Beware of art scams

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and because we’ve recently heard about some OCAD University students who have been duped by scams designed to target young, emerging artists, we want to offer you some helpful tips.

Here’s a version of how these scams play out. The scammer sends a DM over Instagram telling the artist they want to commission an artwork. The artists spends time creating an artwork and when the time comes to collect payment, the scammer sends a cheque in an amount that represents an overpayment. Sometimes there’s an elaborate story about how the scammer cannot get into their accounts and asks you to send them the overpayment to help them out. The artist complies, and afterwards, the cheque bounces. This leaves the artist cheated out of their own money, and out of pocket on the commission. Similar examples include offering to purchase an artwork.

Signals or red flags to watch out for

Impersonal stories

The sender uses a story to hook you, maybe it’s about their wife liking your work or wanting art for a new home, but it sounds impersonal. A big tip off is that they don’t address you by name, but simply start with “Hello”. This way they can send the same email to thousands of artists.

A foreign emailer

The sender usually claims to live in another country — far from where you live — to make sure the art has to be shipped. This is all part of their plan.

A sense of urgency

The sender claims they need your art quickly or that they need to handle everything in a short amount of time. 

An odd request

The request doesn’t add up. For instance, the sender wants to buy three pieces and asks for prices and dimensions, but doesn’t include the pieces’ names. Or, they want to purchase a piece that is marked as sold on your website. 

Poor language, strange spacing 

The email or message is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors and doesn’t flow as a normal writing should. Maybe the message is oddly spaced. This is an indicator the weasel carelessly copied and pasted the same message to thousands of artists, hoping some will fall for the scam.

How to protect yourself

Research the message

Copy the message into Google to see if anyone else has received the same fishy correspondence. Art Promotivate has detailed this approach here. You can also look at the bank of scam messages compiled on the Stop Art Scams blog or check artist Kathleen McMahon’s scammer names list here.

Ask the right questions

If you are uncertain of the message’s legitimacy, ask for the sender’s phone number and say you prefer to speak directly with potential buyers. Or, insist that you can only receive money via PayPal. If you insist on your own method, this will usually weed out scammers. If you aren’t sure, email to see if it is phishing or get in touch with the Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers to determine if it is a legitimate client or not.  

Keep personal information private

Make sure you never give personal information out–such as bank details or credit card information–to facilitate a transaction. You shouldn’t have to provide this to receive payment and it could be used to create fake identities under your name. 

Know the scam and never wire money

If you are tricked to the point where the scammers have taken your artwork and “overpaid” by accident, never wire them the money back. Your repayment money will go through to them, but the original cheque or credit card details they sent you will be fake. This is how their scam succeeds.

Create agreements

A legitimate client, collector or patron will be willing to work with you to establish and sign an agreement that will include a 50% deposit, up front, that ensures you have funding to support the creation of a commissioned work. If you need some help with creating a commission agreement, our Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers is the best place to start. They have great tips to help you get started as an emerging creator.