Whilst the ability to use social media and sell art online, creates a world of new opportunity, unfortunately, it also opens the doors to financial scams. Many of these are targeted at visual artists
I am sharing a personal experience with a scam attempt to raise awareness and help fellow artists recognize and avoid similar scams.
The Scam's Inception
It started with someone showing interest in buying art from a member of our Global Artists Atelier community in South Africa. I, living in the US, was asked to facilitate the transaction.
The buyer contacted the artist via email with an interest in buying a specific piece of art. However, they did not want to make a direct payment to the artist, the reason for this is, that the person was buying this art as a surprise for their spouse to celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary, and did not want to use, an account that the spouse might see this transaction.
They asked the artist to contact someone in the United States, where the buyer could send the check and then let the person help facilitate the transaction. And, of course, I happen to be that person.
I agreed to accept the funds on behalf of my member artist. I was slightly suspicious of this unusual approach, but thought that if I received funds there was very little risk for me, or the member artist.
When I received the check, I noticed that it was for more than $1300 more than the price of the art. At first, I was not alarmed by this because I thought perhaps I had missed reading what the actual sales price of the art is. However, the more I thought about it I began to have concerns.
As part of my due diligence, I took the check into my bank to deposit it. The banker who assisted me did not see anything wrong with the account that I was to be paid from and had informed me that it should clear within two or three days, so at that point, I was satisfied that this could be a legitimate transaction.
However, it was because of a series of small red flags that I became more and more suspicious and began to dialogue with the buyer in a way that would help potentially determine if indeed, could be a potential scam.
Several aspects of this interaction raised my suspicion:
The manner of the messages that I received from what was represented as a woman most likely in her late 50s or 60s who wanted to buy this art as a surprise for her spouse. Once we became engaged in text messages, I began to see some initial signs That were reminiscent of how I’ve seen scams play out on social media. She started checking in with me with a little note in the morning like simply saying hi or hoping that my day was going well. There was no need for this type of message, and this is exactly the type of casual conversation that scammers and social media use. That began to make me suspicious.
I began to wonder about the overpayment. When I checked with the artist that I was assisting, I was informed that the overpayment was to cover shipping costs. So for the first time, I began to say how this might be a scam to get money from the artist, but, from me, that would be for shipment.
I received the check via priority mail. I tend to do all of my banking digitally, so I attempted to deposit the check into my account by taking a picture of it. I tried multiple times, but I was not able to get this to work, which is the reason that I went to the bank. However, when I informed the buyer that I was having a problem making the deposit they tried to give me some advice on how to take the picture, and they suggested that all I need to do is go into an ATM. I didn’t realize it when I first got that message, but this was one way to speed up the transaction and not have me engaged with a banker.
When I went into the bank, the banker had the same problem using a photo scan of the check. They were not overly concerned with that because the banker was able to manually enter the deposit and verify that it was a legitimate account. However, they did note that the reason that the scan was not working was because the check was printed on a home printer.
Then I inquired how long I should wait before I knew the funds were good. At that point, my banker said 2 to 3 days will do it. This next statement is the most important one because this is at the core of the scam, my banker did inform me that sometimes it can take a few weeks for a fraudulent check to be identified.
It’s important to note that the funds do so in my account and increase my balance by over $4,000.
I did additional research about types of scams, and I found that more and more of the characteristics of what I was experiencing were red flags.
I decided to continue engagement with the buyer to see if any other signs might appear. I was hopeful that my suspicions were unfounded, and that I could help one of my member artists with this transaction. But I knew I needed to be very careful with how I proceeded.
When I informed the buyer that I had gone into the bank to make the deposit, and that my bank noted that this was a printed check, which was the reason that I was having a problem with the scan. The buyer then asked for a copy of my deposit slip. The reason was that they needed it for their records. I declined and said I needed to wait for the funds to clear before providing any additional information. But I was not planning to give them a copy of my deposit slip.
I followed up the next day with a message asking what prompted them to want to buy this art. It took a little while to get a response, but then the response was simply that they were an art lover. This became another red flag. Anyone who is buying art has a specific reason for why they’re buying that piece of art. It’s not because they love art but there’s something about that piece. The buyer's inability to speak about that was another red flag.
I got a follow-up message from the buyer the next day. They wrote, according to the buyer's bank, that the funds had cleared and they were now in my bank.
It was at this time that I realized that we were getting close to when any delays that I would create would most likely result in some type of badgering tactics. So I replied, stating that I was going to visit the bank today and review the status with my banker. This was the trigger for a more aggressive approach from the buyer.
The buyer then started to attack me for trying to ruin the surprise for their loved one who had been fighting cancer for nine years. They accused me of being a sadist and made some other silly statements. That was the final red flag that verified everything that I had suspected.
I replied to the buyer, thanking them for their most recent comments, and noted that because of those comments, I would wait 2 to 3 weeks to ensure that the check was not fraudulent. I also said that since they have a picture of the art that they’re buying they could certainly share that picture with their spouse and let them know that in a few weeks, they would have this lovely painting. I said that I’m sure their spouse would understand that it can take time for an international transaction.
I’ve received no other responses…so far.
I hope that giving you this very detailed scenario it helps you as an artist have a better understanding of how sophisticated a scam can be. I think what’s interesting is it started as a scam with the artist, but the person who was being scammed was the friend of the artist, in this case, me. I would have sent the money that I received in my account after it cleared to my friend and member, who is an artist, and the artist would have paid the surplus for shipping, all of this money would’ve come from my account.
The worst thing about this is, that I would have been responsible for the payment not my bank. I would have been scammed for over $4,000.
Because of this experience, I’m going to write some more articles about the types of scams that are going on today.
As noted in my opening, we have more opportunity than ever to sell to a global market, but with that opportunity does come some risks that require due diligence in the process of making a sale.