The Art of the Con: Artist Targeted by Scammers - WBAY

Target 2 Consumer Alert

The Art of the Con: Artist Targeted by Scammers

Updated:

When someone talks to you about something you're interested in, you're probably more likely to listen.  Con artists are using that knowledge to target people based on their passions in life.

Artist Harold Beard Sr. found out first hand.  He never imagined his passion could make him a target for a scam.

"She saw these 3 pieces, and said, 'I really like them, can you get me a price on them?'"

The call came from a woman who said she saw his artwork online and was interested in buying some art before she moved to South Africa.
 
Beard thought it sounded suspicious.

"I'm immediately thinking, 'I'm not going to give her this address,'" said Beard. "I go to the UPS store to open a P.O. Box. And that's what I sent her, and I thought 'this is really phony.'"

After he gave out the address, he got a note from a shipping company.

"I immediately looked up on the Internet the shipper and it was a legitimate company, and I'm starting to get a little stoked about this. I'm thinking, 'this is looking really good,'" said Beard.

Joy turned to disappointment when Harold learned from other artists that they also were being targeted.
 
Postal inspectors call it spear phishing: when scammers zero in on a specific group of people who know each other.

"When they converse, it makes the artist really excited. 'Oh, this is someone who really knows about artwork and they want my art,'" said Ricky Vida, U.S. Postal Inspector.

When Harold got a $3,000 check he knew the whole thing was a scam.
 
The buyer said she "accidentally" sent too much money, and asked Harold to cash the check, take his share and send the rest back to the buyer.

"They use this urgency to have them send the money right away or before they talk to other people," said Vida.

"I like to think I would have caught on, but I'm not sure," said Beard. "And it kind of scares me that I was taken by this. I want to think I wouldn't have completely gone into it, but I'm not sure."

Harold framed that fake $3,000 check and keeps it in his studio as a reminder to always be cautious.

Postal inspectors say members of any club or group with a common interest--like parents of children attending the same school--can end up being targeted by con artists.
     
Their strategy includes creating a message precisely designed to get around spam filters so they reach their intended victims.

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