Letcher County artist Jeff Chapman Crane narrowly avoided being conned after he was targeted by an online scammer pretending to purchase a painting from Chapman-Crane’s website.
He and his wife, Sharman Chapman-Crane, became suspicious after the scammer made a payment of $1,600 more than the asking price of the painting and requested that they use that extra money to pay a shipper for the painting.
Scams have become common in the art world over the past decade as more artists have put up web stores to sell their work.
According to the Chapman- Cranes, they were contacted by email the first week of October by a man claiming to work for a biomedical in Ohio. The email said his name was Richard Kohn and that he nearly forgotten his anniversary and wanted to buy a painting for his wife.
“Kohn” did not list a specific painting, instead saying that he wanted something between $1,500 and $5,000. He asked Chapman-Crane to give him a list of paintings in that price range. When the artist sent back images of paintings, the scammer abruptly chose a painting of a cow in a field that was priced $1,800. He then said he was moving to the Philippines, and needed to complete the purchase quickly.
Over the course of the con, a man calling himself Richard Kohn and speaking in a heavy foreign accent talked to both Chapman-Cranes on the telephone, obtained their address and mailed them a check for $3,451 purported to be from his financial manager in Oklahoma. The letter instructed them to send the remainder of the money to his shipper via the online payment app Zelle.
The check arrived on the Friday before Columbus Day, and that’s when the phone calls and emails began pouring in.
“First he said he didn’t think we were acting fast enough in depositing it, but we didn’t get the check till late on Friday and the bank was closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday for the holiday,” Sharman Chapman-Crane said. Then he told them he didn’t like the way they were doing business. The latest call, she said, was very solicitous, telling them he hoped they enjoyed their weekend and would they please deposit the check and send the money to the shipper.
“The real red flag was when he sent us way more than the painting cost, and we hadn’t asked him to,” Jeff-Chapman Crane said.
They deposited the check last week, but told the bank about their suspicion. As it turned out, the company the check was written on was real, but the check wasn’t. Six days later, the bank informed them it was definitely fake.
In the meantime, they have been dodging phone calls that have come from numbers in several different states, and more emails, including two with almost identical wording but with different sender names.
“Thankfully we were able to sniff it out and get some help,” Jeff Chapman-Crane said.
They have reported the incident to the sheriff’s department, and are hoping it will be forwarded on to federal authorities.
Similar scams have targeted other artists around the country. Experts say anyone who sends a check or money order for more money than the purchase price and asks for some of it to be sent on to someone else should be considered a con artist. Use of online payment apps that are not well secured are also a red flag, as are customers who don’t have a piece of art already picked out to purchase, and pressure the artist to process the payment quickly and get money returned. Finally, customers who say their own shipper will pick up the package are not to be trusted, since most online stores routinely ship packages via commercial shipping services such as the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service, and Federal Express.