UPDATE 4/16/13: I’ve heard from at least 4 other photographers that were similarly scammed since posting this, so I wanted to update future readers with additional information.
How to Protect Yourself If You Were Scammed
- Place a fraud alert on your name and SSN.
- Notify local authorities. When I spoke to the WI AG office, they explained that since all of my communication and interaction with Mr. Reinhard occurred online, they have no jurisdiction. They advised me to file a local police report.
- If any photographer out there actually shot a job for Mr. Reinhard in Wisconsin, or anyone in Wisconsin “purchased” a book on catholicphotobook.com, they should contact the WI Attorney General Consumer Fraud Division to file a complaint, which would allow them to investigate Mr. Reinhard.
Shortly after my post yesterday about the images I was commissioned to make by Bernard Reinhard of “Media 3, Inc.” of a Catholic Cathedral in Cheyenne for a “Catholic Photo Book,” it became clear that I was scammed, along with the other participating photographers and any individuals that paid to “pre-order” a copy of the book.
When writing the post, I realized the link to http://www.catholicphotobook.com was disabled. I thought that was odd, but continued with my post, since I thought maybe it was under construction or whatever. A few hours later, I was contacted by another photographer who noticed the same thing. I called Mr. Reinhard and left a message inquiring about why the website had been taken down (of course, my call hasn’t been returned).
By late evening, I was getting more and more concerned. I started doing a little bit of research, and in just 15 minutes, learned the following:
- Media 3, Inc. has no website, Twitter account, Facebook page, or any other web presence.
- Media 3, Inc. was registered as a business only about 2-3 months before Mr. Reinhard approached me about shooting this project.
- His “office” address is a generic office-park rent-an-office in Wisconsin.
- Mr. Reinhard is a convicted sex offender and white collar criminal (i.e. check fraud, etc.).
- He was denied a real estate license because of his criminal record.
- Upon calling his “contact” at the Conference of Bishops, they confirmed that they have no relationship with Media 3, Inc. or any involvement with the alleged “Catholic Photo Book” as a beneficiary.
Unfortunately, not only did I already shoot and deliver images to Mr. Reinhard, but I also provided him with my address, SSN, and photo. I’ve since placed a fraud alert on my SSN, and contacted the Wisconsin Attorney General Consumer Fraud Division.
Here is how I will avoid getting scammed like this in the future:
- Never shoot without 50% down. I should know better, but this seemed like a “good cause” and I didn’t make a fuss when Mr. Reinhard said he’d pay upon publication or June 1, whichever came first.
- Always confirm clients’ web address and business registration before signing a contract and providing a W-9. Normally I do this kind of due diligence; I find potential clients on Twitter, Facebook, and web early in the process and start following them, but in this case, I was in the middle of a stressful interstate move for the second time in 6 months, and just rushed through the entire process.
- Pick up the phone. I normally call potential clients immediately upon receiving an inquiry to work through contract terms, but again, I was preoccupied with other things (my son, moving to AZ). I never called Mr. Reinhard, and we completed everything via email. If I’d waited until we’d spoken before signing any paperwork or sending a W-9, I’d probably still be waiting.
- Confirm the shoot with alleged “partners.” The Conference of Bishops, Catholic Charities (the alleged beneficiaries of the “book sales”), and the Archdiocese might all have been able to tell me that they were unaware of this project, despite Mr. Reinhard’s claims, if I’d reach out to them before shooting instead of operating on trust alone.
This is a sad situation, and not just because I won’t get paid. Someone used the good name of worthy causes to exploit others. Other people out there offered their personal information (or money) to Mr. Reinhard. Hopefully they will find this post and be able to protect themselves.
On the upside, I saw the inside of a magnificent cathedral that I might never have seen otherwise, and have beautiful images as a result – that I still own. Shooting, practicing, and building my portfolio is never a bad thing!
Chalk this one up to a learning experience.