How To Recognize An Art Scam


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Have you ever received an email from someone showing interest in your artwork?  Or perhaps a message from an artist’s agent who wants to show your work at a prestigious art fair? The feeling is rewarding, but how can an individual receiving such messages distinguish whether these are valid proposals or art scams?

The trouble with art scams that begin like this is that they are based on something you would like to believe. By the time you’ve exchanged a few emails, you feel as if you know the ‘person’ you’re communicating with – they will often include personal details about themselves or their families – and naturally, you are inclined to respond positively to someone who is praising your work.

The advice that is often given is simply to remember that ‘if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.’ But while that is a good rule of thumb, it’s not enough to protect you if you’re an artist – because, after all, there are times when something that seems too good to be true really does happen to an artist, and you may well have experienced this yourself.

Perhaps a collector you have never had contact with before happened to attend the opening reception of an exhibition of your art, and instantly decided that he had found what he was looking for and bought four pieces. Or you were giving a demonstration of live painting at an art auction and one of the people you got chatting to during the process turned into a collector of your work and an advocate for your creations. These things do happen – and you certainly don’t want to repulse a genuine expression of interest. So, what can you do?

art scam

Why Do Scammers Target Artists?

Scammers target members of the community based on their needs, Artists have a need for exposure and will be more inclined to believe a ‘good opportunity’ if it crosses their path. They are familiar with the need to ship their work, sometimes to collectors who might be anywhere in the world. They’re invested in their creations, so they’re susceptible to the charm of the idea that a stranger fell in love with their work on sight.

And scammers may believe that artists are less likely to be aware of the dangers presented by the sorts of art scams they depend on. You want to make sure that you don’t fall into that category. Be aware of the possibility, be skeptical – be careful.

Types of Art Scams

Although the most common intention behind an art scam is money, there are other components, like your personal information and artwork images, that a scammer can take advantage of. Here is a list of the types of scams that have come to our attention.

1. Pay Shipping Payment Upfront

Sometimes, art scammers that show a keen interest in your works may ask you to transfer them the shipping cost first before they can transact the full amount to you. They may even ask you to ship the artwork before making any payment. Never give in to such requests. If the person is genuinely interested in purchasing your work, he or she will most likely know how to go about it and will never make such an unreasonable request.

If you still think that the person might be genuine, consider asking for a partial payment at least before shipping your artwork. However, if the person asks you to pay the shipping cost upfront, do not that it could not be anything other than a scam to extort money from you.

2. Overpayment by the Scammer

A very common example is when the ‘customer’ overpays and asks you to send the extra amount to their shipping company, using the details they have sent you. You send the money on – from your own bank account – and only discover a week or two later that the cashier’s check you had received from the ‘customer’ is not genuine.

How can this happen? Won’t the bank protect you from this art scam? Probably not. Most banks are willing to proceed with checks provided that the customer has a balance in their account that is able to cover the check. If the check bounces, they just reverse the transaction – leaving the customer responsible for any negative balance. It can take up to three weeks to clear a cashier’s check, which the scammer is betting will be long enough for them to persuade you to send them the ‘shipping’ money they ‘overpaid’.

Be aware to never accept overpayments. Request the person to carry out the transaction themselves or wait for the payment to be cleared.

3. Phishing Scams / Art Fair Participation and Promotion Scam

As an artist, you are always looking for a new, sometimes original place to show your work. This is why you should always search for options and keep an eye on opportunities. When an invitation to participate in an art fair or in a group exhibition knocks on your door, you should always make sure it is legit and makes sense. Participation in any of the major art fairs usually costs thousands of dollars and requires an application process. If you are approached by someone who is offering this to you for very low fees and immediately tells you that you have been accepted, it should raise a red flag!

Before accepting an offer, make sure to do a thorough research about the organization. Your checklist should at least include the following basic information:

  • Disregard any email that comes from private email accounts such as Yahoo or Gmail. Professional companies must have their own domain names.
  • Check the domain registration by doing a WHOIS Search – if the owner of the domain is hidden and there is no clear contact information that is a clear sign of warning
  • Research the web and social media for reviews from other users
  • Make sure the company has a physical address and a contact person
  • Search for the contact person’s name and see what you can find about that person

This email might be a scam. How can I tell?

How to Recognize An Art Scam?

Scamming emails in the past would often be vague or get important details wrong, thereby making them easily recognizable. The idea was to be able to send the same email to thousands of artists – so a photographer might be approached about a painting or a sculptor baffled by references to their canvases. But the emails have become more sophisticated over time, and now it is common for the scammer to quickly fill in the ‘gaps’ in his email with accurate information about your website or your artworks. However, don’t let these details fool you – it takes very little time to fill out these details, and it does not mean the email or the person is genuine. If your instincts are screaming, pay attention to them, even if the email did get your medium and the title of your artworks right. Of course, if they’re wrong – be very suspicious indeed!

Here are a few important clues that can indicate that an email you’ve received is an art scam –

1. The subject of the email will be something that screams for attention

Remember, the scammer can only be successful if the email reaches you, which is why most of them would include words like ‘Important’ or ‘ATTN’ to catch your attention. A genuine person, however, would not have that goal in mind while sending you an inquiry.

2. The email is in your spam folder

This is perhaps the most obvious red flag. If the email ended up in your spam folder, there is definitely a reason for it.

3. The person will have a fictitious name or the email address and name will not be consistent

From the examples shared with us below in the comments, this seems to be a common element in scamming emails. Art scammers sometimes use made up names like John Cena or Terry Flowers and it can be a very easy clue to resolve any suspicions you might have. In addition to that, sometimes, there are discrepancies in the writer’s name and email address. Always, check the writer’s name and email address first!

4. The person will often sound like they are in a hurry or insist on an immediate purchase

This is partly to fluster you and give you less time to think, but mainly because if they know the check they’re sending you is going to bounce, or the credit card is stolen, they need the transaction completed before the bank catches on and you find out.

5. There will often be some complex story about why you need to send money again

Sometimes involving the individual or their family moving to another country right at the time they want to purchase the artwork, necessitating the sum you’re going to be sending to cover the shipping. Yes, this does happen sometimes to honest people in real life, but it’s not that common.

6. There are too many grammatical errors

If the person mentions being from the United States but their English is extremely poor, it is definitely a red flag. However, do note here to not dismiss everything because it has a few grammatical errors. The person might actually be genuine, and English might not be their native tongue.

7. They want to arrange the shipping themselves

Most genuine clients are only too grateful to have you take the burden of shipping from them if shipping is necessary. And if they do want to take care of it themselves, real collectors will most likely use a major company they’ve had positive experiences within the past – a company whose name you will know.

Art Scammers' Lingo - Common Phrases Used by Art Scammers

Of course, none of these things are sure-fire ways to tell that you’re being approached by someone who is trying to steal your money or art. But if you see them in an email, you should start to become suspicious, and more wary of the communication. If the conversation develops in a way that matches the sort of pattern we’ve been talking about, then you can feel confident that there’s something wrong.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Stay in touch with us! Our Newsletter is packed with inspiring stories, art tips, and Agora Gallery’s latest exhibition announcements.[/perfectpullquote]

How To Avoid Art Scams?

Well, you can look out for the clues mentioned above, which will alert you to the possibility that something might be wrong and be careful rather than gullible in your approach. Be conscious that scamming is a possibility, and aware that it might attack you. If you start to worry about a particular case, don’t let your prejudice in favor of people who claim to admire your work get in the way of your caution.

You can also be firm about following your usual method of payment; explain politely that you’re not willing to take payment through cashier’s checks or postal money orders, which are more open to this sort of art scam. Often the nature of the art scam will center on the method of payment suggested by the scammer – if you stick to your normal method, something you know to be safe, they may be forced to give up.

In addition, make sure to never accept overpayments. This is not a common way of doing business, and you probably haven’t come across it before in genuine transactions. You’re selling, they’re buying – no money should be leaving your account. Make it your policy not to work this way.

If you’re suspicious for any reason, try googling the email address of the contact you’re corresponding with. Because scammers send so many art scam emails, their address gets to be known as one associated with the art scam they’re running. It might well be that the person contacting you is already on a ‘blacklist’ which you can find online. In situations like this, being represented by a gallery can also prove to be beneficial.

For one thing, you can rely on the gallery staff, who will probably have had more experience with art scam attempts than you have had, to make sure that everything is as it should be and protect you as necessary. To learn more about galleries and how they work, read 8 Benefits Of Gallery Representation

Another important thing to make note of is to never ship your work before the payment has been cleared. This seems so simple that you read it and wonder how anyone ever gets caught acting differently – but when you’re in the middle of a series of emails going back and forth, and you’ve built up a picture of your correspondent’s life in your head, and you’re pleased that they appreciate your art. It can be hard to remember.

Make it a rule of how you do business, and if you’re ever asked to make an exception, think very seriously about whether it seems like a good risk to be taking (if you know the buyer personally, for instance, it might be a reasonable decision).

Art scams are becoming more and more sophisticated by the day and it is very important for you as an artist to protect your art as well as your hard-earned money. Following the advice in this article will help you to avoid art scams when selling your art. But what you really need to do is take the messages here to heart. Remember when you are selling your art on the internet, you need to know and trust your potential clients.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]As a promotional gallery, we take pride in the diverse group of artists from across the globe represented by us. Want to give your art more time, and leave the marketing and promotional hassles to someone else? Book an online career development consultation meeting today.[/perfectpullquote]

Have you received an email from a potential buyer that looks like an art scam? Recently, a group of artists has informed our Agora Gallery staff that a so-called Catherine Nipps who pretends to be a gallery representative, is offering representation with our Gallery. Agora Gallery’s representation process is transparent and it starts with our dedicated page. Our representatives are presented on the website. If you are contacted by someone offering representation on behalf of the gallery, please reach out to us at info@agora-gallery.com

In the comments below, share your stories with our community, offer your advice, and keep it a safe place from scammers.


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1,788 responses to “How To Recognize An Art Scam”

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