Shameless Internet Scammer Cons Austin-Based Photographer Out of Prints and Profits

Polly Chandler

Seagulls © Polly Chandler. Available for purchase as part of the artist’s fundraiser.

Polly Chandler

Cracked Heart © Polly Chandler. Available for purchase as part of the artist’s fundraiser.

Austin-based photographer Polly Chandler, beloved in the photo community for her beautiful, storied photographs as well as for her winning personality, was recently the victim of an Internet scam that left her bank account wiped out. The short version is this: After much email correspondence, a collector in England purchased two of her limited edition prints with a cashier’s check. Wells Fargo, Chandler’s bank, made the funds available, only to determine weeks later, money spent, that the check had been a fake. This left her account not only drained but also, incredibly, accruing overdraft fees. Chandler is having a print sale to help her recoup her losses. It ends, oddly enough, this Friday, June 13. To purchase one of her ridiculously under-priced prints (for this sale only), contact her through her website or Facebook page. Chandler was generous enough to share her story, as well as thoughts about her work, with us.

Polly Chandler

ATX Power Plant © Polly Chandler. Available for purchase as part of the artist’s fundraiser.

How were you first approached by your alleged customer, and what ended up happening?
This is a hard story for me to share. But if it helps any other artist avoid this happening to them, I’m willing to share it. It’s actually quite humiliating to be scammed to the point in which it wiped out my entire checking account.

About a month ago, a man supposedly named Corbett Bonilla from England “purchased” two of my 16×20-inch prints, which are editioned at 10 and priced at $1,100 each. We corresponded back and forth through many emails, working out the details on shipping—and I do have an address to which I mailed the photographs. This man sent me a Canadian cashier’s check, and I deposited it into my checking account and went on my way: grocery shopping, filling my car up with gas, going to yoga. I waited about 1-1/2 to 2 weeks, then shipped him the prints. It NEVER occurred to me that once I deposited the now-known, forged cashier’s check into my account that I would be held accountable for his fraud.

I will say this: I filed a police report, spoke to the district attorney, and was on the phone with 21 different bankers at Wells Fargo from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. trying to fix this. Wells Fargo was awful to me. I got ten different answers, was transferred countless times, and, in the end, they would do nothing to help even though they could see it had completely ruined me financially. I owe them over $2,736.56—because they are charging overdraft fees, the number is going up. I have no debit card, no checks, and no way to pay my bills…no money.

I feel the bank should have notified me when I made the deposit, which I did face-to-face with a teller, of their policy, which is that foreign and cashier’s checks are placed on hold for 30 days (even though funds are made available). I WAS told this after the fact.

Polly Chandler

Dried Flower © Polly Chandler. Print available for purchase as part of the artist’s fundraiser.

Is it possible for artists to protect themselves from such nefarious, lowdown con artists, or are you just potentially screwed when you deal online?
I was told by Wells Fargo it’s the customer’s responsibility to make sure the bank that issued the check is legitimate, meaning you’d need to call each bank when you get a check (please picture my eyes rolling)!! I don’t know what other photographers do, but so far, I keep hearing “PayPal, PayPal, PayPal.” So…guess what I’ll be doing! Also, I’ll google the name of the person who is purchasing the work from now on too, because “Corbett Bonilla” is mentioned as a scam artist online. I’m simply too trusting. Plus, I am furious at my bank (if that isn’t obvious by now).

Polly Chandler

And the Broken Umbrellas Like Dead Birds © Polly Chandler

How did you decide to have a print sale, and how has the response been?
I was devastated the day this happened, and even more so, and extremely angry after being on the phone with Wells Fargo for 7 hours, when a close friend suggested I offer a print sale. He thought I had enough of a following, and many good friends, that they would help me. And sure enough, the photo community has been wonderful…and, really, the money is the least of it: I can’t believe how many friends and strangers all rallied around me. My heart is full!

Polly Chandler

Caged Soul © Polly Chandler

What is your process for making pictures?
I mostly use a Large Format 4×5 Toyo 45CX camera although I often shoot medium format film with my Mamiya RB67 and, yes, I also shoot digitally with my Canon 5D. Believe it or not, I’ve been using my iPhone to shoot little things I see. Film is my first love and I will use it until it’s obsolete.

I use Polaroid type 55 film which was discontinued in 2009, and took out a credit card at that time to buy as much as I could. So I am absolutely thrilled that New55 made it! But because there is such a limited amount of it, I location scout, take snapshots, and then sketch my ideas because each sheet of film is quite expensive.

Polly Chandler

Lay Your Head Where My Heart Used to Be © Polly Chandler

How did you come to develop your particular style?
I think my “style” developed in graduate school with the mentorship of a couple incredible instructors, particularly David Glimore, who is my mentor to this day. I took a large format class while in school, as well as a class called “Narrative Tableaux,” and those two classes changed the trajectory of my work.

I’m in love with large format, 4X5 photography. The format slows everything down as it’s a cumbersome process, and I think the level of difficulty adds to my interest in it as a “craft.” I can, of course, make a similar image using Photoshop, but I don’t get the same “high” or feeling of accomplishment. The digital process is too easy and feels like an afterthought. It’s important to me that my decisions in my image-making are done in the field, through the lens, in the camera and on film. Nothing is an afterthought and everything is done in-camera. I’m not anti-digital, I think it’s a great tool. I just think if you’re not careful, you can begin to think “oh, I’ll fix that mistake later.” And I would rather do it in the process of shooting.

As for my style, some people think it’s “dark.” Well, I can’t help it, it just comes out from within me…and I am ok with “dark!”

Polly Chandler’s fundraising print sale goes through this Friday, June 13. The photographs for sale are the first four images in this post. 10×10-inch prints are $50 each; 8×10-inch prints are $100 each. To purchase her prints, contact her via her website or Facebook page

Polly Chandler

Metamorphosis Betrayed © Polly Chandler

  • Billy Bob Bobberson

    Sadly this happens all the time to people of all business colours.

    When it comes to small-business Internet commerce: ALWAYS call the issuing bank and verify. Always.

    Or have them send an international postal money order.

    PayPal is a terrible idea. If a fraudulent/stolen CC is used and it goes through, PayPal will end up passing the chargeback to your PP account, and you’ll have no product as it’ll be long gone. Just Google for businesses and people screwed by PayPal when they got scammed and you’ll see how little PP cares for anyone other than themselves.

  • [email protected]

    sorry but this scam is not news… any business that allows this is in error.. the artist should never have let this happen period. it was 100% preventable.. learn from the error, you cannot change scammers, banks have many protections in place to prevent this kind of scam. Do NOT release the goods until the check clears.. duh.. this is standard business. i’m sorry you lost money, but don’t think it was purely unavoidable, it was 100% avoidable. didn’t the large purchase raise red flags? wise up.. artists are not supposed to be victims like this… and scammers do it all the time. i’m not condemning the artist, saying get real and wise.. don’t let people steal from you like that, and don’t let it happen.. don’t forget.. and don’t feel sorry for yourself.. you could have prevented it 100% with more careful procedures.

  • Steve D

    Fucking Wells Fargo, did exactly the same to my son.


  • melanie

    This is a well known scam within the art world, and while it’s sad this has happened to this artist, there are some basic business practices worth following. Never release artwork until all funds are cleared, never start spending funds before they’ve cleared – basic cashflow common sense (even if your bank enables you to). Unfortunately, due diligence by the artist is necessary.

    One quick and simple way to check the authenticity of the buyer, is to access the complete email address information in the header of the email … quite often the IP address is somewhere completely different to where they say they’re located. That’s a 1st clue.

    A quick google shows how well documented this is:

  • Patrick Larson

    Nice compassion guys. Nice.

  • D. Brent Walton

    Although this scam is attempted often, law enforcement and banks in the USA are unwilling to be proactive on this matter. If you get one of those checks (as I did), neither the police or bank will do anything until you deposit it. That means you’ll get charge the bounced check fees, and if you deposit it, suspecting that it is phony, you might also face criminal charges. When I called the police, they said I have to deposit it in the bank and then once it bounces, go through the bank to get the police involved. Eventually, I decided to do nothing with the check. The bank said because I told them I suspect it is fake, the would report me if it bounced. So, how in the world do they ever expect to prosecute these scammers?

  • rangerbanger

    A variation of this scam is the “new resident” scam who wants to hire an educator for his child–He indicates that he will pay you at a high rate and send you a deposit–good so far–however when the check arrives, his account “made a mistake” of perhaps two or three thousand dollars beyond the agreed amount–he asks that you deposit the check, send him the balance and keep an extra two hundred or so for your troubles–He asks for a cashier’s check–you discover later that the deposited check is fraudulent–

    I knew of the scheme by checking the name on Google, but thought the authorities might want to trace the transaction back so I led the conman along for a few days with delays–however there was no interest at UPS or whomever (no use of USPS because of the legal differences)–

    This fraud sounds far more ‘sophisticated’ with the calls back and forth, etc. but disappointing nonetheless

  • Polly Chandler

    we know it’s not new…still ain’t right. still sucks.

  • Polly Chandler

    Exactly. wtf. they need to watch fight club: it’s easy to say things behind a computer as a spectator….come out and engage. speak to me face to face…

  • Polly Chandler


  • Polly Chandler

    thanks for the tips, i got it now, believe me…

  • Polly Chandler

    Pay Pal is a TERRIBLE idea, agreed. Some folks sent payment through pay pal, and I cannot retrieve it, more money lost…

  • Thomas D Dittmer

    How unfortunate this occurred indeed! No lecture here as it appears you have had to learn the hard lesson. As for the banks, ever wonder what would happen if something like this would happen to them? Just ask the felons in your local prison serving 8- 10 -25 years for fraud, robbery, armed robbery etc about cold hearted banks…Just my two cents…hope you are recovering…

  • Polly Chandler

    Thanks Thomas, indeed: Lesson Learned! 🙂

  • Thomas D Dittmer

    I hope you put this behind you and move forward….

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