Sure Signs of an Internet Scam and How to Stop It Cold

Many of you already know about Internet scams, but I need to emphasize the importance of being vigilant and asking a lot of questions when someone expresses interest in your art through email.

Christine DeCamp received this email from Jene Thobela (I have no problem using the author's name because I doubt she exists):

Hope this message finds you well.
I saw these creatives works on your web site and i will like you to
get back with more details if they are  still available for purchase.
“Lady of Shallot”  and  “WHITE PELICAN”
I will appreciate an urgent reply.
Best Regards,

Christine DeCamp, White Pelican.
Christine DeCamp, White Pelican. Gouache on paper. Private collection.

Obviously the author took the time to identify particular works from Christine's site.

4 Signs of an Art Scam

There are at least four red flags in this message Christine received.

  • The author of the email didn't address Christine by name.
  • The English is poor. This isn't in itself a red flag, but it looks copied and pasted.
  • If the author had really spent time on the site, she would have noticed that White Pelican was already sold.
  • The author asks for an “urgent reply.” Really? What's so urgent about this art purchase?

We want to believe the best about people. We want to trust them and believe they want our art. It's hard to think that a big fish might get away because we were suspicious.

Still . . . you have to look out for yourself!

How to Respond to a Possible Art Scam

Knowing the scams out there, most artists would delete emails like this right away. If you'd like to give the author of such an email the benefit of the doubt, I'd make them do a little a lot of work. Here's how you could respond:

Dear Jene,
Thank you for your kind interest in my art.
Can you tell me what appeals to you about those two pieces in particular?
Where do you live and what other kind of art do you collect?
I look forward to hearing from you,

Most scammers won't spend their time coming up with honest answers to questions like these. Most scammers will be found out with another go-round of questioning.

Or how about this:

Please tell me where you live and include a phone number. What is the best time of day to call you?
I prefer to have a personal conversation with potential buyers.

You could develop a form letter for such questions or even an online form for the person to complete.

You could also, as Kathleen McMahon suggests, say you accidentally lost the original email and “could you please remind me which works you are interested in?” See if she can come up with the same two titles again.

Of course, there are numerous variations of the above email fraud. See the Stop Art Scams blog for more.

Have you had a close call with an art scammer? How did you handle it?

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15 thoughts on “Sure Signs of an Internet Scam and How to Stop It Cold”

  1. Important variation: the scammer asks the artist to use their shipper. On etsy, these scammers want to use some sort of payment other than whatever the artist has listed as acceptable.
    I have received a couple of these, but I’ve seen a lot more of them (from other artists sharing what might be good news but they aren’t certain). They all have this shared cadence that after a while sets off one’s alarms. I tend to ignore scam as well as spam.

  2. Hello Alyson,
    It amazes me how much the art scams read like the Nigerian letters from 30 years ago, appealing to greed (got to land the big one before it gets away). Always in broken English (are we supposed to think they’re rubes we can take advantage of ?) and the same sense of urgency and odd payment proposals. I have noticed that they do blanket mailings, so if you’re in a salon (love that idea Alyson) or a hosted site, the other members can give you warning about another scammer going the rounds, I have had scammers respond to my reply, trying to reel me in, but so far, my insisting on my own payment methods has made them go away. Their reply will show they looked at some of my site but they still haven’t shown the in depth knowledge that serious collectors show. I’m sure if they think it will reel you in they’ll study the site, so my main defense is insisting on my payment methods.

  3. Just this week I received two urgent emails from someone wanting a two week art class for a group of people. Both were in broken english, were sort of weird, I don’t teach, I just ignored them.

  4. I received an almost identical email about a month ago from someone requesting two paintings from my website that had already been sold (which was obviously stated underneath both images on the website). Having never received an email like this, I wanted to give this potential buyer the benefit of the doubt, but proceeded with caution. The person then decided they wanted two other pieces from the website and asked for my number and address to pass on to their shipping company. I also noticed via Google Analytics that there had been a visitor from Nigeria to my website that day. I told them about my strict shipping and payment policies, and haven’t heard back since. I’ll definitely just ignore these sorts of inquiries in the future.

    1. Good detective work, Amanda. I think the ability to delete/ignore will come with experience.

  5. Hello Alyson,
    These email queries are all too familiar, as I get them often also. My technique is this. I respond by saying the painting they wish to buy is still available. The price is $1,500,000. Then I tell them after I receive the funds, I promise to ship said painting immediately.
    Without exception I never hear from them again. I’m still waiting for the funds to roll in. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

  6. I have received at least two emails just like this. I knew right away that they were fake because they were vague and said they liked ‘my work’. When I send a response and asked them which work they liked they named a medium that I don’t even do! Good point on the urgency portion as well. To date, I haven’t been aware of many Art Emergencys out there…..but you never know. I also recieved an email from a valid gallery in San Francisco. My husband and I did a lot of research to make sure they were a real bricks and mortar place. We called the city tax department to make sure they were listed, we searched their location with Google earth and actually saw them and then we searched for them on the internet. It was well worth the effort.

    1. Wow. I have great detectives here reading this blog. Very nice that the work paid off for you, Molly. It goes to show that you don’t want to dismiss every email inquiry.

  7. I have received a number of these email requests to buy my work. A little red flag always goes up in my brain. I usually do not reply or tell them I require a certified cheque in the correct amount (not an overpayment that I will need to refund to them), that must clear first and that I will ship the work and use the shipper of my choice, not theirs. They never reply. Sometimes I Google the name and question about whether or not it is a scam and quite regularly there is information about it being a scam, how the same worded email has gone to many other artists, etc.

  8. I’ve gotten a few of these emails, too, including ones that mention the name and size of paintings on my website. When I replied telling that I could only accept PayPal as a method of payment, there were no more emails.

  9. I would be flattered by any scammer’s desire to own my art work or to think it worth so much as to merit a scam, but I suspect these people are after money, not art.
    If you follow the bait I think eventually they’ll send you an overpayment in the form of a bad check, asking you to please refund the difference with your shipment.
    Maybe I’m too cynical.

  10. Hello Alison. I am quiet new for internet interactions and while looking for advise I stumbled across this article. First of all thank you for warning and advise. But i also found out that referring to somebody’s request as potential scam based on poor English is somewhat offensive to me. My English is not so good either,but i bought few art pieces from other artists. And also managed to develop relationships with some of them after the fact of purchase. i think it should be rather about terms of payment.Artist can set up paypal or ship only after prepayment.We should not judge people by appearance or language ability. After all it could be their 2nd or 3rd language.

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