Esther Moerman, a Langley photographer, lost $4,200 to a scam that targets small business owners. (Photo contributed)

Langley photographer stung in $4,200 overpayment scam

This type of scam uses fake cheques and plays on the victim’s sympathy

A Langley photographer spent weeks working extra hours to bounce back after she lost thousands of dollars in an “overpayment scam.”

Esther Moerman is a Langley photographer, who has been concentrating on building a business of wedding and engagement photos over the past three years.

But this spring, she got a request that initially looked like a normal wedding booking, but which turned out to be aimed at extracting money from her bank account.

“I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt,” she said of her clients.

In this case, the client would only communicate via email.

“He was really against having a phone call,” she noted.

He was supposedly scheduling Moerman to work at his daughter’s wedding, but always had some reason – surgery, a divorce from his wife – why he coudn’t speak to Moerman directly.

But she felt bad for him, and when she asked for a deposit of $700 – half of her fee – he eventually sent along a cheque, and it looked legitimate.

However, it was for $5,500, much more than she was owed.

Moerman said he then told her that his accountant had made a mistake. Rather than send another cheque, he asked her to deposit it and then send the remainder of the money, about $4,200, to another account. He said the money was for a caterer, and the cheques had been mixed up.

The fake client claimed he was in danger of losing the caterer if the money didn’t arrive immediately.

“It didn’t bounce until three days later,” Moerman said.

By the time the cheque was declared invalid, she had already sent $4,200 to what was presumably another account of the scam artist.

She never recovered her money, and the scam hit her emotionally as well.

“I was pretty broken, and told my family I felt defeated I fell for this,” she said.

After arguing with her bank for some time, they credited her for $900, but said because the cheque was mobile-deposited, they couldn’t be responsible for the cheque bouncing.

With a four-figure hole blown in her bank account, Moerman had to buckle down over the next few months.

“I was able to pay it off really quickly,” she said.

However, that required going back to part-time jobs including sales work, landscaping, and working at Starbucks, jobs she had been pulling back from as her photography had taken off.

She put in some 80-hour weeks to make up for the money the scammer took from her.

Her peers in the photography business had warned her about some kinds of scams, and Moerman said she never shares banking information with anyone.

But she’d never heard of an overpayment scam before.

“I like to give my clients the benefit of the doubt, and I am a fairly trusting person,” she said.

She has turned over all her email correspondence about the scammer to the police, but her last update from investigators is that it is very difficult to catch scammers of this kind due to the anonymity of email and e-transfer.

So far, Moerman has not heard of any suspects being located.

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