Scams and Viruses

Have we got a deal not for you…

Photograph: The Scam Truck by jepoirrier

I know how exciting it is when someone contacts you and wants to purchase your work. Who among us doesn’t want to be discovered and sell or display our art?  Just make sure those who come knocking have good intentions.

In the past week, I had two such inquiries — both worded in a similar manner.  You’ve already guessed where this is going.  Both offers were scams.

I knew both emails were from con artists because I received a nearly interchangeable come-on last year.

The most recent email was from “Lewis Martins” at a generic sounding gmail address.  The subject line was “am interested in your work……….”  Here is the email text:

Hello,
Top of the day to you .. i would like to know more details and descriptions of your artwork after checking out your profile on [Name of Art Site] but i was unable to get a name and details of the art as i am higly intrested and would like to buy as a birthday present for my wife. Kindly get back to me with info on how to get you the name of the artwork in order for you to get me details as well as final asking price of the artwork.i would await your response as soon as possible……

Several things ought to be fishy immediately.  The grammatical and spelling errors do not necessarily mean the inquiry is not from a cultured art curator, but the mistakes don’t give me confidence either.  There is a noticeable lack of specifics about the message — no mention of my name or the title of a specific art work, information that any semi-professional art site will surely have, and zero data on Mr. Martins.

Here are other common templates for similar art scam letters.  See why I instantly got bad vibes?

If I had responded to Mr. Martins in the hopes that he would purchase work from me, here is what would have happened.  Any of these circumstances should make you gun shy about further pursuing a sale.

1) Mr. Martins will be in a big hurry to complete the transaction — now — or, better yet, yesterday.  He can’t wait.  His wife’s birthday is looming. Your work is the perfect gift and he needs it immediately.  If you explain reasonable delays like taking days to make a print and taking longer to get that print shipped, Mr. Martins will be unable to tolerate the hold up.  His wife’s present can’t be postponed; he’ll have to look elsewhere if you drag your feet.  But the reason he is rushing you is because he wants to pay by

2) Writing you a check — which he hopes will not have time to clear (which it won’t) before you fall victim to the scam.  Which might be to send him art work, but, more likely, he’s after your money.  He’ll tell you there’s no need to ship the work — he’ll make the arrangements or have someone pick it up (and thus need your home address).  Or, and this should raise major red flags, he’ll concoct some convoluted reason to write you a check over the amount of your asking price — thus setting you up to pay him back the difference.  Since his check will bounce, you’ll be out any overage you agree to return.

What to do?  Don’t be in a hurry.  And don’t take checks.  Cashier checks are especially easy to forge.  Set up a PayPal account instead (and be aware that these can be prone to phishing schemes).  Insist the buyer use a credit card to purchase your art.  True, credit cards can be stolen, but at least the scam artists will be easier to track.  If you do decide to take checks (certified checks or postal money orders included), be aware that checks can sometimes take up to a month to clear.  Never send out any work until you are absolutely certain the check is legitimate and has been fully processed through your bank.

Be skeptical of anyone inquiring about your art that, for whatever reason, needs personal information about you — like street addresses or (shudder) a bank account or Social Security number.  Scrutinize carefully agents who love your work (for a fee) or galleries that want to represent you (for a fee).  Insist on written contracts and study them rigorously.  The same due diligence applies to any company that wants to license your work.  And, generally, be aware of ways to safeguard yourself from being a victim of identity theft.

It’s strange when I wrote Mr. Martins back saying that I suspected his interest in my work was actually a scam and threatened to turn his message over to the Attorney General’s Office, he never wrote back, although I assume his wife’s birthday was just as imminent as before.  Sadly, he now probably wants to “purchase” other art work for her.

Just don’t let it be yours.

For more information on art scams, visit this site at ArtWanted and this site (with email examples) by Max Magnum Norman.

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What has to be one of the strangest narratives I’ve seen in the twelve years I’ve been involved with fractal art?  This tale found on LaPurr’s journal on deviantART.  It’s worth reading an extended excerpt:

A while back, out of nowhere, I was contacted by this person ~debora321 asking me if I’d try out her program, Fractal Magic, FMSetup.exe which was supposed to help render UF images more quickly. I don’t recall exactly what else she said about the program and I wasn’t really interested but I downloaded the program just to check it out. When I tried to open it, my computer went a bit nuts so I deleted the program and cleaned my computer. I wrote to her and told her that she had a problem and she said she’d fix it and for me to try again. There’s no way I’d open anything of hers again, so that was the end of it.

For me, anyway.

I got a note today from ~0Encrypted0, who told me that he was also contacted by ~debora321 regarding her little program. He tried to open the program and as a result, she somehow managed to get hold of params of his. He wrote in part:

…it looks like my computer was hacked when I downloaded a file called FMSetup.exe that debora321 asked me to try out.

I think some or all of my Ultra Fractal parameters were copied.

He sent me links to a couple of images that clearly show she ripped his params somehow.

Here is his original image from January 16:

Here is her version from October 15:

Here is his latest version to showcase the likeness, with links to the other images:

I have to assume that this woman somehow got ~0Encrypted0‘s params.

If you were one of those people who was contacted by her, and I’ve seen some of your names on her user page, I urge you to go through her gallery and see if any of your images are there, in a slightly altered form. See if any images you recognize are there. Most importantly, I think you need to get her program off your computer. Whatever you choose to do, please be careful.

When I first read about this incident, I thought it was a hoax.  I mean, why go to the trouble to build malware designed  simply to steal Ultra Fractal parameter files?  Why risk committing art theft — not to mention facing criminal charges — just to repost someone else’s par files, minimally altered, as your own on a popular and highly trafficked Fractalbook site?  Did the alleged perpetrator think no one would notice — especially those artists she personally invited to download and run her supposedly UF-enhancing program?

And while puzzling out the motive for such an inherently epic fail scheme, check out one of the more engaging comments about this whole bizarre business:

laurengary says:

You know, reading everyone’s comments & answers & one word Kat, one word came instantly to mind….that this is/was a form of a …fractal rape. Kinda sorta. Sorry for sounding so melodramatic, *grimaces* but honestly, that’s the first thing I thought of.

No, actually, rape is like rape.  What this is like is hacking computers to commit art theft.  I understand there might be some sense of being violated here, but still what you are like doing is being hyperbolic.

And here’s another choice comment from the alleged thief’s nearly empty DA page:

ChaosApostle notes:

I wouldn’t be surprised if an e-mob were to be incited and show up at your door.

Really?  Where can Tim and I get some of those virtual torches and pitchforks?  We’re planning to do some score-settling travel this summer.

The insults really take flight in the alleged thief’s home page comments and range from the expected “pathetic” to the inflammatory “art whore.”  “Sad” also comes up repeatedly.  I do find this whole situation to be sad.

And unnecessary.  One thing you can say about UF users: Many are not shy about sharing their parameter files.  There are stockpiled databases of such files, and the Ultra Fractal Mailing List has near daily posts of them — often inviting tweaking by others.  Why steal?

If proven guilty, the person who committed this hoax and hacking should be condemned.  DeviantArt should ban her.  She should be reported to the proper authorities, and they should investigate and, if warranted, take all appropriate legal actions against her.

Nor do I blame people for being upset by her duplicity.  =Velvet–Glove summed up the sense of personal betrayal that many others also clearly felt:

I gave you personal help and advice… and you repaid my kindness by trying to hack into and invade my computer in order to steal my work and data? I’m outraged!

But our fractal art communities should do a little soul-searching, too.  I once compared Fractalbook to high school cliques, and never has the analogy seemed more true to me.  Are people becoming so desperate for the fishing-for-compliments rituals that pass for discourse about art on Fractalbook sites that they’re willing to go to such lengths for a few kind words?  There’s certainly individual neediness pushed to criminal lengths on display here.  But there’s also an unflattering picture of the hierarchical social structure of online environments — small pond star systems that are ostensibly about art but are actually soap operas revolving around who gets the status and privilege of sitting at the virtual cafeteria table with the cool kids.  What’s sad is to see how many earlier love-and-kisses comments (thanks for the watch/favorite/star!!) the alleged thief has on her deserted home page — many from the same people who now call her an “art whore” or speculate on whether the Mafia has obtained her virus program and “will be on a plane to your house in no time to kill you for such a thing.”

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3 thoughts on “Scams and Viruses

  1. Once I had someone asking me to have a copy of one of my images in 4000 x 4000 pixels size, and without the watermark. I asked him what was it for, as it seemed obvious that it was for printing. He said it was to be used as “wallpaper” in his computer. I had the patience to reply and compliment him for having such a big screen back in 2002…

  2. I have had a few approaches (about a dozen) from others wanting my fractal images for various reasons. Everything from posters and wall art, to book/album covers and textile designs. But only two people actually ended up following through to the point of making a purchase.

    Most were very similar situations as you have described, but that is the way of the world (in this technical and Internet society). Why bother spending real money on something you can easily get from others for nothing??

    Look how many people have taken parameter files and formulas from the older fractal rendering applications and brought them into newer programs. A few tweaks here, some coloring changes there, and they feel it is now acceptable to use as their own, without giving credit to those original creators.

    The same can be said about copying the actual programming code from FREE open source software, and then turning around to sell their version without giving credit or acknowledgment.

    .

  3. I once had someone approach me about buying prints. And, as is often the case, she wanted to pay me more than my normal price. I was to use the extra to buy a laptop computer and ship it to her in Nigeria. She even had a credit card number, but my spidey-sense was tingling and I declined her fine offer. I guess I missed my chance to be involved in credit card fraud. Oh well.

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