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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Belly Dancing: Beware of the "Private Lesson" Fraud!





For several years, dance teachers of all genres have received fraudulent emails and text messages asking about dance lessons. Initially, many people are fooled by these messages into thinking they are legitimate inquiries. However, they're not.

These false inquiries are an attempt to cheat the dance teacher out of her hard-earned money. This article describes the con, so dancers can recognize it and avoid it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.




What the "Dance Lesson" Scam Messages Look Like

Generally speaking, the "dance lesson" emails and text messages sent by these criminals have several things in common:

  1. They do not state the name of your city. They use generic language such as "your area".
  2. They do not state specific dates that the lessons are desired. They use ambiguous words such as "next month".
  3. They do not state what specific style of dance is desired. They simply say "dance lessons".
  4. They do not state why they chose you, specifically. They do not reference where they saw you perform, nor which video clip they saw of you dancing, nor the name of a person who referred them to you.
  5. They request something odd, something that you would not expect a normal prospective client or dance student to ask for, such as daily private dance lessons for 2 hours per day for a week or a month.

By omitting the specific details mentioned above, the crook can send the exact same message to thousands of dance teachers. These emails go not only to belly dance teachers, but also to ballet, flamenco, hip hop, and others.

The "bridesmaid flash mob" version starts with an email or a text message that looks something like this:

How are you doing? My name is ___. I'm organizing a surprise dance (like a flash-mob) for my Daughter's Wedding, So I want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography. Let me know if you are available? Also are you the owner and what type of credit card do you accept for payment?

Another variation looks something like this:

My name is ___. My daughter will be coming to your city for a holiday. I need dance lessons for a month while she is there, and i really want her to be taught by you. Please tell me the cost of your teaching private lessons to her every day for two weeks. Looking forward to your response.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.




How Does the Fraud Work?

The swindler obtains a price quotation from his victim, and arranges the date and location for the proposed classes. He asks how much it will cost, and sends a "payment" in the form of a money order, check, gift card, or wire transfer. The victim's own bank clears the payment. However, the transaction isn't finished until a second bank, the one the check claims to be from, also clears it.

In the next step, one of these things happens:

  • The amount of the "payment" turns out to be more money than the dance teacher asked for, and the swindler asks his victim to pay him back the extra.
  • The swindler asks the dance teacher to pay another vendor on his behalf with the extra. The problem is, there is no other vendor — it's a false account owned by the swindler.
  • The swindler claims that the dance teacher breached the contract in some way, and demands that his money be returned.

After the victim sends the money back to the swindler, or to the fictitious vendor, then she discovers that the second bank has rejected the "payment" she received from the swindler. By then, it's too late to recover the money that she sent to the swindler/vendor.

This "extra money" is not the only way the dance teacher might lose money on the deal. If the swindler asked her to rent studio space for the alleged lessons, then she might lose any fees she paid to the studio for use of the space. She might also lose money because of turning down other private lessons or gigs for the times she committed to the swindler.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.




How Can a Dance Teacher Avoid Being Duped?

Sometimes, it's difficult to determine whether an incoming email is a legitimate inquiry or attempted fraud. Here are some things to consider:

  1. If the request seems weird compared to normal lesson requests, that may be cause for suspicion. For example, a request to teach choreography to a group of bridesmaids 2 hours per day, every day, for a week is not a normal client inquiry.
  2. If the request omits important details, that may be cause for suspicion. A legitimate inquiry will usually mention the general dates in which the student(s) will be coming to you for lessons, what style of dance is desired, how many students will be in the private classes, etc.
  3. Ask questions without revealing information about yourself. For example, instead of asking, "Are you looking for classes in Chicago?" ask, "What city do you want your classes in?" If the person gives ambiguous answers, the inquiry is probably not legitimate.
  4. If the person send you a "payment" for more money than you asked for and then asks you to either refund the extra or use it to pay someone else, this is a very strong reason to be suspicious.
  5. If the person offers you a substantially higher deposit than you asked for, this could be suspicious.
  6. Ask the person for the specific date and location of the alleged event (wedding, etc.) Contact the place yourself, and verify that this person has indeed reserved it.
  7. Don't risk any of your own money on booking studio space or other expenses. Instead, ask the client to make those arrangements.
  8. In your contract, specify that the deposit is non-refundable.
  9. Ask other dancers on social media whether they have received an inquiry similar to the one you received.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.




Closing Thoughts

In general, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stay alert when receiving inquiries from people you don't know. Remember that there are many dishonorable people out there looking for people to defraud.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.




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