A few weeks ago I received a call from a man looking for advice. He was concerned that the current event planning company he hired a few weeks prior was charging him too much to plan his event. The man said he was a well-known doctor in the Ohio area looking to plan a surprise 18th birthday party for his son. The event was to be held in New Orleans for approximately 500 young adults from the ages of 18-21 with a budget of approximately $4M. The 3-day event was to feature A-list music performers, celebrity chefs, and some of the Israeli army to help with security – all first class.
Impressed with our advice, the client asked if we would help plan the event. We said we’d be delighted to, sent over our contract, and waited for his attorney to come back with his comments. The following day we were told by the client that he was offering the other event planning company $35K for work previously done over the past couple weeks. We felt this was fair compensation for the work performed to date, plus we also wanted to make sure the other event planning company was happy and would not jeopardize any relationships we needed with vendors in New Orleans. We were on our way.
Soon into this deal, we started questioning whether it was legitimate or not as we were unable to find this “well-known” doctor on the Internet. Though we were unsure what was “off,” we had a gut feeling something was not on the up and up and here is why.
- Unable to find the “well-known” doctor anywhere on the Internet or any social media platforms. The only doctor we found in the area where the client said he lived was a younger man – the client was an older man
- Unable to find the 18-year-old son anywhere on the Internet including any of the social media platforms. The only person who showed up on Facebook with the son’s name was a picture of a blond girl in a bikini with an X-rated website address in the picture with no profile information- the son’s best friend on any social media platform.
- Unable to find the wife on the Internet or any society paper in the area where they lived as the husband said she was a stay at home socialite.
- Unable to find any mention of the son’s Bar Mitzvah in the Ohio society papers as the client mentioned it had been posted there
- Unable to find email addresses on the Internet by using a reverse email check.
- The client lived in a $100K house. Could be conservative but we made a note of it.
- The client gave two different addresses. Not too suspicious because one address could be his office but we made a note of it.
- Client said he fired the previous event planner but we found out the client was still making arrangements to fly to New Orleans for a site inspection with them. As our suspicions grew, we contacted the other event planning company to discuss the situation – more on that below.
- Client told us his wife was an attorney but he told the other event planning company she was a doctor.
- Wife did not have her own email account. She used her husband’s email account and did a lot of cutting and pasting to compile an email. We began to think the husband and wife were the same person.
- Client said he sent a $150K deposit to the other event planning company but the other event planning company said they never received any money.
- Client said the other event planning company would not accept a wire transfer. The other event planning company said the client never asked if they would accept a wire transfer.
- The client asked us for references but because of our growing concern we were not about to release our high profile references to someone we thought might be a scam. Before we would give him our references we asked for a copy of the invitation from his son’s Bar Mitzvah and a snap shot of the son’s Facebook page. The run around began.
Five days into this, and still waiting for the attorney’s comments, we had found out about various scams going on in the event industry in the New Orleans area where the other event planning company is based. We decided it was time to nip this in the bud and call the other event planning company directly to see what was really going on and to warn them of our concerns. After speaking with them, we were convinced that this was some sort of scam but we still weren’t exactly sure what it was. Needless to say, neither event planning company wanted to stick around and find out so we both walked away from the deal.
We did contact the FBI to see what could be done but at that point the client had not done anything illegal and the FBI would only get involved if there was a $500K loss.
Things you can do to avoid being scammed:
- In your initial consultation, ask a lot of questions about all parties involved in the event and write everything down that is said even if you think it’s a minor detail (client’s occupation, wife’s occupation, where son is going to college in the fall, residence, previous events, friends, etc.).
- Search the Internet and social media platforms for all parties involved.
- Do a reverse search on emails and phone numbers.
- Don’t accept cashiers checks (Read more about this here – http://bit.ly/GSSTB4 andhttp://bit.ly/9LbDon).
- Don’t give out bank information for a wire transfer unless you are sure the client is legitimate.
- Run a background check.
- Be sure phone numbers and addresses add up to what the client is telling you.
- Only accept credit cards, checks or cash for payment (wait for all funds to clear before starting any work).
- Be suspicious of payments made through overseas accounts or credit cards.
- Go with your gut!
Some of this may seem excessive and we certainly don’t want to run around being suspicious of every client but if you think you are being scammed it never hurts to do your own due diligence.
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