How To Recognize an Art Scam

You receive an email or PM from someone who says that their wife or husband saw your artwork online and fell in love with it instantly. They would like to purchase a piece at once, for their birthday – which is coming up very soon. That sounds awesome and you’re just about to celebrate! BUT how do you know if it’s a genuine buyer or another art scam?


Art scams that begin like this takes advantage of the fact that all of us, including artists, love that people appreciate their work. SO you correspond back and forth, and by now you feel as like  you know the ‘person’ you’re communicating with already –  to get that added trust, scammers often include personal details about themselves or their families to make you feel closer – and naturally you are inclined to respond positively to someone gushing praises about your art.

Artists make good targets for scammers – they understand the need to ship their work, to collectors globally. They are emotionally and financially invested in their creations, so they’re susceptible to the charm of the idea that a stranger fell in love with their work. Scammers also hope that artists are less savvy about the dangers of the ‘real’ world and are likely to be ‘easy’ preys.


Remember that ‘if it looks too good to be true, it always is.’ But while that is a basic rule of thumb, there are actually times when something that seems too good to be true really does happen to an artist. Perhaps a collector you have never had contact with before happened to attend the opening reception of an exhibition of your art, and instantly decided that he had found what he was looking for, and bought several pieces. Or you were giving a demonstration of live painting at an art fair and one of the people you were chatting with during the process turned into a collector of your creations. These things do happen – and you certainly don’t want to put off a genuine collector.


Art Scammers Want Your Money or Your Art or Both


More often than not, art scammers are hoping to get money from you – if they can get their paws on your art too, it’s a double bonus for them! So how do you protect yourself?


Always be wary of Over-Payments - A very common lure is when the ‘customer’ overpays, insists on taking care of the shipping process themselves and asks you to send the extra amount on to their chosen shipping company, using the details they have sent you. You send the money on – from your own bank account – and only discover later that the cheque you had received from the ‘customer’ is not genuine, or the credit card used for payment is a stolen card.

How can this happen? Won’t the bank or credit card company protect you from this art scam? Probably not. Most banks have the policy of being willing to cash or deposit all cheques provided that the customer has a balance in their account that is able to cover the check. If the cheques bounces, they just reverse the transaction – leaving the customer responsible for any negative balance. The banks are protected in their T&C to rightfully do so. It can take up to three weeks to clear an overseas cashier’s cheque, or days to months before the owner of the stolen credit card discovers this. This window of opportunity is what the scammer is hoping to be long enough for them to have you send them the ‘shipping’ money they ‘overpaid’.


Clues that can indicate that an email you’ve received is an art scam.


The person emailing you will usually be in a hurry. This is to fluster you and give you less time to think, but mainly because if they know the cheque they’re sending you is going to bounce, or the credit card is stolen, they need the transaction to be completed before the bank or credit card company catches on and you find out.


There will often be a personal story involving the individual or their family moving country right at the time they want to purchase the artwork, needing the sum you’re going to be sending to cover for the shipping costs


They want to arrange the shipping themselves, rather than let you sort it out for them. Most genuine clients like the convenience someone else handling the shipping for them. And if they do want to take care of it themselves, real collectors will most likely use a major company (names the general public would be familiar with) they’ve had positive experiences with in the past.


The email you received is vague and gets the major details of your work wrong, eg. the title, the medium. Scammers sometimes use a generic email and blast it to as many people as possible, hoping that a wide net cast will yield more results.


So what can you do to avoid art scams?


Be firm about following your usual method of payment: if you are not willing to take payment through cashier’s cheques or postal money orders, which are more open to this sort of art scam, explain politely. Often the art scammer will insist on the method of payment they suggested. Stick to your normal method, something you know to be safe. Most genuine collectors will understand and respect the artists’ preferred mode of payment.


Never accept over payments. It may feel as though your work is very much appreciated that the buyer wants to pay you more. The rule of a transaction when you are selling and they are buying is that no money leaves your account. Make it known it is your policy not accept over payments.


Don’t ship your artwork until the payment has cleared. Make sure you keep track of the transaction and have a clear ‘workflow’ planned out. Eg, after money is cleared, prepare the work for shipping with the freight company, then inform the buyer of the shipping details, expected date of arrival and tracking number. Simply tick off the boxes on your to-do-list when each step has been completed. This way you do not forget any important steps, or jump the gun by sending out your works before you have received the money.


Selling art on the internet is gaining more and more grounds these days, just keep in mind these tips to avoid being potentially scammed. 



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