Learn About Internet Art Scams

Beware of internet art scammers. John Bolesky/Illustration Works/Getty Images

I received an email the other day that was not unlike others I've received before. The first time I received one I was initially duped, glad that someone had found my website and was so interested in my work that they wanted to purchase several immediately "for their new house." I was off the grid at the time, except for my cell phone, so lived in this fantasy for a few days at least until I returned home and googled the name that was on the email I received. I discovered that many others had received similar emails from someone with a comparable name. This particular email was from "Brown White" and goes as follows (grammatical and typographical errors included):  

Brown White<teesojue@gmail.com>                                                                                             Artwork enquiry

"Hope this message finds you well,im Brown from North Carolina,was browsing through the internet and my eyes caught some of your works and I'm interested in purchasing some of your artworks for some spaces within my new house to make it unique and beautiful. Can I have few images of your recent works?I won't mind having your main website so as to explore more into your works.kindly reply with your cell number.Brown." 

The number one red flag  on this is the grammar - obviously not a native English speaker, and often a scammer from outside the United States (although scammers can come from anywhere). The gist of the scam goes like this. After ostensibly gaining your trust the scammer will offer to pay for your artwork with a check, money order, or credit card. The amount will always be significantly more than the actual cost of the artwork, so a request will be made that you, the artist, wire the difference to a bank account number. The issue is that while the form of payment from the scammer is accepted, it actually takes longer to process and determine its legitimacy. Meanwhile, the person being scammed has received the money and sends back the difference. However when it is discovered that the initial check, money order, or charge was fraudulent, the artist is responsible for those fees.

When you receive such an email - and if you have your work posted on the internet it is likely that you will -  do not be fooled and exercise due diligence. Here's what to do:  

First, google the name and then google the actual contents of the email. You will undoubtedly find many postings from other artists who have received the same email. If you do, do not reply to the email. As soon as you reply you have given someone your email address which at the minimum can then be sold to mass marketers.

Here is a website that enables you to type in the name and email address of the person sending you the email to see whether it is in the Art Scammer data base. The database is made available to artists as a public service of FineArtStudioOnline, a website host for artists.

Secondly, follow these tips to protect yourself outlined in the article, Beware Internet Art Scams.

Lastly, report the fraud to the Internet Crime Complaint Center,

Also read about the Nigerian 419 scam, the name of which is the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. It involves a scammer first gaining the confidence of someone and then offering them a portion of a large amount of money by helping them transfer money out of their country.

Here are some useful sites:

Stop Art Scams is a site by Kathleen McMahon, an author and artist dedicated to revealing and publicizing art scams so that artists do not become victims. She has published several books on the subject, including Top 10 Email Scams and Social Media Scams, as well as provided links to report these scams to the appropriate agency. She provides a good description of spam mail and what to do and not do here.

For a list of known scammer names used in art scams, see ArtQuest.

For an interesting article about Nigerian email scammers, read Erika Eichelberger's article in Mother Jones, What I Learned Hanging Out With Nigerian Email Scammers.