How to spot art scam emails

By in How To


There is an increasing number of scammers or con artists operating on the internet and all artists selling their artwork online should be aware of this. Luckily, scammers are usually fairly easy to spot.

Why scam artists?

Certainly most people with an email address will have received some sort of scam email at least once, perhaps a fake ‘please confirm your online banking login details’ message or an urgent ‘fraudulent use of your account’ warning. Also people trading online are susceptible to a certain style of scam and artists selling online fall in to this category. Additionally many artists may not have other experience of selling goods online and so are perhaps seen as a less educated target.

How do scam/fraudulent emails work

There are a variety of common techniques that scammers use.

Specific To Artists

The most common scam affecting artists selling online is as follows:

The scam is usually from a web mail address (Yahoo etc) from someone overseas who asks to buy your art work. They want to send you a cheque, bankers draft or credit card number to pay for the art. The payment they give you is for the cost of the art work and the cost of shipping overseas. They will quickly ask you to send the overpayment to them or their ‘shipping agent’. So they essentially get you to send them money before you discover the payment is fraudulent.

General Fraudulent Emails

You may already be aware of a lot of these, but can include techniques such as

  • PayPal/Online Banking Login ‘Phishing’
  • Nigerian 419er
  • Stock Trading

See references for more info.

How To Identify A Scammer

Above all you should always act with caution, but do not jump to conclusions too hastily (you don’t want to miss a genuine buyer!). Scammers are usually quite easy to spot if you are aware of the common tricks.

Key Signs

Here are a list of signs that the email/message you receive is not a genuine buyer:

  • The offer sounds too good to be true e.g. ‘buyer’ wants to purchase a number of items at once
  • The email has grammatical mistakes or is written in poor English
  • There is a sense of urgency in the message
  • There is some special arrangement requested, e.g. special shipping agent
  • You are asked to send money/pay in some form e.g. shipping fee, transaction fee – remember it is you that is selling the item!
  • The email address is from yahoo/hotmail or other major webmail account
  • The ‘buyer’ has missed some fundamental detail, e.g. is asking about your paintings but your are a sculptor, or asks for prices that are clearly on your website.
  • Something doesn’t feel quite right (trust your instincts!)

Be Proactive

You can also do a little research to verify the validity of your buyer:

  • Search the internet for the ‘buyers’ email address, see if any reports of fraud come up in the results
  • Check with other artists. The artists forums are a particularly good place to search for/annouce scam emails
  • Stick to your normal sale process, e.g. insist the buyer uses paypal – often the scam revolves around the payment mechanism
  • Never do anything until you can verify that you have cleared funds from a sales transaction. This cannot be stressed enough, you must be familiar with the clearing process of your bank and payment processors.

What Action You Can Take

  • If you are certain you are dealing with a scammer, make no further communication.
  • Notify your Own Nation’s National Law Enforcement Agency and your Own Nation’s Foreign Office.
  • If you have lost money as a result of a scam, this should be reported to your local police or to the (UK) Metropolitan Fraud Squad. Wellington House, 67-73 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6BE.
  • If you believe that you may have been the victim of an e-mail scam you can report this at, ICPEN’s global online database for cross-border complaints.
  • If you do find you have been caught out, try and help others by reporting it to (UK) Scambusters at The Office of Fair Trading (08457 224499) by emailing Get your own back and get them on the scams list. You can also write to The OFT, European Enforcement Team, Fleet Bank House, 2-6 Salisbury Square, London, EC4Y 8JX. The OFT will not be able to assist you as an individual but they have enforcement powers to act on behalf of a group of consumers to try and prevent this problem recurring.
  • The Advertising Standards Authority, ASA, is the independent body set up by the advertising industry to police the rules laid down in the advertising codes.
  • Write the scammer’s email provider at their “abuse” address (, etc.) and include the message with its headers; complain about the message; and ask that the account be shut down. You may also file complaints with watchdog type services like Spamcop to try and get the email accounts shut off by whatever ISP they are using – Spamcop and other services like it will parse the headers of the email and try to see through forged information etc. to get back to the actual origin of the email, which is often useful in these matters.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Stay informed by keeping abreast of consumer fraud trends.
  • Don’t open spam. Delete it unread.
  • Protect your computer from viruses, spyware, adware, worms, trojans, or other malware.
  • If a gallery wants to exhibit your work, or a company wants to license your art, be sure to check the company’s validity.


2 comments for “How to spot art scam emails


April 28, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Hi thank you for posting this ! I think you’ve just saved me from a scam . I wasn’t sure but this has confirmed that its good to go with your gut instinct !


January 18, 2017 at 8:41 am

This is such a valuable piece of information! I did not think about this happening and i have always wanted a Website and now have one for it to all most go completely wrong! Thank you Chris and everyone at Artweb.

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