“Paul Casale Painting Bethesda Fountain, NYC,” by Ken DeWaard (www.kendewaard.com), oil, 12 x 16 in. DeWaard’s painting is shown as a great example of painters painted, not as an indication that the artist was the target of fraud.

We’ve received several warnings about a sophisticated plot to extort money from outdoor painters. Find out what’s happening so you can protect yourself!


Plein air painters seem to be especially vulnerable to extortion because their paintings are usually both valuable and small enough that it’s easy to mail them to collectors who discover them through the Internet. Thieves have recently been contacting outdoor painters and expressing interest in buying one or two paintings shown on a website, Facebook page, or blog. If the artist responds to the inquiry and indicates a painting is available, the collector promises to have a check mailed by a third party and to notify a shipping company (or interior designer), who will arrange to pick up the painting. The explanation for this complicated transaction is that the buyer happens to be out of the country and must depend on others to handle the payment and shipment.


As the scheme unfolds, the artist is contacted by a company claiming to be handling the shipment of household goods for the collector and asking for an address and phone number for scheduling a pickup. Next, a letter arrives in the artist’s mailbox, postmarked in another country and without a return address. Inside the envelope is a check drawn on the account of an international company, with no explanation as to who sent it or why it is made out for considerably more than the price of the painting. The artist then receives an e-mail from the collector saying a mistake was made and all the artist needs to do is deposit the large check, deduct the price of the painting, and mail a personal check for the balance. If the artist falls for the scheme, his or her personal check is cashed, but the large company check bounces.


Unfortunately, a number of artists have been victimized by this scheme because the thieves know how to act like any other potential art buyer. They describe the paintings accurately, express enthusiasm for the pictures, and promise to make a payment before the artists send the paintings. The checks the artists receive seem legitimate, they are drawn on the accounts of companies that seem to exist, and the explanation for the large amount of the check seems plausible. But by the time the artists are notified by their banks that the big checks were fraudulent, the thieves have already cashed the artists’ personal checks. All this reminds us that when a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.


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