To Scam a Cartoonist
By Monte Wolverton
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a woman who called herself, generically enough, Mary. She said she wanted to hire me to “make cartoony of” a portrait of her family, so she could give it to her husband for his birthday. She attached a photo of her husband, two kids and herself. (See the photo at the top of this web site). She also let me know that she was engaged in humanitarian work, shuttling between Nepal and Australia, helping earthquake victims. Commendable. Damn commendable.
Why not? I thought. I can squeeze it in. I quoted her a price—not cheap, but I have bills to pay, Mary’s humanitarianism notwithstanding. I followed my standard policy for people I don’t know (and some I do)—credit card only, half up front. She got right back to me and said she would be paying by check, and therefore needed my cell phone number. I got right back to her and said sorry—credit cards only and I don’t give out my cell phone number. I never heard back, and didn’t give it a second thought.
A day or two later I learned that a cartoonist friend had taken her assignment. He did the requested family portrait and received a check for the amount he had agreed upon—plus $4,000. He emailed her and she said no problem—she had miswritten the amount. Go, ahead, she said. Cash the check, send her another check for $4,000 and keep the rest. At this point my friend realized that scamminess was afoot. He never cashed the check, but he lost valuable time doing work for nothing.
I can cast no aspersions because I myself almost fell for it. In retrospect, as usual, I could see four red flags. Who can tell me what they were? Okay, never mind—I’ll tell you.
1) Mary’s family photo was a little too cute. An ecstatically happy Caucasian family at the park—all grinning idiotically, with exceptionally good teeth. It had that slick stock-photo quality. Further, a Canon digital SLR is strapped around Mary’s neck. She’s white and blonde, yet she writes in broken English. “Make cartoony of”? Okay, maybe she’s Latvian, but probably not.
2) Why doesn’t she have a credit card? After all, she’s got a spendy camera, she shuttles between countries, and the kids in her photo have designer jeans. She writes checks for this stuff?
3) Why does she need my cell phone number to write a check?
4) Why do I need to know about her humanitarian work? Perhaps she was just sharing.
Oh, I almost forgot. Mary’s initial email came through the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) website. She was apparently looking for cartoonists to scam. Really — why editorial cartoonists? C’mon! We don’t make a ton of money. Most of us need other sources of income to support our cartooning habit. We fight for the oppressed and downtrodden. We stand against injustice, greed and exploitation. For that we get hate mail and death threats. Why not scam greedy hyper-capitalists and human traffickers instead? Here’s a suggestion for cartoonists. The next time a scammer emails you, go ahead and agree to do the work. Then send them a terrible, poorly rendered cartoon with awful perspective, garish colors, bizarre anatomy and confusingly tangent lines. Sign it as Marc Chagall. Few people will be able to tell the difference, but the scammer will likely be arrested when he or she tries to pass it off as genuine. And you’ll feel good.
Just kidding. I love Marc Chagall.
I’d be interested to know how many cartoonists fell for this one. I got this e-mail too.
I Googled the scammer’s e-mail address and found a post on the “Grand River Woodturners Guild” Facebook page, dated October 5th, warning of basically the same scam and noting that “all woodturners are getting this e-mail.” For the woodturners, the e-mail came from a man who was asking for a vase to be made for his wife.
Thanks to Monte for writing this for us.