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The Unregulated World of Art: Scams, What I’ve Learnt & The Top 7 Red Flags

I nearly got scammed. Yep, you read that right… a scammer tried to scam me with my artwork! I couldn’t believe the audacity. I was left feeling humiliated and embarrassed that I had nearly fallen for their dirty tricks. If you have been lucky enough as a visual artist to not experience this, count yourself lucky and at the same time the next potential victim. I feel for the hundreds and possibly thousands of visual artists who have suffered loss due to these fraudsters. While interacting with my own budding buyer I decided to do my own research regarding scams. What I found didn’t surprise me as I started to rebound memories from discussions with other artists when living in New York. Please don’t be mistaken I do not live in a fairytale world. There is always a gloomy and despairing side to everything. When fortune favours the bold the unregulated art market can give such generosity and rewards for talent. Yet the further you go down the rabbit hole it becomes so morally corrupt it almost seems incomprehensible the lengths that people go to reach such wealth and reap the rewards.

It is a pretty well known fact that scams happen all around the world, everyday, to very unsuspecting people. Six years ago it was reported by that half of the art circulating the US market is either “...being forged or misattributed...” and that figure was on the conservative end. I feel as though I should also mention that it costs upwards of $20,000 USD to get an artwork verified, which arguably could be a scam within itself but not short of insuring you are getting the real deal. Closer to home it was reported this year that within the Australian art market up to 90 percent of First Nations or “Aboriginal-style” art might be fake. This generally means that it is produced in Indonesia, China or India and sold by companies owned by white people. Even worse is that the artwork was not consented to be sold on behalf of the First Nations artist. Gabrielle Sullivan, chief executive of Indigenous Art Code, reported that after a six month investigation they found “...80 percent of shops were selling artwork that was not authentic...” which is troubling for an already heavily smothered part of Australian culture and history. There have been attempts for new laws to be introduced to help authenticate “Aboriginal-style” art however there is nothing as of today. The importance of being able to distinguish between what has been produced by First Nations people and mass produced by a white person is incredibly important to conserving and protecting their production process, style, financials and creative voice.   

It’s not only the artwork within the industry that is fraudulent, galleries are sometimes caught within perpetuating scams. This isn’t something new or bold. The most famous example is a high end New York City gallery by the name of Knoedler Gallery which was run by Ann Freedman. It was caught selling fake Pollock and Rotho paintings and Freedman who was undoubtedly duped by the sellers Glafira Rosales and Jose Diaz. They scammed upwards of $80 million USD and used Chinese immigrant and artist Pei-Shen Qian. The 165 year old gallery was brought down and with it Rosales who served a three month sentence for fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Neither Diaz or Qian have been convicted having fled the country to either Spain or China.

Let’s go back to the beginning… when I was nearly scammed. It’s a classic scam which is used hundreds of times. I had an email from a potential buyer who said his wife loved my art, there were a few grammatical and spelling errors, they didn’t want to buy through my website as they preferred bank transfer and the thing that really tipped me off - they wanted to use their own shipping service. What was even more embarrassing is that I told my friends and family before I did my due diligence about this big sale. I was just so excited at the prospect especially after this year's chaos. So, what's common amongst online art scams you may ask… well it’s all broken down here:

  • Red Flag #1: Their wife really loves your art.
  • This one is the golden goose in all of the scams. Throughout my research it shows that they haven’t really changed this part of the script. Of course, scammers are master manipulators and they will eventually catch on and change this part (or as logical prevails) but they also probably won’t because they are lazy at what they do.

  • Red Flag #2: Grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Again, this is a big one for any type of scam and I felt like a total idiot for not realising sooner that I was being scammed. I didn’t want to judge someone based on their literacy considering english might not be their first language but of course, everything must go through a fine tooth comb and this is very suspicious in hindsight.


  • Red Flag #3: They want to use cashiers checks or bank transfers.
  • I have my own online store which has fraud systems within it. You should never give out your personal information including address, bank details, credit card details etc. You could fall victim to identity fraud.

  • Red Flag #4: It urgently needs to happen.
  • Most people who genuinely want to buy your art will be extremely understanding when it comes purchasing, sending and processing. They will try every trick in the book to think this transaction needed to happen yesterday. 

  • Red Flag #5: They will pay you more for your trouble.
  • I mean look, everyone loves free money including me however this is not the world we live in. If anyone ever wants to overcompensate you in the thousands (like with mine) it's a scam.

  • Red Flag #6: They are moving and have their own shipping.
  • This is another stable in their script. They are moving and have already organised a shipping service. Usually they want you to transfer money to this service so the funds will be released. NEVER transfer the money.

    • Red Flag #7: They won’t talk to you on the phone.

    Most genuine buyers will chat to you over the phone. With these guys it’s a no go area. If they won’t make time to chat - it’s a scam.

    There is a lot more I can add to this list but I think this gives you the general idea of what to look out on. I hope that this information can help you and others not get scammed and realise the importance of being vigilant while selling online. I hate to think of those who have actually sent their artwork to scammers and never seeing it again. I wonder what would happen to that artwork once it’s in their hands, for me, it would feel like one of my children being kidnapped! Please stay safe and check out the links below.

    Here are some useful links: 

    If you would like to read more concerning Indigenous Art within Australia please click here.

    If you like to read a list of art scams which are happening please click here.