How I Got Scammed!
|March 26, 2010||Posted by Roshawn Watson under Uncategorized||
How it Happened
It all started when my wife saw a local photographer’s ad on Craigslist. We were initially suckered by the generous photo packages she offered and the professional photo samples she used to market her work on her website. After comparing her packages to three other photographers, we decided to hire her. During the meeting, she allowed us to customize the package to our needs, which was very important because we only needed to book her for our reception and engagement photo session since we had already hired two other photographers for our wedding ceremony. The photographer was very personable during our meeting, which made her relatable. The additional samples of “her work” she brought for our meeting were beautifully done. Although I had my reservations (i.e. I remember being unsatisfied with her website because I found a couple typographical errors), we went ahead and booked her and paid her a 55% down payment the day of our initial meeting. I am typically much more careful than this, but we were disarmed by this con woman. Unfortunately, we did not do due diligence, a mistake that we definitely lived to regret.
When you are hiring someone, it would serve you well to investigate his or her background. We took her word that the photo’s she showed us were “her work.” In actuality, we could have confirmed this with a few phone calls. Had we insisted on checking her referrals, we might have discovered the myriad of unsatisfied customers across several neighboring cities or the fact that there were inconsistencies in her story. For example, she claimed to have been in the business for years, yet why was there no record of her (at least under the name she gave us) or her business to be found. You see, we believe she was using an alias to hide her bad reputation in the industry. Likewise, she likely changed her business name to hide the fact that she had recently been investigated by the Attorney General and presently had a Better Business Bureau grade of F. A few phone calls and a google search of the business name before making a deposit would have saved us much heartache. Do not hesitate to inspect before you pay; in fact, this is your duty.
How I Found Out
Fortunately, she showed up and took pictures along with another photographer we hired at the last minute. She was late, introduced herself to my mother-in-law with her real name (before she “corrected” herself and gave her alias), and failed to really take the reins of the photo session, but she was there at least, which was a miracle in itself.
Maybe this would work out alright after all. I said to myself.
Unfortunately, this was merely wishful thinking. After the session, she practically dropped off the planet, except for the fact that the Internet began to be littered with more and more evidence of her deception, as more of her victims began to post their own painful stories. After the contractually agreed upon time for her to produced our photos had passed, I gave her a deadline and plenty of other opportunities for her to give us our photos, yet she was unwilling or unable to give us our package. She clearly had no intention of following through. We knew we had to get help.
One thing was sure: I would follow through with my promise; I would not let her off without justice. We called our lawyer to explain the situation and told her that I was interested in pursuing this issue both civilly and criminally. Our lawyer said that she thought that we had a great case and that our photographer was technically guilty of a felony. She also said that we should at the very least pursue unfair trade practices, which allows for the victim to recover up to three times the out of pocket expenses plus lawyer fees. We had to be careful because we didn’t want to be guilty of extortion (i.e. if we threatened criminal action because of a civil dispute, we could be in trouble), but that’s why we hired a lawyer to help us navigate the matter. Our lawyer said that we could get a judgement against her, which would show up on her credit report and stay on there ten years, and it could be reinstated for another ten years afterwards. Our detective found out our photographer’s real name, dug around in her financial records, her family life, took pictures of her house, her vehicle, her family’s vehicle, and investigated other ligation involving her. Suddenly, my wife and I didn’t feel so powerless. After we had built our case, our lawyer sent her a demand letter citing a few ways which our photographer had violated the law and our desire that she resolve our claim expediently with a quick settlement. Unsurprisingly, now the photographer decides to call me (first time in months) to see if this is for real. I assure her that we are serious and that she needs to cooperate. That same week the photographer decides to settle the claim out of court. Today, my wife and I are whole thanks to God and our lawyer Carol.
Fortunately, my story had a happy ending, but I shudder to think about what would have happened if we didn’t have the resources to vigorously encourage a settlement. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is to not be so anxious to save money or mentally aloft during decision-making that you forego common sense. I also learned to listen to my gut more. From the beginning, I had a general sense of uneasiness regarding this hire. Obviously, we had to hire numerous people for the wedding, yet this was the only one that just didn’t feel right. Sometimes, you intuitively know that something or someone is just too good to be true. Don’t be afraid to walk away from some deals in order to satisfy your concerns with some hard facts. If we had done so, we wouldn’t have gotten into this predicament in the first place. Lastly, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of professionals. An objective third party with the right information can jump start your path to recovery, even if your emails and phone calls have been ignored previously.
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Copyright 2012, Roshawn Watson, Pharm.D., Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.