NFT Radar: Instagram scammers buy cool art for thousands of dollars

One of the new target groups of Instagram scammers is novice artists who are asked to mint their artworks as NFTs.

A thief stealing a painting from an art gallery
The NFT Instagram scam usually involves bogus marketplaces which can steal registration and minting fees or artists’ personal information.

Scammers have developed many methods to make money with a free Instagram account. Fake job scams, sponsorship scams, influencer scams, romance scams, and giveaway scams are just a few of the many ways malicious actors can exploit the popular social network.

With the growing popularity of NFT technologies, the scam bible has gained another type of fraud. Instagram scammers target art creators, and this article will show you how criminals can exploit beautiful art.

Using Instagram for art and scams

According to insurance company Hiscox's 2022 Art Trade Report, Instagram does not yet have any serious rivals competing for artists and art collectors. Although younger generations of artists are increasingly using LinkedIn and TikTok to discover art and artists, "Instagram remains a dominant channel."

Hiscox online art trade report 2021: social platforms used for art-related purposes
Source: Hiscox

Hiscox surveyed art professionals to answer the question "How do artists use Instagram?" Hiscox reports that in 2022, the majority of respondents (over 80%) used Instagram primarily to follow artists they already knew, discover new artists and their works, explore the art for purchase, share their favorite art, and interact with artists at art fairs.

Over 70% of respondents used Instagram primarily to find exhibition openings, and about 60% followed art-related news through the platform.

Read also: NFT Meets Tradition at Babylon Art Exhibition, New York

Instagram's unprecedented popularity among artists has also made it a lucrative venue for scammers posing as collectors from NFT communities. So how do they use Instagram to deceive artists with their scam stuff?

Fraudsters meet the artist - what is the NFT Instagram scam?

A typical target of scam attacks is an inexperienced artist trying to gain an audience on the social network. It may happen that this person is an already established artist who has just started using Instagram, but a complete newcomer to both art and the Instagram artist community is the perfect victim.

Such an artist starts posting their artwork with appropriate Instagram hashtags, including terms like #art, #artist, #drawing, #artwork, #instagood, #painting, #artistsoninstagram, #beautiful, #illustration, #digitalart, #artoftheday, and others.

Unexpectedly, the artist receives a message from a mysterious collector with a particularly lucrative offer, although the artist's account currently has only fifteen followers.

Berlin-based photographer Fedor Vasilev shared with his blog's readers some of the offers he received on Instagram.

"Hello, I’m Ichika, I buy artworks as NFTs, do you mind selling your artworks as NFTs for me?" the scammer asked Vasilev.

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Many artists familiar with NFT technologies and the art market can see something suspicious about the funny NFT investors who are especially eager to buy artworks from unknown creators. Moreover, many of them are real NFT champions, willing to pay generously in popular cryptocurrencies even for mere art sketches. For example, the Instagram account of amateur artist Artless_mess, who has just eighty followers, received a generous offer of 7 ETH per artwork ($13,000 at the time of publication).

Meanwhile, Vasilev had an encounter with another fake investor. This time, the photographer tried to up the ante, asking for $5,000 per photo. The investor, in turn, responded like a truly possessed NFT collector, offering an even higher payment. "I am interested in four of your artworks as NFTs, my offer for each artwork is $8,700," he replied.

Why to buy NFT on Instagram if you are a scammer - paradox crypto scam answers

Such unrealistically high payments should already be a red flag for Instagram spam recipients. Although there are indeed investors who want to support aesthetic art creators and are looking for undiscovered talent, the majority are interested in the works of artists with already well-known names in the community.

It makes sense to ask a hyper NFT buyer directly why they would do this. For example, the scammer who calls himself Joelpaige_j on Instagram justifies his decision with the aesthetics of the art, calling it "great and unique." Apparently, that is enough for him to buy it, but he can only do it in the form of NFTs because "his team recommended it to him."

In Vasilev's case, the scammer was a little more creative.

"Well, I’m purchasing these photos because they are awesome, and fit my grandmother's love… She will have her Birthday in a few days, so I’m getting them as a Birthday gift," the scammer explained her decision.

"An art collector is ready to spend $16000 on 4 NFTs for a grandma’s Birthday that she found on a random abandoned Instagram page (with 600 subscribers) where I only publish pictures because they were scheduled in advance," Vasilev summarises his experience with the scammer on his blog.

How do the NFT buyers on Instagram generate profit?

One of the reasons why it is particularly easy to get exploited by fake NFT image collectors is the fact their methods of earning money are not apparent to the majority of victims.

For example, Ichnika, provided a detailed explanation of the minting process, acting as one of the real NFT consultants. She also pointed out the gas fees, "Also know that before you can mint your artworks as NFTs and also for the activation of your NFT account, you have to fund your NFT account with a $300 gas fee." The second scammer who contacted Vasilev also talked about registering on an NFT platform.

There are many other similar cases described on art forums.

"One guy asked me to upload on a specific sketchy platform. The other also wanted me to pay the $400 gas fee first. But they both sound completely normal and kind so that is not a trigger, but it is more the amount of profits they promise and the fees I have to pay first," user R. wrote on the forum of Artsology, a provider of painting games.

It is likely that collectors who want to turn unknown artworks into NFT icons earn money from the registration fees of the websites they recommend their victims for minting. Gas fees are also a possible source of income.

How much does it cost to make an NFT according to scammers? The prices mentioned above are the most commonly quoted by fraudsters, but there are exceptions where criminals do not ask this much from the start.

Such a scenario was described by Artsology user G in January this year.

"Hi, I received an offer to buy my art as NFT. But I had to upload my art to a specific market called Meta Base NFT. I paid for the gas fee (I suppose I shouldn’t have) $150," G. shared the name of the NFT marketplace with the art community.

The artist followed the instructions and posted the artwork, which received a default price of 0.06 ETH, worth more than $110 at the time of publication and only about $40 less in January. The platform did not offer a feature to change the listing price, yet one of the collectors bought the artwork for $3,000.

However, the platform did not allow G. to cash out the profit and demanded another $500 payment.

Meanwhile, Reddit user Prestigious_Scar_832 warns artists about scammers who frequently change their strategies and look for "vulnerable-looking art accounts." The user mentioned that the first scam attempt was similar to the previously described cases, while the second incident was quite unique and looked like one of legitimate artist collaborations.

"This woman said she wanted to do business with me. She wanted to help me sell my art on OpenSea and then share the profits 70/30," Prestigious_Scar_832 also pointed out that the scammers have been using mostly female scam pictures lately and providing a rich and informative bio that mentions their fiancés, parents, children, and hobbies.

How to avoid art scams?

In the video "How to avoid art scams!" the YouTube channel Art Business with Ness mentions several strategies that Instagram NFT scammers use to make money. The channel’s host, professional illustrator Ness, explains that it is typical for scammers to redirect their victims to a phishing website rather than a real marketplace, where the criminals simply collect a gas fee. The so-called NFT marketplace can also be a platform that steals victims’ personal information or registration fees.

It is not just the technical complexity of the NFT concept that helps fraudsters trick their "fav artist", but also the hype around digital assets.

Artsology user Lia said, "I can’t work out how that one is a scam. I know people buy NFT art thinking they can flip for more, but she is offering $5,000 for four pieces each."

Even if the NFT images collectors tend to be more interested in less-promoted Instagram art accounts, established artists seem to be even better victims of such scams.

For example, Reddit user Justmyhumbleipinion told the art community, "I am also a little suspicious because I sell digital download files of my artworks at a very reasonable price, so I am not sure why they [scammers] would not just buy those."

Marketplaces promoted by NFT scam Instagram accounts

Part of many Instagram NFT scams involve marketplaces that are unknown or little known in NFT communities.

One such site mentioned by artists is Meta Base NFT. It is unclear if an artist or scammer made a spelling mistake and the site name should be MetabaseNFT, or if the spelling was correct and the name consists of three separate words. Regardless of what is true, there were not many Google search results about this platform.

The closest match is the website, which at the time of publication had no content except for the "Related Searches" button located above the following links: "Remix," "Spas and Pools," "Gyms Fitness Centers," and the "Privacy and Legal" link, which redirects to the page with information updated in early 2023.

There is also an April 2022 press release that quotes MetabaseNFT spokesman Adam Lawson as calling the team behind the project "pioneers in the field of online NFT marketplaces" and citing the project’s goal to "set the standard for this market and be a beacon for the rest of the industry"

According to the press release, MetabaseNFT is "an online NFT marketplace that puts emphasis on privacy and variety" with "an excellent, user-friendly and fast platform that manages to gather an immense number of buyers and sellers, all enthusiastic about NFTs."

The press release links to the above website.

Another NFT marketplace used for NFT Instagram scams was mentioned by Reddit user Ghettoandroid2 in late 2022. "I just chatted with a scammer on IG who tried to get me to mint on an NFT art marketplace called Whatever you do, don't mint or even subscribe to this site," the artist warned the Reddit community.

This website was down at press time.

Read also: OpenSea ramps up fight against NFT scams, rolls out new system

How to react to messages on Instagram when contacted by an NFT scammer?

As mentioned earlier, fake NFT buyers are constantly changing their strategies, which can make it quite difficult to spot them, especially when an artist is over-excited with a fantastic offer.

Even if it means you risk missing out on unique opportunities, it is probably best to ignore any offers that seem too good to be true, especially if you have just started learning how to earn money by posting art on Instagram.

If you are an artist whose name is only known to a small community of artists on Instagram, and you just upload images from your artist sketchbook, chances are strong that someone who suddenly contacts you to offer you a large amount of money for your works is not a real art investor.

The Art Business with Ness lists the following warning signs to avoid when contacted by a potential NFT investor.

The first is vague wording, which allows scammers to use the same text in messages addressed to hundreds of artists specializing in different techniques and genres. For this reason, artists are likely to receive general compliments about their works that do not describe specific pieces of art, even though the fake investor is obviously interested in buying them. The video emphasizes that most NFT Instagram scammers "do not speak like real people in real life."

The second red flag the channel mentions is " offering a high price right away," which is highly unlikely for real collectors, who usually negotiate prices with artists to save money instead of starting the conversation with the offer of an unrealistically high price.

Ness even warns artists against any lucrative offers on Instagram that include NFT, as she believes that the mere use of the term "NFT" in a message is already a red flag. She recommends artists avoid any intermediaries and mint art as NFTs themselves.

Other possible red flags are free art tests to determine an artist's suitability for a particular project, refusing a down payment and arranging a video or audio call, and asking directly for personal information that is not required for the chosen payment method.