Monday, March 9, 2009

Spotting Photography Scams

Beware Laurence Smith

I got a message, yesterday, directly from my photography website - which read as follows.

I am Laurence Smith, UK. I have a Fashion job (Assignment) for you. My client wants to update her Catalog with her monthly release Fashion outfits and i am interested in you for the shooting. I am a Model Agent by profession with about a few years experience. Find all details of the job,once you mail me with your interest ..
Laurence Smith

Even at first reading, it seems a bit "odd". The grammatical structure of some of the sentences is a bit strange - "I am Laurence Smith, UK", (and not, based in the UK - or WHERE in the UK); "catalog" is the American-English spelling, rather than English-English ("catalogue"); the "i" in the 3rd sentence is lower case; "for the shooting" is not an English turn of phrase and "with about a few years experience" is not exactly "the Queen's English" , either. I could go on, and you may spot a few other oddities for yourself.

My alarm bells were ringing fairly loudly - so I sent off an email to a professional photographer's group to which I belong, NVJ Photo which is an off-shoot of the now-closed mailing list for the National Union of Journalists.

It wasn't long before I got a number of very informative replies. It would seem that Laurence Smith (obviously not his real name) is already well-known to the professional photography community, as an "advanced payment scam" monger. The widely-acclaimed Scottish Press & PR photographer Nick McGowan-Lowe sent me a link to the "Fraud Watchers" website, where there is a forum thread entirely dedicated to Laurence Smith and his nefarious activities.

It would appear that the basis of this particular "overpayment scam" is that Laurence Smith will agree a fee for the Fashion Assignment (which doesn't exist) - of usually €6000 - and agree to pay you in advance. He then sends you a cheque for MORE than the agreed fee, and asks you to send the difference on to a third party (him, in another guise, I presume). The original cheque bounces and you have sent several thousand euros to a confidence trickster than you'll never hear from again.

From reading messages on that forum, it would seem that the hoax is quite elaborate. Laurence Smith will reply if you respond to the first email, even telling you about his client (in one message I read, he refers to his client as a wedding dress shop in county Tipperary, which I found on the web - although the phone number was out of order). He even talks about the shoot being in Connolly, Dublin (which is an area of the city and the name of a railway station).

My guess is that the scam would be modified according to the location in which you are based. Because it was relayed to my email address from the website, it must have been submitted by a real live person, rather than an email robot of some sort, which is equally disturbing.

So, be on the look out for Laurence Smith (or whatever he may call himself) when a too-good-to-be-true job offer lands in your email box.

And watch out, generally, for the tell-tell signs of a scam. If it feels "fishy" - it probably IS fishy!


  1. This sounds very similar to the common eBay scam where someone out of country will offer to overpay with a fake cashier's check and have a nearby friend pick up the item.

  2. Eeek! Gits all over the place! Why can't people work hard for a living like most people instead of this terrible need to thieve off others? A friend of mine fell for the same thing with his car sale on Ebay, and ended up losing around 8K sterling.

  3. Grrr. I am a Phoenix commercial photographer in Arizona and have a true passion for the craft. I am usually pretty annoyed by internet scams - I am doubly annoyed when it sails under the pretense of photography.

  4. what a great post. thanks a lot for the information and the photography is amazing.

    great blog!

  5. I found this blog by way of investigating a post on craigslist today, Austin TX. The post is for "" a photography web site which claims it will pay you for various 'objects' around planet earth. I couldn't see any point to this, though tempting, such as why would they pay me for a non-professional picture? what could be the angle? I was too reluctant to download the zip file containing the 'instructions.' and so am here, feebly asking the photography world what they think. kitty, austin tx

  6. Hi Kitty, thanks for the comment. I can't tell much from looking at the front page of filmearth, it looks a bit like a picture library operation - they ask you for images that they need for buyers and you supply them.

    With bona fide operations of this sort, you get a percentage of the fee received from the buyer.

    Most online picture libraries have some sort of site mapping for buyers as well as contributors and sample images for buyers to look at - all these are usually visible to anyone prior to registration. I looked up the website on "" and the link is here

    I wasn't happy with the content of the Google ads that came up with it - so be warned about those.

  7. This article was very useful, I recently got an email from a Marc Collins about a graphic design job for a fashion company. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...


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