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PSA: Don’t Get Scammed | Photographer Gets Robbed By Online Print Website

By Joseph Cha on November 25th 2013

Photographers Need to Make Careful Business Decisions

As Photographers most of us are small business owners, and we have to make business decisions. Sometimes we have to make decisions on who to work with, and we have to trust the people we work with because we make our businesses vulnerable to them. Unfortunately that opens up the potential to get screwed over, and for one photographer, November 2013 has been the worst month for him.

One Photographers Nightmare

Mike Johnston set up a webpage for print sales called “” and he did everything through a service called Volusion. Volusion Inc. is based in Austin Texas and he found them online. Volusion helped Mike set up domain registration, shopping card, credit card processing, and everything else he needed to do in order to get his website running. He did everything they told him to do. But then something strange happened, Volusion decided Mike Johnston was no longer trustworthy.

Johnston’s Account Of The Story

At that point—AFTER THE SALE WAS OVER—Volusion decided they didn’t like my business model. They decided I was untrustworthy. They said I was a risk to them. And they informed me they weren’t going to hand over the money.

That is, they refused to turn any of the credit card payments they had collected from TOP’s customers over to me.

The next question (after I recovered from my shock) seemed obvious: If they weren’t going to give the money to me, what were they going to do with it?

They said they were going to return the money to our customers.

Okay. When?

At first they wouldn’t say. When pressed, they finally said the funds would be returned within five to ten days.

And then they kept the money.

And kept it.

And kept it.

Ten days passed. Nothing.


Meanwhile, I was trying to arrange alternate methods of payment with our credit card customers (which I’m still working on—if you haven’t had a second email from me yet, you will very soon). But, quite naturally, people wanted to wait until they got their first payment back before they sent a second payment.

The bottom line is that now, finally, some of our customers have gotten their money back from Volusion.

But not all.

Volusion took the last credit card payment from OUR customer on OUR behalf on November 4th. It is now November 25th and as of this morning, not all of our customers have their money back. Volusion is still keeping it. In one specific case, a payment made on the morning 10/31/13 has not yet been returned. What am I supposed to tell that customer? He trusted me. And I’ve let him down. He’s looking to me for customer service that I cannot provide.

I pressed Volusion again about it this morning. Still, their representative refused, repeatedly, to give me a solid answer.” – Mike Johnston


Be careful out there. Make careful business decisions and know exactly who you’re working with. Unfortunately Mike Johnston was completely blindsided by this, and is dealing with something completely undeserved. Has anything similar happened to you? Let us know in the comments, and spread the word so we can help other photographers avoid getting scammed.

“I’m not quite sure I understand why all this is happening, but I do know one thing: it isn’t Volusion’s money. They have no right to keep it. It is either my money, and they should turn it over to me, or it is our customers’ money, and they should return it to our customers. It doesn’t belong to Volusion. They don’t have the right to keep it. That’s the one thing that seems clear.” -Mike Jonston

[Source: Theonlinephotographer]


I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. TXPhotographer

    Volusion has a lot of BBB complaints against them. Some are marked as “resolved” and some are not.

    Many people don’t pursue a formal complaint when there’s a problem, so the percentage of unhappy customers is likely many times more than the number of complaints.

    If a customer does complain, at least in Austin, the complainant could be charged a fee, which is a further disincentive. This NY Times article covers the BBB fee-for-complaint model:

    Not sure if this is still the case, but interesting, huh?

    Not to blame the victim here. I’ve had some bad experiences as well, which means I am very leery of any company that has that many complaints in a three-year period. I’ve found it is a good idea to check with the BBB (and current–and past–customers) about any company that you entrust with your business, as well as local neighbor-review sites like Angie’s List.

    Oh, about using local companies: Volusion is a local company for me. The BBB complaints I’ve read are from local customers.

    I am so sorry this happened to the photographer named in the article. For the rest of us, forewarned is forearmed. Buyer beware.

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  2. BobW

    I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a tech consultant and photographer, with more experience as a tech consultant. I also do have clients successfully using Volusion with no complaint; I have no financial stake in Volusion. I’m completely independent.

    I’m very sorry that Mike had this problem, and hope he gets this resolved quickly.

    I never, ever give away the “keys to the kingdom” to any one company. So, for my clients using Volusion: they accept payment through Paypal. If they wish to accept Credit Cards directly, I’ll help them navigate the waters of setting up a merchant account, and dealing with an indepent gateway processor (like Authorize.Net or BofA).

    Volusion does shopping cart software (in my opinion, they do a decent job at it at the price point) but they are not known for being a gateway processor of credit card transactions. It’s sort of like hiring a wedding videographer, and asking the videographer to take care of stills as well: they can do something, but it’s not going to be as good as what a photographer can do.

    Again, I’m truly sorry that anybody has had a bad experience.

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  3. JenniferHope

    Look into Zenfolio… they have never disappointed my customers nor me.

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  4. Kris Orlowski

    Joseph, please be more careful in indicating when you transition from your own observations of a story and directly quoting the original source material. In reading this article I was confused after the stand-out text as to why the perspective remained in the first-person and did not return to the third. In reality you only wrote 4 paragraphs of observations/commentary while the meat of this article is from the original author. Please be more accurate in the future.

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    • Joseph

      sorry about that, i’ll clarify that in the article.

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    • Carol H.

      The part where he was quoting the original author begins with a quotation and ends with a quotation before he moves on to his conclusion. There is also a clear conversion to the meat of the article with the secondary title. I also see a link at the bottom of the article that references and leads to the source.

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  5. Dan

    Thanks for using a slang abbreviation. I spent a couple of minutes trying to determine what this issue had to do with a prostate test.

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    • Stan Rogers

      It’s not slang, it’s jargon. The same three letters will mean different things in different contexts, but PSA used for “public service announcement” and “public service advertisement” have been part of the media world (which includes photographers) for much longer than PSA meaning “prostate-specific antigen” has been part of the medical world — and it has meant “pressure sensitive adhesive” to the packaging industry for even longer than that.

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  6. tanya smith

    This is the number one reason I really like working with local businesses. Though there are hundreds of photo labs and other services available online, I like being able to meet and do business face to face whenever possible.

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