I would like to tell you a true cautionary tale. I had heard of similar stories on the internet and was a little surprized when one unfolded in front of me. I am not a victim, but I could have been, of an internet conman.
It all started with an email from some one interested in one of my paintings he had seen on my website. I have PayPal buttons next to all of my paintings and I have sold pieces this way, but he had special circumstances and needed to pay by check.
First, he says he is out of Tucson, AZ, but he is out of the country on business and will soon be moving to South Africa for work. He asks for more information on the painting and says he wants it. I repeat the part about Paypal but he wants his ‘shipper’ to take possession of the painting and then mail it to him in South Africa. He says he will send a bank check for the amount we had agreed upon plus the cost of shipping overseas for me to pass along to his shipper.
He even says that he assumes I am an honest person and will mail the painting along with the extra money. Of course, I assure him of my honesty and that I will let him know when I receive payment and when the painting is on its way.
I had to go out of town for an art festival and I tell him that I will let him know when I receive the check when I get back. Honestly, I thought there was a good chance I would never see a dime from him. A lot of people tell me they want to buy my work and never follow through.
Meanwhile, he blows up my email while I am gone telling me that the check was marked as delivered by the post office and that he has not heard from me. I tell him again I am out of town and I will let him know as soon as I am in possession of the check.
I get home from the show to find the Express Mail envelope with the check. However, the check feels wrong like it’s printed on ordinary copy paper and the signature and name on the check do not match up. Red flags have already gone up for me since he wants to send me money to someone else. The check is also $2000 over the price we had agreed upon. That seems like more than needed to mail an unframed watercolor to South Africa.
I had heard of a scam where people cash a check for a stranger, are asked to keep a small part of it, and send the rest onto to another person. Unfortunately for these victims, when the check bounces back and they have already sent the money, the bank holds the victim liable for the entire amount if the stranger cannot be found. It is easy to disappear on the internet.
So, the morning I got home, I went straight to my bank, Wells Fargo, to have them check it out. I have a great relationship with the people at my local branch. I explained my reservations and asked them to look into it for me. The check in question was even a Wells Fargo check. Well, my fears were not unfounded. The check had several things wrong with it. The manager on the floor asked me to forward him my correspondence with this person and kept the check to pass along to their fraud department. He advised me to not email this guy as well.
I was so relieved. Unfortunately, I was still getting emails from this criminal asking about the check. The final straw for me was when he said he was getting an attorney and was going to file criminal charges against me! I emailed the bank and forwarded this email to them. They advised me, that since he was now threatening me, to tell him that the bank destroyed the check. I did email him back that message and also told him that I did not appreciate being threatened. I really wanted to go off on him, but I restrained myself. I haven’t heard from him since.
I am currently gathering the emails, plus the envelope the check came in to pass along to the authorities if only to have a record of what is going on.
Please, if you are an artist, or anyone for that matter, be careful of this kind of scam. I never thought it would happen to me. This criminal was ready to play this out to the end. If you get a strange check, especially written way over the expected amount, have your bank check it out before depositing it!! That’s a lot money to me and I would have been responsible for it. This is a true story, please feel free to pass it along. I hope it will help others not be taken advantage of.
By the way, I still have the painting! Whew!
See my work on my website:artbysaradb.com