Beware Internet Art Scams

False check scams abound
Check fraud was the third most common Internet scam reported in 2006, according to the National Consumer League’s (NCL) fraud information center. The average consumer loss reported was $4,053 dollars. “Fake check scams are a way for con artists to steal money from your bank and leave you holding the bag,” says Susan Grant, director of the National Fraud Information Center. “Victims can lose more than money: Their bank accounts can be closed, and some even face charges of check fraud themselves!”

The Internet Crime Center (IC3) was set up by the FBI in the year 2000 specifically to handle Internet crime reports. Already the IC3 has logged more than 1 million consumer complaints, with collective losses over $640 million. FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson says this isn’t a new crime, just a different pool of victims. “Criminals are using the same modus operandi (MO), but now they’re targeting artists on the Internet.”

Time is on the criminal’s side  
Unfortunately making it easier for these scams to succeed, federal law requires banks and credit unions to make the cash for deposited amounts available for withdrawal quickly, usually within five days. It takes time for the bank to go back to the source to secure the actual funds, so weeks or months can pass before the bank can determine if the check is counterfeit.
Therefore, even if it appears you have all the money in your checking account, you can still be held responsible if the check turns out to be a fake. And if you wire money back to someone, you may have no way of getting your hard-earned cash back!

Tips for protecting yourself
Here are some tips from the experts about precautions you can take against fake check scams:

  • Never accept a check or money order for more than the selling price of the artwork. There is no legitimate reason for anyone to give you an overpayment and then ask you to send cash anywhere in return!
  • Be aware that just because your bank accepts the check and credits your account, it doesn’t mean the check is good. It can take a bank weeks or months to chase down the source and discover a check is counterfeit. You are ultimately responsible if you draw funds on a fake check.
  • Insist on a cashier’s check drawn on a local bank or a bank that has a local branch. Have your bank confirm that the out-of-town cashier’s check is good by calling the bank directly.
  • Don’t operate off the grid. Don’t wire money or send checks for overpayment. If you have an account with eBay or PayPal, conduct your business on their official websites, and carefully check their fraud security measures.

Sample Scam Letter
The following e-mail correspondence includes a scam letter that is typical of those sent to artists. (The wording and the misspellings are the scammer’s.)

To: [Artist’s Name]
Subject: Artists File Online: Purchase
From: [Scammer’s Alias]
Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2007 14:12:33 -0500

**This following message was sent to you by a person who found your artwork on Artists Space’s Artists File Online website.

Please report any problems or concerns regarding this email to

Hope this message finds you well ,I came across your web page while searching for good artworks and I will like to buy some of these creative artworks directly from you which i think will be perfect for my walls.

Devil, 2006, Mixed media on canvas, 80×40
Angel, 2006, Mixed media on canvas, 80×40
Death and Decomposition I, 2006, Mixed media on canvas, 40×80
Death and Decomposition II, 2006

I will be happy to have these selected artworks in our new home. What are their prices exclusive of shipping cost? We are moving from our Alabama home to our new apartment in London, I will appreciate an earlier reply. Thanks.

Here is the artist’s savvy response:  

Hi [Scammer’s Alias],
Each one of the paintings is $2500. (Shipping for each is $200 to Europe).
You may pay per Paypal only. I will send you a payment request as soon as you let me know if you wish to purchase all or some of them.
I will ship as soon as the payment has gone through.

Artist’s Name
Phone Number
Website url address

And the scammer’s reply:              

Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2007 08:50:21 -0800
From: [Scammer’s Name]
Subject: update
To: [Artist’s Name]

Thanks so much for your response to my query about those creatives works. I am presently away in London for my twin sister’s wedding even though it comes at a time when I was preparing for a big move and also expecting a baby but it means so much to her. I should back in some few days.

Yes, I will like to proceed with the purchase of these artworks:
Death and Decomposition I, 2006, Mixed media on canvas, 40×80
Death and Decomposition II, 2006

I think they are lovely works that will add a lot of colours to our new wall. Meanwhile, I will like you to forward your mailing address and phone number so I can inform my husband to send you payment by a cashier check asap for the payment for those creative artworks.

And I can also forward your contact info to the local cartage company that will be moving all our house decors so they can get in touch with you to arrange shipping details. They can arrange pick up FedEx pick up of the artworks from your gallery.

I will look forward to hearing from you so i can know how best to proceed. Cheers.

To learn more, read C. Sharp’s article "Beware Internet Art Scams" in the March 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. C. Sharp  is a Peabody Award-winning  journalist and a former CNN reporter/producer. She lives and paints in Kirkland, Washington. Her website is

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