UK Speaker SCAM: Church and/or University in the UK looking for a keynote speaker for an upcoming leadership workshop; Tier 5 Work Permit fees required via Western Union. Here’s the full story:
UPDATE (March, 2015): I have been contacted three more times with similar offers. This scam continues unabated and I hope potential victims find this post before entertaining their speaking invitations.
On May 15, 2012, I was solicited by a church in the UK (via my website) to speak at their upcoming leadership workshop. A series of emails went back and forth, containing various details and expectations. In order to speak there, I would need a Tier 5 Work Permit from the UK Border Agency and because the event was quickly approaching, I was introduced by email to someone at the parish who works for the UK Border Agency and can get expedited processing for my application.
I was emailed an official 52-page PDF application for a Tier 5 Work Permit with specific instructions on how to fill it out. The form is legitimate and you can find documentation online confirming that only a UK employer can submit such an application. Once I had filled it out and gotten passport photos made, I was asked to send 583 GBP via Western Union so she could submit the application and pay the fee in cash.
They said they had a sponsor and offered to pay me $10,000 USD as a speaking fee, along with all travel expenses. This seems high for a church but does fall within my standard fee structure (at least for domestic events), so it didn’t seem too unusual at the time. Here are all the names and email addresses of the people I communicated with:
- Reverend Michael Silver firstname.lastname@example.org
- Reverend Brian Moody email@example.com
- Reverend Phil Dunning firstname.lastname@example.org
- Edward Smith email@example.com
- Patricia Coleman UK Border Agency firstname.lastname@example.org (real name verified by Western Union)
- Susan Aires Dransfield Novelty Company email@example.com
- Phylis Kamps 321-200-1024 (mobile)
Here is a blog post that details how these same people have done this dozens of times since 2010. At the time of this writing there are 94 comments on their post and I will be adding my own shortly. I have included a number of emails below so you can get an idea of how these people communicate.
Email #1: Initial Solicitation
Name: Rev.Michael Silver
Message: I am Reverend Michael Silver , presiding Minister of the Emmanuel Evangelical (Baptist) Chapel, Newport, United Kingdom. We are pleased to inform you that we would like to engage you to speak at our Church Lunch event here in Newport coming up on the 1st of June and we are also arranging our ‘Leadership development Program’ workshop on the 2nd & 3rd of June 2012.
Please we would like you to convey to us your availability for one of the dates as it can fit in your schedule. Also, please we would as well appreciate if you get back in-touch with us in ample time so we can start corresponding the details.
Thank you and expecting to hear from you soon.
Reverend Michael Silver
Emmanuel Evangelical (Baptist) Chapel,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9.
Email #2: Initial Request for Money
Good day Patrick, I understand that you are Emmanuel Evangelical Church’s guest for their upcoming conference, Edward Smith informed me earlier, I have undergone this process for their guests in the past as well prior to this time as well so below are the details.
I have undergone this process for people prior to this time as well so below are the details. (It is a pity though that you do not have your Swiss passort intact and up-to-date as you would have been waived for this fee).
Our Government (United Kingdom) Main Application Fee for a UK work permit is £488 and £95 for homeland fee making an overall sum of £583, You should understand that as a United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand & European citizens holding their international passport, entrance permits are at a reduced fee at rate given above, other nationalities pay more. I will do the application and payment in your name at our Consulate and send you necessary binding documents.
Usually, It takes between 1-14 weeks to get a permit depending on the category such permit may fall into, But if we process expressly and I append the application as a staff it will take just about one week and a maximum of two weeks give or take some delays in courier or so since it is categorized as ‘ministerial/religious’ under the UK Tier 5 work permit, It will take a week and a few days to process. If you are ready to proceed (which I advise you should) We would as well need you to send to us the below stated documents.
Full Name of applicant:
invitation Letter from Sponsor:
Now, you will have to make the application fees payment and I will later send you the official UK TIER 5 WORK PERMIT FORM and the UKBA SCREENING FORM as an allied country citizen you do not need to fill the immigration assessment form as you are already eligible. We might only need your thumbprints at the United kingdom border on entry into the UK.
Please, be swift with your response because you know documents after been processed by the UK immigration might delay a bit, give or take 2-3days, It would be advisable you start processes a bit ahead of time.
Have a Wonderful day.
United Kingdom Border Agency.
Email #3: Second Request for Money
Good Morning Reverend, Deacon Edward, At the start of work today, I was notified by the issuing dept. that Patrick’s work permit cannot be issued out as yet, Non-Briton Immigrants coming into the United Kingdom and taking up a legally paid job will need to secure their stay with a bond otherwise referred to as a repatriation fee, And since Patrick falls under such category as she is non-British immigrant, The Home office has required that such applicants pay a refundable sum of 2,500GBP as a ‘Bond’ to enact their stay. As soon as they get back to their respective countries, the fee will be paid back to them in full. This law has been in the books for a while but it wasn’t effective for a long time now, But the new excos at the Consul has decreed it should be applicable and be 100% effective henceforth for working immigrants applying for the work permit.
I am emailing you now so you can find a way to forward to me the funds so I can make the payments asap since you have advised that time is of essence in this application. I will forward to you the ‘bond holding letter’ in the name of the applicant which is Patrick, he will be able to claim the funds at the USA Consul when he gets back home.
Warren Germain already sent me the funds for his bond, He will get the documents today, I have forwarded to him the fedex tracking number so he could monitor as well (Just informing you).
Reverend, Edward, send the funds to me on Patrick’s behalf as he might be relunctant to send such amount of money, So I need you to forward the funds on his behalf, Once he is back in the USA the bond will be liquidated and you will negotiate on how to have the funds back.
PLEASE REPLY SOONEST !!!
United Kingdom Border Agency.
It should be noted that there were well over 50 or 60 emails involved in this process, involving Reverend Michael Silver, Edward Smith and Patricia Coleman. Many details were discussed. I was even sent a hotel confirmation at the Park Plaza Cardiff (Greyfriars Road, Cardiff, CF10 3AL, United Kingdom) along the way. So the whole thing appeared completely legitimate at the time. I would even say it was more organized than other events I have spoken at.
So, what can I say? They got me. I’m embarrassed. In the end, it’s not that big of a deal. The money transfer cost me $1048 USD (Western Union is a rip-off) so it’s not really that much money, but that’s not the point.
My speaking career has taken me to every major city in the USA and cities across Canada and Mexico, as well as destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. I get many solicitations that seem “too good to be true” so I can’t really filter on that criteria. Here are the red flags which I ignored:
- Public email addresses only (gmail, hotmail and workmail).
- No mention of the leadership workshop on the church’s website.
- I was requested to send money urgently to an individual.
When I was invited to speak in India, I had to get a VISA first and it cost me $160 USD, but I made those arrangements directly with the Indian Consulate in San Francisco. So my learning point is that I will NEVER send money to an individual again.
I have filed a complaint with Western Union but have heard they can’t do much. It doesn’t really make sense to me. The person who picks up the funds has to show identification verifying their identity. That means there must be something the authorities can track. But who’s going to hunt that down? Anyway, if anything comes of it, I will update this post.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the recipient DID pick up the funds in the UK. So I’m sure Patricia Coleman actually exists and I’m also sure she was in the UK on May 29, 2012.
Did this scam happen to you?
If you have had a similar experience, please tell your story in the comments below. I am publishing this post to hopefully help other speakers avoid this situation in the future. There are well over 100 comments on this post so far, all from other speakers who were contacted by these people. By adding your experience, it will improve the ranking of this post and make it easier for other speakers to find. Thank you.
For Aspiring Speakers …
Patrick Schwerdtfeger has a detailed blog post (over 4,000 words) describing the process of becoming a keynote speaker, including embedded videos and complete disclosures about the business of professional speaking and his own experiences along the way. It’s the highest-traffic post on this website. Read the post here: