How to Recognise an Art Scam

Art scams are becoming more sophisticated by the day and it is very important for you, as an artist, to protect your art as well as your hard earned money.

Have you recently received an email from someone who says that their wife saw your artwork online and fell in love with it instantly? Or someone who would like to purchase your artwork immediately? Or maybe an artist’s agent wants to show your work at a prestigious art fair?

The scammer in most instances makes contact with the artist saying that they have seen your work online. After exchanging several emails they make an offer to buy some pieces of art and ship it overseas. The email will often ask if they can pay for the work with cheque – which will bounce. With scams like this cash is the goal. The scammer will send what appears to be an overpayment – a cheque for a larger than agreed amount and the artist is asked to refund the surplus amount, meaning the artist is not only scammed out of their artwork but cash also.

It should be noted that scammers often use a variety of names and addresses and if an offer seems too good to be true it most likely is and it is worth investigating before exchanging money or art.

So, how do you know how to spot an email scam before it’s too late? And what can you do when you receive one of these emails?

If the email you just received from a “potential buyer” includes any of the clues below, it is probably not a legitimate client, and you should not respond or go forward with any type of interaction or sales.

Here are a few important clues that can indicate that an email you’ve received is an art scam:

  • A common narrative used by art scammers is to say their wife has been looking at your work and really enjoys it and their anniversary is coming up. Or, they have a new home and are looking for pieces to decorate it. At first glance, it may seem like a plausible story, but something about it seems abrupt or stunted.
  • The person emailing you will often be in a hurry. This is partly to fluster you and give you less time to think, but mainly because if they know the check they’re sending you is going to bounce, or the credit card is stolen, they need the transaction completed before the bank catches on and you find out.
  • There will often be some complex story involving the individual or their family moving country right at the time they want to purchase the artwork, necessitating the sum you’re going to be sending to cover the shipping. Yes, this does happen sometimes to honest people in real life, but it’s not that common.
  • They may want to arrange the shipping themselves, rather than let you sort it out for them. Most genuine clients are only too grateful to have you take the burden of shipping from them, if shipping is necessary. If they do want to take care of it themselves, real collectors will most likely use a major company they’ve had positive experiences with in the past – a company whose name you will know.
  • There are spelling, grammatical, or spacing errors in the email. While English may not be the first language of every client you interact with, these emails will be distinctively different. Poor spelling, obvious grammatical errors, and strange spacing are all signs of an email scam.

What can you do to avoid art scams?

  • Be firm about following your usual method of payment; explain politely that you’re not willing to take payment through cashier’s checks or postal money orders, which are more open to this sort of art scam. Often the nature of the art scam will center on the method of payment suggested by the scammer – if you stick to your normal method, something you know to be safe, they may be forced to give up.
  • Never accept overpayments. This is not a common way of doing business, and you probably haven’t come across it before in genuine transactions. You’re selling, they’re buying – no money should be leaving your account. Make it your policy not to work this way.
  • If you’re suspicious for any reason, try googling the email address of the contact you’re corresponding with. Because scammers send so many art scam emails, their address gets to be known as one associated with the art scam they’re running. It might well be that the person contacting you is already on a ‘blacklist’ which you can find online.
  • Don’t ship your artwork unless you’re sure the payment has cleared.
  • Contact VAI.

If you have received an email from a suspicious contact please report it to VAI at or on 01 672 9488.

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