Recently, I got a promising email from a potential client. They asked me to make a better website than their competition. But, a website isn’t what they were after. In this article, I’m going to go over how this person tried to scam, how to notice a scam, and what you can do to avoid them.
The initial email read like so:
“Hello i am Wendy Edwardo and am hearing impaired, that s the reasons why i communicate by via email i would love to know if you can handle website design for a new company and also if you do you accept credit cards ?? kindly get back to me ASAP so i can send you the job details.i will be looking forward to hear from you any moment from now.
I was a little concerned that she would not talk with me over the phone. But, I have had hearing impaired clients before. I also orient a lot of my work around accessibility. So, nothing seemed out of place. I let them know that I accept credit cards and that I manage projects like theirs.
Their response read as follows:
“Thanks for your swift response
Here is the job details
I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in [CENSORED] and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia 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 . [CENSORED COMPETITOR]…. the 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.
1. I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as [CENSORED].
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
6. i want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My budget is $4000 to $8000
Kindly get back to me with:
(1) an estimate
(2) your cell phone number
(3) And will like to know if you are the owner ??
This is where their grammar should have tipped me off. Not to imply that people with poor grammar are scammers. But, a professional speaking their native language does it well. Also, if they’re hearing impaired, most of their conversations will be through text. That aside, they provided all the information and questions that a regular client would have. But in hindsight, they were rushing the process.
I gave them my phone number — all my clients have my phone number — and told them that I would need to ask a few more questions before providing an estimate. This is where it became clear that this was a scam.
“Thanks for your response, I am okay with the estimate everything sound good and i’m ready to make payment now with my credit card, I understand the content for this site would be needed so work can start asap but i will need a Little favor from you and the favor is that I will send you my credit card to charge for the sum of $5,200.00 plus 3% Cc company charges, You will deduct $2,500.00 as deposit for the design of the website plus extra $200.00 as a tip for handling perfect work for me and you will send the remaining $3,000.00 to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he receive the $2,500.00 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you so work can start asap,Sending of funds would be after money clears into your account and You will be charging my card for remaining balance upon completion of work, Kindly get back to me so we can proceed with payment asap”
I never issued an estimate. They disregarded what I said and rushed the project even more. Their formatting, details about the website, and even their signature were gone. This should get anyone’s attention: if a client is too eager to give you money, be careful. Even if it’s not a scam, they may not understand your process well enough to know what they’re getting into.
Something I didn’t notice until I was writing this article: their email address changed. It went from a @hotmail.com email address to a @yandex.com address. If I had noticed this at the time, I would have politely ended the interaction there.
But, the bigger issue: they wanted me to move money around. This is how scams operate. I ran into this years ago, selling furniture on Craigslist. The person sends you too much money. They request part back. Then, leave while you get hit with fraud charges for the original amount. It’s worth mentioning that I believe that this person found me because of an ad I put on Craigslist.
Because of this, I do not manage money for anyone else. If they can pay me via credit card, they can pay someone else. Here is exactly how I phrased my response:
I do not manage credit cards like that. This would put all liability on me to process your sensitive information. This also puts me at risk for a fraud claim, in lieu of scams operated in this fashion.
I do not believe that you have any intention of scamming me, and I have no intentions of improperly handling your credit card. But, I would rather respect everyone’s safety and process the payment by my usual methods.
I would like to issue a contract where you agree to pay the full amount, then I will issue an invoice for the deposit. It’s a secure online invoice that processes your credit card. It’s very easy to do. If you can write these emails, you can use my invoicing system. I never directly touch a client’s credit card, just took keep everything secure.
I also cannot send your project manager money like that. Once I professionally receive money, it has to show up in my taxes. I would suggest either sending them a check or wire transfer of some sort if they can’t receive credit card payments.
I appreciate your understanding,
And of course, there was no response. So, I decided to look up Wendy on LinkedIn with both emails. Yet, there were no results. How could she own an importing business without a LinkedIn account? I later read a Facebook discussion where someone had gotten the same script from the same person.
What can you take away from this?
Unprofessional behavior is a red flag — as a professional, you know what’s normal and what isn’t. If something feels wrong, trust your intuition.
Enthusiasm is good, but desperation should be a concern — they were in a rush to get their payment processed. With most clients, it’s a process of negotiating and figuring out features to get there. Even if it isn’t a scam, a desperate client may have some sort of problem that could affect you later on.
Directly handling a client’s money should make you nervous — Unless you’re very familiar with the client or they are legally obligated to pay you. A payment processor to act as the middleman for your transactions can keep you out of a lot of problems.
(Obviously) Do not send money for a client — if they can send you money, they can send that person money. This is the most common way a scam is conducted.
What can you do to avoid scams like this?
Issue a contract — even if it’s a short one. The customer should acknowledge what they’re getting into. It should also be legally binding in case there’s a disagreement.
Use a payment processor — cash excluded. A processor on your side for fraud transactions can save you. A bank is great, but the more people in your corner, the better.
Know your client — Get their full name, a phone number or email, and even look them up if you’re still unsure. When I looked up Wendy on LinkedIn, there were no results. Looking up a client will give you a better idea of how to interact at worst. And, save you a lot of trouble at best. The more you know, the more an discrepancy will stand out.
Do not deliver work until you have been paid — I receive half of the project costs upfront to do my work. As a show of trust to my clients, I then receive the rest upon project completion. A plumber wouldn’t do this. A mechanic wouldn’t do this. Why would you? Make sure that you’re compensated in advance.
(And, as a catch all) Include any liabilities in your contract — If there’s a risk of injury, loss of profits, or incomplete work, be clear.
Hopefully, this helps you avoid people that are out to steal the money you work hard for. If I missed something or didn’t go into enough depth, feel free to let me know in the comments. I would like to keep an ongoing discussion about avoiding scams.