Friday, November 19, 2010

Something Hinky

Perhaps I should work up a boilerplate text for the beginnings of posts apologizing for the long intervals between them. Save me some trouble - apologies as always for my extended silence. I've been busy...

This will be a brief and practical post. I have plans for some rambling and impractical posts though!

Down to business. Maybe you're a working artist. Maybe you're not. Get this: I was emailed by an art scammer. That's kind of like trying to scam a homeless dude, I think. Unless your name is Damien Hirst, odds are good that if you're an artist you're not exactly a high capital target.

High. Capital. Target.

Let me share with you the email I got from this misguided clown:
fromLouis Hayne
dateWed, Nov 17, 2010 at 7:00 PM
subjectInterest in your work

I was going to come over to the United States for christmas holiday and was hoping i could purchase some of your work in person and as it is i do not think i will be coming to USA but am highly interested in purchasing some of your piece so am thinking the best thing to do is have you send me some images of the piece you have available or website to which i can see them and i select the one's that interest me and we can work out payment.I hope to read from you soon.
Well, let's just say that I don't have a strong instinct for thinking that people are lying. Because I am myself pretty godawful at lying, as any number of my ex-friends will tell you. So I kind of assume everyone's telling the truth. Obvious signs of questionable intent such as, oh, three spellings of the sender name, one of them imaginary and the others covering two genders, the lack of specific address to me, the undisclosed recipient "To" line - all of those failed to twig my scam alarm. I mean, I didn't get excited because I was like, "There's something kind of hinky about this." You know what set me off though? That horrible, horrible English. What kind of self-respecting, art-collecting Englishmanwoman would mangle our glorious language like that? The language of Shakespeare, of Chaucer, of Milton, of Dante*, of Cervantes†?

I wrote back and traded a few emails with this illiterate dipshit. Finally I concluded that this was not just kind of hinky, but severely hinky. I started googling art scams. I assumed that art scams consisted of amusing anecdotes involving Vermeer and the Nazis, and problematic Salvador Dali prints.

So I was a crook. Bite me.

But it turns out that there are actually some pretty standard scams involving the kind of contact I received. The mechanics are totally weird. Here's how I think works:
  1. They send you a cashier's check for the work, and a sizable overpayment for shipping.
  2. You deposit the check and it clears. You send the work and record the actual shipping cost.
  3. You send them the difference between their shipping overpayment and the actual shipping cost, via Western Union, which makes it impossible to trace the recipient.
  4. Some weeks later, your bank figures out the original cashier's check was fake and sends you a letter written in a distinctly cool tone. By then, you're out some artwork (which nobody but you cares about) and the shipping refund (which the scammer cares about).
Can you believe this? It's almost easier to just go ahead and get a job. To the extent I understand the procedure, I am in the debt of one Kathleen McMahon, a talented Californian painter, gallery owner, and, to the point, self-described anti-scam samurai. She runs a blog, Stop Art Scams, at which she documents and explains art scams. Particularly note her page explaining the mechanics of the scam. She was kind enough to consider my case; and she's posted the further emails of Loius from my little exchange with him/her. It's kind of embarrassing how many emails I traded with this douche, but I also think one ought not to hide embarrassing things. And hey - maybe if you're reading this, you won't get suckered like I was (I was only suckered out of a little bit of time, but time is the one thing we can't get back).

Incidentally, I noodled around in Gmail until I was able to find the raw text of the first email I received. It turned out it was received from, if you will, with a return path to a certain

Moral of story: no matter how pathetic you are, somebody more pathetic is out to pick your pocket.

*Technically, Dante did not write in English.
†Nor did Cervantes.


  1. Daniel, They sure know how to find pidgeons, don't they?
    Same thing happened to me a few years ago when I had just put up my web site. This one was a woman in Atlanta who wanted to buy a couple paintings, which they specifically named. The husband was overseas and would handle the finances. A few emails exchanged, yada, yada, yada, and I get a cashiers check for $3,000-- for two small paintings that totaled about $500! And could I send back the remainder via my own cashiers check? What saved me was my beautiful partner Ellen used to work in a bank and figured out that the routing numbers on the check were wrong. (I used to work in a bank too, but I missed that little nuance)
    I sent them an email thanking them profusely for buying art from a humble part time painter--who also had worked in a bank. And hey--do you know your check is bogus! I thanked them for the souvenir (which I still have!)

  2. Kevin - that is a fantastic story, and I'm glad you had an Ellen to advise you! I wish I had your sangfroid - I'd love to have a fake cashier's check for my troubles. But it hardly seems worth it to keep playing footsie with Rodrigo.

    Incidentally, I don't touch on the more upfront scams in this post: vanity galleries, that you pay to show in, and vanity art books, that you pay to be in. I got a lot of attention from those places when I first put my website up, but they've trailed off, thank god. What a pain they are.

  3. Daniel-
    The same thing happened to me through Craigslist but when I was trying to sublet my apartment. Luckily, I gave her my home address instead of my current address so I there were about three days where I was just waiting to get home to see the check. In those three days, I got email after email from this person demanding I send her the money immediately, etc., etc.. I thought it was super sketchy and looked into it on-line and it fit every description. The scariest part is that I think it's a program, instead of an actual person. They have some kind of code that inevitably makes spelling errors and doesn't acknowledge you by name. It's super scary but they tend to target those they think are really desperate so try your best not to be! haha.. best wishes
    Marina Ross

  4. Marina - That is a hell of a thing. I'm glad you didn't lose any money in the end. I think the program is replaced by a person once a response comes in - at least in my case it was. Anyhow, my reply got so out of control I had to write a whole new post about it, it's the Epictetus post above. Thanks for sharing your story!

  5. Hi Daniel,
    I have recieved an email from the same '' and thought the email was odd. Very pleased to have found your blog and not fall for the scam! I thought it was odd that they used a different email address for the 2nd email ''. Thanks for the posting, Leigh Glover.

  6. Leigh - I cannot believe this asshat is still using the same burned email! Anyhow, I'm glad you found the blog and that I was able to contribute to your not losing time or money. Thanks for letting me know.