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Ontario graphic designer warns other artists after outwitting possible scammer trying to buy his work | CBC News

With 30 years in the art industry, Jason Recker knows very well the types of questions someone interested in buying his work tend to ask and how much they’re willing to pay for it.

So when the London, Ont., artist and graphic designer received an email last week from a man wanting to buy an image, citing a tempting budget ranging from $1,500 to $8,500, Recker said he immediately knew someone was trying to scam him.

“If they had looked at my artwork, they would’ve said, ‘I’m willing to pay an X amount,’ and not just throw out such a wide range since most artists will agree on the highest price. That’s a $7,000 difference, which is just off,” said Recker, who wants to warn other artists to be cautious when potential clients contact them. 

Recker said it was the fourth message of its kind that he has received over the last few months. 

“One [message] went from $250 to $2,500 and they didn’t even blink an eye. That just doesn’t make any sense.” 

Recker played along to see how far the man would go. He then posted screen shots of the exchange on a Facebook page consisting of other artists and designers, where he learned many others have received similar messages.

“I think artists are an easy target because they think, ‘Oh, somebody wants my work and they’re willing to pay,'” he said. 

The approach

Where the apparent scam really gets crafty is when clients give elaborate excuses about why they can’t pay for the artwork through credit card or e-transfers, and instead offer to send an electronic cheque, Recker said. 

In his case, Recker said, the man told him he wanted to buy the art piece as a surprise gift to his wife for their anniversary and that the two would be relocating to Finland, so he needed it as soon as possible and could only pay by e-cheque. 

In response, Recker told the man that he only accepts e-transfers as payment due to previous scam attempts, and asked him to send the full payment before the piece could be shipped.

Recker said that’s when the man stopped responding and the communication ended. He said he didn’t report his experience to authorities, and hopes putting it on social media will help get the cautionary word out. 

Recker received this email from someone he believed was trying to scam him. (Jason Recker)

Scams involving artists were highlighted recently when over 1,000 paintings were seized in a lengthy police investigation into the forgery of artwork by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau.

In the case of Recker, what he was dealing with is called vendor fraud by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). Such scams often target small businesses like artists, said CAFC spokesperson Jeff Horncastle in an email to CBC News.

CAFC received more than 3,100 vendor fraud reports in 2022, with losses estimated at more than $3 million.

The CAFC email said fraudsters contact sellers with a generic message wanting to buy an item without seeing it. They will claim to be out of town and offer to pay above the asking price to cover the cost of shipping. The seller then receives a fake payment through a counterfeit cheque, compromised credit card or a fake email notification that states the payment is pending and money will only be transferred once the seller provides a tracking number.

When the seller ships the product and gives the alleged fraudster the tracking number, it turns out the payment notification is fake and no money is available.

What are the signs?

An important telltale sign of such a scam is spelling and grammatical errors in the messages, according to Jonathon Bancroft-Snell, who has owned the Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery in downtown London for 23 years.

“You look at the sentence structure and can get the sense that they’re obviously working from another language or using Google Translate,” he said.

Jonathon Bancroft-Snell in front of an art piece at his gallery
Jonathon Bancroft-Snell has owned his gallery on 258 Dundas St. in London, Ont., since 2000. He says while scams involving fake purchase offers aren’t new, some artists may fall victim to them. (Isha Bhargava/CBC )

Bancroft-Snell said such scams aren’t new, but cash-strapped artists might fall victim to tempting offers.

“Artists really need to logically think, ‘Why is this person from overseas contacting me to purchase something that’s going to cost more than the item’s worth to ship with a price range that’s so vast, it doesn’t even make sense?'” he said. 

“They’re dangling the money like bait and if you bite, you’re going to get hooked.”

Bancroft-Snell suggests cross-referencing any addresses or names and to do your research before agreeing to a sale. 

Det. Const. John Armit is with Ontario Provincial Police’s anti-rackets branch of the economic crimes and corruption unit.

Armit recommends that anyone getting purchase inquiry messages should take time before following through on anything.

“Scammers work on a sense of urgency, so never send money to people you don’t know, feel free to block people on social media and ask others if it sounds legitimate. If it doesn’t, it usually isn’t.”


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