When something sounds too good to be true it can often turn out to be the case. But as a business, when you're approached by a new customer offering good money for a job you don't turn it down. Especially if to begin with everything sounds legit.
A few weeks ago we received an email from Abdul in Dubai asking to book the studio for a few days in July. It was a little vague but no more so that the usual enquiries we receive. Five staff would be over in the UK attending a seminar and needed the space and a photographer for the six days they were here. We checked the company out online and although we couldn't find a website, they were listed on Google at that address.
We sent an email back outlining what the costs would be for renting the studio and our time plus asking for more details about what photography requirements they had. That evening we received a reply asking if we could offer a discount for such a block booking, which we agreed to. With any studio booking we ask for a 20% deposit to secure the time so we advised Abdul that an invoice would be sent out for this. He then replied suggesting it would be easier for his company to pay everything up front so could we invoice for the full amount. This we did, emailing two invoices, one for the deposit and one for the remaining balance to give him both options. He responded by asking for our IBAN number and address of our bank, which we provided and sat back waiting for the payment to arrive.
We had become a little skeptical about the whole thing by this point. Abdul's explanation of their requirements for the studio and photographer were a little confused, but this could have been down to his less than perfect grasp of English. We still thought something may come of it but weren't holding our breath.
Payment still hadn't materialised a few days later so we emailed Abdul to say that without at least the deposit we would have to release the dates. He apologised for the delay, saying he had been away on business, and assured us that payment would be with us by the end of the week.
The end of the week came and went and still no payment. At this point we were convinced it was a scam of some sort but were intrigued to know where it was going so we sent another chase email. The reply we received wasn't a surprise. Abdul advised us that the finance department had overpaid us to the tune of £52,000 by accident and once payment was showing in our account would we transfer the balance back immediately. After a little internet research I found examples of other photographers who had fallen foul of the 'Dubai Overpayment Scam'. Luckily for us it hadn't wasted too much of our time.
Abdul was still keeping up the pretence and our amusement was wearing thin. It was time to visit Tim, our lovely bank manager at RBS, and see what he made of it all. As soon as Tim saw me his usual jovial expression changed to one of utter seriousness. He fetched an envelope and showed me the cheque they had received in the post, made out to Flare Studio for £52,000 with the ink still wet. It was so obviously a forgery even to my untrained eyes.
The bank had intercepted the cheque before it got into the system and anywhere near our account. Had it gone into clearing and then been discovered our accounts may have been frozen (personal ones too) and a huge amount of disruption caused to the business and our lives. It's probably unlikely as we have very good systems in our financial services in the UK, but it could happen. It's easy to become sceptical after something like this but I like to think that with the proper processes in place you can rely on these things getting picked up without looking at the world with suspicion.
Greg & Justin