Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ye Olde Overpayment Scam

When I first started my clunky, outdated website back in January 2008 I had some hope that by putting my artwork on display for anyone to see I might be “discovered” by someone important. Boy was I naive! I have been discovered not by any important galleries or wealthy patrons of the arts, but by every scam artist cruising the web for suckers. My in-box is regularly filled with notices that I’ve won foreign lotteries (I’ve “won” the Netherlands lottery three times), requests for help cashing overseas checks or depositing large sums of money or even to pose as a next of kin to collect and share some huge inheritance. My website itself has even been hijacked and used as an attack site.

But the most dastardly of the e-mails I've gotten is one I received a few weeks ago. It seemed someone had come across my website by chance and wanted to purchase one of my paintings. The e-mail was very brief and business-like. The person said nothing of themselves except that they traveled a lot. Meaning what, possibly that they would be in my area and would swing by pick up the painting? I was suspicious right away, but this person did have a particular painting in mind “as a present for his wife”, so I figured it couldn’t do any harm to tell him my asking price and mailing address. He wrote back the next day from the same e-mail address but this time he called himself Frank Ray instead of Frank Lee. I mean if you’re going to con someone can’t you at least keep your name straight. I was certain now that this was a scam, but up to now I couldn’t figure out how. Identity theft crossed my mind anxiously, as I had given the bastard my name and home address, although I didn’t really think he could do much with just that. But under the new surname the body of the e-mail said that he would be sending me a check for the painting. He went on to explain that this check would be for more than the price I’d asked for the piece, and that I should immediately deposit it and give the amount left over after my asking price in cash to his “shipper”, who would come by and collect the painting. He said this was to “pay his shipper”. Uh-huh, sure. I wrote back, “Nice try. Find another sucker asshole!"

I laughed and tried to forget about the incident, but a few days later a large white envelope arrived by UPS. It said, “Extremely Urgent”, and it was addressed to me from the “Montana State Library 1515 E. 6th Avenue Helena, MT 59601”, but I instantly knew what it was. It was the phony check from that asshole Frank Ray or Lee. Yep, inside was a check for $2200.00 more than I had asked for “Girl in a Landscape”. The faux check was from Amonix Inc., drawn on their “account” at the Bank of the West, and signed by a Desmond Michel. Now the bizarre part is that there really is an Amonix Inc. They design and manufacture solar power systems out in Seal Beach California. And the Bank of the West is also a real bank out west. Along with the Montana State Library, which is also a real library, I wonder if these companies and organizations know their good names are being used in a scheme to defraud poor schmucks. This type of scam is officially called the Overpayment Scam and is encountered very often by anyone selling anything online today from Craigslist to simple websites like mine. I took the check to my bank to show them and the branch manager said they see 3 or 4 of these phony checks a month. Pretty sad.

I wasn’t even obviously selling anything and I got one of these criminals trying to run his game on me. I mean it’s pretty low to pick on starving artists like me. Every artist dreams of being discovered and some anonymous collector snatching up his work. I’ve received two more e-mails like the one I described here in the last two weeks. I’m pretty paranoid now, so if you do happen to be seriously interested you’d better explain yourself and keep your name straight. There is even a website that talks about scams that potentially target fine artists. So watch your back fellow artists!

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is Ditto! I let it carry itself a little further to see if I could get more info on the source. The bank personally called Bank of the West but the Amonix acct# was a different one, which verified the check was a there was no watermark on it. The police was given the check to note the scam trail. I believe there were 2 different guys involved. The Frank Lee knew Englinh with only a few mistakes but Frank Ray had a lot of them. It was like Frank Lee was the salesman and Frank Ray was the follow thru guy who kept emailing me daily to see when I would mail the money to their shipper. They really didn't give up until I told them I knew it was a scam all along.