by Tanya Singh
Technology has made life much simpler. Today, with just a few clicks, you can share your art with a worldwide audience, meet and acquire new collectors and fans, raise money for your art projects, and make life-long friends. However, along with this convenience came a whole new wave of dangers and drawbacks, sometimes leaving artists exposed and vulnerable to fraud.
It’s fairly easy for a shady company to take advantage of the anonymity of the internet and try to trick you into fraudulent contracts or scam you into paying exorbitant amounts of money for services you will never receive. Unfortunately, this type of fraud has become a common occurrence and hundreds of people fall prey to various art scams and multiple sham agencies every day.
With that said, the internet is still a great tool to expand your audience base and to reach out to people that will appreciate your style of work, which is why you cannot avoid it altogether for fear of frauds and scams. You can, however, be careful and be prepared if such a company or agency approaches you.
Have you received an email with an offer that seems suspicious or too good to be true? Here’s how to tell if a company or an agency is legitimate or not.
Why Is The Art World Targeted?
The notion of the ‘starving artist’ has been around for a while. You might say, why would fraudulent companies want to target artists then? The answer is simple – promotional services can be very attractive to artists. After all, isn’t the ultimate aim to be ‘discovered’? Being an artist in today’s time is not just about creating works. You have to be equally invested in promoting your art and reaching out to people, too. If you are someone who is devoted exclusively to creating art, however, an offer from someone to do these other things like promoting and advertising would seem like an absolutely amazing idea! Why would fraudulent companies NOT target artists then?
Another reason for art frauds to target artists could be the increasing popularity of art as an investment commodity. Every other day we hear about art sales breaking records. News of all that cash flow in the industry naturally makes the art world a potential target for frauds. Sham companies perhaps also consider artists less likely to carry out extensive background checks or to be aware of such scams. You want to ensure that you do not fall into that category. Be careful and be skeptical about anything that may seem even the slightest bit suspicious.
How To Identify Art Frauds
“Specific scams may come and go but the underlying strategies and tactics never change. If you know these and can recognize them in time, you can protect yourself.”
There are always signs that can indicate a possible scam or fraud attempt. However, sometimes the offer being made to you is so attractive, that you tend to overlook these hidden discrepancies. You must avoid doing this at any cost. It is very important to read the text carefully as well as to identify and investigate anything that arises your suspicious.
First of all, companies offering services for free are a definite NO. Any offer that seems too good to be true should be scrutinized very properly. Read into the fine print and identify exactly what is being asked of you.
Another red flag is a lack of contact details or if the contact details provided are not functional. Check the website for the business address. Is it in a public location? Do you recognize the area? If it is a company from outside of your country, that is certainly reason to be even more skeptical. Check for a phone number and try calling it. A hidden domain is also not a very good sign.
The things mentioned above are all glaring signs that the business trying to approach you might not be legitimate. However, sometimes scammers go to great lengths to trap individuals and business owners, which is why you should also look out for some subtle signs that might show up in your electronic conversations or on the business websites. If the art business seems a little too eager to please, you should definitely double-check their credentials. How long do they take to reply to your email? Is it within a few hours every single time? Instant replies may not always be a bad thing but getting one every time might be. This means that they are eagerly waiting for your response, which in the case of legit art companies that deal with hundreds of clients, is not true at all. If you sense a bit of aggressiveness in their emails, you should automatically assume that something isn’t right. If they talk about your art, read carefully what they mention. Is it mostly general information that lacks details or something completely different from how you would describe your style?
Finally, look at the name of the person that’s trying to communicate with you. Can you find them on LinkedIn, company’s site or other official networking platforms?
According to Doug Shadel, a nationally recognized fraud expert and State Director of AARP Washington, “Specific scams may come and go but the underlying strategies and tactics never change. If you know these and can recognize them in time, you can protect yourself.” Nonetheless, whether you see any identifiable signs or not, we recommend that you approach every business transaction with some amount of skepticism and take precautionary measures before entering into any contracts or agreement.
In This Series: How To Recognize an Art Scam
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How To Confirm If The Business Is Legitimate
As we mentioned before, the key to avoiding art fraud is to be cautious at every step. It might seem like a great offer, it might even seem like a legitimate business, but there is a reason these people are called ‘con artists’. Do not get carried away by fancy websites and extravagant promises. Your art is your greatest possession as an artist, and you have to be extremely careful with it.
Here are a few measures you can take to confirm any doubts you have:
Check The Company’s Registration and Domain Information
The first step is to check with the local, state, or federal authorities whether the business has been officially registered. A business that is registered with the authorities is most definitely a legitimate business and a background check has already been done by the government. Another thing to do is to check the business website to see if the words, ‘LLC’, ‘Inc.’ or ‘Corp,’ appear anywhere. These inform you of the type of entity the business is and that it has been officially registered.
Go a step further and check the business’ domain registration by doing a WHOIS Search and looking up the company’s domain name. This public database will give you the domain owner’s information, such as their contact info, as well as the domain’s current status and important dates.
Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau, also known as BBB, is a non-profit organization that works towards advancing and developing marketplace trust. All legitimate businesses make it a point to register on their website. When in doubt, check for the company name on BBB. You can also read reviews for these companies on the website database.
(Please note that the BBB is an organization for companies in the United States and Canada only.)
Another place to look would be any organizations that the company in question claims to be affiliated with. You can check on the websites of these businesses or drop them an email to enquire of any such associations.
Do An Online Search
Do a general online search. Sometimes, news of a possible scam or something on a public blog might pop up that could be helpful to you. A number of artists that were being targeted with email scams, did a general research and ended up on our blog post about art scams where a number of other artists had mentioned the same name or email content.
Consult A Professional
If you are still in doubt, consult a professional in the business. You can email a gallery owner or anyone you know in the art industry. You could also consult a lawyer. They can help you look at the situation from a legal perspective and guide you through the process. Getting a second opinion is always a good idea.
We went straight to the top and spoke to Maura L. Burke, an Associate Attorney at New York’s Fox Rothschild LLP, regarding the issue.
A.G: Once an artist or anyone for that matter has identified a scam company, what should be their next step? Where should they report it?
M.B: Protect your assets. If you believe that a scam company has your credit card or banking information, make sure you contact your financial institutions and alert them of the fraud.
Collect and preserve evidence. Gather information about the scam company (e.g., contact, marketing and webpage information) and the fraudulent activity (e.g., package tracking information, canceled checks, receipts, envelopes, facsimiles, contracts, and emails).
Report the scam to the authorities. Depending upon your specific circumstances, you may consider filing reports with or seeking guidance from the agencies listed below.
- If you were defrauded by a local business, the following agencies may be able to assist you:
- If you were defrauded by someone over the Internet or by U.S. Mail, the following agencies may be able to assist you:
Seek legal advice. A lawyer can effectively walk you through the steps you should take for your specific situation. They can also advise you if you have a legal claim against the company that committed the fraud.
A.G: What advice would you give to emerging artists in terms of their legal rights?
M. B: Make sure you fully understand your legal rights. You are an artist, but you are also a business person. In order to successfully navigate in the business world, you need to know your legal rights and options. That means seeking the advice of a lawyer. Many individuals try to avoid involving lawyers because of the cost involved. However, consulting with a lawyer before you embark on any business endeavor may actually save you money in the long run. Moreover, there are a number of volunteer organizations that provide free and/or low-cost legal advice for low-income members of the arts community.
Remember, precaution is always better than the cure. Keep your eyes open and look out for any red flags mentioned here. Be cautious in every step you take but also don’t instantly make assumptions or jump to conclusions without giving it some thought. You don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity just because of a wrong assumption. Take control of the situation and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The information in this article will give you useful tools in how to identify and check the legitimacy of a business that you’ve been approached by. Do not let the excitement cloud your judgment; always read the fine print and research unknown companies that approach you out of the blue.
With over 30 years of experience representing artists from around the world, Agora Gallery offers artists the opportunity to present their work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Looking for an opportunity to enhance your career? Visit our Gallery Representation Page for more information.
Have you also received a suspicious offer? Would you like some advice on how to deal with such situations? Leave your question in the comment box below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.
* This information is intended for general purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with knowledgeable legal counsel to determine how applicable laws apply to specific facts and situations. This content is based on the most current information at the time it was written. Since it is possible that the laws or other circumstances may have changed since publication, please consult an attorney to discuss any action you may be considering as a result of reading this.
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