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Art Marketing Tip: Avoiding art scam

scamming artists

This blog has been taken from  Kathleen MacMahon .

Scams have been around for a long time and the rise of email and the Internet has only provided scammers a wider and cheaper audience to reach. It doesn’t cost anything to send an email whereas before they at least had to spend the cost of a postage stamp or a phone call.

Scammers using email are always tweaking and improving upon their techniques so they can increase the percentage of people they trick into giving up their money and/or goods. In a way, artists are not a new target for scammers. Everyone is a target for scammers and there is just an increase in the customization of their emails for different audiences. In the case of artists, it is often that they have found you somewhere online – your website or your participation in a message board community or someplace where they can then send you an email. They often even mention the actual names of some of your artwork pieces and say they are interested in buying them. They try to save mentioning certain things in the first email that would give them away as a scammer. At first, they just want you to reply, because even if they don’t end up tricking you out of your money or artwork, they at least have validated your email as “active” and can then sell that to scam database email collectors for more spams.

When it happens when I receive these emails (and I do receive them a lot) is they typically have one or more of the following clues (unfortunately, not always – some are just so damn good, its hard to tell if it is a real request or not):

    • they say they are interested in buying a piece (or several pieces), provide you the name and say they are interested in more information and prices (and in my case, they reference artwork on my website which clearly already has the prices referenced). Sometimes the target of their email is your teaching skills versus your artwork – that their children needs art lessons they will pay for.


    • they reference that they are moving (and in the first or later email exchange will typically reference they are out of the country and moving to the U.S. or visa versa). Or they may ask if you ship to some bizarre place like Belarus.


    • they reference in the first (or typically later) email that they have a shipping company or agent arranging for moving of all their possessions.


    • This is the kicker clue – they will ALWAYS send money for more than the amount due – a LOT more, and have some convoluted story as to why they are sending more, tell you to just take your amount (and some say a little extra for your “trouble”) and mail the “difference” back via Western Union to their shipping company. THIS is what they are targeting for the whole scam. The cash difference you send to them. There is no shipping company. Just them picking up your money from Western Union in an untraceble way.


    • very often, the email has horrible misspellings, grammatical or word-wrapping formatting problems. Sometimes (but not always) it kind of sounds like english is not a language they have any command over.


    • in the first (or typically subsequent emails if you do reply) they will mention they will pay via (or ask do you accept) check or money order. Lately, they’ve been asking if I accept credit card payment so you can bet that is fraudulent as well.


    • if you use a tool online to look up the IP number revealed in the header of the email, it almost always never matches where they say they are from (but more recent scams I get now never reveal this at first and they often use gmail or yahoo or hotmail)


    • if you google the name they are using in their email, sometimes you are lucky and see that other artists like myself have started to compile a list and have also received an email using the same name. Sometimes. Not always.


    • one scammer sent me an email that looked all legitimate and she was asking to buy 5 of my paintings and could I tell her the cost of framing and the prices of what I charge. This falls under the category of “too good to be true”. She *never* mentioned the names of the pieces she was interested in and this is just not how art collectors buy things.


    • one scammer was good – I just couldn’t tell if it was a real request or not. Said she was interested in buying 3 pieces for her “new house” she was moving to. She named the three actual paintings by name (off my website no doubt) and said she was interested in knowing the cost to frame them. Because I couldn’t find enough clues to identify it as a scam and the name she used WAS an actual person’s name I could find online, I did reply but I was careful not to mention names of the pieces, didn’t put her original email in my reply and kind of innocently said, I think I deleted your email by mistake, could you tell me which pieces you were interested in again? Scammers send out so many emails, this particular scammer was not able to come up with the names they had originally used. Don’t know if this would work all the time but it did in this case.


    • so this is the basic structure of the scam: do everything they can to trick you into believing they want to buy items from you, a third party shipper is always involved, they often work or are moving to a foreign country, they send a check (often overnight to try and legitimize their scam) or even offer to pay via credit card (which will end up in a chargeback when the real person finds out their number has been stolen) and then pay MORE than the amount due and ask you to send the overpayment back to them, usually via Western Union which is then untraceable once its picked up. Very profitable activity if even only a few people fall victim.


internet art scam

So what can you do to protect yourself?

    • look at the above clues and try to make a determination if there is a preponderance of enough clues to tell you it doesn’t feel legitimate. If you have guessed it is probably not legitimate, don’t even reply. Just trash it as any other spam.


    • trust your gut. That voice inside your head usually has something valuable to say to you. “It doesn’t feel right” is usually what it is saying. That combined with maybe a clue or two should tip the balance. There’s no shame in some healthy skepticism.


    • don’t forget the “too good to be true” rule. People just don’t buy 5 paintings without knowing what they are buying, why they are buying, asking a lot of detailed questions, are rarely vague about themselves and well, usually don’t buy 5 paintings on a whim. Too good to be true.


    • Be aware that even though your bank may give you cash for cashier’s checks and postal money orders, they can still be counterfeit. Cashier’s checks and postal money orders can take up to a month to fully clear. If the payment turns out to be fraudulent, you could (mostly likely *will*) be held responsible for the entire amount withdrawn from your bank. I often will say I only take payment by PayPal and often the replies stop right there, but keep in mind fradulent payments CAN happen via paypal as well. PayPal likes to protect buyers over sellers and will easily take back the money after the artwork has been shipped.Update: scammers are now offering to pay via paypal so don’t be fooled. How they continue their scam is they end up sending what looks like a completely legitimate payment confirmation from paypal, with even a link to view the details of the payment. But it turns out it is not from paypal. It is a copycat site that looks like its paypal. And some even ask you to log in and then the scammer has your paypal log in information and you are now in MORE trouble than before! The only way to be sure is to never visit paypal from a link in an email. Always independently log in from a new browser window, hand typing in the paypal website address (and not the address in the email! google the correct address if you have to).


    • Never never ever agree to return an overpayment. Never! Once this clue has been revealed, the conversation should be immediately OVER. No need to even tell them so. Just stop replying. While I’m at it, the combination of an overpayment and the use of their third party shipping company I think is ALWAYS going to turn out to be a scam. This is the dead give-away. Stop replying.


    • Scammers will often try to pressure you so you don’t have time to ensure the funds have cleared. Honest buyers should understand that you need to wait until their check has had time to clear. Of course, in the classic version of this scam, if you have taken a money order, it can take over a month to know it was actually fraudulent, so that is back to just never accept cashier or postal money orders.Keep in mind, there is another way to lose money for some potential victims. Here is an example: one artist who wrote me told me she deposited the check, which was a U.S. based check and sure enough it turned out to be fraudulent. The problem was the bank uses the exchange rate of the day of the current transaction so by the time the bank figured out it was fraudulent and removed the money from the account, the exchange rate had significantly changed and the artist lost $100 to the bank. Others within the U.S. get charged a bounced check fee. I’ve heard of some people asking at the bank if they can check if the check is fraudulent before they deposit it and the bank was able to determine that (they are getting better at it) without even depositing it. I guess it depends on your bank.


    • If you end up getting far enough into the scam that they’ve sent you a check or money order overnight (and now you’ve googled their name and landed on this page and realize it’s a scam), congratulations on making THEM spend a little money! You may find they will start to send you a lot of emails and even phone you (if they can find your phone number online), demanding you send the overpayment and art. Some have even “threatened” to turn you over to the authorities, which is a pretty funny joke. Don’t worry, they won’t. And if you start getting calls from them, just say next time, “The authorities have asked me to record this call, how can I help you?” and act like you want to actually KEEP them on the phone. They will hang up super fast and not call you back!


    • I think you can reverse a money transaction with Western Union IF the receiving party has not already picked up the money. After that, you are toast and your money is gone. But if you act QUICKLY and call Western Union and see if you can reverse the transaction, there is a chance you can save your money from getting into the scammer’s hands.


    • This from the USPS Postal Inspector’s Office: IMPORTANT! To verify if a postal money order is authentic, call the Money Order Verification System at 1-866-459-7822.


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