NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — If you spend much time on social media, you've probably seen ads that sound too good to be true, like expensive art being sold for what you'd probably pay for a couple of cups of coffee.
As you may have guessed, it's a scam.
Online imposters are stealing photos from real artists and then creating their own fake ads. It's not just consumers who are losing out.
Paige Halls started creating beautiful mountain landscapes during the pandemic.
"They are actually pieces of wood that are cut into different shapes and then I layer them so they become like a 3D effect," she explained, adding, "And I hand paint or hand stain all of them."
Halls makes these pieces in her home studio in the Woodbine area of Nashville along with her partner, Sammy, who builds all of the frames by hand.
The scammers even went so far as to steal the reviews from Halls' website and posted them in their ads, changing only the names.
"It is really my biggest seller right now," she said.
Halls sells them through her business, Buttons and Pearl on Etsy. .
But you'll also find her work all over Facebook, Instagram and even Amazon.
Imposters are flooding the online market with ads featuring her pictures and her pieces but at a much lower price.
"They are anywhere from $20-$30 when my pieces sell for well over $300," Halls told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
But what you get when you buy from these ads is not Halls' work.
"My pictures are big because they are meant to be centerpieces, focal points in a room. And they [the scammers] are sending people that have bought them, these tiny little things. There are no bigger than a remote control and it is essentially a sticker. They have taken a picture of my work, made it into a sticker, and then are sticking it to a piece of particleboard and then sending that," Halls described.
Some who have bought the cheaper products have reported to Halls that they've received nothing.
"As of right now, I know of 26 different scam sites. But I am not the only piece of artwork on there. There’s hundreds of other artists' work on there that have been stolen, property that they are passing off as theirs," Halls said.
She continued, "They are targeting the masses. On Amazon right now, there are over 60 shops that have my work in them."
"It’s copyright infringement plain and simple," said Nashville attorney Shane Cortesi.
Cortesi specializes in patent and trademark issues and said stopping these scammers is next to impossible.
"If it was a typical company, we would file a lawsuit against the people trying to do that. The problem, in this case, is they are likely overseas entities," he explained.
Cortesi has been trying to help Halls get the ads removed. But Halls said the social media platforms have been reluctant to take them down and they have put the burden on her to prove that she is actually the artist and creator of the content.
"When it’s me in the photos. It’s my logo that’s copyrighted. It’s all of my work. It’s my hair, it’s my tattoos. It’s my house," she exclaimed.
So how do you get the real thing and not a fake?
Buy from the artist directly and not from a website you've never heard of.
You can go to Google and do a reverse image search on the pictures of the art and find the original source.
Look for the artist's watermark or logo.
If the price sounds too good to be true, you're probably not going to get art like Halls'. Your money will likely wind up in the hands of scammers and not the artist.
"It is just really disheartening to have this happening over and over. I mean, we are a small mom and pop shop in Nashville, Tennessee just trying to make a living and support our family," Halls said.
We reached out to both Facebook and Amazon — but neither company has responded.