Photographers: Beware Of Email Scammers

July 15, 2015  •  11 Comments

Beware photographers! There's an apparently well-known scam running out there. Well, well known to many, but new to me up until today. 

I received an email stating that an individual was looking for photography services. 

Initial contact:

Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2015 15:39:45 +0000
Subject: Family Reunion Event
From: Krystal Collins <rdindiz@gmail.com>
To: rick@rickjphoto.com

Hi there!

How are you today? I was doing a little research online for an event
photographer for my family reunion that's coming up, I want you to capture
the wonderful event. My name is Krystal Collins and do you accept credit
card payment? Get back to me if you do, i will be looking to read from you
ASAP.

Regards,
Krystal

Ok, the grammar is a bit "off", as is their eagerness to use me without much discussion, and the inquiry about credit card payment. I Google the email address, and it returns a Facebook profile with the same name, but no legitimate photos and very few friends - also mostly lacking in photos. Ok, so I'll bite, as I had recently signed up with Amazon Local Register (It's cheaper than Square, and lets me eat from my own dog food, so to speak!), and can now accept credit cards for payment of session fees. 

I respond about 2 hours later:

Hi Krystal,

Thanks for reaching out! When is your event? Where would it be located? How
long would you want a photographer onsite?

I can accept major credit cards, as well as Cash, PayPal, and Amazon
Payments.

-Rick

Notice that I didn't mention anything about a retainer. 

Much later in the evening (just before 11pm MST), I received the following reply:

Date: Thu, 16 Jul 2015 05:58:02 +0000
Subject: Re: Family Reunion Event
From: Krystal Collins <rdindiz@gmail.com>
To: Rick Johnson <rick@rickjphoto.com>

Rick,

Thank you for the swift response. The dates has been narrowed down to some
weekends date in the month of August (15th, 16th, 29th & 30th) and
September (5th, 6th, 12th & 13th) but  it depends on which which of the
date you have available. I want you to check your schedules and get back to
me with the dates you have open.

The event is going to be held on a private property about an hour or two
drive from your zip code. I'm in the hospital (recovery unit) I had ear
surgery and the doctor wants me to stay away from phone at the moment till
I fully recovered but i can still text. That is the reason why i emailing
for this event.

The event consist of both indoor & outdoor activities. I want you to be
there for 4 hours (12pm-4pm) to take about 250-350 candid shots, I want the
candid shots burn on 3 DVD's. Also during the 4 hours that you are going to
be there, you will take one big family portrait shot that will be printed
in 3-16x20 regular matte print. The total numbers of 25-30 peoples will be
present at the event including children between the ages of 9-12 years.

I want you to work on an estimate for me and get back to me with the total
cost for this event but i will be making 50% deposit upfront to secure the
date you have open with my credit card. I'm looking forward to read from
you ASAP

Regards,
Krystal.

Ok. Now a few more things just feel wrong about this situation:

  1. Who plans their major life events around a single photographer's availability? 8 possible dates involving 25-30 people, and I get to dictate that to you?
  2. The location info is vague. A "private property" 1-2 hours is a big difference in AZ travel times (the difference between going to Scottsdale or Chandler, and Tucson or Sedona). Since most photographers quote round-trip travel mileage beyond the first 20-30 miles, that matters.
  3. I really didn't need to know the details of why they couldn't call, but being so forward with that information is a red flag! Ear surgery only affects one ear... And while she can text, she chose to email.
  4. No photographer in their right mind takes "just one shot" for a family portrait. Ok, so we deliver one perfect shot. And I know they "want" three 16x20 prints on matte finish. 
  5. Peoples? And should the kids play a factor in what I should charge? 
  6. 50% deposit is pretty steep. I'd only ask for 33%. And again, "with my credit card". Sounds desperate.
  7. The timing of the response indicates a much different time zone. 

I haven't replied. I first forwarded it to a trusted photographer friend, but then I realized - Google would also know! It sure did! And now, thanks to this blog post, there will be one more entry warning others about this scam!

I'm sure if I had replied, the next steps would have been a request to accept an additional payment, plus commission, then pass it onto a florist or caterer who isn't equipped to accept credit cards (do those still exist?!). The way this scam supposedly plays out is as follows:

  1. They pay with a fake or stolen card.
  2. I pass my real money via Western Union, check, or some other tangible and non-returnable means to said "florist" (scammer)
  3. The credit card charges get reversed out of my merchant account, leaving me out a significant chunk of change. 

Now Google "Krystal Collins Photography Scam", and you'll find the nearly exact text of the initial email in multiple articles, including some from a county sheriff in Colorado. Googling a broader search of photography email scam reveals many similar stories, with different names and event names, but the same end-result.

Don't be a victim! If an inquiry seems a bit too eager to hire only you, especially with multiple dates depending on your availability, it's probably too good to be true!


Comments

Shirley(non-registered)
same scam with short time frame, med issues in hospital with limited time to talk, pay the event planner. When I balked at the 24 hour notice, they changed the quinciere to Tuesday. I opted out. They sent me a message that said "bullshit, ok".
Karissa(non-registered)
This was almost exact word, for word...Thanks for the heads up. Glad i googled it
Rich(non-registered)
Same deal, similar email. Thanks for this post.
Jessie Owens(non-registered)
I too received the email from Krystal Collins, but it stopped when I didn't want to except credit cards. But yesterday I received a similar one from an Ian Archer, same medical issues and same credit card requests. When I told him he could pay via PayPal he was ready to go. No fee for services was too high. Then He wanted me to pay the Event Planner. I immediately had a bad feeling and googled the email address of Krystal Collins and found this article. I am glad I hadn't given out any information yet. Thank you so much!
alison(non-registered)
Thank you for posting! Got the same email and response!
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