Art buying email scams are happening and if you are using the internet to promote yourself and your work, then its likely that you will be contacted by a scammer to “purchase” your work. I have been contacted multiple times by scammers and there are some common red flags to look for to help you decide if you have a potential buyer or a scammer on your hands.
If someone is reaching out to buy your artwork, they should at least know your name! Often times, the email greeting from a scammer will begin with a generic, “hello.” One interesting pattern is that your name will strangely appear after your response to their approach email. Look at the second email, see if your name now appears in the greeting.
Red Flag #2 Unknown Work of Art
The approach email will often name drop some website you are affiliated with and is usually an artist database so the scammer sounds legitimate. My latest scammer found me on MNartists.org which has many artist in Minnesota listed. If this were a true buyer they could easily locate additional information about your work, your website and your prices. After name dropping something you are affiliated with, the buyer will mention they want to buy some art from you. However, notice how the “buyer” doesn’t know any specifics about your art. When you read through a scammer email, they usually are looking to buy something, they like your beautiful work, they found you and want to collect something, they are inspired. There is nothing specific about which piece they like until YOU mention a work or provide a link to your shop or gallery, which the scammer usually prompt you to provide.
Red Flag #3 Strange Grammar and Repetition
There are subtle ways to catch template scam emails. If or when you mention a specific piece and price, you will often find the information you provided copied and pasted in their email response word-for-word. The scammer will repeat the information you provide. They will take any information they can get from you so make them sound like a true buyer.
Read through the grammar of their email you will notice sometimes that pronouns and possessives seem to not quite add up with their sentence structure due to copying and pasting information. Look for your title and price in parenthesis as well, that is a huge red flag! Notice where extra spaces or strange punctuation is occurring such as i’s not being capitalized.
Sometimes you will have a poorly written email, or it will appear if a non-English speaking art buyer is approaching you. Playing the role of an International buyer is often a cover up for poor grammar.
Notice if the “buyer” wants your work and they are very eager to buy right now. They don’t ask any information about you as an artist, visiting your studio, seeing the work in person, your process or inspiration. They are ready to get your work now! They also want to buy directly from you and not through a website or a gallery you are affiliated with. There is a big push to get the ball rolling on the transaction but they are trying to be polite about it. Don’t let the pressure of time or the use of “lovely,” “pleasantly” or “please,” change your suspicion of this buyer/scammer. Be careful because they are targeting you as an individual as opposed to you as the creative professional operating as a business.
If you handle art sales through a gallery, be sure to follow your proper protocol for art purchases and send them towards your representative. Feel free to let the gallery know “buyer X” seems suspicious but is interested in a certain work of art. Most likely scammers won’t follow through with contacting a gallery. However if they do reach out to the gallery, they can help discern if this is a true buyer or a scam.
Red Flag #5 Vacations and Husbands and other Complexities
Your buyer has a sob story or is unable to personally complete the transaction because of travel, vacation, or a hospitalization. Their friend, manager or husband is now going to get involved for some strange reason. Once the transaction becomes complex you have a scam on your hands!
Red Flag #6 Strange Shipping Requirements
When your scammer is taking the lead on how payment should be handled, they will most likely tell you how the art needs to be shipped. When they direct the transaction, you are no longer in control so look for any strange shipping requirements that they ask of you.
Red Flag #7 Requesting Personal Information
Your scammer will ask for personal information to send you their payment. Usually, they ask for your full name, address and phone number. Do not give out your information! They may provide information on their end, perhaps an address to send the art work. This address is an attempt for them to look like a valid buyer.
*When I researched the address provided to me in a scam email, I found that the address was to a house that was recently for sale! Nobody lived where they wanted me to ship my art to.
Red Flag #8 Issue with Payment
The scammer will have a certain way they want the work shipped to a certain address and oftentimes using a check. Never allow your scammer to send you a check! The only way you can be sure you get paid is through credit. Use your Etsy site or Paypal and be sure to require pre-payment online. Never ship art without confirming you got paid. The money should be in your account before you ship your art to any buyer.
*If, for some reason, you proceed with providing your information for them to send you a check, I have heard that they will often send you a check for an incorrect amount or for double the amount. This would be another red flag!
I told my scammer that an easy and great way to ensure financial security would be through purchasing my painting through my Etsy shop. I mentioned that I would ship the painting once the payment was processed. Of course, I was responded with an email that said she couldn’t use credit card or any online payment because the transaction couldn’t be completed. My scammer again asked for all of my personal information. Remember that this is your business and you run the ship. Never proceed with any purchase that you are feeling leery about and seek second opinions when you are unsure.