157: Nick Onken – How I Got Scammed For $4,000


“We can’t choose our circumstances or what happens to us, but we can certainly choose what we do with it.”

Hey guys, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (formerly NION Radio), the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!

I’ve got an interesting episode for you all today about a recent experience I went through. Have you ever gotten scammed? If you have, then you know it’s a horrible feeling. When people steal something from you, it makes you feel violated, duped, and just generally terrible inside. It’s easy to blame yourself for letting it happen and wallow in that feeling of guilt and negativity. 

But really, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to learn from the experience. You can take responsibility for it for sure. But instead of beating yourself up about it, it’s better to find the lessons from it all and help others not fall prey to the same thing you did. 

Today, I’m going to be sharing the story of how I got scammed for $4,000 and the lessons I learned from that experience. I don’t want to share this for sympathy or to whine about what I lost. My main goal in sharing this is to warn other artists and especially photographers about what happened so that they can be wary. 

I have already posted this story on Instagram, and thankfully I was able to help another photographer avoid the exact same scam I unfortunately fell for. This just goes to show that good things can be found in even a sucky situation like this. Hopefully sharing my story here can help even more people. 

So let’s dive into the story of how I got scammed for $4,000 and what I learned from it. 

How It All Started: The Setup

First of all, I have been shooting photography professionally for the last 15 years, and I have never run into this type of situation before. It all started when I got an email a few weeks ago from a guy named Michael Beckert, who claimed that he was a writer for W Magazine. This wasn’t strange in itself — writers often have to reach out to find photographers for their assignments. 

So naturally, I didn’t think anything of it as “Michael Beckert” proceeded to tell me that he found my work on workbook.com, a well-known and highly esteemed sourcing industry for photographers. He asked me if I would do a shoot for the magazine and sent me links to specific editorials on wmagzine.com with inspiration images and talent suggestions for the shoot. 

Of course, I was thrilled to accept the job. W Magazine is a huge magazine, and I was excited to get my foot in the door there. So I proceeded to set up the shoot with him via email correspondence. 

Michael told me that they had chosen to work with a talent agency called MXtalent.com. When I tried to access the website, the domain wasn’t working, but he informed me that it was under maintenance. This happens a lot, so I thought nothing of it. 

As we continued emailing, Michael informed me that the talent agency would be providing transport, food, refreshments, etc. Because of this, they would need the money advanced to them. Although this might seem sketchy in another context, it’s totally normal in this line of work. As a photographer, I often get an advance from my client and then pay the production expenses upfront. 

I told Michael that I needed the payment check in hand before I could front the amount of money he was asking for. In response, they sent me a check. To be cautious, I asked my assistant to come to my office and verify the check had arrived because I was traveling for work. Sure enough, he sent me photos of the check to ease my mind. 

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to deposit the check and make sure it cleared before I fronted the money. But since I had it in hand, I figured it would be okay due to the timing of our shoot. We were definitely under the pressure of a short timeline to get the money moving and get the shoot done. Additionally, they sent me a contract from W Magazine with their boss’s signature, which made me more comfortable with the whole thing. 

Here’s where it all got really suspicious.

How It Ended: The Scam 

They cashed the check on a Tuesday. I returned home on Wednesday night and deposited the check on Thursday. And our shoot was supposed to be on Saturday. So on Friday morning, I sent both Michael Beckert and Frank (the talent agency representative) an email telling them that I wanted to shoot in a certain location at a certain time. 

Their response never came. At first, I didn’t think anything of it because I was busy shooting another job all day Friday. But when I finished that job and realized they didn’t email me back, I started getting worried. I texted both Frank and Michael and then tried calling, but all I got was radio silence. 

Yep. They had completely ghosted me. I was pretty concerned at this point, so I called my bank and asked if there was any way to redact the check that I wrote. I wasn’t sure what was going on yet, but I had a bad feeling that I was getting scammed. The bank’s crushing reply was that there was no way to get the money back. The check had already been cashed, and there was nothing that they could do. 

And of course, the check that I had been given by “Michael Beckert” and company was completely invalid. They had closed the bank account for the check and it was destined to bounce. At this point, the reality set in that I had gotten scammed.  

When I got home later that night, I googled Michael Beckert’s email address and found a post on aphotoeditor.com, which is one of the biggest photography industry blogs. Through this search, I found a post mentioning that Michael Beckert was a scammer that had been scamming tons of other people.

Let me tell you — the feeling of getting scammed is absolutely the worst. Looking back on it now and putting the pieces together, it all makes sense. But during the experience, I had no clue that something malicious was going on. And when I think back on the whole thing, there’s not really much I could have done. 

I could have been a little more suspicious about it from the beginning, but as I mentioned, it had never happened to me before in the 15 years I’ve been shooting here. I never had needed that much a lens of suspicion before. 

Although I did take the matter to the police, they told me all I could do was sue the person who wrote the check to. But since that person wasn’t even real, it was impossible to do this. I’ve reported the situation to the FBI as grand larceny, and I hope that they can find the person behind all of this.

So what now? The scam happened. I made a mistake, and the best thing that I can do now is to take responsibility for that, see what I learned from it all, and use it to help others in some way. So here are the three lessons that I learned by getting scammed for $4,000. I hope you can benefit from them in some way!

Three Lessons Learned from Getting Scammed 

Lesson #1: The first lesson that I learned is to be more diligent and establish tighter business practices, creating policies that prevent these types of circumstances. This means no more advance checks that don’t clear before sending funds to productions.

It also means collecting advanced payments by electronic transfer, paying attention to the details, and taking a deeper look into inquiries from people. It’s so important to set up these parameters for your business beforehand so that you can protect yourself from those scams that are so elaborate you can’t see them coming 

Lesson #2: The second lesson I learned is perspective, or in other words, how to find the lessons from a bad experience. In situations like this, we can either choose to be the victim or choose to take responsibility. We can either choose to stay limited, or we can ask, “what is the universe teaching from this? How can I learn from this?”

It’s really all about how you look at it, and sometimes you might need a total perspective shift. A year ago, I think I would have had a completely different reaction to this situation. But now, I was able to shift my lens from the negative to the positive and find the lessons in a less than ideal situation. 

Lesson #3: The final lesson that I learned is to share the story in a positive light. You never know who you can help by talking about your mistakes. Sure, it might be embarrassing to share, but in the end, it’s worth it to help someone else. I was already able to help someone out who was about to fall for the same scam, and I hope that I can help even more people over time. So lesson three is about putting away your pride and sharing your story for the sake of others. 

Believe in the Good of the Universe 

Guys, be careful out there. Be suspicious. Make sure your checks clear before you shell out money. Learn from my mistake. At the same time, keep believing in the good of the universe. 

Sure, bad stuff happens all the time. But the more we believe that the world is out to get us, the more that will happen. It goes the opposite way too — the more that we believe that life is happening through us and for us, the more positive change we will see. 

That’s why it’s so important to let go of the negative stuff and move on with your life. As much as getting scammed sucks, I have to accept it as a learning experience and move on. After all, my time is better spent making more money and than trying to track down the money that I lost.

I hope you could learn from my story and the lessons I shared. You can go check out the show notes here to see the email that I got, and you can check out the photo editor article here. Be sure to take a look at it and be wary of any emails you might get that seem suspicious. 

If you enjoyed this, don’t forget to join the ONKEN RADIO community, which is my Facebook group where you can connect with other creatives. You can also take a ten question quiz here to get free content that will help you out wherever you are in your creative journey. I know everyone is in a different place with their creative journey, so we’ve got different content curated for different people along their process of being Creative Alchemists. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, here’s the short and sweet summary of Creative Alchemy. 

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens through which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes, but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes.

So be sure to take the quiz and get the help you need on whatever creative journey you are on! Thank you so much for joining me today, guys. I hope you enjoyed this episode — if you did, please screenshot it and post it to Instagram and tag me, @nickonken. And if you’ve got time, leave me a review on Apple Podcasts! I’d love to hear your feedback.

Now go out and make your life great by creating every small moment. And remember — never stop creating yourself.

Thanks, everyone! I’ll catch you next time!

Nick Onken

“We can choose to take responsibility and ask ‘what is the universe teaching me from this?’.”

Read the A Photo Editor article on the whole scam here: http://aphotoeditor.com/2019/01/09/scam-alert-fake-departures-magazine-shoot/

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!



Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How the scammer flew under Nick’s radar [1:41]
  • Nick’s first attempts at vetting his client [4:33]
  • When Nick started to get suspicious of this new client [5:53]
  • When Nick realized he got duped [7:48]
  • What lessons can be learned from this experience [8:53]
  • Why you need to be diligent and keep believing in the good of the universe [12:27]

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