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A Look At The The Most Common Web Design Scam

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: August 11, 2020

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This article is going to take a look at the most common email scam that specifically targets web designers. In the past, I’ve seen a few unfortunate Facebook and Reddit posts from Web Designers detailing how they were scammed – our agency must get at least two contact emails for this fraud per week, so I figured that I’d show you exactly how this scam works.

Hopefully you can use this to avoid losing a sizable chunk of change in the future.

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Keep in mind, the names, email addresses, and content will always change. Sometimes we get an email from somebody who is terrible at English – other times, it’s perfect. Sometimes our scammer owns a hardware company, other times it’s a flower shop.

You can help report fraud here: https://www.justice.gov/fraudtaskforce

The Web Design Scam Email

First, this is always conducted over email. Our scammers must be sending 100s of these per day.

The following content is copied directly from a scam email that we played along with to show you exactly how they try to steal your money.

Initial contact

The initial contact email has 4 main aspects to it:

  • Intro: The scam begins by introducing a “legit” company looking for a website.
  • Setting The Scene: With this scam, content is always created by a third party. As a designer, this is great, as you don’t have as much work.
  • Site Requirements: The site is always quite basic, as this scam wants to target anybody who can throw together a site.
  • Budget: The budget is always crazy. If this was real, it would be your lucky day. $18,000 for an incredibly simple website is great, but not reasonable.
I have a business which I want to turn into a large scale business now it is located in NJ and the company  is based on importing and exporting Salon Equipment such as Dryer, hair cream, Weavon,Hairdressing,Clippers, 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 it's possible. [website link]...  I have a private consultant that has the text content and logo for the site. the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate.

1. I want 10 to 15 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 PDsolutions.co. 4. You will be updating the site for me 2 times in a month. 5. I will be proving the images, logos and content for the site. 6.My budget is $8,000.00 to $18,000.00. 7. I want the site up and running before the end of 2 to 4 months

Also note the name and email. David Potter, emailing from [email protected]. The name is generic, and “American” sounding. The email is also generic. Once it gets burned, the scammer will simply make another name and email combo.

After this initial contact, the web designer would go back and forth, eventually sending a proposal or quote. In our case, we offered $10,000.

Estimate Acceptance

The scam will then happily accept whatever price you respond with. They will also offer you a down payment of about ½ the total project price.

Thanks, I'm very much satisfied with the total estimate, quite affordable . Here's an exclusive just to show some seriousness and dedication. I am willing to pay up the sum of $4,000 as an upfront payment for the job using my credit card so work can commence ASAP. i understand the content for this site would be needed so as for the job to commence. regarding the content, i will need a little favor from you And the reason why i need this favor from you is because the consultant that has the content and logo for the website does not have the facility to charge credit cards and i am presently in the hospital with my Daughter for surgery so i will be glad if you can help me out with this favor. Thank you

At this point, the scammer will request “a little favor from you”. The designer will typically want to know more about this favor.

The “Favor”

After asking about the favor, the scam will get to the “make or break point”. Here, all the cards are on the table. If you accept, you’ll loose money. If you don’t, they’ll simply move on to another victim.

The favor I need from you is. i would give you my card info to charge for $11,550.00 plus credit card company charges, so $4,000 would be a down payment for my website design and the remaining $7,350 you would help me send it to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he has the $7,350 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you also the funds would be sent to him via Instant Transfer or Cashier Check into his account, sending of funds would be after funds clears into your account And also $200tip for your stress So i will be looking forward to read back from you. Thank you

How The Web Design Scam Works

Let’s go over how this works. In the final email, the scammer wants you to help him pay the “consultant” that was already hired to create logos and content for the site.

The consultant cannot accept credit cards, and the scammer conveniently can only pay via credit card. To solve this problem, they offer you this:

You charge the card $11,550.00 (or any other suggested number). From this charge, you pocket the $4,000 down payment.

The remainder of the charge, $7,350, is to be sent directly to the “consultant”. This can only be done via money order, cashier’s check, or any other non recoverable payment form.

For example, a cashier’s check is essentially cash. That means that once it’s sent out, you’re probably never going to see that money again.

Once you’ve sent the money, one of two things will happen:

As soon as the “consultant” (who is the scammer, or one of their buddies) gets the money and cashes the check, they initiate a chargeback on the initial $11,550.00.

In many cases, the money will be returned to them. However, you’ve already sent out ~$7,000 in funds that you’ll never get back.

OR

The card that they used to initially pay you was stolen. That means that there won’t even be a chargeback from them, but when the owner of the card realizes the scam, the bank will try to recover the money from you, leading to a massive drawn out process. Instead of you being the only victim, there’s now another.

The scammer, however, still gets away with their chunk of change, which you’ll never get back.

Conclusion

The names, emails and even content of this scam is always changing. However, the structure and “favor” will never change, as this is the mechanism that they use to get money from a web designer.

If this was a real request, it would be the easiest and most profitable project I’ve ever done.

At the same time, especially in the web design industry, if it’s way to good to be true… it is! Many established agencies and freelancer get these types of emails all the time – it’s just a part of the industry.

If this is your first time hearing about this scam, hopefully this article saved you some time, money and grievance. If you found it helpful, feel free to share on social media. If you have more info that will help others avoid this, leave it in our comments section!

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Md Hannan
3 months ago

i got same email . thanks for your explanation

Studio
Studio
2 months ago

We got the same email and we even were able to talk to him on the phone. The phone number is (708)401-7722. Thank you for this post. Saved us a lot of time.

James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

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