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Rip-Off Alert: Artist nearly gets painted into a corner

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 9/26/2013 7:28 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- Con artists are always looking for new ways to get you to fall for their scams. In this Rip-Off Alert from Los Angeles, here's one method you might not expect.

Harold Beard Sr. created many paintings, but he never imagined his passion could make him a target for a scam.

“She said I really like them, can you get me a price on them,” Beard said.

The call came from a woman who said she saw his pieces online and was interested in buying some of his art before moving to South Africa.

Beard said he thought it sounded suspicious, so he proceeded with caution, especially when she asked for his address.

“I’m immediately thinking I’m not going to give her this address,” he said. ”I go to UPS store to open a PO Box. And that’s what I sent her, and I thought this is really phony.”

Then he got a note from a shipping company.

“I immediately looked up the shipper and it was a legitimate website and I’m starting to get a little stoked about this,” he said. “I’m thinking this is looking really good.”

Joy turned to disappointment when Beard learned from other artists in his own league that they also were being targeted.

Postal inspectors call it spear phishing – when scammers zero in on a specific group of people who know each other.

“When they converse, it makes the artist really excited,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Ricky Vida. “ ‘Oh, this is someone who really knows about artwork and they want my art.’ “

“When you get something like this and they are really playing with your emotions, hey it’s an honor,” Beard said. “And especially when they say we’re building a new house and we want to buy a painting to show our guests and it gets kind of exciting.”

When Beard got a $3,000 check he knew the whole thing was a scam.

The scammer said she “accidentally” sent too much money and ask him to cash the check, take his share and send the rest back to them.

“They use this urgency to have them send the money right away or before they talk to other people,” Vida said.

The con artists rely on the victim depositing what is a bad check, sending them a share as well as the merchandise.

Two weeks later, the victim is then on the hook for the check and the goods are gone.

The warning from Beard’s art league got to him just in time.

“I like to think I would have caught on, but I’m not sure and it kind of scares me that I was taken by this,” he said. “I want to think I wouldn’t have completely gone into it, but I’m not sure.”

Beard said he framed that fake $3,000 check and keeps it in his studio to remind him to always be cautious.

Postal inspectors say members of any club or groups with a common interest — such as parents of children attending the same school -- can end up being targeted by con artists.

The so-called spear phishing strategy includes criminals creating a message precisely designed to get around spam filters so they reach their intended victims.


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