A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from someone interested in a picture I had done called Albi Equi. This happens sometimes, so I do what I normally do, tell them what the picture is priced at and wait and see if they are still interested. The person responded that they were indeed interested, and they wanted to know what had inspired the picture. Mentally I’m thinking that this seems pretty legitimate. If they were a scam they wouldn’t care what had inspired me, right? I tell the client I take checks and credit cards, and tell them who to make it out to, and where to send it. That is when it started getting hinky. The person responded and said that FedEx doesn’t deliver to PO Boxes and they would like my home address instead– I work from home. She said she was from New Jersey, but that her husband works in New York and he has his secretary handle his checks, so I will be receiving a check from the secretary. I’m thinking odd, but ok I can give them that.
Important aside: If you receive a fraudulent check through the United States postal service, the person scamming you has committed a federal offense.
At this point I’m working on getting my large commission piece done, and getting out of the house. So my first day on the road to Arizona, the check comes, and I give my permission for my Dad to sign it. I guess that is something that you can do. And he tells me that the check is for more than twice the amount I had quoted the picture. This sends up big warning flags to my Mom and me. If you have read the Road Trip post you know my Mom went on my trip to Scottsdale, Arizona with me. We think this is getting a little weird, and at this point, we think it is a scam, but I’m still holding out hope it isn’t, because I keep thinking how much ink I could buy if I sell that picture.
So I tell my Dad to go to the bank and talk with a family friend who works there and see what we can do, because if this is a scam I really don’t want to get in trouble. So my Dad talks to the bank while I’m sitting on pins and needles on my way through Oregon. The bank tells my Dad the check looks a little hinky. There isn’t any contact information for the bank it was issued from, but they can put a hold on it until the check has cleared, so we won’t receive any money before then. After that we informed the buyer of what we had done, and she said that was fine.
As an important aside to other artists: Make sure you put a hold on all checks you receive from people you don’t know or don’t know well. A common misconception that people make is that when you get a check from someone and you take it to the bank, you automatically have that money. This is not true, it can take up to 10 days for a check to clear both your banks and for you to actually physically posses that money. So if a check bounces or is fraudulent, and you spent that money, then you just spent money that didn’t exist.
The next day I got an email from our “buyer” saying that her husband would really like us to send the difference of the check as soon as possible, and that she had looked up different places where I could do a wire transfer, and I should send it to her husband’s secretary who now miraculously is in Illinois. If you have kept up so far, you now know that our client lives in New Jersey. Her husband and his secretary work in New York, but the secretary lives in Illinois.
At this point I’m in Southern California, and I’m just really thankful we didn’t send out the picture or the check. My parents advise me not to respond to this email, so I don’t. Later that day when we decide to head out of California from where we where resting, I get a text message on my phone from the buyer asking if I had gotten her earlier email. I do not respond and mentally make a note to myself to look up the area code of the phone number when I get home. When I do have time to check, the area code was from somewhere is Califonia. So to recap, The woman is from New Jersey, with a phone number in California. Her husband works in New York with his secretary, and she wants me to send the money through a wire transfer to the secretary who lives in Illinois. I don’t respond to the text message, and find out later when I get home I got an email saying the same thing as the text message.
Now I’m so sure it’s a scam it isn’t even funny, and I’m waiting for this to escalate and for the woman to demand her money back. I’ve finally arrived in Scottsdale and decide not to worry about it anymore. There isn’t much I can do until I get home anyway. So I drop off the artwork and have a great visit with the people who run the Buffalo Collection, drop off the rental truck and fly home that very evening.
When I get home, I take part of a day to recoup, at this point I’m pretty positive someone on the plane has given me their cold. I think I’m going to invest in face masks for plane rides from now on. Does anyone know if they actually work? So I took part of the day to recoup, and then I call my bank to find out what is going on, and they tell me that the check is a fraud. I asked for some advice on whether or not I should file a police report, and they lady at the bank said why not. It can’t hurt anything.
I decided to look up how I should file a police report from home, so that’s what I end up doing. This may vary from place to place, so I would look up for your area what you should do if you are unfortunate enough to ever need to file a police report. The website for Monroe, Washington’s police department said that I should dial 911 and when asked what my emergency was immediately respond that is was not an emergency. Unless of course you as the reader do have an emergency then by all means tell them what it is. I, however, do not have an emergency and told them so. They then asked the purpose of my call, and I said something to the effect of “I would like to report that someone has tried to defraud me.” They asked if the person was someone I knew. I said no. They asked if the person succeeded, and I said no. They asked for a general account of what occurred and then took my information and informed me that an officer would call to take my statement later that afternoon. An officer did indeed call, and got a little more in-depth account of what had happened, and then told me an officer would stop by my home for my statement. He also asked if I had access to the check or if the bank would give it to the officer. I told him I didn’t know but that I would go and speak with the bank.
I head out again, I’m still feeling a little under the weather, but I’m pretty excited to get this taken care of and out of the way. When I get to the bank, the teller tells me they have sent the original check on ahead but they have a copy I can give to the officer. When I get home I get all of my email dialogue with the scammer, along with the number they texted me from, and the check.
When the officer arrived he was very friendly, took my statement, took the evidence and told me a little about what would happen. Sadly it probably won’t be a lot, but they always hope that the scammers will screw up somewhere, and that any evidence they have previously collected will be useful. The problem is that this person is probably not in my state, and there isn’t a lot the police can do to track them. And even if my police department could track them, they would have no jurisdiction because the crime did not happen in the State of Washington. So my advice to other artists is always be careful with your art, try and make the best decisions you can with the information you have. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
I would like to send a special thank you to my bank for all of their help, and to the Monroe Police department for their wonderful response time and kindness. To the other artists out their reading this, I know this may not seem like a lot to other people, but we work just as hard at our jobs as other people do. I don’t want to see anyone take advantage of you because you don’t know your rights. If you put a hold on a check, you don’t need to send your art out until the check has cleared, you haven’t received any money at this point, you are only protecting yourself.
Note: We were never contacted again by the scammer after the last e-mail asking if we had received the previous e-mail.