The Birthday Song Scam
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
And now for something completely similar: another brush with crime! Last week’s blog told of a bloody incident suffered one year ago. This blog takes you inside a plot that started for me one week ago and continued up to this post. My book-marketing strategy of sharing original music on Instagram and Facebook apparently made me a scam target, which I inadvertently escaped through intentions both benevolent and selfish.
This escapade started at 12:39 p.m. Jan. 3, when I received an Instagram message request from a stranger who had just liked an original song I’d posted. When I agreed to read it, he asked if I was a songwriter. I thought it strange, considering the circumstance, but since many people don't seem to actually read Instagram posts, I answered yes. He then asked if I could write a song for his daughter, who would celebrate her eighth birthday Jan. 10. He offered to pay me $200.
Feeling honored, seeing no obvious way this could be a scam, I looked at his Instagram account. It offered four photos of a man, woman, and two kids, all in portrait or vacation-like settings. I asked for insights on his birthday daughter. He said Cecilia loved animals, especially dogs, horses, and unicorns. Indeed, he said she believed in unicorns so much, she intended to be the first person to actually discover one.
I didn’t promise him anything, for my ear and throat ached, my mind focused on client work, and I felt guilt from not editing my next novel. Still, I pondered this request for two days while taking aspirin, gargling with salt water, and asking God for insight — for it’s hard to imagine a better reason for writing a song, something I had not tried for several months. Who wouldn’t want to create such a musical keepsake?
On Wednesday, reminding myself that I truly needed income opportunities, I prayed again and decided to give the birthday song a go. A fun melody soon poured out of my head, with lyrics to match. I tweaked the words on Thursday, recorded it, showed the video to enthusiastic family and friends, built a webpage for this coming-of-age tune, and sent the father a link.
“This is so amazing,” he messaged back. “I love it!! I’ll need your full name and email to write you a mobile check for payment.”
Apparently that’s when I unintentionally skewed the scammer, for since I liked the song myself and wanted to do still more for the birthday girl, I decided to not charge the dad anything. I promised to let him use the song for non-commercial purposes, but I would keep the copyright for myself.
Having posted the song on my web page — with a drawing of a unicorn I created in Friday’s wee morning hours, just to make the whole package even better — I asked him if that e-link would suit his purposes or if he needed a separate copy of the video. I also suggested that if he still felt the need to pay me something, he could read one or more of my books. Indeed, I pushed my novel God’s Furry Angels, noting his animal-loving daughter might dig it. And I, of course, could always use a good review, assuming he liked the book. I then suggested he spend the rest of the $200 on his daughter’s birthday, give it to their church, or save it for a rainy day.
He never responded. Indeed, I never heard from him again.
Concerned by this silence, on Saturday I messaged him anew, asking if that song webpage would suit his needs or if he needed the video posted elsewhere. When he didn't respond, I decided to research any possible scams this could represent. That’s when I found a September 2020 report by News Channel 5 in Nashville. It shared a very similar tale, but with one key difference: where I refused payment, that songwriter agreed on a fee. She then received an alleged overpayment and made a refund, only to learn the client’s check bounced, leaving the songwriter out $1,500.
Since I refused payment, I will never truly know if I was a target or not. But after sharing this report with my family, I checked back on the father — only to discover nothing remained in his Instagram account but the name, profile photo (a family portrait), and the header code. His four photo posts were deleted. Then popped up an IG message: "User not found."
So to honor Cecilia’s birthday, real or not, I get to post this blog with links to my new tune, The Birthday Song, and the Nashville article. Perhaps this will help someone avoid such turns in the future. And I get to reflect on how I wrote a song and avoided a scam by trying to be nice and keep a copyright.
Truly, God works in mysterious ways.