Monday, July 25, 2005

Curious about Con Artists: You Find Them in Unlikely Places - My Story

“In a broad strokes definition, fraud is a deliberate misrepresentation which causes another person to suffer damages, usually monetary losses.”

Being up-front and honest, I am always surprised when I encounter others who deliberately lie, cheat and misrepresent. It makes sense to be skeptical and cover all bases. I have just re-learned this the hard way. Let me tell you the story.

At the end of June, I received an e-mail from a woman who had found my name and e-mail address on a freelance directory website that I had signed up with a long time ago. She was looking for someone who could take existing photos of her friend and superimpose the images on different backgrounds (like Paris, London, etc.). She wanted about five or six for a slide show to be shared at her friend’s 30th birthday party.

It sounded like a fun project, and because I had some extra time over the fourth of July weekend, I sent her a really reasonable quote per photo. She felt it was a good deal - and it was, because like any project of this type, it took longer and more work than I had foreseen. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

She sent me a bunch of digital photos of her friend - mostly grouped with other people - and a folder of small, blurry photos taken in Thailand. She now wanted him superimposed with different shots of Thailand in the background. No problem. I subscribe to photo suppliers and found some great Thai photos.

The friend’s photos posed another challenge because they were taken in bad lighting and none of them were full body shots which would fit nicely on the backgrounds. Using filters and my other photo editing tools, I came up with a several tries until I sent samples that my new client liked.

At this point, I created eleven photos - all that worked well - and sent them off, telling my contact that she could have all and still only pay for six, which was the number quoted in the original e-mail. She then asked how she should pay. I suggested either by check or PayPal - she chose a check. As of today, I have not received it, even though I have e-mailed her several times.

Now, you will hear why I should have been skeptical right from the start and how I could have avoided using my time and talents for nothing but a disappointment in human nature.

All I have and required of this woman was faith in her e-mail, hotmail address. Right now, you are probably admonishing me for being so naïve. Take note, in case something like this happens to you in the future.

This is how I would handle it now:
  1. Ask for 1/2 of the fee upfront before even starting the project.
  2. Once the eleven photos were completed (I would still go that “extra mile” with more photos than requested), I would post small versions of them on a web page that the client could visit and see what they were going to receive, but in small thumbnail versions that wouldn’t work for a slide show.
  3. Then, as soon as I received the final 1/2 of the payment, I would send them off, as I did so willingly, in their full size to the client.

I learned a lesson, to say the least, and I hope by sharing it with you, you will be beware of the “Con Artists” that are lurking among us.

I would also love to hear any stories you might have about being “conned” by these clever, but fraudulent folks.