With the increase of online art sales for small galleries and individual artists, it’s no surprise that there are also scammers looking to rip-off artists and galleries. Scam e-mails typically start out like a genuine inquiry into the work, and may even include questions about specific pieces. The scam usually comes in with shipping.
The “client” will have some crazy reason why they want to overpay the artist for the work(s) in question and then have the artist pay a shipping courier specifically chosen by the client (“my son has cancer and I’m in another country”; “I live in a tiny place and big companies won’t ship directly to me”). These are bullshit reasons that usually make the targeted artist feel squeamish. If the artist goes along with it (the scammers are counting on the artist to be eager and maybe slightly desperate), the client will send a check for the amount of the art plus extra for shipping. The check appears to clear; the artist then wires the extra to the shipper. Then the check bounces, no one collects the work, and the client and shipper disappear. This scam is actually pretty common, and is applied to all manner of individual-to-buyer transactions.
Recently, I’ve been getting this e-mail (with different names on it) sent to my work address:
Subject: interested in some of your work
Are you a painter or a photographer? Do you have a website with an online gallery where you display your art? I would very much like to have a look at more of what you have.
The e-mail address they contacted is only listed on the gallery website, so one could reasonably assume that if it was an actual person sending this (and not a search bot), “Kristos” would have already seen the work on the website and could determine that (a) the email address is not for an individual artist, and (b) that our website has many online galleries with paintings and photography, among other things, most of which are clearly labeled regarding availability.
Artists and galleries are always so eager to talk, to make a sale, to work out the details – these scammers know this and prey on that, as all scammers do.
My advice is to listen to your instincts, use only shipping companies that YOU trust, and never take a check for work unless you have already established a sound financial relationship. (Personal checks can be cancelled for up to two years after issuance, even if they clear, people. Keep that in mind.) With the availability and affordability of more reliable ways to get paid, don’t be afraid to demand secure payment. Any reasonable person will understand, and anyone who doesn’t is probably trying to manipulate you.
If you’re not sure if an inquiry is a scam, you might want to check out Katie Moe’s Stop Art Scams blog, check to see if a U.S.-based business or courier is legitimate through resources like the Better Business Bureau, or try searching for the company name with the word “fraud”. Most countries also have systems like the Better Business Bureau that you can check, if you get the “I live abroad and don’t like major international couriers” routine. Though really, the best course of action is to just delete that nonsense and move on.
While I don’t endorse any payment system, the most common ones I’ve encountered as a buyer are Square (by a landslide) and PayPal. Intuit has the benefit of connecting to QuickBooks if you use that to track your finances. There’s also Dwolla – which might be the cheapest option for people who aren’t regularly making large sales, or if your average transaction is less than $10. It’s worth noting that PayPal and Intuit are the only ones that are BBB accredited, though the other companies are listed through the BBB (and have accompanying complaints, of course). When I did my Christmas shopping at Crafty Wonderland, all I saw were little Square card readers and change pouches.
Good luck out there, and remember to trust your intuition when it comes to potential scams.