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How they tried to scam my production company
As the economy is opening back up for business, so are the scammers. I had been contacted with a job offer, received a check, and asked to deposit it before any agreement was in place. Here is how the scammers tried to steal money from me.

I am a small business owner. 

I am the only person employed in my production company, and I am expecting my bread and butter to be short-form ‘small’ productions in the months following the pandemic. This includes music videos, short films, youtube web series, commercials, etc.

Since the pandemic began, my colleagues and I have been scrambling to create jobs safely for our industry. Having so many entertainment professionals on unemployment benefits puts a burden to work harder and create gigs.

When I received an email from someone who found me on the internet, I was excited to confirm that my marketing efforts had worked, and had hoped that this could create an opportunity for my team who is eagerly waiting for productions to restart.

First Contact

On May 7, 2020, “Mark Statham” contacted me via a contact form on my small business website.

From: Markstathamfilmproductions@gmail.com

To: http://ozmen.tv/contact

I’m Mark Statham I’m a producer for Reforma production I saw your profile posted on film production directory, I want to inform you about a upcoming short film project coming up in your area Titled ( Grateful ) Start date: June 15-20 2020, pay is $——, I’m in search for effective line producer kindly reply with your updated resume for more information and consideration thank you.

Kind regards

Stay blessed

It’s not common for me or my friends to receive a job offer from our contact info on our websites. Despite his grammatical errors (such as lack of using period), I gave him the benefit of doubt. I thought that perhaps he is contacting me from overseas to work with me as their LA ‘Fixer’. I’ve had success with opportunities like this in the past.

I replied with my resume and portfolio the next day. I didn’t hear back from them for a week.

Then, I was accepted for the job on May 16, 2020.

From: Markstathamfilmproductions@gmail.com

Subject: JOB DETAILS

Hi there,

  Greetings, I hope this beautiful day finds you doing well? I received your response to my email thanks for the confirmation of your availability. Your resume has been reviewed, and you sound great.

About Me:

I’m a producer I Write, Shoot, Edit, Repeat Moving Picture Producer, Video Editor, Photographer, Video Artist, Interactive Designer & Illustrator. Also, we specialize in landscape and night-sky photography, motion-controlled time-lapse, and creative DSLR film-making. I also hold private and group workshops and classes, as I love to teach other people how to achieve their creative photographic vision, currently we need some assistance at this time that’s why I need someone who can work with me hand in hand throughout the production period It will take 5 days and it will be shoot in different locations within your area. We are presently working on a short film which I’m directing the production aspect, although work hasn’t commenced and we should start working on the film in the next couple of weeks the schedule Start date June 15th – 20th 2020. Pre-production runs through next week for the main project preparation.

[Click here to skip his long email and continue with the story.]

You will work closely with me and other crew throughout the production process, Duties basically would be as line producer, you’ll be responsible for the following,

  • Monitoring the budget and production schedule.
  • Revising the schedule and controlling expenses to keep the film on time and within budget.
  • Approves or denies additional expenses.
  • Deals with on-location crises.
  • Oversees the wrap when shooting ends, sets are struck, and rental equipment is returned.

NOTE: Your present job doesn’t affect the status of the job because I need you to run pre-production I need someone who can perform his or her duties with resourceful and proactive in dealing with problems and queries, All I need you to do is to complete all task promptly. I am being thorough and explanatory here because I have hired people in the past who did not live up to expectation and this time, I do not want to make the same mistake. Here I want to you to demonstrate your skills and how exceptional you are and how efficient and on time you will be. I will need you to perform a couple of tasks for me during this coming week, which is part of the basic duties you will be performing before the project fully start,, the pre-production I will be setting up a meeting with you once I am done with this shooting am presently working on. After Successful completion of pre-production then will proceed for an interview for the upcoming projects and wage for the pre-production period will be $1500 and full production payment is($——) and bonuses for the upcoming projects will be discussed during the interview. If the above work with you, I will take all necessary steps and make financial adviser send a payment for these purchases and tasks, mailed to you. The pre-production period runs for a week, starting Monday May 25th If you want to sign up for this, Kindly provide the details below So I can specifically send to you the start date of pre-production and duties.

  • Your Full name ;
  • Mailing Address ;
  • City, State, Zip Code :
  • Mobile Phone Number :
  • Best time to reach you during pre-production:
  • Available Position: Line Producer
  • Type: Part-Time
  • Days: 5 days

Weekly Pay: $—— Total production payment: $——, $—— for pre-production and $—— for main production

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PRE-PRODUCTION.

Financial officer will issue out a paycheck that will be delivered to your mail address this includes $1500 your weekly payment for pre-production period for your assistant, the rest is for warehouse, equipment and other assignments for the upcoming project will be sent to you due to you will run errands prior our arrival I will get more information to you as soon I have good deal with vendors, warehouse manager I await your swift response so I can send over production documents.

Kind Regards

Stay Blessed.

818.477.4779

>

Despite his weird method for recruiting, I let my wishful thinking take the best of me. I was hoping to bring my team with me (and also buy the Lululemon Warpstreme pants that I wanted) 

So I jumped on the occasion.

Trying to understand where they are operating from (and excuse themselves for not using proper punctuation) I asked a few questions and requested a phone call…

“For starters, I would love to get the script (or treatment) of the project from you and start breaking it down to give you a budget. Then we can get in a video chat or a phone call to discuss every logistical detail.”

“Do you have a website or IMDB that I can look at? I would love to get a sense of the scope of your projects. 

“Also, which city and state are you coming from?”

Along with my questions, however, I also gave some of my information there.

I was asking for the script consistently at this point but their answer was “Thanks for your response I will keep you posted”

On June 7, 2020, They sent me another email.

From: Markstathamfilmproductions@gmail.com

Subject: MEETING CONFIRMATION AND DEAL MEMO

Hello there,

How are you today? glad to let you know your Information was received and you’ve been considered for the available position. Your information has been forward to the payroll officer for processing.

We are trying to secure warehouse and production equipment locally. As soon as we have them ready, you will meet local warehouse manager and be available to check equipment on delivery to the warehouse.

You will receive a paycheck as mentioned in the previous email in the amount of $—, $—— is your pre-production salary and $—— is for renting required production equipment, errands, meeting with the film office, Licence fees, and tax. Pre-production starts as soon as you receive the check that was mailed out by the payroll officer and Expected Delivery Monday 1st June 2020. More information will be sent to you later which includes set of instructions for each task you are to perform,please find attached copy of deal memo.

Kindly note that you are required to be checking your email often so as to be updated on any latest development. Your total commitment is however needed for effective delivery of service. Your duty officially starts as soon as you receive the paycheck I want us to meet for brief discussion on Saturday, 13th June 2020 in Travelodge by Wyndham Culver City (11180 Washington Pl, Culver City, CA 90232). Kindly check your schedules and get back to me with the best time to meet you on that day,I look forward to meeting you soon, once you received the check Kindly deposit the check and email copy of deposited receipt have a great day I look forward to working with you soon.

Kind Regards

Stay Blessed

818.477.4779

In the attachment, not only had they included a standard crew deal memo, but they also had Covid-19 guidelines. (Not as nice as mine of course)

Their crew deal memo had some distant location as the Arbitration, ‘New South Wales’  – which made me excuse them for their misunderstanding of how production works in the US.

In that email, they stated they will send me my fees + production fees in a check. I replied and insisted that it should be a wire transfer.

Despite my suggestion, they went ahead and sent me a paper check. 

They also, finally after me insisting, sent me a script. 

Subject: GRATEFUL SCRIPT

Here is something I noticed much later: the date was wrong.

 

So at this point, I was far less optimistic that this was a real production and started to take inventory of the subsequent red flags.

However, a part of me was excusing them based on the content of the script. I realized that the project was faith-based. I was thinking perhaps they are in a certain sect of a religion that doesn’t know how the money transfer works, and maybe this is their first time – they don’t know how production works.

🚩 It is unusual to send production funds BEFORE requesting a budget or a bid from me.

In fact, I received a check from someone before they even talked on the phone with me! That should never happen.

On June 6, I received their check.

🚩 They asked me to deposit it right away.

Upon seeing that my bank requested 7-10 days to clear their check, I instead decided to cash it by going to their bank.

🚩 I realized the check was from a bank outside of LA called “Broadway Bank”. 

I mistakenly went to Broadway Federal Bank and then learned that their bank is another bank in Texas. At this point, I was pretty sure that this was a scam, but was still giving the benefit of the doubt. 

Since I couldn’t cash it in LA, I reached out to “Mark”

Now,

If I wait for the check to clear, I am jeopardizing the production shoot schedule they wanted.

Of course, I will refuse to front the money, because I only do that for a select few clients I know personally & trust.

When I explained to him that we need to wire the money, things got weird.

He started hustling my debit card info in an indirect way

“Mark” suggested I download Cash.app. (from Square)

 

🚩 I called him to clarify. He didn’t have good phone reception so we couldn’t communicate.

When I heard his voice, I noticed it wasn’t similar with the Australian accent I know. It was an unfamiliar accent.

🚩 He asked me to verify their account in the app by giving my debit card.

I explained I can verify my account (receiver) they can verify theirs (sender) – that I won’t be giving my debit card info to the app in their account as it doesn’t make sense.

🚩 They sent me their card info so I can verify their account – on behalf of them. (Weird)

At this moment, I was still giving them the benefit of the doubt. The last ‘crumbs’ of my hope is that “Mark” may not know technology that much… Also, a part of me wanted to just ‘humor it’ and see where it will lead.

Guess what, their card didn’t work. Not a big surprise.

The scammer got ‘offended’

🚩 They then asked me to try my card again. When I refused, they got offended for the ‘lack of trust’ and pulled off.

Let’s forget about it thanks (…) I can’t continue working with you without trust.

You see, I knew if I was to insert my debit card info to their account, then they would have been able to pull money from it.


I brought up this to my community of fellow producers and small production company owners and workers in Facebook group Production Resource Group

I asked FRAUD or MISUNDERSTANDING?”

The community immediately flagged the situation and informed me that this was a common scam. 

I reported all their details to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here are some messages from the community.

Daniel T.F – This sounds like a common scam often used on PAs where they forward “money” for production purposes while also asking for either bank info or some type of payment. (…) it is rather convenient their phone had no reception.

Terri J. – It’s a bad check and they were going to ask you to buy equipment, maybe gift cards, for them. No one will ask for your resume and then go pay you without a contract.

Matthew M – (…) same people tried this on me a few months ago. I got the same script and they kept saying they wanted to interview me for the position but when I tried to schedule one, all of a sudden said they would send me a check. I was skeptical from the beginning so I told them off. Still have the check in my drawer.

Upon further conversation Matthew said:

it was the same script, different LLC (…) same bank. (…) The emails they sent didn’t seem as sloppy and careless as most scams so I humored them for a bit. I also assumed it might be a faith-based project or something.

Bennie W – 100% scam. If you’d had deposited that in your account, your account potentially could have been closed for fraudulent activity. I worked in banks for eight years, saw it happen multiple times. 

Emill S – It was a scam. Whenever someone brings ‘a lack of trust’ into a business situation, run. Guilt trip is a major con tactic.

Mariana D.S. – You should have stopped as soon as they sent a check before any kind of in-person or even several phone conversations and budget was presented. Legitimate companies/buyers don’t do that.

Robert S – I think they’ve tried to run this scam over and over again in the Las Vegas market and I think even here in Florida.

Cem D – If you are getting paid for your service before doing the work, its a scam. Especially without someone referring you.

Matt E-

Lessons From The Scammer

👉 The moment you hear ‘I am sending a check’ refuse it. Use methods that are immediate for receiving cash.

Acceptable methods for large amounts of money are

  • Wire Transfer
  • Cashiers Check

Here are a few things that are big signs that you are getting scammed: 

  • If someone is offering you a check
  • If someone is asking you to front the money
  • If they are talking about ‘trust’

In the end, it was upsetting to learn that there are people out there prying on producers while we are trying to restart production. But an important thing that came from this experience was this lesson

And now this blog post. – I hope you find this useful! 🙂

Have you ever experienced any production scams? What happened? Let me know!

If you liked this post, please share it with a friend.

Stay aware and stay safe everyone!

About O.Z. Ozmen

I am a line producer, video production company owner, budgeting wizard, and a Google Sheet enthusiast who started Wizardy Budgets. I manifest the visions of filmmakers, YouTube creators, music video directors, and brands.
June 12, 2020

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