I was contacted a couple weeks ago by someone representing himself as James Patrick. He said he was a talent scout and that Vogue commissions what is termed as "emerging talent" as a corporate responsibility initiative. The initial e-mails sounded legitimate, but I kept my enthusiasm in check.
There were things about this person that didn't check out: He was using a gmail account and not one out of Condenast or Vogue. He could be professional and polite in one e-mail and condescending and demanding in the next.
As the correspondence went on, he said he would pay for the makeup I needed for the shoot, then the money would be redirected to someone who represented himself as Michael Flutie. I googled Michael Flutie, and he does come up as a legitimate talent agent. But anyone can create an e-mail account under someone's name.
The check came as promised, and I deposited it. James Patrick immediately pushed to get the money redirected to Michael Flutie. This set up another red flag. Why didn't he just pay Michael Flutie directly rather than going through a third-party? Why was there such a rush to get the money redirected immediately?
The person representing himself as Michael Flutie wanted the money sent to him by MoneyGram. MoneyGram asks a lot of questions before completing a transfer. One question is do you know the recipient personally? I answered honestly and said no, which prompted a lot more questions. MoneyGram suspected the transaction was a scam and declined it.
The following day, I checked my account to see if the check had cleared. It had, so I agreed to work with Citizens Bank to send the money to Michael Flutie. When I approached Citizens Bank, they looked at the routing information and said it wasn't correct. They asked similar questions that MoneyGram asked, such as if I know the person and why was I sending this person money. Red flags started to pop up in the banker's mind and he printed the check I was written. Upon examining it, he said there were a number of indications that the check was fraudulent. Citizens Bank also declined making the wire transfer and said the check will likely bounce in a couple weeks.
The final red flag was an imploring e-mail from James Patrick. He asked me to do the transfer through Western Union and to lie and say that the recipient is my cousin.
It is disheartening that there are people out there who will play on someone's hopes and aspirations to try to make money illegally. Always be alert to potential scams, ask a lot of questions, and if your instincts tell you something doesn't seem legitimate, listen to them.