I’ve gotta admit, I never expected artists to be the target of scams.
It’s not like we’re loaded with cash or surrounded in wealth. Collectible artists, such as Van Gogh and Picasso, I expect to be the subject of scams and art fraud. But not artists like me.
I’m not saying the work I create doesn’t have value. It has a different type of value. To me anyway. I put time and effort, blood sweat and tears into my work. I put passion and enjoyment into my work. But the physical product is only made up of wood, canvas and paint.
I was recently the target of a scam. Don’t worry, I figured out it was a scam before any transaction took place. But for a moment, I was taken in. Here’s my story.
I received an email through the contact form on my website. The email was from a man called “Ralph Talker” firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is the email:
My initial response was one of excitement and I responded. We continued to exchange emails. He explained that he had a wedding anniversary coming up and wanted to surprise his wife (a noble idea which I fell for.) His budget was $450-$4,500 and he selected one of my most expensive paintings. He explained that he was an ocean engineer who worked offshore and wanted to surprise his wife with the gift as they were moving to the Philippines as part of his work.
This is where suspicions started to arise for me. His proposal was to have me ship the item to the company who would handle moving his personal belongings to the Philippines. He suggested that he would have a check cut for me to cover the cost of the painting and an excess to cover the cost of shipping (plus money to cover any IRS fees - how nice.) Once I received the check, I could ship the item and send him a check for whatever remained of the money he sent me.
This is when I decided to google him a little more. I found an article that explained this scam and named him personally. Although I was disappointed to learn I would not sell one of my pieces, I was also glad that I didn’t have to figure out how to ship my artwork so that it would make it to the Philippines in one piece.
So how does the email@example.com scam work?
Here’s how the scam would have worked.
Ralph Talker (The Scammer) reaches out to the artist and explains that he wishes to purchase a piece for his wife. He stresses some key points:
He’s on a tight deadline
He’s trying to keep it a surprise for his wife and does not wish to use credit or debit cards because she handles all the finances
He’s got some complication that make the shipping arrangements less than ideal
Ralph Talker (The Scammer) agrees to purchase one of the items. The item is typically the biggest, most expensive item. This means that the shipping fees will be high (very important for the scam to work really well.)
Ralph Talker (The Scammer) says “Hey, since this item is going to be expensive to ship (because it’s big and I need it in a hurry) and I’m not sure how expensive it will be, I’ll send you a check for the value of the piece plus a bunch of money to cover the shipping costs. All you have to promise me is that you will send the remainder back to me.”
The artist says “Hey, you know what? This guy is trying to surprise his wife with one of my pieces because she’s a huge fan and he’s in a tough situation. Sure, let’s help this guy out.”
Ralph Talker (The Scammer) sends the artist a cashiers check for a large amount, more than the selling price of the piece and the shipping. Let’s say in this example, the piece cost $500, the shipping cost $150. The cashiers check may arrive for $1,500.
The artist gets the check, puts it in the bank and it “clears” within a few days. It “CLEARS” but it can still bounce. (Now this is where I would go off on a tangent about how messed up the banking system is in the world given the fact we have landed a man on the moon, we can blow up countries from an office desk on the other side of the world and the notion of exchanging money for goods and services has been around since the dawn of time… but I’ll leave this subject for the time being.)
After the check has “cleared” the artist ships the item along with a check for $850 ($1,500 less $500 (cost of the item) and $150 (cost of shipping)) to “the shipping agent.”
30 days after Ralph Talker’s check is put in the bank, it bounces.
The result: The artist just sent $850 of their own money, plus a piece of work that would have sold for $500 to a stranger.
Thankfully, I learned about the scam before any transaction took place. I should have figured it out from the first email based on some of the broken language.
Stay vigilant out there!