5 Red Flags for Instagram DM Scams

It happens to almost every artist who has an account on Instagram – you get a direct message asking if you take commissions. While the request in and of itself seems like it should be a compliment and not something you should worry about, there’s good reason to take extreme caution when getting these types of Instagram DM requests.

It’s an exciting prospect as an amateur artist when you start getting commission requests from people other than your friends and family. If this is something you like doing and want to make part of your business, then having an outsider contact you might make you feel like you have more credibility as an artist. Unfortunately, when it comes to social media, these requests are often a scam.

artist working on a commission piece of art

I won’t get into all of the ins and outs of taking commissions in this post because that is a much more dense topic than we have time for here. I am however going to discuss with you some best practices you should have set up if you are planning to take commission work. This will help you have a place to direct people who are legitimately interested in your work and weed out the ones who are not.

Red Flags

There are many red flags when it comes to whether a request of this type is legit or not. Here are a few common ones to look out for when you receive a message request of this type.

RED FLAG 1: They open their message with no formal greeting or bad grammar.

Text message culture has made a lot of us lazy when it comes to messaging and using full sentences. That’s understandable when you’re talking to someone who you know well or family, but super inappropriate when you are messaging someone you don’t know for the first time. Simply opening with “do you do commissions” (sometimes with or without the question mark) is a great way for me to ignore someone’s message entirely. That said sometimes they do attempt to at least say hello in the initial message but with no additional context as to why they are messaging you.

a neon sign that says hello in cursive lettering

First of all, it doesn’t take much to say hello to someone. Artists are not a McDonald’s drive-thru where you can just roll up in our DMs and ask for a McPainting with cheese. I bet even at a fast food restaurant you probably at least would say hi to the person taking your order, right?

Secondly, If the artist has a link in their bio to their website, or they had looked at your previous posts at all they would see whether or not you have done commission work before. You could argue that they are just looking for an immediate answer or are lazy, but also no one needs commissioned art immediately. It typically isn’t a last-minute request sort of thing based on the time it takes to create it alone, so if someone is really interested in your work they can take the time to do some research on you.

RED FLAG 2: They don’t follow you, or haven’t liked any of your posts

This isn’t always the case for it to be a scam but often time it is. People are getting their Instagram accounts hacked at an alarming rate each day. It’s possible one of your legitimate followers has had this happen to them and someone is now posing as them using their account.

break down of a potential Instagram dm scammer profile

Typically speaking though you will get a scam request from someone who either has a private account, has very few followers or posts of their own. They also usually don’t follow you at all. Sure, we all have that relative who has Instagram but never posts. That might even be your parents and you’re thinking – “wait, but they’re not sketchy!” That may be true, but if the person has never contacted you before and the other red flag boxes are checked, there is reason to be at minimum suspicious.

Related: 5 Ways to Stay Safe Online

RED FLAG 3: They haven’t gone to look at your website prices or quoted you an amount they are willing to pay

There’s a common scam going around right now where someone will send you an Instagram DM, sometimes even with a nice greeting, and tell you they need a gift for a child’s birthday and they just absolutely love your work and are willing to pay a certain amount for a commissioned piece from you. They may even leave a message on one of your posts asking you to check your DMs. This is the short version of a popular email scam with a similar premise.

This happened to me the other day. The guy said he went to my website and fell in love with my work. He then said to me he was willing to pay me $300 for a commission for his son’s birthday. My first thought was, if he had been to my website, he would clearly have seen the separate tab I have in my menu for commission work information. In that tab, I have links to what my starting prices are. I also very clearly state the process that someone needs to go through to request a commission from me.

break down of a potential Instagram dm scammer profile

Often what will happen next is they will say they couldn’t see the prices or they may not acknowledge you at all if you say the price is too low. They may also ask where you are from, which again if you’re open about you’re location they likely could have found out easily.

If you don’t already have a website set up for your artwork and are planning on taking commissions this is something you should do. It not only gives you a professional presence but allows you to have a more curated sample of your work for potential clients. It’s possible to set up very simple and low-cost websites if you’re on a budget. If you’re planning on seriously making this part of your business it’s an investment that is worth making.


It also gives you a place you can direct potential clients who are serious about commissioning work from you to get all of the information on how to contact you. If you aren’t comfortable posting prices for your work you can give them a way to contact you for a detailed quote.

RED FLAG 4: They can only pay with a digital cheque or some other sketchy form of payment

So if you’ve actually gone far enough down the line with one of these requests, at some point the topic of payment will come up. If it’s a scam that’s the real end game here isn’t it? They will likely offer to pay you in some form of payment like a digital cheque or something that is even as ridiculous as from a child’s savings account. There is then an “accidental” overpayment made at which point they would like you to reimburse them. The catch here is that they wrote you a bad cheque, to begin with so you are in fact sending them money and they actually sent you nothing.

I can’t state this enough but 1000% absolutely DO NOT accept payments from people in anything other than legitimate transfers through sites like PayPal, Stripe, or equivalent. If you don’t have a PayPal or similar account set up for your business to accept secure payments you should.

a woman looking down at her phone

Here is a link to more information on how you can spot, avoid and report fake check scams: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-report-fake-check-scams

RED FLAG 5: They ghost, block you or get abusive when you question them

Most of these jerks will high-tail it out of there once they feel like you are on to them. If they’re extra persistent they may try to even make you feel bad for questioning them like they are doing YOU a favor or perhaps guilt you if they’re still trying to roll with the “gift for my child” bit.

Life as an artist can be tough financially, BUT you are under NO OBLIGATION to take every commission project that comes your way. In fact, I would argue if you’re trying to portfolio build you are better off doing gifts or low-cost projects for friends and family over taking on bad or potentially sketchy clients for the sake of having a “real” client. These criminals are likely going after artists because they clearly feel like we are apparently easy targets. Desperation for money will put you in a position where your guard will be down and you are more likely to fall for these kinds of scams.


There are a number of ways you can respond to these types of Instagram DM requests when you get them. The first thing is to check out the person’s account and do some assessments. Don’t click on any links they send you in their post on Instagram, you should be able to click on the profile picture at the top to check them out. If something doesn’t seem right you could ignore, block or delete the message.

If they seem like they might be legitimate, but maybe don’t have great messaging etiquette, you have to decide whether you want to proceed or not. If you do want to proceed, you can ask a few probing questions to find out what they are looking for and the timeline. If that part of the conversation goes well you can invite them to view your prices on your website or email you a formal request. It’s important to move the conversation off of Instagram or Facebook and into email messaging where you can have a digital paper trail in a format you own.

a sign that says sorry we are closed

If they get pushy about keeping it on Instagram or saying they only want to pay a certain amount, be firm with what your policies are. DO NOT let people haggle you lower or allow you to compromise your business process because they can’t be bothered to follow it. This is either a scammer or frankly may just be a difficult client to deal with going forward. You ARE NOT OBLIGATED to take on every project, so it’s ok to politely decline.

If you don’t want to take on the project, don’t think they are a scammer but don’t want to close the door to the future opportunity there are other things you can say. One option is to say all of your spots are filled right now. You could also offer to place them on a waiting list if you are curious to see how serious they are. Most artists’ lists aren’t public so they would have no way of knowing when their turn would be. You can decide in the meantime if you want to work with them and reengage later on.

Final Thoughts

People are getting desperate and thieves are getting more clever with the ways in which they are trying to scam others out of their hard-earned money. While social media apps like Instagram have become a great place to connect to a wider audience with your artwork it has also become a hotbed for scams.

The bottom line is to go with your gut. If something feels weird or off it probably is. Take some time to research the person messaging you before you respond. Scammers are counting on you giving someone the benefit of the doubt or not using critical assessments.

If you’ve gone through everything on this post and still aren’t sure. Do a quick Google search on the subject of people asking for commission requests. You’ll often get a list of other artists’ posts telling stories that will sound suspiciously similar to the message you received.

Decide what your commission policies are and stay firm to them when it comes to how you want to receive payments and the process that a potential client has to go through to commission work from you. Remember that YOU are in the driver’s seat. Having clear and structured processes in your commission business will not only come off as professional but may also be the thing that helps you avoid being scammed.

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19 thoughts on “5 Red Flags for Instagram DM Scams

  1. ArtistSloth says:

    Hi, I feel like an idiot because I fell for it and I got as far as giving them my PayPal link (not email but the paypal.me link) … do I have to be worried? I cant quite figure out if that’s enough info for them to scam me?

    • BarbSotiArt says:

      Hi there! Thank you for the comment and I’m sorry to hear you are experiencing this. Bare in mind I’m not a cyber security expert. I think the issue is more that when they have your email address that gives them 50% of the info they need to log into your account. Now that said, to accept PayPal payments from anyone you need to give them a link or an address to send the money to, so that by itself shouldn’t be an issue normally. From what I have seen, this becomes a problem for people who don’t have any additional multi factor authentication set up on their accounts or weak passwords. What some of these scammers will also try is they will say, “I’m trying to send you money but it’s asking me for a code.” In this case they are likely trying to trick you into giving them a Multi factor authentication access code. I would suggest that a best practice is to send them an invoice for the amount they need to pay you but in no circumstances give them any sort of code or login password associated with your account. That may seem obvious but many of them have ways of being tricky about it. Worst case if you get a bad feeling just decline the sale. People who aren’t shady don’t act shady.

  2. Colin says:

    Hi, I received an immediate DM after posting a painting for sale on IG, the message simply said “how much is this?”, no attempt to say hello etc! I checked them out, 4 followers and private account, they are not following me. When I told them the price and said is that around your budget, they gave me a figure around £500 lower, I said okay. They said how will they get it sent to Florida (I am in the UK), I said I would ship and get the quote, which I did and sent them, they said okay (not much conversation!), they sent their address which I immediately put into Google and it appears to be a place that accept parcels and send parcels in an industrial area of downtown Florida, very worrying. I had asked them for their mobile to communicate off IG and onto Whatsapp but they said they don’t use it. They are now asking for my PayPal, I won’t give it as I want their email to send an invoice with my bank details, I know that PayPal is open to scams and if they were genuine (highly unlikely they are) they would immediately offer their email address etc. I have already wasted a few hours on this and got excited and my hopes up, this kind of thing is very upsetting for artists!!

    • BarbSotiArt says:

      Hi Colin, I’m sorry to hear this happened to you. Unfortunately, yes it all sounds a bit shady to me. I’ve made it a rule now that I don’t sell any of my art through DMs now because of this. Setting up an online store takes time and a bit of money but it help deter these kind of fraud situations. It’s good that you did your research in this situation. You likely avoided being scammed.

      • Colin says:

        Hi Barb thanks for the reply! This is a great blog! I decided to question this “collector” and told them I checked the address and it was a parcel location and they said that the painting would ship there then go to their private address, which seems odd given that I planned to ship door to door. Then I said I can’t do PayPal due to scams and really need their phone number and email, they send their phone number which is in Florida! I decided not to call as I really want their email. I then added the painting they want to buy (allegedly) to my online shop and added the price they agreed and the shipping we agreed, the web shop takes all types of cards, I removed PayPal given all the bad stuff I’ve read about it. No reply of course!!

      • BarbSotiArt says:

        Hi Colin! Oh wow, well sounds like you resolves the issue. Honestly I think only selling things through an online store unless you know the person is the safest practice. There may have been a time when we didn’t have to worry about this but like everything good on the internet it gets ruined by someone who wants to exploit it for their own purposes. 🙁

  3. Frances says:

    One thing to stress here. Don’t accept PayPal or Venmo or CashApp. There are numerous ways to scam through those channels. When I told my scammer that I only accept credit cards through my website … they disappeared!

    • BarbSotiArt says:

      That’s a great point. Many people are being scammed through PayPal now especially. I think if people are using those services making sure they have two factor authentication set up is super important as well.

      • Frances says:

        Another thing. If it’s an instagram scam, block the scammer and report it to Instagram. That’s the only thing that can help keep the problem down.

  4. Jess says:

    My friend just sent me this as it happened to me recently! Fortunately I was savvy enough to not send any money or information or anything and I was feeling a bit weird about it the whole time but i did end up doing the commission on the small off chance it was genuine. But yeah my guy did the same $300 thing and then just ignored my any attempt to say that’s not how I work. He then sent me a fake paypal screenshot that said he’d sent the money. It had a grammar mistake in it and then nothing actually came through. I planned to refund via paypal should it have actually come through but i was never going to send money myself. It started with sort of..slightly awkward but not completely unreasonable communication. I like to think myself pretty savvy with these things but i lost time and effort when I should have immediately gone with my gut really. But then i started getting paranoid about being sent money when i hadn’t even finished the thing yet and ugh. Pain in the a**. Anyway this is great info!! Thanks for putting it out there.

    • BarbSotiArt says:

      Hi Jess! Thank you for sharing your story here. I think it’s really valuable for others to read the different versions of this that can occur. It definitely sucks you lost time and effort but glad you didn’t lose any money. Definitely go with your gut always!

    • Hannah says:

      Hey this happened to me just now! This person wanted me to draw a picture of his son and he said he’d pay me $300 and I told him that I charge way less than what he’s offered. I also asked him what style he’d like and if there’s any on my feed that he’s interested in and he just said “simple”. He asked for my paypal email and I got a little sus so I decided to check online whether this was a scam or not first. Turns out it is!!!! Thanks for sharing your story as I can now confirm that this scam is common!

      • BarbSotiArt says:

        Hi Hannah! Thanks for sharing your experience. Unfortunately, it really is all too common. My guess is they are trying to do one of two things. One, trying to get 50% of the info they need to hack the account. Or potentially send you an email with malware or something to gain access to other information. Unfortunately artists are not immune to these types of scams. I feel bad for anyone who ACTUALLY just wants a piece of art for their wife for her birthday. 😄

      • Bret Newton says:

        Wow, you wrote almost exactly what I just received. Someone asked for an art commission, who doesnt follow me, or like any of my posts. They have 300 followers, but 0 posts. They want me to draw their sons dog and sent me 3 pics of it as well. Offered $400, when they didnt even ask how much I charge. I asked, like you, what style they wanted from what I have posted, and they only asked for my paypal and name. When I asked for their paypal so I could send them an invoice, they simply said “no”, and reposted asking me for mine,

      • BarbSotiArt says:

        Hi Bret! Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear this happened to you too. It sounds like you caught on to something being off right away which is great. It’s awful they are targeting artists who are just trying to make an honest living with their skills and talent. 🙁

  5. Jo-Ann Driedger-Kinash says:

    Great blog Barb. Lots of excellent info weather someone is new to doing commissions or a seasoned veteran

  6. Chanel says:

    So many good tips here. I really like the anatomy of a scammer layout/explanation. Really helps dissect and break down the whole ‘can I trust this person!?’

    • BarbSotiArt says:

      Thanks Chanel! I think it was important to identify the thought process I use to decide if someone is shady or not but also note the exceptions. You have to weigh all of the evidence or factors and then make a decision based on that for yourself. The biggest one for me outside of all of the other things is, do you even want to do it if it is a real request? A lot of artists don’t want to do commissions and that’s perfectly fine too. You don’t have to do it just because they asked.

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