web design scam text correspondence

Recently, we’ve received a number of different requests for website redesign proposals that had some odd and striking similarities, enough to trigger alarm bells that something wasn’t right. What started as a simple text message turned into a call with the Secret Service (yeah, really). We all know how prevalent scams are online, so it’s no surprise that these extend to specifically crafted web design scams, SEO scams and other scams that directly target photographers, designers and other creative professionals. In the web design industry, we’re all targets. Be alert, trust your instincts and reach out to others in your professional community.

Here’s how the scams work

They’re called the Third Party Payout Scam, the Payment Reversal Scam, the Advanced Fee Scam or the Overpayment Scam. The Fraud Prevention department at credit card payment processor Stripe put it like this:

I can see that you work in web design. Designers such as yourself are common targets for a type of scam known as a Third Party Payout. Essentially, the scammer makes a payment (generally in the thousands) for a project, and pays more than they need so you can then transfer money direct to a third party (e.g. a consultant, graphic designer, etc). I imagine your correspondence with your ‘client’ has been along these line. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the fix is that the card used is stolen and the third party is actually the scammer. So when the legitimate cardholder disputes the payment the business is left holding the bag on the money retrieved from their account and what they transferred to the scammer.

What’s amazing about these web design scams

  1. How involved they are – by the time any money were to actually make it back to the scammers, a lot of work and time is devoted to each scam
  2. How long they’ve been going on for – these scams have been going on for a while, and they don’t look to stop
  3. The exact scams aren’t changing much – a basic web search will turn up dozens of minor variations on the same web design scams that are being recrafted into seo scams, designer scams and other freelancer scams
  4. The scammers will email you, text you and sometimes even talk on the phone with you – it’s amazing just how easily a scammer can be totally anonymous hiding behind a throw away webmail account and a Google Voice phone number

Here’s how the web design scams went down

The first scam came through from Kent Walter <[email protected]> and seemed strange because it mentioned a budget right off the bat (what clients reveal their budget in a blind outreach email) and asked “are you the owner” – strange. It also referenced another website to copy – pretty unusual. Here’s the full email:

From: Kent Walter <[email protected]>

Good I just want to open a new Indian Restaurant i need a website for my business to grow the site should be up & running by ending of March i don’t want a shopping cart in my reservation page also i don’t have a domain name yet i prefer: DHARMAKENTRESTAURANT.COM My budget is $5000-10000 for the web design i need you to go through this example link site: http://www.indikausa.com, i want the same page as this site i want only English language you will be updating the site for me. I have a private project consultant, he has the text content with logo along with the image artwork get back to me with an estimate including hosting i will like to know if you are the owner or the manager?

Thank you

This person is the scammer: “I have a private project consultant, he has the text content with logo along with the image artwork”

web design scam fake website sitemap

“Kent” even sent through a sitemap drawing of the website he wanted to make – pretty funny in retrospect. And since this time, the website http://www.indikausa.com has been suspended by HostGator. I emailed with “Kent Walker” a few times until I realized the whole thing was going nowhere – he never responded to basic discovery questions. I didn’t suspect this was a web design scam. Until a few weeks went by.

The second web design scam came through a few weeks later – early in the morning as a text message from someone claiming to be Luis Lee at (732) 893-0731. The first text read “good day are you available for a website design.” Our business number accepts text messages and our Google My Business listing allows potential customers to text message us. Here’s where the alarm bells start going off:

From Luis Lee (732) 893-0731

am luis i would love to know if you can handle website design for a new company and also if you do accept credit cards ?? kindly get back to me with your email so i can send you the job details.

And it gets even more fishy when the email came through from luis lee <[email protected]>

From: luis lee <[email protected]>

I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in TX and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa so i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible .http://www.agroamerica.com…. the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.

Note:
1. I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as leetopfarmproduce.com
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be provideing the images, logos and content for the site.
6. i want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My budget is $4000 to $6000

Kindly get back to me with:
(1) an estimate
(2) And will like to know if you are the owner ??

Regards

This person is the scammer: “i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site”

I immediately thought, “There is that same email we received from the Indian Restaurant a few weeks ago. What are the odds.” It became obvious pretty quick that both were web design scams.

But then my brain quickly went to “how do these web design scams work? – how do they play out – what kind of people are doing this?” I have no intentions in vigilante justice. Or intentions of repeating the amazing journey of phone scam discovery that took the producers of the Reply All podcast to India to meet the people behind those annoying junk calls from a phone number a few digits off from your own (episodes one and two – will blow your mind).

Curiosity got the best of this cat, so I played along with the web design scam to find out more.

Luis of course eagerly responded to my proposal

I emailed with “Luis Lee” a few times and even made up a quick proposal based on the sitemap of the Agro America website and sent it off to Luis. I even called him to see if he would pick up. I ended up talking to Luis on the phone, though the connection was terrible and neither of us could understand each other. He did, though, email me right back to accept my proposal.

From: luis lee <[email protected]>

Thanks for your response, I am okay with the estimate everything sound good and i’m ready to make payment now with my credit card, I understand the content for this site would be needed so work can start asap but i will need a Little favor from you and the favor is that I will send you my credit card to charge for the sum of $5850 plus 3% Cc company charges, You will deduct $2750 as deposit for the design of the website plus extra $100.00 as a tip for handling perfect work for me and you will send the remaining $3,000 to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he receive the $3,000 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you so work can start asap,Sending of funds would be after money clears into your account and You will be charging my card for remaining balance upon completion of work, Kindly get back to me so we can proceed with payment asap

Regards
Luis

Here’s the scam: “you will send the remaining $3,000 to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website”

Pretty good location for a gacillia nut business

I asked for a name and address of the company, and was given the kind of uncreative name “Luis Lee LTD” and the address 5603 Peacock Ridge San Antonio, TX 78228. As if more evidence of this web design scam were needed, a quick search on that address showed that it had been listed for sale just 21 hours ago.

fake address used by web design scam attempt

I reached out to Stripe to see if they had any interest in at least tracking an IP address from these people. I can turn my credit card payment processor into testing mode so charges aren’t really processed. The great people at Stripe’s Fraud Prevention department told me to do absolutely nothing like that, to stop all communications and to reach out to the Secret Service with details of the web design scam.

It turns out this particular variant on the Third Party Payout Scam / Payment Reversal Scam / Advanced Fee ScamOverpayment Scam has its own name: the Agro America Scam and the Gacillia Nut Scam. Unlike the Indian Restaurant variant where the example website seems to have been suspended, it seems that Agro America is a legitimate business and doesn’t play a part in this scam. The website did send my computer’s CPUs through the roof, making me wonder about BitCoin / cryptocurrency mining. But enough about the scam.

What to do if you’ve been targeted

  1. Unless any money has been stolen from you, the best thing to do is nothing. Delete the emails / texts and never reply at all. It’s unlikely that the scammers are sitting in a room together and will put you on some kind of organized hey don’t contact this web designer again, she’s onto us type list. More likely is that the scammers are an unconnected group of people using the same scam, are totally disorganized and will probably contact you again. So just delete. We played along for a bit to find out more about the scam out of curiosity, but it’s probably not a good idea.
  2. If you want to report the scam, or have unfortunately lost any money, you can reach out to
    • The Secret Service – we were referred to them by Stripe even though no money had changed hands. The Secret Service is responsible for counterfeiting law violations as well as financial fraud including banking, access device, advance fee fraud and computer fraud, financial document counterfeiting, and money laundering. I had a pretty nice chat on the phone with a Secret Service agent who confirmed how widespread these web design scams are and told me that unless money had changed hands, they weren’t too interested in trying to track anyone down
    • FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – complaints filed via this website are processed and may be referred to federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for possible investigation
    • Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant

We’ve heard reports from others like fellow web designers Olive Group and Covington Creations about similar encounters. Have you been contacted? Have an update to report?

Updates

Looks like the scammers are moving to Yelp! Is anyone else getting these Yelp scam messages? Seem very similar to other general web design scam emails we’ve gotten dozens of times…

New Message: James H. is requesting a quote

Hi there, please respond with a price estimate. Here are my answers to Yelp’s questions regarding my project:

In which ZIP code are you looking for professionals?
78711

Describe your need:
Good day, am Hanson i would like to know if you can create and handle an informational website design for my new company ? Kindly get back to me as soon as possible with your email or cellphone number so i can send you the job details. Thanks

Thanks for the comments posting the details of all the variants on this same third party payout scam. Hopefully the scammers get tired of spending all this time trying to steal money and put their efforts into something more constructive. Keep up the comments so others can stay alerted!

This stuff never stops. Good thing is that it can be put online so others can find it hopefully before any money changes hands. Just got another of the same scammer emails from leon gregory <[email protected]>

From: leon gregory <[email protected]>

My name is Gregory Leon and I would like to get a quote for an e-commerce website for customers in Haiti, with the same functionality as Craigslist, but with distinct design. In addition, I want to integrate google translation because Haitians speaks French and Creole. Furthermore, the website will be for small businesses and individuals with goods and services they are interested in selling or advertising via this website. There are additional features I want integrate into the website as well:

Certify SSL, and all traffic to the website will be over HTTPS.
WordPress
Ensure current architecture adequately supports future systems upgrade
Enable electronics gift card payment.
Create ten additional staffs accounts.
Maintain complete ownership of the website and its content.
Mobile-responsive, fast-loading, and able to adapt properly to changing screen sizes
Maintain complete copyright protection of the website and its content
Please send me your quote to include the development, design and a reasonable monthly charge for hosting the website no later than June 1, 2018.

I can be reached at [email protected] and by phone at 786-473-4663. Thank you and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Unfortunately, we were in the middle of putting together two proposals and didn’t have the time to catfish more out of Leon. Next time…

This crap never stops. Just got the exact same scam sent it via email from james morgan <[email protected]>

From: james morgan <[email protected]>

Sound good …… I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa so i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible .http://www.agroamerica.com…. the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.

Note:
1. I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as yourtopproduce.co
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
6. My budget is $3000 to $8000

These scammers never stop. You’d think they’d start getting more creative. But everyone knows creativity is inversely related to profitability, or something like that.

Just got another of the same scammer emails from
julian johnson <[email protected]>

From: julian johnson <[email protected]>

Here is the job details

i have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in USA and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa so i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible .http://www.agroamerica.com…. the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.
Note:
1. I want the same number of pages with the example site i gave you to check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as UlyateFarm.com 4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. i will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
6. i want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My budget is $5,000 to $19,000

Kindly get back to me with:
(1) an estimate

Favorable Regards,
Julian Johnson.

Sent from my ipad

I asked for the name address and phone number of Julian’s business, and he said it was

JULLYFARM
USA
OFFICE 1754 Woodruff Road #153
Greenville, South Carolina
29607, USA
+1-785-428-2862

I called the number and spoke with someone I couldn’t really understand. It was a busy day in the office so I didn’t dig much deeper, but I did email Julian to get a life and stop stealing money from people.

blog post author avatar
Written with by Alex Wright

Runs a creative digital marketing, web design and SEO agency in Austin, Texas   |   Likes good looking, fast performing and high ranking websites   |   Doesn't want to understand Snapchat   |   Wants nothing to do with bananas   |   Wishes he were a BMX superstar

447 thoughts on “Avoid Web Design Scams

  1. I just got the same stuff from Kent, starting March 5. I’d sent a proposal, and was going to write up a contract tomorrow, March 15. Then I Googled his name. Thank you all for your comments and warnings, and for copying his texts. Saved me a lot of wasted time. Poor paolita – all those hits and few customers.

  2. Thanks for your response, I am okay with the estimate and i wanna proceed so I will be depositing $3000 using credit card so work can commence ASAP, Once you had a chance to get it Done,   I will need a Little favor from you and the reason why I need this favor from you is because the consultant does not have the facility to charge credit cards and I’m in the hospital at the moment recuperating from covid-19( don’t panic I’m getting better lol so I will be glad if you can help me out with this favor, The favor i need from you is. I would give you my card info’s to charge for sum of  $16,000 so $3000 would be a deposit payment for my website design and the remaining $12,500 you would help me send it to the project consultant that has the text content and the logo for my website so once he has the $12,500 he would send the text content and logo needed for my website to you also once the funds clears into  your own account and also $500 tips for your stress & for your effort and I would have done this myself but due to my condition for now and i want everything to be done and set before am out of here also the Logo Consultant  does not have the Facility to accept credit card payment that why and i need to pay for some changes made in the Logo for my comfort so I want you to  handle everything for me sending of funds would be after i understand the content for this site would be needed so as for the job to commence regarding the content.  

  3. After this exchange, and my reply that I did not accept credit cards but PayPal could, I never heard from him again.

    Hi Rochelle,

    I got the agreement/estimate you sent my way. Thanks for your response and the clarification of the building process. I am okay with the cost as it is well within my budget and the terms of payment sounds good too.

    I am glad we are on the same page, everything seems to be in place and i hope i am going to get a perfect job from you.

    Quick question, do you accept credit card payments? Because i can’t do cash transactions at the moment as i am presently at the Sloan Kettering Center in New York with my wife. She is recuperating from cancer. I might also be slow in replies as we build the website due to the situation. I hope this is not an issue?
    Let me know.

    Regards,
    Kent

    PS : I am also going to need a little help from you regarding my consultant

  4. I just received the exact same email through my website. I did seem strange, for who would want a clothing store, but information only? No shopping? Especially during COVID.

    Received this on February 23 from ‘Kent Seino ‘. Glad I Googled his name and came across this page:

    Thanks for getting in touch. I would like you to review the details and get back to me with any question you may have.

    Well, i have a small clothing business for both male and female which i run here in New Jersey, now am trying to expand the business and i want you to build an informational website for it for advertisement, drive traffic to my physical location, and to increase my sales rate..

    so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if it’s possible https://www.paolita.co.uk/ the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate .The estimate should include hosting and i want the site to have not more than 5 pages ,since it is informational. I have a private project consultant, he has the text content, images and the logos for the site.

    Note:

    1. I want only English language
    2. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as shopclassytrends.com
    3. You will be updating the site for me.
    4. I will be providing the images, logos and content for the site.
    5. I want the site up and running before the end of next month.
    6. My budget is $2000 to $3500

    Thanks,
    Kent

  5. Look for poor grammar and capitalization and an immediate acceptance of proposal. This is good to know. I waste their time a bit before turning them into Google for their gmail address. Also, and I would never do this, but you can sign people up for spam…

  6. Thank you so much for your post. I just got the exact same ‘luis lee’ email about the agricultural business and pretty much the same wording exactly. His name was apparently ‘Charbel Azzi Mikhael’. I spent 2 valuable hours going through the website they wanted ‘the same pages’ as and creating a quote. Luckily I realised it was a bit weird when they said the deadline didn’t really matter, then found your web page. Really appreciate it.

  7. Both Kent Seino and Brett Eldredge messaged me with the clothing store messaging but different wanted domain names. Thanks for posting this! I thought it was odd that they didn’t want to do video calls, which legit customers are eager to do ASAP.

  8. Good Morning Rob,

    The memo was sent to the accountant and the check payment of $3825 is already on its way to you via FedEx courier. The Project consultant little funds for logistic was added along with your initial 50% deposit.

    Once the payment of $3825 cleared in your account, you can send the Project consultant her money and she will be hooking you up with necessary datas needed to get started.

    I could have paid her separately but i need to issue out payment for this particular project in a single check because of proper company and IRS audit reference.

    I hope you understand and sorry for any inconvenience.

    Best Regards

    Alberto Bennet

    [email protected]

    1. I was skeptical at first, and asked a few people, they were too. You all confirmed it for me, especially because it was Alberto Bennett ([email protected]) that was inquiring about a new restaurant website in Texas. See below:

      Good Morning Brad,

      The memo was sent to the accountant and the check payment of $6250 is already on its way to you via FedEx courier. The Project consultant little funds for logistic was added along with your initial 50% deposit.

      Once the payment of $6250 cleared in your account, you can send the Project consultant her money and she will be hooking you up with necessary datas needed to get started.

      I could have paid her separately but i need to issue out payment for this particular project in a single check because of proper company and IRS audit reference.

      I hope you understand and sorry for any inconvenience.

      Best Regards
      Alberto Bennett

  9. I also got the Kent scam. Besides, no prospect ever would be that concise or clear about what they want or what their budget is.

    “I would like you to review the details and get back to me with any question you may have.

    Well, i have a small clothing business for both male and female which i run here in New Jersey, now am trying to expand the business and i want you to build an informational website for it for advertisement, drive traffic to my physical location, and to increase my sales rate..

    so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if it’s possible https://www.paolita.co.uk/ the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate .The estimate should include hosting and i want the site to have not more than 5 pages ,since it is informational. I have a private project consultant, he has the text content, images and the logos for the site.

    Note:

    1. I want only English language
    2. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as shopclassytrends.com
    3. You will be updating the site for me.
    4. I will be providing the images, logos and content for the site.
    5. I want the site up and running before the end of next month.
    6. My budget is $2000 to $3500

    Thanks,
    Kent”

  10. Another one from [email protected] . Scammers are in Facebook groups as well now. I had reached out because of a post in a Facebook group, but didn’t receive a response for a few months. Just got an email back that was a variation of the ones mentioned.

  11. I found your article/website after getting a couple customers who seemed too good to be true – and WAY too similar. I Googled to see if I was getting scammed and thanks to you, I just avoided a massive headache and more.

    Happened exactly as you describe – gives a budget up front without being asked. Was far too excited to get me payment. And the thing that gave it away finally? I got a different customer talking about nearly identical needs before I even took payment.

    Thanks for the heads up. It seems we’ve reached a new evolution in phishing and scamming, where people are actually willing to play the “long game.”

  12. As you point out – it never stops. Several of them this morning. Been getting them for some years. It’s at least a third of a notch above the lady dying of cancer in Africa who wants to transfer several million dollars to me for whatever reason (I never got far enough through their copy to see how they tried to make THAT one plausible…) but fully half a notch above the recorded phone calls that start out, “Please don’t hang up…this is an important call!”.

    With newspapers going deservedly broke all over the country I guess there are no paper routes for these people to get to earn their beer money, but…?

    Thanks for putting this out there.

  13. Thank you Alex for this wonderfully informative post. I too received the “Kent Seino” from New Jersey asking about the clothing store called “The Classy Trends”. I suspected it was a phishing scam, I got the email on January 29, 2021:

    Kent Seino’s email: [email protected]

    Well, i have a small clothing business for both male and female which i run here in New Jersey, now am trying to expand the business and i want you to build an informational website for it for advertisement, drive traffic to my physical location, and to increase my sales rate..

    so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if it’s possible https://www.paolita.co.uk/ the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate .The estimate should include hosting and i want the site to have not more than 5 pages ,since it is informational. I have a private project consultant, he has the text content, images and the logos for the site.

    Note:

    1. I want only English language
    2. I don’t have a domain yet but i want the domain name as shopclassytrends.com
    3. You will be updating the site for me.
    4. I will be providing the images, logos and content for the site.
    5. I want the site up and running before the end of next month.
    6. My budget is $2000 to $3500

    Thanks,
    Kent

        1. Well, shoot. Y’all didn’t fall for it – so he’s currently emailing me. Kent has a lot of time on their hands apparently.

  14. What happens if someone receives a check which was fed ex by them.What happens when we go with that check to the bank.

    1. This is how the scam works. You deposit the check. They ask you to send some of the money to someone else (which is them). You do that. Then the bank discovers the check is fraud and takes all the money out of your account. You are left having sent the money to them. It’s a scam. Don’t deposit the check or send them money.

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