St. Louis, Mo., June 30, 2016 – Wedding officiant Sandy LaRouche of St. Louis has been marrying couples for 23 years, so when a scammer attempted to hire her through a wedding services site on June 12, she was immediately suspicious.
There were several clues that the person attempting to hire her wasn’t on the up and up, LaRouche said. The first was that the person emailing her was vague about the wedding location. Other clues included the use of a name that did not match the email address, unwillingness to provide a phone number, some grammatical errors and claims that the sender was disabled.
But the clincher was a deposit check for $2,850.75, several times LaRouche’s usual fee for a wedding within St. Louis and far in excess of the $50 deposit she requested. The check itself looked odd: The word “order” was spelled “odor” and the check came from a Delaware location, although the sender said he was in Palmdale, Calif.
“Nobody ever doesn’t know where their wedding is,” said LaRouche, who will marry her 1,000th couple in July. She always meets with a couple before the wedding to get to know them better and to find out their preferences for the service, religious or otherwise. It’s a red flag when the couple doesn’t want to meet or have a rehearsal.
LaRouche’s experience appears to be a variant of the overpayment scam, used by scammers who send a fake but official-looking check as payment for goods, services or as payment in a mystery shopper scam. The scammer usually asks for the recipient to return the overpayment. If they do so, and the check bounces, they lose the money they sent and may face penalty charges from their financial institution.
Earlier this year, the BBB warned artists about a similar scam in which artists received unsolicited offers to buy their work.
LaRouche, who calls her business Ever After Weddings, said the offer came to her through an online site where wedding officiants and others can list their services, and couples can contact them. She’s used the site for several years, but the June 12 email was the first that appeared to be a scam. However, since then she has received one other solicitation from an apparent scammer.
LaRouche said the online wedding site told her to just throw away the emails, but she wanted to publicize the problem to keep others from becoming victims.
“I just don’t like crooks,” LaRouche said. “It’s annoying, and it’s cheating.”
The BBB has issued the following tips for entrepreneurs who receive similar contacts seeking to buy their products or services:
If you receive an unsolicited email offer to buy your products or services, use a search engine to research the email address and name of the sender. Several sites compile lists of email addresses used by scammers.
If there is no specific information other than a name and email address, be skeptical. A legitimate buyer likely would offer you more information about themselves and how to contact them.
Be cautious if the email has no specific information or if the person offers to buy several wants to avoid a serious discussion of a potential deal.
If the email offers to pay you more than the asking price of your product or service, beware. Scammers often use such “overpayment” offers to get the victim to send them money. Be especially cautious if you are asked to wire the money back to the emailer or the shipper or to buy reloadable payment cards to send the money back. It’s very difficult to get back money once it’s been wired or taken from a prepaid card.