One of the benefits of a Premium Art Listing on our site is that it is directly appended to The Painter’s Keys. Our value and consequent respect leads to high traffic and high rates of return. Thousands of interested people read material on our site every day.
The downside of all this integrity and value is that scam artists and dishonest folks can try to take advantage of our good name. While there are many different ploys out there, a typical one these days is a personal letter requesting to buy a specific painting on your site. Very often the work requested has already been sold. The letters are frequently from someone purporting to be in England or Scotland (Many African nations have UK servers) and giving you one or more options of payment. The second letter often requests a group of your paintings and asks for a discount. Their system is to send you a cheque, bank draft or money order for more than the amount required, and then ask you to return the “change” as fast as possible. Their draft does not clear of course, and you feel stupid. These scammers, mainly in Nigeria, are doing this with anyone who has something to sell on the Net, not just artists.
Typically their writing is like that of a teenager whose home language is something other than English. Many would look pretty bad in spelling bees.
In the event that these folks get as far as sending you a cheque, draft or money order, you need to take it to your bank (not your bank machine) and show it to a teller or, better still, the manager. Bank officials can often quickly tell whether paper will readily cash. If they are unsure and you deposit anyway, be sure to wait the full time for it to clear. Even legitimate foreign drafts can take some time. Recently, two of my Internet sales were seven days clearing for Pounds Sterling and ten days for Euros.
In our Internet correspondence we include a line that everybody in this day and age understands: “I know it’s a bit annoying, but due to the scams around these days and the way payments can go missing, it’s my policy to wait for money to clear before we ship. I’ll make sure your painting is shipped as soon as we know. It’s wrapped and ready to go. Thanks for your understanding.” I’ve never had one single legitimate buyer balk at this request. As for the scammers, they don’t reply, don’t send phony paper, and you don’t hear from them again.
PS: “What is the total cost of the below paintings? they are all beautiful, I am inerested in their purchase as a decorative in my new home.” (Scammer)
Esoterica: In my opinion, every website and email address should have a legitimate, traceable physical address attached to it. Subscribers will notice my home address at the bottom of all Twice Weekly Letters they receive by email. This verification of an actual place should in no way threaten our rights and freedoms. Some of the more slippery folks will certainly squawk when the legislation finally happens. The law will continue to honour the privacy of regular email. As many artists now use the Internet for worldwide commerce, it needs to be a reliable, safe and honourable vehicle for the happy distribution of joy. Everybody stands to win with a clean Internet.
How to respond
by Liron Sissman, New York, NY, USA
I have had tens of scam emails pretending to want to buy my paintings. Like you had mentioned, they offer to send more money than the works cost and then ask to be refunded the difference. I read that in the US even if such checks initially clear they can later be reversed, even as much as two months later. Banks assume no responsibility. Therefore, I reply to these emails saying I accept only PayPal for international transactions. That ends the conversation quickly. Hope that’s helpful.
Net has possibilities, predators and prey
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA
You didn’t go quite far enough. Often, normal check-clearing time of a week or ten days is not sufficient. There’s sometimes a high skill level in crafting bogus cashier’s checks and money orders; even an expert can be fooled. It isn’t until the check makes its way through the system and back to the payer — I’ve heard as long as two months — that the fraud is revealed, and the victim’s account debited for the full amount.
In general, any request for a refund on a purposeful overpayment is a red flag for fraud. Beyond that, the artist should do a gut-check. A sale can be a heady event, but we should still keep our heads on straight. The Net has opened up great possibilities for artists everywhere, in terms of promotion, sales, or even just sharing our personal projects. But it’s no different than any other jungle: there are predators and prey. It’s not that difficult to avoid being the latter, since the predators are pretty unimaginative and their methods predictable. “If it sounds too good to be true…”
Bank personnel can’t tell a fake
by John Fitzsimmons, Fayetteville, NY, USA
Several months ago I received a few emails from someone looking for a specific painting. I was skeptical but he sent several emails and was specific, so I answered. He wrote back offering to send a cashier’s check and I immediately told him no cashier’s checks — Pay pal or Bank wire only. At that point I knew what was going to happen. A few weeks later I got a cashier’s check for $5000.00, which was twice the price of the painting. I was going to shred it but my wife works at one of the large multi-national banks and she said she would bring it in and show the tellers so they could see what a fake check would look like. She did so and both tellers she showed it to insisted it was real. She then showed it to the fraud officer and he thought it was real and offered to check it out with the issuing bank which was in Montreal. The check was not real, which I already knew, but this illustrates that the bank personnel can not tell easily. The other very important thing to keep in mind is that these phony checks are normally drawn on foreign banks, this is to gain time. I have had legitimate transactions that have taken 3 weeks to clear, so just because your bank credits your account with the money after a few days does not mean it is good.
One more point about fraud, never send money via Western Union to someone you do not know, period — you will never see that money again. Western Union is not a bank wire, bank wires are different and are between two identifiable accounts.
Message about scams
by Linda Walker, Bemidji, MN, USA
I began receiving these letters, among other scams, a couple of years ago. I soon found a website, Scamming The Scammers that is dedicated to getting the message out about the scams and what you can do about them. It is full of great information and hilarious stories about and from those who have fought back. I have also heard that, because of the intricacies of international commerce, some forged money orders may take up to 5 weeks to come back and bite you, and the banks do not take the fall. You can bet that if they are buying $7,000 worth of work and sending a check for $10,000 to cover shipping and expenses, and asking you to send the artwork along with the left over money, you will be out your artwork, shipping expenses and extra money. Insist that you must go through PayPal or another payment escrow service and see how they start coming up with excuses. One excuse I received, after insisting on this, was that while on the road to the hospital to visit her dying husband, someone reached into her car, while at a stop, and stole her laptop: “so nise lady. cood yuo be so kind as for buy me a new dell to keep that from the extra mony I be to sending you” (Spelling and punctuation have been left in for your amusement.) I don’t have time to play so I just block the emails.
Stolen credit card?
by Myra Mandel, Moshav Hemed, Israel
One of these scammers ordered a bunch of pictures from me and gave a VISA credit card number. When I called the credit card company to verify, they said it was ok, but since the shipping address was Lagos, Nigeria and other signs you mentioned pointed to a scam, I didn’t complete the order. The real owner of the credit card might not have reported it missing yet, and would then be charged for stuff he didn’t buy.
Keep your wits about you
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
From our end, a personal cheque takes generally 21 business days, a certified bank cheque 7 working days. If your client is in a hurry a bank draft can be made to your bank account. Anybody sending a large sum “by mistake” and requesting you send the change is undoubtedly a scammer. This is how the scam works, as the scammers are not interested in your art, just the “change.” The cheques are counterfeit to begin with. I refuse to do business with credit cards, as they may be stolen, or the payment may be cancelled later on. Some scammers are more sophisticated than others, and may use certain tricks to try to get your confidence. As long as you keep your wits about you and wait for monies to clear, you shouldn’t get taken in. In the movie, The Flim-Flam Man, the old con artist who is teaching his young protege tells him, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”
Easy way to validate checks
by Geraldine Aikman, Kennebunk, ME, USA
I’ve had several artist and Internet friends encounter scammers such as you mentioned in your good and very helpful letter. They are so enthused that they have ‘made four sales’ that all caution goes out the window. As an eBay seller, I also encounter an inordinate number of scams, and even seasoned eBayers or sellers sometimes fall for them.
One scam is for the ‘buyer’ to ask you to wrap the painting in gift wrap, to add some cash in an envelope as part of a wedding gift. The payment might be in the form of a counterfeit or copied money order.
A friend of mine who ‘sold’ a painting received confirmation via email of the money order/ bank check that was being mailed. She got a jpeg of the money order along with its numbers, as if that was proof it was valid. But she took the precaution of typing those numbers right into Google’s search box and the results showed that the money order/bank check numbers were on a list of pirated checks. It’s a quick and easy way to check out the validity of an incoming check.
by Marion Landry, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I really wish I had read this letter in August. I just got scammed for $4000 in this exact way. You describe my situation exactly. My supposed client is from Scotland, they send me more money asking to make a donation with the rest. I had doubted with this client since the beginning, I should have trusted my feelings. On top of being a painter artist, I am in computer business and I normally smell fraud right away. This time I was suspicious but let it slide I guess. I did deposit the money order and waited two weeks before sending my artwork. Since I had not heard back from the bank, I concluded that it had cleared with no problems. The day after I sent the paintings, the money was taken back from my account. My lovely bank did not even bother to give me a courtesy call but instead sent me a letter that I only received 5 days later… By then, the paintings where long gone, and the money… I am, as we speak, in contact with the local police and the Glasgow police where the painting has been shipped. I have hope they might be able to intercept the painting before delivery.
Scammed by cyber gallery
by James Gielfeldt, Welland, ON, Canada
I wish this letter had come out sooner. This exact scenario played out a few months ago with me as the sucker. I played it all carefully, checked the gallery they claimed to operate which did exist in cyberspace. I took my time with the negotiation process and then it all fell apart exactly as you said. I even took the bank draft to the bank and they held it but then in two days to my surprise it ‘cleared.’ I went and asked a teller and she stated that the cheque had been cleared. I proceeded to spend a small amount. Then the person asked for some money back, to cover shipping and for me to send it to their shipper. I started getting suspicious and began lollygagging and the person got very nasty. Then, as I thought was going to happen, the cheque came back as counterfeit. I was furious not only with this sly individual(s) but also my bank who informed me that the cheque hadn’t actually cleared, but they were in the habit of releasing the funds for good customers. Well, it sure caused me a lot of grief.
This person claimed to be Bell Roberts of the Bell Roberts Gallery in Capetown South Africa. The bank draft was drawn on a US account and the correspondence came from England. I should have been smarter and more suspicious but when the idea of having your work in a prominent gallery presents itself, you are somewhat blinded. I am much wiser and less trusting now. And as the police told me, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
I felt very foolish and as though I had let my family down by getting caught up in this. It took a while to get over it. I hope others reading this will look at the Internet as a wonderful tool, but also, I hope they err on the side of caution at all times. It is far too easy to be taken advantage of given the almost complete anonymity of cyberspace.
Scamming the scammers
by Gordon France, La Grange, IL, USA
Recently I was the intended mark of one of the boys from Lagos Nigeria. It seems Lagos is worldwide scamquarters and I’m amazed that so many of these morons survive their own competition. I got all the prescribed email from a “Dutch engineer” with a ridiculously contrived name who wanted to buy some paintings. After a couple of exchanges I noticed the spelling of his name kept changing. Somewhat of a clue that this MIGHT be a scam. (Don’t have to hit me with a brick!) I had some time to kill so I engaged in some scam-baiting. I got the phony but incredibly official looking bank draft that overpaid my bill by $2500, followed by an urgent email that the overpayment was an error, please deposit the check and wire transfer the refund. Really!
I decided to string this guy out for awhile by questioning and nit-picking everything in his letters before depositing his “check.” His replies became more contrived and panicky urging me “please sir deposit the check without delay.” After a few more exchanges I finally sent him an email saying that the money wire transfer was on the way in the form of $12 million Bulgarian pengos (about 18¢ US) as they were easier to exchange. I included an offer for a mail order class in English grammar and business writing for only $17,000 in advance and no personal checks please. Haven’t heard from him since.
Clickbacks in print
by Carole Ann Borges, Knoxville, TN, USA
I hope you got a chance to see the beautiful layout Pacific Yachting did for the Boat Stories article. My story Furl all Scupper Lips was among those chosen. I really like the editor Jeffrey Briggs. He’s a passionate guy with a great appreciation for literature. I thought the paintings from the clickback on the Painter’s Keys website looked wonderful. I guess you never know what will happen in cyberspace. I just wanted to say thanks for creating Painter’s Keys. It’s certainly opened many new doors for me.
(RG note) Thanks, Carol. And thanks to everyone who told us about this nine page spread that appeared in the September/October issue, American edition. As well as Carol Anne’s material, they saw fit to publish the paintings and writing of subscribers Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, T.J. Miles, Brigitte Nowak, Liz Reday, Linda Saccoccio, Lorelle Miller, Peter Brown, Luann Udell, Greg Packard, Todd Bonita, Graham Smith, Ann Trainor Domingue and Vic Mastis. All these artists were profiled as well. The article was built from the original clickback Boat Stories.
Enjoy the past comments below for How to spot a phony…
oil painting on canvas
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 Cindy Richmond of Alexandria, VA, USA who wrote, “I recently received a disturbing email from a pastellist in Hong Kong who sent photos, taken with her cell phone, of rip-offs of four of my paintings in a restaurant in Singapore. They are not images lifted directly from the Web. They have stolen the composition and recreated it, rather poorly. Is there any way you know to track down the bootleggers?”
And also Pat Bennett of Washington DC, USA who wrote, “There are two words for spotting a phony — Pay Pal. EBay uses it as do many others. Thanks for the heads up.”
And also Coulter Watt of Quakertown, PA, USA who wrote, “It’s often hard enough to part with a wonderful painting, but to be stiffed too, is too much to bear. I use PayPal and all works very well. I would add that if one uses PayPal follow their suggestions on scams and ‘spoof’ requests for payment. PayPal also has a verification system that confirms that the funds have been successfully transferred into your account.”
And also Peggy Appleby of Ormond Beach, FL, USA who wrote, “I get all kind of scams from Nigeria, most like the one you mentioned. I advertised some furniture on a common Internet site and several ‘buyers’ were going to send their truck without even seeing the furniture. Of course they needed my name and address. My reply was, ‘Great, you send me your name, address, and phone number, and I’ll contact you.’ Same result: I never heard from them again.”
And also Fabian Fucci of Buenos Aires, Argentina who wrote, “Hi there, Robert, check this link for additional info on the Nigeria scam.”
And also Ole E. Petterson of Denmark who wrote, “On this site there’s a helpful list of known art scammers. I’ve received curious letters where I’m told how much they like my paintings and would love to buy some, if I would please send them the ‘adress’ of my site (?)”
And also LeslieAnn Butler of Portland, OR, USA who wrote, “According to Clark Howard, many banks can’t tell if a check is phony or not. This applies to cashier’s checks as well. It can clear, and then a month or two later, you get a notice that you owe the bank the money back because the check was bogus. The best policy is that if you get a check for more than the amount of the sale and the issuer asks you to send the change back, don’t do it. Send the check back.”
And also David Lawrence Bell who wrote, “I disagree that the answer to online scams is further regulation of the Internet. Let the Internet be. People can avoid being scammed by refusing to fall for offers that are just too good to be true. That and waiting for the check to clear should keep anybody safe. Regulating the Internet is not the answer.”
And also Hap Hagood of Clover, VA, USA who wrote, “I would like to add that there are a lot of email scams coming out of China as well. Some of these are aimed specifically at sculptors and are from Chinese foundries offering to cast one’s work in bronze at extremely low prices. While some of these emails actually are from Chinese foundries, the quality of bronze used in China today is very poor. Thus, bronze sculptures produced there do not meet the standards of bronze sculptures produced elsewhere, are not representative of good work, and are of lesser value.”
And also Cecilia Price who wrote, “There are sites on the Internet that tell all about the scammers, and some show how people have “stung” them, and those tales are hilarious. Just run a search for ‘Nigerian Scammers.’ ”
And also Jacqueline Satterlee of Elmira, NY, USA who wrote: “Yes, I have been scammed that way from England/South Africa. Lost 3 paintings and nearly $1000. Now I tell them it will take about a month to make sure the check or money order is good, or suggest they use PayPal. I don’t hear from them again.”
(RG note) Thanks, Jacqueline and everybody else who wrote on this matter. For your interest, doing an estimate in the late afternoon on Tuesday, there are seven subscribers in our inbox who said they had been “taken” and had lost money. On the other hand, 800 have reported receiving the fraudulent requests for their art.