Online scams are nothing new. These days, as schemes get more and more elaborate, it seems that anyone can fall victim. Photographers are no exception.
In recent weeks, several of our members received emails containing what looked like a terrific assignment. The sender, purportedly an editor from Cosmopolitan.com who found the photographers on Wonderful Machine, asked them to produce a fashion shoot. But some details did not quite add up and, one by one, the photographers started forwarding these emails to us.
We are sharing the story here to help all photographers stay alert and protect themselves against similar scams in the future.
“Hello, My name is Steven Brown, and I’m the booking Director and a contributor on www.cosmopolitan.com,” read the initial email. “I’m looking for a professional photographer to produce an independent outdoor fashion photoshoot for the magazine.”
Brown, who also identified himself as an “associate editor,” was inviting his prospects “to concept, shoot, and produce 25 images with a “smart, fun approach and distinctly Cosmopolitan style.” The images would become editorial content, which he planned to publish on “www.highnobiety.com”
In exchange, he was offering photographers a $2,000 fee, credits for the images, and “more gigs to come.” An additional $4000 was budgeted to cover the cost of two models, a hair/ makeup artist, and a wardrobe stylist. The client was to provide outfits.
“If you find this interesting enough,” Brown offered, “please apply with personal info and samples of your work.” That was perhaps most bizarre: editors don’t usually provide assignments and then ask for a portfolio. It happens the other way around.
As we started reading carefully, several other red flags appeared:
In the 12 years Wonderful Machine has been in business, this is the 3rd or 4th time this has happened. In doing some research, it appears that fake assignments are some of the most common scams used against creatives. In this case, our members were cautious and did not choose to accept the offer. What would happen if they took the gig?
If accounts of previous such scams can serve as an indication, the photographer would most likely receive a check from the “client.” This check will include the payment for their fee, as well as the talent. The sender would then ask them to deposit it into their account and promptly send a payment to the talent agency (or another service needed to prepare for the shoot). If the photographer followed these directions, their bank would initially accept the original check, after which the photographer would dutifully send their check to the talent agency. So far, so good. Except the agency would not be legitimate — it would be associated with the scammer. In the meantime, the photographer’s bank would discover the cashier check was also fake and it would bounce. By that time, the money has already been sent, and the editor is nowhere in sight. Goodbye fee! Goodbye contract! Goodbye gig!
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 photographers protect themselves against scams:
Last but not least, share your story – write on your blog, post on social media, talk to other photographers. There is no better way to combat scammers than to publicize what they do and make other people aware of their tricks.
To learn more about photographer scams, read:
Please also reach out to Wonderful Machine by emailing or calling us at 610 260 0200!