Unfortunately, we live in a world that is full of those who are so self centered, greedy and lacking in moral standards rather than earn an honest living, as most of us do. They choose to weasel their way into someone’s wallet through shockingly dishonest means. My hope is that we can all be aware when an art scam is attempting to break through to our personal space, report it and stop anyone from falling into these kinds of traps. This goes for the art buyer as well as the artist.
Artist Targeted scams
Throughout history there have been scammers. You know the type – working hard to steal from you. The door-to-door or phone call to elderly and clean them out of all of their savings and inheritance for their children on false promises by tugging on heart strings.
Now, we have the internet which has paved the way for the lazy thieves to not even have to bother themselves to pick up a phone, going to someone’s house or spending their precious stolen money on a stamp. They simply tweak an email to personalize it to their intended target and press a button. Really, they could do well for themselves by putting half the scamming energy into an honest job. But, since they don’t, it is for me and others like myself to get the word out to do our part to stop as many of these scams from happening as possible.
So how do these scams work anyway?
Artists are often online with a website and/or social media. It is important to get ourselves out there as much as possible in order to be found by galleries and have an online presence when applying to galleries. Scammers gather information on you and use several methods to gain your trust.
1. They use flattery: words like, ” I (or my wife) instantly fell in love with your work”, or “please send me information on your work that is available for immediate sale between the price of (blah blah blay and blah blah blah). I wish to purchase 4-6 pieces for my new home”, or some other flattering comment meant to get you excited that someone has such interest in the work you create, so much so that your natural discretion flies right out the window because you so much want their words to be real.
2. They ask you to pay for the shipping and they will “reimburse” you upon shipping the art.
3. They tell you they “overpaid” shipping and ask you to reimburse them the over payment amount. They could also ask you to send it to their shipper or some request that will seem slightly off.
4. You bill them an amount plus shipping that comes to $3500, for example, and they send you a cashier check for $5,000 then ask you to send them the remainder….. and, as if that is not enough, they will give you some wacky, off the wall story as to why they sent so much extra… again, sometimes to make them seem so caring and concerned like “I wanted to be sure you did not lose a penny, so I sent more than enough to cover shipping and all of your time. Please reimburse me the remainder” or some falsely caring story. Later, after you have sent the money from your own account you find that the money sent to you was a fake check – you have lost money and they got away with your hard-earned income.
5. Art shows: group shows and exhibitions at large events such as Art Basel or Art Expo cost thousands, even for group participation. ( I attended Art Expo as a solo artist and the booth plus travel expenses cost me close to $10,000) If you enter to participate in such shows and the fee is low and you are accepted immediately beware, that should be an immediate red flag that they are just after your money. They have no booth at these shows nor do they intend to include you in anything. You will not see your work there, just losing money to a lazy thief.
6. Getting an email from a gallery looking to represent your work is a big deal for any artist. I know, it has happened to me. However, some of them are not real. Unfortunately the scammers will play on our desire to make a living as an artist and use that to trick you out of anything they can trick you out of… even if it is just to get an email response to know if this email is active for other scamming purposes. When a gallery sends a legitimate email they do not need to shout for your attention. Scammers do anything to get your eyes to fix on and open their email. A heading like “ATTN:” is a huge red flag.
7. Galleries also have their own domain emails, they do not send from gmail or yahoo. If you get an email from a “gallery curator” from a gmail account it is likely fake.
8. Galleries are also professional. Any grammatical errors or misspelling is most likely a scam. There are scammers from everywhere so it is possible they can have perfect grammar, however this is likely a red flag to be aware of when getting emails.
9. Gallery emails do not end up in spam folders. If you get a gallery or buyer request that lands in your spam folder there is likely a good reason for that. Google the email before you reply. If that email is a scammer they likely send many scams through that email and have likely been reported and/or are known for the scam from that particular email.
10. If you receive an email from “email@example.com” for example but the person writing the email signs it sincerely, Lila – its likely a scam. Lila probably would have her own email and Jerry is not likely to be sharing his email with Lila. See what I mean? Huge red flag!
11. Galleries sending emails will have a legitimate website. Look them up on WHOIS. If the information is readily available that is a good sign. If the person who owns the domain name is private and you cannot get information on them, this is a red flag. If you find the gallery is a scam or you are concerned it might be it is a very good idea to not engage with them or to report the scam immediately.
12. Scammers will often tell you they will arrange the shipping – will sometimes tell you they just moved (likely out of the country) and ask that art be shipped to a strange location that you have never heard of. Don’t fall for it, they are just trying to get your money. On the off chance that this is real I would not want you to miss out on a great sale. Legitimate buyers will be willing to look at your buying and shipping policies (which I highly recommend that you have on your website and stick to without exception) and they will be willing to adhere to your policies. Legitimate offers to buy your work understand that policies are in place to protect all involved (the buyer and the artist).
My personal art policy, you should adopt one as well.
My policy is simple really. Do these things and you protect yourself and the buyer sees that they are not getting scammed and are paying for an actual product.
1. Never, and I mean NEVER, ship a single thing until payments have cleared the bank and you know its legitimate.
2. Never ship until art is paid for in full with shipping paid in full as well.
3. If they want to pay the shipper directly they pay the shipper of my choice. I take all of my work to the local packing and shipping company and have often had my clients call them and pay them directly for the shipping. They know for sure that way that they are not overpaying for shipping and that I am not a scammer because they know the shipper is packing an actual product that is being sent to them.
4. If I take care of the shipping after they have paid me I send them a tracking number.
Stick to these things without fail. don’t ship without payment and don’t get caught up in unnecessary details of flattery to step away from the policy and give in to a scammer’s request.
I had fun messing with a scammer. I mean, why not?
Several years ago I got an email from someone interested in my work. At first glance it seemed great to have someone wanting to start collecting my work – someone looking to spend several thousand dollars. It did not take me long to figure out it was a scam. I had a great time with it though. I emailed back and they emailed me again… I kept it going for over a week and they emailed back every single time. They wanted to know when I could ship and the sizes (even though all the information was very clear on my website), how long it would take for the art to reach them, shipping cost, telling me they would send a cashier check tomorrow if I would send them my mailing address etc…. after this went on and on – with all the classic scam tell-tale signs – the grammatical errors and overly flattering – the email from John with a Luke email address etc…. I sent the final email which read something like this: “thank you for taking so much time to email me as much as you have over the past week. You must have put so much time and energy into researching my work – this means I have taken a little of the time you would have spent scamming somebody else. I hope I saved at least one other artist from falling for your crap”…. I never heard from them again. Obviously, I knew it was a scam but I thought it great fun to string the scammer along for a while… give them hope I would fall for it then break it to them I was just busy keeping them busy….
Art show scam, what can you do?
Several years ago, I was in a financial position to show my work at the New York Art Expo. I had a small booth, but was able to pay my own way, attend the show and had opportunities to speak with buyers, agents and several galleries. I was there alone so had to leave my booth on occasion for food or other necessities. At those shows, it happens that you get to talk with people in the booths around you and when you have to leave for any reason they are very willing to watch your booth for you. The problem is that they get busy and can’t focus on keeping your work safe. This happened to me. I had a “no photos please” sign to keep people from photographing my work while I was in my booth (and not in my booth) but I had to leave for a moment, it was slow so I asked the artist in the booth next to me to keep and eye on my work. Well, he got busy right after I left and when I came back there was someone in my booth taking close-up photos of every piece I had to show. I came in running and telling her that was not OK. She pretended she could not speak English although it was clear she knew exactly what I was saying. She ran off with who even knows how many photos of my work. Since then, I have seen glimpses of work similar in style. Not that I am so special, or so talented, or my work is so uniquely different, but that series was quite different and unique – I had developed a look and style that was mine- the work was very personal and even the galleries that approached me noted how beautifully different it was…..
How do you keep this from happening? Well, I did one more show after that. Art Basel in Miami. I took a friend with me to that show. It is a good idea to have another person there, be it another artist friend in the booth next to you or a friend to be with you so that the booth is never unattended. This way if someone walks up with a camera there is someone to remind them that the sign that says no photos is there for a reason and you do not allow photos of your work.
I unfortunately had an experience with someone using my art to target buyers and scam them. I was horrified. My work was on a website, complete with bio and price on the image of my art. I had never heard of this “gallery” before yet they were advertising my work for sale.
If you, as a buyer come across something like this, there are signs to let you know that it is not real. First, there was no photo of the gallery itself – there was no phone number – gallery address – only a gmail contact. If a gallery is real they have operating hours and they want you to find them so there is a business location. They welcome your calls with inquiries of art they have and artists they represent. Also, as I mentioned before they usually do not have a gmail, hotmail or yahoo email account so it is a good idea to know these things and not buy from these fake galleries. Also, to help shut down operations like this, those who use real art to scam honest buyers, please report them. There are people out there, like me who want to shed light on the darkness of these operations and stop them from scamming artists and buyers. Another great way to report such fraudulent activities is through the BBB.
I hope I have helped you avoid these scams.
Remember there are a lot of legitimate opportunities out there for the buyer and the artist… but there are just as many scams too. If you have any questions do your research and find out. Check emails and domain names… Look for reviews and be aware of any and all red flags. If an opportunity is real the person on the other end wants you to know it is real and they are willing to work with you. Chances are if it seems too good to be true, it usually is and you can easily figure it out with some clever detective work on Google. When you find out that it is a scam please help us all by reporting it so that the next person who may otherwise fall for a scam can be warned through our experiences, research and knowledge. Let’s help each other and stop the thieves before they steal from anyone else! I welcome comments or questions as well as I encourage you to report scams to help those, like me seeking to eliminate as many of these scams from the internet as we possibly can. We can’t fight this alone, but together we can protect one another from these sick individuals who prey on the kindness, lack of knowledge or sympathy of others.