internet provides countless legitimate business opportunities, but it’s important to be aware of the risks. Here are some precautions that can help protect yourself against photographer scams:
- When considering assignments from people with whom you have never worked before, ask a lot of questions. Where is the shoot taking place? When? Who else is working on it? If you do not receive sufficient information, it should raise a flag. And if you do? Verify that information using Google and LinkedIn.
- Be skeptical. If something looks weird, paste fragments into Google and see whether anyone else has received a similar message. Scammers are too busy to write unique letters to each individual they are attempting to scam.
- Call the phone numbers they provide and try to talk to people. If the phone number doesn’t seem right, call the main phone number for that company and ask for that person. If they do not answer or insist on communicating via e-mail only, it definitely is a common warning sign of photographer scams. You can also vet names and numbers by visiting ICANN lookup.
- If you suspect you are a target of a fraud, stop engaging with that person. Instead, report the case to the Federal Trade Commission by calling their hotline 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or filing an online complaint on their website. You can also visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
If you receive a sketchy commission and aren’t sure what to make of it, send us an email to see how we can help.