Luring scams and fake travel schemes: Why wedding photographers need to be careful too!

Guest post by Katie Sundberg

We've talked about the dangers of getting scammed by fraud photographers and other fake wedding vendors before. Turns out wedding vendors can get screwed over too. Here's wedding photographer Kathleen Sundberg's real story of almost getting scammed…

Wooden Moustaches

I recently received an inquiry from a woman (supposedly?) who was asking if I would fly out to Hawaii over the winter holidays to take family portraits at a reunion. Cool, right? I was excited. Always wanted to go to Hawaii!

Everything seemed on the up-and-up… until they told me they would not pay my travel expenses up-front and wanted me to accept a payment for their event planner, who would only take cash, and then send it to the planner myself. They also seemed to not want to use Paypal — urging me to use intuit.com or bluepay.com. I immediately thought of stolen credit card and charge-back scams, and informed them I could not accept the job if all of it was not paid in advance, and could not accept a payment for someone else.

I then did some research to see if there were any scams like this going around, and found an article warning against pretty much the same thing

Recently, [photographer Brian Ambrose] said he received an email from a potential client requesting a family portrait, and he said something didn't feel right…

Those red flags included the fact that the scammer would not communicate over the phone, was overly flexible with timing, and wanted to pay Ambrose extra money that he, in turn, was supposed to give to their event planner.

“As a photographer, I have to talk to you. I have to find out exactly what you are looking for and I can't do that through an email,” Ambrose said.

Officials from the Better Business Bureau said if Ambrose had fallen for the trap and tried to forward that fee to the event planner, it was likely from a stolen credit card and he would be on the hook for the money.

He goes on to advise to contact the Better Business Bureau or the Department of Consumer Protection if I thought I was a victim of this scam — which I immediately did. As well as contacting Offbeat Bride, which is where they found me — pretty clever, as we're always looking for unique events and this is not a catch-all site like Facebook advertising, so the Offbeat Bride inquiries we get have a way of seeming more legitimate.

It was pretty sophisticated, as the whole point is to get you to send on a payment to someone else, which then you will be out the money for when the credit card is reported as stolen and the credit card company reverses the charges. Not only that, but the travel involved would have made me out thousands of dollars and miles and miles from home. Theirs was a complex story involving six families flying out to a family house in Kauai (which was visible, and not sketchy at all, when I looked at it on Google Street View) and wanting a certain amount of prints and the event spanning five specific hours…etc. So sophisticated that there were three days of correspondence before we even got to the catch!

Photographers — especially solo female photographers — need to be very careful about clients. Our information is out there, on purpose, actively trying to gain new clients, but doing so also makes us targets for scams and luring schemes. (I was once contacted about flying up to the Sacramento area to photograph a birthday party, and got chills when I saw how far away the address was from civilization, and that the customer wanted to pick me up at the airport himself rather than pay for a rental car. No way!)

As much as we would like to be open to opportunities that seem too good to be true, it's definitely important to trust your gut. If you get a bad feeling, do your research. And always share your experiences with the community — we need to look out for each other!


photography: Sunderberg Creative Photography

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Comments on Luring scams and fake travel schemes: Why wedding photographers need to be careful too!

  1. I had a similar scam recently attempted on me. They contacted me to plan an anniversary party and wanted me to accept deposit payment of $8000 via credit card then give $4000 to the limo company and use the remaining $4000 for the required vendor deposits. As soon as I called them out as scammers, they cut off all contact. Also, they said they were currently on a Naval ship so were unable to speak via phone.

    • I was almost caught out a few years back with an Italian wedding. Father of the bride was in London on the end of a genuine landline number. I was given a legitimate hotel name and address as I checked it all out.
      Alarm bells began to ring when I was told I couldn’t talk to the bride in advance as it was a surprise and that the family would arrange all of my travel including flights….. If I could provide my passport number.
      All very credible and carefully planned.

    • Yes, it seems key that they don’t want to speak over the phone, probably because several people are handling the replies from the scam! This person (these people?) also dropped off the face of the earth when I told them there were too many red flags and I could only accept cash and all payment up front.

  2. I’m a wedding photographer and I get scammy emails all the time!!! I’m often confused about why.. It seems like a long complicated way to scam someone.
    I’ve never made it as far into the planning process as you did, but a few things that clue me in that something is off are
    1) Usually the emails are in semi-broken English and has non-specific dates (i.e.- ‘family reunion in May 2016’ instead of ‘May 5, 2016’)
    2) something seems off- usually the bride contacts me herself. These fishy emails seem to usually be someone contacting me about their daughters wedding or wanting a specific number of photos taken at a family reunion (‘I’ll be wanting 50 photos taken at a reunion..’)

    Those are really just overlapping things I’ve noticed. Also it seems like when I reply they don’t respond to specific questions I have, almost as if the second email was pre-written.

    Mostly I suggest using your gut. If something seems off, drop it. I realize it’s possible I’ve missed out on some awesome clients by this ‘gut’ strategy, but I’m still going with it.

    • This specific scammer really impressed me…very good English, and asked for 5 hours of coverage on a specific date, referenced offbeat bride…definitely agree with you on going with your gut, sometimes that’s the only thing you can trust!

  3. Thank you for sharing! What a great post. Horrible content, of course, but I’m so glad that OBB and the OP are willing to share this to help protect people.

  4. These scams span the freelance work-o-sphere! I know I used to get contacted when I was nannying to do the whole “oh you have to pay the driver and then they will give you a check” thing, and my husband got it, too, when he was advertising as a personal trainer. It’s crazy to think they also target wedding photographers, when that is for waaaay more money than a nanny or a personal trainer’s services would be worth, but I guess it must work if it’s still happening today.

  5. I had a similar scam from a “bride” who wanted to order a wedding bouquet. She sent me stolen checks from her employer… Then fake moneygram payments. I turned them in to the post office, along with all of the info I had, as it constituted mail fraud. Luckily, it was my first scam, and I caught it. (Another bride tried to get a refund from PayPal for a bouquet she said fell apart (and had to replace for her wedding)… But her wedding photos, posted on Facebook, clearly showed the bouquet I created for her, so I won that case.)

  6. Going on a bit of a tangent here, but I only communicated with my photographer via email so it is possible. My anxiety makes it really hard for me to use the phone, so any wedding vendor who insisted on phone-only correspondence wasn’t an option. Having said that, I didn’t have a list of must-have pics- I only wanted candid shots taken throughout our informal reception so there wasn’t much to discuss. Plus I obviously paid him in advance!

  7. Not 24 hours before this was on your website, my husband who is a photographer got an email from someone wanting photos for a family reunion. They could not talk on the phone because they just had surgery. I looked at him and said “Surgery on their face would be the only thing that would keep them from talking. I think its a scam.” Then bam, your post. He decided to string them a long for a while and then dropped the bomb. Of course no further communication. If it seems weird, it probably is weird. We shared the article with all our photographer friends.

    • @Renly I have taken wedding photos for brides who weren’t able to meet in person (all plans done over email), but usually they don’t sound fishy!
      These emails / texts / voicemails always seem a little bit ‘off’. That said, I definitely prefer to meet them in person first

  8. I got this one today after they had contacted me twice and I had responded twice – I’ve removed their surnames. My website tracks the ISP address of anybody who gets in touch with me and this guy was showing as living in Stockholm, Sweden. I am a UK based wedding photographer.

    I’m sorry for my late reply, your message went into my junk folder, i was lucky to have found it today. Thank you for your response to my message. I would have loved to call you, but I need an international calling card to do so and time different is another obstacle, but I will be detailed enough in this message. My name is James XXX, I and my wife Parma XXX are parents of the Bride, we are Canadians from Canada.

    I and my wife worked and lived in London for 13 years, we returned to Canada in 2013 but we still visit UK from time to time, like twice a year, Uk is our second home. Our daughter is getting married to her longtime boyfriend/fiancée they met about 8 years ago when we were still living in the UK and both of them relocated to Canada a year after we relocated to Canada, the Groom is a British, so it was our daughter and her fiancée decision to have their wedding in the UK, so friends and family can be present.

    I and my wife wan to make this a surprise secrete gift for them by providing photography with a unique wedding package for their big day, We believe photographs is the most important part of wedding ceremony for long lasting memory, so we are the one paying for your service. The wedding ceremony and reception will be taking place at our house in London, we have enough space for the ceremony and reception.

    Groom Name: Harri John XXX
    Bride Name: Jolina XXX
    Event Date: 8th of August 2016
    Number of people expected: Between 60 to 80
    Ceremony and Reception Location: London NW11, UK
    Don’t worry about the distance/traveling, we are willing to cover whatever cost for your transportation, so distance/traveling cost shouldn’t be your concern to cover, just let us know the cost.

    We don’t need pre-wedding shots, What we need from you are;

    Full day of 8 or up to 12 hours
    Bridal preparation
    First dance
    Cutting of the Wedding Cake
    Reception
    Speeches
    Family shots
    And add whatever more you can add to make it the best and unique package you can possibly put together.

    We also want an extra leather album of 30 or up to 60 pages. As i said above don’t worry about the distance/traveling, we are willing to cover whatever cost for your transportation, so distance/traveling cost shouldn’t be your concern to cover, just let us know the cost.

    Please it is very important to let us know the total COST for the entire SHOOTING, ALBUM and your TRANSPORTATION as soon as possible, so i can arrange for the deposit on time in order to secure the date.

  9. I’m a wedding planner (over 20 years) and have gotten similar scams for as long as I can remember. Red flags were just as you mentioned: no communication over the phone, overly flexible, and wanting to pay extra (with the difference to be sent by me to another vendor). Other Red Flags are: broken English, horrible grammar, they’ll be on an oil rig for several months before the wedding (yes really), they don’t know what meal their guests will want.

  10. This scam is still active as of March 2, 2018, as I was almost lured into it. EXACTLY as stated in the article. I was approached about covering a family reunion (in San Diego) that would involve *6 families* and “as a favor” to the host, that I pay his friend and new event coordinator $3200 that would go through as a credit card charge prior to the event.

    The host’s name was “Jerry” and his email address is: [email protected]

    Tell your friends and colleagues this one is still out there. 🙁

  11. I’m getting one right now. I’m a photographer and have seen this before. I suspect my scammer is in the Philipines, but no matter. He’s very impatient about getting me to pay his family reunion venue (which turns out to be a private residence!) a deposit on his behalf because he’s “in the hospital for surgery”. Of course, his venue planner can’t take a credit card payment because “his credit card machine is broken”. Almost too funny. I’m about to tell him my machine is broken too. I will accept Venmo or PayPal. Then the cash is mine! Or more likely, he’ll move on to another mark. As they used to say on “Hill Street Blues”, “Stay safe out there!”

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