There's nothing quite as sickening as the feeling that you've been scammed. The deep sensation of regret and embarrassment, coupled with a huge bill that started out as a great paycheck, and just the thought that you were duped. Yeah, it's the worst! It almost happened to me just this past week. Thankfully, I paid attention to the huge red flag and was able to avoid being out lots of money.

Story Time

While I was driving home from visiting family out of state, I got a text message from a number I didn't know. They were pushy about me getting back to them right away about graphic design work. When I pulled off at a rest stop I directed them to my professional email for any design inquiries. I didn't know the number or the name off the top of my head, but I didn't want to immediately dismiss a possible project.

Once I got back to the office the next day, the email was stilted and littered with poor grammar. English wasn't this persons first language:

Good morning and hope you're getting on well today? Here is the job details,
I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now but basically I'm currently working on a contract and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Galilea Nut and Cocoa so i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?  So I need you to check out this site but I need something more perfect than this if its possible . th e site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and I want the same page as the site I gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.

The email felt odd but I didn't want to say "yes" right off the bat. So I sent him a message asking for more details. I started by asking how he found out about me and my company. A point he failed to mention in his follow up email. He was also texting me immediately after he sent an email. Not a practice I tolerate with potential clients.

So I decided to really push this guy. He was being persistent with getting a quote on his job. I told him I only had time for web design and not development. So I threw an outrageously high price to him of $5,000 for just design work. Trust me, this price is beyond what I would have actually charged. I was surprised he didn't balk at it:

That would be great, I need you to know that I'm comfortable with it.
Also I'm going to make a %50 down deposit of your service charge using my credit card and balance you the remaining amount once the job is done.
Let me know if you're in the right position to proceed ASAP.

That was the red flag for me. I did some research into online scams and found this article that was a direct copy/paste of the first email I got from the scammer. So I was lucky and avoided getting scammed, but what to do next?

Report That Mess

After that email I blocked his number and researched how to report fraud. I ended up reporting it directly to the FTC via their spam email address I found on their website:

I'm lucky and glad I didn't get scammed. But I feel terrible knowing this person is doing it to many other small business owners and freelance creatives. Will reporting his email and phone number to the FTC turn up something or stop him? I hope so. Emails and phone numbers are easy to fake and I'm sure scammer has several running simultaneously. He didn't get me, but he's already gotten others. But what can you do about it?

Protect Yourself and Your Business

Scammers are everywhere and being a small business is tough. When someone asks for your services for a much higher price than you would actually charge, the idea of so much money can be intoxicating. I'll admit, I would have loved to have that extra $5,000 in my bank. But it would have cost me much more if I had taken his credit card payment. I'd be worse off and absolutely humiliated that I fell for such a blatant scam.

You have to be mindful 100% of the time. It's exhausting but it's easier than trying to clean up the mess after getting scammed. And that's not to say there aren't generous clients that would be happy to pay such a high price for your work. Just pay attention to the red flags or your intuition about it. If it feels odd or wrong, it probably is.