I have received calls and messages from a handful of clients letting me know about an email message they have received from their website’s contact form.  This was an email one of my customers received through the contact form on their website from Melissaphoto857@hotmail.com, and was almost the exact same one that many of my other clients had received with the exception of the first name being different and some other variations. Sometimes an email address was never even entered on the contact form.

“Hello there!

This is Melissa and I am a experienced photographer.

I was baffled, to put it nicely, when I came across my images at your website. If you use a copyrighted image without my approval, you must be aware that you could be sued by the owner.

It’s illicitly to use stolen images and it’s so mean!

Check out this document with the links to my images you used at <insert your domain> and my earlier publications to get evidence of my copyrights.

Download it now and check this out for yourself:

<Link to some file on Google Drive – removed>
If you don’t delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next few days, I’ll write a complaint on you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.

And if it doesn’t work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.”

I have been designing websites for almost 30 years and I am very aware of copyright issues when it comes to any kind of images or photos.  I either upload stock photos that I have purchased through legitimate vendors or, with the permission of clients, upload their own photos to their websites.  As a web designer this email, though the message was written much better than most others that I’ve seen in the past, I knew immediately that this was a phishing email. 

There are some basic steps you can take to see whether any future emails that you receive are legitimate.


Breath in….breath out. Whoever wrote the phishing email WANTS YOU TO GET EMOTIONAL AND UPSET! They’re hoping that people will become emotional and even scared so that they’ll do exactly what they want their victims to do and that is to either call the telephone number they provided or click on any of the links. Whatever you do….DON’T! Don’t fall for it!


1.  Search for a string of text in the email using quotation marks. I did a search for this phrase: “It’s unlawful to use stolen images and it’s so disgusting!.” When I found it and the rest of the message on another site, that was another strong suggestion the email wasn’t legitimate.
2.  Do a search for the email address in a search engine. If you can’t find it, the sender is probably not a professional photographer or illustrator (or any other profession). Otherwise, their email address would be listed somewhere. There were no hits for this email address in a Google search.


1.  Read carefully. Is the email well written? Sometimes we get in a hurry to read an email but if you take your time you might just catch many misspelled words or phrases that do not make any sense.  If you’ll notice in this particular email they wrote, “It’s illicitly to use stolen images . . .”  Also keep in mind that you may on occasion receive an email that appears to be legitimate and possibly well written. In other email samples I viewed, they had corrected the word “illicitly” and changed it to “illegal”.


Another red flag is when they provide a link for you to click on!  Consider taking these steps before calling a telephone number or clicking on any links they have provided in the email or any other types of odd messages you receive through your website or email.  If you conclude that it is a spam email then simply delete it, that’s it…..just delete!


The difference between spam and phishing is that, while they both may be inbox-clogging nuisances, only one (phishing) is actively aiming to steal login credentials and other sensitive data. Spam is a tactic for hawking goods and services by sending unsolicited emails to bulk lists. Reference: WebRoot


Finally, if you are still uncertain about an email you’ve received through your website, contact your web designer or web host provider and tell them about the strange email.