Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Anatomy of an Art Scam - How to Identify a Phishing Email



At least twice month I'll receive an email from someone posing as an art collector. When the very first one landed in my IN box I was suspicious. Not wanting to blow a potential sale I came close to letting my desire for that sale override my caution. Fortunately, I contacted a group of fellow merchants through the Forums on Etsy.com and they set me straight.

The reason I'm writing this is because I continue to meet artists who have been taken advantage of by the following scam. It's heartbreaking to see a fellow artist become disillusioned with selling their art through the internet (some distrust every sales venue and stop selling their work altogether) simply because they fell victim to a scam.

Below is an actual letter I receive on a regular basis. I have not fixed any grammatical or punctuation errors. There are a few variations out there but all of them are basically the same. I've changed the name of the scammer not to protect his or her identity but because the name signed to the email was not real anyway. For this blog post the scammer's original email will be in red text and my response will be in blue text.

Hello,
Do you remember that famous line in the Jerry Maguire Movie where Renee' Zellweger's character said to Tom Cruze's character, "You had me at Hello?" Most of the time you can spot a phishing scam by simply reading the first line of the email. Scammers make little to no effort to find out who they are scamming and they usually will not address you by name. Collectors that are legitimately interested in your artwork want to know who you are and will make the extra effort to type your name into their email.

I am interested in the immediate purchase of your item and will be make payment via cashier check/money order,
Notice the "immediate purchase" phrase. Most of my art is available online with a PayPal Buy Now button under it. If they truly intended to purchase my art immediately, they would click the Buy Now button and follow through with a PayPal transaction.

One of the main reasons this email scam has been so successful and why thieves continue to use it over and over again is because the thieves actually will follow through and mail what looks like a real cashiers check/money order to you. If you deposit it into your account however, it often takes approximately two weeks before your bank will notify you that the cashiers check/money order is fake.

That said, not everyone who wants to pay via cashiers check/money order is trying to take advantage of you. I have had collectors pay with a cashiers check. I protect myself by walking into the bank, showing it to the teller and asking if it is legitimate (and if the teller doesn't know I ask for the bank manager) before I deposit it and ship the artwork.


Also, notice how the thieves say, "I am interested in the immediate purchase of your item." They never say immediate purchase of your painting or artwork. This is because they are using a boilerplate letter where they don't bother changing much of the text to fit the scam they are running.

my private shipping company will handle the shipping,
What private shipping company? Who has their own private shipping company? I don't care how wealthy a buyer appears to be online, no one has their own private shipping company. Most art collectors expect you to be the expert in packaging and shipping and they are happy to let you handle the details of safely getting the art to them.

but before payment will be made i need to be sure of who i am dealing with if you are going to be honest and sincere throughout the transaction.
I can't help but chuckle every time I read this part of the email. Typically, honest buyers don't feel compelled to tell you that they are honest in their business dealings. They behave honestly, they expect you to do the same and don't they spell out that fact in their emails.

A certified cashiers check is cash-able the same day, there is going to be an excess fund on the check, the excess fund is meant for the private shipping company who will come to your place for pick up of the item, so shipping is not a problem, will you be able to transfer the excess fund to the shipping company the same day you receive the check?
Here's where the thieves make their money. If you deposit that check at your bank's ATM without having a teller authenticate it within a day or two it will appear as though the check has cleared your account. What happens is that two weeks from the day you deposit it, the bank will discover it's fraudulent and you'll get a notice from them informing you that are deducting the total amount from your account plus any bank fees associated with cashing a phoney money order/cashiers check. Typically, as soon as the check clears the artist ships the artwork. The reason the scammers ask you to give the excess funds to their private shipping company is because they are the fake shipping company and that's how they make their money.

Quite often, the scammers end up with the cash and the artwork which they then resell to make even more money.


If you agree, signify your interest by forwarding to me your Final Asking Price, Condition of the Item, Full Name & Contact Address and Tel #., you want the payment addressed.
Amazingly, these thieves have the audacity to ask for a "final asking price" or "best price" because it isn't enough that they are trying to rip you off, they want to get a deal on your art too. Asking after the condition of the item is another common part of an email like this. Since they are working from a boilerplate letter they don't even care what the "item" is exactly and they truly have no idea that your artwork comes in any other condition besides excellent or new.

Kindly response to this email address direct to ...scammermail@foolyou.com
If you sell your artwork through an online sales site like Etsy, Ebay, Zatista, DPW, etc. scammers desperately want to move the sale off of those sites and into a private transaction in order to get you away from any protection the site might provide you as a seller. The moment they are discovered by those sites the gig is up and any other scams they have pending through those venues will be shut down.

I await your response soonest.
Most emails like this one are clearly written by people who use English as a second language. They have grammatical errors, words out of place and sentences that are sometimes incomprehensible. Please don't solely judge an email by the quality of it's writing, however. The online community is a global place, many shoppers are from countries outside the U.S. so don't let poor grammar or English be your guide when deciding if an email is a phishing email, instead, analyze the whole thing before you take action.

Best and kind regards,
Mr. Art Scammer
If you do conduct business through an online sales venue like Etsy, Ebay, Zatista, etc. and are contacted by an art scammer through one of those sites you should immediately report it to them. Most have a special email addresses you can forward the phishing email to while others have a button you can click that alerts them to a suspicious letter. Most sites move quickly to close the accounts of thieves as soon as they are alerted to their presence. They realize it's bad for business to have them around. Unfortunately, phishing scams are here to stay as long as there are online sellers out there who remain unaware of how to spot them. Hopefully, after reading this you won't be one of them.

If any of my readers have heard of other art scams out there I would love to hear about them. Feel free to post in the comments section of this blog or message me privately.

4 comments:

Maria Hock said...

I really appreciate your identifying this scam and bringing it to everyone's attention! Thanks so much!

William R. Moore said...

I like your visual.

Tracey Mardon said...

Hi Kim, Excellent post,I would just add to it by saying that my sister was very nearly scammed in the same way on an online seller by a nasty dude with impeccable English. Thankfully she paused for a moment and called the RCMP who immediately confirmed it as a scam. This was a supposed purchase of her dining room set and she would have been responsible for 2100.00 if she'd cashed the check. Supposedly the buyer was moving to her town and only had one check left so could she please forward the remainder of the money to another family in the same town.
Hugs

J. Beaudet said...

Thanks for posting about this. I've received similar emails. Recently, I started getting really short emails saying they want to know if "such and such" painting is still available. They don't use the actual title but the long descriptive title on my etsy. I replied to one but never heard back so I figure they're some kind of scam. I can't figure out what the scam is but better safe then sorry. Good post!
Jennifer:)