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Art Scams | As if an artist’s life wasn’t tough enough!

No Art Scams LogoI just ran across a blog by artist Kathleen McMahon that is a must read for all of us! It is focused on scams that artists fall prey to, giving chapter and verse to a pitfall we are all susceptible to!

Art scams usually work something like this:

You get an email from some exotic place. Emma David (or Richard Aaron Graham, or Curtis Thompson, etc) just has to have one of your paintings. They say some nice things and ask if it’s available and how much, where to send the check, etc. If you answer back- and there’s no reason no to- they have set the hook. You think you’ve got an interested client, but in reality, they’ve got a potential mark. The next email with the order will mention something about needing to use XYZ Shipping (someone you’ve never heard of) because, well, UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. just don’t know how to handle customs and XYZ Shipping does. The client has had good luck with them in the past so they want to use them again. This is, of course, absurd. All major shippers… even the US Post Office… deal with foreign customs every day! The scammer asks you to charge an extra, extremely exorbitant, amount on their credit card or sends you a check for an amount far over the cost of your work (we’re talking $1000+) to cover the fees that the XYZ Shipping will request of you. The idea is that you will send the extra money to XYZ who will pick up the load from your studio. Guess what, the credit card or check is stolen! The scammer knows that the bank will take 4-6 weeks to find the error and charge you back, meanwhile, the scammer is gone and you are out the $1000+. They may even ask for a refund before the shipping company has had a chance to pick up the artwork and you end up sending them a check for the original amount!

What you should know is that the unknown shipping company… well, it’s really the scammers. The XYZ shipping company doesn’t actually exist. When you send them money- even though it seems like a legitimate sale, the scammers have scored.

Scammers count on us not understanding how Internet marketing, banking, foreign fulfillment, and customs work. The scams are often arcane and convoluted, but in the end, you end up sending them money.

Here are some basic tips to avoid these traps:
  • Google the person’s name. If it’s a scam, it will probably show up in a scam alert site like Kathleen’s.
  • Be wary of any order from outside of your country. Foreign orders are exciting and can be very lucrative, but most of the scams rely on our unfamiliarity in dealing across borders.
  • If the client wants you to use an unknown shipper, check that shipper out online. A simple Google search should provide authenticating information.
  • If the shipper is located in one of the more suspect areas of the world… Nigeria, Russia, Malaysia, for example… be very wary.
  • If the client insists that you handle dealing with the unknown shipper. Try telling your potential client that you have an established account with UPS or FedEx, have shipped to their country numerous times without any problems, and that you prefer to work with that shipper. Sit back and watch what happens. If they say, “Fine, we can do it that way.” Or tell them that you normally insist that overseas clients handle the shipping arrangements, but you’ll be happy to do so for a handling fee of $800. If they don’t balk at that, they are definitely a scammer!
  • If an order is cancelled after it’s been paid for with a check but before you have a chance to ship it, hold off on sending a refund check until the original check has actually cleared the bank. It might even be a good idea to check with the bank to see if it’s been reported stolen.
  • If a credit card client requests a refund, always do so with a credit to the card. Never issue a check as a refund toward a credit card purchase in these situations. Scammers have all kinds of sob stories about how they need the money right away (their cat needs a tumor removed, they’ve been robbed and need money to get home, or&hellipWinking
  • Wire transfers are necessary in some countries (China, for example) and often convenient in others, but the barriers against using them for fraudulent purposes are low. If you are sending money to someone using Western Union on behalf of a client purchasing something from you… there’s a high probability that you are the victim of a scam.
  • If you read this and realize that you are the victim of a scam, don’t send them any more money! There is nothing you can do to get your money back. There is no one you can call that will force or negotiate its return. No amount of additional money to anyone will get you the original funds back.

There are a few things you can do to help put an end to the scammer.
  • Talk about it in your blog, twitter tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts. Sunlight cures scams.
  • If you are approached by a scammer, contact your local law enforcement organization. Many have a scam abatement task force.
  • Here’s a tip from Kathleen- If you are sure that you are being scammed, report the credit card as stolen to the bank, but tell the scammer it was declined (they expect that it will be eventually) and ask for another. Keep doing that until they give up on you. This actually hurts them as they have paid money for these numbers and you’ve just crunched a bunch of them!

So again, Check out Kathleen McMahon’s Blog and her Stop Art Scams page on Facebook Oh, and while your at it, take a look at her artwork, too!

SOPA | End of the Internet?

SOPA / PIPA | Disaster Ahead?

I’m not at all sure what to think of the SOPA bill. Is it what we need to curb intellectual property theft? Is it a draconian step that will close down the Internet? Is it a tool in the hands of "greedy corporations"? Is the reaction to it the result of overblown paranoid conspiracy fantasies? Does what could happen bear any realistic relation to what would happen? The key to the worst case scenario seems to be that corporations would, for some reason, be eager to incur the wrath of the general populace to protect even the most insignificant copyright infringement.

Since all the most popular resources that are always given as examples of potential disaster already work with copyright holders and are quite conscientious about removing offending material when asked, is it truly logical to infer from the bill’s language that little Suzi using her favorite Lady Gaga song as a soundtrack to her dance recital video would lead to the shut down of YouTube? Or is it more likely that MGM would use it to shutter a Torrent site that streamed illegal copies of movies that haven’t even made it to DVD yet? The bills are clearly aimed at sites like Pirate Bay not EBay.

On the other hand, I don't know that these bills are written well and that they might not be abused by someone- perhaps an overzealous politician, religious group who imagine themselves maligned, or an overly sensitive bunch social reformers. We risk that anytime we seek to provide protections. However, the courts tend to balance these things out. I haven’t read the entire text of the SOPA bill, but I have read goodly portions, and those sections singled out by numerous sites urging a no vote, and have yet to find a provision which has changed my mind, nor an argument that was persuasive that relied on a realistic interpretation of the bills. But I may certainly be missing something and am open to cogent argument from those in opposition.

Finally, we should give some thought to why this legislation is deemed necessary. Imagine a scenario where shoplifting became so prevalent that it was considered a right… and the stores were considered bad guys for prosecuting the worst offenders that they catch. Is stealing an intellectual property like a movie, song, the image of a painting or photograph different in substance from stealing a DVD, CD, a Giclée print, or coffee table book? Ideas are what drives economic development. They have value, and if we wish to see the standards of living both here and elsewhere continue to improve, we need to protect and nurture ideas as we would something physically tangible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we trust our lawmakers to do the right thing. The infamous Jack Abramoff recently confirmed our suspicions that lawmakers rely on their staffs to tell them how to vote on bills before them. He went on to say that this fact gives lobbyists immense power because it is much easier to influence a staffer than the elected official himself. But ask yourself, what company CEO in their right mind would call for shutting down YouTube or EBay or Google? The backlash would be so strong and fast that the company would collapse in a matter of weeks if not days. Nor I suspect, would a court allow it to happen. Theoretically, a judge could shut down the Internet right now using existing RICO statutes if one was crazy enough to do it. As is usually the case, the worst case scenario is extremely unlikely to happen. Might the laws discourage people from illegally using copyrighted material? Yes. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

I’m for well thought out legislation that both protects the creative and enhances the creative milieu. Do these bills do that? I don’t know- hence my confusion- however, I know that we must, at some stage, recognize the value of ideas, writings, photographs, artwork, and thought based property. Protecting it will promote more of it, and you can’t have too much of a good thing!