Scammers Prey On Unsuspecting Photographers

Posted on 9/29/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Photographers marketing their images through online web sites should be alert to common art scams that seem to be growing in frequency. This is particularly true for those trying to sell physical works of art (fine art prints).

The basic scam usually works like this. The photographer receives an email from someone who has seen their images online and wants to purchase some of their art. The buyer is usually located in a foreign country, frequently Australia or South Africa, but it can be anywhere. The intended use of where and how the art will be hung is often described in detail. The buyer offers to pay by credit card, travelers check or cashiers check and asks that the artist ship the work to them once the artist has received payment. The buyer also agrees to pay for shipping and usually recommends a freight forwarder they normally use.

It sounds legit so far. Often when the photographer receives the money it is for much more than the agreed amount. Or this is an amount to cover shipping. The photographer deposits the money in his bank account. The buyer then discovers his mistake and asks the photographers to refund the amount of overpayment. The overpayment is often hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. The photographer believes he has money in his bank so he writes a refund check on his account.

Some weeks later the photographer discovers that the credit card was stolen or the travelers check or cashier check were counterfeited. At that point the photographer’s bank cancels the transaction and the photographer is out the amount of the refund he sent the buyer. In addition, if he has shipped the art work he has no money to show for that transaction.

Usually, the overpayment includes the amount needed to pay the freight forwarder when the work is picked up. It is unclear whether the work is dumped right after the “freight forwarder” gets his hands on it, or whether it is actually shipped somewhere or sold to a third party. The one thing that’s sure is that the freight forwarder receives a fee. Whether any service is provided for that fee is unclear.

Often, if the buyer gets the refund before the art work has been shipped he may make no effort whatsoever to even pick up the art work. The buyer never really had any interest in the art work. The existence of a work of art, and the photographer’s desire to sell it, was simply a way to get that refund check.

In some cases the forgeries of traveler’s checks and cashier’s checks are so obvious that the photographer’s bank will refuse to accept them and he is able to cancel the transaction before shipping art work or sending any refund. But, once the buyer has sent money he usually applies pressure to get the refund quickly. One scammer said he had a family health emergency and needed the refund “immediately”.

Another scammer claimed to be in Florida during the early parts of the transaction, but when it was time to ship the art work said he had to make an emergency trip to New York and would the photographer ship the work to “his customer in South Africa.” He asked the photographer to use some of the money from the overpayment to pay the freight forwarder when he picked up the package.

One strategy that seems to work with when you suspect a scam is to insist that you only accept payment through PayPal or Payoneer. These organizations have antifraud specialists and antifraud risk models for fraud-detection. They also have address verification for credit cards and require card security codes as ways of minimizing fraud. When scammers understand that’s the only way you will accept payment that’s usually the last you hear from them.

According to John Math, “Another way for artists to protect themselves in a transaction like this is to insist that the transaction be handled by an escrow agent. The final transaction, shipping etc. is not completed until all of the funds have been verified and cleared. Any legitimate buyer or collector of art will not have a problem dealing in either manner. Anyone who objects to this way of doing business is someone who you do not want to do business with!”

Math suggests a number of other things to look for to determine if you are dealing with a scammer:
  1. The scammer usually lives outside of the US.
  2. The scammer will have a story as to why he wants to buy the art.
  3. The scammer cannot remember all of the details of the piece of art or they easily get the artwork mixed up with others. One scammer said he wanted to buy the photographer’s “paintings,” not realizing that he was dealing with photography. Scammers contact hundreds of artists with the same scam, and they tend to get the art mixed up.
  4. The email solicitation is usually poorly written, with words misspelled or with poor grammar.
  5. The scammer will have “their shipper” contact the artist.
  6. The scammer will suggest that a friend or relative will pick up the art directly from the artist. This quickens the transaction.
  7. The scammer will need the art “quickly” for some special occasion as a way of act quickly to complete the transaction before it can be discovered that the method of payment was fraudulent.
Art scammers have one objective and that is to separate the artist from their art or from their money, or both. When approached by a stranger on the internet, always be skeptical. The old adage that says “when it sounds too good to be true…” still stands true today. All artists should be aware of and comfortable with whom they are dealing when they are selling their art on the internet.

For more information about possible art scams check out Kathleen McMahon’s blog at:

Copyright © 2010 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Owen Franken Posted Sep 29, 2010
    had exactly this happen, and the address to send the prints to did not exist, with "galery" spelled with one l. They did not get very far with me. watch out for a 'julie johnson" with a hong kong email address. and a "company" johnson cook in london, and a"partner" to send Western Union cash to in Holland with, get this, a NIgerian name!

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