No, that's not a typo. I'm not referring to the new Broadway hit, "Monty Python's Spamalot", which director Mike Nichols has brought to an uproarious production on Broadway, apparently aimed at the mentality of a twelve-year-old.

I'm talking about the kind of scam that targets artists and galleries. It begins simply enough: you get an email professing interest in one or several works of art. The tone is respectful, the questions reasonable, an exchange of emails occurs. Two years ago, when this first happened to me, the presumed purchaser asked if an American client of his could send me a cashier's check for a larger amount which I could then deposit and send the overage to the purchaser in a money order. Since my suspicions were aroused, I checked with my bank's Branch Manager, who phoned the out-of-state bank and found out that the check was bogus and the signature forged. At her suggestion, we contacted the local police, who informed me that they could do nothing since I had not actually suffered the loss.

Fast forward to late March of this year, when a correspondent began inquiries about the purchase of two pieces. Once burned, twice dubious: I insisted upon a 50% deposit before fabricating the works. A friend complained that I was perhaps misjudging a serious buyer. After several emails, I received the following:

"I have a client in the U.S.A. who is owing me $7,370.00. All I need to do to make payment easier and faster is to instruct him to issue a cashier's check and mail it to you on the address and name you want on the check and you know it takes 24 hrs for a cashier's check to clear in the U.S.A. But I would want to know if I can trust you to send my balance to me via western union or money gram after the money must have cleared in your bank to enable me to prepay the shipping company here so that they can instruct their office in the U.S.A. to come and pick-up the "Painting" from your location. pls mail me asap to enable me arrange payment. Furnish me with your name and address, so I will forward it to my client for payment."

This isn't Broadway. And I don't have the mentality of a twelve-year-old.

Nor should you.

And: a word of warning. Has a store recently asked you for your zip code at the check-out counter? You might want to think twice before giving up the information. According to a major department store, giving the zip code allows them to get information about you, including credit card data, and maintain it in their data banks. Some stores even pay for inclusive data, which you have authorized by providing your zip code. All it takes is a small human error for that data to be misapplied: in my case the information was attributed to someone else's account. Listen to Nancy Reagan, and "just say no".

c.Corinne Whitaker 2005