Wedding Photographers Beware: Email Scams!

They say you haven’t made it until you become the target of all the unsavory characters around the world, because this means you’re finally on someone’s radar (who’s NOT in your target market, to say the least!). In all the years that the internet has been around, we’ve all learned to ignore/delete any emails coming from Nigerian princes, lottery winners, etc. I think these faux-princes have figured this out, and are now conjuring up even more complex schemes to bamboozle unwary victims out of their money. We received this inquiry recently:

We usually don’t question any inquiries coming from The Knot, but a few red flags did come up.

They gave themselves 3 months to plan a wedding.

While this isn’t the norm, we do occasionally get clients with relatively short timelines. Sometimes the original photographer bailed out on them, sometimes it’s an elopement, or sometimes they’re expecting a new bundle of joy in the very near future :). Regardless of what the case may be, these are generally the exceptions and not the rule. We don’t ask why (it’s none of our business anyway), but short timelines will usually put us on Code Yellow immediately.

No telephone number, no guest count.

We find that the omission of contact information usually occurs when people are filling out their information for freebies or raffles. We get many of these types of omissions from our trade-show inquiries, or from folks who don’t really want to be contacted in the first place. Still not a biggie. But with three months till the wedding day, it’s a giant red flag that the couple doesn’t even have a guest count yet either.

The groom sent the inquiry.

99% of our inquiries come from the bride. Very few (and I mean VERY FEW) grooms reach out to us during this part of the planning process. Out of the many wedding photography inquiries we receive each year, I can count the total number of grooms who’ve contacted us on one hand. There’s usually an extenuating circumstance that requires the groom to be more involved, so that in itself does not produce the red flag – but in combination with everything else, it did.

So we sent our standard response outlining our general pricing and a request for a meeting. We received the groom’s response a few minutes later.

It reads:

Hello,

My name is Steven McCurry,i live in college park, GA(USA).I am presently in Wimbledon,London (UK) but probably will be moving back home soon and i’ll be getting married shortly after my arrival in the states to my fiance Jennifer Ronald. We will need a wedding/party Photographer to help us in making up our ceremony from the church to the hotel reception.We will like to find out what your plans are for Saturday, March 16th,2013. This is the date of our wedding so kindly let us know your availability for this day.We’ll take responsibility for your expenses regarding our plans.we might not be able to meet you soon as planned,due to our unavailability in the states but,we are willing to retain the date, that’s to make deposit for booking prior to our arrival to be sure we are interested in your service,if we really are.

Regards..

Waiting to get your response.

Steven McCurry & Jennifer Ronald

Here were some immediate red flags:

Horrible English across the board.

I had just responded a few minutes earlier that I was available for their wedding. Why would they ask again? With the name of someone who sounds like they spoke proper English (either UK or US), it’s very odd they would ask again. Additionally, there’s all sorts of grammatical and linguistic inconsistencies on the email. I’m not going to point them out specifically (so the scammers will have to figure that out on their own, lol), but any person who speaks English as their first language will find this email a little odd. Also as a wedding photographer who receives many inquiries a year, I also know that inquiries don’t look/read like this :).

Photography market doesn’t match.

While it’s not entirely unusual for us to travel to other states to shoot a wedding, we do find it a bit out of the ordinary due to the fact that there are some FANTASTIC photographers out there in Georgia. While I’m sure it’s an ego booster for some photographers that a client would be willing to pay travel and accommodations for their services in a market that’s not their own, the first thing that comes to mind when reading this email is: “What’s up with this guy?” Not only that, the original inquiry stated that the market/venue was for NJ, but followup inquiry stated that the market/venue was for GA. Genius, I tell you :).

We know that the probability of landing on our virtual storefront at The Knot is already pretty low. The probability of landing on our virtual storefront out of the THOUSANDS of wedding photographers across the country is next to impossible, especially if the markets don’t match.

Convenient excuse for declining the meeting.

We ALWAYS meet with our clients one way or another, to make sure we’re a good fit for them on their special day. Even if it’s not in person, we can do it over the phone or over Skype/Facetime/G+ Hangout/etc. We get about a half-dozen international clients a year and the progression of the client-photographer relationship is usually more or less the same. If a couple is going to drop a pretty penny for a wedding photographer, it just makes sense that they’d want to get to know their photographer a little better (what’s involved, shooting style, special requests, etc). When clients decline meeting with us (online or in person), red flags start going up. After about 5 seconds on Google, this rabbit hole goes even deeper…

The alias being used is actually the name of someone famous.

Some folks may not have heard of Steven McCurry, but I’m sure many folks have seen his work – the most famous one being the Afghan Girl from National Geographic. While I’d like to flatter myself into thinking that some world-renowned photographer would like to hire me for my services, my ego does have its limits :).

The same form-letter was sent out to other wedding photographers.

I entered some keywords into Google, and voila! In the course of the last 4-5 months, the same inquiry had apparently been sent out to various wedding photographers across the US. Other photographers have also posted a similar post containing the same keywords, thus making it quite easy for Google (and Facebook, for that matter) to reveal this scam for what it was.

Long story short, this is what’s “supposed” to happen:

  1. Client sends a deposit of xxxx.xx to the photographer as a retainer, with overpayment included.
  2. Client will request this overpayment to be sent to some other vendor (dj/florist/band) with some elaborate reason for why they can’t do this themselves.
  3. Their check will bounce, but your check would have already been cleared.
One thing that people have to realize is this: we didn’t make it this far in our business by being foolish. Americans by nature, are a paranoid bunch (myself included), and it’s going to take more than a few ego-boosters to convince us to part ways with our hard-earned money. It’s a pretty good thing that these scammers have poor English skills, or else we may all actually be in trouble :). So wedding photographers around the world, consider this your public service announcement from Ben Lau Photography! You’re welcome :) Ben & Karis  

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