Anatomy of a scam

July 20, 2015 |

Every now and then I receive an inquiry that just looks fake from the outset. This year I've gotten a few, and I've collected the emails to show you an example of how scammers try to lure photographers into refund or advance fee scams. Here is one that I've dealt with this year

Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 20:28:20 +0000 (UTC)
From: jasim robertus <jasim_robertus@yahoo.com>
Subject: photo
I want you to check if you have available weekends between June 6th-28th. If you have a date open i want you to work on the estimate cost for the 5 hours photo coverage from 11am-4pm, and 11 x 14 inch / 27,9 x 35,6 cm prints family photo portraits in 10 places because we have 10 families coming together for the reunion event. The event will be held locally here in the state but i will give you the main address once i have the address from the event planner, i will cover the travel expenses if needed. and i hope you can handle this event. I'll make the full payment with my credit card to book the date also i will forward you the event venue once the event planner book the hall. I will be looking forward to read from you with the estimate ASAP.
Regards
Jasim

I take every inquiry seriously, but aside from the fractured English, there are a number of problems with this inquiry as I note in my response:

Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 15:51:07 -0500
From: Sean Lamb <sean@seanlambphoto.com>
I am an independent photographer, but I network with other photographers in my community and around the world. The exact text of your email appears on the following websites:

https://www.linkedin.com/grp/post/4245429-5913442057900273668
https://www.facebook.com/robertrippsphotography/posts/1576050689316102

Knowing that you have sent this inquiry to photographers in North Carolina and New York, I have a few questions for you:
 - Why did you wait this long to reserve an event space for more than 50 people (assuming each of the 10 families has 5 members)?
 - In what city will you be holding this family reunion?
 - I need the exact location name and address to request the appropriate photography permits.

I do have some weekend availability in June, and I have photography packages that will fit the needs specified.
I will begin to prepare a contract for photography services once you send me the information requested above.

Thank you!

Jasim must have been watching for suckers as he responded almost right away:

Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 20:54:03 +0000 (UTC)
From: jasim robertus <jasim_robertus@yahoo.com>
Thank you for the swift response.Am hearing impaired, I want you to check if you have available weekends between June 6th-28th. If you have a date open i want you to work on the estimate cost for the 5 hours photo coverage from 11am-4pm, and 11 x 14 inch / 27,9 x 35,6 cm  prints family photo portraits in 10 places  because we have 10 families  coming together for the reunion event. The event will be held locally here in the state but i will give you the main address once i have the address from the event planner, i will cover the travel expenses if needed. and i hope you can handle this event. I'll make the full payment with my credit card to book the date also i will forward you the event venue once the event planner book the hall. I will be looking forward to read from you with the estimate ASAP.
Regards
Jasim

Ah, we start to see the formula here. The scammer sends an inquiry to a random photographer asking about packages for expensive services and if the photographer accepts credit cards. When the photographer responds, the scammer claims to be hard of hearing implying that email is the only reliable means of communication. This was so blatant that I had to comment on it in my response:

Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 16:14:09 -0500
From: Sean Lamb <sean@seanlambphoto.com>
The hearing impaired people that I know personally still know how to read...  Copy/pasting the exact same text does not move the transaction forward.

I do have several weekends available in June; however, you didn't answer any of my questions (see below).  I need these questions answered to create a contract and price quote for you.
[copied my previous response with questions]


I guess He wasn't quite sure how to answer, but he did with a tidbit of data:

Date: Wed, 20 May 2015 01:50:35 +0000 (UTC)
From: jasim robertus <jasim_robertus@yahoo.com>
the event will be taken place at Blackhawk Dr, Madison, WI  and am inviting close to 70 guest  .. date  june 6th 
jasim  

So it looks like he figured out what city I am in (not too difficult since it's right at the top of my website), but the location he's given is an entire residential street that's several blocks long, not a single event location. Let's see if we can rattle his cage a little:

Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 22:19:42 -0500
From: Sean Lamb <sean@seanlambphoto.com>
Thanks.  That doesn't quite answer all of my questions, but is a step forward.  The next step is that we need to meet in person to finalize the contract.

Due to the quick timeframe to the event, may I suggest that we meet at Coffee Bytes at 1:00pm on Saturday, May 23?  You mentioned that you were hard of hearing.  I can arrange for a sign language interpreter to join us then, or we can communicate by writing everything down on notepads...
For this type of event booking, I require a $500 deposit (which will be applied to the total at the end) either in cash or by cashier's check to hold the date in my calendar.

Crickets. I guess that was a little too far for him to keep up the charade because I didn't get another response from Jasim. Just to be sure, I'll try writing one more time...

Date: Fri, 22 May 2015 16:04:09 -0500
From: Sean Lamb <sean@seanlambphoto.com>
I haven't heard back from you on whether or not you can meet me on Saturday.  I had another client call and hire me for a shoot that conflicts with our suggested meeting time.

As an alternative, let's meet at Bratfest on Sunday.  How about 1:00 pm Sunday May 24 at the main Bratfest brat sales tent?  If I don't hear from you by Saturday evening, I will assume that you have chosen another photographer to work with for your event.

Thank you!

I really did have another shoot come up for the same time, but alas, Jasim either has an aversion to both coffee and brats or he must have selected another photographer to scam. I have not received any further communication from him. But, now I'm getting some exceptionally similar emails with a wedding inquiry, so stay tuned!