It was quite a week of painting, highlighted by a whirlwind trip to Calgary to paint for Brett Wilson at his Garden Party. He had enlisted my services to do a live portrait of Brett Kissel as a gesture of thanks for his generosity in performing at the massive charity event.
I ended up in lots of pictures that were shared across all social media platforms and a whole new group of people from Calgary were introduced to my work. A number of commission requests started coming in in the days that followed including a very surprising one from Malaysia - my first overseas request.
The following morning an email came in from a buyer in Orlando, Florida. He described having noticed his wife looking at my website with much appreciation for the kind of work I was doing. As their wedding anniversary was just around the corner, he wanted to surprise her some original works. I shared that I only had three pieces available for purchase and the details of each. He agreed on the price and sent the following message:
I must tell you I intend to give my wife a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece. Also If you'd like to know, I'm relocating to the Philippines soon and our wedding anniversary is fast approaching. So I'm trying to gather some good stuff to make this event a surprise one. I'm okay with the price. I think it's worth it anyway, so I'll be sending a check.
As regarding shipping, you don't have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my wife for the surprise. as soon as you receive and cash the check, my shipping agent (who is also moving my personal effect) will contact you to arrange pick-up.
I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I'm an ocean engineer) with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won't be back for another couple of weeks.
PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your full name (you want the check payable to) cell phone no. and contact address (preferably for FEDEX OR UPS not P.O box) where a check can be mailed to, and your PRICE so I can get the check prepared and have it mailed out to you right away.
So, at this point I believe the cheque will be coming my way and I don't have to do anything until it arrives. Safe right? On the one side of my brain I was thinking "I'm completely sold out"; on the other side I was thinking "This seems too good to be true".
I got up the following morning and received a follow-up email that pretty much confirmed that the other side of my brain was right. I'm going to copy and paste exactly what was sent:
Hope you are good.Thanks for the details which I've noted down, My wife handles the family credit card/bank issues, and in order not to leave any clue to her for the surprise, I've contacted a client of mine to issue out a check which will include my shipping agent fees to you, But courtesy demand i must first appeal to your self interest and ask for your help in remitting the overage (after deducting your fee for the piece) to the shipping agent as soon as the check clears.
I would have handled this much differently if I'd been at home but am a bit pressed for time as our anniversary is fast approaching and do not have access to a lot of cash over here to expedite this transaction... Kindly deduct any IRS tax incurred on the overage before giving the balance the shipping agent. As i do not want you to involve any of your personal funds in this transaction, that is why all fund is made available to you. As an aside, they are not sending any bill or hold you responsible for the payment of my shipping contract with them.
I am really sorry for the mix up and will appreciate if you get back to me asap to know if i can entrust you with this transaction.
Many thanks and talk to you soon,
There were all kinds of warning flags in this email. When I saw phrases like "courtesy demand" and "appeal to your self interest", I started t0 twitch. When I saw that he was requesting some of my funds to help facilitate this transaction, I knew it was a scam.
Thank God I read Will Ferguson's 419. It beautifully captures the slow build up a of trust that occurs in these kind of scams, and the eventual "tell" that confirms that you are a fish on the line, being played for a fool.
I sent the fellow an email immediately:
I am afraid you have now revealed yourself as a scam artist. Thanks for showing your cards.
Have a great day. Our business is concluded.
I'm not sure why I told the guy to have "a great day"? Maybe I just wanted to keep it high level and cordial? Not sure.
What is strange is that this didn't make me angry. I was more intrigued than anything else. Who was this person - likely on the other side of the world somewhere - using a fascinating method to get my money. I find myself trying to picture the human being, his (or her) circumstances, and what has lead to this illicit way of earning a living. Does he or she have children? Are they hungry? Or, is this individual part of a thriving criminal enterprise?
I'm surprisingly neutral about it. Mainly, I'm grateful that I'm astute enough to know the signs and avoided being gaffed and thrown into the pirate ship.
I stumbled upon an interesting article that confirms this particular scam. You can read it by clicking here.