I received an email today asking about one of the artworks displayed on my old website gallery.

Hi there,
My name is Richard,im from phoenix,was browsing through the internet and my eyes caught this particular work(Emu Beach Path),will like to have it for my new apartment probably this month.please let me know if the piece is available and if yes let me have the detailed price and more information about it. i will be waiting to read from you.

The name of the sender on the email is “Richard _ ”  (I won’t give the full name used as it matches that of an actual artist and I’m certain he has no involvement in this whatsoever). The message repeats the claim that the sender’s name is “Richard” – but the email address is [email protected] which bears no resemblance to the sender’s name

Scams of all kinds happen to be one of my pet hobbies, so at no point was I under any illusion that this was a genuine request. I’ve seen all this before and this one might just as well have had sirens and flashing lights attached because my brain said “ALERT!” before I’d even finished reading the subject line (which was simply “Artwork”).

But people do fall for these scams so I’ve decided to comment on it as we need to shine a light on these things before someone we know is affected. Once you become involved with these criminals, it can be difficult to stop the process and the outcomes can be tragic.

The first thing I did upon receiving this email was to confirm my suspicions by doing a quick search for part of the text. In this case I copied and pasted “was browsing through the internet and my eyes caught this particular work” into Google and, sure enough, the first results are all scam alerts. If that didn’t work, I’d try other snippets or the email address (which also works well in this case).

Scammers don’t have the time or education to be particularly creative. They don’t need to be because it’s just a numbers game. They send out thousands of these emails with virtually the same text and often with the same sender name. Even when they change the supposed name of the sender, the email address is usually still the same and still bears no resemblance to the sender’s claimed name. It’s not particularly sophisticated but they only need one or two people to bite to make the scam worthwhile.

I should point out that the email I received might seem convincing because it actually does name an Emu Beach Path painting that is on my website. But anyone who’s ever used mail merge for addressing letters or envelopes will be familiar with how this process works. In short, the computer fills in a blank space using titles selected from different sites for different email recipients. The computer most likely found all the information for the scammer too. The human scammer has likely never seen my website.

My search today not only confirmed that “Richard” is an inveterate and semi-literate scammer but that he seems to have trouble remembering his own name. Other people have received the exact same email offer from someone supposedly called Michael. Although Michael apparently has trouble spelling his own name in his copy, mistakenly calling himself “Micheal”, the emails otherwise contain the very same poorly written text and have the same reply email address.

Whoever “they” are, “Richard” and “Michael” are almost certainly involved in a cheque overpayment scam.

So how does this scam work?

  • The scammer contacts you and offers to buy something.
  • You reply, accept the offer and set a price.
  • The scammer might want to organise freight themselves.
  • The scammer sends you a cheque for far more than your agreed price.
  • The scammer makes an excuse for overpayment.
  • The scammer asks you to return the excess funds by money transfer or…
  • The scammer asks you to transfer the excess funds to the freight company.
  • You refund or forward the overpayment (could be several thousand dollars).
  • You send the artwork.
  • The original cheque bounces.
  • You lose the artwork and several thousand dollars of your own money.

Individual cases may or may not involve a supposed freight company – the freight company is also the scammer by the way – or the overpayment might instead be explained as a mistake. Regardless, there will be some bizarre reason why you now have a cheque for a lot of money and another bizarre excuse for why you need to do something with that excess.

The conversations are likely to be surreal with the scammer explaining how unbelievably hectic their life is and how desperate they are to get this deal done urgently. They might go on to express their delight at dealing with you and their amazement at technology and the internet and sunshine and clouds and whatever else might make them seem sincere. Everything will be incredible and wonderful and you will be the best person in the world as you bring them great joy. They’ll probably “bless you” too.

But at some point you will be asked to pay that excess money back.

Now, you could, maybe, cover yourself by doing nothing until the cheque has cleared but you won’t win. You’re dealing with criminals. At the very least, your own bank might hit you with a bounced cheque fee.

If you receive an offer that you suspect might be a scam you should always do a little “Google research” and if you’re still not sure, there are websites like “Stop Art Scams” dedicated to throwing a spotlight on these criminals. And let’s not forget that most governments in Australia have some sort of fair trading authority who are there to help with information on scams that are known to be doing the rounds. Some, like WA’s ScamNet, even have mailing lists you can sign up to so you can receive regular scam news updates.

One of the simplest rules, it seems to me, is to never send any money to someone, or on behalf of someone, who is supposed to be sending you money.

Oops! I forgot to mention that had “Richard” actually looked at my online gallery, the only place where Emu Beach Path is featured, he would have seen that it was sold. Sorry to disappoint, Richard.

Art Scams