You wake up one morning, bleary-eyed, and discover an email in your inbox. It is from an address you don’t recognize but the message is loud and clear. The sender has seen your art online and would like to make a purchase. Naturally this is welcome news. As you read on it seems the purchaser has everything planned. They would like the art shipped as quickly as possible (after all, it is a last minute anniversary gift) and they will overpay you not just to reimburse you for the shipping cost but to let you know that they are truly appreciative and wish to continue doing business with you. They have even made arrangements for a third party shipper to handle the details from here on out. It seems too good to be true.
If you have been following this blog, some of this may sound familiar. We have said it before, and we will say it again and again. When selling anything online, from a sofa to a piece of your artwork, it is extremely important to practice common sense and to be wary of potential scams. Unfortunately, artists can be particularly susceptible to scams because, let’s face it, when somebody wants to buy your work you’re unlikely to want to say no. But as a business person, you must protect your interests which sometimes means taking a very skeptical view of any offers to purchase your art. With a little foreknowledge you can learn to recognize a scam before it ensnares you. Here are some common things to look for.
If a potential buyer contacts you out of the blue and asks for expedited shipping, offering a tale of last minute gift giving or an impending move out of the country, proceed with extreme caution. Many scams are rooted in the ability to separate you from your artwork before it is discovered that the method of payment is fraudulent. It can take weeks for checks to be verified by a bank giving scammers time to do a lot of damage. If someone would like to purchase your art, stick to your routine when it comes to payment. Insist potential buyers pay you via Paypal (or another trusted third party payment site that you have used and understand well) before you send your work. If they refuse, be prepared to walk away from the sale secure in the knowledge that this was nothing more than attempt to scam. There is absolutely no reason a legitimate buyer would refuse to pay via Paypal. The same thing is true for any potential patrons who wish to purchase your art using a credit card. Paypal. No exceptions. Welcome to the business world.
Overpayment for a piece of art is another red flag to look out for. There is no reason a buyer should offer to reimburse you or overpay for a piece of art and if they do, while it may be tempting to take this as a compliment, you must be extremely cautious. It is not uncommon for a scammer to overpay and then return with a tale of woe about why the extra funds are desperately needed back. In the meantime they will have paid you with a fraudulent check so that when you “return” their extra money you are actually handing over your own hard earned funds. According to the National Consumer League, it is not uncommon for losses in scams such as this to exceed $4,000. By the time you realize what has happened it is too late, and once the money is gone there is virtually no hope of getting it back.
Third party involvement is another way to spot a potential scammer. If someone contacts you about a piece of art they wish to buy and then directs you to a shipper or says that a third party will collect the art in person, there is reason to be cautious. While this may in some cases be acceptable, it is again critical that you protect yourself by insisting on payment in full via Paypal or in cash only before releasing any of your work.
Though it may seem like a minor detail, a poorly written emailcan also be a sign that you are the target of a potential scam. It is not uncommon for non-native speakers to contact artists around the globe and the result is a clumsily written or confusing email. Again, this may not always be the red flag it appears to be, but it is something to take under consideration.
The bottom line when dealing with business of any kind is that you must learn to separate your artist and personal self from your business self. It may be tempting to buy into a story that results in the quick sale of your art for more than you are asking, and you may feel inclined to give someone a break and bend the rules of engagement just a little bit just this once, but learn from the experience of countless others like you around the world—stick to your business practices no matter what and a little caution can go a long, long way.