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Scam du jour, beware


Post by Douglas Witmer
This might be of interest to the Artblog community. This happened to me.

On March 31, I received an e-mail from “Roseann Muller” inquiring about the purchase of my work. It seemed she looked at my website. Through the course of several e-mail exchanges, she selected two pieces, which she said she wanted me to ship to her parents in Nigeria for an anniversary gift. I gave her the prices of the paintings and cost of the shipping. She accepted the prices & the shipping costs. It was going to be a rather large transaction. She desired to pay with a credit card. I assumed I would handle the transaction by setting up a PayPal account (though I did not indicate this to her). (image is a studio shot Witmer ran on his weblog. It shows new paintings commissioned by the artist’s church to hang in the church over Easter)

The idea of shipping work to Nigeria was a bit unusual, but we were talking about actual pieces, prices and real shipping estimates. Then things turned strange. I got an e-mail requesting that I buy several high-end cell phones and include them in the box with the paintings. For this extra favor she said she would compensate me $200 and asked that I prepare an invoice that included the total cost for the cell phones, the paintings, and the shipping. I replied that I could not buy the phones, but if she wanted to buy them and have them shipped to me, I would pack them with the paintings.

Yesterday I received a blocked ID telephone call. On the other end was an African-sounding man. There was a significant language barrier. But he asked if I got the e-mail messages and requested me to ship the package by today. I then asked to speak with Roseann Muller personally, but he said she would e-mail me. Today (Saturday April 2) I received another call that I let go into my voice mail. This time it was an African-sounding woman asking that I call her. I couldn’t understand the number but wouldn’t have called back anyway.

I’ve gotten those spam letters about financing the projects of former African royalty…the ones in all caps. This one didn’t raise any flags right away. Frankly, I’m not sure of the logic behind the scam, other than that they think someone would be naive enough to front a lot of money for cell phones and international shipping on artwork that they just trash. It seems they spent a decent amount of time on my website looking at work and referencing actual pieces. Perhaps they think artists are so desperate to make a sale that we’ll be enticed into doing strange favors. In the end, all I lost was a few hours of my time. Plus I’m left feeling angry and kind of hurt, and a little uneasy that they have my contact info.

Anyway, be on the look out for this kind of sneakiness.

–Douglas Witmer is a Philadelphia artist and writer and a regular contributor to artblog. View his paintings and see his blog at his website.