How to Sniff out a Scammer When Selling Art Online
This story starts off with someone trying to steal from me using an elaborate scheme, but is has a happy ending.
THIS IS MUST KNOW INFORMATION, especially if your young or new to the game. Therefor Fellow Artists I am taking on the role as Vigilante in the form of this blog post. I enjoy selling my work online via a multitude of platforms and I hope you do too, however in doing so you need to be aware you are now a potential target for rascally SCAMMERS! This particular scam I am about to describe is an elaborate one, but all scams have similar characteristics. Here is an actual email I received, how I knew it was a scam and some tips on how to prevent someone from stealing from you.
I will note here that I deleted the name of the person this scammer used to impersonate, and I will call him name deleted for the purpose of this blog. This is to protect that person since he does seem to exist in real life. How clever.
Greetings to you,my name is name deleted from NC. I am writing to inquire about your artwork which i observed my wife viewing on my computer, i must confess you have Amazing and unique art! My wife is a lover of Art in all it divines and i can see she has interest in our work, i wanna surprise her by purchasing a beautiful art piece from you as a gift to my wife as her birthday and our wedding anniversary is coming up soon. please you can get to me on available work on my email email@example.com. Cheers
At first this inquiry normal for the most part. I replied to this email and gave him some options for art I have available in the studio with pricing. Here was his reply verbatim;
Thanks for the message, I must tell you I intend to give my wife a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece. Also If you’d like to know, I’m relocating to the Philippines soon and our wedding anniversary is fast approaching. So I’m trying to gather some good stuff to make this event a surprise one. I am buying the floral piece, 36″ x 60″ for $550 as a gifts to her. I’m okay with the price, I think it’s worth it anyway, so I’ll be sending a check. As regarding shipping, you don’t have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my wife for the surprise. as soon as you receive and cash the check, my shipping agent (who is also moving my personal effect) will contact you to arrange pick-up. I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I’m an ocean engineer) with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks. R
PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your full name (you want the check payable to) cell phone no. and contact address (preferably for Usps ,fedEx not P.O box) where a check can be mailed to, so I can get the check prepared and have it mailed out to you right away.
At this point I was weary.
Although the scammer had me at first, I immediately googled name deleted and he came up a few times as a real Oceanographer. I sent the email to my brother because I knew it was odd and he’s a faster detective. He came back to me almost instantly and said; yep for sure it’s a scam and here’s an article I found about it. Here is the link to that very helpful article written by Renne Phillips, an Art and Entrepreneur coach; https://renee-phillips.com/scams-aimed-at-artists/.
I will briefly outline what I learned from this article and from doing some general sniffing.
Firstly like I said this is an elaborate scam. The scammer will ask to purchase large size art or multiples so shipping costs are high. They will send you a cashiers cheque for the total cost of the paintings plus shipping along with an excess amount. The key is the excess money they pay to you. You deposit the cheque, and the bank declares it clear in 2 weeks. You are then told to ship the art usually overseas, and the excess funds. Huh, okay I wouldn’t have gone this far because I don’t ship my work overseas but I know a lot of Artists who do, especially illustrators on Etsy for example.
Further explanation from Renee Phillips Article; “The scamming purchaser will be in a BIG hurry for you to ship. That is because the check will eventually bounce, but that will take 30 days. When the check bounces you are out of luck, and the bank will not insure you.
You lose the paintings and the money. (double whammy!) When you first deposit the cheque, if you ask the bank manager to research the cheque, he will tell you it is a bad cheque. But if you just let the bank process it normally you won’t know it is a bad cheque until you have already shipped your paintings and the money.”
I found out after further research that this scam has evolved, and now they are using stolen credit cards as a payment option as well. They still ask for you to pay the difference either through Western Union or via Pay-pal.
So what to do?
If your not sure about an email inquiry and you want to see if it is legit do this; send a reply thanking them for their interest in your work. Tell them you accidently deleted the original email with the specific art they chose and ask them to re-send what they are interested in. They send so many scammy emails they will likely not be able to decipher the original. In my case, the art he was asking for had sold in the few days between his first and second email. When I told him that it sold his reply was; “Can i pick dis” and listed the same painting I said was sold. I deleted all emails at this point and I was so glad I did not provide my address.
Here are some warning signs that you are dealing with a scammer:
• The email just sounds odd, the language is off and the grammar and English are consistently poor.
• They are in a hurry to get your artwork, this is because they need it before you realize the cheque is bad.
• They provide unnecessary details such as “I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I’m an ocean engineer) with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks”. This provides a back story that matches who they are impersonating.
• They want to arrange shipping with an agent or third party, and in my case they asked for a real address, not a P.O box (yikes).
• The email address in this case was odd considering he was supposed to be an esteemed Oceanographer. He did not have a signature label, or an business email. The email was sent from firstname.lastname@example.org, and then from a different email in the next?! Don’t forget anyone can make an email address using any name they want and that is the name that will show in your inbox.
Tips on How to Avoid being Scammed:
• Stay alert when reading emails and don’t send hasty replies. In my case I noticed after really looking that the second email was sent from a different address.
• Check out everything you can on the internet about a person making a proposal to you if it sounds suspect. You can be your own private detective these days using Google, Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook etc. It is okay to research people, this is public information put out there by that person.
• TRUST YOUR GUT! If something seems odd sniff it out. I do not suggest replying at all and do not backlash at the Scammer. Delete the email and if they persist just say; please remove me from your email list.
On the wrap, here is the good news!
This is rare! I have been selling my work online for about 5 years now and I can count on one hand how many times I have had odd inquiries or someone try to steal from me. For the most part selling my work online has been an extremely positive experience. Most people are genuine in nature when buying my work. I target the GTA when promoting my art, that way I can provide free delivery! I also book appointments at my home studio after speaking with and trusting the patron and this has always been a positive experience. You can also email me anytime if you need advice. So put your work out there just keep your scam sniffer sharp and TRUST YOUR SPIDEY SENSES!