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It's Just Too Good To Be True…

You met him at the last show.  He loved your work, took your card and promised to give you a call later in the week. 

You’ve heard that story before, right.  How many actually call… close to zero!  But this time it was different, the phone rang on Tuesday and not only did he actually do what he said… he placed a big order.  The only catch is that the order needs to be shipped immediately to a location 800 miles away.  Don’t worry though, you’ll be getting a check through overnight express that will not only cover the cost of the product but the shipping too and even a little bit left over for the extra trouble you have to go through.  SWEET! 

You’re caught up in the excitement of making as much money as you have during the last four shows… in just one call.  And you’re thinking about how you’ll have all the money to buy that new equipment or maybe take a little vacation.  What a stroke of luck… Or is it?

I’m not saying this kind of good fortune never happens, but when it does you still have to approach it with caution.  The exact scenario I described above did actually happen to an exhibitor many of us know.  In fact, his wife approached me with the idea of writing this article.  As it turned out for them, this was a scam!  Sure the customer was real… and the deal he offered seemed on the surface to be legitimate.  But when they finally got over the excitement of deal and started actually investigating a bit more all of a sudden things weren’t adding up.  The chances of this being a scam increase exponentially when it involves a check from a foreign account or a secondary shipper who will be handling the arrangements while your customer “relocates.”  I did a quick search online to see if other artists or craftsmen were experiencing scams too, and I was shocked at just how many there were!

We always worry about being ripped off by someone promoting an unreliable show.  But unfortunately, there are always people out there who are willing to rip you off in plenty of other ways too.  And as the big box retailers, banks and other big businesses increase their ability to rid themselves of these threats, the con artists and thieves turn to easier prey… you.  Our law enforcement people have their hands full of much bigger concerns than someone trying to take advantage of you for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars so you don’t get exactly top priority when it comes to handling your particular case.  As a result, you are left to your own to make sure your hard earned money stays in your pocket rather than in the pocket of some crook!  Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

1.  Make sure to be objective when you get an unusual order.  It’s great to be excited and certainly we want to see you be successful.  But once the smoke clears and your emotion subsides you’ll want to take an objective view of what you actually have here.  Everyone wants fame and fortune, that’s understandable… and of course when it appears that just may have happened emotion takes over and common sense goes right out the window.  As I mentioned before… if a buyer is just a little to urgent in his requests, involves foreign bank accounts, third party shippers and other things that don’t add up, be skeptical!  If you’ve received emails as part of the correspondence make sure to look at the MIME code to see if the email is coming from where it appears to come from.  Is the wording of the correspondence consistent with a person who is capable of making a substantial purchase.  I know it sounds like were profiling here, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck… chances are good that it’s a duck!

2.  Don’t ship your work until you’ve confirmed the payment.  Just because you’ve received a check or money order doesn’t mean you’ve been paid..  Checks from foreign accounts can take weeks to clear.  Money orders can be forged.  Official looking paperwork can be faked.  Double check with your bank to make certain the money is actually in your account and there is no way you can be charged back by anyone.  If any of these financial instruments are found to be fraudulent you’ll be held responsible for the full amount plus any additional fees.  With bounced check charges, international fees, recovery fees and more a transaction gone bad can cost you dearly!

3.  If someone appears to have been too generous… they may indeed be a bit of a philanthropist but it should certainly raise your suspicions.  Once again this may be designed to either win your confidence or to cloud your good sense with the emotion extra money can provide.  Whatever you do, don’t ever agree to return the overpayment because if the deal goes south not only will you be out your work, the shipping charges, the sales tax and all the fees associated with a bad check or money order, but you’ll also be out the money you sent them to refund the overpayment.  That’s really adding insult to injury!

Trust your gut feelings.  When it feels as though something isn’t right… it very well may not be right.  That combined with a couple of other clues may help you “see the light.”

4.  The case of the vanishing gallery.  This happens more regularly than you may think, it applies to both artists and craftsmen and I know more than one person who has been ripped off this way.  When the “gallery owner” initially approaches you with his or her request to include your work, naturally you’re flattered.  Con artists love to stir emotion to mask good judgement.  There are two variations here.  The first gallery invites you to be a part of their exhibit and then suddenly there is a fee for this, a charge for that… but don’t worry… there are no commissions!  It doesn’t take long to realize that the gallery is making their money from the fees, not the sale of work.  In fact, that being the case… what motivation does the gallery have to actually sell your work?  They certainly have a motivation to gather a lot of artists and craftsmen to exhibit.

The second gallery looks great. They have a brochure telling you about all the benefits, a web page that is impressive and a prospectus for marketing your work that would be the envy of anyone.  You go to look at the gallery and everything looks perfect so you commit to exhibiting some of your best pieces.  Everything seems to be going great.  You may have even sold a piece or two.  It’s been a while since you’ve heard from the gallery so you go down to drop in to say hello and all you find is a locked door and an empty store.  One night they just cleared everything out and left town… along with all your work!  As they open up in the next town (which you’ll certainly never hear about) it become evident to you how they have such nice work on exhibit… almost all of it stolen from someone just like you.  What a deal for the gallery… 100% commission on everything sold!

5.  Be cautious if the customer is trying to get you to ship immediately.  Typically the scammer will try to get you to ship before any funds have cleared.  The obvious reason is that if you knew the funds wouldn’t clear then you would certainly never ship!  Many people believe that a postal money order or cashier’s check is virtually the same as cash.  It isn’t.  In fact, it can take up to a month before you know you’ve just been had.  Because of “privacy laws” put in place to protect consumers, banks usually can’t tell you much about a check before it processes through their entire system.  Naturally by the time everything goes through all the right channels you owe a ton of fees to the bank.  It’s amazing how “privacy laws” work to the financial advantage of the banks and hurt so many consumers they are designed to protect!

6.  Go online and do some research.  From what I’ve seen a lot of these criminals use the same or similar names wherever they go… and you probably are not the first victim.  Do some searches for the names of the principals involved.  Look into the names of the gallery.  Ask for references if it’s a big purchase.  What other work do they own and who have they dealt with?  Check out several of the blogs from people who have been ripped off previously.  You’ve got a substantial investment in time and money in your work… keep a level head about sales no matter how big and use the judgement that will keep you in business.

7.  Take action if you’ve been scammed!  Although you may not get top priority from law enforcement agencies, you should definitely report the action.  And even though you’re a small concern if you’re vocal enough about it then you should get some attention.  The State Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Affairs is not only a source of information but a good place to go regarding any suspicious contacts by email, the mail or the phone.  If the US Mail has been involved then talking to your postmaster may be a good option.  Online there are plenty of websites listing names of companies and individuals who have committed fraud in the past.  There are suspect email addresses, websites and more right there for you to find!  If the internet has been involved, then the Federal Trade Commission can become involved too.  You can find out more about them by going to their website at or the Internet Fraud Complaint Center at

Whether it’s by a gallery, through the mail, over the internet or by an unscrupulous show promoter it’s never fun to be ripped off.  It’s tough enough to be in this business and to make ends meet let alone losing money to crooks who pose as business allies.  Make sure to be vigilant, remain skeptical and be cautious in all your business dealings.  If you’re in doubt, then trust your gut and double check the deal you’re about to enter into.  Ask others, go online, check references and do the things that would allow you to make a good decision.  We don’t want you to miss a golden opportunity, but we don’t want you to lose your shirt either!