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Due Diligence & Seller Beware

Due Diligence & Seller Beware

It has been a busy last couple weeks for Firedove. We are finishing up existing client projects and getting ready to take on new ones. While Firedove is regularly making sales efforts, about every twenty days we are making a concentrated sales push and it has successfully brought in new clients for the past 8 out of 9 months.

As we’ve talked about before we will utilize Craigslist to attempt to find new work but today we wanted to talk about another sales conduit for us, which is Thumbtack.

Thumbtack can be best described as a marketplace. When you search online for “Best X in Spokane, WA” you’ll typically find a link to Thumbtack at or near the top soliciting that it can get you 5 quotes from local professionals for that service. One of those professionals is us when it comes to web design, marketing, graphic design, etc.

It is a pay to bid system, meaning that professionals can view the client request but to actually send a proposal or bid one would need to spend some sort of cash. This system works pretty well because it deters people who aren’t particularly serious about this industry. It also limits the number of respondents to 5, so the likelihood to have your proposal read is higher than most jobs.

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Every now and then a “free bid” will come across our digital desks. This happens when there are few service providers in the area, and Thumbtack wants to ensure that the individual who sent out the request still receives bids. On Monday we received a “free bid” opportunity for a print job out in Post Falls, ID.

We sent our proposal and received this email from the prospective client:

“Hello Robbi, 

I want you to know I have never done a design before, I really don’t have preference for colors and design but I want a very good design. 
I need 7 different design which you will have to make 7 different design for Banners. you will make 7 designs writing ” WAIT FOR YOUR TIME, GOD’S TIME IS THE BEST” you will include RALLY FOR JESUS. You can include images of a cross on the banner and any other religious image.
Let me know how long this will take you to get it done and also get back with your total estimate charges for the Banners. Let me know if you accept credit cards.
Thank you
Pastor Rob.”

To which we responded with:

“Pastor Rob,

Thanks for reaching out! I think we can certainly work with you on this project.
To the question about credit cards, we do accept them. 
For clarification, are you looking for 7 different designs that all say the same thing? If so, that’s relatively easy as once we finalize one design we just need to alter the other 7 designs, rather than recreate the wheel for each one. I’m happy to try to find good religious images.
A few other questions:
  • What sizes are the banners? 
  • Are they going to be displayed vertically or horizontally?
  • Is there other information that you want included on the banner (a website? address? social media icons?)
  • What are these banners going to be used for? (This helps inform the design process)
  • Is there a logo to include on the banner? Or are these just stating the message of “WAIT FOR YOUR TIME, GOD’S TIME IS THE BEST” & “RALLY FOR JESUS”?
I might be able to get this done this week if this is a time sensitive project, but if time isn’t a major constraint I can see getting it done by next week at the latest.
Our hourly rate is $40 per hour. I’d like to budget 4 hours ($160) to accomplish this task, which includes finding the right photos, coming up with a design, refining the design based upon your feedback, and sending you a finalized print ready banner files. My firm typically likes to work on a per project cost, meaning that if the project takes us 8 hours you still only pay the agreed upon price (in this case $160). We can also work on an hourly rate, in which case we charge by the quarter hour.
Let me know if you have any questions. “

This is a pretty standard exchange between a client and a designer, nothing unusual. But there’s a line from the next email that starts to make this feel a bit unusual.

“I need you to let me know the name of the credit card processor you using so I can have you paid to start work….

Best regards,
Pastor Rob”

Clients typically don’t care about the name of the processor. At this point the client starts texting us.


Prior to this text it had been established that I could get the client samples of the banner design by Wednesday (in 2 days). We told them that we’d need a 25% deposit to get started but some clients opted to pay 100% as it worked better with their accounting. This all still feels somewhat reasonable.


The exchange above may feel really strange, but the idea isn’t totally out of the ordinary for a firm like mine to pay vendors on behalf of clients. This is a service we do from time to time. But it’s starting to feel suspicious. We ultimately end us sending the invoice because we are willing to give this individual the benefit of the doubt.


And this is where the wheels fall off the wagon. The prospective client is continuing to be ultra-persistent with their request for an invoice and the calamity of their situation only increases as time goes on. At this point we cancel the invoice. I also decide to the call the number that has been texting me. The individual picks up claims that they’ve never heard of the individual I was calling for, that the number I called was actually an entirely different number, and that my caller ID was incorrect.

At this point it dawned on us in it’s entirety that this was a scam.

We assume that the individual was trying to do one of two things.

A.) Have us run a stolen credit card thru our processing machine and then send about $1400 to a fictitious banner printer in ID, which would have been this individuals accomplish or simply themselves. When the credit card is reported stolen, the cash when thru my operation and ultimately I get stuck with the liability.
B.) Launder a handful of “dirty” cash thru Firedove.

Option A seemed like the most likely, but it is hard to say if that’s exactly the case. The individual would end up trying to call us 9 times and sent a few additional texts. We ultimately ended up filing a police report. There’s not much more we can do beyond that. Ultimately, this is a strong reminder that our client vetting process needs to be enhanced and before anyone touches our credit card processing we need to do our due diligence.

Never a dull moment at Firedove!