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NewsMay 15, 2024

How to spot graphic design scams

The RGD has received a number of messages from community members sharing about their experiences with graphic design scams. A common theme running through everyone's remarks is, “I don't want this to happen to anyone else.”

Drawing from the experiences shared with us, the RGD has put together a list of red flags to look out for when being approached by a potential client for graphic design work.

1. The request or brief is unrelated to the kind of work you do

Sometimes this can mean someone just didn't do their research, and they're using the spray and pray method to find a design professional. But if the request is way off base and is coupled with some of the red flags below, consider that it may be a scam. 

2. They don't have a legitimate business presence or email address

Always check who an email is coming from. The sender name may seem unsuspicious, but look at the actual address, particularly after the @ symbol. Is it from a real business or company? Does the person exist on LinkedIn? Does the email match the name of the company the sender says they're from? Anything with random numbers and letters, or from a generic account, should raise an eyebrow. 

3. They won't meet you in person or over video chat

Your communication back and forth seems normal and unremarkable, until you ask them to connect over Zoom. They keep coming up with excuses as to why they can't meet you, or they won't turn on their camera. This kind of behaviour should make you question whether they're being honest with you. While not every meeting needs to be face-to-face, a client should be willing to meet their vendor this way when needed.

4. They won't pay a down payment fee

It's typical to charge a down payment fee in advance of starting a project. This is to assure the client that you'll complete the work they've started to pay for, and it also ensures that you won't be fully out of pocket if the client is late paying their invoice (or disappears).

Some people may not understand the value of this fee, and they may require some education around why it's important. But when a potential client refuses to pay this fee, and especially if they keep stressing the amount of money they will pay you, it's likely wise to walk away.

5. Payment seems odd, too good to be true or they ask you to send money back to them

If the amount of money a small, fledgling enterprise is offering you seems too good to be true, it probably is. That's not to say healthy budgets don't exist, but consider the source.

A hallmark of scams is "overpayment," where the scammer sends a cheque worth more than what they owed. The cheque appears to clear and so the receiver sends back the additional money, but the cheque bounces and the money is subsequently lost to the scammer.

If you receive any kind of overpayment, whether it be through a cheque or e-transfer, decline it and don't deposit it. Always ask for payment to be sent via the secure method of your choosing.

6. They ask for your personal banking information or other forms of personal identification

These kinds of requests are an immediate red flag and should result in an immediate termination of communication. Do not give out your credit card information or SIN number, or any other personal identification information. 

Final tips

Always trust your gut when dealing with potential clients, and ensure you have checks in place to ensure as best as possible that you are dealing with a reputable business or person, e.g. meet them on Zoom, charge a down payment fee, only accept payment through your chosen method.

If you've encountered a design scam before and would like to share about the experience for a future article, email 

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