If you have a website for your art, you’ve likely received an email that looks a lot like this:
My name is Pamela Mcallister from Georgia. I actually observed my husband has been viewing your website on my laptop and i guess he likes your piece of work. I’m also impressed and amazed to have seen your various works too, You are doing a great job. I would like to purchase ”CAROLEE CLARK – “DARK TREES” Regular price $4,000.00 ”. as a surprise to my husband on our anniversary. Also, let me know if you accept CHECK as mode of Payment.
Thanks and best regards
Over the years we’ve received hundreds of these emails in our gallery inbox. Each varies, but the gist is the same: an interested buyer is contacting you to make an inquiry about purchasing artwork from your website. The prospect is exciting – this is the whole reason we spend so much time, effort, and money creating a site in the first place – but something seems a little off about the email. The writing is not only stilted and the grammar odd, but the email also includes extraneous details.
By now most of you likely already recognize this kind of email as a likely scam, and I’ve explored this kind of scam in previous posts and podcasts. I feel like it’s a good idea, however, to bring this topic up from time to time to make sure that anyone who hasn’t been exposed to the scam before is aware and prepared to respond when one of these emails shows up in their inbox.
The email above appeared in my inbox several weeks ago, and just as I was about to delete it, I decided that I would instead reply to see if the scam has changed since the last time I engaged with a similar emailer about 7 years ago (spoiler alert: it hasn’t, much).
My first reply was simple.
Thank you for your email. We would be happy to help you acquire “Dark Trees” – it will make a great anniversary gift!
We do accept payment by check. If you can let me know where we will be shipping the painting, I will be happy to provide a total with the shipping cost included.
This is basically how I would reply to any inquiry that came through the website. I try to be courteous and to the point.
Just a few minutes later, I received a reply
Thanks for your response,I must tell you I intend to give my husband a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece. Also If you’d like to know, I’m relocating to Canada soon 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 the piece as part of gifts to him (quickly before someone else grabs it). If we agree on a reasonable price,I will authorize a CHECK to you for the payment.
As regarding shipping, you don’t have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my husband for the surprise.My shipping agent (who is also moving my Truck and my Properties) will contact you to arrange for the pick-up of the piece (this is to avoid my husband receiving it,if been shipped directly to my address would ruin the surprise for this event). You both have to sign a proof of pick up at the most. So as soon as you receive the CHECK and it clears in your bank, my shipping agent will get intouch..
As regarding payment, I would like to inform you, that my husband handles the family credit card/bank and PayPal transaction. So i would authorize a CHECK to you for the payment.I would have handled this much differently if I’d been at home but at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean, with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks.
PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your FULL NAME as you want it to appear on the CHECK, ADDRESS (PHYSICAL ADDRESS PLS..FedEx does not deliever to P.O.BOX ) where you want the CHECK delivered by courier service including your ZIPCODE and PHONE NUMBER, so the CHECK can be sent right away.
Right away, an experienced seller of art will hear alarm bells. Having spent over 25 years in the art business, I can tell you that I have never received an email like this from a legitimate client. Here are the clues:
- The language is odd, like it’s come out of Google’s translation service. “I must tell you I intend to give my husband a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece”??? “if been shipped directly to my address would ruin the surprise for this event”??? “Pamela” hasn’t indicated that “she” is not a native English speaker, but these constructions are highly unusual, to say the least. It’s certainly possible to sell art to art buyers outside the U.S., we do it all the time, but I can tell you that they usually compose English better than native speakers. This clue in and of itself is not a dead give-away, but it should be a warning.
- A serious buyer won’t spin a long, detailed story about why the artwork needs to be purchased right away. I guess these scammers think that the more detail they provide, the more authentic their inquiry will seem. I’ve never had a client send me an email this long about a purchase.
- The story gets even more elaborate. Not only is this a surprise gift, which means the “client” can’t use a credit card (notice that I never bothered to ask for a credit card, but “she” goes to the trouble of explaining why “she” can’t use a credit card or PayPal), but “she” is also on a training voyage in the “North Atlantic Ocean.” Wow, what kind of exotic job does “Pamela” have!?
- She’s going to take care of the shipping details with her own company. This is a dead giveaway that this is a scam and is at the heart of the fraudulent effort. More on this later.
Excellent Pamela! I will be happy to make arrangements with your shipper.
Simple instructions. The response:
Thanks for your response,i will proceed to instruct your Payment at the earliest,i hope to visit your studio with my husband in the nearest future after our anniversary. In order not to leave any clue to my husband for the surprise, I’ve contacted my Boss to issue out the check and have it sent to you.
I would have handled this much differently if i would be at home but I’m a bit pressed for time myself. I’m moving to Canada by next month end…
As it is, I’m sending you an OVER PAYMENT which will include my shippers fees as well.He has asked for an upfront before coming and since I have no access to a lot of cash, I’m trying to kill two birds with a stone. So, once you’ve received and cashed the check, deduct your funds and PLEASE help me send the remaining funds to the(shipper). I’ll forward his contact details to you once you’ve received the payment.
Now I’m concluding you’re a responsible person and I can therefore entrust you with this arrangement.I’ll let you know Immediately the check has been sent to you, so you should be looking out for it.
Many thanks and talk to you soon,
KIndly include your mobile number so you can be informed once your Check Payment is in transit
There was no way I was going to provide my mobile number, so I just ignored the request and replied:
That will work just fine. I will email you once we have received the check. Please let me know if I may be of further assistance with this process.
I also ignored the final proof that this is definitely a scam, the announcement that “Pamela” is going to send me an “OVER PAYMENT.” This is how they get ya. By sending an overpayment, the scammer can then request that you send a money order or wire transfer for the overage.
It was about 10 days before the promised check finally appeared, which was another oddity considering what a big deal “Pamela” had made about overnighting the check via courier.
I have to admit that even though I was anticipating the check and knew that it would be fraudulent, my heart still skipped a beat when I opened the envelope. There is something primal about having a check for $9,000.09 in your hands. I wanted to believe, and this is what the scammer is counting on.
This particular scam attempt was quite audacious – the scammer was trying to take me for $5,000!
To add to the ridiculous nature of this attempted scam, the next day we received an exact duplicate of the check and the envelope.
“Pamela” is a real amature to have allowed this to happen. The checks both have the same check number, date, and signature, and the envelopes both use the same tracking number. I would hope that anyone receiving these duplicate checks would realize that something wasn’t right and call the whole deal off. I wanted to see how things would unfold, however, and so kept our conversation going.
Good Morning Jason,
How are you doing and I hope you are in the right frames of mind, reports reaching me has it that the check in the amount of $9,000.09 USD from PNC with check# xxxxxx4029, account # xxxxxxx9314 shall be delivered to you via USPS courier delivery today at the earliest or tomorrow at the latest for payment of the piece as well as funds for shipping and handling as earlier discussed.
Please let me know as soon you are in receipt of the check and proceed to have it deposited at your bank for it to process. Additional information on shipping arrangements shall be furnished as soon the check is deposited and cleared.
“I hope you are in the right frames of mind”???
I was out of town when this email came in and didn’t see it for a full 24 hours, so there was a second email in my inbox.
Good Morning Jason,
Sequel to the delivery and receipt of the check for the piece which was inclusive of funds to arrange shipping and handling arrangements, I have NOT read from you since you have received the check and it’s the second day of a new week now please let me know the current status of the check if deposited or cashed so further arrangements on the pick up can be ensued.
However if I do not hear from you soonest by noon, I shall not hesitate to contact the authorities as it’s a financial crime to be in possession of our company check for the piece and NOT responding by keeping mute. A legal action shall be instituted against you but I will wait to hear from you with head ups.
My, that escalated quickly! I couldn’t help chuckling a little as I responded.
Hello Pamela, thank you for the email and I hope that you are in the right frame of mind as well.
We received your check yesterday, but unfortunately it was made out for way too much for the transaction. The total due for the artwork was $4,000, and the check provided was for $9,000.09, over $5,000 in excess of the amount due. Please provide a return address for the check and I will send it back so a check can be issued in the correct amount.
This is really unfair and you know I had no other plan for the anniversary gift except this piece. Prior before now,I stated clearly in my previous messages before proceeding with Payment that this purchase is meant to be an anniversary surprise for my husband ,couple with our relocation process which is been handled by the shipper.Also payment instruction thus come in one check (because my boss is only available to instruct payment on one Check ) which includes my Shippers fees for the pickup and other errands.I trusted you before entrusting this to you and you gave instruction that I should proceed with the payment?Now the payment has been delivered to you,do not put me to shame .I’m concluding you’re a responsible person and I can therefore entrust you with this arrangement.Keep me informed once your Check has been deposited for Process.
$5,000 is a ridiculous amount for shipping and other incidentals. We would be happy to help facilitate this purchase, but we cannot forward $5,000. If you cannot send another check, we would be happy to accept a credit card payment.
Hi Pamela – I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this work. How would we be paying your shipping company, and what is the amount? Maybe we could refund you part of the check directly.
If that’s not desirable, just let me know and I will send the check back to you.
At this point we had exchanged over a dozen emails, and I was tiring of the ruse, but I decided to let the drama continue to unfold to see how “Pamela” would respond and try to salvage the scam attempt.
Thanks for getting back to me, is there a way you can help me purchase 3 pieces of $1,000 USPS postal Money Orders totaling $3,000USD then overnight it today to my associate. Her name is Susan Anne Smith and her address is p o box 486 interlachen fl 32148. You can leave it blank so she can write her name on them when she gets it tomorrow. However I will notify you with the shipper information and how much to send to him as soon this is done today.
All you need do is go to any USPS post office near you with cash of $3,000 and purchase the postal money orders. Please include both the customer copies in it and have it shipped next day to her then get back to me with the tracking number. I will be waiting to read from you as soon this is completed today. Thanks
That will not be possible – your check has not been deposited and would need to clear first. This all seems to be getting fishy – how can you assure me that this is not a scam?
The check was received yesterday and the instruction was to have it deposited for it to process so the funds can be available for use but for some reasons you have not deposited the payment till now delaying and dragging this transaction.
You asked me to give you instruction on how to send funds which was what I just did and now you are talking about scam when you have all my budget in full sum with you and holding it for nothing. Kindly have the check deposited today and when it clears you can have the postal orders sent.
Well, that settles it, I better comply since I have the “budget in full sum”!
We did not deposit the check because the amount was at such discrepancy from the amount due. If we send $3,000, that still leaves $2,000 above the cost of the art. We cannot send money orders, only a check.
But you were aware that all the funds budget to spend is coming to you at the time I contacted you and I was clear that the funds would be sent to my shipper which you agreed. Now that you have the check in hand you did not deposit it and trying to tell me how to use my money. I think I may have to cancel this purchase as you are giving me headaches already while I trusted you from the beginning even when I had the chance to stop the check I allowed it. Let me know if you will deposit the check today and I will look for a way to get it back from you. Thanks
Now I’m afraid I told a lie myself. I consider this fighting fire with fire, or perhaps two wrongs making a right?
Per your instructions I have now deposited the check with our bank. They let me know that the funds will be available on Thursday. I hope you will not cancel the order of this beautiful work of art. We can figure out how to get the balance of the funds to your shipper on Friday. Can I send a check? I would prefer just to send the full $5,000.09 all at once to make things easier for you. Let me know who to make the check out to and where you would like it sent.
I had not deposited the check, and had no intention of doing so, but again, I wanted to see how it would play it if I hadn’t been aware of the scam and had in fact made the deposit.
Good Morning Jason,
How are you doing today and thanks for keeping me posted about the deposit of the check at your bank, please get back to me with a copy of the deposit slip as proof of deposit as well as proof that I have paid you.
I shall be waiting to hear from you, you can block out or shade off your account information before sending me a photo of the deposit slip as it’s needed for my official archive.
Ah good, we’re back on civil terms. I couldn’t send the deposit slip as none was created, but this didn’t stop me from moving the ruse forward.
Hi Pamela – thank you for your email and patiences. I have been out doing a delivery and have not had a chance to respond to your email. The good news is that the check seems to have cleared overnight and the funds are available today, a day early. How would you like to proceed getting the artwork to you?
Thanks for the update, today please have the sum of $4,900 transferred by wire to the shipper associate where I want the funds to be sent to by means of wire transfer. Find below the information you need to send the $4,900 to :
Bank name: FIRST FINANCIAL BANK
Account name: OXXXXO AUTOMOTIVE LLC
ACCOUNT N0: 5312322158
ROUTINE N0: 042200910
ADDRESS: 9XXX XXXXX XXX AVON IN 46123
swifts code: FFBCUS3C
As soon you complete the transfer by wire, kindly get back to me with a photo of the transfer receipt for my official archive.
Note: you are to use the remaining $100 as transfer charges for instant transfer service.
I suspect that the account number aren’t really assigned to the company “she” listed, or, if they are, I would imagine the company is fictitious. If I had followed “Pamela’s” instructions, I would now be out $5,000, and the check I had deposited would have come back as unpayable several days later. I would be left with zero recourse, as “Pamela” would have now completely disappeared.
Time to reveal the arrival of the second check to see how “Pamela” would respond.
My associate just made me aware that something very suspicious has happened. Yesterday we received a second Priority Mail Express delivery that contained an exact duplicate of the check your boss sent us. It even has the same check number! I am very concerned for your boss’ security! It seems that his account may have been compromised.
I was just getting ready to send you the wire transfer in the amount of $4,900, but for your security, I think we better wait until you can make sure your accounts are secure. I am afraid someone is copying your company checks for nefarious purposes. They may have invaded your wire transfer account as well, and the money I wire you might be stolen when I make the transfer. I will keep the money safely in my account until you can assure that the account is secure.
Thanks for your concerns Jason, the matter of security is of high concern and if you notice the check number are the same and I had been made aware about this from my boss I was just going to make sure the second check gets to you and you inform me just to be sure you are truthful and sincere. The second check was sent in error by the accounts department due to USPS courier delivery error so trash the second check as funds are already released on the first one so you can complete the wire transfer.
I can confirm and assure you everything is fine from my end because I was already aware you were going to get a second check but was waiting if you would be truthful enough to let me know. Thanks so much that you are the best. Go ahead and complete the transfer and get back to me.
Thank You so much you are simply the best!
I am grateful for your truthfulness and reliability Pamela, I’ve not worked with a customer that has the same level of honesty and integrity that you do. I will continue to prepare the wire transfer of funds, but I need a letter from your boss on the company letterhead that will assure me that the check we deposited was authentic and real, and that the funds have been authorized. Once I have that letter from your boss, then I will immediately and right away send the wire transfer to your authorized account for your immediate dispersal.
Thank you Pamela, you are outstanding.
I couldn’t resist employing some of the same kinds of linguistic flourishes that “Pamela” was using so effectively.
Please don’t do this to me Jason, you should understand it’s close of business at this time and such letter is the easiest to get from him, if you notice the check with same check number and same tracking number was delivered and cleared which means the one delivered is NOT a compromised one.
I understand your concerns as my associate need the wire transfer completed today. Am sure you wouldn’t want me to cancel this entire purchase and have the funds reversed as I have given you adequate quotes and assurance everything is fine. If it was a different check number it means something is compromised but it was same check number with adequate same information. You are smarter to understand this could be an error since it was both sent to you. Adhere with one and trash the other.
Please don’t cancel the order after we have come so far working together. I am sure that we can figure this out. My bank will accept as security against the transaction and to allow me to complete the wire transfer for $4,900 if you can send me the letter from your boss on letterhead, or if you can send me a snapshot of your identification card or driver’s license that matches the account showing your full name as Pamela Mcallister. If I have that proper and correct identification then I can send the wire transfer right away. I await your reply.
You should understand am in training and have limited access to scanning facilities I would have canceled this transaction as I found a similar surprise gift suitable for my surprise to my husband yesterday. My text messages and email correspondence with you is enough confirmation but if the wire transfer to the associate shipper is not achieved today I may have to find a gift elsewhere as this is giving me headaches already. I wonder why a purchase is this difficult.
My scammer is counting on my desperation to keep the sale and hopes that the threat of cancelling the sale will prod me into action.
I’m sorry this has been such a challenge. I wouldn’t have expected it to be, but the two checks have raised concerns with the bank. I would like to get this transaction completed for you to make the art the perfect gift for your anniversary. You can snap a photo with your mobile phone of your ID, which I am certain that you would always have with you for security and identification.
As soon as I have the photo of your identification, we will immediately send the wire transfer to the account you indicated. I have the $4,900 ready to transfer. It is a small request to confirm your identification and it is not difficult to complete.
Here is my SSN and I hope this helps
Pamela McAllister SSN: 25xxxx65 [I’ve masked the number, assuming that it’s an appropriation of a real SS#] please don’t ask for further identification because I just released my social security number to you now. I don’t have access to scanning facilities. I hope to read from you with a photo of the wire transfer confirmation receipt in your next email.
My bank requires me to have a photo of your ID with your photograph on it. You can use your mobile phone and send a photo to me very easily. Please don’t delay, I only have 19 minutes before my bank closes to send you the wire transfer for $4,900 today.
I have done all I could to ensure this work ,at this point,i will have to cancel this transaction.Do not bother with the purchase any more.
I do not want to lose your business or the sale. I will call my bank right now to send the transfer. I will tell them that they need to process the wire transfer for $4,900, even though we can’t send them the ID tonight. Your shipper should be able to see the wire transfer effective within the next sixty minutes.
Thank you for your patience, and I apologize that this has been so difficult.
I have great news! The wire transfer has been completed. My banker, Virginia Williams of Wells Fargo bank emailed me to let me know that the wire transfer is complete.
The bank was closing when the wire was sent, so I will have the full confirmation in the morning, but I can confirm that $4,900 was deducted from my account via wire transfer.
Please have your shipper contact me at his earliest convenience to confirm the receipt of the funds and to make arrangement for the artwork to be picked up.
Thank you Pamela.
Of course, I never had any intention of sending the transfer, but I hoped to see “Pamela” stay with me just a little longer. Any of “her” time that I wasted was time that “she” couldn’t spend trying to scam someone else.
Thanks for the good news, you can log into your account and get me the receipt from account summary as it is needed to contact the shipper for confirmation of funds. You can also send me a copy of the email from your bank.
Hi Pamela, I’m afraid we ran into another hitch. The manager of the bank was concerned about the check because I had told her about the duplicate check. She has put the wire transfer on hold until we can confirm that the funds have cleared. This may take until Monday or Tuesday. I understand you will be very disappointed at the delay, and if we need to, we can cancel the order. I’m sorry this isn’t working out smoothly.
We have come this far not to achieve this purchase, I already informed you that the second check was mailed in error since it has same check number with your name on it and I asked that you trash the later you received. Is that too much to ask? I also gave you my SSN which is all about me yet you still allowed your banker to put a HOLD on the transaction.
This is highly unfair, you have my money in full budget now with you as well as the art piece leaving me with nothing. The only information I have of you are your name, address and cell phone number which you hardly respond to text messages because I have been texting that number.
You told me this morning you would be able to send me the confirmation for the funds you transferred and now you are putting a HOLD on a cleared payment that was made to you. This is unfair.
Thank you so much for everything as today is Friday I want to be able to get the transfer to shipper associate confirmed this morning as you have promised, don’t let me believe you have been lieing all along by giving me a series of numbers with an ACH in front so I can believe it’s some sort of confirmation. Have banker do the needful and get back to me because if I report to my boss about this, your account will be reversed and flagged as fraud. You will loose everything.
Unfortunately there is nothing I can do, the bank will not release the wire transfer because the check transaction has been flagged for fraud.
I could have kept the ruse going a bit longer, and I imagined several scenarios to do so. I decided, however, that not knowing who I was really dealing with, it would be unwise to further antagonize “Pamela.” While I assume the scammer is in another country and wouldn’t be able to engage in a serious reprisal, I was concerned the an attempt might be made to deface my online ratings or something similar, and I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
Had I been communicating anonymously, under a pseudonym, I would have felt no compunction dragging the communication out further to see what the results would be, and to further waste the scammer’s time and resources.
Interestingly, after that last email, “Pamela” went completely silent. I haven’t heard another peep from “her,” which would be highly unusual if “she” were a legitimate customer; as far as “she” knows I’m still holding $9,000.09 of her funds. I don’t expect to hear from the scammer again, however, as I’m sure he/she has moved on to other victims.
I frequently receive inquiries from artists who have received similar emails and want to know what they should do. Here is a list of the most frequent questions in this regard, and my responses.
Is there some way to block emails from online scammers, I get regular emails from them.
Not that I’m aware of. The devious nature of their approach, where they pose as a legitimate customer, would make it very difficult to block them. There would be no way to block these emails without also blocking emails from your real potential customers.
How can I avoid being scammed when I do receive one of these emails?
Knowledge and common sense are the key. Being aware of these scam attempts is a big part of the battle. If you are aware, you can take steps to protect yourself when you receive a suspect email. One simple way eliminate the majority of these scammers is to insist on credit card payment for any sales initiated online. You can use squareup.com or a similar service to send your clients an invoice that they can pay by credit card.
It’s possible for scammers to try to use a stolen credit card number, but this is much more difficult for them, and I find that when we request credit card payment, most of these scammers just disappear.
You can also refuse to participate in any proposed shipping scheme. Let those who inquire know that you will only accept payment in the exact amount for the artwork, and that you will arrange the shipping and bill the client separately for that charge. In over 25 years in the art business, I’ve never had a legitimate client try to arrange their own shipping – a request to do so should be a huge red flag.
Under no circumstances should you be forwarding funds back to the client or to a third party.
So what should I do when I receive an email from someone I don’t know inquiring about artwork from my website?
We treat every inquiry as legitimate, unless the it’s clear that it is a cut-and-paste scam attempt, like the example above. We treat each inquiry with professionalism, and let our clients know we handle online sales all of the time and will be happy to facilitate their purchase.
Here’s an example of how we might respond to a client inquiring about making a purchase online.
Thank you for your interest in [Artwork Name] by [Artist’s Name]. This is a spectacular piece and would make an outstanding addition to your collection. It will be our pleasure to help facilitate you in acquiring [Artwork Name].
As you saw on the website, the piece is valued at [Artwork Price], and we can arrange delivery of the artwork at your convenience.
You may complete the transaction on our website directly, or you may call me at [phone number] to provide a credit card.
I look forward to assisting you!
How can we put an end to these scam attempts?
I wish I had a great answer to this question. My advice in the past has been to ignore the scammers and eventually they will go away. The fact that these scam attempts are still actively being made all of these years after they first appeared tells me that the scammers must be having some success.
I hope that by spreading the word about these scams, I can play some small part in reducing their effectiveness. You could do the same by sharing this post with your contacts.
My recent interaction with “Pamela” has left me wondering if we could all be even more active in defeating the scams by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
By responding, I tied up the scammer and cost him time and a few dollars in postage and printing to get the check to me. While I wouldn’t suggest wasting time to the extent I did in my engagement with the scammer, it wouldn’t take much to get them to send their fake check along.
If I were to do this again, I would use a fake email account and name, and I would likely provide the mailing address the local police department or the area office of the FBI.
If everyone reading this post were to join me, I suspect we could significantly raise the cost of doing business for these scammers and make the economics of the scam far less favorable for them.
What do you say – are you in? Share your thoughts about these scams and any experience you’ve had dealing with online scammers in the comments section below.