A couple weeks ago I got a DM from a stranger on Instagram who asked if I’m available to do a commissioned portrait of her granddaughter. No red flags here, because I get messages like this on a regular basis, and most of the time a brief exchange on Instagram leads to a sale, and we go from there. Social media is the best thing that ever happened for artists!
I replied with my standard explanation of how commissions work, and a list of available sizes and prices. She then told me she loves my artwork and asked for the oil painting to be on canvas. Everything sounded legit this far. Then the first red flag popped up in my head when she asked for the size to be 50×70cm. My customers normally use inches or feet, so I asked where she lives, to make sure it’s a country to which I can reliably mail a painting at a reasonable price. She tells me she lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Then she proceeds to send me four pictures of a girl, presumably her granddaughter (this is why you should think twice about posting pics of your kids on the Internet).
After a brief exchange, we agree on a size, and I tell her how much the painting will cost, and she asks when the artwork will be available. I answer her question, and then send her different payment options for the deposit, including a link to my PayPal page. She then asks for my PayPal e-mail and name, and says that she’ll send me payment right away, so I send her the link to my PayPal again. She says it isn’t going through, and sends me an image of this: ▶️ Play, but I can’t click on it (red flag #2). She asks for my PayPal e-mail and name a second time. This is when my instinct started putting the breaks on this whole deal, but I gave her the benefit of a doubt. So I clicked on the PayPal link that I had sent her, and it worked, and I ask her what the problem is on her end. She says she already showed me. I reply that the photo didn’t come through, and she asks for my PayPal e-mail and name again, sounding a bit demanding (red flag #3).
This is when I decided to Google ways that people can scam you if they have your PayPal e-mail and name, and turns out that this is a very popular way for scammers to get into your PayPal account. So I took a closer look at her profile, and noticed that her name was spelled Slyvia, a very unusual way to spell Sylvia (red flag #4), and her profile picture was of an older woman with a girl in her lap, and they are both wearing masks. She had 0 posts, no followers, but had followed 200+ accounts (red flag #5). There were several typos in her messages (red flag #6). My next move was to block her account, and report it to Instagram.
That’s six red flags, before I definitively decided to put an end to the conversation. Why did it take so many red flags? Well, what if this was a legit inquiry from an older person who is not familiar with Instagram and PayPal? I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Also, I didn’t want to miss out on a potential sale. I’m really glad that I decided to listen to my instinct. If I had been desperate for income, I think I may have been tempted to crawl further into that rabbit hole. The frustrating thing is that artists can be such an easy target, and scammers know this. Whenever I hear of an artist getting scammed, I feel very frustrated. We put our heart and soul into our work, and hope to make a living from doing so, and people who prey on artists are just the worst.
Stay vigilant out there!