There are some very smart people in the world. Unfortunately, some people use that intelligence to do terrible, deceptive things. The story I’m about to tell isn’t a 100% confirmed scam but it sure as hell looks like one to me and I’ll let you be the judge of that. The idea of this post is to help others be more vigilant when they are interacting and doing business with strangers over the web.
It all started when we received a polite email to our address on our website simply asking if we do website design. The grammar wasn’t great and a few formatting things but otherwise, it looked like a human had written it. The address it came from was a bit ambiguous but it contained letters (albeit 3 of them) of the person’s name. For context, I
WHAT I WANT
Written as such, in all capitals. The brief was followed by a set of very specific deliverables. They were sensible too! 4 pages, a “Products” page which would be a gallery of 4 sections (men, women, boys, girls) which we would have to
1. I want only English language
2. You will be updating the site for me.
3. I will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
4. I want the site up and running before ending of
5. My budget is X
6. No shopping ability
7. The site will be mobile friendly
8. I don’t want
9. I have 25 product to be on it.
Kindly get back to me with:John
(1) an estimate
(2) your cell phone number
(3) And will like to know if you are the owner ??
(4) Do you accept credit cards as
The project itself was a bit low for us in terms of budget but the potential to scale sounded very appealing. The potential to grow a client and support them along the way is something we love at Jupiter and the Giraffe so we agreed to give it a shot. I responded with something along those lines and suggested, in time, we revisit a lot of the workshop-type stuff we’ve missed on this occasion as its something we normally do with our clients so that we can establish a more solid brand later down the line.
Credit Cards though. Something stood out about that so I inquired with a couple of friends who are lawyers. Although alarming, I had a resounding thumbs-up from them both for reasons that many people just starting out won’t have the money and will either be getting a loan or using credit cards to give them a head start. Also, I was told it’s not as simple to reverse a transaction from credit cards as most issuers need evidence that the product or service was not received. As long as I had very clear contracts stating that they agree to the fees and that 50% would be owed up front (a very important thing to do, especially with new clients) then all should be well.
We scheduled a call with him to get further clarification on the requirements. I tried calling and it was not a British ringing tone. His answerphone message was a typical one that defaults with your carrier but it was in an American accent. Again, in this modern age of remote working and worldwide connectivity, I didn’t think anything of it. When I eventually got through, my designer and I joined the call. He seemed polite and was clear on his requirements. His English was not perfect but he could articulate himself well enough. A few points of interest is that he was not hesitant when it came to the price of our service and that he would be covering all credit card fees. He was also fine about paying 50% up front. Once again, a refreshing thing to hear! We left the call saying we’d need to get a SOW and contract signed with everything we agreed on the call and that we’d be good to go. We’d also need the work the consultant had already done to help guide us.
He signed the SOW promptly and we were all set. All I needed was an address for the invoice to send him the 50%
Things turned strange
He responded with something very queer. He asked if he could amend the amount on the credit card. The reason for this is as follows…
I understand the content for this site would be needed so work can start asap butJohn
iwill need a little favorfrom you regarding content and logo.
And also want you to know that am still at the hospital due to my current state of health. So don’t mind me replying late, it’s will be because my doctor is attending to me.
I was confused by what was being asked of us here. I also thought the bit about the hospital was a little strange, as, although terrible to hear, we were dealing with business and that was a little too personal given our brief encounter. A follow-up email was sent by him as if he pressed ‘send’ too early, as I suspected there was missing information in this email.
need is that favor i iwill be making upfront deposit payment for the project and iwant you to add the sum of X to the amount you will run on my card plus 3% Cc company charges. So when you receive the fund in your account, you will send the X to the project consultant that has the text content ,imagery and the logo for my website.
receivethe fund, he would send the imagery and logo needed for my website to you immediately.
The reason for the above is that the third-party consultant didn’t take credit card so he was asking us here if we could take the credit card payment and pay the consultant ourselves so that they could then send the logo and website content and we could begin work (something stated in our SOW). He also said he could’nt go to the bank himself because of his health. I said I’d get back to him.
Getting legal advice
The advice I received was to treat it like Jupiter and the Giraffe are sub-contracting for this logo and content and that a new contract will need to be written in order to get all parties on the same page and talking. I asked for the consultant’s details and called with no answer. I contacted them via email and left it at that. I also checked out “Bethesda Media” online but could not find them anywhere. I wanted to avoid this hassle so I took my time with things in case his health got better. I also suggested that he could send drafts and concepts of everything (something I would expect from an engagement) and that we could use these to help our design. I really pushed to get drafts while I sought assistance from a legal perspective and I got quite short responses reminding me that all I need to do is pay the consultant to release the assets.
A weekend went by and I received a chirpy email from him saying that he tried calling me (he hadn’t) and asking if I had got anywhere with the contracts. I responded saying that I tried contacting the contractor and am waiting on a response. I also reminded him that all we needed was the concept for the final logo and that we could proceed with that.
We need to push forward with things. We have decided we can no longer facilitate the invoice of your consultant. This puts our own company at risk as well as slowing down the progress of the project which we need to get moving on. We have enough information from you to proceed with the design and can do so once the initial invoice is paid.Me
The invoice I generated through Stripe was still valid so I insisted we proceed once that is paid. I didn’t feel comfortable being paid by credit card and then paying cold, hard cash to a consultant that seemed non-existent. I recieved an email begging me to help and once again reminding me of his health. Sympathetic as I was, I needed to focus on the business and the security of my company. I provided him with some advice on how he could pay the consultant himself but that would be a separate matter between them. I chased it up a week later after hearing nothing and I still haven’t heard back.
There are so many subtle stages to this deceit. The timing of everything seemed perfect. Waiting until the last moment to tell us the consultant does not accept credit cards, the co-work space, the accuracy of his brief containing evidence he knew what he was talking about. The curveballs that we threw as a company were responded with confidence and composure. I had my doubts but most things checked out, even with professional lawyers!! For shits and
One final point is that here at Jupiter and the Giraffe we run the following payment schedule and I’d advise you to do the same, especially with new clients. 50% upfront, 25% 3/4 of the way through the project and then the remaining 25% on delivery. This remaining 25% should be your profit margin so you’re never waiting for your company to break even on a project.
I’d like to create a conversation below. Do YOU see any red flags that I didn’t spot? Have YOU had anything similar happen to you? Is there any advice on how we can prevent this or spot this in the future? Pop a comment below. All the responses to the emails I’ve copied in full; spelling mistakes and all. Is there anything in that we could look out for in the future?