That’s the thing about scams. You think you won’t ever be tricked into one until you’ve been tricked, and it’s too late to do anything about it. Being the victim of a scam deals a frustrating blow not only to your wallet, but to your self-esteem and pride as a photographer. You work hard for what you do; you don’t need to make it easy for someone else to illegally benefit from your effort.

Many scammers prey on new photographers, because they are the ones most willing to take risks. Risk-taking is one of the ways to help your business grow, but there is an enormous difference between smart, calculated risks and rash, uninformed risks.

The most common scams

1. Photography Scams on Craigslist

Thanks to the widespread reach of sites like Craigslist, hundreds of people in the photography business fall for this scam each year. You don’t have to be one of them. The telltale signs of this scam are easy to spot.

How to avoid scams - Original documentPhoto by Joey Phoenix Photography

The setup

Someone contacts you out of the blue for photography services (or you answer an ad on Craigslist and someone responds). They are gracious and seem to know what they want, and send you a long e-mail listing specifics (often with less-than-superior English), and it all sounds reasonable enough.

The hook

Once you’ve discussed the basics, the scammer will then request your information. “I’ll mail you a check,” they say, or ask if you have capabilities for accepting credit cards. And of course the gullible photographer will be ecstatic about this prospect because a client is paying for everything up front. How wonderful! Not really.

The scam

The photographer then gets a cashier’s check in the mail (or a credit card payment) for an amount that’s more than what was agreed upon. The photographer, being a good citizen, will inform the “client” of this fact, and will send the difference back to the client. Unfortunately, the photographer will end up paying this amount out of his or her own pocket, because the cashier’s check was a fake or the credit card was a dud.

How to avoid scams like it

  • If a gig smells fishy, or too good to be true, it probably is. Most clients will want a lot of information before sending you payment for a service not yet rendered, not the other way around.
  • Limit your Craigslist job searches.
  • Read up on how to spot fake checks.
  • Don’t give out your personal information to just anyone.
  • Request a phone call. Scammers will be skittish about talking to you.
  • Unless you’re a high-end destination wedding photographer, deal locally.

2. Photography contest scams

Remember when that authority figure in your life told you to always read the fine print? Well, they were right.

A quick web search for “photo contests” produces thousands of results from various sources all over the world. But how can you tell which ones are legitimate, and which ones are scams? It’s actually not that tricky.

The setup

The photographer uploads his or her photos to the contest interface, either with an entry fee or not, with the potentiality to win a cash prize and be published in the “Best of” book for that company or organization.

The hook

How to avoid scams - public domain imagePublic domain image via Wikimedia Commons

After a few weeks of waiting, the photographer gets an e-mail. “You’ve won 3rd place!” the e-mail says. Your work will be sold in book form all over the world. How exciting for a rising photographer!

The scam

Although the photographer has supposedly “won 3rd place,” earning them the chance to be published, they won’t get a copy of the book for free. In fact, the company will encourage the photographer to buy the book at $50, $75, even $100. As an added bonus, the photographer can add a personal bio along with their image for just $50!

Unfortunately, the truth will kick in only after they’ve received the book and see that everyone else who entered got published as well. This sort of operation is not technically illegal, because the photographers hand over their money willingly, albeit under shifty pretenses.

How to avoid scams like it

  • Before entering a contest, research the organization. Don’t just enter your photos anywhere that looks legitimate at first glance. Usually, a little bit of digging will cause any ruse to collapse. Most real contests are hosting the contest to promote a brand or new product, not just to make some cash off of entry fees/book sales.
  • Read the fine print, and run far away from any organization that wants you to hand over the rights to your images. Don’t give your work away.
  • Don’t be desperate. Choose which contests you enter with great seriousness. You put time and effort into every other aspect of your work. Treat this with the same respect.

3. Photography gear scams

These sorts of scams are heartbreaking, especially because in the modern digital age, so much of what we do is transacted online. As a result, there’s a fine line between a great bargain and getting painfully ripped off.

How to avoid scams - box taped with handle with care signPhoto by Joey Phoenix Photography

The setup

In a gear scam the photographer may deal with either an individual entity or an online business, but the setup is the same. A search for a certain lens (or anything else related) on eBay or Google shop or somewhere similar will produce a long list of options from different vendors. Many of them will have the same price, but then there will be that one which falls way below the others. Interest is piqued. Could it be true?


Incredible bargains CAN happen, but these are the exception, not the rule. The super-low price gets you to look, and maybe even buy, and if you do, you usually will get exactly what you pay for, or…

The scam

You will get a phone call. “Hi, this is such and such photography superstore in this place, U.S.A. and we need to talk to you about your recent order.” You, being excited about the product and not wanting to miss out on a great deal, quickly oblige. They then begin to attempt to sell you all of the things (things which usually would come with whatever you’re buying) at absurdly high prices.

The way this works is that instead of actually selling a high-quality item at a much lower price, they’re selling low-quality items at minimum advertised prices (MAP). Companies aren’t legally allowed to sell at a lower price than that. It’s a classic bait-and-switch, and if you give into the pressure of their selling tactics (and pay the outrageous shipping fees), you’ll end up paying more for a cheap version of the item in question than you would have originally paid if you hadn’t fallen for the trap.

How to avoid scams like it

  • Some prices are really too good to be true. Do your research.
  • Consult Ripoff Report to weed out shifty sellers.
  • Don’t always trust the reviews; a lot of them are written by the sellers themselves.
  • Be extra suspicious when shopping the classifieds, eBay, or any other resellers.

When it comes to scams, use your head. Thinking things through will save you from falling victim to these ploys.

About The Author

Joey is a Boston-based freelance writer and photographer passionate about cultural development and fascinated by people. Her website is:

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