I got scammed so you don't have to- 10 mins
Some months ago, I was looking for artists to make Steam capsules for my first game Dashpong, so I made the only logical thing: tweet about it! Very fast, I got lots of DMs. I was surprise but happy to have so much choice. As I started to talk with “artists”, the dream rapidly turned into a nightmare (not really but I like how this sounds).
The truth is, I didn’t get scammed, but I got really close. When it happened, I wanted to actually get scammed to verify my suspicions and make a video about it. But life got in the way and I didn’t do it. Recently, Jonathan Lorenz a gamedev colleague shared the same experience. That’s what motivated to write this article. When I researched google I found pretty much nothing, so hopefully this can be useful.
Let me explain what happened and why I think it was a scam.
Some screenshots are coming from the DMs Jonathan received. Thanks to him for providing the screenshots. I couldn’t include everything as there’s A LOT!
Just after posting my tweet asking for artists, I started to receive lots of DMs.
They were super fast to land on my DMs, with similar phrases. It sounded like they didn’t read my tweet or the brief I sent them, which was not a good start. Lots of them were “real professionals”, “could do anything” or also “do truly amazing work”.
Their profiles were weird, with lots of following but few followers. Most of them didn’t have a lot of art shared and when they were sharing stuff it was usually a lot of different styles. Nothing wrong in trying stuff or having a small following of course. I initially thought it might be young artists starting out.
Looking more at their profile, I realized most of them didn’t have a portfolio link in their bio. Again, it’s very unusual for artists, but it could be because they’re starting out or something.
So naturally I asked them to send me their portfolio and two things happened. They either link to a portfolio usually not hosted on a popular website or worse, they sent images directly into DMs. I’ve never seen something like that, it’s such a waste of time and a weird way to do things. Again the variety in art styles was absurd. You have cartoon, realistic stuff, 2D, 3D, so many different styles. Not only that, there was a mix of finished and very unfinished pieces, streaming overlays, NFTs and even website mockups! At that point I was starting to be very suspicious, but I continued talking with them. Maybe I was overthinking…
They were also very pushy. If I didn’t reply for a few minutes or hours they would send one or two messages. I could understand that you don’t want to lose a potential client, but it felt very unprofessional.
Portfolio? What’s that?
When asked about why they don’t have a proper portfolio, they gave vague and bad reasons. “I didn’t have time”, “It’s easier to showcase art this way”, and the worst of it all “I don’t want to get my art stolen” (how ironic). When you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t show publicly they’re stealing the work of others. Also, they can send you specific artworks fitting what you need, instead of having a pre-made portfolio that might not work well for you.
I have A LOT of other examples so trust me on that, they all use the same techniques.
I said it was stolen artwork, but how did I know? Well, my suspicions were high, so I decided to reverse search some of the images. While not all of them gave results, I found multiple matches. Some were just flipped or slightly tweaked to make it harder to find the source. Others were straight up stolen from public portfolios. I traced of the highest quality artwork I received, and found the original artist. After talking with her, I got confirmation she was the original author, and that the person DMing me with her art was not her. I told her it was stolen and gave her the thief account.
Realistically, I don’t know what can happen. If you confront the thief, they’re probably going to delete their account or just block you.
Stolen image from Veronika
Veronika’s profile on Behance, the real artist
DM exchange with Veronika
Remember when I talked about a website mockup? Well, this was easy to reverse image search and I easily found the design on a template website. Surely it was their design, yes, no doubt. This was the case for other artworks and even NFTs clearly not made by the person sending me DMs..
At that point, it was very clear that these people were scammers. But I wanted to understand why, so I continued talking with them, as if I was interested. After explaining what I needed, of course they told me they could be a great fit for it, even if their portfolio was not really a good indicator of that. Most importantly, they were really easy when it came to money. They were quick to adapt to whatever my budget was. It make sense as they’re not thinking about actually doing the work, they just want 50% of whatever the price will be.
How does it work?
Ok, it seems pretty clear they were not real artists, but how would they scam us exactly? Here, I have two ideas on how it might work.
The simplest idea is that they’ll receive your prepayment, usually 50% of the total price, and that’s it, you don’t hear from them anymore. While this is the easiest, it might be complicated for them as you could shame them publicly, so they would have to create multiple accounts. While it seems like a lot of consequences, it could be profitable enough for them to just go through the hassle of creating fake accounts and buying a few followers to make it look like a real profile.
The other option is that they’ll actually send you art, but it won’t be to the standard you were expecting. This requires that they actually create something and that they argue with you after delivery. Imagine you’re dealing with what seems to be a bad artist. You ask for modifications, they do it but it’s never up to the quality you want. You paid the prepayment so you continue arguing with them. It’s not just about the money, you also need the artwork, as you don’t want to lose the time it took them to create the art. That’s where they reverse the situation. They start saying that you’re the bad person, a bad client with unrealistic expectations, etc… At some point, you’re probably going to accept your fate and stop arguing. If that’s the case, you might decide to not pay the remaining, which they could use against you, again, calling you a bad client, etc… Worst case scenario, you actually pay the full amount, because you feel obligated. Let’s imagine that you don’t do it though, and ask for a refund. Realistically, what are you going to do? You don’t know them, they’re probably using a throwaway account, they don’t live in the same country as you and you don’t even have signed a contract. Legal stuff is hard, and you’re not going to spend more money and lose more time to get a refund on the 250$ you spent on the prepayment. So that’s it, they won.
Of course, this is only a supposition. Still, the things I described earlier are enough for me to be careful and not risk my time and money. Even if they were real artists, sometimes just the weird variety of art styles was enough for me to not be interested.
It’s good to know to avoid being scammed, but you still need art, so how do you find real good artists?
One solution is to use freelance websites. While it’s not a perfect solution and you can still be disappointed, it filters out bad actors with a rating system and puts some rail guards by having a third party in-between you and the artist.
Another, maybe simpler solution, is to reach out directly to artists you know or have heard about. Personally, to find someone to make my Steam capsules, I just looked at other indie titles that had cool looking capsules and I asked the devs to give me the artist’s contact. It’s not a perfect solution and it can be time consuming but you risk less by having someone recommending you their work. Word of mouth is still important.
How to inspire confidence as an artist
Finally, if you’re an artist, how can you give a good impression? Let me give you my perspective as an indie dev.
- Have a portfolio on a popular website (Behance, Artstation, DevianArt) or even you own website, but make it look clean and trustworthy
- Link your portfolio in your bio
- If you’ve worked with clients in the past, talk quickly about the experience, maybe link to their product allowing us to see your art in action
- Don’t be pushy. It’s ok to re-message someone if they left you on read, but be professional about it. There’s no reason to send “did you read?” three times in a row
- Don’t accept work that is outside of what you can do. You probably have your own style, and that won’t work with anyone and that’s ok
- Reassure the client. Not every client is going to be very experienced, so don’t hesitate to explain how you do things usually. How much prepayment you want, what payment system you use, how much time you need to deliver, etc…
Honestly I think that’s it. It’s not super complicated, you just have to not look scammy!
Thank you for reading
I hope you enjoyed this read and I hope it can be useful. If you had a similar experience, or you got scammed, please don’t hesitate to share your story in the comments below. We can avoid those scams by actively talking about it and making sure everyone knows about them.
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Beautiful artwork from one of the portfolios…