One of the most important warning signs when encountering a possible scam is the “If it’s too good to be true, it most likely IS too good to be true” rule. If you’re a freelance web designer/developer or a graphic designer, you’re always promoting your business through social media, ads and word of mouth recommendations. With these promotional tactics you eventually draw potential clients who contact you directly, whether via email or phone call. And, with the economy still only limping along, you’ve probably lowered your rates considerably. So, when you receive an email from a potential client with a generous budget, you hope that it’s for real. But this is when you must go into “Caution Mode” or risk losing money instead of earning money.
There’s a new take on the Nigerian-style “I’ll send you money through my (stolen) credit card, and you’ll send a portion of it back to me via wire transfer” scheme. No longer content to target senior citizens and random people, this particular breed of fraudster is targeting web designers/developers, graphic designers and other creatives. Rather bold to target people who are computer literate enough to perform web searches to check out their story, but I reckon these scammers are more desperate than bold.
I’m a web developer and recently received the following email from a “Jason Hernandez” (email address firstname.lastname@example.org):
Good Day, Am Jason Hernandez i will like to know if you can handle website design for a new company and also if you do you accept credit cards ?? kindly get back to me asap so i can send you the job details.
I’ve had non-native English-speaking clients in the past and they were indeed legitimate, so I responded:
I develop websites in WordPress almost exclusively now. I only accept payment via PayPal.
I see that you’re in New Jersey. How did you hear about me?
The reason I mentioned New Jersey is that there was also this Reply-To address: email@example.com. I visited the website with its old-school postage-stamp layout, complete with a (horrors!) Flash header. What’s hilarious is the Flash-animated header boasts “Cutting Edge Technologies” — sure, if this were…oh…2003, maybe. According to their Contact page, they’re based in New Jersey. Anyway, I’m hoping that Maple Web Design is innocent and has nothing to do with this particular scammer. I’m hoping.
Klaxon bells started going off when I received the reply, however:
Thanks for your swift response
I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in TX and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Bitter cola and Cocoa so i need a best of the best layout design for it that will catch customer heart whenever they get logged on on our website.And i do believe you can be able to have a perfect job done for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible http://www.agroamerica.com. The site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant handle my text content and the logos for the site.
1. I want the same number of pages with the ones i higlighted on the site i gave you .
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as purifarmproducts.com
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be providing the images,logos and content for the site.
6.i want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My budget is $3000 to $6000
Kindly get back to me with:
(1) Your estimate within the range i undermentioned
(2) your cell phone number
(3) And will like to know if you are the owner ?
The first tip-off that this might be a potential scam is the budget. Now, in the old days of the web I could make that kind of lucre on a website, but with the avalanche of cut-rate dirt cheap offshore developers many of us have had to reduce our rates considerably. There are design firms that still get the big bucks for building websites and branding, but they’re able to snare clients with deep pockets. Also, nowadays, most potential clients aren’t going to tell you what their budget is (unless it’s under $1000) — they’re hoping to coax you into low-balling your quote. This is a win-win for the client.
The second tip-off is that they’re specifically asking for a “cell phone number” and “if you are the owner.” As a scam hunter, this really caught my attention — enough to do a web search. I started with “agroamerica.com” and found out immediately that this is, in fact, a scam. I didn’t play along, but another designer did. Here is the reply he received (from a different scammer, and with a different trope):
Thanks for your response, I am okay with the estimate everything sound good and i’m ready to make payment now with my credit card, I understand the content for this site would be needed so work can start asap but i will need a Little favor from you and the favor is that I will send you my credit card to charge for the sum of $6,450.00 plus 3% Cc company charges, You will deduct $3,250.00 as deposit for the design of the website plus extra $200.00 as a tip for handling perfect work for me and you will send the remaining $3,000.00 to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he receive the $3,000.00 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you so work can start asap,Sending of funds would be after money clears into your account and You will be charging my card for remaining balance upon completion of work.
Kindly get back to me so we can proceed with payment asap
I’m pretty sure that “Jason Hernandez” would have replied with the same text, word for word. Again, these scumbags are hoping that you’ll be desperate and greedy enough to accept a full payment (which will be bogus, of course) and send half of it (with your money) to their “project consultant.” And of course you’ll eventually be notified by your bank that the payment sent by the fraudsters was returned and your now-overdrawn bank account has been drained of $3000 (which you will never see again). Yes, a kerfuffle of MAJOR proportions.
I couldn’t resist replying, using my ScammersUncovered.com email address:
Well, well, well. It looks like I discovered a scammer. This is a new one for me, trying to scam a web developer with project bait. Oh, lucky you — you stumbled on a scam hunter. Yep, I run a blog, scammersuncovered.com, and I ALWAYS check out too-good-to-be-true “opportunities”. As soon as I received this reply, I smelled the stench of a scam. And sure enough, looky what I found after a search of “agroamerica.com”: https://www.google.com/#q=agroamerica.com+scam. Almost word-for-word, with only a few edits…man, you fraudsters are just soooo lazy.
And guess what? I’m going to feature this on scammersuncovered.com! Today!
Bye-bye and TaTa, scammer scum!
I doubt I’ll receive an acknowledgment of sorts from “Mr. Hernandez,” but if I do I’ll be sure to pass along to him the URL to this article. After all, I do keep my promises.