Well, that was a fun to way spend my morning.
I just sent a complaint report to usa.gov about an e-mail scammer who's been contacting me. I'm still feeling irritable about it, so I decided to write a post and vent my feelings a little. Here's my story:
As many of you know, I'm a self-employed ballroom dance teacher. I have my own studio and my own website. And I love my job.
The one sucky thing about my job is that it's based on appointments and walk-ins, so I have good months and bad months with earnings. I have to hope that people will use my website's contact form and inquire about private lessons.
So you can imagine how happy I was when a "father" e-mailed me the following message last week:
"Hello how you doing today this is Nicolas Barry i will like to ask if you still provide dance lesson I'm organizing a surprise dance (like flashmob) for my daughter's wedding, So i want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography and i hope you accept credit card as method of payment ?"Mind you, this isn't a weird e-mail for me. People are frequently grammatically incorrect in e-mails, and I get a lot people asking me if I accept credit cards. What was different was this surprise flash mob dance request; I've never had a request like this before, but hey! I'm always up for something new!
I replied with my usual response: yes I do still teach dance lessons, yes I do accept credit card. I also added the usual "private group lessons are $15 per person per hour. Please let me know if you wish to set up an appointment".
So then I got this response:
"Thanks for the response. Wedding is on the 24th of June. The ladies are local. There are 7 Bridesmaids(all ladies) and i want them to choreograph a song by "John Legend" titled "All of me" I want lessons to be at your studio. I'll prefer Tues&Thurs 11-1pm, if that's okay with your schedule. Though the ladies are fully committed to this training, so their timing is pretty flexible They are not professionals and have no experience in dancing. What is the total cost for 2 hour rehearsals twice a week for 3 weeks?"
Uh, okay. It's still pretty legitimate-looking. Wedding date, number of bridesmaids, song, schedule, etc., all the usual info. The last line was a little weird, but I figured he just wanted confirmation on the cost.
So I replied in the usual way, repeating the cost and that it's all pay-as-you-go. The e-mails went back and forth, with the guy really sounding like a dad wanting to surprise his daughter, but he still insisted on my quoting an estimate. I finally conceded and gave him a number: $1,260. I also emphasized the pay-as-you-go policy with the payment at the end of the lesson.
Here was his next response, and that's when the red flags came up:
"What is your full-name,studio address for the private transport driver i'm organizing to locate your place when they are coming Can i make reservation with my credit card? Cause i won't be coming in with the ladies due to my current health status. I'm currently under intensive care in preparation for my surgery. I'm doing the booking since the whole surprise is my idea and i will be responsible for all payment."
Seriously, he used my website for the original e-mail, he should be able to see all the basic info right there!
The real kicker was the "private transportation". I've gotten this kind of e-mail scam before. They say they're hiring transportation and, for some emotionally tragic reason, they have to pay for all the lessons in advance by credit card.
Here's how they get you: the driver can't accept credit cards so they ask you to put his charges in along with your lesson cost. They expect you to be helpful and agree, and when the lesson happens, you give the driver his price using your own cash. Once they're gone they reverse the credit card charge and run off with your money. Sucks, doesn't it?
I sent him a reply calling his bluff. I told him there were no reservations allowed, and that if paying per lesson was a problem, that he should send the bridesmaids money and they could pay me in cash. I also threw in the friendly advice that he should make sure his driver is paid in advance. I then subsequently reported his email to usa.gov.
I know I probably shouldn't reply, but he tried messing with me and I really, really want to get a little revenge. If he keeps replying, I think I'll try suggesting something a little more ridiculous. I'm not sure what yet, maybe suggest that the choreography should include life-size Dalek robots from Doctor Who?
I'm still miffed, though. It had seemed so legit at first, and I would have made so much extra cash this month if it was real. It angers me that there are people out there who are willing to steal money from innocent small businesses who only make enough to get by, and wouldn't have been able to afford losing hundreds of dollars. The world can really suck sometimes.
Anyway, here's some helpful advice for all you dance studios out there: watch out for e-mail scams like this one. Never accept a charge where you have to pay for another service with your own money. Report it immediately if you spot this type of scam. The bridesmaid flash mob has been the most recent one, but there are other scams are out there as well. They are all grammatically incorrect, need a bunch of lessons prepaid, insist on a check or credit card for some compassionate reason, and have weird requests added on (paying for someone's boarding, transportation, etc.).
Done for now. I'm going to take my mind off things and go get lost in a book.