Yesterday, a woman called me to get my bank information. She claimed to be a kindergarten administrator from Australia who wanted an illustration of mine for a cookbook she was putting together for a worthy cause. She had sent me an email introducing herself and her project and we'd entered a amicable email conversation of about 3 or 4 letters. The money she offered me was fair for her type of project. She called and had a lovely Australian accent and acted very friendly when she asked me for my bank account number and routing information. I told her I'd send her the information the next morning.
I did my due diligence and checked out the school she mentioned. There was no school by that name at that address. If there had been, I would have contacted them directly to confirm her position and project. That, along with a few other complications to the transaction were big red flags. She didn't get the financial information she requested from me. I'd wasted time I could have spent more positively.
Having an internet site for over a decade, I've been the target of quite a few of these scammers. It's always a sad waste of time. I've been written to and called by so many of these people over the years that I am very careful about doing business with anyone who insists on discussing money with me without being transparent as to who they are.
Scammers often target visual artists, probably because we have the reputation of being a bit naive to business practices and we usually have items to sell that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Considering how many astute people were taken advantage of by Bernard Madoff, I can't guarantee that my advice is fail-safe, but it's a start. Here are some red flags I want to share with you so that you can recognize these thieves:
- HASTE: They are in a hurry. Some sort of time urgency is making it necessary for them to hurry the process and they need your help.
- MOBILITY: They are often moving around between foreign countries or cities which causes some sort of extenuating circumstance.
- PAYMENT: They have excuses about how they need to pay you. Maybe their Visa doesn't work, or they claim to live in a town without a proper bank or Western Union office. (This often segues with the mobility theme.)
- KICKBACKS: They want you to send them back the "extra" money that they insert into the transaction to "cover fees".
- OPACITY: They aren't upfront with who they are, their phone number, where they live, what their project is, etc. Double checking their phone numbers often leads to dead-ends. If they claim to be somebody, check out their claim thoroughly and be sure to call the person.
- COST OF YOUR ART OR ART SERVICE: They insist on "talking" to you through email and want your pricing information without giving any information of their own. They often offer to pay more than your price.
- BANKING: Work with your bank to set up an account that you use ONLY for these type of transactions. Explain your business to the bank officer and they will help you put safeguards into place that minimize the risk you undertake when handing out your bank account and routing information. One of the dangers my banker explained is that with the account number the thieves will create bogus checks to withdraw money from the account.
- VISA AND OTHER CREDIT CARDS: Call the company to additionally verify the legitimacy of the card number and info you receive.
- WESTERN UNION: Don't give ANYBODY a kickback for fees. If they want to use Western Union to transfer money to you, they will absorb the fee. Western Union will wire the money to the Western Union office you designate. You DO NOT NEED TO GIVE ANYBODY YOUR BANK INFO TO GET A WESTERN UNION PAYMENT!! Be sure to check out the Western Union website and to call for more information.
- SHIPPING YOUR ART: Regardless of the delivery system you use - whether you are shipping original art or sending electronic files, do not send anything until the money has cleared the bank. Again, talk to your banker and rely on their advice.