(Minneapolis) – Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you to never talk to strangers, and to be wary when things just didn’t seem right? That advice could help a lot of adults too, including me. I wish I had listened.
Back in March 2013, I met with a prospect who said she was excited about working with a marketer who could help her get her name in the public eye and launch her business. I charge a consult fee and that day she conveniently had forgotten her checkbook.
I came to the meeting with a bill and gave it to her, but months went by and no payment arrived. I had pretty much written off the loss, but then one day toward the end of August 2013, I heard from the prospect again. She said the publicist she had been working with just wasn’t working out and she wished she had started working with me from the beginning. She said she was sad that she had lost five months of time I could have been helping her get attention for her business.
At this point my instinct was to turn her away, but I had just finished up a campaign and had time to take on another client, so I agreed to work with her. I asked her to send a deposit check first. Thought I was being smart, but no, I was setting myself up for a big fall.
While I was waiting for the check to arrive, she called and asked a lot of questions, such as could I get her paid speaking engagements and set up events for her. I informed her that as a publicist, my job is to secure stories in the news, which I am very good at. However, I do not have strong contacts in the entertainment industry, which is where her business is based. She said that was okay. She really wanted to work with me.
The day the check arrived, the prospect/client called to say she was going to take the advice I had offered her during our previous conversation to instead work with a manager/booking agent who could get her paid speaking engagements. At that point I should have torn up the check and walked away, but I wanted to recover that $90 from back in March, so I asked if it would be okay for me to deposit the check and then write a check for the difference back to her.
She agreed. The next day I checked my bank account online and it appeared as if the check had cleared, so I went ahead and wrote a check to her. I called the prospect and said I would put the check in the mail to the address on her return envelope. She said she’d prefer to meet in person to get it since she was in the process of moving. Red flag #2. I gave her the check which she probably cashed within minutes. That was on a Friday afternoon. Then Saturday night I received a text from her saying that her purse had been stolen and she had closed her account.
I thought it wouldn’t be a problem since the check had already cleared, but I was wrong. On Monday evening I logged onto my bank account and discovered the $700 check she had written to me had bounced. Now I’m out the $610 I gave her, not to mention the $90 I will never recover.
I texted her and let her know what had happened. She actually wrote back and apologized, and said she would get a check to me on Friday after she gets paid. I don’t really believe her, especially after looking up her name on Google and seeing more than a dozen complaints against her on a message board.
It is now 3:00 in the morning as I write this. I can’t sleep. Too much anxiety! In the morning I will go to the bank to close the account I had written the check from. I am fearful that she will try to print up checks on that account in an effort to steal even more money from me. I also plan to file a police report.
Warning to other independent contractors out there. When something just doesn’t feel right about working with someone, trust your instincts. I definitely will moving forward. A $700 loss is hard to swallow, but I will consider the lesson learned a lot more valuable.
Tips to take away
1) If you feel at all uncomfortable when dealing with a prospect, take it as a sign you should not work with that person.
2) Before deciding to take someone on as a client, do an Internet search for their name and business name. Had I done that before agreeing to meet with this prospect back in March, I would have seen all the complaints and turned her away.
3) If someone writes you a check, wait at least two weeks, maybe even a month for it to clear before making the determination that the money is good. Don’t assume that just because the bank says the check has cleared in your online profile that it has.
4) If you are the victim of fraud, file a police report right away. That way if the person you are dealing with is ever arrested, there will be a paper trail for prosecutors to follow. Based on the complaints I found online about this individual, jail time is likely in her future.