Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Risks & Rewards

I was very excited to receive an email from a lady in Scotland, who was interested in purchasing one of my pieces. She said she'd found my website on the internet, and told me the piece ("Satori Blue" pictured at left) that she wanted to purchase. We exchanged a few emails, and she asked me how much the piece she was interested in would cost. When I informed her of the price, she asked if I would accept either US postal order or a bank draft drawn on an American bank account. I figured that I should set up a PayPal account and offer her the option of paying that way, as there is somewhat more security available for both the seller and the buyer that way, plus the options for payment are increased for the buyer.

She wasn't interested in PayPal, and had said that she's arranged shipment, and had the company yet been in contact with me? I told her that it had not yet, but that I would let her know when it had. Then she said that her husband was interested in a few pieces, would I mind sending her photos. I thought this was rather odd, because if she'd been to my website, surely she'd seen all of my artwork there. I recommended that she visit my site again, and just copy the link to whatever image she or her husband was interested in, then paste it into an email for me. She inquired about two further pieces, and I provided her with a quote. One of the pieces ("Red Running" pictured at above, at right) had already been sold, but I offered to repaint it for her, and she accepted.

Meanwhile, her shipping company (Arriva Transportation in the UK) contacted me to discuss shipping. They wanted a quote on weight & dimensions. No problem, but I said they'd have to wait until the commissioned piece was completed, then I'd provide them with appropriate details. Out of curiosity, as I'd never heard of this shipping company before, I checked out their website, and they're a bus company located in the UK. Fine, Greyhound does shipping here, but there was no indication that they provided freight, and certainly not outside of the EU. Still, no big deal, maybe they subcontract here.

Finally, the lady suggested that she overpay me for my work, and then I would arrange to pay the shipping company. While I didn't think it was the world's best idea, I didn't really care, but Dave was totally opposed. I had planned all along to not proceed until all money had cleared, even if that meant waiting a month or longer, but Dave really didn't think it was a good idea that I agree to that; he smelled something off. So I informed the lady that I was not comfortable with that plan, and I'd await payment from her for only what I'd invoiced her for, and that she could arrange to pay the shipping company directly. OK, she agreed. Now I'm waiting to see if there is a cheque that arrives.

So why did this sound odd? At first, not very, and while I was skeptical to a point, and certainly wouldn't trust any payment really other than PayPal, I was willing to wait whatever time it took for all monies to clear my account appropriately if necessary. I noticed that some of her English wasn't consistent, and certainly not brilliant sometimes. Again, no big deal. I use email all the time, and it's a preferred method of communication for me; maybe English wasn't her first language, maybe she wasn't good at composing emails. The transport company made me a little curious, then I noticed that the email from the transport company was a Yahoo! address. This seemed really odd to me - what significant corporation (and Arriva is a big company, I did check them up on the UK Company House website - handy tool!) would use a Yahoo! account for their customer service? Then I looked at the signature block for the Arriva "representative", and his name was followed by "B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D." Again, not really unreasonable, but a bit of overkill, right?

Dave said that it's a classic scam; start off small, then progress to a larger (but still not unreasonable) amount, and finally suggesting that the target pay for shipping costs etc. This is where the money is made - you pay the difference to the "shipping company" and then the scammers pocket the cash, and you're out at least a few hundred bucks.

For those of you who are interested, the RCMP has a site on frauds & scams and reporting economic fraud. You should check out the Better Business Bureau if you feel there's a false company, or search government websites to see if they've got something similar if the company you're interested isn't Canadian or American.

I am not the first artist to be drawn in by this, nor by a long shot will I be the last. There are lots of posts on various art forums, and on one of my favourite artists' resources, the Painters Keys. The names and places change, but the overall structure of the scam does not. So while the internet provides artists with a fantastic platform to display their work to the world, there are risks in having yourself out there. On the other hand, the internet also provided me with an amazing array of tools to inform myself about possible scams and fraud, so I can be more vigilant in the future.

So we'll see. I'm still a partial optimist; it's possible that it's real. But I'm not holding my breath.