Art student scam

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The art student scam is a confidence trick in which cheap, mass-produced paintings or prints are misrepresented as original works of art, often by young people pretending to be art students trying to raise money for art supplies or tuition fees.[1][2][3][4] The sellers mostly represented themselves as French art students, but the scam has recently been copied internationally, with instances of Israeli, Chinese, Chilean, Nigerian and other nationalities[citation needed] posing as art students or dealers in Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States since around 2000.[citation needed] The art is often sold in exhibition sites or art galleries.[4][5][6][7][8] Many scammers operate alongside and at the long-run expense of genuine art students who show their yearly work in festivals during the summer vacation.

Mass-produced paintings[edit]

Most mass-produced prints and paintings originate in Asia.[citation needed] These are essentially posters, sometimes referred to as "Hong Kong horrors," printed on rough paper, making the absence of brush strokes less apparent. There is a confusion between "mass-produced paintings" which are actually prints. These are being sold over the internet described as real oil paintings, taking advantage of the difficulty of spotting the scam behind the screen. Sometimes a few brush strokes are added to the prints to give them a more authentic oil-painting look.

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

People posing as art students were reported in Australia and New Zealand from as early as 2003.[4][9] The paintings, worth around A$5, were passed off as being worth hundreds of dollars.[5] Three backpackers—an Israeli and two Chileans—were taken to court in Dunedin for the scam in 2003 but were discharged as the judge said that they were "minnows" in the organisation. They reportedly made NZ$15,000 in three weeks from the scam. The Consumers' Institute of New Zealand suspected that an Auckland man was the organiser of the operation.[8] A 23-year-old man was arrested in New South Wales, Australia, for operating the scam and 50 oil paintings were found in his car.[10] An adviser for the New Zealand Consumer Affairs Ministry said: "All around the world, students from various countries are doing this." She suggested that the scam's organiser may place advertisements in backpackers' lodges to recruit students.[11] The scammers have also claimed to be Greek, Argentinian, and French.[12][13]


In 2004, a group of Russians said to have been selling mass-produced paintings as their own work, for hundreds of dollars each, were deported from Canada for working in violation of their visas. The scam recurred in 2009 in Calgary and in Warman, Saskatchewan. Eight people claiming to be students from Israel, Russia, Germany, and France were arrested, and 100 paintings were seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Border Services.[14]


In China, scammers approach tourists at popular attractions such as the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.[15] The scammer speaks English well enough to get into a conversation with the foreigner and then claims to be an art student whose works are on display at a nearby exhibition, which is part of the scam and sells mass-produced art reproductions at exorbitant prices. There are warnings about this scam in tourist guides.[16][17]

United States[edit]

From the summer of 2000, news outlets in the Pacific Northwest reported that young people were posing as art students selling mass-produced oil paintings, both copies and originals, for US$780–$2000 each. The so-called art students were said to be selling in exhibitions and galleries, primarily targeting local businesses. They claimed to be studying at art schools in Europe and to be in the United States selling works by talented fellow artists to raise money for art supplies or school fees.[3]

Through the early 2000s, some 13 separate incidents of "art student" encounters were reported across the United States.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Scam art ripples Peninsula "Students" up-sell cheap, mass-produced works door-to-door". Peace Arch News. The (White Rock, British Columbia, Canada). 10 August 2004. p. 1. An Israeli art scam with suggested links to espionage and fundamentalist fundraisers may have turned up on the Semiahmoo Peninsula. At least half a dozen locals—probably more—were likely duped by the hoax, which has for years puzzled North American authorities. Young Israelis posing as art students travel door-to-door hocking mass-produced art as their own. The works are worth little, but still sell for hundreds of dollars to naive customers.
  2. ^ Wilton, Suzanne, "Art-sales-scam ringleaders ordered to leave Canada", Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, B.C.: 7 August 2004. pg. A.8.
  3. ^ a b "Information on an Israeli Art Scam". Komo News. 30 August 2006. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Moyes, Sarah; Michelle Robinson (5 March 2010). "Warning on art scam". East And Bays Courier. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Foreign students caught up in fake art scam". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 April 2008.
  6. ^ Gandia, Renato (19 August 2009). "Israeli art scam preying on people's kindness". Calgary Sun. Archived from the original on 15 March 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  7. ^ "Oil painting scam hits the Border". Border Mail. 22 April 2009.
  8. ^ a b Dye, Stuart (4 February 2004). "Brush with law reveals art scam". The New Zealand Herald.
    Coulter, Narelle (18 January 2006). "Door slammed on 'original' art scam". Star News Group. Archived from the original on 6 September 2008.
    Feek, Belinda (19 January 2010). "Warnings out over art scam". Waikato Times.
  9. ^ Rogers, Sy (2 March 2009). "Beware of 'Israeli' door-to-door art scams!". Design Federation. Archived from the original on 19 July 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  10. ^ "Police arrest 23yo over alleged art scam". ABC News. Australia. 13 December 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  11. ^ Robinson, Michelle (4 March 2010). "Door-to-door art scam". North Shore Times. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  12. ^ Thomson, Alister (12 April 2010). "Bogus student touting art fakes around Clive". Hawke's Bay Today. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  13. ^ "Art sellers painting a suspect picture". The Northern Advocate. 18 April 2010. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  14. ^ Slobodian, Erin (4 September 2009). "Scam 'Artists' in Warman". News Talk 980. Archived from the original on 9 September 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  15. ^ "The famous art show ripoff in Tiananmen Square was recently cleaned up for the Olympics. This was a pretty funny one, where English-speaking 'art students' would strike up conversation with overseas visitors and tell them they happen to be in town for an art show across the street. The show was closing today when I first heard the spiel in 2006, it was closing today when I returned to Beijing in 2007, but the pre-Olympics cleanup really seems to have closed the collection of knockoff art." [1]. See also [2] Archived 20 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Frommer's China, New York: Wiley, 2010 ISBN 978-0-470-52658-3, p. 140. [3] "You should also be leery of any English-speaking youngsters who claim to be 'art students' and offer to take you to a special exhibit of their work.... The art, which you will be pressured to buy, almost always consists of assembly-line reproductions of famous (or not-so-famous) paintings offered at prices several dozen times higher than their actual value."
  17. ^ China Tourism Scams Archived 3 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine