We recently heard from several photographers who received an email from someone claiming to be the creative director of Miami Vibes Magazine, offering to hire them for a fashion shoot. While the detailed creative brief made the project seem legitimate at first glance, my conversation with the real editor-in-chief of Miami Vibes confirmed that it was indeed a hoax. Let’s take a look at the scammer’s pitch and the warning signs to look out for.
Annick Donkers was kind enough to pass along this email that looked suspicious to her:
On 18 Jul 2022, at 12:06, Eric Bonhomme <email@example.com> wrote:
Thanks for responding to my inquiry. Please see the attachment for the full job description. I believe the document attached says pretty much everything about the photo shoot. The concept/theme is an outdoor or indoor-urban-business casual fashion photo shoot, shot in a day, edited, and delivered on or before August 26th.
This is a remote gig so you don’t have to make the trip to Florida; we expect you to shoot at your preferred location. The date, time, and planning of the shoot will be determined by you and the talent’s availability. The location is preferably urban outdoors-indoors like the side of buildings, car parks, pathways, etc. and you can use any type of backdrop.
The talent (2 models, MUA, and wardrobe stylist) will be handled by a talent management agency recommended by the sponsor. I already had a chat with her and she quoted $3000 for the 2 models, HMUA, transportation, parking, and refreshments.
The total budget is $7000; you will be paid $4000 and the talent team gets $3000. Usually, we’ll give you the full budget to hire your own team but as this is our first engagement together, we’re recommending the team you’ll be working with.
Here’s how our booking works: You will be paid an advance of $5000 via company check. The advance covers 50% of your fee ($2000) and the talents’ fee ($3000). Your balance ($2000) will be paid within 4 days of completing the shoot.
If you’re okay with that, I can send you a contract today and start working on the budget and the products. Kindly email your name, address, and phone number for the contract.
The modeling agency handling the models and the hairstylist is Gorge Models. You can contact Alyce Barton via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kindly let me know if you would like to discuss this further,
Here’s the creative brief that accompanied that email:
The Red Flags
- Your first clue that this is fishy is that the email came from a Vivaldi.net address (and without a branded email signature). If it were a real assignment, it would likely come from a Miami Vibes Magazine email address with a proper email signature.
- The second thing that should give you pause is that Eric doesn’t provide his phone number and only wants to communicate via email. This would be very unusual for a $7000 assignment where the photographer and client have never worked together before.
- The third speed bump is that the client wants to front you money that you need to send to their preferred vendor (in this case, a talent agency). It’s not super-unusual to get advance payments from magazines where you have a lot of expenses, but if the client has a preferred vendor, they would normally pay them directly.
- http://gorgemodels.com/ doesn’t have a staff list or phone number, they don’t appear to have a LinkedIn or Instagram. I emailed Alyce and she did reply, saying that she is not part of any scam.
- There are a few other little things that are inconsequential, but none the less odd. The creative brief specifies that the photographer needs 1 year experience. Photographers are hired based on their portfolio, their reputation, and their relationships, not based on years of experience.
- The creative brief specifies that the models should show up 1 hour before the shoot and they should take a 30 minute break after 2-3 hours. It would be very unusual for a client to get that involved in the scheduling with an experienced photographer, especially when they’re not attending the shoot.
How The Scam Works
- The imposter sends the photographer a fake advance check.
- The photographer deposits the fake check into their bank account.
- The bank initially credits the photographer’s account, making it seem as though there is real money there.
- The photographer sends real money to someone who they think is the model agency.
- The photographer’s bank eventually realizes that the check is fake and debits the amount from the photographer’s account.
- The imposter stops responding to the photographer’s emails.
About the Author
Prior to dreaming up Wonderful Machine, Bill Cramer spent 20 years working as a commercial photographer – first as a photojournalist, then later doing conceptual portraits for magazines, corporations, and institutions. When he isn’t busy working with his staff or talking with photographers and clients, you can find him at the creek with Tilly, reading historical biographies, or relaxing with his wife Adrienne and their daughters Helen and Sarah. You can find Bill’s work on his website and connect with him via LinkedIn. This article was also published here and shared with permission.