I tried to write this as fast as I could after this happened hoping that no one else will be scammed in the speaking business.
By far, this was the best speaking scam I have seen to date, and no I didn’t lose $75,000 but I did spend some money on an attorney which I won’t be getting back.
Keep in mind, I know a few things about scams. For instance, I have been contacted by the infamous UK church scam, that my friend Patrick wrote about in detail. In addition, I helped some friends avoid losing money to cashier check scams. I even watch YouTube videos on people who explain different types of scams. You can check out Kitboga who has over 1 million subscribers on Youtube if you are interested in seeing scammers being toyed with as well as being educated on how scammers really, well…scam.
In this post, I am going to spell out the formula of how they tried to scam me and what to look for to avoid this scam.
In the speaking business event planners go online, do research and contact the speakers they are interested in. This month, I received an interesting query from Tokyo, see below:
On the surface, this looks like a standard inbound email. They are clear about what they want and this doesn’t seem like anything I haven’t done in the past….minus the Governor of Tokyo and Cocktail Party which I am deathly afraid of but that is another story.
At this point, my scam sensor didn’t really go off. I can understand a few grammar errors if their first language isn’t English so I give that a pass. To ensure this was a real event though, I requested a phone call with the person who reached out to me to go over deeper requirements. This is not only a scam precaution, but also a good tool to find out more about the event and get a feel for what the event planners are looking for.
Inspect the Contract Closely
99.999% of the time, if its a scam the person who is reaching out would refuse to meet over the phone. After I told my partner in crime Trish to set up the time, I specifically told her that if they refuse to meet, they will most likely be a scam as I was already a bit weirded out by the governor being there.
Well, they accepted to meet, but before we jumped on the phone they sent over a rough contract. Everything was in crisp detail: when time certain things would happen during the event including the days of the event and budget for each part of the event. For starters the description of services:
This amount of specificity is a good sign…but the devil was in the details. What is up with the ‘talking points will be provided by the team?’ I am not a politician where someone else writes my speeches. Odd.
Okay, I will let that slide.
But the next section was a bit more suspicious
First-class travel for 6 people?!?!?! That is crazy expense! Probably for a round trip to Tokyo from the US you can easily drop $20k-$30k on that for everyone.
What about luxury transportation of my choice? Really? What are the options? I prefer golf carts.
And why can’t my family members stay with me in the executive suite? I guess having all the suites as the executive was just too much to ask for.
At this point, I was really starting to think something was up, and then my scam radar picked up on the following article:
$50,000?!?!! Are you kidding me? Is that what you open with? Usually, people start low but to open with that is crazy.
And what is this agency fee of 20%? I guess that is if a bureau is handling this, but they are not so why is this here?
Now the real kicker was the $75,000 donation. Reading that the first time I thought they wanted me to give their charity $75,000 which is weird because they are already paying me all this money to go to the event.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have I seen anything like this, so I took note of it to bring it up on the call.
Do Some Background Check
Before I got on the phone with the event planner (scammer) I did some basic scam checking:
1) Does the inquiry match the event site domain?
In this case, the domain of the scammer was:
when the foundation was: yanaitadashi-foundation.or.jp
Note that .org to or.jp…this is extremely close and very negligible but this is something that I missed.
Occasionally scammers are lazy and just use Gmail. I have seen before, for instance when its [email protected], chances are things are a bit fishy.
2) See if their organization is real, I did a quick google search of the yanaitadashi foundation. They are, in fact, a real non-profit having donated money to UCLA and provided scholarships to Japanese students to attend universities around the world. To help with the research portion I even sent the email to some of my friends and detail-oriented girlfriend to see if she could find dirt….non was found other than the bizarre contract.
Having a Phone Conversation
Now at this point, I haven’t talked with the event planner (scammer) yet, so I thought if they would meet with me chances are it wasn’t a scam.
Well, they accepted the invite, and to my surprise later last week I found myself talking to the person who inquired about me speaking at their event.
The conversation was very normal. They obviously knew what they were doing. During that conversation, I inquired about the donation that seemed so bizarre. They informed me that the non-profit will pay me, from there I will pay it back to the non-profit, and then I will present the check at the event. Still weird, but they were being clear with me so a golden star for them.
Cool, one hurdle passed. Next, I inquired about how I was going to be paid.
A very common scam is the cashier check scam. Basically, someone overpays you money (let’s say you agreed on $1000 for a service and they pay you $1500). Out of respect, you send the $500 over to their bank account and you surprisingly find out you have $500 less in your account. How did that happen? The check was fake, so the money all of a sudden comes out of your account because it takes time for the check to clear. This is the classic cashier check scam.
I informed the event planner (scammer) I was aware of the cashier check scam because the circumstances seemed suspicious. He said he could wire me the money if necessary. Cool…problem solved.
Get Legal Involved
After we got off the phone everything still seemed weird. If its a scam, why did they meet me over the phone and put so much time into the contract? It was a whopping 6 pages of legal!
At this point, I decided to get a contract attorney. I asked around and was referred to one from a close friend. Within 48 hours, the attorney had detailed feedback. He told me he hasn’t seen anything like it before and should be cautious. The attorney provided about 2 pages of feedback which I promptly put in an email and sent over to the event planner (scammer) to take a look at.
Well, the scammer responded and accepted everything except for one point. That the donation once I received it, within 24 hours be sent to the non-profit, not 5 days. Odd I thought, why such a fast turn around…well, it wouldn’t matter if they wired the money. The only place where I could get scammed here is if they send a cashier’s check.
Executing the Contract Under Conditions
The next day I put in the changes and executed the contract. They already had their signature on it so I signed the contract and put together a massive invoice.
Last night I went to bed thinking, well this is where the real scam happens. Nothing is real unless the money is in the bank.
In the morning I find this in my inbox:
Boom a cashier check scam!!!!! Who the heck sends a cashier’s check from Japan to the US overnight? When I received this email, it was a done deal. A total scam. The end goal was to get me to deposit the check and send $75,000 to the non-profit they wanted…which was probably their bank account.
I searched to see where I went wrong and I found that on May 25, 2020 there was a pdf on the foundation site stating that someone was scamming under their domain name and they should lookout for it. A few days after I did the initial research.
Well, that was a close call. In retrospect, I feel incredibly stupid for not pulling out sooner. What I feel got the best of me, like many other speakers right now, is how much money I lost in March. Just in a few weeks, I lost ten of thousands of dollars in contracts from postponed or canceled engagements and I was thinking “gosh, I really hope this goes through right now, this could make up for some of the lost money in March.” Again, I am not the president nor someone who won a Nobel prize so why should I be paid that to speak at that rate? It was all suspicious from the beginning, I guess that is how scams work- they seem so amazing that people fall for them hoping that in the infinitely small chance that they are real, the person being scammed decides to move forward with them.
So if you are a speaker and receive something similar, just go the other direction…especially if they are asking you to donate money.
Here are the scam notes:
1) Make sure you double-check the domain of someone inquiring about your services.
2) If the domains don’t match verify with someone internally.
3) Get an attorney involved.
4) Don’t accept cashier’s checks.
I hope that helped someone out there. Right now this is a rough time for all of us in the speaking industry and the last thing we probably want right now is to get scammed.