Beware of the Scam Targeting Web Designers
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Google's Messaging System Used by Scammers to Target Web Designers
Google Business Messaging is a free service that enables small businesses to communicate with customers and prospects. But scammers also use the chat function in Google’s messaging system to find potential targets among web designers, digital marketing consultants, and other similar small businesses.
How do they do it?
Using Google Business chat feat, they send out messages to graphic designers or digital consultants pretending they are interested in web design services.
For example, Adept Marketing Solutions received the following message on its Google Business profile a few days ago:
Next, after a few message exchanges, they ask for an email address to send more details about the project:
Then the scammer sends the web design job details from a generic email address such as email@example.com.
Here is a copy of the email:
In short, the scammer pretends that he needs an e-commerce website for which he has a budget of $4,000-$6,000; he worked already with another graphic designer; he would like to know if he is dealing with the business owner.
Fraudulent Scheme Clues
The email address looks suspicious - What serious business owner would use firstname.lastname@example.org to request quotes from another business?
He says he also hired another web designer - Why does he need another designer then?
The word kindly did not seem so kind (creepy, maybe?)
He shares his budget in his first email - Not very common.
When dealing with a scammer, it is best to delete the messages and don't engage in conversations.
But I decided to continue the dialogue to see what he was after (probably not a very good idea). So I asked for more details to provide a detailed quote.
Lastly, the scammer replies that he is satisfied with the quote received, though no quote or other detail was shared; he reveals the scam:
Thanks, I'm very much satisfied with the total estimate, quite affordable...I have been advised to take a long rest for easy and fast recovery from lung cancer operation, hence the reason why I need your help. I haven't paid the private graphic designer that has the text content and the logo for my website. He does not have a credit card facility.Regarding this fact,I will be giving you my credit card for the total of $6,080. Once the funds clears to your account $2,000 will be deducted as an upfront payment for the graphic design,$80 for yourself as tip and the remaining $4,000 will be sent to the private graphic designer that has the text content and the logo for my website.
The long version of the email, in the image below:
A quick web research reveals that this scam is known as the payment reversal scam, the advanced fee scam, or the third-party payout scam.
How the Scam Works
1. As a web designer or digital consultant, you are contacted by a supposedly interested client who wishes to hire you or the company you work for and pay for a web design project with a credit card.
2. The client also asks you to use his card to pay another consultant (or another graphic designer, as in this case).
3. The credit card in question was stolen.
4. If you agree with the commitment, when the legitimate cardholder disputes the charges, you end up paying a scammer out of your pocket.
What To Do If You Receive Such Messages via Google Business Chat System
Once you realize you are dealing with a scammer, it is wise not to engage in conversations any further. Also, block the scammer and report his messages as spam in your Google Business profile.
Here is how to do it:
In your Google Business Profile manager, go to messages and click on block/report spam the message in question:
Also, if you want to learn more about the issue, check Google Community. Apparently, Google is aware of these scams but has no information on when or how these will be tackled.
What to Do If You Fell for the Web Design Scam
Unfortunately, there is not too much you could do.
You should try contacting the authorities, but given the fact that there are so many scammers out there "fixing" Windows computers, and hacking CRA's systems, there is less hope that you will see any justice done to you.
You could also try to report fraud and cybercrime at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre but be advised that they currently have some ongoing technical issues.
This is an example of the type of scams that small businesses face today as they try to grow their business and expand their customer base. Small business owners need to be aware of these types of scams to protect themselves from being victims.