Phishing for Photographers
Over the last couple of weeks I have had quite the ordeal with a phishing attack. This blog is both to inform you on the methods used by the attacker and also to inform you that if you are contacted by someone with an email address other than email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org it's not me.
It all started back on February 10th where I was contacted by a possible client. I will use only the first name of the person which is "John" because the full name used in our communications is in fact a real person and I do not want to smear his name any more than it already has been. John found me originally through another web site where I advertise my services, he contacted me writing in English and presenting himself as a high level business man who worked for a very respectful investment firm in London.
John proceeded to explain in his initial email that he was searching for a photographer and videographer team to cover an event in Paris at the Franklin D Roosevelt hotel and he was pressed for time to locate this team. He wanted to know more details about my work and the cost of the event coverage. Me being the helpful nice guy I quickly responded to John and assured him that I would be happy to assist him with his project and sent him links to my work as well. I also informed him that I myself do not personally offer video services but I would be happy to direct him to a colleague that could assist him with this part of the project.
On our next communication which was quite rapid John directly began to talk only about money and how his "team" was going to pay me. At this time I was already questioning the credibility of this client so I did a little research. In the Gmail heading there was a profile photo and John had also stated his company's name so first stop was the company web site. After locating the company's web site I navigated to the personnel page and found images of all the employees. There was John, same photo corresponding with the one in the Gmail email I had received. I still felt something was incorrect because of the way John wrote using poor grammatical skills, improper spelling etc. Now, myself am not the best writer in the world, but all this coming from someone who is supposed to be a high level business executive with poor writing skills was another red flag to me. I also thought why would this guy be contacting me direct and not an assistant?
At this time I still continued to work with John but with a little more awareness. John wanted to still know how he could secure the date with me without even discussing more details about the event. I went ahead and prepared the contract and invoice and sent him these documents. I do not do any work without a signed contract and I made this very clear to John that I am not secured for the dates until you sign and return the contract. Instead of him signing the contract like I instructed him to do he responded with that he needed my full name and address which was already on the contract, but I still sent it to him again just to be platonic. I did this because he stated he was pressed for time preparing for a business meeting in Athens Greece on the weekend and that he wanted to send me a check before he left. Alright whatever.
So a couple days later there it is. John had sent me a check that actually came from Athens Greece when he stated he wanted to send the check before he left on his business meeting so the check should have come from London. He sent the check priority mail so I would have to sign for it, this way he would be able to track the check. After opening the check I was surprised to find that the check was over payed by one thousand euros. What??? Immediate red flag. The check which originated from Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, also the first appearance of the check seemed completely false. So, I googled Deutsche bank which is very real, went into images and scrolled through until I found a matching copy of the check. Bingo! There it is! I went into the expanded view of the site and yes I was right all along. SCAM! A known false check! Immediately I contacted the company in London direct and sure enough it was not the first time. I was informed this has happened to two other photographers where someone was using the likeness of one of there executives running this same scam. Afterwords I contacted the site that I advertise on to inform them that they have a scam artist registered in there site. They promptly took action and blocked his account and thanked me for my vigilance. I also contacted the video team I had recommended and sure enough, same thing.
At this point you are probably wondering how are they able to make a financial gain? That is the goal right? Here's how it works. Remember how they over payed me by one thousand euros? Also remember how they sent the check via priority mail so they could track it? Well after John had seen I signed for the check the next email arrived. He stated "I am sorry for the inconvenience that this may cause you but I was pressed for time and was only able to send one check overpaying you so you could work with the event planner. The event planner is based in Athens Greece so could you please send the difference of the money we over payed you and communicate with her". Also remember how the check is from Frankfurt and myself I live in France so it's considered a foreign check witch could take weeks to clear. If I was to send a check to the "event planner" to return the difference I was over payed by the time my check cleared and they had money there check would come back as a false check and me I am up a dry creek with extra fees and charges to pay. Below is a scan of the false check.
I hope I wrote this clear enough for you to follow, it was all pretty confusing for me too. It was my first time experiencing a fraud case on such a high level. These guys were not rookies. They spent a lot of time and effort and even some of there own money to try and take advantage of honest people. And "John" if you are reading this I hope karma takes a big bite out of you.
Be careful my fellow photographers. Always do your pre research on every client. Verify who they are. Sorry to the possible clients out there but in the world we live in today please understand that it's nothing personal. We must protect each other.
I just came across your blog and read this post. Guess what...I received the same enquiry for event photography in Paris, linking to the same smart looking director! It's shocking how audacious people can be. I'm glad you didn't get caught out.
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