How to Protect Yourself From Online Art Scams

Katie Carey | June 9, 2021

Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

As an artist, having an online art presence is essential — not just for selling work, but for creating relationships with other artists, clients, and partners that will benefit your art career. 

It’s important to be online, but with more of our careers happening on our phones and laptops, our accounts have also become an attractive place for criminals. Between scams, phishing, art image theft, computer viruses, trolls, and fraud, there are a number of potentially dangerous traps to watch out for as you bring more of your art career online. 

Even if you’re a tech wizard, it’s always worth double-checking how you’re interacting online. Here are a few simple things you can do to protect your art business.


Create complex passwords & enable two-factor authentication

It may sound basic, but having strong passwords is one of the easiest ways to be safe online. Use different passwords and make sure to include a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols in your passwords. 

For any website that you attach any personal information or payment information, you should make sure to have a secure password. However, you should vary your passwords and avoid “password recycling” which makes it easier for hackers to test your passwords against banking and other sites. 

In addition to creating strong passwords, you should also enable two-factor authentication where you can. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an additional layer of security you can add to online accounts by adding a second credential, like a code sent to your phone number, to verify your identity.

As part of multi-user accounts on Artwork Archive, like the Master Artist, Collector Premier, and all Organization accounts, you can now add two-factor authentication. 

Two-Factor Authentication provides a higher level of security than authentication methods that depend on single-factor authentication (SFA), in which the user provides only one factor–typically, a password or passcode. 

How to activate Two-Factor Authentication on Artwork Archive:

  • You have to be subscribed to a multi-user account. This feature is not available on single-user accounts. 

  • Click on Account in the left-side menu or by selecting Account from the drop-down menu under your Profile Image icon in the upper right-hand corner.

  • Scroll to Logins. Click Enable Two-Factor Authentication. 

  • You'll be prompted to enter a phone number that is capable of receiving text messages. Note: a country code is required. 

  •  We'll send you an SMS with a confirmation code. Enter that code in the blank field in your Artwork Archive account. 

  • You can learn more about how to enable two-factor authentication here.

Recognize art scams 

Have you ever received an inquiry about your artwork that seemed a little bit off? Be wary when it comes to new buyers you’ve never interacted with. 

There are a few tell-tale signs of an art scam. Before replying to an email, check for scam red flags. 

  • Are there misspellings or strange grammar? Oftentimes a scam is being thrown together without care, you’ll notice sentences that don’t make sense and other errors.

  • Does the inquiry immediately try to facilitate a sale? When a genuine, non-scammer, buyer reaches out about your artwork they will likely have questions about the work, about you as an artist, and may want to see more images of the work before even bringing up the details around purchasing your artwork. A scam message is always trying to create the quickest possible transfer of money or personal information. 

  • Is there an unnecessarily complicated story within the message? Sometimes scam messages will bombard you with too much information. This TMI tactic is intended to either confuse you, elicit some type of emotional response, or to rationalize requests about money orders or refunds in the email.

  • Does the sender want you to cash a check for them or send them any funds? A real art buyer will not ask you to cash a check or ask you to send them money. Scammers will entice artists by saying that they will pay more than the art price listed but would like to be refunded for the difference. If it feels fishy, it is!

Always google the name of your buyer and confirm that they are a real person. You can google the text of a message sent to you to see if other people have received similar messages. 


Understand the signs of a phishing scam

Phishing is the illegal practice of sending emails seemingly from reputable companies in order to trick the users into revealing personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

How can you spot a phishing scam?

  • The email asks you for personal information such as your date of birth, social security numbers, phone numbers, credit card details, home address, or password information.

  • The email address has inconsistencies with is spoofed to look like the actual email address (there are dashes or dots in the web address where there should be none).

  • Does the message seem urgent? Does the message make it seem like the interaction needs to take place immediately? If there is an unnecessary sense of urgency, it is likely an art scam. 

  • The email asks you to click a suspicious link or a "file" of which you do not know the origin. 


Protect your art images

There are low tech low effort ways to protect your art images as well as more intensive and higher effort methods to protect images. Here are the top low tech low effort and top intensive and more effort-intensive approaches to protecting your art images online. 

Low tech, low effort ways your can protect your art images:

  • Disable right-click options on images. By disabling right clicks on images you are creating a barrier to immediate image access. 

Each HTML website should allow you to restrict right clicks on images. For some websites, you are able to easily disable right-clicking by using a plugin widget. This method is a barrier to theft since motivated people with a basic knowledge of HTML will be able to bypass a disabled right-click. method of protection.

  • Include contact and image permission information on your website. The simplest way to discourage unwanted image use is to give viewers a way to contact you about how to use and credit your art images. 

  • Upload low-resolution images of your art. Having low-resolution images will make printing artwork difficult as its quality will be poor. For online viewing, a low-resolution file will still look good to a viewer but a low-resolution file will make reproduction difficult.

More involved ways to protect your art images online:

  • Copyright your art images. Copywriting images will not make them more difficult to steal but it will make going after misused images easier. Depending on where in the world you live, you may need legal consultation to obtain copyright documentation.

  • Add a watermark to art images. Watermarking images dissuades image theft and use. However, adding a watermark also degrades the viewing experience for clients and other people online looking at your artwork.


Be proactive: check if your art images are being used without permission

Image theft, whether for art images or other images, is a rampant internet problem. So, how do you know if your art images are being reposted online without your permission? 

You can reverse image search your art images from your website to see where those images appear on the web. 

If you see that an image is being used without your permission you should first reach out and ask that the image be taken down. If you don’t receive a response or the images aren't removed soon after your message it could be worth pursuing greater action or consulting a lawyer. 


What should you do if you do receive one of these emails?

First, 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

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.

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. Whatever you do, don’t give any personal information or purchase anything until you have verified that it is a legitimate inquiry.

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