We have seen the return of one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to fraud in our industry, so we wanted to bring this to your immediate attention to help protect you and your business.
Here's How This Scam Goes
You get a new client, they are from out of town, you have never met and they seem awesome. You may have only had a conversation via email or text (yes, text), but you might have even spoken to them on the phone or via skype. The wedding is an easy one to plan, almost too good to be true, short planning schedule (under 2 months out), they are willing to pay you well in advance with a credit card, and they need your urgent help paying some vendors that they've already picked out - and it's important that their vendors are booked asap because they don't want to lose the date.
So you invoice them, and they send payment right away by credit card, and you then send out payment for them to their vendors. And as simple as that, you've been scammed - they just paid you with a stolen credit card and the “vendor” you paid is not a real vendor at all but rather the criminal who is stealing your money.
Here’s the really crummy part, once the stolen credit card has been reported and dispute raised against the charge paid to you, you alone are held responsible for returning the money on the fraudulent charge, but because you've paid out that money to the scam, you no longer have it, and therefore are left in the horribly position of coming up with the entire amount for repayment.
Regardless of the situation, since you accepted the payment into your bank account and made a payment with fraudulent funds, you are the one liable in the eyes of the law.
How You Can Protect Yourself
- Take the time to verify each new client: While we all love an opportunity to book a new client without even trying, it never hurts to learn a little bit more about your client, as you want to be sure they are just as much of a good fit for you and you are for them. Move that conversation beyond just a text stream or email conversation and complete a preliminary meeting to review your preliminary questionnaire with you in person, over the phone or via skype to kick off planning. AND with a quick internet search, you should at least be able to verify their identity on social media and take an extra step towards protecting yourself from fraud.
- Never pay a vendor you don't know: Simply say NO and require that your clients make payments directly to vendors you personally have not recommended or know personally, especially if paying out vendors from your own bank account are not a part of your normal business process. If you have never heard of a photographer, band or other service provider that a client wants you to pay on their behalf, spend some time researching this "vendor" and do some due diligence, search the internet, social media or reach out to other planners and ask if they have heard of them. We still recommend that you set and stick to a policy that you won't make payments out to anyone you don't know.
- Never wire money or give cash: You need a paper trail and you need protection. Insist on using a credit card to make payments so you have an extra layer of protection and a a credit card that will defend you in the case of fraud.
- Don’t be afraid to say NO: If sounds too good to be true it probably is too good to be true. Don’t be afraid to say NO to a client if they want you to break protocol and do something you are uncomfortable with. This is your business, your company and your future, don’t be pressured into doing anything that could negatively impact your business. It's just not worth it.
- Do your research, get business insurance. Fraud can still happen to the best of us, even when we've taken precautions to protect our businesses. Take some time to research what steps you must take when fraud hits your business since often you'll need to move swiftly, and speak to your business insurance agent to learn what types of your fraud your policy covers. If you don't have business insurance, speak to a licensed insurance agent to see what the options are to further protect you and your business from fraud.