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Sidestepping Scams and Spams

By :-) Ellen 'the Alaskan' Million

Originally published in Woodworks.

 

The ex-president of Zimbabwe is not going to troll the Internet to find someone to transfer 70 million US dollars for him. Bill Gates is not going to mail you $1000 for forwarding a bunch of email. And deleting files in your Windows folder because someone emailed you that there was a virus going around is a Very Bad Idea.

Likewise, there are a number of bad sorts of people out there who would love to take advantage of a naive upcoming artist. Here are some ways to filter out the scams and spam that may come through your inbox.

 

Things to watch for

If it sounds too good to be true, it undoubtedly is. Publishers who pay a great deal do not spend time surfing the Internet looking for talent. Anyone emailing you out of the blue is highly unlikely to be a credible, high-paying client, and warning bells should go off if they are offering you large sums of money. They may very well be a client, but be wary of those promises of high pay. Look for other warning signs in their correspondence, and be honest; is your work of the caliber that someone would spend the time to seek you out and offer you *that* much money?

One trick making the rounds is a 'generous' soul offering to pay more than the asking price on an original. They may have some story about using a private delivery company of their specification, and there is always a lot of hullabulloo over what a rush they are in and how they need to you to mail the artwork as soon as possible. The check, often for thousands of dollars, appears legit, and an unsuspecting artist deposits it and rushes the artwork out, paying the private 'delivery company' from a portion of the check. The check does not clear, as you might guess. Always wait for payment to clear; sometimes that can take a week or two, so ask your bank! While tips are nice, someone offering to pay a great deal more for your work than you are asking should be a clear warning that something's not quite right.

Your warning bells should go up in volume when they start asking you for personal information. No one needs personal information during the initial stages of a business transaction. This is usually the sign of an unscrupulous person attempting to steal identity information. This *has* occurred before.

Is it personal? If the message is composed without a single mention of your name, or any specifics about your art, chances are very, very good that you have received the same message as dozens, perhaps thousands, of other people, and you have simply been spammed. You may still wish to reply, but understand that any compliments are not honestly aimed at you, and that if any job is being offered, you are competing against everyone else that bothers to reply.

Check out the email To and From lines. Is your email actually the only To-address? A good sign of spam, or bulk mailing, is that an email is addressed to someone else entirely, meaning your address is hidden in a BCC, possibly with lots, and lots of others. Less sneaky spammers will simply have all of the email addresses on the To-line or on the CC-line, and you can see how special you really aren't to them.

Be sure that the claims in the email match the construction and professionalism of the presentation. Someone from a major, established RPG company will not be writing to you from a Hotmail account. This is not to say that you may not find a valid client using Yahoo or some other free email; people commission art privately all of the time, and not everyone has their own domain, but watch for conflicting information. Check for glaring spelling errors or a lack of capitalization in an email claiming to be from a professional; an established corporation does generally take the time to have their correspondence spell-checked, and hardly ever uses cute-isms like 'UR so good!' or slang.

Take a peek at their webpage. If it's badly constructed, or if they claim they don't have a webpage, or that it's being built, stop and consider. You are likely dealing with an ambitious project that simply isn't off the ground yet, and hunting up an artist at that stage of the project is premature on their part, and likely a waste of your time. Naturally, you are still welcome to take a gamble that it becomes a good thing, but understand that the odds are steeply against it.

 

Validation

It is perfectly reasonable, and admirably professional, to ask for some kind of validation from a potential client. I'm not suggesting that you hire a detective to scope out every $20 character commission client, but I can suggest a few ways to find out about the people you want to work for.

If they are claiming to be from a major corporation, find out what their corporation name is, and what state or country they are registered in. Business licenses are public record, and a rather minor search should turn up a valid company. A second search can turn up any lawsuits filed against said company. The Better Business Bureau also keeps records on companies that have behaved in ways against public interest.

Do a search on a client's name, preferably in conjunction with the kind of art that they are inquiring after. The Internet is a gossip-mart without compare, and if others have had run-ins with this person with very unfavorable results, it is likely to be the subject of peoples' public logs and message board rants. Do a search for products that they claim to have published.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Generally, a few well-worded questions about the structure of the business, past experience with artists (ask for specific names), and the contract will scare off anyone who is in the scam business, because they won't be able to provide suitable responses.

Ask your friends, and the communities that you are an active member of, if they've gotten similar requests, or if they know any more about the matter than you do.

Go with your gut. If you get a creepy, sleazy salesman-vibe off of a transaction, don't dirty your hands with it. Make a polite excuse, if you like, or simply don't reply.

 

What Not to Do

Do not give anyone money. No publisher or client is going to ask *you* for money. It works the other way around.

Do not *ever* give your social security number, home address, phone, bank number or name or other personal information without some serious validation.

Do not do a lot of work until you have seen a contract and/or payment, unless it is work that you can resell. Be absolutely sure that you would be able to resell said work.

Do not agree to anything you have not thought out and do not wish to agree to. An agreement is legally binding. You do not have to sign a document or provide your mother's maiden name to have entered into a contract. A contract is simply an agreement. Emails validating agreement constitute proof of a contract. So be very careful about what you tell someone you will agree to do, and what you will agree to do it for. Consider every email that you send as legal proof in a future lawsuit.

 

Sad But True

It's a big nasty world out there, full of big nasty people who would care nothing for ripping you off in any way that they can. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you distinguish the big bad wolf from the grandmother when the time comes.


FARP Article Guestbook

DateNameComment 
4 Jun 200445 ,,I,,
Bullshit!!!! Bullshit!!!!
17 Jun 200445 Anonymous
I totally agree with you and think it is highly commendable that you are offering this advice to people on here.

I would also be wary of anyone posing as a friend and trying to 'drum up' a realationship whereby they can take advantage of your good nature. Good friends dont 'demand' favors.

If people say they own a business then all questions you ask regarding validation of themself/clients/business should be answerd happily. ANY professional should be glad that you are asking these sorts of questions and therefor willing to answer them, they deal with it every day! If they cant answer them or avoid the subject; leave well alone! Think, if it's difficult getting them to answer a few standard questions, then how hard will it be to get your cash out of them once the jobs done?

I'll admit that I have made mistakes in the past and I'm a little wiser for it now.

Ellen's advice is accurate and should be taken seriously.
17 Jun 200445 Jean Edwards
If you would like to have a little fun with the "lottery winner" scams that are now abundant, you can do what I did and I promise you will be removed from their mailing list. I was.

First the scam [truncated to meet the word count]:

WINNING NOTIFICATION!!!!
To: worldtransagency@netscape.net

MEGA WORLD LOTO <mengworldaloto@netscape.net> wrote:
Date: Tue, 08 March 2004 10:43:20 -0400

MEGA WORLD LOTO
VIA MESINA, 203,ACUNA ITALY
Ref. Nnumbe: YK-958/756/0486
Batch Number: 79VD-381527-59

Sir/Madam
We are pleased to inform you of the result of the Lottery Winners International programs held on the 7th of June, 2004. Your e-mail address attached to ticket number 8224765896-642 with serial number 2917-477 drew
lucky numbers 66-14-08-23-33-33 which consequently won in the 2nd category, you have therefore been approved for a lump sum pay out of US$ 500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) CONGRATULATIONS!!! Due to mix up of some numbers and names, we ask that you keep your
winning information confidential until your claims has been processed and your money. Remitted to you. This is part of our security protocol to avoid double claiming and unwarranted abuse of this program by some participants... To file for your claim, please contact our Finacial agent:World Trans Agency
DR Mike Lawrence .
Email:worldtransagency@netscape.net
Tel:0039-339-251-4068
Fax:0039-346-229-9798

...Sincerely yours,
Mrs. Sellina Wilfred
Lottery Coordinator.

Now my personal answer:

Thank you Sellina for such a timely notification. As I am dying of cancer, with only a couple of years to live, this will be a welcome relief to help pay the medical bills. Since the government does not allow me to have any type of bank account because I am poor due to high medical bills and being on public assistence programs that hardly pay enough to survive, I graciously request that the award be sent in a series of cashieers checks that do not exceed $9950.00, since the bank must report all checks cashed that are at $10,000.00 and above to the revenue service.

As soon as you notify me of clearing that type of method, I will provide you with my address.

Thank you so much, you are a life saver
30 Jun 200445 Bearfoot
I have heard that the Better Busness Breau is NOT a good place to look for information about a company. I've seen and heard several complaints about thier not paying close attention to thier members and being in it only for the money.

There are quite a few websites, however, that collect complaints. I think www.badbusnessbreau.org is one of them.. (It might be .com I'm not sure.) Just thought that I'd point that out..
5 Jul 200445 Yume Megami
WoW!!! I truly love this article! It truly is something every amature artist should read!
And I must say I --love-- Jean's reply to the spam email they got! ^o^
19 Jul 200445 Kelly L. Johnson
I love it! Thanks so much for the tips; they're very helpful.
16 Aug 200445 Raven
Nice....Oh and you forgot to add: If you use free acounts, like yahoo, hotmail, people could fake being management and lie that they would be shutting down your account.
28 Oct 200445 Anonymous
http://www.fraudwatchinternational.com/
After reading this page I thought I would like to ad a new link for a web site that offers help and advises if you think you have been scam´ed,and or if you think you have received a fraudulent mail.
or just want to learn more about identifying scams and frauds
All so they offers great advises on what to do and how to identify frauds and scams.
Send the mail in question to the mail that the site provides and they check it out for you.
22 Apr 2005:-) Rhodri McCormack
LOL yeah I've had a run in or two with wanabe publishers.
One guy sent me an info spread, tones of emails and a contract that stated "This is a known payong job".
Of course I had to tell him to get f*@%ed when he failed to provide a business name and location ; )
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