Protect Yourself from Art Scams

Jessica headshotGuest blogger Jessica Marie Boehman shares her experience and resources to protect yourself and your art from theft.

 

 

The only way protect your artworks completely is to keep them locked away in your studio. If no one sees it, no one can copy it. As an artist and an art historian, I am a believer in art’s ability to touch emotions, and for this to happen, it must be shared. I share mine any way I can: with my students in class, in my online shop, through my personal website, on my Facebook business page, at shows, fairs, and galleries, and with publishers (with hope). My drawings hang in homes all over the world because I believe in sharing publicly.

However, there are downsides to “going public:” I’ve had people use—and even sell—my images without my permission. But I never expected that someone would try to steal my actual original artworks, and my money, too.

 

Alice in July

“Alice in July” colored pencil by Jessica Boehman

 

A few weeks ago, I received an inquiry via my personal website from a man claiming that he saw his wife looking at my site and that she loved my drawings. He inquired after two of my colored pencil drawings, wanting to know if they were for sale as a surprise anniversary gift, and asking if I accepted personal checks. I replied that I did not accept personal checks, but took credit card and PayPal through my Etsy shop, and informed him of the availability and cost of the prints and the one original that was available.

He responded quickly and with enthusiasm, that he would take the original of a drawing called Alice in July, as it was worth the cost to see his wife’s reaction. Just one caveat: he insisted on paying with check. I wrote back and acquiesced with the condition that the check needed to clear before shipping. He asked for my address. I gave it to him so he could mail the check.

But then the communication got a bit weirder, which is saying a lot, given the overly enthusiastic tenor of the first emails. He claimed that his boss would issue the check for him, as he was training recruits on a ship in the North Atlantic. At first, this didn’t strike me as odd, growing up in a military family with a father often on the move for work.

But then he said he was also in the process of moving to Canada and wanted the company in charge of shipping his personal effects to collect the artwork from me directly. He would cover the shipping in the check he would mail me and I could pay the shippers for him. He did not want me to mail the artwork, as it would ruin the surprise.

At this point, doing a web search of the man’s name was immediately enlightening. All I had to do was type his name and the Google search bar provided the rest: “Art Scam.” It led to two blogs, KathleenMcMahon.com and StopArtScams, which contained all the relevant details from the email communication, plus a list of aliases under which these scammers work.

These scammers work on the presumption that you do not conduct any research on your own and that you pay the bogus shipping company before their check bounces. You would then be out a potentially large amount of shipping money, a bounced check fee, and an original work of art.

I did not respond, and heard back a few days later telling me the check would shortly be on the way. I responded clearly, and with links to the above websites.

“I’m sorry that you felt the need to trick artists by stealing their hard-earned money, and worse, their artworks that have personal meaning to them. That artwork you proposed to “buy” was one that I had made in response to a personal loss. Such a scheme is not only cruel, but also illegal. Please do not contact me again or I will forward all of this communication to the proper authorities.”

Though as artists we receive some unusual email communication, please act with caution when something seems out of the ordinary, and do not be afraid to call the authorities if it escalates out of control. I’m happy to report that Alice in July is still safely in my keeping, and my wallet is still intact. Do yourself a favor if one of these emails sneaks into your inbox: just delete it.

 

Have you been the victim of art scammers? How did you deal with the attempt?

 

 

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Comments

  1. Thanks for blogging about your experience with this, Jessica. I’m glad you still have your painting. It happened to me twice, with very similar stories given. In the first case, the person contacted me through my website contact page. I was clued in via my website analytics that they were not writing from where they claimed to be writing from. In a second situation, I searched the emailer name’s on the web, which immediately brought up similar attempts by this person detailed on Stop Art Scams. I then noticed that this particular email was actually sent to a different local artist, and that I had been cc’ed on it. I contacted the other artist, and fortunately, he too was aware it was a scam. When something doesn’t sound quite right, it pays to look more closely at it.

  2. Thanks for sharing–this scenario sounds familiar. Please forward this information to the authorities. This is illegal activity regardless of its “success” or not. An unsuccessful theft is still a crime–and the thief is free to try again.

  3. I’ve had this happen a couple times and the red flags were there so I told them I would only do a sale through PayPal. Of course, they never contacted me after that. Just who exactly do we contact to report these scammers?

  4. Catfish, I think is what these jerks are called.

    There are a few common red flags with scammers. 1.) their use of the English language tends to be slightly off; 2.) the urgency in which they want to make the transaction; 3.) they are always, always in the process of moving to someplace else (Canada, London, etc) from some other exotic (different/foreign) location.

    Once they believe they have established the hook, then comes the monkey business of payment as explained in the article.

    The formula is basically the same whether they are scamming you out of your art, psuedo romance, etc. The objective is to relieve you of your money.

    Vetting your potential buyers, like the author did, is really a best practice.

  5. Unfortunately, the more I looked into this, the more common it seems to be. Artists need to be aware of these scams in advance so we don’t accidentally fall for it and lose our money and art.

  6. Although I totally agree that scams should be reported, I think there are so many that it is overwhelming for the FTC to follow up on. Scammers can keep moving and hide behind Google Voice phone numbers which are easily discarded. This very blog was used in a job scam last year, which I reported to the FTC – and never even got a return phone call from them. I had to publish a “Jobs” page on my site, warning potential victims about the scam and that there were in fact no jobs – we were simply being used to prove “legitimacy”.

    The sites that Jessica refers to prove that artists and others using self-help can slow down this type of theft, and I congratulate them for doing this. It has to be a labor of love!

    • I must have been composing my reply below while you were yours, Carolyn 🙂

      yes, as in “the real world,” the authorities can be slow to respond (or non responsive) but at least they’ll have the info if they choose to move forward. And I figure if a few clicks of the mouse and moments of my time might help save someone from the loss and heartache (I’ve actually had my house completely burglarized, so I know firsthand the heartache and vulnerability of being a victim of theft) then I feel it’s worth my time.

      And yes, kudos to those who actually compile online resources to help others! definitely a labor of love and/or a product of their own experience with loss…

  7. I agree with James: regardless of whether they contact you again or didn’t succeed, you should still forward the communications to the authorities to help them prevent this from happening to a less web-savvy artist (and let’s face it, that’s still a pretty big demographic).

    If someone unsuccessfully tried to grab your purse and you resisted and could identify them even somewhat, would you report it? Well, forwarding email communications is a lot simpler than filing a police report and maybe if everyone took the time to do it, more of these scams would be shut down. I’ve been a professional artist for 15 years and have received many scam attempts over the years and have forwarded them on to help stop them.

    Sadly, is a bit akin to con artists preying on the elderly in that artists usually don’t have much disposable income (making the theft that much more of a hardship), and many can be tricked easier than the general population because the scammers are banking on two main assumptions: the artist is desperate enough to sell that they’ll go to great lengths to help their “buyer” acquire their artwork; that stroking the artist’s ego will help blind them to all of the red flags being waved in their face…

    • I very much agree, Donia – it’s easy to see how artists could “believe” the scam because they so desperately want to sell their work, and overlook the signs.

  8. Me too! My macmail has a BOUNCE option which I’m thinking works better than any kind of reply. By this point I simply know what to look for and am never surprised to see the scams. What’s more problematic is when these emails go through my website email. That doesn’t have a bounce option so I just delete.

  9. My artist friends and I get scam letters via our websites frequently. They are usually written in grammatically poor English by someone claiming to be moving to another location, often in Europe in need of lots of artwork for the new house/apartment. We sometimes make fun of them by offering to personally deliver the artwork to Milan or wherever their new house is supposed to be, because we “just happen to be there” soon. Of course, we never hear from them again.

  10. I’ve gotten Convos on Etsy that were just like that! I just ignored it because it seemed so weird (I might have contacted Etsy once to let them know about it, but I can’t remember for sure). Very interesting to read this story. Thanks for the info! 🙂

    • Rachel, Does Etsy have a policy or support to deal with this type of scam?

      • It has been a few years now since the last time I got one of those scam convos (guess they gave up on me, lol) so I’m not really sure how Etsy would deal with that problem these days. It seems to me that there is probably very little they could really do; I imagine even if Etsy deleted the scammers accounts, they could just get new ones with fake info and start it all over again.

        Until I read this story, I had no idea so many people had this same issue with scam emails/convos.

        • Yes, sadly I think it’s true – these scammers move quickly, and it’s a numbers game. If they reach out to lots of people, there is always a small number who will fall for it.

  11. As someone else mentioned, there is a definite pattern to these scams. After a while, they become easily recognizable, but if there is ever a question, ask in the art community, forums you belong to, etc. And yes, always report them. Several years ago, I got a request from a woman opening an art gallery in Nigeria, needed art to fill it, needed it fast, etc. She wasn’t even sure which piece she wanted, anything would do, and promised that a check would be issued immediately to cover all costs. Out of curiosity, I kept it going for a while and sure enough, a very official check, drawn on a Florida bank, arrived in my mailbox. At that point, I didn’t give a reason, but wrote and told her I was canceling the deal. She didn’t seem to worried about that but she insisted that I send the check back to her. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that, I’d already sent it to the FBI with all other pertinent information. I actually did get an automatic response, giving me a list of clues to watch for. Number one at that time was anything from Nigeria.
    My sister went through something similar on one of those online dating services. The guy was REALLY good, had a long, elaborate story, down to an entire “subplot” involving his mother! My sister and I decided to see how long it would last before the inevitable request for money, and sure enough, along came a business trip to South Africa, a stolen passport and an immediate need for $3000 that he would, of course, pay back when he returned and they could finally meet. It occurred to us that if he was sending the same story to hundreds, even thousands of women, and only ten responded, that was an easy $30,000 just for the time it took to create his story, followed by a few clicks of a mouse. In the case of art scams, it’s more than money because victims also stand to lose valuable, original artwork.
    The internet has given us access to billions of people across the entire planet, but in doing so, has opened up a world of opportunity for scam artists like these. The best we can do is stay alert and informed, and create a network of fellow artists to help and support each other. Just as Artsy Shark has done…thank you, Carolyn!

    • Exactly Carole – it might seem easy to dismiss something that feels like “only you” are getting (like your sister’s catfisher) but in the thousands upon thousands that are receiving these requests in reality, people often fall for it (I’ve saved some elderly friends just in time from those email account hackers that send a message from someone’s account that you know personally and say, “I’m in such-and-such unlikely country and am in tears!” and try to get you to believe you’re saving a real-life friend from misfortune – I also contact the person with the hacked email immediately to let them know).

      So if everyone just brushes it off as part of our life in this day and age, and don’t do as you did (the check would hopefully help the FBI track down the source of the money) then it will just continue and percentage-wise, scammers will get richer, and artists will get duped. Obviously we’re all busy and don’t have time to do this every single time, but when we do and can just click “forward” the evidence will pile up.

  12. I’ve had two scams like that. The first one sent a third party cheque for too much and wanted me to mail him a cheque for the “change”. I was too astonished that someone wanted to buy so many of my paintings at once to think before I paid it into the bank, but I made it clear that I couldn’t send any money until the cheque cleared. Then I thought about it and went to the bank to tell them I thought it was a forgery, which it was, so I was glad I went and told them before they thought I was part of the fraud.
    The second one was similar wanting to send a cheque from his boss but having learned caution I said I didn’t accept third party cheques.

  13. Every time I read these sort of stories, Etsy seems to pop up. Criminals must troll that site looking for victims. I’ve sold many paintings ( not on Etsy ) where I’ve had to ship them, and it was all done through Paypal, except two people who I personally knew sent me checks. Even then, I waited for the checks to clear before shipping. My husband and I sold one of our ( ride on ) small scale trains to a man in Poland about a year ago, and boy, did I put him through the ringer upon his first contact with me ( through a site where the train was listed ). He started out telling ME how the sale was going to go, and I responded with “let me tell YOU how it’s going to go because we’re the seller.”
    It took four long months to organize and verify everything, but the sale was made, contracts and all. When it comes to sales online, you can never be too careful.

  14. Thank you so much, Carolyn for sharing this! I too was ALMOST scammed. the scammer claimed to be moving to Italy and was very “impressed” with my art and even suggested purchasing a few pieces, with no hesitation after I sent the prices. As mentioned above, she wanted to use a “moving company she had worked with before” and told me she wanted to purchase them right away.(they will try to get the deal done fast) Thankfully after a few weeks of emailing back and forth I found others with similar stories when I researched it. (they never provide a phone number, only an email). It was depressing as an artist to get excited that someone likes your work only to find out they were trying to scam you. So I am just so thankful you are sharing your stories! Hopefully soon it will be commonly known if we keep telling artists to beware. thanks Carolyn!!!!

    • Yes – they are really playing off your excitement to make a sale. But as you said, there was so much wrong about the scenario. I mean really, how likely is it that anyone moving internationally has a “shipper” send a check?

  15. As a gallery owner, I receive this request about twice a month. It is sad that all artists don’t know about this scam.
    I too believe in getting the artwork out there to be seen.

  16. It isn’t just artist who are scammed by this. My daughter was nearly a victim in her business a few years ago – a martial arts school who only taught children. The supposed student in this case would be coming from overseas as an exchange student for the summer and his host family would be bringing a check that contained the child’s tuition and living expenses. My daughter was to cash the check and give the hosts the living expenses. We knew right away that is was a scam. Fortunately no loss occurred. Unfortunately local law enforcement found that “no crime had been committed” and that was the end. Sad that some wish to make their living through theft and dishonesty to hard working honest individuals.

  17. I appreciate everyone taking the time to share their own experiences. The more stories that are out there, the less likely that someone will fall for it.

  18. Jessica, thank-you for sharing your story with us, so glad that you were not scammed and followed your instinct to do a search for this guys name and save yourself from being one of his victims. I have gotten e-mails before where someone wants to buy my items in bulk overseas by personal check, I don’t respond to them just delete. If it sounds fishy it most probably is!

  19. Too funny – I got an email from the same guy! It sounded off, so I googled the phone number he’d included in the email signature and found lots of other people who’d received similar emails. You’d think he’d switch up his story a bit! I wrote back and said I’d be delighted to sell him the photo he wanted, but there was someone using his name to run art scams, and he should go to the police immediately and report identity theft. Never heard back.

  20. Jenn, that is a truly excellent reply! Wish I had thought of it! Haha!

  21. I think the best defense is good communication among artists. This blog post will save many artists who run across it in their research of a request that seems fishy. I have had this happen twice with very similar requests. The details were different but the general outline was the same. I found a blog post by another artist when I googled the email address he used. I then posted my experience on Facebook and someone else avoided a problem. The second time it happened, I just hit the delete, never to hear from them again.
    Given how often it seems to happen, they must have some success with this scheme. Makes me sad to realize how many artists have been prey.

  22. Charlene says:

    I’m glad you didn’t fall for that some people just try to scam through life thinking they will
    never get caught until one day oops it happens Karma slaps them in the head.

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