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Vero's real artists are latest target of scam artists

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of August 21, 2014)

More than a dozen Vero artists got their hopes up this week when they were emailed by a person wanting to buy their art after seeing it on line.

But the flattered artists were shot down one by one when they followed up, and found out their “fans”  wanted banking information – supposedly to wire funds for the purchase. Other artists were offered checks that exceeded the price of purchase, and were asked to cash them, keep enough to pay for the painting, then send the rest back.

“It’s very common,” said Indian River County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Heinig, who has already issued two subpoenas trying to find out the identities of the emailers involved.

“They send a fake check for more than the amount (of purchase), and they want the person to cash it. That just goes into your account and when it bounces, you’re responsible.”

So far, no Vero artists appear to have actually lost money, even when scammers asked credible questions like “What was your inspiration?” In one email, though, the scammer referred to moving to “the Hampton,” in the singular. 

Authorities were notified after artist Barbara Landry of Gallery 14 alerted Christina Tascon, the office manager for the Vero Beach Art Club, to the ruse. Then Tascon herself was contacted by a “Mary Collins” asking to buy two photographs Tascon had posted on the Art Club’s site.

Her hopes were raised further when she googled the email address and found an author by the same name. “I thought she might have been working on a project on Florida artists.”

But author Mary Collins was horrified when contacted by Tascon and told someone had sent emails using her name and location.

“I was bummed,” said Tascon.

The Vero Beach Art Club, with

500 members, includes email contact information for artists posting paintings and other art in its online gallery. Other artists targeted by the scammers were from galleries in the downtown arts district, including Gallery 14. 

Tascon said one artist “wanted to play detective and said, ‘Oh, yeah, sure, send the check.’“ The artist received a bad copy of a check written on a closed account. “It looked like it was mimeographed,” Tascon said.