Navigate the Scammers, the Crackpots, and the just plain Cruel

by hlara411

A couple years back I switched my website to a site that hosted artist websites, Artspan.  There are two things I noticed immediately:

  1.  My traffic increased drastically
  2.  The scammers came out of the woodwork like cockroaches.

As with anything on the internet, you have to take the good with the bad, right?  I’ve generated more income on Artspan in the last year than the last 5 years combined on my last hosting site so that right there says – stick with it. Just learn to navigate what’s real and not so real.

I’m lucky enough to not have anyone write me to tell me I suck… so far – but that’s the easiest to deal with. Consider that anyone with so much time on their hands that they can write to random artists and eloquently spin such prose as “you suck, don’t quit your day job” (this actually happened to a friend of mine!) probably isn’t an art critic for the NY Times.  These people are called trolls and they exist to remind us that people suck, not your art.  Laugh them off and move on.   Don’t write back, don’t expend any more effort than moving the message to the trash and forgetting about it – that is, until the next time you’re sharing a glass of wine with friends and everyone else is sharing the crazy shit that happened to them that week. At that point you might even consider yourself grateful to the troll for giving you possibly the best story of the evening.

OK, someone says you suck and that’s clearly not a potential sale but how do you recognize the ones who pretend to be interested? Here’s my top ten reasons why that potential buyer isn’t who they say they are.

  1. They have a vacation home in Sweden and want art for their guest room.  Vacation home in general is suspicious but when they drop exotic locations it seals the deal.  And for some reason they always say “guest room”, what the hell?  My art doesn’t deserve your fake mantle over your fake fireplace in your fake family room??
  2. They write to you at 3:44 am. Yes they could be writing from another time zone but generally you can tell a foreign email address by the country letters attached to their email servers.  Genuine art buyers don’t search the internet in the wee hours of the morning, those people are sleeping because they have a job to go to the next day.
  3. They have a name and email like “engineerbill23”.  I’m not sure exactly why but ‘engineer’ is a very common email starter though I did get “banker george47” once.  I suppose someone in a foreign country thinks if they give a profession one will immediately think…. he drives a train, he has to be genuine!
  4. They can’t write in full sentences and the spell check is mysteriously disengaged.  That’s just laziness and insulting to my sensibilities.
  5. They want you to send them information that is clearly found on your website, the website that they had to be on to send you the inquiry in the first place.  Like “can you send me images that are available for purchase?” when that is clearly marked Gallery of Available Artwork on your home page, you know – that sort of thing.
  6. They don’t reply to your request for more information.  I almost always thank each interested party for their interest and request a phone number to contact them personally.  A genuine buyer will readily answer you and open up a conversation, but most you never hear from again. Some will continue with the ruse but still neglect to answer the phone number question, in the event of this happening follow 7, 8, and 9 to know you’re dealing with a true scumbag.
  7. They have an assistant or even better – their spouse’s assistant, who will contact you to handle the details. This is one of the more detailed scams I encountered, and the assistant plays an important role. I submit to you that anyone successful enough to have a full time assistant doesn’t purchase art over the internet. And certainly not from a relatively unknown artist.
  8. They have their own shipping coordinator who will arrange a pickup.  Again, someone who has that kind of network, does not use Fedex or UPS, and wants to send someone to personally pick up your work is not going to impersonally buy your art over the internet.
  9. You receive payment but the check is made out for more money than you originally discussed.  This is the most insidious of the scams.  It involves multiple emails that are personally written by the scammer to respond to your questions, a genuine check written off a real account, and an entire back story to support the ruse.  They then blame it on the assistant, and simply ask you to refund the additional money and to send via Western Union.  It’s crazy to think that people actually make money doing this, that someone could be so hapless or desperate to comply without verifying funds at the bank, but it must.  This scam is extremely prevalent, do an internet search for the details and you’ll hear from hundreds of artists who’ve experienced this scam right down to the very personal details.
  10. The most important detail of every false lead :  if they don’t start the email with how much they love your work then they aren’t a real buyer.  Buying art is personal, it’s emotional and if someone was so moved by a picture on the internet that they want to purchase it, they won’t be able to make it a simple business transaction.

Don’t misunderstand me – there are impersonal buyers out there but I find that my shopping cart, which does not require any personal contact, suffices for those customers.  And I’ve never received an email inquiry that had only one of the things on my list – they always involve three or more suspicious attributes. Aside from the very detailed long con of sending an actual check I have yet to figure out why people send fake leads.  One would think that they must get something out of it in order to keep doing it.  It could be as simple as gaining your email address but that’s on your website anyways. All I know is there are more out there than you could possibly imagine and it’s enough to get very discouraged about it.  If it strikes you as odd, if there are warning bells going off, trust your instincts and protect yourself. Just know that you’re not alone, be aware of the signs, and handle it accordingly.  Sales will come in many ways so don’t let the trolls get you down.