Beware of online art scams! A personal experience
Recently I received an email from a potential customer who turned out to be an art scammer. I want to share with you this story to warn you and maybe prevent fellow artists to fall into his trap (or any other scammer for that matter).
A little preface before the story begins: I decided to hide some of the “personal” informations from our conversation but the core of the experience is still preserved.
A few days ago i found a mail in my inbox coming from mr. Edward Koch (firstname.lastname@example.org), or at least that’s how he/she wants to be called. This information is trivial but turned out to be pretty important in the end, you’ll see why soon enough.
He is looking to buy my art for his wife, he basically wants to gift her a painting of mines.
Exciting, isn’t it?
Our conversation begins:
Sounds cool! My bad but i wasn’t smelling anything at this point yet, he looked a nice guy and genuinely interested in what I do.
So I went ahead and replied linking all places he can find more informations about me (social media, this website, my newsletter …), but sadly i had nothing ready for immediate sale since lately I’m working on sketchbooks. So I asked which kind of painting he was looking for, if there was one in particular he would’ve liked to have. I was thinking about doing a commission.
Woow! That’s an interesting budget i thought! The bad news is that he didn’t care at all about what I said and he asked once again for an immediate purchase. I mean it’s possible he’s just on a hurry and wants something quickly.
Looking at it now i see why he was doing that, the less time they give you to actually think about what’s happening and the greater are the chances you “miss” a clue to unmask their fraud.
My answer went something like this: “I only have some old pieces ready to ship, and if you’re in a hurry the very unfortunate situation of the coronavirus spreading in my country will probably delay the shipment”.
I went ahead and sent him some pictures with prices (this was the first of the mistakes i made, i should’ve acted more rationally, remember this point because we’ll talk about it in a few lines).
He’s giving me a lot of informations about himself but only seems to care about “the first item in the list”. So he probably doesn’t really care what he’s buying and he just needs a present for the wife. Why share all of that with me if he’s so pressed for an immediate sale and most likely didn’t even watch the artworks?
In the end he also asks for A LOT of things. Way more than he would need to pay me. He clearly tried to create a connection with me and earn my trust faking a human-like situation and asking me to share some of my informations with him. The trick is that he just made up that backstory and he wants valuable data in exchange.
I obviously didn’t send him all of those infos and i just gave him my bank coordinates to send the payment.
Ok, now he’s asking me to send the painting to a third part, his associate? Also you can’t tell (because i deleted some parts with the XXX) but looking for that address on Google Maps i found a pretty desolate road in the middle of nowhere.
I decided to wait and see what was going to happen.
Sure. I ship a package “right ahead” BEFORE his payment, that by the way he already “did” but apparently has to be approved by his bank that also needs to see my shipment receipt? Like if any bank in the world could have the time to manually verify every shipment for their customers…
So let’s recap how it all unfolded and what I could have done to handle it better:
Looking at the whole picture now it’s clear to me there were some signs i should’ve picked up way earlier than i did.
- The guy says he’s from the U.S. and all his emails are full of grammatical errors (by no means i’m perfect and english isn’t my first language, but if even i can notice it there’s something going on here).
- He is all into immediate sales, if a person likes your art he’s usually at least taking the time to look at the images, even if he needs a present as soon as possible (especially when spending some money on it).
- He wanted me to ship the painting to a third party that should’ve picked it up for him.
- He is asking for my personal informations, way more than the required ones for a wire transfer.
- He wants me to ship the painting before receiving the payment.
What did i do wrong? And what should I have done instead?
I regret doing two things:
First I didn’t watermark all the images i sent him, so he could potentially be using some of those without my permission now.
Second I gave him some of my personal informations, granted those are somewhat publicly available I still don’t like the idea of having sent those to a scammer willingly.
To avoid this the next time I should’ve searched for him and about this topic before keeping up the conversation: Google would’ve found some interesting results in the blink of an eye!
So I suggest you to be very careful if someone approaches you with pressing questions, you should never give out your informations before checking who you are dealing with and you should definitely never send some artwork over before getting paid (more on this topic below, be careful because sometimes the payment looks good but it’s fake and you end up with nothing).
Have you ever been in a similar situation? Would you like to tell me about it? Write me in the comments. I think it’s good to share our experiences to help each other out even if it means admitting some of our mistakes.
What do you think about this whole situation? Even if you never found yourself in my seat, now that you’ve read the scammer’s emails do you think you would’ve stopped earlier? At what point did the conversation get too suspicious?
How am I so sure he’s a scammer?
I simply searched on Google for his name! (and why did I not think about doing it earlier? self note: always check on Google first)
Here are some of the top results i found that left me with no doubt:
- How To Recognize An Art Scam from Agora Gallery
- LISTING SITE SCAMMER – EDWARDKOCH200200@GMAIL.COM from scamwarers.com
- Listing Site Scammer – email@example.com again from scamwarners.com (this time the email is different but the fraud is the same)
I leave you two more links from www.artworkarchive.com if you feel like delving into this topic:
- What you need to know to save yourself from art scams
- Don’t be fooled by email art scams: how to spot and avoid fraud
Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash
I googled this email firstname.lastname@example.org from a gentleman interested in my work and surprisingly it led me to this website. The message in his email wa almost identical. I was almost fooled! Thanks for the heads up!.
The same! The same email wrote me a few days ago regarding the same! Reading the message was quite similar and looked for info before answering him (thing that I’ll never do, of course). The good thing is that the email appeared on Spam, so it makes me be on alert that something strange was going on. It is not the first time something like this happens to me. Very careful about that!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience thought this post.
I just received the malicious email.
To be honest, I sent my reply but I checked first before sending my bank details. I thought it was too suspicious because I also check the shipping address in Ukraine… And voila!
I hope those people don’t continue with their robberies to te artist community. It’s really shameful and outrageous.
Regards from Spain.
Same thing just happened to me. Different name, same scenario. Ukraine delivery.
My delivery service told me straight away that it didn’t sound right.
I sent them an invoice then contacted my bank.
We live and we learn.
Stay safe out there.
FYI I got such an inquiry through my secure website form this morning. First time through that form although I have been getting these for at least 10 years through regular email. Feeling perverse this morning, here was my reply:
So nice to hear from you again.
Please select from my art website options and send payment via PayPal. Heck, I will throw in a free one for each painting you buy. I am also considering including a jackalope for my very best customers this holiday season so this is your lucky day.
Next week I will be featured on CBS as well as in a Netflix documentary.
Hurry and act today as then my business will explode and prices will go up.
Fyi – this art scam is still going on. I received an email about 1 week ago with same copy (different gmail account) (October 2020). Be careful, please!
1) Copy the body of the email in Google to see what comes out.
2) Research the “potential buyer” in Google. You should find someone with the name in the specific geography. At least a Facebook, Linkedin page, etc.
TANKS for telling me. I got the scam from max denise.
Just had same scam attempted today. Googled the email… and all was revealed! Great work.
I received an email from good old Max Denise the other day. At first, I was naturally excited about the potential sale, but after he wasn’t specific about what painting he was interested in, plus the poor English, I became suss. A quick Facebook search for the person’s name in South Carolina showed no results. Another FB search with the email address and Max Denise in Mozambique came up – nice! Then a Google search and your article popped up. Thanks for calling them out to help protect others!
Thank you a lot for informing us Chiara.
<>> send me the similar message. I would like to share it to make people aware of such people.
I am Max Denise from South Carolina USA , I actually observed my wife has been viewing your website on my laptop and I guess she likes the contrast of your colors, I must also say you are doing great job. I would like to know your location and what inspires you. I am very much interested in the purchase to surprise my wife for our upcoming Anniversary , I would greatly appreciate if you could possibly recommend a few completed original piece, I look forward to reading from you Asap Regards , Max”
Same max Denise contacted me. I stupidly gave him my bank details But not address. Should I change my card or is it safe? Luckily didn’t send him the art! Thanks for this warning. I blocked him – anything else I can do to protect myself??
thanks so much for posting this. ‘Max’ approached my last week initially to buy £17,000 worth of my work. Obviously I was extremely excited. After not very much digging I landed on your site. ‘Max’ is still up to his tricks. I really hope that no-one else falls for it. I didn’t! Thanks and best wishes
Hi Chiara, Thanks for sharing your story, received the same email only from ‘Max Denise’
email@example.com. After sending him a price list he wanted to buy €10.500,- worth of paintings and have them shipped to Ukraine ASAP… uh yeah right … Great to read and have it confirmed that it’s definitely a scam. Greetings, Aaf
Thanks very much for posting this. An artist I work with had this message come in through her website form. Thanks to you, I was able to tell her not to respond to it.
Got the exact same SCAM today.
I’m in! well he has some of my data, because I send him an invoice. I’m happy found the post. I’m just the next victim.
Chamira you doing a great job! thank you for your post. I’m not going to spend more time on this. As I see I get the same post adres somewhere in Ukraine.
I’ve recently been a victim of a very similar scam in India. Slightly different details of email, they also sent a very genuine looking photo of a couple as a commission, but the signs were there which I missed earlier. Terrible language, sharing odd details to convince me why they couldn’t communicate in person or phone, and instantly agreeing to purchase the highest priced item without answering any of my questions about the people “commissioned”for etc. Sad to see how many people are falling for this including myself almost! . Let’s hope posts like these help alert other artists.
Thanks for your courageous blog, I got the exact same scam with the name of
firstname.lastname@example.org. I did send him pictures of my artwork, which he could have found anyway on my website. At this stage I should ask for a DHL quotation but I thought I’d search the internet because the location (Ukraine) sounded risky and the name he gave me of his associate sounded too common to me. I am glad I did as I discovered your blog. A waste of time and a lot of frustration …. But we have learned something in the experience!
Same here. I looked him up when he started asking for address and telephone. His emails read the almost identical except that in mine, he is moving to the Philippines. I only shared some images, which I didn’t watermark. I received his last email this morning, July 15, 2020. Thank you for writing about your experience. It has saved me from paying any consequences. Let’s hope.
Thanks for sharing your experience, glad I found all these information on google before I even waste time on replying the scammer. I have just received an email from
Greetings, I am Max Denise from South Carolina USA , I actually observed my wife has been viewing your website on my laptop and I guess she likes the contrast of your colors, I must also say you are doing great job. I would like to know your location and what inspires you. I am very much interested in the purchase to surprise my wife for our upcoming Anniversary , I would greatly appreciate if you could possibly recommend a few completed original piece, I look forward to reading from you Asap Regards , Max
Hi guys I got the same
email@example.com about the wife’s anniversary June 2020 glad I did a search on that email
Had just been looking into shipping prices, but thought if something seems a bit to good to be true, it probably is
Thanks for posting this, and saving me time and aggravation.
this exact thing happened to me as well, luckily I didn’t go all the way of transfering any money or providing him/she with any of my details.
In my case it was
firstname.lastname@example.org, saying the exact same thing, I mean exactly the same sentences and words (for his wife, anniversary, ocean engineer…. blablabla).
I’m very happy posts like this exist, because I wouldn’t be able to find out it was a scam.
Here is one more fake purchase I have received from Etsy in my first half an hour I went online as a seller. Latter our conversation also include fake Paypal confirmation and they wanted me to send them the money difference via Western Union.
I do hope you have better experiences with art selling online.
Best regards, Urska
Brenda Jones sent you a conversation on October 12, 2016.
Autumn, listing #483377543
Hi,I will like to purchase this item if you still have it available?Kindly email back through my email below(email@example.com)so as we can proceed.
2016-10-12 11:05 GMT+02:00 Brenda Jones :
Thanks for mailing back,Am Okay with the price,i’m an honest and straight person and always want to be treat the same way, are you sure of the item condition? this is only what can make me to be worry, cause I will not be able to come overview and look at it, i am an Marine Engineer and i am buying this item for my Aunt, i am at sea right now,and I can only pay through Paypal and you can put the Paypal charges on me because as at present, i don’t have access to my bank account online,but i have it attached to my Paypal account,and this is why am using Paypal to pay,all i will need is your paypal email address to make the payments i have a pick up agent that will come for the pick up, after payments has been sorted and will also handle the paper works. Where is the exact location for the pickup? So that I can contact the pick up agent with your location to know how much it will cost me for the pick up, the pick up agent still have some other stuffs to pick up for me, I will be looking forward to hear back from you ASAP. Also, you are to get back to me with your PayPal email address with your full name as you have it on PayPal.Thanks
2016-10-12 9:58 GMT+02:00 Brenda Jones :
Thanks for your response,Am ready in immediate Purchase and how is the condition?What is the final asking price?Get back to me now so as we can proceed further.
12. okt. 2016 14:40
Hello, I am about to send the payment to your PayPal
account and as I have told you that i have a shipper that will come for
the pick up of the item from you,but the shipper don’t use PayPal, all
they use is Western Union to pay them and i am trying to send the money
online but it’s not going through and I am on the sea there is no way i
can find a western union agent to make the transfer to my pick up
agent,so i wanted to ask if it will be OK for me to include my pickup
agent’s fees together with your payments through PayPal,So you will help me
wire the pick up fee to them via western Union Money Transfer
immediately i pay you.I don’t mean to bother you I’m sure you understand that I’m presently on the sea and there is nothing i can do to that.
The bottom line is after I have made the payments via PayPal,you will help
me wire my pick up agent fee to them through western union money
transfer,I just wanted to seek your consent before going ahead with the
payments,I will be very happy if my offer is given a favorable
consideration. Respond as soon as possible so that i can send out your
sre., 12. okt. 2016 15:22
I have just made the payment and PayPal emailed me with the confirmation mail, funds have left my paypal account too. Check your PayPal email address below (firstname.lastname@example.org) both inbox and Spam folder for the Pay Pal confirmation email.PayPal said that they would be holding the money i sent because of the excess payments that i made which was the money for pick up, i will need you to proceed and Wire the excess which is €600.00 to my pick up agent to enable them make a booking for the picked up of the item. Remember that you will wire the agent fee to them via Western Union Money transfer.
So please do send the €550 through western union money transfer, i include €50 as the western union charges.You can easily Walk into a local post office or any western union outlet around you or you make the transfer online through
www.westernunion.comto send the money. After you have sent the money please get back to me asap with the western union details, the MTCN number which you will be given by western union after you have sent the money as well as the sender’s name and address so i can forward it back to PayPal for your money to be put through or you can email it to PayPal directly,that is alright as well.
Here is my pick up agent’s info that you will need to send the money to through
Western union money transfer:
Name: David Harvey
Address: 335 WEST ROAD
Waynesboro Virginia 22980
I will need your contact address where the item will be picked up so as my agent will contact you to book a pick up time that is convenient for you after they have received payment.
sre., 12. okt. 2016 15:20
Dear Urška Lan
We’re committed to providing the fastest, safest payment service on the planet. To keep ourselves on track, we occasionally hold back payment from certain sellers to ensure that their buyers are completely satisfied. We know this can be a frustrating experience and apologize for the inconvenience, however by doing this, we can keep our prices low by repelling fraudsters who aim to spoil the PayPal service. Your money is ready to be credited into your PayPal account.
A payment hold is when we take a single payment that you’ve received and set it aside while we make sure that your customers are satisfied. The funds for payment received are held temporarily as a pending balance in your account, and released at the end of days. The funds may be released early if PayPal determines that the transaction has been fulfilled and your customers are satisfied.
At the same time we want to let you know that your transaction was done via our e-mail payment service, any inquiries and necessary information should be sent to us by directly reply to this message, because of the status of this transaction. It has not been passed on to our customer care phone service section and all inquires should be directed to this e-mail address as it is the one monitored for your transaction.
This is to reduce the high rate of fraudulent activities going on and to ensure that both buyers and sellers are satisfied. Please follow the protocol of the payment so that the money initiated to your account by Brenda Jones will be credited into your PayPal account. Respond to this mail within 24 hrs and get back to us with the Money Transfer Control Number so as to credit your Paypal account immediately.
ATTENTION! Only PayPal is eligible to information on Western Union Details after the shippers fee has been sent, do not send the Details to the buyer after payment has been made until you have your account credited. This terms is to secure and to assure you a better safe transaction with the Buyer.
Sadoun.com is PayPal Verified since July 2000
Do not hesitate to reply to this email. This mailbox is monitored and you will receive response as soon as we receive your message.
Thank you for using PayPal ® …………….. We look forward serving your online auction payment needs in the future..
PayPal Customer Care
PayPal Email ID PP206
Thank you for using PayPal!
The PayPal Team
sre., 12. okt. 2016 23:30
I don’t understand you?You have gotten the confirmation and kindly send the pick up agent fee now.
čet., 13. okt. 2016 15:08
Hi,Kindly check your paypal email inbox and if it’s not there please check the spam folder and go ahead and get the €550 for the pick up agent sent now via western union Okay.
It seems like this is a business for some people. I am an artist, and I received the same content.
I hope you are lucky also with real online buyers.
Best regards, Urska
> On Tue, 26 May 2020 at 10:09, max denise wrote:
>> I am Max Denise from South Carolina, USA , I am very much interested
>> in the purchase your Art piece for our Anniversary to surprise my wife
>> , I’m also impressed and I like the contrast of your colors , I would
>> like to receive further information about your location piece of
>> work and what inspires you: ) You are doing a great job, I would
>> greatly appreciate if you could possibly recommend a few completed
>> original piece, I look forward to reading from you Asap Regards ,
Od: Max Denise
Datum: sre., 27. maj 2020 ob 09:03
Zadeva: Re: ARTWORK INQUIRY
Za: Alex Lan
Hello Alex ,
Thanks for the message, however, I would greatly appreciate if you
could possibly recommend a few completed original piece within my
budget $1000- $2500 minus the shipping cost ready for immediate
sale… Just need something within that price range for a surprise to
my wife (can tell she likes your work). I would appreciate if you can
figure out a piece of work that would serve that purpose. Kindly email
images and prices of any
available works in that range.
Thanks and blessing
Od: Max Denise
Datum: cet., 28. maj 2020 ob 09:30
Thanks for the message, I must tell you I intend to give my wife a
surprise with the purchase of the piece. Also If you’d like to know,
I’m relocating to Ukraine soon but am a bit pressed for time
and our wedding anniversary is fast approaching. So I’m trying to
gather some good stuff to make this event a surprise one. I am buying
Blue sky (blue one) 1000 € , Cherry blossom (the pink one) 2000€ and
Rainbow (colourfull one) 1800 € of 4,800 € as a gifts to her.I’m
okay with the price, I think it’s worth it anyway, so I’ll make
payment to you via wire transfer, As regarding shipping, i
will include the shipping cost of item to you .
I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am
on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I’m an ocean engineer)
with new hires who are fresh school graduates and won’t be back
for another couple of weeks.
PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your, bank
name , account holder name ,account number and iban /swift code plus
postage cost to Ukraine, so I can wire the funds to your
account right away.
Regards , Denise.
Thanks for sharing. I went through the same experience (same emails from Ukraine blah blah), unfortunately I realized much later when I had already shipped my artworks. And I had shared some details with him. What were the consequences you faced and what will get impacted? Please let me know.
Hi Mehak! There were no consequences for me, not that I know of, he never came back with another email. I realized he was a scam when he asked me to ship my artwork before sending me the money. I’m so sorry that you shipped yours.
I work in IT security. I see stuff like this all the time. Constant end-user education stops these kinds of things. Thanks for sharing so others will learn.
Thank you so much for sharing that horrible experience and warn us about what to watch out for. If those kind of people put their energy into good work, so much could be done to heal this world.
I admire your courage to share this story in order to help fellow atrists to avoid similar situations at the price of admitting your mistakes. Exceptional generosity. Thank you very much!
It was not easy to write this post, I was pretty angry for being fooled but I really hope to avoid someone else to fall into this trap!
Firstly thank you so much Chiara for making us aware of such scams and in such detail how to identify and be alert. Pretty sure for the ones who get to read it, this will be a saver. I am a beginner in watercolors so never came across anything like this , but if I were to receive such an email, his email address in itself looks a bit weird and I have seen so many spam mails of someone wanting to donate supposedly millions of money in my account asking all the details that this scammer asked which may raise a red flag, but I would have replied to his first mail coz it’s difficult by the content to decide if he is genuine or not.
My only regret is to having wasted time replying to someone not interested in my art, on the contrary he was trying to steal from me! I wanted to email him again saying “you are a scam, I spotted you on google” but it was better to not reply at all and more importantly.. why waste even more time? Life goes on 🙂