InstaCrime: An Alleged Midwest Wedding Photography Scam

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“I didn’t care how cheap other parts of the wedding were, I didn’t care where it was. I just wanted everything remembered in her photography. Because her pictures were so…” Emily trails off, staring out my window, “…beautiful.” Her big hazel eyes flash, ferocious again, “But now I look at [our wedding photos] and they’re tarnished.”

Emily wished to capture her wedding memories with Blue Boots Photography. Then, Dear Tomasine Photography. Later, Babes and Beaus Photography and currently Dear Tomasine Stills and Films. The most recent change has been to remove the “e” to be Dear Tomasin (making it harder for customers to find the complaints about Dear Tomasine). The owner, Kelsea Hopkins, changes the names of her photography businesses when the furor of her dissatisfied customers grows too loud.

That’s because Kelsea Hopkins is running an alleged wedding photography scam.

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An Alleged Midwest Wedding Photography Scam

Merriam-Webster defines a scam as “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.”

In this instance, the alleged scam centers non-fulfillment of contract. Customers state that Kelsea does not provide the photos she promises. Rarely in a timely manner, or, in many cases, at all.

According to public documents, there are four small claims cases in Indiana alone that Kelsea has lost. This means that there was enough evidence that Hopkins was ordered to refund her customers and pay court costs. Those that have taken her to court say that the judges have been familiar with Ms. Hopkins’ business practices and are showing little patience at this point.

Customers report that Kelsea is responsive until she isn’t. When (if) she shows up to an appointment, she takes the pictures but doesn’t turn them over. Sometimes not at all, usually not the full package. People will go months and months without their photos. Despite the contract stipulating that customers will receive their photos in 6-8 weeks. Despite Kelsea being paid.

Yet this woman continues to work, re-branding herself every time the heat turns up, fooling potential clients with a gorgeous social media presence.


InstaCrime

It amazes me, that, even knowing what I know, I am envious of the carefully curated persona that Kelsea promotes on social media. Her pictures are beautiful; her hair shiny. She seems so together.

I am envious because images are powerful. And deceiving. Hopkins takes advantage of our human tendency to be positively influenced by inviting faces, warm lighting, and sweet comments. It costs nothing for Kelsea to change her social media pages, re-upload her gorgeous images, and start all over again. Low overhead, a steady stream of unsuspecting clients, and the potential for fast cash? Sounds like the perfect alleged scam.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: people are what they repeatedly do. Period.  It is reported that Kelsea Hopkins has repeatedly lied to, stood up, threatened, and ignored her customers. She has shown chronic unprofessional behavior and a lack of conscientiousness.

There is no filter that can flatter that kind of conduct.

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This is a stock photo. All the fancy looking wedding pictures are. They are not Kelsea’s photos.

In The Beginning…

It all started with a Facebook post that piqued my interest. Sensing a story, I started digging. That’s when I found the Facebook group Victims of Dear Tomasine Photography SCAMS.

Jen Petry, the fed-up mother of a swindled bride, created the group. There, I fell down a rabbit hole of dozens of disgruntled customers: all reporting the same story of non-communication, unprofessional behavior, and non-receipt of photos. You can find the comments and stories as easily as I did. Take a moment and peruse Dear Tomasine/Dear Tomasin’s Better Business Bureau reports here.

Many of the individuals I’ve spoken to are or will soon be involved in lawsuits against Hopkins and do not want their information public. Therefore, I will not be revealing their names and will only describe the documents they sent me. The individuals named have given their permission.


Kelsea and Me

At first I didn’t realize that I’ve met Kelsea. My sister-in-law hired Dear Tomasine to be the photographer at her wedding.

I was freshly injured from the birth of Big A with nerve/neurological issues and using a walker. Everything is a bit of a blur from that time, but I remember Kelsea. I remember her helping me and being patient and kind.

Her behavior at this wedding is in shocking juxtaposition with her conduct afterward. My sister-in-law soon began to have the Dear Tomasine Experience. It begins with a lack of communication.

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Josh and I got married in the library in which we met on January 9th, 2017, with only Big A and my best friend Amanda (the officiator) present. We didn’t have to deal with any alleged scams, Amanda took the photos.

Radio Silence

Kelsea’s contract states that she will produce photos/videos for her clients in 6-8 weeks. Her current website maintains that “each session comes with a free consultation (phone, text, or email)  before session, free gallery that can be shared and downloaded to computer, and free print release. Disc or any print/product can be purchased and is PICK UP only at our studio space.”

This was news to the angry customers that I spoke to, who reported that Hopkins is only communicative when making payment arrangements. Then she seems to fall off the face of the Earth. So many customers described anxiously contacting Dear Tomasine to make sure Hopkins was going to show up to a prearranged and prepaid event/session. Emily stated that there was no shoot list or discussion before her wedding. This lapse was never explained or acknowledged by Kelsea. Most would go weeks upon months without a response from Hopkins.

I need you to understand the sheer volume of screenshots I received highlighting these issues with communication and continued nondelivery of products.


Or Excuses

If customers were lucky enough to get a response when contacting Kelsea, it was excuses. For the many copies of correspondence that I pored over, the same six excuses were used:

  • Taking “mini-vacations”
  • Changed phone number or providers
  • Technical difficulties
  • Did not receive any emails or texts (there are pages and pages of attempted contacts)
  • Personal reasons (relationship woes, kid issues, family friend passing away)
  • And my favorite (in a nutshell): “Your repeated attempts to contact me about photos I promised and you paid for is harassment.”

Or “I Hope You Can Understand My Position As A Single Mother, Single Business Owner…”

After months of no contact, many customers began threatening to take legal action or dispute PayPal charges against Dear Tomasine. This seemed to get Kelsea’s attention.  I saw multiple reiterations of the sentiment stated above. Hopkins would ask for patience and understanding due to being a single parent/business owner. Can I get a collective harumph from all the single mom (and dad) bosses out there?

Leaving negative comments on Kelsea’s business pages would sometimes provoke a response. More often the customer would be blocked.

The daughter of Jen Petry (the woman who started the Facebook group) did not receive her photos until a year and two months after her wedding. My sister-in-law got hers three months after her wedding. Emily received some of her pictures nine weeks after her big day, with no offer to complete her package. None of these customers were provided with an explanation or an apology. Just a sudden link in their inboxes.

The four individuals who won in small claims court did not receive their photos. The people preparing lawsuits have not either.

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Inconsistent/Missing Photos

Some, like Emily, loved the spattering of photos they eventually received from Dear Tomasine.  Others described their pictures as badly edited. Jen stated her daughter’s photos were “unimpressive, poorly edited, and dark.” One source stated,  “It was like she just threw them together because she was scared I would take her to court.” Yet another source described their pictures as “nothing over 5 megapixels, off-center pics, no editing, washed out, etc.”

Three different people stated that they didn’t receive their newborn photos until their babies were unrecognizably older. One woman received her photos with big letters across her adorable toddler’s face reading “PROOF DO NOT COPY.” That’s gonna look great framed on the mantle.

A groom reported that he and his wife did not receive half the photos, stating, “There were a ton of pictures she had showed us throughout the night that we were really looking forward to, that we never received.” He also reported “horribly edited” photos and several photos of the party fully facing the sun with closed eyes.

Emily never did get all of her engagement photos. Kelsea “didn’t like how they turned out.”


If You Are Hired To Be At A Wedding, Don’t Drink At The Reception (And Other Unprofessional Behavior)

Some customers edged around accusations of “inappropriate behavior” at their reception. They were hesitant to flesh out this complaint, having been too busy to see for themselves. Jen saw, God bless her. “She DRANK at the reception! I thought that was so unprofessional,” she fumed, “let alone grinding guests on the dance floor.”

Customers reported Kelsea missing important moments like the couples’ first kiss or getting a photo of the brides’ mother. Cleta Sandridge observed, “I later found the video (Cleta’s wedding video “gift,” published without her permission to advertise Hopkins’ new videography business and never given to Cleta) on her Instagram page, along with a lot of selfies that she took at my venue, while she was being payed to photograph my memories. Once I asked her to remove the video, she blocked me from all her social media pages.”

Sandridge was not the only bride to state that Kelsea spent more time documenting herself than their event. Or Hopkins would document at inappropriate times. One story I was told involved a bride having some natural jitters before the ceremony. Her parents gathered close to comfort her and…there was Kelsea, snapping pictures. She had to be explicitly told to stop.

Many complained that Kelsea was late. Not just to sessions, but to actual weddings, from fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. Some engagement and child sessions she simply did not show up to. One customer reported that Hopkins  cancelled “due to rain where she lived,” and never apologized or attempted to reschedule. Individuals that have sued Kelsea report that she is late or a no-show to court appointments as well.

Because Kelsea is seemingly erratic, she was reported to be either unprofessional or a saint at these weddings. I remember her kindness; others described Hopkins “sweeping up a broken bottle,” helping the bride get ready, and sweetly corralling children.

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Signing our Wedding Paperwork

Denial, Dishonesty, or Depravity?

Is Kelsea in denial about her business practices? Does she simply lie (and know she’s lying) to buy time? Or is she purposely out to get as many deposits as she can?

I think it’s telling that Kelsea changes the name of her businesses. She’s aware enough to know a name change is necessary to save her business, but not willing to fix the root problems that called for the name changes.

She displays uncanny awareness when legal or payment consequences are threatened. In one correspondence, Kelsea refused to provide a client’s photos until the client could prove that she had dropped her small claims court case against Hopkins. After being ignored for weeks, Emily left a public complaint on Blue Boots’ Facebook page. Kelsea responded by saying: “I’m not ignoring you whatsoever [she was]. That’s totally false. I have deleted all ‘clients’ [her quotation marks] from my personal Facebook. So what are you so unhappy about so far that I can fix.” Another woman stated, “She threatened if I did not take down the bad review I would never receive the photos and [Kelsea] would keep the money we paid.”

bride and groom walking away from camera, holding their shoes

IMO: Depravity

I was leaning towards a mixture of all three, heavy on the depravity, until an incredible internet stranger sent me some interesting screenshots.

The same morning that the original Facebook status was gaining attention, Kelsea posted this in a Facebook group:

Kelsea Hopkins Facebook Group Post

If that doesn’t show awareness and calculated lying then I don’t know what does. When faced with the possibility of her business crumbling Hopkin’s first instinct was to play the victim on social media. And a disingenuous victim at that. The woman who pressed the charges against her is not the same woman who started the group. But if Kelsea admitted that (among other things) she’d have to reveal how many unsatisfied customers are left in her wake. The helpful stranger reported that Kelsea deleted this post 20 minutes later, after less-than-sympathetic group members began to question her.

This blessed Internet spy also sent me screenshots of posts Kelsea made in the same group corresponding to her re-branding. Instead of making real, concrete changes, Hopkins chose to ask Facebook how to change the name on her business page or for help with making a new logo.

Now it is my opinion that Kelsea knows exactly what she is doing. In some correspondences she strung customers along with excuses until the period in which a PayPal payment could be disputed. Once that time had passed, Hopkins never spoke to them again. It is my opinion that Kelsea goes to the weddings because she likes the attention. She likes to feel helpful and she likes the deferment she receives for her “official” role. I do not know if Hopkins purposely schemes to keep her customers’ money while not delivering pictures. But I do know that, time and time again, that’s what she does.

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When you buy a wedding license they give you this free STD pamphlet. Neat!



Buyer Beware

At the very moment you are reading this article, Kelsea Hopkins is out there booking Easter mini sessions. She is ready and willing to pull this stunt on more unsuspecting people. As a source close to my investigation noted: “I think Kelsea is incapable of feeling certain emotions. Guilt being one. Shame being another.”

Dig deeper than the Instagram feed. It’s fine to hire a photographer because you like the pictures they post. Just make sure to research your potential hire first.

If you’re reading this Kelsea, I wish you luck. May your real life become as glossy and organized as your social media presence.

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Have you ever been the victim of a scam? Do you have any advice that you wish you would have known? Tell me in the comments below.

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Megan

Megan

Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, three boys, and a bunch of corn. She’s a voracious reader and a life-long recipient of questioning looks.
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4 Responses

  1. Our daughter has been taken by this lady too. She still hasn’t received her wedding video. Luckily she had someone else do the photos.

    1. My daughter got scammed by a caterer last year in Southern Ohio. The lady took 3 payments from us then quit answering phone calls and even blocked my daughters number. We cannot got our money back even though in text messages sent (from a different number ) she acknowledged that she would. I’m not sure the catering company ever even existed.

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