I recently came across this article, on art scams, and while it’s worth reading in its own right, I have some additional experiences and tips to add to the bargain. While I haven’t yet been successfully scammed as a photographer, I’ve certainly had a number of attempts aimed at me. And in some cases, in hindsight they seem laughably bad, but not scams all are so obvious.
One of the first scams I that someone tried on me was a guy who wrote me very, very excited about the possibility of flying me to France to photograph his brother’s wedding. Now, let me be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate and choosy about finding the right wedding photographer, but it might at least raise a few hairs in the back of your scalp if the “client” wants to fly you across the Atlantic. You should be particularly suspicious of that if you (the photographer being propositioned) have never shot a wedding in your life. *Laughs* At least that offer was easily discarded.
I’d concur with the “art scams” piece about being particularly skeptical about urgency. Folks, people may love your work to death, but in almost no case will there ever be a significant, urgent need for your photography. Urgency is usually a way of keeping you from figuring out that you are going to get taken on payment. There are all sorts of ways of unwinding payments–this is less of a problem if you accept credit cards but even a “cleared check” isn’t 100% certain.
One of the better scams I’ve faced got quite a bit along before the various requests came in for complicated payment terms. As I thought about it, I was not only concerned by the payment terms and urgent, foreign delivery, but another thing caught my attention, too, the selection of three images they’d picked from my site left me skeptical, too. Not only were the choices “not my best/most popular images” but they were images that didn’t have a consistent style either. It felt like the images had been picked at random. I Googled the guy’s name and quickly came across similar letters that had turned into scams with other artists, and I aborted the deal. A few weeks later one of my friends almost got bit by the same guy, he too had his concerns raised by the scammer’s “bad taste.” Another reason to trust one’s instincts, I guess.
Not all scams are simple cons, of course. There is a particular art sales organization that has been calling me every other week for the past couple years, often from blocked phone numbers or different area codes. Originally, I had talked to them and they had portrayed themselves as national art consultants. But their business model was non-standard and seemed, upon reflection, a lot worse deal than the usual 50% cut art consultants expect. I checked in with some colleagues at a local photography organization, who in turn had checked in with contacts at their local chapter of ASID, quickly debunking some of the deals and contracts the callers had claimed.
All this said, I’ve had quite a number of very positive experiences in the art community and with direct customers as well. There are great folks out there to work with, and the trick is spending your time and energy with the right partners. Just keep a little bit of awareness and skepticism about you when a deal that sounds a little strange comes around, and you might just save yourself from getting taken. Be careful out there!