Recently I’ve undertaken several freelance photography assignments, ranging from weddings to a Google Street View shooting to a home renovation shoot. My personal time has taken a hit as I still have a 9-5 job, so these projects consume my evenings or weekend times. The extra income has been nice, helping me improve my emergency fund. More importantly, however, accepting challenging assignments outside of my comfort zone have made me a better photographer.

Having recently obtained my Google Trusted Photographer badge and the associated listing of my services on Google’s Trusted Photographer site, people can and have contacted me with respect to my services. Most recently, an individual solicited my photography services for a family birthday party for his 90 year old mother, her children and their families. His request was for four hours of photography services and portraits of the each of the five siblings and their families. It sounded like a nice opportunity and would net me several hundred dollars.

The gentleman (or perhaps woman?) asked to pay by credit card. Being on my own as a part-time freelancer, I indicated that I did not have the mechanism to accept credit cards, however I can accept check, credit card, and PayPal. He wrote back that he was fine with checks, but that he was in a hurry and needed a proposal right away for an event that is about 45 days out. I told him fine, but I did have a few questions. In what town was he located (so I could calculate mileage), did he need me to bring a backdrop and stands, or did he have a location inside the house picked out, such as a fireplace and mantle, a Christmas tree, etcetera… His response did not address those issues, instead reiterating that he was in a rush and needed the proposal. Also, he needed my address and phone number so he could mail the check. I didn’t even think of fraud at this point, so I sent him my address and phone number but indicated I needed to speak with him to get some questions answered, in order to send out the proposal. His response did not address my questions, but instead again indicated he needed the proposal.

I thought about how I sent him my address and my suspicions arose. Why did this person refuse to answer such simple questions? Why did he refuse to give me his phone number for a discussion? Why was he in such a rush to get a proposal and so eager to send me payment? I also noticed that the emails had several typos. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he said it sounded like one of the types of scams he sees in his small business. I began searching on Google and realized that yes, this certainly appeared to be a scam in process. The supposed customer displays a sense of urgency, wants to send payment (using a stolen credit card or bad check), but in the process asks for a favor, to cover a payment to a 3rd party, such as someone who is providing a service to the supposed customer. In this scenario, I deposit the customer’s bad check or accept his credit card payment and shortly thereafter I would send a check or some sort of payment to the 3rd party. Meanwhile, the owner of the stolen credit card or bad check would realize the error, contact their bank and the customer’s transaction would be reversed, taking the money out of my account. By this time the 3rd party would have made off with the money I sent to cover the “services” he provided to the “customer.” An example of the scam can be found here:

Important Alert: Payments scam targeting web designers and other small business owners

I am kicking myself for sending my home address and phone number, but luckily I didn’t do anything else. As I sat here last night thinking about it, I began worrying about my checking, savings, 401K and IRA money, so I quickly set up credit freezes with Equifax, Experian and Transunion. I also called my bank and put some notes on my account, in case some sort of fraudulent looking transaction caught the eye of the fraud department. Meanwhile, I have protections set up on my retirement money so that can’t be taken out without a series of actions and other security protections.

So “a note to Self” and to you. Be careful out there, especially if you have your information listed on the internet. Scammers will find you and work to separate you from you hard-earned money. Don’t do what I do and get too excited when you start landing a series of customers. Look for the tell-tale signs of a scam, keep your information close to the vest, get their information first and try to meet with them. Good luck!