Wednesday, September 26, 2007

For Artists: some words of warning

This week on Alyson Stanfield's ArtBiz blog she had an artist ask about vague email enquiries, which led to the discussion of scam emails aimed at artists. I'd highly recommend everyone read the comments to her blog there because there's some great information from other artists.

But the issue is a real one, and one that artists new to selling or new to the online art world are taken in by. It's so easy to be thrilled about a sale!Alyson has good advice for how to respond to an enquiry that might seem genuine but here are some top tips on how to spot a scam:

  1. Vague enquiries that only ask about 'your artwork' in general, without specifying which painting they like at all. Later in the conversation (if you reply) they may happily agree to any prices even if they don't know the sizes of work or other important information.

  2. Enquiries where they are moving from one country to another - "We're in England but want an original painting for our new house in South Africa."

  3. Their courier/shipper/friend will come collect the work. There are genuine circumstance when this is okay (some people have a Fedex account, for example) but generally they are trying to collect before funds have cleared.

  4. Overpayment - BIG RED FLAG!!! Many scammers, after the first few emails, will say they want to send you the money for the paintings plus extra (perhaps they say they are owed money by someone else who will send it to you) and then you refund the excess. When their payment bounces, you are out whatever 'overpayment' you gave them.

  5. Look for anonymous email accounts: Yahoo, Hotmail, and others. A new development is scammers using a personalised domain, like, but the domain is actually inactive. They can cheaply register domain names to appear genuine.

  6. Payment by money orders, international money orders, or similar. Please remember that money orders CAN BOUNCE. These can take weeks, or even months, before the bank who has cleared the money then reverses the deposit.
What can we do?
  1. Don't reply if you're sure it isn't genuine. This confirms your email address to scammers which they pass on to others. (Thanks to Petra Voegtle on Alyson's comments.)

  2. Look out for bad grammar and spelling, or "sob stories".

  3. Do a Google search on any information in the email - email address or name.
  4. Always state YOUR payment methods accepted. Alyson's form reply is a good start. If I respond I ask similar questions plus state my standard shipping rate, shipping company, and methods of payment accepted for international orders.

  5. Always ship only to the person and country the original payment is from.

  6. Always quote actual shipping costs and use your shipping company. This is simply part of my business policy. You can of course make exceptions at your discretion.

  7. Never accept overpayment of any type.

  8. If you are sent payment such as a money order, take it to your bank and explain the situation and that you suspect it could be fraudulent. They'll know what to check.

Even I had one get through a few stages of suspicion a couple years ago. A gentleman in Amsterdam wanting to buy 5 large canvases got very far - in the end I just thought that this was too good to be true so I told him that one of my galleries would handle the transaction. I decided I would feel more protected since the gallery does a lot of international transactions and knew about handling an order of this size. My gallery was happy to do the sale for me, at which point his emails became very odd - payment would come from a 3rd party who was holding inheritance funds, parents killed in a car crash, the quality of grammar and writing suddenly deteriorated, etc. Fortunately my gallery was wonderful and while the sale of course never happened even they seemed glad they could help prevent artists being conned this way. Much of what I know about this comes from both my experiences and what I've learned over the years from the great community in the Art Business forums over at

    The best thing we can do for ALL artists is to talk about this and spread the word around, especially if you know another artists who are just getting online.

    So take Alyson's approach if you do decide to reply, and let's think positive but be vigilant.
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