Several weeks ago, I checked my email first thing in the morning, as usual. Wow, was I excited. There it was, the moment I’ve been working and working for. A lovely response to my website and even better, my new best friend Helen Brown wanted to buy two of my “Nooks & Crannies” paintings. I raced into the house to share my great news with Jim. He looked at me kind of funny and told me that it was probably a scam.

I went back and reread the email. Yes, the language was a bit unusual, but the request was clear, and she named the two paintings she wanted. Here’s a copy of the email.

On Nov 13, 2012, at 4:16 AM, Helen Brown wrote:
Hope this message finds you well. I saw these creative works on your website and I must commend you are really doing a wonderful and creative work.
I will like you to get back with more details if they are still available for purchase.

Through the Window
For the Docents

I will appreciate an urgent reply.
Best Regards,
Helen Brown

It’s pretty obvious looking back now that there was something off about the message. But I’m vulnerable. I’m an artist who invests her time, her money and all of her energy into her work. Why would anyone pick on an artist, the lowest of the low in the economy–unappreciated for the most part, hardly a blip on most people’s radar. Certainly not likely to be a great cash cow for a scam. How about all those investment bankers? Why not run scams on them?

I sent this reply–just in case I was just being paranoid and this was actually a real offer to buy my work. After all, hope springs eternal.

Hi Helen,
I’m thrilled that you are interested in purchasing my paintings. They are both still available. Please let me know where you’re located so that I can arrange for shipping and payment.

And she replied back:

Hello Barbara ,
Thanks so much for your response to my query about those creative works. I must commend you are really doing a great work.
I will like to proceed with the purchase of those beautiful pieces. Can you please confirm the actual price for those beautiful pieces with discount if there is any provided, so I can know how best to proceed. I will also like to know what inspire you to make the pieces.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Best Regards,

She was complimenting my work and wanting to know what inspired me. Maybe this really was the real thing. Hope spring eternal again. So much the fool, I replied back to her.

Hi Helen,
It’s good to hear from you again. Through the Window is $580.00 and For the Docents is $1500. I don’t give discounts for my work. These two paintings are part of my “Nooks & Crannies” series. The series is about overlooked spaces in public places, where the light and color are beautiful and inspire me to paint them. Both paintings are of places inside the Phoenix Art Museum.

Do you live in Arizona or would the paintings need to be shipped? If they need to be shipped, I’ll need to know where you’re located so that I can figure out how much to charge for the shipping cost.

Thanks for your nice comments about my work!



And she replied back to me:


Good to hear back from you. Yes, I will like to proceed with the
purchase of the artworks.  I think they are lovely works and I hope to
give them good home.

I am presently away in Cancun for my twin sister’s wedding even
though it comes at a time when I was preparing for a big move and also
expecting a baby  but it means so much to her. I should be back in few

Meanwhile, I will like you to forward your mailing address and phone
number so I can inform my husband still shuttling between our home in
New Jersey and London on where to forward the payment. He has just
been transfer to head the IT section of their head Office in London.

I can also forward your contact info to the local cartage company that
will be moving all our house decors so they can get in touch with you
to arrange shipping details. They can arrange FedEx pick up of the
artworks from your studio.

I will look forward to hearing from you so I can know how best to
proceed. Cheers.

Best Regards,

These people sound rich! Why would she bother concocting all these details if this wasn’t real? What would she have to gain from this if it is a scam?? I checked with Jim, who gently told me he was still pretty sure it was a scam, but he said that giving out my address and phone number wouldn’t give them any information they couldn’t get already. At the same time, I sent an email to my friend Patricia Sahertian. She’s great at online researching and is also a great listener. She picked up my distress right away and went to work. These are the links she sent me: and . I read through them both and sure enough, the emails I had received followed the classic pattern shown on these websites.

Still, I couldn’t quite believe it. So on I proceeded to send her another message:

Hi Helen,

I’m glad to hear that you are interested in proceeding with the purchase of Through the Window and For the Docents.

My address is P.O. Box xxxx, Oracle, AZ 85623 and my phone # is xxx xxx xxxx.


And “Helen’s” reply:


Hope this message finds you well. Thanks so much for your patient regarding the transaction. It has been a very difficult time with a lot of things on the plate. Anyway, I  will like to inform you that the payment was sent by my husband’s assistant which you should be receiving in the post in couple of days
I will also like you to have our address; you can add it to your mailing list. I will like to hear about your future works and art shows. Our address in Newark is…

215 Walnut Street,
Newark NJ 07105

While our new address in UK is….

68b, Bryantwood Road,
Holloway, London, N7 7BE

Meanwhile, I sent your contact info to the Moving agency that will be handling the shipment of all our house decors yesterday and he promise to get in touch with you.  Try and make shipping arrangement with them and keep me updated with details.

I will look forward to hearing from you soon as you receive this email so i can be sure we are on the same page. Thanks for your patient.

Best Regards,
Helen Brown

I don’t think I ever replied to this email, which was sent to me on November 26th. Why would she ask me to put her on my mailing list? A check in the mail? Still hanging on to a thread of hope regardless of all signs pointing to SCAM.

The check arrived last week. Made out for $3,980.00. If you look back and do the math, this is way too much, since the cost of the two paintings combined would be $2080.00. If you read the links I provided, you’ll see that this is the next step in the scam. If I were to send her an email saying the check was too large, the next scenario would be for her to tell me to go ahead and deposit the check and then send her a check for the difference. Now of course that check is no good, so the check I’d send for the difference ($1900.00) would come out of my bank account. And I’d never see that money again–assuming I even had that amount on hand in my bank account.

Now at this point you really would have to be kind of clueless to fall for this. But still–there must be plenty of artists who do or the scam wouldn’t exist.

And so now here I am, sitting on this check. It’s right next to my computer staring at me. Do I tear it up? Do I send it back to the bank from which the check was issued? Is some truck going to come and demand my paintings and hold me up at gun point? Yes, I know, now my imagination is running wild.

Where do I go to report this scam? I tried the Pinal County Attorney’s office and got some good information. I went onto the suggested websites, but didn’t find any help there. Next on the agenda is to call the Arizona Commission on the Arts office and see if I can get some direction–I want these people tracked down and stopped. But I have a feeling this type of nefarious activity is so pervasive that it’s probably hopeless. And if you look on the links about scams involving artists, you’ll see names a mile long of people who have been reported. Many with the last name Brown by the way, but no Helen Brown. Yet.

Meanwhile, my energy is low. I feel hopeless and pretty stupid. That check is staring me in the face. If only it was real. But it isn’t.

Here are images of the two paintings “Helen” fell in love with.

Through the Window  Acrylic painting on panel

Through the Window, Acrylic on panel


For the Docents Acrylic on canvas

For the Docents, Acrylic on Canvas