Skip to main content

Maryland Pastel Society newsletter


Beware of Internet Art Scams!

Over the past several months, a number of our members (and probably many other artists you know) have received an email purporting to come from someone who’s interested in purchasing one or more of your paintings found on a website – either your own site or a group site like the Maryland Pastel Society’s. While it’s nice to think that discerning people out there are seeing our work and dying to own it, the far greater probability is that the email is a scam. Here, in a simplified version, is how it usually works:

The scammer sends you an email to say he’s seen your paintings online and wants to buy one or more. He’s moving/relocating soon and is in a hurry to conclude the sale. You add your estimated costs for packing and shipping to the price of the painting and ask him for that amount: let’s say it’s $2,000. He quickly agrees and says he will send you a certified check. However, the check that you receive will be for an amount in excess of that agreed-upon price – like $2,500. He may have some semi-plausible reason for overpaying you by $500 and will ask you to use the extra money to pay a third party (his moving company, for instance), or you will notice when the check arrives that he’s overpaid and you will ask him where to send the extra $500. Either way, the name and address (usually a Western Union) that he gives you to wire the $500 to is actually the scammer himself. You’re a nice and honest person and you agree to help him out. You deposit the $2,500 certified check in your bank account and then you wire the extra $500 as instructed.  U.S. financial institutions are required by law to give their depositors immediate access to deposited funds, usually within 5 days. It can take far longer for the bank to discover that the scammer’s certified check is a fake, so by the time the bank notifies you, you’ve already sent the scammer that $500, and now it’s coming out of your own funds. If you’ve also shipped the paintings, you’re out those, too.

How can you protect yourself?

Here are four tell-tale signs that your email is a scam:

  1. The person usually says they’re relocating, often to a different country.
  2. The person’s English grammar, syntax, and spelling are poor.
  3. The person is in a big hurry to conclude the sale (they need to instill a sense of urgency so you’ll send them the excess cash before the check is discovered to be a fake).
  4. The person overpays you and tells you where to send the excess money.

That last one is key! There is never a legitimate reason for someone to overpay you and then ask you to send the excess money anywhere!

How to check to see if your email is a scam:

  1. The first thing you should do is go to Google’s “Advanced Search” function. Enter the first and last name the person gives you in the “exact wording or phrase” box and enter the word “scam” in the “all these words” box. Hit the “Advanced Search” button. These people are not real bright, and they send scamming emails out to hundreds of artists using the same name. You will almost certainly get dozens of hits from blogs and other online sources identifying the person as a scammer. Delete the email.
  2. If Google turns up no suspicious results, go back and re-read “Four tell-tale signs that your email is a scam”: if any of those signs are present in the email you got, especially #4, delete the email.
  3. Send an email out to a wide swath of your artist friends asking if they got a similar email. In several recent cases, the scammer sent the exact same scamming email to lots of artists from the same art groups (I told you these scammers are not too bright). This does two things: if many people got the email, you’ll know it’s a scam; and it provides a warning to any of your friends who have not yet gotten their own scamming emails. Delete the email.

If you see none of the four tell-tale signs and have no reason, based on the three checks above, to suspect a scam, you should still take precautions. If you’re going to sell work via the Internet, conduct business with eBay or PayPal on their official websites, where there are fraud security measures. Otherwise, insist on payment by cashier’s check (not certified check) drawn on a local bank (local to you) or a bank that has a local branch. Have your bank verify that the out of town bank’s cashier’s check is good by calling that bank directly.

And one more time for emphasis: There is never, ever a legitimate reason for someone to overpay you and then ask you to send the excess money anywhere!