I was almost the victim of a scam.
I was emailed by someone who said he liked my art, and was interested in two paintings of mine. We exchanged a number of emails over the course of two months, during which we established how the transaction would take place. He said he'd send a check and when it cleared, he would have someone pick up the art – a mover who was moving his belongings to his new home on a nearby island. He said a check "from his financier" would be coming to cover the $2200 cost of the art. In the next email, he alerted me that there was an error in the amount, but I should deposit it and deduct the amount for the paintings and $100 for my time and patience. He never mentioned the amount on the check, but I found out when it arrived: it was for $4200.
I deposited the check that day and out of idle curiosity, I googled the return address on the envelope - 2713 N Park Ave in Philadelphia. Imagine my surprise to find it was an empty lot in a run-down part of town! Suddenly, the wool fell from my eyes and I realized it was a scam. He was unfamiliar with my art and its price, but said he discovered it online. He said he was moving to a nearby island, but his address didn't match any homes (thank you, Google street view!). His grammar wasn't very good - instead of using a capital “I” to indicate himself, he used a lower case.
It was interesting to look at my own behavior in retrospect. At the beginning I was totally skeptical, but as we conintued exchanging emails, I began to believe it was legit. He talked of sending me a check and that I should wait for it to clear. That sounded fair and square. It was all out of the ordinary, but who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth? He was buying art that totalled $2200 – and I wanted to believe it was legit.
There's a little sideline to this story. It's somewhat irrelevant, but it really irks me. He told me his son had just been diagnosed with cancer. He was supposedly with him at that time and asked for my prayers. What a weasel! Just another way to rope me in.
Here's some details about his method.
- His initial email came through my website and a careful look showed it was sent to multiple recipients as a blind cc. (Obviously phishing.) However, his email had a spam rating of “0” - it passed muster with Google mail.
- His email address appeared to be from a legitimate fiancial firm...in Turkey.
- The information on the check appeared to be a legitimate company that sells meters in Canada. (I'm sure the company is real; the check was not.)
- The check and envelope seemed thin and cheap... the check paper felt like copy paper and the envelope looked like it came from a drug store. The check didn't have a stub attached that company checks often do. The company is based in Ontario, Canada but the envelope was mailed from Philadelphia.
- The check was with the Bank of Montreal, a legitimate bank, but the routing number didn't match (they're public knowledge).
- The check was actually made out for $4200.15 (why the 15 cents?)
I got put at ease when he said to wait for the check to clear, but here's where you need to watch out. When the bank recieves the deposit, it will look like your account has the money. It doesn't. After receiving the deposit, the check percolates through the system; it goes to the bank of origin, who says: “That check's not mine!” and then sends it back to my bank who says to me, “Disregard that deposit we said you had!” In my case, that took a week. The bank makes an adjustment to your account – they don't send out bells and whistles to alert you, so unless you're looking, it's easy to miss. The bank rep couldn't tell me how long I needed to wait for the check to wind its way through the system – but the rep said, if the check didn't bounce after a month, it was probably good. That's a mightly long time to wait – but odds are good that you'll hear well before that...so give it time!
Let my near miss be a warning to artists everywhere. Don't send your own money! It seems so simple, but it's easy to get sucked in. Had I fallen for it, I would have been out two nice pieces of art and two thousand dollars. I filed reports with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center and the police department, but the best part is: I didn't get scammed.