Handling overseas art sales

How do you handle overseas orders? Michael Lynn Adams asks:

I have a buyer who lives in South Africa (actually London, moving to South Africa). I am in Los Angeles. They will arrange and pay for shipping once payment for the paintings has cleared on my end.

Chardonay_with_grapes_500 The question: What is the best practice for long- distance payments? And, had the buyers not been willing to arrange for shipping, best practices or advice about that.

I do not trust personal checks and am not comfortable with money orders or cashiers checks. I do not have a credit card services account. However, I do have a Paypal merchant account that I have yet to use. One Paypal option is to create a Paypal invoice, but I am not sure if that gives the buyer credit card payment as an option. Another Paypal option would be to create a custom Webpage exclusively for the buyer (that is an easy process for me). That would give the buyer credit card payment as an option.

Am I on the right track? Are there pitfalls I am not seeing?

Speaking only for myself, my online shopping cart handles all of my overseas orders, whether they're through PayPal, MasterCard or VISA. I have never had a problem with someone defaulting on an overseas order, but I'm dealing with items with a much lower price point than fine art.

I do believe that you can invoice the buyer with PayPal and that all PayPal payments offer a credit card option, but I'd love for other artists to share their "seller beware" stories here. What should Michael look out for?

Image ©Michael Lynn Adams, Picnic in Santa Ynez

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30 comments to Handling overseas art sales

  • Michael, I want to warn you about the possibility that this is the Nigerian Scam artists who prey on US artists and insist on paying with cashier checks or International MO’s over and above the actual cost of the art. I had a similar person tell me they are from London and moving to South Africa. They wanted to send me a $4,000 cashier’s check fir $2,000 of my art and I was to refund the leftover in cash when the shipping was deducted. Please investigate this person a little more. My person said she was pregnant and was going to start a new life in South Africa. Just want to warn you, do not send your goods or take more money than the art costs. They are very tricky and convincing scammers. Your bank will not let you know for several weeks that it was a counterfeit check and you will be held to pay them back if you spent it. I luckily stopped all proceedings when I smelled a rat, I had everything packed and ready to ship. It was a terrible experience. Be careful.

  • Michael,I hate to say it but i think that you are dealing with a scam….the details seem similar to many “clients” that I have contact me from London, or Africa…same situation.Be aware! I am thinking that as soon as you say you will only take payment thru Paypal the client will disappear. That being said, good luck on your sale…and I hope it works out to be real! I sell to Europe often and do all sales thru credit cards….and nothing ships until money has cleared the bank..and I insist on shipping works myself. Kathi

  • Michael, If it ends up to be a genuine client, you are right about the paypal invoice. I do too little transactions on my own to pay for credit card services, having a good gallery representation. So when I participated at an art fair recently I had my laptop with internet connection and I would send the customer a paypal invoice through an email, they would then open it right there and then and go through the pain-free process of payment. Paypal guides them through and the person doesn’t need to be opening a paypal account. I would then re-open my email to make sure I received a payment confirmation and that’s it, transaction done, the customer can leave with their painting. I know it’s a little fiddly but people were generally understanding. I’m sure it will work ok for you as well. I actually sent an invoice of 1 cent to myself beforehand to be comfortable with the process.

  • Yikes! This sounds like a scam! Please beware. Remember: –Only accept full payment for artwork and shipping. YOU arrange and pay for the shipping – that is the only way you can insure it (if they do it then they could claim they never received it and if you didn’t arrange the ship you have no proof otherwise!) –Only ship to the same address as the payee. In other words, don’t ship to a separate address from payment. This is standard business practices that most small biz’s adhere to. The “we live xxx and are moving to yyy” is a very very common scam. –Beware of money orders of all kinds – they *can* bounce contrary to popular belief, and when they do it can be months after it was deposited and ‘cleared’. Better to know if this is a scam than find out later. :( Despite the disapointment. If you do offer Paypal you can set up a single Paypal button quite easily and just put it on a private web page.

  • Chris

    This is a scam. Well documented on several blogs (just do a Google search – Art News Blog has some documented cases sharing the emails, you’ll see carbon copies of your “client” in there). I personally dealt with it too. Made me feel special, then foolish. I started to get suspicious when the “client” really tried to wiggle her way out of dealing with PayPal. Eventually, she vanished. Then I learned about the scam and felt a little naive, but better off in the end being able to recognize scams and tricks.

  • THANK YOU ALL for your quick response. Yes, indeed I think you are right. It is a scam. Thank you for the warning and timely advise. I think the client has already backed off, but I will certainly stop this transaction in its tracks. I am happy too understand more clearly what to look for and beware.I am not really disappointed. Sales can fall through for a variety of reason, and I am not embarrassed but happy I asked this group. I wanted you to know that I am listening to your advise but don’t want to end the discussion on payment and shipping advice. Please continue.

  • Never trust someone willing to pay shipping themselves. If it’s too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true. Careful not get get caught up in the exciting moment of someone wanting to buy your art. Take steps slowly. So I have to thank you for posting this as I was almost a victim of this scam. My man was from Netherlands (or so he claimed) luckly, I googled and found this happening all over the world. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to bring this to all artists attention and am thankful it has come up here, which I know it will reach many many people, and glad you thought to investigate before following through. I got the check in the mail for 5000 on a 1200 dollar painting and he keep emailing me asking why I wasn’t responding back to him. I finally told him I believe it to be a fraudulent check and I haven’t heard from him sense. I tried reporting it but there’s nowhere to do so that will matter much. Thanks again and please be careful out there in cyberspace.

  • Sorry Michael, SCAM, RUN!

  • Lauren Perkins

    Hi Micheal, Always use paypal only for international accounts with credit cards… with both the cost of the paintings and the cost of shipping (worked out by you) in advance. Usually if you email the person back and say you don’t accept credit cards only paypal payments paid in full with shipping, scammers will run a mile. We all deal with these emails occasionally so it was very wise of you to ask.

  • As for payments from genuine buyers I’ve never had a problem with Paypal, and Google Payments is another option too. With Paypal if you have a Business or Premiere account you can accept credit card payments from people who aren’t Paypal members. If they don’t have an account they can just pay with a credit card just like on other sites. :) The main thing is to make sure you use a shipping method that is trackable online – this is a requirement for Paypal’s seller protection. I personally always send expensive paintings by Fedex, UPS or a specialist courier so their tracking systems all qualify. (not that I’ve ever had to rely on it thanksfully) With very large paintings I use the specialist because they will pack/crate it too, something I just had to start doing last year (I’m talking canvases over 1m in length). They took me a while to find but if you are looking for one talk to any local artists, or even local galleries to see how they ship. Most of my locals are quite happy to share their courier co’s names. If you’re really at a loss you can even consider working with a gallery for an ‘agent’ fee – I once did this for a purchase of multiple paintings I just couldn’t manage for packing and shipping. They did it all, took care of the payment (also useful for safety’s sake), for 15%. Seeking out a gallery’s help also shows good will, and that you see them as part of your business relationships. :)

  • This is a very valuable discussion. I am happy to hear that PayPal is reliable for many of you. However, I am no longer able to deal with PayPal. I had so much trouble with them when I had my work listed for sale on ebay. Everything was fine at first, and I paid my listing fees without incident. Then I began receiving emails from them, saying they suspected someone (me) was using my account fraudulently. I confirmed through their site that these emails were in fact, from PayPal. One of the emails said they’d sent me a coded letter to verify I was in fact who I claimed to be, but the letter went to my US mailbox (I was outside the US at the time). I was to respond to the letter by phone, within x-number of days. When I phoned PayPal to request another letter to my non-US address, I couldn’t get a live person, only an automated system saying I must enter that code from my letter. It was so frustrating and time-consuming, that I canceled my Paypal account, and will never deal with them again. And now after reading the scam stories, I too am concerned about money order payments. I suppose I’ll have to open a merchant account to accept credit card payments. Fortunately so far, any sales through me have been local checks or cash.

  • This is a very valuable discussion. PayPal seems to be reliable for many of you. However, I am no longer able to deal with PayPal. I had so much trouble with them when I had my work listed for sale on ebay. Everything was fine at first, and I paid my listing fees without incident. Then I began receiving emails from PayPal, saying they suspected someone (me) was using my account fraudulently. I confirmed through their site that these emails were in fact, from PayPal. One of the emails said they’d sent me a coded letter to verify I was in fact who I claimed to be. I was to respond to the letter via phone, within x-number of days. I was outside the US and wouldn’t have received it in time. So when I phoned PayPal to request another letter to my other (non-US) address, I couldn’t get a live person, only an automated system saying I must enter that code from my letter. It was so frustrating and time-consuming, that I canceled my Paypal account, and will never deal with them again. And now after reading the scam stories, I too am concerned about money order payments. I suppose I’ll have to open a merchant account to accept credit card payments. Fortunately so far, any sales through me have been local checks or cash.

  • Sorry for the double post! I am dealing with intermittent internet, and the first comment appeared to be lost.

  • That’s sad. Paypal can be irritating. I’ve gotten these “fraud emails” from time to time and forwarded them back to the PayPal contact center asking if these were scams or serious emails. I don’t trust online emails like that even from my Bank. I received one from my bank once only to find out that it was a fraud that some hacker sent to my inbox. I even called the bank to verify it. I know what you mean about the Pay Pal system. It’s annoying at best. Yu uthink that’s bad? Try using the ebay system, they’ve only recently upgraded it to a “live” chat helper. Since the two companies are one, folks may want to “open” and ebay issue ticket in regards to Paypal. ;) It’s a “around the hedge” sort of way of doing it but it might work enough to get the Corporate heads to wake up and use the same tech for PayPal. :P _ The one thing I’ve had issues with for International sales was items randomly disappearing. So I heavily suggest the folks who want the shipping pay for insurance since it’s their piece of work.

  • I’m sorry Michael is probably dealing with a scam. However, I wanted to mention that I have had many international clients and it’s not something to be fearful of, just to be aware how to do it. Most of the time the payment has been done through PayPal so paypal has handled the conversions. Made it very easy. But another payment option is Western Union. The customer just needs your name, city, and state to send the money. The fee for the payment is done on the client’s end. The client sends you a Control Number received from Western Union. You go to a local Western Union agent and pick up the money. In my case the agent was in a local Kroger store. I was able to choose a Western Union check or cash.

  • Michael, looks like I’m Johnny-come-lately in telling you it’s a scam! At any rate, there will surely be more scams in the future that are less recognizable as such. The way to squash any scam in its tracks is insist on being paid via Pay Pal period. No cashier’s checks, no agent coming by with any form of payment (with perhaps the exception of cash- which I guarantee will never happen). With a PayPal invoice, the buyer can use a credit card and not even have to set up a PayPal account. I’ve sold art over the Internet this way – not internationally, but inter-state. I collected one fee with enough built into the price to cover FedEx insured. I never worried about the exact shipping amount – call it shipping and handling if you like, but the painting ships when the money’s in the PayPal account and not a second sooner. Never let anyone “over-pay” with the notion that you will send them the difference; you can always figure a price that’s close enough – stick to the price and stick to PayPal and you’ll either make a legitimate sale or avoid being cheated out of one!

  • I’m so sorry Micahel, but as others have said this is a scam! I’ve used Paypal quite a bit for international sales of my paintings. I have a merchant account and it’s very easy. I always bill in US dollars and paypal does the conversion. Customers can pay with a credit card or an e-check. I’ve had a least a dozen international sales in the last year and never had a problem with paypal. Be aware that your international customers will have to pay customs on their end. I usually let them know this is their responsibility. Also, for insuring your work make sure that your carrier UPS, FedEx, DHL, knows that your artwork in not irreplacable, like a Rembrandt or a Picasso, otherwise they won’t insure it for more than a few hundred dollars, which might not be enough to cover your materials, frames etc.

  • Love using PayPal for all the purchases in our gallery. Had only one problem with a transatlantic purchase. It appeared when lady got back to Germany she had been charged with euros rather than dollars so that was a problem, my accountant sorted it out. However since I sell mainly to tourists here in Miami, that is just one more thing to watch out for. I’ve given up all my credit card services in favor of PayPal which handles them and so i pay one fee to PayPal.

  • SCAM! I would block sender’s email address.

  • All: Thanks for your help for Michael. I agree that we should be careful, but the bigger point here was what to do with overseas orders. I had no idea that PayPal was THE way to go. And good tip about Western Union, too. Do others have thoughts on using WU?

  • Thank you all again. Since I am not out any money I am good in the knowledge that I did not fall completely for the scam. Thank so much for you well wishing and advise. The confirmation of PayPal as a good solution is very helpful and the advise about shipping and insurance is invaluable. Alyson and you fellow artists are the best!!!!

  • Great discussion. I have a question. Would asking the customer to wire US dollars to your bank account work? Would having to give out your account number be risky?

  • I also use Paypal quite successfully for overseas orders, but have to share this great alternative option to your dilemma from one of my favorite blogs Extreme Craft: http://extremecraft.typepad.com/extreme_craft/2006/06/scam_artists.html

  • Sorry–here’s a better link to the Nigerian scam story I mentioned before: http://www.419eater.com/html/john_boko.htm

  • That 419 story is too funny. Love the pic of the hamster with a gun to its’ head! I’ve just started to accept Paypal payments at Etsy and am happy to hear of other’s success stories with it.

  • That 419 story is too funny. Love the pic of the hamster with a gun to its’ head! I’ve just started to accept Paypal payments at Etsy and am happy to hear of other’s success stories with it.

  • I suggest using PayPal particularly as they offer a dispute resolution facility in situations where goods shipped don’t arrive or are significantly not as described.

    At http://www.artnetafrica.com we use paypal almost exclusively for payment purposes and our artists and buyers have been comfortable with this arrangement.

    I would be very interested in any other payment platforms out there or any international cash on delivery style services.

  • Sharron Burns

    I received a similar email and ultimately contacted the FTC at http://www.ftc.gov. You can forward the email directly through their website or get the telephone number from the website and call them. The representative was very gracious. She took down the information and gave me a reference number to insert in the subject line. I then forwarded the email message to the web address she gave me. We may not be able to stop the scam artists, but maybe we can at least alert the proper authorities.

  • I agree all artists must be VERY careful of international orders for work, yet on the other side NOT ALL international orders are scams. Paypal does work the best of an overseas order. The price for packing and send a piece can be very spendy. Look at the following link to make sure you address it correctly: http://www.squidoo.com/post-art#module151438400
    Also as far as packing http://www.artshipint.com/estimate-request-3.html gives you an idea of costs if you want to do it yourself or send it to them to do. Sure hope this helps you and others out there.

  • Oh I almost forgot to add the other link for pack and shipping: http://www.pakmail.com/ -thye have over 500 location in the US so chances are there is one near you. They also have a toll free number so you can call and ask questions. If you must travel to get to a shipping location don’t forget to charge your customer for that too! It is a part of the S&H. Ok, I think that does it!