Scammers of the Art World: Art Fraud the Internet Way

Being an artist these days is neither easier nor more difficult than it was before the dawn of the internet. Yes, the world wide web has made it easier to expose, show and sell works, but it is also flooded with millions of people who want to do exactly what you want to do:  be an artist “in real life”, as I call it.

On top of all of the noise on the internet, there are also more art scams than ever!  It used to be that to scam an artist or gallery you had to be skilled enough to create a forgery, get it into a museum, auction house or gallery, swap it for the real piece, and then get the original out all without being detected. Then you could sell the original on the black market for a ridiculous markup, half of the collectors bidding because it was stolen and therefore more fun as a “secret”. Or you can just plain tear the pieces out of the frame like America's Greatest Art Heist. The other option was to be such a good artist yourself that your forgeries pass for originals. In this scam, you recreate “lost” works or pieces thought to be destroyed and present them to auction houses as originals reaping the reward of the sale when the bid hammer falls. Much like this scam in New York City. In both of these scams, you can be easily caught and serve many years in prison.  If you think you may be looking to buy a piece of work but are unsure of its authenticity, try Art Fraud Insights.  They can double check a work’s origin and provide educational materials to help keep you from getting scammed.

Today, the internet has made it amazingly easy to scam artists, auction houses, galleries, and museums. The particular scheme I will focus on today is one I just stepped foot in this month. An individual supposedly from a university inquired about the purchase of a piece from my private collection that I had up for sale. They offered to cover the moving costs for the piece as well as send movers to fetch it.

I thought great! Awesome! I could use the loot and this piece is not central in my collection. So I wait for the check which shortly arrives in the mail. I deposit it in the bank and it clears. I remove the money for the transport and contact the liaison to send the movers.

Hours after the check clears, my bank takes the money back saying that the check is fraudulent.  After many long hours sitting in a branch office, we come to find out the University, its bank, account number, and routing number are all correct, just the check number is incorrect. Upon speaking with the university office, they said that whoever is sending the check has their information and has been buying art with checks linked to their account. Not only was I scammed but now the University’s bank account was in jeopardy. I had to fill out police reports, return the money I withdrew and incur fees for the “bad” check. All in all the adventure was not worth the sale of a painting.

This scheme is apparently very common for more than just art these days. This “send a check pick up goods and moving fees” loop is used for everything from puppies to furniture. The average take for the person who is committing the act is between 200 and a thousand dollars, a local police officer stated. Locally, there was a case well documented with much evidence against the perpetrator and it was presented to the federal investigation team who could not pursue the case because the money was being sent to an African country whose government was unwilling to aid with the investigation.

It is not uncommon in this type of scam that the money ends up in Africa. Everyone gets a cut but the largest share is sent off to who knows where. To read more about internet check fraud, check out Fraud.org.

This is just a little anecdotal heads up to all you fellow artists and craftsman out there. Best of luck with your sales!