Counterfeit artists scam Sacto galleries

They don’t call them “con artists” for nothing.

Consider the rash of scams pulled on local art galleries over the last couple of months. Some crook has been preying on the good names of local artists and the goodwill of local gallery owners to cash in.

Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent. But let’s just say the two businesses taken by this scam are well-known galleries.

We’ll call the first gallery owner “Angela.” It was the Second Saturday in May when Angela got a call from one her artists—at least, she thought—who was in a tight spot.

The “artist” told the Angela that he was stuck in San Francisco, his truck had been towed and impounded and everything, including his wallet and cell phone, was locked up inside. Angela knew the painter; she liked him, and didn’t think twice about trying to help. “My heart went out to him,” Angela explained.

The man explained he would gladly repay her Tuesday, if the gallery could wire him the money that day. After all, the gallery had all his art as collateral. What could possibly go wrong?

“We care about our artists. It’s a heart thing, not just a head thing.” Yep, it was a trusting, sweet and kind gesture. And it cost her $391.15.

A couple of weeks later, the bamboozler struck again. The smooth talker used a different artist’s name when he ran his game on his second victim—we’ll call her “Beatrice.” She was also taken in by the tow-truck story and the belief that the guy on the other end of the phone was the real deal.

“It was very compelling. He talked to two of us. There was never a question in any of our minds. We just wanted to help the guy out.”

Beatrice wouldn’t say how much the crook took her for, only that it was “several hundred dollars,” and less than $1,000.

Like clockwork, two weeks later, the flimflam man tried a third gallery. We’ll call the third victim Pamela Skinner. OK, that’s actually her real name, and she wasn’t a victim. For though the big, bad grifter huffed and he puffed, Skinner wouldn’t budge.

As with the first two marks, Skinner said that the man on the phone impersonated an artist whose work was hanging in her gallery at the time. And like the first two, Skinner knew the artist. But in this case, the voice didn’t sound right.

“He said, ‘This is so-and-so.’ And I said, ‘No, you aren’t.'” So the man tried to quickly tweak the script. “I’m his father,” the imposter explained.

“Uh huh,” Skinner replied. She said she’d really like to help, but that she was awfully busy at the moment. “If you give me your phone number, I’ll call you right back,” she assured him.


Each of the first two gallery owners said they filed police reports, but aren’t hopeful the crook will be caught.

“Our advice is that people should take precautions and know who they’re dealing with,” said Sgt. Matt Young with Sacramento Police Department.

The basics of this scam are easy enough to figure out. These galleries all have Web sites listing the artists who are currently hanging, along with the names of the gallery owners and their phone numbers.

But it seems this con artist was also a somewhat talented mimic, able to pull off a plausible impersonation of the real artist, plausible enough to fool the real artist’s acquaintances.

“It had to be someone who was hanging around and who studied,” said Angela. After all, you can’t have the “con,” without the confidence.