-By Justin Gerard






If you work in the art world today you have probably atsome point received a scam email asking to buy some of your artwork. Today I will be covering a specific kind of online “overpayment” scam that has been targeting artists for the past few years and I’ll go through a few simple ways to spot them and protect yourself from them.

These scams, it should be noted, are most often conducted by actual vultures, or sometimes poisonous leeches, who have grown familiar enough with modern technology to allow them to prey upon starving artists.

Sometimes though, these scams are carried out by humans. Humans who have lost their way, who are no longer carrying the fire, and who have forgotten the face of their father.

To begin, the simplest bit of advice to remember in all this is:
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! 

In the past 3 years I have received about six thousand of these emails and after reading each and every one, I now consider myself an expert in a field which I hope will eventually be scoured away from civilization like so many barnacles from the hull of a ship.

The general layout of these scam emails goes a bit like this:

Hi, I’m (A Name that sounds rich) from (A place that sounds rich). 

I was looking at artwork on my (computer a busy rich person would use) and want to purchase some of your work as a surprise for my wife. Kindly send pictures and prices for works for Immediate purchase for pieces between $500 – $5000. Please let me know what is available for immediate sale. 


The words “kindly” and “immediate” are 2 quick give-aways that seem to exist on every one of these emails. Also, “for my wife” and the price of $5000 seem consistent.

The first time I ever got one of these emails, I replied to it. After all, they used my real name, and I had been contacted by legitimate art collectors from abroad who have purchased work from me in the past.

Here are some excerpts from a conversation I had with someone who introduced himself as “Maxwell Ore”:

FROM: Maxwell Ore
My name is Maxwell Ore from MA. I actually observed my wife has been viewing your website on my laptop and i guess she likes your piece of work, I’m also impressed and amazed to have seen your various works too, : ) You are doing a great job. I would like to receive further information about your piece of work and what inspires you. I am very much interested in the purchase of the piece to surprise my wife. Kindly confirm the availability for immediate sales.
Thanks and best regards, Max.

We emailed some examples of work and prices, which they agreed to buy for around $3,500. They then asked me for my address and said they were sending a check. This was followed by fake USPS tracking numbers and claims that the check should be there any day. At this point they informed me that a 3rd party “associate” or “shipper” will be the ones I will be delivering the painting to and that they need me to pay them an “overage” to cover that persons time and expenses, which the buyer would pay me back for.  (ahhhh I see the scam now…)

Hi Gerard,Thanks for the update. Please it would be highly appreciated if you kindly forward the overage to Rhonda Braly (the shipping agent), without much delay, as the funds will be needed to register and do all necessary paperwork for these goods prior to pick up.Otherwise there would be a late delivery which would ruin the plans for my anniversary. As soon as they receive the funds from you, they’ll give you a call to make arrangement and schedule a convenient pick up time with you.

All you have to do is visit any MoneyGram and Western Union outlet around you with the overage (in cash) and make the transfer “money in minute” by splitting the funds into two….$1,350.00 via MONEY GRAM and $1450.00 via WESTERN UNION and the rest $250.00 should be enough for the sending fee and your running around to the shipping agent.

There will be a MoneyGram transfer charges and that should be deducted from the balance as going to the shipping agent as well. Please, as soon as you have it done today, kindly email with the transfer 8 digits reference numbers, exact amount sent and sender’s name. 

Thanks and I hope to hear from you soon,

At this point, most people would know this is a scam. But desperate people do desperate things, and the ubiquity of this scam suggests that enough people have indeed fallen for it to justify the sustained efforts of these scammers.
But I decide to keep up the conversation to see where this leads. I just wanted to know. Who was this person? Why were they doing this? How often was it successful? How did they justify this behavior to themselves?

So I continued the conversation. And even though I stated things like:

JG:I am only a small time artist, if I don’t make rent this month my family and I will be kicked out of our home. I don’t want to lose my home. Please, are you sure you need this money?

His responses were:

MO: Listen,  
You have nothing to worry about…First of all, i believe we come to an agreement before sending you to payment? and i asked you if i can actually trust you with the transaction which you said yes and i see no reason why you are confused about the whole thing now…Please, i would appreciate you with the details required in another to avoid anymore delay please.

So, I wouldn’t get any humanity out of him over money. That is fair, perhaps he has a starving family in some place wracked by war! Who am I to say? But would he care if it looked like this might get me thrown in prison?

Hi Maxwell, I have shipped the moneys but I have received a call from the FBI. Please, Maxwell, this is not an illegal transaction is it? This is very scary for us. We also do not wish to cause you an trouble where you are either. Should we still send you the number? Or will it get us in trouble with the FBI?

MO: Hello Justin,
We both have nothing to worry about so go ahead and send me the necessary info now. Let me have your phone # for the agent to contact you for the pick up after receiving funds from you while you email me both #s for the transaction to forward to the shipper immediately?

I guess that is a firm ‘no’ to caring about his intended victims well-being.

JG: Maxwell, I am now at the FBI police station and have been arrested! They say they have many questions for me. I do not want to be thrown into Donald Trump’s Guantanamo Bay! 

To which he responds:

MO:I gun kill your ENTIRE FAMILY.

Well that clears it up I guess. Sadly, that is the last I’ve heard from Maxwell. He wouldn’t answer any further questions.

It did not work out for Maxwell this time. However, I am sure this has worked in the past. How do people live with themselves knowing that they are willingly attempting to ruin other people’s lives like this? The answer turns out to be a Psychological process called dehumanization. This allows a person to consider their intended victim as subhuman and unworthy of the same rights and considerations that they extend to themselves and their tribe. This is generally done by mentally ascribing a broad category to the intended victim (Fat American, upper class elitist, greedy warmonger, sinner, etc.,) and convincing themselves that the exploitation of those within this category can be seen as morally justifiable.
Incidentally, this is the same mental process that allows otherwise socially-positive humans to engage in genocide, slavery and torture.

The 3 rules again are:



A serious collector will NEVER ask you to do any of these things. A serious collector, someone who has contacted you because they appreciates your work, will be willing to work with you to pay you in a way that you are comfortable with. And they won’t ever pressure you to send money orders, or to accept overages, or share bank account details.
If the person is pressuring you to break any of the above rules, then it’s a good chance it’s a scam, and they are either a vulture, a leech, or a human who is no longer carrying the fire.

If you’d like to hear a great story about another guy who wanted to get to know who was scamming him, check out Reply-All episodes 102 and 103. The host of the show meets a scammer, and then travels all the way to India to meet the scammer in person to ask him… why?

Another article on how to avoid these scams can be found here: https://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2017/05/25/how-to-recognize-art-scam/ Along with describing the overpayment scam I have laid out above, this article also covers phishing and shipping scams.

Stay safe out there!

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