Con artists have a long history of appealing to two very basic human emotions: fear and greed. Just about any scam you can think of plays on one or the other.
But there is a third human trait that can also be exploited: vanity. And nowhere is vanity more prevalent than the photo-sharing website/app Instagram. When combined with greed, vanity is being actively employed by online scammers to trick people into falling for the old tried-and-true fake check scheme.
The Instagram “Artist” Scam starts with a stranger sending you a message about one or more of your posted photos. Claiming to be some sort of artist, they will tell you how inspired they were by your photo and ask for permission to create an original work of art based on it. In fact, they’ll pay you quite well for the opportunity!
Why offer money? Because this alleged artist has a client who is paying them thousands of dollars for their work, and it’s only fair to give you a cut. The fake artist’s own Instagram profile will be filled with images of artwork, which will all be stolen from real artists.
If you agree to have your photo used as “inspiration,” they’ll tell you that the client (or their secretary, because of course this client is quite wealthy) will simply pay you the full amount using a peer-to-peer payment app like Venmo or Cashapp, then you can forward the artist’s cut to the artist and keep the agreed-upon amount for yourself.
And here’s where the modern take on the old fake check scam happens. A large amount of money will be sent from an account using stolen credit card information. You forward all but a few hundred to the “artist.” Later, the app platform gets the chargeback from the original theft, and pulls the money from your account. By then, the money you sent has been transferred from the account you forwarded it to. You’re the only link in the chain from which the company can attempt to recover the first victim’s funds.