Photographer Internet Scam directed at me!

Internet Scam directed at Pittsburgh Photographer (me!)

I guess there is a downside to having good photography SEO because I’ve just been targeted in a internet scam.  So I’m writing this post to help warn any other photographers out there that might come across something similar…

It all started with this email.

BTW – Do you know how hard it is to NOT deposit a check for $5,300.00??????

Email #1
From: Clarabel Ward –
Subject: Flaunt magazine photoshoot
I saw your photography portfolio online and would like to learn more about your services. I’m looking for an experienced photographer to work with on an ongoing blogging and articles.


Sounds benign enough, right?  It’s the kind of email I get every once in a while.  I have good SEO so I get these opportunities on a regular basis.  So I responded with…

My reply to Email #1
From: (that’s me when I don’t know if someone is asking about people photography or food photography)


I’m interested!  When can we talk?  Do you live near Pittsburgh?

Michael Ray

Michael Ray Photography
2820 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA. 15222

P 412-232-4444
C 412-418-2838

Email #2
From: Clarabel Ward –
Subject: Flaunt magazine photoshoot
Hello Micheal,
I’m actually compiling shots for Flaunt magazine “fashion page” segment and the online fashion magazine is looking for professional and reliable photographers who want to create stunning images to feature on our website- Flaunt is particularly looking for outdoor and urban looks.
If you’re interested this project, it is important to understand few details about the project. These are:
You will be required to work with 2 models.
There will be 3 outfits per model, 5 looks for each outfit, which totals 30 looks/images.
Outfits/Wardrobe will be supplied by us.
Location, date, and time will be fixed by you.
We want 30 professionally taken pictures in High Res Digital Copies.
Delivery date: latest Sept 10th 2018.
Compensation: $2500 ($700 upfront and $1800 final payment).
You will hold full image right (Licensor)
As the photographer we want you to handle other aspect of the gig and dictate the creative direction. If you can handle this, please reply with your full name/Business name (to be written on your payment and contract), phone number, and address (if it is different from the one above). I will forward a contract to be signed by both parties.


So this is when I start to do a little checking.  I google “Flaunt Magazine” and they seem legit enough and the fee is high for this area, but they aren’t FROM this area, so everything seems legit.  There are two things though that start to bother me a little and get my spidy senses to tingling… 1, the email is from a gmail account.  That seems a little odd and 2. the emails doesn’t contain any contact info.  Maybe she’s (?) is using her personal email?  Maybe she’s working from home?  Still, I’m starting to get a little suspicious.  She seems to know all the correct items to cover and it all sounds like she know’s what she’s talking about.  But still, it seems too good to be true…  But hey, maybe the photography Gods are smiling at me…  I respond with this…

My reply to email #2 


I’d love to work with you on this project.  I didn’t see it mentioned here but I’m assuming that you will be responsible for makeup too.  Is that your understanding?

Michael Ray
Michael Ray Photography
2820 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA. 15222


I’m just looking to work out the details of the shoot…

Email #3
Hi Michael,
  Thanks for the reply and the interest to work with us on this project.I would like to work with 
you on this project. There are few details you need to know: 
Wardrobe will be picked by our stylist based on urban trends for the season. We expect you to 
shoot in an urban gritty or/and natural outdoor look with clean product focused images; I’m 
attaching some pictures as samples.
 You will have to do little retouching if pictures can be taken with natural lighting. Final images 
will be 300dpi or larger, mix of rectangular and verticals, to be delivered via file share. Images 
will on be used as an editorial content on for 12 months.
An agency will provide a male and a female fashion model, makeup and hair stylists.You will be 
paid $700 upfront plus the talents budget while your balance payment will be paid after sending us proof that the job has been done; usually watermarked images.
 Photographers we hire usually take on the responsibilities of coordinating the shoot, selecting 
location, and disbursing fees. An advance payment of $5300 will be issued prior to the shoot; this 
covers your $700 upfront and fee for talents’ fee payable to their manager.photographers pay and 
disburse fees so as to create a great working relationship and be in charge of the whole shoot and crew(photographers use discretion and personal experience in producing a good and quality shoot)
Attached is a sample of the contract.When is the best time to chat about the shoot?

clarabel Ward

Okay… Now this is where things really get interesting.    Can you notice the way the line breaks are funky?  It looks like it was copy and pasted from another document… Like they’ve done this before…
Also attached in email #3 were these images. I shrunk them a little so they’d fit here a little better…  
Just for fun, I googled the file names of the images, a trick I’ve learned in order to find out who is using my images without my permission.  Just do a Google image search with the file name and G will tell you where the image appears.  It turns out that the images of the woman is from her blog.  I do like the photos and maybe there were originally shot for Flaunt, but Still, something isn’t adding up.  I don’t see where Flaunt ever used them, or at least G hasn’t found them.
This is the content of the contract attached to this email (#3):


1422 Highland Avenue,Los Angeles, CA


Michael Ray Photography

2820 Smallman Street

Pittsburgh, PA. 15222



This contract constitutes an agreement between Flaunt (hereafter “Client”) and Michael Ray Photography (hereafter “Photographer”). Any alterations to this agreement must be authorized in writing by both the photographer, and Flaunt. 


I am compiling shots for “Featured Styles” segment and the online fashion magazine is looking for professional and reliable photographers who want to create stunning images- Flaunt is particularly looking for outdoor and urban looks.

If you’re interested this project, it is important to understand few details about the project. These are:

  • You will be required to work with 2 models.
  • There will be 3 outfits per model, 5 looks for each outfit, which totals 30 looks/images.
  • Outfits/Wardrobe will be supplied by us.
  • Location, date, and time will be fixed by you.
  • We want 30 professionally taken pictures in High Res Digital Copies.
  • Delivery date: Sept 10th  2018.
  • Compensation: $2,500 ($700 upfront and $1,800 final payment).
  • You will hold full image right (Licensor)


This license is strictly limited to the terms and conditions below, and governed by the Copyright laws of the United States, as specified in Title 17 of the United States Code: 

Licensee: Flaunt

Licensor: Michael Ray Photography

Delivery Date: Sept 10th  2018

Duration of Rights: 12 months 

Exclusivity: Exclusive   

Media: Editorial and Online    


The fee quoted by the client is for the original job description as presented by the Client. Any subsequent changes, whether made orally or in writing, may result in additional charges. The expenses are estimated in good faith. Actual expenses, which may be greater or less, will be invoiced.      


“Publicity” use is when the Client submits photographs to an outside publication (whether print or electronic) for editorial use and the Client (our clients) is not paying for that use. “Advertising” use is when the Client (our clients) is paying for the placement of a photograph in whatever media it appears, such as in a Newspaper, magazine, billboard or website. “Collateral” use is when the photographs appear in a publication that the Client produces, such as a magazine, annual report, brochure, pamphlet, poster or website, and whose audience is employees, customers, shareholders, or the general public. “Photograph(s)” are images created as a part of the project as agreed to by the Photographer and Client.      


While Photographer will make every reasonable effort to take photos specifically requested by Client, Client understands that this is an uncontrolled event and that due to the vagaries of the weather, available light, time restrictions and the willingness of subjects, Photographer may take longer time to deliver the photographs. Photographer takes the utmost care with respect to exposure, transportation and processing the photographs. 

Also, Photographer’s responsibilities include but not limited to, coordinating the shoot, selecting location, fixing date for the shoot, safe keeping the outfits, and disbursing models’, Hair stylist, and Make-up Artists’ fee to their manager.

Photographer accepted to pay models, hair and make-up fee from part of the advance payment received from the client. $4.600.00 will be required by the booking agency prior to the shoot to secure the models and artists, to be paid by the photographer.


Client shall make advance payment of $5,300.00 prior to start of work; the advance fee includes Photographer’s $700 upfront and $4,600 for the talents. Photographer’s balance of $1,500 shall be made within 3 days of confirming final images as agreed in “JOB DESCRIPTION”. Checks payable to:   

Michael Ray Photography

2820 Smallman Street

Pittsburgh, PA. 15222



Photo shoot shall begin once advance and clothes are received, with final file delivery 10 days from that date.  Upon completion of initial photo shoot, “Final delivery” will include 30 image files, including images of each outfit delivered to photographer. Final, high-resolution TIFF, JPG, or PSD files will be delivered upon full payment received. 


All of the Photographs created by the Photographer (both moving and still) are their copyright are the sole and exclusive property of the Photographer. Grant of any reproduction rights to the Client is conditional upon receipt of payment in full. All rights not expressly granted shall be reserved by the Photographer. Modification of Photograph(s) and/or incorporation of Photograph(s) in any layout or concept shall not constitute a Joint Work.      


If Client wishes to make any additional uses of the Photographs not covered in the initial agreement, Client shall obtain permission from Photographer and pay an additional fee to be agreed upon.      


In the event of a cancellation or postponement of a shoot by the Client, Client shall pay all expenses incurred by the Photographer up to the time of cancellation, plus a fee to be agreed upon. If a shoot is cancelled within 24 hours of departure for the shoot, Client shall also pay 50% of the anticipated photographic fee and 100% of the anticipated fees of any subcontractors booked for the job; if shoot is cancelled within 48 hours of departure for the shoot, Client shall pay 0% of the anticipated photographic fee and 50% of the anticipated fees for any subcontractors booked for the job.      


Client hereby indemnifies and holds the Photographer harmless against any and all liabilities, claims, and expenses, including reasonable attorney’s fees, arising from Client’s use of Photographer’s work. The Photographer similarly indemnifies and holds Client harmless against any and all liabilities, claims, and expenses, including reasonable attorney’s fees, arising from Photographers negligence. 


Photographer assumes no liability (financial or otherwise) for clothes/accessories damaged during shipping. Additionally, photographer is not liable for costs associated with tailoring services required. Photographer is not liable for shooting delays due to wrong sized clothing/accessories. This includes model rebooking costs. Photographer is not liable for weather-related delays. Any unexpected costs due to tailoring, other delays, or requests of the model(s) will be included in the total bill due before file delivery.      


A credit in the name of Photographer shall accompany the Photographs whenever practical and shall abide by any format the photographer wishes.    


Any additional retouching requested by Client will be quoted on a case-by-case basis.     


Client will not make any alterations to Photographs including but not limited to: color, contrast, additions or subtractions without prior written consent of Photographer.        


Authorized agent: Ryan Gray 


Date: 22/08/2018 

For Naomi Epstein Photography

Photographer’s Name:   

Photographer’s Signature: 


So, you can see that all the terms and conditions seem to be in my favor, which is NEVER the case… Warning bells are chiming in my head but I don’t see any real downside to this deal.  Sh wants to send me money!  What’s wrong with that, but still if feels too good to be true, so this is the point where I call the police.  I talk to a Peter’s Township Officer in charge of “cyber crimes” and he tells me how the scam works out.  He also said that this 11:00 call I was making was this third internet scam of the day.
Here’s how it works… He / she  sends you a check that contains “more money” than you get to keep.  There are “expenses” that you need to pay for out of the money sent.  You get the check and deposit it and while it’s NOT clearing, You’re sending out the expense payments, probably back to the same M-Fer that sent you the check in the first place, probably just under another name.
So NOW what do I do…?
 So I continued the email conversation hoping to learn more and to make sure I wan’t passing up a great opportunity, but I was careful…

My reply to email #3

I can talk at 3:00 Eastern time.  Is that good for you?

I have a couple of questions before we talk…
Where are the models coming from, which agency?
Who have you selected for makeup?

Michael Ray

Michael Ray Photography
2820 Smallman St
Pittsburgh, PA. 15222

I figured that if this was legit that he would mention a local modeling agency and and makeup person and I could contact them and see if they know what was what…

Email #4

Thanks Micheal, we normally let photographers work with their own team but the magazine decided to dictate some of the input regarding this shoot. You will still be in charge of the shoot but we are recommending the talents’ team we feel best represent our content. 
You are permitted to edit or retouch because you will be credited for the images and I’m sure you want the world to see beautiful images linked to you,I look forward to having a wonderful working relationship with you. 
The agency providing models, Hair stylist, and MUA is Barton and Queck and I will want you to discuss possible dates with the agent (James Barton) as the deadline date is close while I work on getting your advance budget as the finance dept has the project check ready and the contract; you can email James at
  sorry I’m attending to a little health issue here this weekend I would have given you a call,hope you have a great weekend ahead,will ask James to get in touch also.

So a new person enters the story!  Or at least a new email address, probably the same guy… And at this point, I’m assuming it’s a guy.  I don’t know why, I guess that I assume that women aren’t this sleazy.

My reply to email #4


I hope you’re doing okay with the health issues.  

I’d like to talk to someone about the shoot.  Your deadline is approaching fact and I’ll need that advance before I begin the process on this end.  You can send it to the address below.

I look forward to working with you.
Michael Ray
 I wanted to see where this was going.  And I didn’t sign the contract.  I was curious to see if they just wanted to get this ball rolling!  I wanted to see if I could TALK with an actual person.  James would do, but he hadn’t contacted me yet.

Email #5
Hi Micheal,
Thanks,I’m feeling a lot better though still on doctor’s watch(its an ear infection surgery) should be good by weekend,James from the Agency promised to call and be in touch with you to make all the arrangements regarding location and date,I got confirmation from the office that Payment has been made,you should get the check in a few days (this week),will get in touch soonest.

Promises promises….

My reply to email #5

Have you chosen the models yet?  Can you send me a link to their portfolio page?

Michael Ray
 Just trying see what else they could do string me along.

 Email #6

Hi Micheal,

The agency is in charge of that,but I have requested their portfolio link sent to you. Have u received payment? 
What date have you chosen for the shoot?

My reply to email #6

Yes / no

I’d like to view the model selection. Can we make that happen?

Michael Ray

 At this point, I get an email from James…

Email #7

Hello Micheal,

This is James Barton here,from Clarabel.We are to provide 2 models, a Hair stylist/MUA, and a mobile studio (Van or Motor home) for the shoot you will be coordinating.
Ray and Hannah fits into the profile Flaunt and Brandon Media are looking for. Our total fee for the entire services is $4,600.00 including refreshment for my team.
My team will be available to shoot 4th to 13th of Sept but I will be waiting for you to pick a date that best suits you. According to Flaunt schedule, the deadline is in about 2 weeks.
Clarabel told me are incharge and coordinating the shoot and you will have the budget sometimes this week.
Regarding payment, we require you pay our fee ($4,600) prior to the shoot; cash deposit will be ideal but if you are unable to do that I guess wire transfer will do it.
If you have any question, please feel free to email me. is presently offline so I attached the models’ com cards.

 This is where I’m supposed to write the checks… :o) . It’s all falling into place.

My reply to Email #7
Thanks for contacting me on this.  I think you forgot the attachments.  The 13th is my target shoot date.
Please send over the model info.   Plus, can send along a phone number in case I need to reach you or to work out details?
Michael Ray

Now I’m applying a little pressure…

At this point, just for fun, I googled “Flaunt Internet scam” and found this.  Then, I called the company that sent me the check, of at least the company who’s name and address was on the check. They knew nothing about it, so my 95% suspicion turned into 100% certainty.   I was being Scammed!!!!!

Email #8 (From James)
Hello Micheal,
    Attached is Com Cards for Ray and Hannah,who we feel fits the profile specifics Flaunt sent,let me know your thoughts.
I think 13th Sept works just fine,what about location? is there a nice hotel around you might recommend for our team to stay? 
scam photo 2 scam photo 3
I wonder if he wants me to book him a room?  :o)

 My reply to Email #8

They look the part and I think this will work really well.  There are a few locations very close to my studio that would be perfect for this!

Here’s a nearby hotel that many of my clients stay at…

When can we talk details?

Michael Ray
 And as of today, this is where we stand… I just got off the phone with the police and they don’t seem too confident that we can catch these suckers….

I’ll keep adding to this to let everyone know how it ends and hopefully as I post this, the scumbags won’t catch wind of it…  I’ve been really impressed with the detail this person has gone into to pull this off.  Printing the checks, knowing the photography business, composing a contract, and all these emails.  It’s pretty amazing but I guess that there is a pretty big payday in it for them if they make just a couple of these happen…
The moral of the story is… If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Don’t get scammed!

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