Don't be Fooled by Email Art Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Fraud

Artwork Archive | January 17, 2017 (Updated July 13, 2023)

If you’ve been an artist with any type of internet presence over of the last ten years, you’ve most likely had a similar experience:

You open your email account and have a new message waiting for you with a potential buyer. You’re excited! But, the more you read, the more you become suspicious. Something seems off.

Your excitement of being on the horizon of a new sale is battling with your instincts that this could be a fraudulent inquiry.

So, how do you know how to spot an email scam before it’s too late? And what can you do when you receive one of these emails?

If the email you just received from a “potential buyer” checks any of these boxes, it is probably not a legitimate client, and you should not respond or go forward with any type of interaction or sales.

The Story Sounds Impersonal

A common narrative used by art scammers is to say their wife has been looking at your work and really enjoys it. Or, they have a new home and are looking for pieces to decorate it. At first glance, it may seem like a plausible story, but something about it seems abrupt or stunted. If they don’t use your name or any details about the works they are looking at, it is probably not legitimate.

The “Buyer” is in a Foreign Country or They Need an Outside Shipper

Sometimes the “buyer” will have a specific piece they are inquiring about, and it can seem like a real potential client. However, this is when things start to get weird. Instead of a straight forward purchase, they are currently out of the country or need to involve a shipper.

This is what happened to artist Lori Corbett . Her account of her exchange with a scammer is all too familiar:

I quoted my price, and he then replied that he is out of the country, and needs his shipper to come pick up the piece. He said he would send extra money ($3000.00) in this case for shipping to South Africa, and that I should cash the check, and give the shipper the $3000.00 overage.”

If the buyer is in a country far from you or needs to involve a shipper at all, beware  this a major red flag.

There is a Tight Timeline

The sender claims they need your art quickly or they badger you into a deadline that you are uncomfortable with. If it is a valid buyer, they will usually understand or be flexible with the length of time you set for completing or shipping an artwork - as long as you are communicating that.

If the buyer is rushing you along, it is a warning sign that they want the artwork shipped before you find out that the purchase is fraudulent.

There are Spelling, Grammatical, or Spacing Errors

While English may not be the first language of every client you interact with, these emails will be distinctively different. Poor spelling, obvious grammatical errors, and strange spacing are all signs of an email scam.

Of course, everyone has been guilty of a typo or two in an email. However, jolty or abrupt sentences, too many spaces (or lack thereof), and consistent spelling mistakes should raise some flags.

Something Doesn’t Add Up or You Get a Bad Feeling 

Trust your gut. If something seems off, don’t respond right away. Take some time to do some research and see if the request is real. Don’t let your excitement about a potential sale cloud your judgement.

If the “buyer” doesn’t include the pieces names, details or wants to buy a piece that has already been sold, these are all reasons to believe something is fishy about the email.

They Request a Cashier’s Check, Bank Information, or Money Wire

Never give out personal information such as bank or credit card information. This is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for identity fraud. Using a service like PayPal, Square or Stripe can help protect you from these types of scams.

In these scams, a cashier’s check will almost certainly be fake. If you are involved to the point where the scammers have taken your artwork and “overpaid” by accident, never wire them the money back.  

Lori agrees: “The MAIN thing to watch out for is if you are offered substantially more than your asking price. They will often  instruct you to cash the check, money order etc. and take the extra money to send to their shipper, handler or assistant.”

If you get to this point, stop responding immediately.

So, what can you do if you do receive one of these emails?

Do Your Research

Google the email address to see if anyone else has received a similar email. Or, check the bank of scam messages compiled on the Stop Art Scams blog or on artist Kathleen McMahon’s scammer names list here.

Ask the Right Questions

If you are still on the fence about if it is a scam email or not, ask for the sender’s phone number and say you prefer to speak directly. Do not give them your number. If it is a scammer, this will usually put an end to their interest, but a real buyer will have no problem connecting over the phone.

Don’t Continue and Don’t Give Any Personal Information

While it can be fun and tempting to play along with a scammer, resist the urge to engage them in any way. If you go through a few emails only to realize it’s a scam, stop all contact.

What are the takeaways?

While an email scam might not check all of these boxes, it’s best to go with your gut. If you find yourself unsure, take some precautions before moving forward with any financial matters.

Want to organize your art business, stay on top of your sales, and look more professional? Try Artwork Archive free!

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