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 a third human trait can also be exploited: vanity. And nowhere is vanity more prevalent than the photo-sharing website/app Instagram. When combined with greed, vanity can be employed by online scammers for a new take on the old fake check scheme.
The Instagram “Artist” Scam starts with a stranger sending you a message about one or more of your photos. Claiming to be an artist, they 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 so much money? Because this alleged artist has a client who is paying them thousands of dollars for their work. It’s only fair to give you a cut. This “artist” fills their profile with images of stunning artwork, stolen from real artists’ profiles.
If you agree to have your photo used as “inspiration,” they’ll tell you that the client will pay you the full amount using a peer-to-peer payment app like Venmo or Cashapp. They instruct you to forward the artist’s cut and keep some for yourself.
What Happens Next
Here’s where the modern take on the old fake check scam happens. The scammer sends you a large amount of money 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 it from your account. By then, the money you sent has been transferred out of the account you forwarded it to. This leaves you as the only link in the chain from which the company can attempt to recover the first victim’s funds.