‘Once you hit send, assume it’s gone:’ Tattoo troubles expose risks of Zelle, pay apps

Several women are accusing a popular DMV tattoo artist of ripping them off, cases that highlight the risks that can come with using cash apps like Venmo or Zelle.

Moriah Johnson said when she was interested in getting a new tattoo for her birthday, she decided to go to Anthony Bowser, whose business is called Sebastian Tattoos. Bowser had done her first tattoo several years ago.

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“He’s a very successful tattoo artist,” said Johnson. 

She said Bowser told her $600 was due up front and gave her the option to pay by Apple Pay or Zelle. She said she opted for Zelle, a payment service linked to several major banks. 

But two weeks before her appointment in January, she got a text from Bowser.

”He says, ‘Hey, did you cancel your appointment?’” said Johnson.

She said he told her the money she sent had been refunded back to her account. 

“I didn’t receive notification from my bank, mobile app, Zelle, anything,” Johnson said. “So I was like, ‘OK weird.’”

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She said she spent the next three months trying to figure out what happened. 

“I managed to get him, his bank, my bank and myself all on the phone, four-way,” said Johnson. “And long story short, we all confirmed that he received the funds.”

From there she said she spent four more months attempting to schedule an appointment, trying to be patient due to COVID-19. But by August, she wanted a refund.

”No response,” she said. 

FOX 5 spoke to Bowser by phone. He’s still claiming he never got Johnson’s payment. But there are others who have made similar claims against him, including Ashley Orr, who lives in Richmond.

She said as she was driving to Maryland for her appointment with Bowser, she texted him asking if the appointment was still on. 

“I’m literally halfway there and he texts me back and says, ‘Oh, I meant to call you and get in touch with you earlier. I had something come up today,’” said Orr.

Both Orr and Johnson provided text messages to FOX 5. 

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“At this point, I would just like my money back,” said Orr. “And I don’t get a response.”

Orr also paid upfront via Zelle.

Payment apps like Vemno, Zelle, Cash App and Apple Pay are convenient and contactless, but they do not provide fraud protection offered by credit cards. 

“Once you hit send on the app, you should assume (the money is) gone,” said Ben Wiseman, who heads the office of consumer protection for the D.C. Attorney General.


Wiseman said during the pandemic, people are increasingly using these payment methods, but he’s also seen a rise in scams.

“We really don’t recommend using those types of payments, especially if you’re making a type of payment upfront in advance of receiving a service,” Wiseman said. 

Orr took Bowser to small claims court and was awarded a judgment when he didn’t show up.
Bowser said he had clients that day and couldn’t make it. 

Fox 5 spoke to another woman, Joy Freeman, who has filed suit in Prince George’s Co., trying to get back the $500 she says she paid Bowser.

Freeman said when she showed up for her appointment, she was told Bowser did not work in that location and she was unable to get a refund. 

All three women said they were disappointed to learn they couldn’t get their money back through their bank or payment app. 

Several others have taken to social media to share stories as well. 

“I noticed we are all women. Everyone who has experienced this,” said Johnson.

Johnson, who lives in Anne Arundel Co., previously said she was in the process of filing suit. 

“I would just personally like my money back. And this has to go no further,” said Johnson. 

Since our story aired and was posted online, Johnson says Bowser has contacted her and she received a refund. She has dismissed her case.

"Maybe this story was a wake-up call for him," Johnson said.

FOX 5 has continued to hear from additional women who say they have had problems with Bowser after paying him. Bowser tells FOX 5 he has many satisfied clients and is doing 2 to 3 tattoos a day. He doesn’t have a studio and is working from home. 

He said he lets people know that the down payment is nonrefundable and that both parties are allowed one reschedule. He said he didn’t have knowledge of Freeman’s lawsuit. 

If you are having a dispute with a person or business, you can report the situation to local law enforcement. In D.C., the attorney general’s office will investigate and mediate disputes.

If you have additional information about this report, email FOX 5 reporter Lindsay Watts.