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Artist Vs. Scammer
by Carolyn Edlund for ArtsyShark

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Recently, I received a phone call from an artist friend who had been approached by a man wanting to purchase a painting. Bill (not his real name) had a gut feeling something wasn't quite right, and wanted to get a second opinion.

It turned out this was a typical scammer, trying to rip off the artist. Have you received an email like this?

'Hello, my name is Sean Million from Georgia, I was looking for some artwork online and I found your contact while searching. I will like to purchase some of your work for my wife as a surprise gift for our 20th anniversary. Please kindly send pics and prices of some of your art which are ready for immediate sale within price range of $500- $5000. I hope to hear a lot more about any available piece in your inventory ready for immediate sale.'

When Bill responded that he had reproductions for sale, the customer indicated he wanted an original, and chose a painting that retailed for $15,000. He wanted to pay by cashier's check, and indicated he had a shipping agent who would pick up the artwork. Bill received the cashier's check. But, surprise! It was written for significantly more than the cost of the artwork and shipping combined. When notified, the customer indicated that he would like a refund check from Bill for the difference. Additionally, the art had to be shipped right away to arrive in time to be an anniversary gift.

Artist Vs Scammer

The cashier's check that Bill received is phony, but his bank won't have that information for a week or more. Meanwhile, he could have shipped the artwork (which he will have lost) and written his own check to the "buyer" for the refund, which will have been cashed. The customer will have disappeared, and cannot be reached; they move on to the next victim. This scam has been running for years.

I suggested Bill send an email to the "customer" indicating that his attorney informed him this was a typical scam technique, and that their correspondence was over. Not surprisingly, he never heard back.

Often, these scam perpetrators are outside the U.S., and they are elusive. If there is phone contact, it is through temporary numbers from Google that are changed frequently and can't be traced. Banks are aware of these scams, but cannot be held liable for fraudulent cashier's checks. It's up to the artist to be aware, and take measures to safeguard themselves.

These red flags can help you spot a scam and protect yourself and your art:
  • The customer contacts you, and is eager to buy. They aren't on your mailing or prospect list, and you don't already know them.
  • Money is no object. They are happy to make a large purchase without asking questions or showing hesitancy.
  • They use little discrepancy in choosing a piece of art to buy, and will agree to "purchase" any number of items.
  • They are not willing to use a credit card for the purchase, but insist on sending you a cashier's check.
  • Often their English is poor, or there are significant spelling and grammar errors in their correspondence. They may even get confused about your name (because they are running many scams simultaneously.)
  • There is a need for urgency – an upcoming birthday or anniversary, which necessitates that the art be shipped quickly.
  • The customer often indicates that they are moving (often outside the U.S.) and they will have the package picked up. They are never local buyers.
  • Usually correspondence about the transaction takes place through email only.
  • They often don't answer the artist's questions and can be vague on details.
Basically, if an art sale seems too good to be true, it probably is. Artists have banded together to avoid scams like this by sharing information in discussion groups, and you can even find a list of scammer's aliases and known email addresses right here.

How should you deal with a scammer when you are contacted? Although it may be tempting to mess with them (Scamalot does this frequently, with hilarious results) it's best to simply delete their emails, or report them as spam. You probably don't even want the sender to know they've reached an active email address.

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