Like most wedding videography gigs on Thumbtack.com, this one from "philip lobbs" went by fast. Five pros, including myself, used our hard-earned credits to bid for the chance to showcase our cinematography skills. Philip checked out my informative article on choosing a wedding videographer, and promptly contacted me about his upcoming wedding.
Little did I know, it was an elaborate Thumbtack scam for wedding videographers.
Thumbtack is a lead gen service that matches customers with local professionals. According to its Wiki description, it lists 1,100 types of services in categories such as home, wellness, events and lessons. People either love or hate the service; there's very little middle ground. In my experience, it's a great complement to my business and to fill out my calendar. However, it is definitely not a primary source of business.
Moreover, the quality of leads generated from Thumbtack are low. Most people who go to Thumbtack often choose the lowest price even though price is not the utmost important factor when choosing a wedding videographer. The average cost of an event videography (like a wedding) can cost between $260 to $840. In New York, the lowest prices tend to be $750 (which is the lowest I would charge assuming no additional insurance requirements for the venue). This price is barely enough to compensate for the hours of shooting and editing the footage. However, New York City is filled with rich kids whose daddy bought them a RED camera so the bidding power goes to the buyer. Hence, the profitability (from a net margin perspective) is low on Thumbtack, resulting in low quality leads (which is the biggest complaint about Thumbtack).
So when "philip" (his name dubiously typed in small letters) offered to pay up to $1,500 for three hours of work, you bet every kid with a Red Camera in NYC and myself responded with haste. Fortunately, for the all the wedding videographers in NYC, only five "lucky" videographers can bid for a gig on Thumbtack.
I sent a nice message to Philip. I don't go for the hard sell. I often inform my potential clients to read my blog article on how to choose a wedding videographer. I'd rather work for an informed client who understands (on a high level) what the work involves and base his or her decision on what I can bring as a professional production company in NYC.
Here's my message:
Within an hour, he responded with this:
Feeling excited to get a new client, I promptly emailed him to discuss his needs. His response to me was:
Thanks for your response..I am 41 years old and i work in the US military Air force,My wife to be soon is a Nurse,We are a devoted Christians . I have made an arrangement with an event planner who will come and decorate the stage and also do home order things.I will appreciate if you can tell me a few things about yourself and maybe attach one or two pictures of your work, I want to inform you that i have a seminar i will be attending to as soon as i arrive,also I will like to include your pay to our payroll for the period just to have you booked down and secured for me. I will be needing the following information below to issue out the check to you and i need your direct mobile number so i can text you in case i need to pass an urgent information:
I have made some arrangements with the event planner, so as soon as you get the check payment, you will calculate and deduct your payment and have the rest sent to the event planner . i hope me and my wife will have the best wedding party ever
Thank you and God bless.
I exchanged a few more emails with him (or possibly her or it?). The common theme in all the emails was that the message had poor grammar, like it was a non-English person writing. A lot of the words have grammatical inconsistency, like small cap letters at the beginning of a sentence. When I pressed him on details about the venue, the scammer would often insist he's out-of-town or wife is sick. All of it made no sense, as he's apparently out of the country and wife is sick in the hospital. So that's when I had my suspicions about the guy.
But I decided to press on out of curiosity and because I thought it would be a great blog post for entertainment and informative purposes.
Finally, I decided to press him on signing the contract. He responded by he doesn't have time because he's out of the country AND his wife is sick in the hospital. Thereby, making it impossible to sign anything. Interesting I thought. Instead, he offered to pay me right away! How nice of him!
When I insisted on the contract and the check to be made out to "2Bridges Entertainment LLC," he just responded that the check was on its way (Priority Mail!). He offered his apologies to making the check out to "Reggie Beltran" and said that I could make this right.
He also mentioned he was going to send me $2,000 and I was to deposit the check and wire half of it to the venue operator. Mind you, he has yet to name the venue operator or provided any contact details about the wedding venue.
As part of my due diligence and professional courtesy to all my clients, I will call the wedding venue and discuss the details of the project. I often ask about lighting, sound, the DJ setup, insurance requirements, etc. Most people don't think about these things so I often take the lead on doing these things. This is why I don't go into bidding wars in Thumbtack because I've done this enough to know the value of my wedding videography service and the price I'm willing to work for.
But he didn't want this courtesy service. In fact, the scammer was focused on getting the check deposit. He even texted me when the 2-day package arrived in my mailbox!
Needless to say, the thirst was strong with this one. He followed this up with several more emails to my account, reminding me of the priority package in my mail. At this time, I was already researching mail scams and check scams in the Internet. What surprised me about this experience was the "priority package."
I've learned about "Nigerian scams" and other scams, but I did not realize that someone out there would pay $6-7 to send me a fake check. Moreover, there were five of us who bid on this gig, and I'm 100% sure all five of us were "lucky" enough to win this gig. So whoever is driving this scam paid $30-50 to send us fake checks.
I was skeptical (and afraid) of what was waiting for me in the mailbox. What if this is Walter White running an elaborate Thumbtack scam for wedding videographers?
So there it is. A 2-day, Priority Mail package from "Hick Torrence" of 1484 Garrettson LN, Houston, Texas 77056. I got a laugh at the name and the location for a couple reasons:
- Is Hick even a girl's name?
- Even if it is a girl's name, why name a girl "Hick" from Texas
Surely, this mastermind must have thought through these philosophical mysteries. Regardless, for the "heck" of it, I'll Google this address.
Interesting, Ms. Hick Torrence (soon to be Mrs. Hick Lobbs) of Texas is apparently nursing a life-threatening ailment in a Houston Parking lot. I was definitely finding this amusing, but at the same time, it filled me with anxiety. Who knows if this dude or dudette laced this thing with ricin? But then again he wouldn't get half of this check:
Wow - someone was willing to send me $1,820.13 to deposit into my bank right now! Even if this was a scam, I could get a free $2K just for depositing this check! Finally, who the heck is "Cick Torrence," and why is she doing House Calls? What exactly is her (I assume this is Hick Torrence) profession? These are things that make you go hmmm... Well, not really but worth an LOL.
Lo and behold I did more research on how these check scams work. So for those other four people who bid for "philip's" wedding, don't deposit that check.
According to the Federal Trade Commission:
So that is from an official government body. Based on the rules, you will have funds available to you, but if you withdraw on those funds, YOU will get blamed for depositing a fake check. Hence, it was in "philip's" interest for me to deposit the check and wire him half the $1,820.13. Granted, the $900 won't break me, but it would still be annoying to lose $900. Also, who knows how many people out there have been scammed into depositing this check?
Even if I was selfish and deposited the check for my own use, I would still be liable if I withdrew on that amount to buy my actors, crew and myself a round of gin and tonics. What's worse, this type of fraud will go on your record, and it will be harder to open a new bank account in the future. These check scams aren't limited to Thumbtack pros. Here are variations of these type of fraudulent schemes:
- Pay to work at home
- Give you an advance on sweepstakes
- A Nigerian prince who needs to escape the country
- A rich donor who wishes to make a donation to you (how nice)
- Money to be a secret shopper
These fake scammers will scour the Internet for would be victims. It's not surprising that they'd go after the Thumbtack crowd. They understand that Thumbtack are filled with pros who are willing to work less. So all they would need to do is offer a high price for a service, and they'd collect a list of potential victims.
In order to identify these scammers, you need to look at several factors:
- Too good to be true offer
- Poor grammar in their conversations with you
- Seeking a local service because they are out-of-town (often out of the country)
- Willing to just give you money to deposit (again too good to be true)
- Insist on wiring the money back to them (see check clearing rules above)
- Have zero to no social profiles on the Internet
- Addresses are dubious at best
If you're a wedding videographer victimized by this Thumbtack Scam
Report it to the following organizations:
- The Federal Trade Commission
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Office
- Your local and state protection agencies
- Thumbtack so they can take the listing down
I was tempted to drag on this conversation further. I knew that the more I engaged this scammer, the less time he, she or it would have time to scam someone else. What surprised me about this Thumbtack scam for wedding videographers was how much the scammer was willing to pay for it. I never expected a priority mail of the check. If this person is willing to spend $6 (probably $30-50 as he likely sent the same email to the other Thumbtack pros), then he, she or it must be making big bucks on this scheme.
Hopefully, my fellow Thumbtack pros found this useful. Thumbtack is still a good source to complement your customer acquisition strategy, but be safe out there!
I leave you with his informative video on Top 10 online scams.