Guest blogger Jessica Marie Boehman shares her experience and resources to protect yourself and your art from theft.
The only way protect your artworks completely is to keep them locked away in your studio. If no one sees it, no one can copy it. As an artist and an art historian, I am a believer in art's ability to touch emotions, and for this to happen, it must be shared. I share mine any way I can: with my students in class, in my online shop, through my personal website, on my Facebook business page, at shows, fairs, and galleries, and with publishers (with hope). My drawings hang in homes all over the world because I believe in sharing publicly.
However, there are downsides to "going public:" I've had people use—and even sell—my images without my permission. But I never expected that someone would try to steal my actual original artworks, and my money, too.
“Alice in July” colored pencil by Jessica Boehman
A few weeks ago, I received an inquiry via my personal website from a man claiming that he saw his wife looking at my site and that she loved my drawings. He inquired after two of my colored pencil drawings, wanting to know if they were for sale as a surprise anniversary gift, and asking if I accepted personal checks. I replied that I did not accept personal checks, but took credit card and PayPal through my Etsy shop, and informed him of the availability and cost of the prints and the one original that was available.
He responded quickly and with enthusiasm, that he would take the original of a drawing called Alice in July, as it was worth the cost to see his wife's reaction. Just one caveat: he insisted on paying with check. I wrote back and acquiesced with the condition that the check needed to clear before shipping. He asked for my address. I gave it to him so he could mail the check.
But then the communication got a bit weirder, which is saying a lot, given the overly enthusiastic tenor of the first emails. He claimed that his boss would issue the check for him, as he was training recruits on a ship in the North Atlantic. At first, this didn't strike me as odd, growing up in a military family with a father often on the move for work.
But then he said he was also in the process of moving to Canada and wanted the company in charge of shipping his personal effects to collect the artwork from me directly. He would cover the shipping in the check he would mail me and I could pay the shippers for him. He did not want me to mail the artwork, as it would ruin the surprise.
At this point, doing a web search of the man's name was immediately enlightening. All I had to do was type his name and the Google search bar provided the rest: "Art Scam." It led to two blogs, KathleenMcMahon.com and StopArtScams, which contained all the relevant details from the email communication, plus a list of aliases under which these scammers work.
These scammers work on the presumption that you do not conduct any research on your own and that you pay the bogus shipping company before their check bounces. You would then be out a potentially large amount of shipping money, a bounced check fee, and an original work of art.
I did not respond, and heard back a few days later telling me the check would shortly be on the way. I responded clearly, and with links to the above websites.
"I’m sorry that you felt the need to trick artists by stealing their hard-earned money, and worse, their artworks that have personal meaning to them. That artwork you proposed to "buy" was one that I had made in response to a personal loss. Such a scheme is not only cruel, but also illegal. Please do not contact me again or I will forward all of this communication to the proper authorities."
Though as artists we receive some unusual email communication, please act with caution when something seems out of the ordinary, and do not be afraid to call the authorities if it escalates out of control. I'm happy to report that Alice in July is still safely in my keeping, and my wallet is still intact. Do yourself a favor if one of these emails sneaks into your inbox: just delete it.