Here at the Visual Artist’s Association, we provide business insight and expert advice to artists at every stage of their career.

Historically, business advice for artists has not been a common practice. As a result, many artists have found themselves as victims to scammers. Let’s take a look at three common art scams, and what you can do to protect yourself.


Email Phishing

Most artists who have an online presence will experience some form of email phishing during their career. Often this is easily ignored, however, some artists fall prey to the scam.

In short, the buyer will often express interest in your artwork, however, they will fail to give any specific details about your artwork, they will often give a vague description. Usually, they give a time-sensitive reason for wanting to buy your artwork. This could be buying a gift for a birthday, or for when they move home, etc. The bottom line is that they are not interested in your artwork, rather, they are interested in the hard-earned income you have created for yourself.

Red Flags
  • Poor English, Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
  • Unusual word choice, as though the text is a result of Google Translate
  • Transaction is time-sensitive
  • Buyer insists on paying by check
  • Buyer arranges an outside shipper
  • Buyer overpays (they will ask you to transfer the money back before their payment processes)
  • Insists on paying by bank transfer
  • Asks for personal details, such as bank details
How can you protect yourself?
  • Trust your gut – an artist’s instincts are rarely wrong
  • Run their email address through Stop Art Scams
  • State the Terms and Conditions for buying your art on your website – Make sure you stick to them, you may be tempted to bend the rules but not all buyers are genuine.
  • Avoid refunding overpayments at all costs – they are most likely always a scam, even if they insist that this is accidental.

For essential insight into email scams, be sure to check out our article on Essential Tips to Help You Spot an Email Scam.

Vanity Projects

Unfortunately, the art world is rife with vanity projects. These include vanity art book publishers, vanity fairs, and most commonly, vanity galleries.

We recently received a direct message from one of our members asking if we had heard of a gallery. The gallery in mind had approached her and was offering her space to exhibit for an extortionate charge. Many galleries and fairs charge to exhibit, however, what sets a vanity gallery out from the crowd is the amount they charge. We are talking thousands for just a couple of square feet of wall.

Vanity galleries often claim that they will provide exposure for upcoming artists. If an artist were to look at their Instagram it would look tempting, they often have followers in the tens of thousands. However, most of these galleries barely gain any likes. This is a tell-tale sign that the gallery has paid for its followers.

Vanity projects will often target artists who have very little experience in the art industry and have no prior experience with costs and procedures.

Red Flags
  • Approached you via direct message or email, which seems fairly vague, however, they may pick out one artwork of yours to prove they have looked at your website
  • States that they will offer you a lot of exposure but fails to provide details.
  • Continue to try to up-sell you if you express interest
  • Failing to communicate with you in a timely manner
How can you protect yourself?
  • Ask your questions, what can they offer you?
  • Do your research, simply searching the gallery’s name plus ‘phishing’ will often pull up any suspicious reviews.
  • You can also check if they have been flagged by looking them up on How’s My Dealing?


Identity Theft

Art competitions are an absolutely great way to get your name heard in the art industry. During my Fine Art studies, my tutors were constantly encouraging their students to apply to any and all competitions. That’s why it is such a shame that many artists fall victim to scam calls-for-art, whose extensive application process is actually a front for identity theft.

How can you protect yourself?
  • Search for art competitions and calls-for-entry on reputable sights, such as our Monthly Opportunities section.
  • Set up a new email for applying to competitions. If everything is legit you can always provide your professional email later on in the application process
  • Use a new password to protect your accounts
  • Install anti-virus software on your computer
  • Don’t send any personal details, including banking details or your identification.


Have you ever been the victim of an art scam? Get in touch with us at hello@visual-artists.org and tell us about your experience.