Email Scams Aimed at Belly Dancer Instructors

Belly dance scam attempt wedding bridesmaids flash mob event.
Thief attempts to scam belly dancer by booking the choreographer to teach bridesmaids a flash mob dance routine for a wedding.

Once again I have been contacted by a scammer. Though this is not an unusual occurrence, each episode is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It also drains my precious time which I need to operate my business.

I can’t stop scammers from approaching me, but I can try to help others in my business recognize a scam targeted at dancers. I hope this blog post will help some of you avoid the pitfalls of these evil villains.

 

Who Gets Scammed?

This problem is certainly not inherent to me alone. These days it plagues all of us, with many scams being quite generic. For instance, email scams that start, “I’m writing on behalf of my wife who was detained in a third world country due to her passport and money being stolen. If you can send her the money to get a new passport we will pay you back when she is home.” I have lost track of how many times I have received a variation of this email. Sometimes the email comes from the account of one of my friends, who had their email hacked. It reads,”I’m writing to you on behalf of my friend…please contact them directly if you are willing to help.”

As seen in above examples, the goal of a scammer is to dupe their targets into giving them money. Sometimes they ask for a “loan,” other times they ask for an outright “donation.” Often they ask for bank account numbers so they can send you money. Sometimes their methods are even more creative than that.

 

Scams Directly Targeting Dancers

Even though scammers will target anyone, these villians are so sophisticated that sometimes their scams are tailored to specific types of businesses. As a dancer and choreographer, I have been approached through email by multiple thieves looking to “book a dancer for an event” or “hoping to hire a teacher who will teach my little girl private dance lessons for a month.” Some of the stories weaved are so elaborate they have little to no difference from true client inquiries. The following text is an exact replication of an attempt from my most recent scammer. It starts:

 

From the phone number: +1 (972) 379-8147

From Scammer:  Hello, This is Micheal Williams, Are you available for Dance lesson for my Daughter Bridesmaids ?

My Response:  So is it a bachelorette party? Those are always fun. What is the date? I can teach in my studio or at a private home. The cost is $125 for a half-hour if I travel within the city limits of Colorado Springs.

From Scammer:  Thanks. I’m organizing a surprise dance (like flashmob) for my daughter’s wedding, So i want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreograph, The Wedding is on the 8th of April. 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 please note 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?

 

At this point in the conversation I am wary. Let’s address some reasons.

  1. The scammer approached me via sending a tex message to my phone. Anyone can buy a burner phone and make untraceable calls. Many scammers do use email, even though email can be traced more easily via IP address, which shows where the sender was when they sent the email. Even if you can’t trace the address to an exact location – perhaps they are sending the email from a coffee shop – you still gain insight to the nature of the email. In fact, if they are using a coffee shop, that should tell you the email is not genuine.
  2. “Michael Williams” is a generic name. This is a red flag. However, according to the website www.howmanyofme.com, “There are 308,183 people in the U.S. with the first name of Mike,” and “There are 1,844,768 people in the U.S. with the last name of Williams.” The name is so common, “Michael Williams” might be a valid name.
  3. There are gross misspellings and grammatical errors in the scammer’s text. This could mean someone from a foreign scamming ring is sending the message. However, with the current state of education and the pitfalls of voice recognition dictation, I have received many text messages from non-scammers with the same types of spelling and grammatical errors. And I often receive emails with broken (obviously foreign) English, due to the nature of my foreign or recently immigrated belly dance clients.
  4. The biggest red flag for me was the text, “There are 7 Bridesmaids (all ladies)…” In this day and age, of breaking with traditions, it is very possible that a bridesmaid could include someone who isn’t a woman. However, this phasing seemed particularly odd to me.

However, there is a lot of detail written into this text that could ring true. For instance, the song choice is one that would be perfect for a wedding, the date of the wedding was given, the ladies were “all local” (though he did not mention a city), and he was requesting specific dates and times for rehearsals. Though you could argue that a mid-day time was a red flag – do none of these women work during the day?

My gut told me this was a scam, but I decided to pursue this further, just in case it was real. So I wrote him back a long paragraph addressing the details – what it would take to choreograph and teach the routine, times I could teach, the final cost, and so forth.

 

In response I received the following:

From Scammer at 8:32 AM:  Hello, good morning

I did not respond. If he wants to book me for a gig, he will send me the money via PayPal or call to discuss more details.

From Scammer the next day at 1:47 PM:  Hey

I did not respond.

From Scammer later the second day at 5:47 PM:  Are you here ?

 

At this point his number was blocked from my phone. I either have a scammer who is trying to engage me in a real-time conversation to quickly pitch me the scam and get my money or I now have a stalker.

The next thing I did was to get on the internet and look up, “texting scams my daughter wedding” in Google. I immediately found a website promoting a choreographer, https://twistinvixens.com/2016/10/13/dance-choreographer-scam/, that has a scam story which matches mine almost verbatim. The choreographer’s scammer wrote, “Hello, My name is Chris King. I got your information online for dance classes. I’m organizing a surprise dance (like flashmob) for my daughter’s wedding, So I want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography. Let me know if you can do this.”

I am confirmed in my belief this is a scam.

 

Why Do Scammers Target Artists?

This is not the first scam attempt on my dance business. Others included text such as, “My daughter is visiting your city this summer and is looking for a teacher for two months of lessons.” Or, “I have an event planned in Hawaii and would like to fly you to the island to perform.” The list is endless.

I also have a photographer friend who has had scammers approach him with lines such as, “I would like to book you for a gig in the Virgin Islands in spring.” By the end of the conversation, they say, “I would like to pay you with a credit card, and since our caterer does not accept cash I would like you to charge a little extra on our card to cover the cost of the caterer, and send us the extra money.” Translation – the credit card is stolen. The “mark” charges the card to get paid. The mark sends the extra money to the thieves. The credit card company denies the charges from the stolen card and the person being scammed is out several hundred dollars.

It seems that artists have a very high number of potential scammers beating down their doors. There are several reasons for this.

  1. Artists are known to have high running emotions, which is integral to our creative process. Perhaps villains assume artists can be easily swayed to donate to causes and give money to someone perceived to be in need.
  2. The arts, for most of us, tend to be less lucrative than other professions. Perhaps scammers assume that we might be easily temped by the offer of a well paying and long lasting project.
  3. Artists often deal with unknown and unexpected buyers of art, participants in classes or workshops, or people looking to hire an artist for a project (whether that is a choreography, artist installation, or photo project). Perhaps we are perceived to be more receptive of strangers and therefore easy to engage.

Whatever the reason, artists need to be aware of potential scams and be careful when dealing with unknown potential clients. Belly dancers need to be especially vigilant when it comes to bodily safety since we are often booked for parties by strangers. Even though I am very sure my most recent texter was a scammer, he could have been a simple stalker. Goodness knows I get many people who try to initiate flirtatious conversations through social media. But I think I save that for another blog post…

 

Best Practices to Avoid Falling Prey to Scammers

  1. It seems that lately, more and more dancers are removing their phone numbers from their websites and social media pages. You might consider following their lead by providing a contact email link. If you think the inquiry is valid then speak directly to the client by phone.
  2. If you get approached with any kind of job offer that seems to be a big and lucrative project be cautious.
  3. If you see any red flags or your intuition sends alarm bells, log on to the Internet and perform a web search.You might quickly find others who have had the same scam attempt.
  4. Be careful of emails with broken English, gross misspellings, and grammatical issues.
  5. Never provide clients with any account numbers, passwords, or any personal information that does not pertain to your business.
  6. If anything feels uncertain or out of the ordinary regarding forms of payment, stop correspondence immediately and reassess the situation.
  7. If being booked for an event such as my “bridesmaids choreography” immediately ask for a phone number for one of the girls. Be warned that scammers are so advanced they might be ready for you. The choreographer I referenced earlier did ask for a number. When she called it she got a generic voicemail and no one returned her call.
  8. Don’t be afraid to report scams to the appropriate authorities (see links at the bottom of the page).
  9. Remember that if a client really wants to hire you, they will pay cash. Don’t be afraid to ask for physical money and tell clients they must sign a contract to retain your services.

 

Helpful Links for Reporting Scams

https://www.irs.gov/uac/stay-vigilant-against-bogus-irs-phone-calls-and-emails

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/Information?OrgCode=IRS#crnt&panel1-1

 

Article Updated 3/7/17:
The saga continues: I was contacted by email by “Robert Graf” with an email address of [email protected] who wrote, “Hello,this is Rr Roger Graf,I’m organizing a surprise dance (like flash mob) for my daughter’s wedding, So i want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography.Let me know if you can do this.”