Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas




March 2007

"Aren't you flattered that someone might be willing to commit fraud to get your paintings?"


Comment from a friend after she heard the story below.


Selling Artwork on the Internet: A Cautionary Tale

Dear Reader,

When my friend made the above comment, my response was, "No!" Actually, I felt creeped out, angry and violated. This was a common set of symptoms, as I learned after talking with people who had been scammed or knew other victims. In fact, there is an epidemic of Internet fraud and other schemes to get your money. AND, they are not necessarily interested in having the merchandise you are prepared to sell them.

It all began with an email sent from a Yahoo account to this website. "Kathleen Cole" was interested in three "creative artworks" for her new apartment in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can see one of them, "Environment Three" (still unsold and in my possession), on the home page this month. I remember thinking, "She has good taste. That one earned an Honorable Mention in a museum exhibit." "Kathleen" would be "happy to pay" with a "Certified US Cashier Check." Oddly, she asked for the prices, which were already on the website with the titles. I repeated the information anyway, adding that the price did not include shipping.

"Kathleen's" next email said she was in London for her "twin sister's wedding," which came a difficult time for her because she (Kathleen) was expecting a baby. If the first email made me cautious, this one was filled with red flags: she was giving way too much phony sounding personal information, and she was in London. A recent article in my local paper listed the most frequent locations of Internet fraud as Canada, England, and Nigeria. She said that she would give my contact information to the "local cartage company to arrange shipping details." By now I knew it was a scam, but I wanted to see how far it would go.

Next I heard from "Bill Jones," whose writing style was suspiciously like "Kathleen Cole." He also had a Yahoo account, "boundlessmovers," which I quickly Googled and found nothing. Ditto for the White Pages. "Bill" wrote that he would be using "any nearby FedEx agent for the pickup." I called my nearby FedEx agent and told him the story. He said that small international movers frequently are not listed on the Internet, and if this sale did go through, then FedEx would be able to track addresses. He was a little less skeptical than I, but not much.

I noticed is how "Bill" and "Kathleen" used standard phrases, such Certified US Cashiers Check and FedEx, to give the impression that this would be a legitimate transaction. He also ended his message with "I will appreciate an earlier reply," as "Kathleen" had. I recognized a non-standard English speaker (those linguistics courses were good for something), and this was one more red flag in a business transaction that was beginning to look like a automobile dealer's lot on President's Day.

The final email from "Kathleen" began with a sad tale of her having been "in and out of the hospital" for her pregnancy. Then she asked for a "favour": her "husband's associate" would be sending me a check that "included the shipping fee." I wondered how she knew what the fee would be, since the paintings hadn't been packaged or weighed. In fact, I hadn't even brought them out of storage, so I had no idea either.

Ah-ha! The check would be for an amount larger than the price of the paintings, and I would be giving the excess amount to the "shipper." That's right: Boundless Movers! When the check arrived a few days later, it was for almost $3000 in excess of the sale. At this point, I emailed "Kathleen" and cancelled the transaction. I asked for her address, so that I could return the "check," which was mailed from London with no return address. I never heard from her or "Bill" again.

I brought the check to my bank and, after a bit of sleuthing, they discovered that this check had a lot of valid information on it. The scammers had added a zero onto the check number. The US bank in Colorado on which it was drawn had actually cashed the check for that amount. Last year!

My next call was to the FBI, and I explained the situation to the duty officer. He said that I should file a report and forward the emails to, attention FBI. I went on the website to file my complaint and saw a wealth of information on Internet fraud. If you sell your artwork or anything else on the Internet, go to this site. When my complaint receipt was sent to me, the last line said, "To learn more about Internet schemes and ways to protect yourself, please visit"

I finished my conversation with the FBI duty officer by saying, "Well, I guess this ends it." In true Dragnet-style, he responded, "No, ma'am." I thought I had missed something. "What do you mean?" I asked. He said, "It's not over till we catch them, ma'am." Memories of "Dum-de-dum-dum" popped into my head. I am not making light of the problem. I was skeptical from the first email, but many people are not and they lose thousands of dollars. The bank will make funds from a certified check or money order available to you, but if they eventually find out it is counterfeit, they will collect the money from you. A bruised ego will be the least of your worries.

If you have any comments about this month's journal, contact me: Next month, I will be writing about art and poetry, looking for similarities and differences in the process of making both.