I almost became the victim of a crime…and it started out innocently enough.
I have worked my entire movie making career on the power of a man’s word and a handshake. I trust people, perhaps to a fault. I got an email request for a bid on video project. I noticed that it also went to out to three local competitors as well. I wrote back immediately, but added, that I would like more information and asked if we could talk on the phone. Three weeks later he wrote back and said he was recuperating in the hospital from ear surgery and could not talk. Texting had to do. So we carried on for several weeks texting about the project and at some point he insisted that I invoice him for half right now. I was in the middle of another project, and kind of preoccupied, so I didn’t mind accepting a down payment, although that is pretty rare these days. In the course of this, I did do some initial due diligence and saw that he claimed to live in a neighboring suburb and his story seemed to make some sense. That is when he dropped the bomb: he wanted me to pay cash to his meeting planner.
Now, I have always tried to find solutions for my customers and, in an effort to be accommodating, I said I would see what I could do (at this point I was more concerned that he wasn’t getting ripped off!!). His credit card was processed and cleared. But, before I would pay this other person, I requested an invoice from the “meeting planner” with contact numbers. I was flying out the door for a trip to Florida and didn’t have time to sort out all of the details. When I was in Florida, I started to do more homework and found all sorts of cracks. His stories were not adding up. The meeting planner did not work at the address he gave. Her invoice suggested the event was in a hall that was not book for that date. His phone number and hers were both Google voice numbers…meaning there was no way to trace them. About this time, I started to ask the credit card processing company how to verify their card information. Well, they told me this sounded like a scam. This was a common pattern…hearing loss, test messages only, hospitalizations all fit a known pattern. They use a stolen credit card, process a lot of money and then have you pay to another account cash. When the owner of the lost card disputes the charge, you are left to cover the expense. Nice deal. I shut this operation down, returned the money and stopped answering his texts.
I am only slight embarrassed to report how close I came to being victimized. Fortunately, I did not send any money to anyone else and acted slowly. My research and some suspicion kept me from getting burned. I am slightly wiser as a result…but I lament how these folks have used the system against us. Talking to some other production companies around here, I have learned that this happened quite often in the last month or two. We have to fight back…and so I am writing this post to warn others to beware of such scams. Know your customers. Trust people, but keep both eyes and ears open.