Yesterday, I received an email from Bill Brown:
“Am Bill i want to know if u carry Painting For Sale? if i have not mention the size can tell me one u have now ready to sell? Any model is good with me. What is the price of one so i can purchase? Best Regard, Bill.”
Bill seems like a nice guy, don’t you think? The kind of guy who has confidence in the quality of an artist’s work. It really appealed to me that he was willing to accept “any model.” The world needs decisive buyers like Bill Brown.
It looked to me like English was not Bill’s first language, which was fine. I wrote him back: “Please clarify what it is you want and how much you want to spend.” I needed to clear up the money thing right away — it sounded like money might be a language Bill understood.
Bill wrote back: “Would me buy $7000 model, but need to send $10,000 for shipping so u can return me $3000 cheque from u okay???”
“Why don’t I just tuck $3000 cash into the back of the painting?” I wrote. “Okay,” he wrote back. “Can u send painting BY AIR right away??? i NEED IT here now.” This guy was eager, a real art enthusiast. The parcel was to go to a post box in Shanghai. Odd, in a way, because people can buy all kinds of paintings just like mine in China for less than ten dollars or two for fifteen. I was getting suspicious. Was it possible that Bill Brown was an alias for some person with another name? Do you think his cheque for $10,000 that he promised to send might turn out to be bogus? Could it be that someone was trying to shanghai me? Pacing back and forth in anxiety, I walked into the end of a door.
When I regained consciousness, I saw clearly that my assistant had not yet wrapped the painting nor had she tucked in the cash. I was quite relieved and went to the mailbox to see if any of the grant money I’d forgotten to apply for had come in. It hadn’t. Then I went down to the end of the property and ate some more magic mushrooms. They’re in season right now.
PS: “We have confirmed losses in the United States of over $100 million in the last 15 months, but a lot of people are too embarrassed to report they’ve been had.” (James Caldwell, Secret Service Special Agent)
Esoterica: It’s called “The Nigerian Scam” because it started in Nigeria. We’ve put some directives and keys to look for when you see a potential scam in your inbox. You can find these at the top of this letter. These days one can come from anywhere and there are many variations. The Internet is perfect for it. Scammers think we deserve to be taken because we’re lazy and stupid. Artists are particularly vulnerable because our work is relatively expensive and we’re perceived as needing money. Artists may be more stupid than other people as well, but I don’t think so. He didn’t fool me.
by Rita Dianni-Kaleel, Wales, UK
I have received many scams over the years. When I receive them, I copy the entire email and send it to the fraud alert.
(RG note) Thanks, Rita. When we opened the inbox on Friday there were more than three thousand letters referring to this scam. We particularly appreciated letters that gave links useful to artists. And while the fraud scheme seems to hit hard in certain areas, it is a worldwide problem.
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by Adria Arch, MA, USA
I had a similar situation happen to me about two years ago. I had recently uploaded work onto Flickr and soon after I received an email asking the prices of my work which the writer described in flattering, if poor, English. I was suspicious, but did send him prices. He wrote back saying he would be sending me a money order. When he didn’t tell me which piece he wanted, I became suspicious. Since I had given him my work address he soon sent me $3000 in money orders (with no promise that I would send him my work — which work?) that I was to cash at one of a list of banks. I called the FBI and reported this scam. They have a website where scammees can report their experience.
by Terrilee J Hobson, Brockville, ON, Canada
I’ve received a number of emails similar to the one you reported. Most originate in Nigeria. One in particular wanted me to send him two pieces of work quickly as it was his daughter’s wedding in two months. He also wanted to purchase cameras, etc. After playing with this fool for a while, I sent all the correspondence to phonebusters.com.
Befriending a scammer
by Pam Craig, Memphis, TN, USA
The excitement of the sale sometimes overwhelms good judgment. Mr. Bill Brown to you became Roger Wright to me. Mr. Wright was so complimentary of my work in his email messages that it made me want to meet him. In my return mail I expressed such a wish and told him how important his thoughts on my work had become. I needed him to view all my present works to get his opinion and to allow him to personally select the pieces he wished to purchase. I told him I would gladly pay for his ticket to visit me and would even have him stay in my home while he was here. I told him I would make sure he had a safe journey because I would send over my “special chauffeur” to pick him up and deliver him safely, all he needed to do was give me his home address and telephone number so that I could confirm exactly where to meet him. I never heard from Mr. Wright again.
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Trust your instincts
by Lucy Truslow, Keene, NH, USA
I love getting your letters, and it was great to start my morning with laughter from today’s “Painting for Sale?” although it really isn’t a laughing matter for those who have fallen prey to this type of scam. I get hundreds of these during the work week (I teach art in an elementary school) and can see how someone might get sucked in. The clues become obvious over time, including poor spelling and English, as well as the fact that I don’t use many of the accounts that they refer to. Hopefully more people will trust their instincts, rather than their desire for a monetary windfall, so that they won’t be fooled.
by Carmen Beecher, Satellite Beach, FL, USA
How funny that your email today was about that scam, because the previous email I opened this morning was the same scam, different version from a man purportedly wanting to rent an apartment that we advertised on Craigslist. Of course, he would send a check for $6950, we would deduct the move-in deposit, and send the rest to his “Home Decorator.” I reported it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Pirates of the Caribbean
by Alcina Nolley, St Lucia, West Indies
I was familiar with the “Nigerian Scam” so when I received an email from a woman requesting that I contact her shipping agent and send the print immediately, I was suspicious. She wanted to purchase my “Caribbean Nativity” print and have it arrive at her new home in time for Christmas. She was presently living in England. Her new home was in Africa, and “Could you ship it right away please. I guarantee my payment.” I had outlined the terms in my first response to her and emphasized that she send her payment ‘overnight’ in order to have it arrive for the holiday. The next email was from her shipping agent, asking for an address where he could pick up the print. That capped my suspicions, since I live far away from a casual visit by anyone. I never received a check.
The vulnerable among us
by Bill Skrips, Blairstown, NJ, USA
The unfortunate part of this is that scammers need to get better and slicker at their craft — but they will! This is survival we’re talking about here, not some sort of game. Artists may be good targets, but how about our elder parents? Or recent immigrants? Not born yesterday? Well, neither were these scammers, they will get better and better. The amount of email scams I throw out daily is shocking, but I’m so glad that I can somewhat easily smell a rat. But they are still outsmarting the more vulnerable amongst us.
‘Tragic accident’ intervenes
by Ross Munro
My experience was rather more sophisticated than yours. It created a plausible persona who would receive the painting as a gift (along with a photo of the person). They were very excited to be gifting the exact painting they had ordered, not just anything in their price range. When I was ready to ship I notified them I had cashed the postal money order. They emailed back saying that the intended owner had been tragically injured in a traffic accident and would I return the money?
I replied (fully alerted by now) that I was very sorry to hear that and I would as soon as it was fully cleared in the system. Sure enough the money order came back in a week – it was counterfeit. Our bank had assured us it was as good as cash. I spotted several warning signs; illiteracy, which I also attributed to her ethnic background, the oddity of an Australian email address wanting to ship a painting to Greece, and a postal order in US dollars drawn in Maine! The timing of the “tragic accident” was a little far-fetched as well.
A waste of good talent
by Richard F Barber, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK
These scams have made selling art, for Artists like me living in China, very difficult if not impossible due to widespread mistrust. In five years I have not sold one painting outside of China and I don’t think that it is the money factor as much as it is the mistrust in the country I live in. My work ranges from $300 to $10,000 depending on the size. My biggest pieces are 2 meters x 1.4 meters. My work covers many subjects. This has not stopped me from believing in my art and seeking more challenges. I still think that it’s important for me to meet these challenges and to be true to myself. It’s just a pity that we are plagued with morons like this in society, what with hackers and scammers, you would think they would have better things to do with their creative skills than to cause disruption in the commerce of the world. After all, only the poor really suffer by their actions. This contributes to the weakening world economy, proven by job losses worldwide. It’s just a waste of good talent that could be used to better the world we live in.
Scam shop in Nigeria
by Pat Kagan, Rockville, MD, USA
Recently there was a television documentary about such scams. They showed a small room in a Nigerian town. It seemed like a rural Internet cafe such as they have in cities and towns in western countries. The people were all doing the same thing, sending concocted stories with disguised requests for money to Americans. If someone actually received money from some poor soul, that name and email address would be passed on to others, so that they could try their own particular scam on this gullible target. It is a huge business among a few bad eggs, but the amount this “business” receives runs into the millions of dollars each year.
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by Anne-Elisabeth Nitteberg, Lillesand, Norway
Thanks for the valuable scam investigation. I really learn a lot from your letters and have met so many wonderful artists from all over the world that I wouldn’t know of otherwise. Have you ever considered how your letters and clickbacks save energy? We can be updated, learn, get inspired and explore the artist’s own world without using cars or airplanes, just the energy our laptops use.
I have recently moved to the Razes area in France. The historical area of the Cathares, and my longing for travelling are minimized for a period. I live in the middle of this inspirational landscape which change in colours all the time and beautiful skies from day to day. In a short trip up on a hilltop I have the views over the Pyrenees on one side, and when I turn around I have the views over the Montagne Noir and a lot of Circular towns.
Enjoy the past comments below for Painting for sale?…
High country dust
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Sean Burns of Williamsburg, MA, USA who wrote, “After I regained consciousness from falling on the floor laughing I walked into a door which then sent mushroom-like shapes spinning round inside my head. Thanks.”
And also Melissa Brown of Lexington, KY, USA who wrote, “Damn, and I thought my husband was buying me a birthday present for next week. If you change your mind, you may send to my USA address and we can split the shipping cost. I won’t tell Bill.”
And also Stephen Pate who wrote, “Bad English is inexcusable. Criminals should know we are erudite.”
And also Selwyn (Sell) Owen of Toronto ON, Canada who wrote, “I had a fellow write and offer me $500 k for everything in my studio. The only problem was, he said that if I accepted, I was only going to live a year. I am considering the offer.”
And also Giorgio Gallo of Italy who wrote, “I have a famous and ancient Italian sculpture on sale here, and also seven Italian Renaissance paintings.”
And also Carole Dwinell who wrote, “I got a scam just after I read your letter. Please pass the magic mushrooms.”
And also Kathryn Fortson who wrote, “I have no friggin clue what this letter means!”