Web Designers Beware: Don't Fall for This Common Scam
I fancy myself a pretty tech-savvy guy.
I’ve never fallen for a telephone scam, I can spot a phishing email from a mile away, and I’m as cynical as they come. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear; that’s what I always say.
Recently, I fell victim to this common scam that has been plaguing web designers and graphic designers alike, and I feel that I would be doing a disservice to my fellow creatives if I didn’t write my piece about it here.
Here’s How the Scam Starts
It started out as a seemingly innocent request for web design.
I responded in my typically professional manner and landed the opportunity to issue a proposal. At this point, there were a few red flags that I hadn’t yet thought much of:
She insisted that we could only talk via email because she’s deaf (seems innocent enough at first).
Her name (Mellisa) was spelled differently in my design brief form (Melisa) than it was in her email.
The form was filled out very hastily with not much information provided.
I wasn’t able to find one single bit of additional information about this alleged business for which she needed a website.
Scammer: Hi, I am Mellisa by name. I will like to know if you are available for website design if yes get back to me as soon as possible.
Me: Hi Mellisa, I do have some availability closer to the end of March. The first thing I would do is learn more about your project to see if I’m the right fit, then schedule a week or two for the build. Would you like to tell me more about your web project?
Scammer: Thanks for your swift reply. I am hearing impaired, and this is the reason why I am contacting you via email.
I have a small clothing business for both male and female which I run here in Dallas,Tx now am trying to expand the business and I want you to build an information website for it for advertisement and to increase my sales rate.I need you to checkout this site but I need something more perfect than this if possible https://www.missguidedus.com
I want the site to be e-commerce , so I need you to get back to me with an estimate for the web design, the estimate should include hosting and I want the site to have not more than 8 pages.I have a private project graphic designer,the graphic designer has the text content, images and the logos for the site.
Me: I'm not sure if you've had a chance to browse through my website, but if you haven't already, you may not know that I develop exclusively with Squarespace. This means that I can take care of the design and setup, and make it easy for you to maintain products, prices, etc after the build is complete. There is a monthly or yearly fee paid to Squarespace that includes hosting, e-commerce, etc beyond my one-time design fee.
If you'd like. You can fill out my design brief, and I'll send you a proposal with my design pricing and service offerings.
My design brief can be found here: https://minimist.ca/letsgo
Hope to hear from you soon.
She needs a website and is very specific about what the quote should include at this point. I think it’s pretty clear that she knew what the cost would be (mostly because all my pricing is clearly laid out on my website).
Here’s Where it Gets Weird
I promptly sent a proposal, complete with pricing and a contract.
She informs me that the proposal looks great and she’s ready to make a deposit with her credit card right away (awesome!). This isn’t the strange part though. This happens with eager clients all the time.
What I found strange is that even though she was eager to get started right away, I didn’t hear from her again for a couple days. Then this happened:
Scammer: I am sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I was trying to sort out the graphic designer payment before getting back to you. The graphic designer will be holding us down.
I understand the content for this site would be needed so that you can start the work as soon as possible, but my graphic designer has no facility to take credit card payment at the moment.
I want you to help me coordinate the graphic designer payment of $3000. The graphic designer will send the contents of the site once the graphic designer received the payment. And I’m going to give you $50 as tip.
I will send you my credit card information and you will process it for $4050. Once the money clear into your account, you will take $1050 as deposit for your service and the tip, then you will send the remaining $3000 to the graphic designer.
Please kindly calculate the total processing fee on everything and let me know.
At this point, I know something’s up.
Me: Hi Mellisa, It's no problem at all. Your offer to provide a tip is very generous, but not necessary.
I'm also happy to assist with the payment of your graphic designer, but what method of payment would the designer require after I receive the funds? Surely a serious graphic designer could accept cash, e-transfer, or cheque.
Before I go forward with this arrangement, please provide the designer's coordinates (email, phone number, and website). Since we'll be working together anyway, I think it would be prudent to have a discussion with them before sending such a large sum of money, and I'd also like to see their previous work.
I never hear from her again…
Her designer won’t release the content until payment is received. However, the designer is also not able to accept a credit card payment for an undisclosed reason.
She then proposes that I should accept the payment for my fee and the designer’s fee, then send the funds to her designer somehow and tries to sweeten the deal by offering me a $50 tip.
Here’s How the Scam Works in Their Favor
This is called a “third party payout scam” or an “overpayment scam.”
If I were to follow through with the scammer's request, I would have accepted a large sum of money for an invoice with my company name on it. My company name would have also shown up on the statement of what is obviously a stolen credit card (hence the apparent urgency to get the deposit paid and the project finished).
I would then send money to this un-named “designer” who can only accept untraceable forms of payment.
After such a large transaction, the legitimate owner of the card would then dispute the charge, leaving me on the hook to the bank for all the money paid to me, plus the money sent to the “designer” who is likely the same person using me and my business to launder dirty money.
The Interesting Thing About This Scam
After a very short internet search, it’s obvious that this scam is incredibly widespread and has been happening for a long time.
The thing I find interesting about this scam is the amount of time and effort that the scammer was willing to invest in researching my business, contacting me, making up fake business details, and trusting that I wouldn’t just keep all the money for myself if I realized it was a scam.
All of this sends a clear message to me that enough people fall for it that it is actually worth their time to pursue these evil deeds. If people in this world devoted this much time to honest, productive ventures, we would all be so much better off.
If this article helps even one person I’ll be over the moon.
Have you been contacted with a similar scam? if so I’d love to hear about it in the comments below so we can continue to bring awareness to this dishonest act.