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wedding photo scams

Every month or so I get an email attempting to scam me out of some money. Yes, as with just about everything, scammers target photographers and even couples planning a wedding. If there is an opportunity out there, someone is working hard at taking advantage of that opportunity.

The emails usually have a familiar theme to them. They are looking to book me for some event; sometimes it’s a wedding. Lately, it’s been family reunion inquiries.  A couple of weeks ago I got one for a birthday party in Oakhurst. This person, who lived in England, was arranging a party for some relative of his. They even gave me an address in Oakhurst where this party was to take place. But, the entire email has some of the hallmarks listed below.

They almost always begin by asking me if I photograph events, and they all usually end with do I take credit cards. They will ask some opened-ended questions, the event is “near me” or “close by my location,” and they will just give the month that the event is taking place, not an exact date. They want to through a wide net. If they lock me down to a specific date right away and I am booked, I am gone.

If I respond back by asking the date, they will reply a couple of dates, then begin to tell me how they will pay me. They will almost always set the terms; this is also a red flag. Most customers will ask how I handle deposits etc not tell me, plus the wording is often a little odd for the American language.

With these red flags, it’s obvious this is not a legit inquiry and I just forget about it.  I have, on a couple of occasions gone a little future. Several years ago I had one who gave me an address in Visalia where the wedding was going to take place. This sounded a little more legit. But there were still some things that caused those red flags; 1. they could not talk to me over the phone because they were deft so it all had to be by email. 2.  When I looked up the address on google, it was obviously not a place that someone would have a wedding.  In the end, they told me their uncle was going to send a check that was for double what my fee was going to be and that I should use the extra to pay the wedding coordinator, who was, of course, not a local person. I was to deposit the cashier’s check, then send them the extra money, of course, keeping a little extra for my troubles. (All before the cashier’s check bounced of course.)  Oh no, emails over.

I had a good friend of mine, a photographer who has since passed away, go all-in with one of these people. He knew from the beginning that this was a scam, but he wanted to mess with them. He got them to send him phony cashier’s checks and of course he was supposed to deposit them and then send them money back, but he just let them sit on his desk. Haha. They kept inquiring, have you chased them yet? have you cashed them yet?

Scams can also occur with couples getting married. Here the scammers try to get you to book non-existing services. Say a florist, a photographer, or even get them to pay for, or put a large deposit on a wedding dress that never gets delivered, or if it does, it’s not the quality they had ordered. If there is big money involved, and in weddings, there is, then there are people out there who are looking to scam you out of it.

How do you avoid getting scammed? Usually, it’s fairly evident that this is not legit. The wording is off, or the offer is just too good to believe. But, if you have received an email that you want to look into, ask to meet the person. Do they have a storefront (photographer, florist, dress shop) if not, can you go to their home? Ask for references, ask friends, check on social media, and more importantly, do they have a website and do they have their physical address on the site. If so check it out on google. If the website doesn’t show a physical address, that can be a red flag. Usually, if they have no internet presence or just a Facebook page, that can mean that they have not been in business very long and maybe gone by the time your wedding rolls around.

Most of this advice is just common sense. But scammers are good at what they do. That is their job. They sit at the computer all day and try to find those few people who are ready to bite and then work them out of their money.


Update;  June 2, 2019

This week I received two new scams. The first came as a referral from a friend of mine so it appeared a little more legit. turns out, it was a referral because the friend was not available for the date and simply gave the scammer my name, not realizing at the first email stage that it was a scam. I’ll just list out the emails. I am going to hide the name the scammer used because I am fairly certain that either they hacked the guy’s email address or used his photo as an avatar. We’ll just call him Joseph B.

the first email from Joseph B:  Good day my wedding is coming up on the 15th of June we like was your availability on that day and what are the packages you do offer got a referral from _________. 

Just a couple red flags but for the most part, not big ones. Starts out with ‘Good day”  interesting choice of words, then the broken English,  “June we like was your”   and “what are the packages you do offer”  but could be just poor typing skills.

My reply:  

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. We are available for June 15th,  Here is a link to our websites packages and prices page. Gives you all the details as to what we have to offer.

I have a studio on Main St. in downtown Visalia, if you would like to come in and see some sample albums and talk over your wedding plans we can set up an appointment.
At this stage, I am thinking this is not a legit inquiry but I’ll just see when it goes.
Joseph B. good day am okay with your estimate will like to have the Paris Wedding package that runs , also I’ll like to make an upfront payment if that’s possible fine and will pay the rest of the balance before the day of the event,please may i know if you are the owner to handle the job for me and what is your full name and I hope that works fine with you so I’ll like to know if you accept credit card payment. 
There it is, he dictates the terms and ends with the big one, do I take credit cards. Plus, they want my biggest package, $4000 Now, the red flag goes fully up the pole. 

My reply:  

Sound great, where is your wedding going to be? When can we meet to sign the contract?
I want them to give me some kind of location and ask if we can meet, I know that they can’t meet me, their halfway around the world for crying out loud. But I just wanted to see what they would say.
Joseph B. they wedding is happening in Glennville   am not free at the moment you can scan it to me and will sign and scan it back to you
Glenville?  OK, I have been through that little town many times on motorcycle rides, it’s in the foothills along high 155 on the way to lake Isabela.
My reply:   I am tied up also today. (sitting at the computer messing with this guy) Where in Glennville? it’s is a cool town, I know several people there. also, I do accept credit cards but only when I have it in hand. 
Of course, I take them over the phone, and anyone who was legit would say OK, I’ll give it to you on the wedding day. But, when your not!
Joseph B. Thank you for your response so i can mail it to you yes it is a  cool town
mail me the CC, the info, what the heck? Doesn’t answer where it going to be.
My reply:  Do you have time this week to meet at my studio?
Of course, I know they don’t, but let’s push a little.
Joseph B.   No, sorry. 
My reply.  Please send me the basic info, wedding location, time of the ceremony, fancies name, your address and I’ll get the contract written up and send it later today or tomorrow.
Joseph B.  Will do, thanks!  so can I still mail the cc info to you?
He’s, still concerned that I will get paid.
My reply:  
No, I’ll get the cc on the day of the wedding.
Joseph B.   Cancel
My reply:   Big surprise
Cancel because I wanted to take his CC on the day of the wedding, yeah, that would happen in real life.

The second one came from the Knot wedding site, or to be more precise, from someone on the knot. here it is.

May 30, 2019
How are you doing? I came across your advert as Photographer on the website. I need your service and Here are the services i will like you to render to us,we want you to send us your price for just two and half hours with high-quality images on 1CD and a parent album each because we will be posting some of the videos to our relatives,we will also need a high-quality copy for future references and I’m sure we could browse through your website for more prints in the future after the wedding event. Also, we want you to know that we are having two locations because its just a close door wedding in the same area, that is from the church to the reception,as soon as we have the wedding locations we will have the full information sent to you for future reference. Get back to us with the price for your service( 2/half hours ) so that we can have further discussions in the calculation, the ceremony starts by August 13/14 ,time 12:30 noon – 3 pm. Get back asap.
I got back to them by saying that I was not right for what they wanted. I was not available to be scammed out of my money that is. 
Have you been scammed, have you come across wedding scams that others may be interested in hearing about? leave them in the comment section.
9-8-20  Latest update on the scams attempts
it’s been a while since I updated this post and that’s because the scam attempts at booking an event have slowed way down. I expect that with COVID scammers have gone on to try other avenues.  (Can you say Auto Extended Warranties anyone?) Well, I got the first one in a long time just the other day. This was the infamous family reunion scam. It came from the professional Photographers of America, which I am a member. They have a search for a photographer section where customers can go and find a photographer that is a member of the organization.
We will call the person who contacted me, Dena White, Dena asked about the cost for a family reunion. They needed me for something like six hours and thy wanted portraits taken after the reunion. First red flag, people don’t usually know how many hours it will take and six hours is a long time to be at a family reunion. No date was given so I emailed them and asked when and where the reunion was going to take place. I purposly took off my contact info from the signature, so they would not have my location. It would have been easy to look me up but since I was sure this was a scammer I knew they wouldn’t take the time. If they were ligit, they would just come back with the where. They also noted that they got my name from a ‘distant friend” even though the contact came from the PPA orgazation.
The reply was much as I thought it would be, except they did give me a date. Sept 18th, a week and a half away, then they said they would give me the address at some future time that they did not specify. I told them I was booked on the 18th, not available. There reply was also expected,  they said the date was not set in stone as they did not have a venue booked. I told them to get back to me when they did and “we could talk” . The reply was they would get back to me the next day, and oh, by the way, they are “hearing impaired”. Classic, when I said we would talk, scammers of this type don’t want to talk on the phone, they almost always want to communicate by email, so being hearing impaired meant that we could not”talk”. I have had this before so it was another, not just a red flag, but a big stop sign now.
The following day they got back to me with an address in Los Angeles. I simply said that I am four hours away and that I advised them to look for some one in the LA area, I am sure you can find a few photographers in that area. I’m not holding my breath for a reply. Well, it was fun while it lasted.