Art Business Journal

How To Spot The Scam

How To Spot The Scam | Art Business Journal

The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty

In addition to the work involved in creating works of art, there is the business side with which independent artists must become acquainted – and this includes risk management. Artists seeking to sell their works have an increasing number of outlets available beyond the exhibitions hosted by galleries and other organizations. Various web-based platforms, such as Artrepreneur.com, and social media platforms such as Instagram, are wonderful tools for artists interested in displaying – and selling – their works. The increased exposure brings added risks for someone trying to sell works through digital platforms. As with any business there are predators seeking to exploit the naïve, and knowledge is the best defense against them.

A Popular Scheme

I was recently the intended victim of a popular bank fraud scam, which in my case was through Instagram. Like anyone, I was thrilled when a new follower not only “liked” my works, but expressed an interest in purchasing one. “She” inquired about the size and medium used on a specific work, then asked how she might purchase one. I do not have a dedicated website, so I directed her to my Showroom on Artrepreneur.com, which displays my works available for sale, and offers secure payment options. The next day she sent a message asking for a specific work that I had posted on Instagram, but was not available for sale through my Showroom. I quoted a reasonable price – it is a watercolor on paper – and she agreed to the price and said she would like to buy it. Then she said the purchase was to be a surprise gift to her husband for his 50 th birthday, and asked if she could pay by check because her husband might see the transaction on a credit/debit card statement, which would ruin the surprise (red flag). I replied that it would be acceptable if the payment was by certified check (little danger of the check being bad) – she agreed.

Visit Tom Mulqueen’s Instagram here.

Due to the unusual nature of the request, I looked at “her” account on Instagram. There are posts of an attractive young blonde in a black dress – presumably herself. She was following many people and had a large number of followers herself. So things looked legitimate enough. As my posts on Instagram do not give details, I sent her a message saying that the work was 9×12 and on paper, as it seemed a 50th birthday present should be more substantial. Two days later she asked about another one that I did not intend to sell, which is an oil on canvas sized 8×10. When she asked if it was available 24×36, I told her that I could have a giclee print made, and quoted a price which was higher than the watercolor. She agreed to the price and was content with a copy, rather than an original. She again said the transaction would be by check, and she was in a hurry – though she refused to tell me when her husband’s birthday was (red flag). She said I should ship the work to an address other than her residence, and said she would have her property manager pick it up for her, and her payment would include an overage for payment to her property manager, and I should write a check for the overage payable to him (the trap being sprung, which I easily recognized due to my many years of bank compliance training – I didn’t just learn enough to pass the annual tests).

Then the messages started coming fast and furious (every 5 minutes). The check was in the mail. The check must be deposited via mobile deposit or ATM. I said I do not use mobile deposit. She said that in that case it had to be via ATM, and asked where I banked (I refused to give that information!). The tone became demanding. I asked why the check had to be deposited via ATM or mobile banking. She said her bank told her that it was required. I replied that I work in a bank and that seems suspicious. At that point the flurry of text messages stopped abruptly. I never heard back – and the check that was supposedly in the mail never arrived.

All’s Well That Ends Well

I did not fall victim to the scam. I did not even have the copy of the work made, since I was suspicious at that point. Then, a week later, I was contacted by someone expressing interest in buying a work for his wife’s 66th birthday. I looked at “his” Instagram account – no postings (not even a personal photo), no followers, but over a thousand being followed. Again, I directed him to my Showroom and said all payments had to be submitted via credit/debit card. He then asked about a painting that wasn’t even mine. This one was all too obvious. Just plain laziness on the criminal’s part.

The purpose of the scam is to have the victim deposit a check that is not good, and forward a check to someone from the victim’s account. Not only is the victim out the money and the cost of shipping, but their artwork as well. This particular scam has many versions that involve things other than artwork, so beware whenever someone says they will send you more money than your art (or anything else) is worth, then asking that you send the “extra” funds to someone else – that is your money. Also, even what appears to be a cashier’s check may be a clever fake. There is the additional risk that your bank may take action against you for trying to pass a fake check.

How to Protect Yourself

Instagram has a button for reporting accounts, but the choices for the reason are inappropriate content, or spam. I selected spam, but I wanted to get the word out to as many people as possible. I started informing some of my artist contacts on Instagram, and notified the staff of Artrepreneur, which led to this article. Those with their own websites are also contacted with the same request. The availability of artist sites allows artists who do not have their own websites (like me) to display works, make them for sale, and allow payment options that protect artists and legitimate buyers. And if you do accept payment by check, make sure it is a cashier’s check, make the deposit through a teller, and have your bank verify that the funds are available before you deliver anything. And NEVER send a check to an alleged third party from an alleged overpayment.

Learn To Spot The Scam

Be wary of such requests, and proceed cautiously, if at all. Red flags include urgency (who needs their art that fast?); request to ship to a different address; vague comments about your art, which also attempts to stroke your ego; vagueness in the request – mentioning the price and dimensions of a specific work, but not the name of the work; poor grammar and spelling (a common sign of most online scams; and refusal to make payment through payment processing services such as PayPal, or with a credit/debit card. The fear of losing a potential sale is a small thing when compared with the threat of losing money, your art work, and potential legal consequences for you. There are tools available so that everyone can benefit from selling art online.

Instagram is not a sales platform.  The availability of sites like Artrepreneur allow artists who do not have their own websites (like me) to display works, make them for sale, and allow payment options that protect artists and legitimate buyers.  If someone refuses to pay through payment processing services such PayPal, or with a credit/debt card, be wary.  And if you do accept payment by check, make sure it is a cashiers check, make the deposit through a teller, and have your bank verify that the funds are available before you deliver anything.  And NEVER send a check to an alleged third party from an alleged overpayment.

Fellow artists and creatives: Have you put any of this advice into practice? Have you ever experienced a similar scam? Share these with your peers in the comments below!

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