Persistent online fraud is here to stay. At least that’s according to data from Forter, an e-commerce fraud-prevention company, in its annual Fraud Attack Index 2017
My “spidey senses” were tingling. A man had contacted me, via email, with the following message:
My name is Bill Jack from Oklahoma. I actually observed my wife has been viewing your website on my laptop and i guess she 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 one of your piece as a surprise to my wife on our anniversary. Also, let me know if you accept check as mode of Payment.
Thanks and best regards.
Maybe it was the poor sentence construction and punctuation, or the double first names, but I was uneasy. I showed the email to my husband who frowned, but not for the reason I suspected.
Husband, “Someone wants to buy your photograph and you’re… suspicious? That’s not like you. You’re always a positive person. I’d say go for it.”
Me, “I don’t know. Something is off.”
Husband, “Just follow up with buying options and see what he says.”
So I did. But the whole time my instincts were crying foul.
Thanks for the message, I must tell you I intend to give my wife 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 yours as part of gifts to her (quickly before someone else grabs it). I am okay with the Price i think it worth it anyways.
I’ll be sending a check. As regarding shipping, you don’t have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my wife for the surprise. as soon as you receive and cash the check, my shipping agent (who is also moving my Truck and my Properties) will contact you to arrange for the pick-up. 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 from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks.
By now I was rolling my eyes. Really? Really? How much coincidental weirdness was going to happen to this guy? Once again I showed the email to my husband.
“This is getting rather convoluted, don’t you think?” I said.
Husband, “That’s great! He wants the framed print. I’m so proud of you. High five meeeeeeee!”
My worry grew larger than a face pimple the night before prom. I was torn between my husband’s optimism and my gut saying, “No, no, NOOOO.”
Later that night, after my sweet husband had gone to bed, I Googled “Bill Jack’s” email address. Here is what I found:
ART EMAIL SCAMS – MY EXPERIENCE, by Purple Woods
The post goes on to describe how she had received a similar email, multiple times. Other visitors to her site chimed in with their accounts of comparable emails by buyers touting the same story. In other words, there are a lot of wives getting surprised on their anniversaries. Here’s a list of email addresses from Purple Woods:
Art Email Scams List
Jason Cloud – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Evans – email@example.com
Peter Adams – firstname.lastname@example.org
Milton Fred – email@example.com
Debbie Martins – firstname.lastname@example.org
James Johnson – email@example.com
And allow me to add my fake buyer…firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s sorta kinda how the scam works:
From what I can tell, the person contacts an artist and asks to buy a piece of his or her work. In my case he had the name of a specific photograph, so that threw me a bit. (In retrospect he probably got it off of one of my Facebook or online sites. Easy to do.)
Then, in a follow-up email, the buyer says he’ll send a check and someone to pick up the artwork after the check is cashed.
Once you give the buyer your address, another drama develops. The buyer says he is sending a check in an amount over the cost of the art so that you, the artist, can pay the driver’s fee for picking up the artwork. Why? Because the buyer is detained elsewhere.
Of course, the check is fake but good enough fake that the bank probably won’t catch it until later, when you get hit for reimbursing the amount of the bad check.
After reading Purple Woods I sent an email to the government office that deals with mail fraud, explaining the scam. Feeling slightly better, I sent “Mr. Jack” an email stating I knew he was attempting to scam me and any further correspondence would be sent to governmental agencies.
My next email:
Hope you are good. Thanks for the details which I’ve noted down, My shipping agent is due in the U.S sometime this week. So i have contacted a client of mine to issue out a check to you which will include my shipping agent fees to you right away. This is done to avoid delay or any inconvenience that may arise from his part and to allow check to clear before pick up. However, courtesy demand i must first appeal to your self interest and ask for your help in remitting the overage (after deducting your fee for the piece) to the shipping agent as soon as you recieve the check payment.
Gail, I would have handled this much differently if I’d been at home but am a bit pressed for time as our anniversary is fast approaching and do not have access to a lot of cash over here to expedite this transaction… Kindly deduct any IRS tax incurred on the overage before giving the balance the shipping agent. As i do not want you to involve any of your personal funds in this transaction, that is why all fund is made available to you. As an aside, they are not sending any bill or hold you responsible for the payment of my shipping contract with them.
I am really sorry for the mix up and will appreciate if you get back to me asap to know if i can entrust you with this transaction.
Many thanks and talk to you soon,
Argh. This guy wasn’t giving up! I once again said I knew he was a scammer, and I would turn any check that arrived over to the fraud division of the postal service. That seemed to work because I heard nothing for over a week. At least I thought it worked until:
Hello Gail, hope you’re good. So sorry for the silence all this time, i felt a little tightening in my chest and had to go to the hospital where i was advised to take a bed rest of at least a week. I just got out 2 days Ago and am just catching up on my mails. I had no access to the internet and i have quite a couple to catch up on. You should receive the check before this week runs out, or by Tuesday at the most.
Thanks for your patience, and i do hope you have a nice day.
Well, give him points for creative writing! I am happy to say I have not gotten a check, and hopefully, this episode is over.
Nobody wants to be played and yet, as irritating as this saga was, I learned a few things:
–My husband, always lovingly supportive, meant well. He was genuinely excited for me. I am not in any way upset with him for pushing me to follow through with the scammer despite my protests.
–I AM upset with myself for not listening to my very loud, and very persistent, instincts. When will I ever trust my gut instead of wavering when others tell me I’m somehow being silly for feeling the way I do? I am sooooooo tired of being the good girl. Sigh.
–Scammers prey on the goodhearted and innocent. I told my friend and fellow photographer, Dee Kotaska, about my scammer and she said she’d had a similar incident. We agreed that, as artists, we put ourselves “out there” with trust and goodwill. Being suspicious of people is not how we want to live. And yet…
After this incident, I will no longer respond to emails offering to purchase my art unless I know the person. All others will have to buy through my online sites on FineArtAmerica, or Smugmug.
I love being a photographer and writer. The scammer did not take that away from me, but he did make me sad.
It’s hard building respect and earning a living as an artist. To have sleazy online predators waiting to steal from us–be it money, art, trust, or pride–is yet another hurdle we creatives must overcome.