A veteran Atlanta special event planner has just avoided being hoodwinked by a party scam notable for its celebrity tie-in and elaborate set-up. Terry Singleton, CSEP, president of CCP Events, says she feels "embarrassed by being so stupid" at almost being taken in, but shares her story to protect fellow event professionals.
Wedding planners have for the last two years been plagued by e-mails from bogus out-of-town brides and grooms supposedly booking destination weddings in the planner's city. The scammers send a cashier's check to the planner for more than the amount needed. After the planner deposits the check, the scammers ask the planner to wire the excess funds to the "band" or some other vendor. But the cashier's check turns out to be a fraud, and the planner is out any money sent to the fake "band" as well as any other bills paid on worthless check.
In contrast, a slew of schemers contacted Singleton over a weeklong period, starting Sept. 18. The project they dangled before her was enticing: a Nov. 21 party for up to 2,000 guests with a dozen A-list entertainers.
The first call came—supposedly—from MTV, asking Singleton and her company to work on a high-profile "Super Sweet 16" party in Atlanta for the niece of hip-hop superstar Sean "Diddy" Combs. Then, Singleton was contacted by a range of characters, including purported representatives of Combs' music label Bad Boy Records and even the party girl's "mother," supposedly Combs' sister-in-law.
Eager for the job and to give business to colleagues facing a dearth of work, Singleton jumped into planning the party. But early on, she noted some oddities.
For example, with only one exception, her phone calls always reached voicemail replies. And, her requests for plane tickets for her vendor partners went ignored. Also, one of the acts the "hosts" wanted normally books for $10,000, but as a "personal favor," the hosts wanted to pay $35,000. Even so, Singleton received multiple, lengthy calls "at all hours" from many people, she says. "They went to a lot of trouble."
Finally, the "mother" of the honoree said she wanted her husband—supposedly an executive with Verizon—to send Singleton the company's latest cell phone as a gift. Singleton called the number the woman provided, and was asked to give a credit card number to cover a simple $6.99 mailing charge for the new phone. Almost immediately, the credit card company called Singleton to tell her that a fraudulent charge of $600 had been attempted on her card, which Singleton canceled at once.
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Singleton credits her vendor team, which includes managing director Steve Thomas of Atlanta-based East Coast Entertainment, with alerting her to certain red flags for client fraud:
- A huge sense of urgency. "Perpetrators want to get the scam done before research into its legitimacy can be properly done," Thomas says.
- Offering to pay more than artists are asking. Singleton notes her scammers finessed this point by saying the entertainers were personal friends of Combs and that he wanted to give them special treatment.
- Offering a credit card as security
- Contact numbers and emails that do not match the companies represented. Again, Singleton realized she was dealing with sophisticated scammers because the phone numbers she received were supposedly for cell phones.
- Unbelievably grandiose plans
- All correspondence done through calls to the planner rather than taking calls from the planner