Many of you have seen Chris Hanson’s “To Catch a ?” show on Date Line. One that comes to mind is, “To Catch an Identity Thief.” Hanson poses as a deliveryman, delivering packages to what is now known as drop zone or reshipping scam for stolen goods identified in previous segments of the show.
Fast forward to episode five and we meet a man, who is well an average guy. Hanson finds out that the person who is shipping all these stolen goods to him is his soon to be wife. The man produces a picture of his fiancée, a stunning woman. In fact he tells Hanson she is a model and a millionaire. The two are going to be married, she is coming to America very soon. She has been away in Australia, Europe and God knows where. Why because she has stores all over the place. This is why he ships the merchandise to her. His fiancée buys the merchandise and ships it to him and he reships it out of the country to her.
The man tells Hanson he met his fiancée online and that they fell in Love. He produces email love letters that confirm his story. As the meeting between Hanson and the man goes on we learn that the poor guy has spent all of his money, his savings shipping these items to his soon to be wife. A woman he has never met in person. We are talking about a lot of money too. Not to mention the value of the stolen goods. Soon we learn it is all a scam related to Identity Theft. The poor guys fiancée is some unknown man sitting at a computer in Nigeria pretending to be, well a super model.
Why did I chose this particular episode to start with, well I thought it was just unbelievable? Watch it at the link above and you will see why. But it is real and this is exactly the kind of place your artwork, artwork you have been scammed out of is going to go. Hanson produces other examples too, in other segments, you should watch and learn.
The Art Scam
An Artist friend of mine emailed me that she had received an email from a woman who was interested in buying two of her paintings. My friends painting were listed on her Artist Website. She was excited. A potential sale of two paintings.
The potential buyer said she had seen the work on the website and wanted more information. She was moving into a big house and needed more artwork for decorating. She was in France. My friend sent her the information requested.
The next email from the woman, the buyer was somewhat confusing. She was now in Cancun at her sisters wedding. She explained she was pregnant with twins and it was important to her sister that she attend the wedding. Her husband had just gotten a new job and they were moving to England. The woman wanted more information, information that was plainly available on my artist friends website.
My friend complied and sent the information. The next email from the buyer said she was forwarding this information to her husband. He would make all the necessary arrangements to pay for the artwork and have the artwork picked up by their movers and have it shipped to their new house in England.
My friend and I chat in a group with other artists. She had posted the first email in the discussion. I immediately recognized it as a potential scammer email. Several other artists in the group also were suspicious, but several others were not.
If you sell online you get all kinds of inquiries was the feelings of some of the artists. You have to follow through if you want to make sales. This is true enough, but you have to be smart and careful.
The way this scam works is pretty sophisticated. The buyer makes an inquiry about the purchase of your artwork. The buyer then shares all the confusion going on in her life. It is clear she is pregnant with twins, her sister is getting married, she is in the middle of a big international move, she is decorating a new house and her husband has a new job.
So she hands off the purchase and details to her husband. He makes all the arrangements and sends you a check for payment. When the check arrives it is for more money than agreed on for the sale of the two artworks. Perhaps hundreds or thousands of dollars more than the purchase price.
Back to all the confusion, poor man the husband, is just overwhelmed and made a mistake in communication with his stressed out pregnant over burdened spouse. You the seller being an understanding person see the error in the circumstances and of course send a refund for the over payment. After all you want to be honest and the money is in the bank. Fed X shows up and you ship the art work too.
Now you are about to find out that the check was no good. It really takes most banks ten days to clear funds and you have already paid out the refund from your account. You now realize that you have not only lost the money you refunded but you lost your artwork too and maybe more.
I found an example of the email the scammer was using and a description of the scam at this link, The Artists Network
Back to proposals of marriage and the reshipping Scam!
Where did your artwork really go, well it was delivered to a waiting fiancée somewhere? A kind person in love. Who then reships your package to the criminals behind this scam.
What Else Could You Lose?
When you sent your check for the refund you sent your bank account number with it. Worse; if this was a credit card transaction you sent your credit card information. Either way you are now a target for Identity Theft.
Remember I said these were sophisticated scammers and they can access your bank account or credit card account and steal even more money from you.
Further depending on how sophisticated your scammer is, they can plant Computer Malware hidden in the email into your computer and gain access to financial information you have stored on your hard drive. Not only your financial information but financial information you have stored about your customers. Don’t think so? Just ask your Bank or VISA and MASTERCARD. They lose Billions of dollars every year along with people like you because of internet scams.
What Can You Do?
First you can learn about internet scams. My friend was lucky because when she suspected something might be a little “fishy” she asked someone else what they thought.
You can do what I did for my friend. I did a little online research and sure enough I found the scammers name in a database of known art scammers. Information is Power!
Keep in mind that the lists I am linking too are not complete. These International Criminals change their names and email addresses continuously. So Beware!
Database’s of Known Art Scammers
Art Quest list of Known Art Scammers
FASO Searchable data base of Known Art Scammers
Stop Art Scams Blog
List of Known Art Scammers
Other resources about internet scams
Looks to Good to be True website, lots of information.
Chris Hanson msmbc “To Catch a Conman”
FBI Searchable website has a lot of information.
FBI Internet scams and safety advice.
FBI Art Theft Team
FBI Internet Crime Trends with search categories in the righthand column.
File a Complaint
You can also file a complaint if you are a victim or potential victim of an internet scam. Report these criminals.
About Your Computer
FBI recommendations for computer security
What is Malware?
Information is Power!
OK now you have the information. Bookmark this page so you can come back to this information if you need it. You might want to create a file with these links and any other ones you find useful.
If you did get a scam email or had further contact with the scammer, more emails. You should be in the protect my ass mode now. Watch your bank transactions and credit cards transactions. If you see anything you think is suspicious take immediate action.
You should run a scan of your computer for Malware, make sure all software is up to date. If you haven’t turned on automatic updates do it now. Your anti-virus software can’t protect you if you don’t update it. Security updates can occur by the hour depending on the threats and most anti-virus softwares update at least daily.
Keep your operating system up to date too. Make sure you are installing all those security updates. Use your firewall. Use your computers encryption feature too.
Don’t open suspicious mail. You’ve got friends? Yeah those that send you endless emails with jokes and other annoying stuff. Just say no and delete them on arrival or encourage them to use Facebook. Then you can look and ignore. See Facebook is good for something.
The Most Important Advice!
Do not share any financial information with anyone you don’t know on the internet. Remember just because your customer told you their life story does not mean you know them. Think about it. When you buy something from Target.com they don’t give you their bank account number because you are the customer.
If you are selling on line use an intermediary like PayPal https://www.paypal.com/
Remember; PayPal never contacts you and asks for personal or financial information, that is another scam. So look closely at the information PayPal has listed on their site. Security is their game.
You can also set up a merchant account through your bank or other credit card services.
Some offer online credit card processing.
Costco for example offers affordable Merchant Credit Card Processing.
If you only have the occasional sale online PayPal is your best bet.
Clearly list in your terms of sales the period of time it really takes for a transaction (Check) to clear your bank. You will have to ask your bank that information. Don’t release/ship the artwork until you know the money is in your account.
If you researched the links I have provided you are now you are ready to sell art on the internet and protect yourself. If you haven’t done this research Stop and do it before you are the next victim of an ART SCAM.