Massage therapists have been receiving scam email messages for a long time. While email scams are not unique to RMTs, there are definitely scams that target massage therapy clinics and spas specifically. On social media sites and forums, it’s rare to go a few hours without someone posting an email they received and asking “is this a scam?” or “how does this scam work?” More recently, the scams are not only being sent via email… you’ll likely run into scams via text message or social media messaging as well.
Each scam will have its own minor variations, but there are some common trends (“red flags”) that you can use as a guide to figure out if that email about 12 new bookings really is too good to be true.
8 Red Flags to Look for in Scam Emails
1. Vague details about you and your practice
Email scams are sent out to thousands of people simultaneously. It would take a LOT of time for the scammers to personalize every message, so they don’t bother. Instead, they use generic terms to describe you or your place of business. Scam messages will rarely mention you or your business by name, and they’ll avoid even mentioning your city, using non-specific language like “coming to your area”, “arriving at your business” or similar.
2. Large groups of appointments
To be enticing, email scammers need to promise a large payout if you follow their instructions. In the world of a massage therapist, that usually means a large group of clients back-to-back. Email scams typically request appointments for 6-12 (or more) people, sometimes with multiple appointments for each person. Occasionally you’ll see a variation of this, where the scammer is trying to book a single person, but for multiple appointments over a short period. Examples might include a travelling sports team, or a celebrity or model who needs regular treatments.
In both cases, the idea is to make the would-be victim think that they are passing up a lot of income if they ignore the message. This is known as ‘baiting’.
3. The appointments are being booked long-distance
The scammer always claims they are from out-of-town, usually from another country or continent. They will often use fake names, and sometimes might even have websites for the teams, business, workplace, etc., to help build credibility. The appointments are always to be scheduled over a short period of time, while the group is “in your area”. The actual location they claim to be is usually different, but they are never local – it would be too easy for you to look into their back story that way.
4. The services they request are generic-sounding
“Swedish massage”, “luxury massage”, and that sort of language will be used to describe the services they want. There will be little to no mention of health care issues or complications. The idea is to make the treatments sound as simple as possible, to maximize the number of potential victims. The terminology is usually generic, so that regardless of whether the message is received by a health care facility or spa business, it’s likely that the business offers those services.
5. Poor spelling and grammar
Many of these scams originate from countries where English isn’t the national language, leading to a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes in the messages. It usually goes beyond a few typos – descriptive terms used in the message aren’t quite right (“constructing company” instead of “construction company”) and punctuation is often used incorrectly (periods, commas and spaces tend to be misplaced) in addition to poor spelling and grammar mistakes.
6. They do not want you to contact them by phone
The scammer will almost always request that contact be maintained by email, or more recently, via text message. Although I don’t suggest following up with scam messages, if you do, you’ll find the scammer almost never wants to talk on the phone. They only want to conduct business via non-verbal messages. This is often made clear in the email (or text message) itself.
7. Asking information about payment processing
Scammers will always ask about the types of payment you accept. Usually, these questions are specifically about credit card processing. They may only ask what type of credit card you accept, or might ask more information about international credit cards, wire transfers, cheques, or other forms of non-cash payment. Occasionally, they’ll even ask you about the type of point of sale machines your business uses! The scammer will usually want to pre-pay for your services too, either with a credit card or a cheque.
We’ll cover why this information is important to them shortly.
8. Paying a “driver” or other service provider
In addition to pre-paying for the treatments with you, the scammer will often mention a driver or other type of service provider that will need to be paid as well. They offer to include the fee for that service provider in their pre-payment, asking you to pay the driver or other provider directly. This is usually done to increase the payment they want you to process.
How do these scams work?
There are a couple of ways in which an email scam can work.
1. Monetary fraud via a refund
The most common reasons for these scam messages is to have you send them money directly, often via a wire transfer to avoid being traceable. The scammer will “over pay” for services (often using a stolen credit card), and will ask for you to wire them the difference. A few weeks (or even days) later, the payment is bounced because of the stolen card, and you’re out the money that you refunded. The same applies to cheques they overpay with.
2. Monetary fraud via extra charges
The scammers who ask you to provide information about your point of sale machine will sometimes give you instructions to follow on the machine, telling you it is to test their international credit card (or similar) can be used with the machine. They are actually getting you to authorize payments which you’re unaware of, refunding money to credit cards or bank accounts without your knowledge.
3. Phishing for personal information
Sometimes the scammer is just hoping to get personal information from you. They may ask for detailed information about you to confirm the appointment, including (but not limited to) your registration number. This information can be sold or used for identify fraud purposes.
What Do I Do If I Received a Scam Email?
Nothing. You can simply ignore the message (or text), and nothing bad will happen. Many therapists have tried to report the email to the authorities, but the unfortunate reality is that these messages are international, so the police cannot do much to help.
Some therapists have decided to follow up with the scammers, to ‘see what they were after’ as well. I’d recommend against this – once you have answered a scam email, you’re identified as a likely target, and open yourself up to receiving more messages in the future. It’s usually more productive not to answer at all than to tell them not to email you again.
Do you receive many scam emails? Think we missed any red flags or items that RMTs should out for? Let us know in the comments!