Being a veteran of NFT scams, I thought I had the Artist scam game pretty well figured out. However, I ran across a new one and almost became a victim of it. Here's how it works....
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a woman named Erika from Italy. She claimed to be an art curator and in addition to her personal Instagram account has an additional account under her 'business' at @eunoia.curators. As I get a fair number of contacts from people asking to buy my art or show it in a gallery, I always make a point of researching the person contacting me. In the case of Erika, it looked like she was legitimately an art curator as she had spent a lot of time making posts to her Instagram account regarding a variety of different venues she had coordinated in the past. Her resume looked good.
Here is how the pitch went. Erika presented herself as an art curator who was looking for people to represent at the Gamestop Store at Via Torino, 49 in Milan, Italy in collaboration with an Art Collective Gallery called the Holy Club. What she claimed to be looking for were artists whose work could be shown on a variety of 100" and 120" LCD screens as part of the Gamestop/Holy Club jpint venture in digital art.. The name of the Gallery associated with the Gamestop store is Holy Art Collective in Milan. For a fee of $300 (should have been my first red flag), I was being offered two thirty second 100mB image loops on one of their LCD panels throughout December.
So, wanting to be cautious, I went to the web and checked out both the Holy Art Collective and the Gamestop site in Milan. Both looked legitimate and they have ongoing shows featuring various artists. The list of official Gamestop stores in Milan does list the store at Via Tribno, 49. They also talk about their investment in large screens for an immersive gaming experience with reference to many LCD panels going into the store as well as ther Holy Club partnership. So far, so good.
A second red flag came up however with the website for the Holy Club itself. It is located on the .XYZ domain listings, and a bit of exploration to uncover information on this block of domains turned up some very interesting information. Turns out the .XYZ block is a notorious hangout for scammers and organizations that want to establish a no-cost internet presence. But given there are also a lot of websites on this domain block that are legitimate it was only a yellow flag - not a complete disqualifier.
So, after a couple days of deliberation without any high pressure sales pitches by Erika, I decided to roll the dice and give the Holy Club a try. Their intake form for a new artist looked like something I was familiar with; Artist Statement, Past Recognitions, places previously exhibited etc etc. It all looked good.
Finally my applicaion got to payments. The collective had three options: Bank Transfer, PayPal, or Credit card. In my case I don't worry too much about using PayPal or Credit Card as I've had good success clawing back money on deals that didn't work as advertised in the past. So, I went to PayPal and promptly got an API error in connecting from the website. That kind of thing happens occasionally, so I tried my credit card and got the same result - Another API failure.
Being smart enough not to do a bank transfer as this would give the Holy Club direct access to my savings account, I contacted Erika. She said she would fix it. This is where the pressure campaign started. The next day, I got a message back from Erika that the collective's website was broken with a request to do the bank transfer. I explained to her that I would not do this. Almost immediately I started getting messages from her with great detail on how to do a bank transfer and in spite of my several messages stating I would not do this, she kept going back to the bank transfer and finally wanted either a bank transfer or a direct PayPal payment to an account that was completely new.
SCAM SCAM SCAM SCAM
In all fairness to the Holy Club Collective and the GameStop joint venture, I think they are a legitimate digital gallery. However the person taking advantage of the situation appears to be Erika. In doing a little more digging, I ultimately discovered that she is also a curator for the M.A.D.S. gallery in Spain. If you are unfamiliar with this operation, it is nothing but a website that will feature an Artist's works that just happens to be operated out of Barcelona, Madrid, or maybe Fernando's basement in Seville.
So there you have it. I was so excited about the idea of being invited to show my work in Italy, that I almost fell for the scam. Bottom line, and I forgot this rule....If someone is asking to show your work and wants a fee for that honor, it is probably not a legitimate deal.