Groupon Pwned by Photographer Using Stolen Images for Promo

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Social buying site Groupon was forced to pull a photography deal off of its website on Wednesday, after it was revealed that the photographer was using stolen photos to promote herself.

The deal was an absolute steal -- a $500 photo package by Dana Dawes Photography (including an on-location one-hour photo shoot) for just $65. Unfortunately, what your mother told you is right: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The first tip-off that the too-good-to-be-true deal was a fraud came from a commenter on the Groupon discussion thread (mirror courtesy of PetaPixel), known only as "SP."

SP commented 5 hours and 37 minutes ago:

Groupon, you are dealing with a thief here. This photographer does not own all the photos on her website.

I looked at her website and realized that as a pro myself, her lighting and conversions didn't match up. I then took one of her images off her website and un-distorted it, and then placed it through a recognition software that brought up this - THIS is the owner of the photograph, not Dana Dawes. I would suggest you refund the money to all of these people because this person is using photos that aren't hers to try to bring in clients. In other words, she's a fake photographer.

Dana Dawes, the photographer with the deal, responded to SP quickly:

Dana D. commented 5 hours and 23 minutes ago:

SP.-Let me assure you that I am not a thief. Many of my pictures have been taken in other states as well as many that I took while studying in Europe this past Spring.

As this exchange unfolded, a number of other commenters began looking into Dana Dawes' supposed portfolio. They discovered that most (but not all) of the photos on Dawes' website belonged to other photographers, including Tanya Shields and Morgaine Owens. Commenter Jodie O. even pointed out that the text on Dawes' "About Me" section was a rip-off of the "About Me" section of Kristina Young Photography.

Backed into a corner, Dawes started blaming hackers:

Dana D. commented 5 hours and 5 minutes ago:

Let me assure everyone that I have rights to the photos on my site. I am not sure who SP is, but someone is trying to sabotage my success. My website has now been hacked and all of a sudden I am receiving all of these comments. I am currently working with my hosting company to work through this. But I can assure you that I am NOT a fraud.

Dawes also apparently created a couple of fake Groupon user names to further confirm her work, including an "Andre M." and a "Tasha W." Unfortunately, her alter egos were called out when "Andre M." responded to a question directed at "Tasha W.":

Tasha W. commented 4 hours and 36 minutes ago:

I have also used Dana Dawes Photography several times and she has always provided me with excellent images and is very good. I purchased two of these.

Tasha commented 4 hours and 34 minutes ago:

She was so good that you only purchased two images?

Andre M. commented 4 hours and 31 minutes ago:

No. I purchased more than two images. I purchased two sessions.

Image: TechCrunch
Finally, Dawes pulled all of the stolen photos from her website and Facebook page, but not before a number of commenters snapped some incriminating screenshots. (Click on the image for a larger view of the screen preserved by TechCrunch.)

Ultimately, Groupon canceled all of the 1275 groupons that were purchased (more than $75,000 in revenue) and refunded everyone's money. Groupon said in a comment on the discussion thread that it would "never intentionally feature a business that engages in questionable or unethical practices," and I'm inclined to believe them. After all, it took SP some sleuthing to discover the photos were stolen in the first place.

A number of commenters did mention that Groupon could fairly easily scan for these sorts of frauds, however. How? By simply running numbers. After all, it's virtually impossible, as a number of commenters pointed out, for a single photographer to do 1275 photo shoots in a year. Sherriinnis at The Business Lens blog breaks it down -- in order for a photographer to complete 1275 photo shoots in a year, she'd have to work 98 hours a week and would end up making just under $41,500.

In other words, Ms. Dawes would be better off on welfare. Needless to say, she should probably start looking for another line of work, as it doesn't look like her photography career is going anywhere soon.

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