email scams targe web designers by Alvalyn Lundgren

Email Scams Target Web Designers

Scammers are highly creative in who and how they target. No one is exempt. This design project scam targeting independent creatives has been circulating in various forms for more than 15 years.

Designers and photographers are being targeted in bogus project scams and  domain registration scams!

Beware of email and text messages from a prospective client requesting web site design or other creative services, and  asking if you are the owner and if you accept credit cards. If you’ve received this kind of message, it’s a scam. These inquiries are usually sent as an email or text message, but are also sent as a voice mail.

This was my first experience with the project scam:

I received an inquiry via email regarding web site design services. The sender claimed to be located in London and was opening a small business. He (gender is assumed) asked the cost of designing a simple 2-page web site and included a link to an existing web site as an example of what he was looking for.

It was odd to me that the sender was not inquiring with local designers in London. Even so, I responded with a price range, discovery questions and recommendation that he work with a designer in the UK. The sender then informed me that my rates were agreeable and requested my mailing address so he could have his business partner in New York City send a down payment of a particular amount. He stipulated that the balance — again a particular amount — would be paid upon completion.

At this point, I was still testing the waters. The stated “budget” was generous, so I prepared my usual contract outlining deliverables, schedule and terms, and emailed it to him.

My contract was ignored. None of my discovery questions were responded to.

A few days later two international money orders totaling more than the specified down payment arrived in an envelope with no return address. There was no signed contract in the envelope. I took the money orders over to my bank where they were confirmed as being bogus.

Over the next couple of months I continued to receive inquiries from different email addresses using the same verbiage with minor variations. I figured that if I was being targeted, others must be, also.



How to recognize the email scam

Here are the red flags you should watch for:

  • You receive an inquiry — this can be a text message, email or voice mail — from someone posing as a startup business. They may claim to be located outside the USA. They will mention an associate or business partner located in the USA
  • The email message contains just enough information to make it sound like a legitimate project inquiry
  • They ask if you accept credit card payments
  • The sender asks if you’re the owner
  • The sender proposes a budget range
  • The sender uses poor grammar (English) and punctuation
  • You receive several identical emails or messages but with different information (this means the scammers are using a template or form letter).
  • You receive no response to direct questions about the project, and the inquirer is vague about details
  • The inquirer dictates the payment terms to you
  • The inquirer is eager to pay you and pays significantly more than the agreed-upon amount
  • You are requested to refund the overpayment to the sender or their agent (in my account above the scammer wanted me to send the overage through Western Union.

This type of scam is usually targeted toward uninformed seniors. The fact that this came through my business and was centered around a web design project shows that scammers are creative. They’re posing as legit businesses, and culling information from websites, portfolio sites, and social media.

Please share this post on your social media and networking channels
to warn others about the scam.

As with any lie, there’s just enough truth involved to make the scam sound legit, but the further you go with it, the more it falls apart.

Be watchful. I’m not out any creative effort or money.  There’s sure to be an unaware freelancer out there somewhere thinking it would be great to have an “international” client eager to pay large sums of money, and take the bait.

If you are targeted, do this:

Ignore and delete the message. You can block the IP address or phone number, but keep in mind that scammers use different IPs and numbers to route their messages. Blocking one IP will not necessarily halt the stream of message.

Report the email scam and forward the scam email in its entirety to the entities listed below under Resources.

Submit an abuse report to the email service of the sender (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, for example). You can look at the email message raw source to find more information about the sender.

Flag the email as Junk and then permanently delete it.

Block the phone number if the scam was received via text message or phone call.

Don’t do this:

Respond to the email, text message or voicemail, unless you’re James Veitch.

Stay safe out there, my friends!

Resources: Where To File A Complaint

Scam Warners

Federal Trade Commission

Forward Spam to FTC (email)

Report Gmail Account Abuse

Internet Crime Complaint Center

Updates on Scams and Domain Slams

As I get new information I’ll continue to update this article.

UPDATE: Scammers are offering credit card information rather than money orders. Read some of the most recent comments below.

UPDATE 4-26-2015: Today I found this in my inbox. It appears to be another type of scam with many similarities to the design scam.

Dear Sales, How are you today, my name is Chan Tong the owner of Far Eastern Department Stores Co. Ltd,i will like to order for some items in your store,but before i proceed i will like to know if you can supply and ship to Taiwan and if you accept CREDIT CARDS as payment.Kindly advise me ASAP, so i can proceed with the list of needed items. Regards Chan Tong Far Eastern Department Stores Co. Ltd

UPDATE: 6-29-2015: Scammers are using SMS to run this strategy. Do not reply to any text message from a scammer. Simply delete it and block the number.

UPDATE: 8-22-2015 Article updated.

UPDATE: 12-22-2016 According to Michelle M (see Comments), scammers are apparently targeting bid and crowdsourcing sites. Be on the lookout if you source projects through these sites, and notify the site owner(s) if you encounter anything suspicious.

UPDATE: 12-13-2017 I removed mentions of the agricultural business website URL that’s included in many of these scam emails (read through the Comments) at their request. Their URL was used in the scam.

Domain Slamming Scam

09/20/2018 This scam involves registering Asian domains that mirror your domain name. The initial contact message will look something like this screenshot:

domain registration scam

I ran a browser search on scam and momser, which returned the following results. I’m not going to do into detail describing how the scam works, because these links provide all the into you need to know:

Scam To Register Asian Domain Names   Keep Alert

Chinese Domain Name Scams Blue Corona

How Does A Domain Name Scam Work? The Guardian

Domain Name Application Scam  HoaxSlayer

As with other scams and slam attempts, DO NOT REPLY TO THE EMAIL. Instead, forward it to your domain registrar. The email address will most likely be abuse(a)yourdomainregistrar.

Then delete the email.

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