Naturally, most of us would love a free piano — especially if it was a free baby grand piano. However, free pianos are very rare to come by. And on the other hand, this free piano scam is becoming quite widespread.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That’s a lesson most of us have had to learn, and hopefully you haven’t had to learn it the hard way.
In case you need a reminder, please do heed our warning. There are some pretty convincing scams for free pianos going around. . . .
We’ve talked about why you shouldn’t get a “free piano” before. There are cases where a real person is willing to donate their piano as long as you can cover the $300+ move. It’s a risk we don’t advise most people take — but we don’t think they’re inherently scams.
How Does a Free Piano Scam Work?
Most times, a scammer is claiming to be giving away a free baby grand piano. More often than not, they’ll be Yamaha, Steinway or Kawai pianos. Basically, they’ll be valuable pianos that many would want.
They’ll send pictures and information about the piano that may seem pretty legitimate. Some will even have sophisticated setups and tactics such as fake websites, social media ads, and phone calls to make their offers seem really legitimate.
Of course, the thing is they don’t have the piano to begin with, they only have nice pictures that they copied from legitimate listings.
The telltale sign that this is the case is that they’ll claim they’re out of state, and that you can’t see the piano yourself because the piano is in transit. They’ll ask you to contact the movers and make arrangements with them.
Then, when you call these “movers” (a buddy of the scammer), they’ll ask you where you live. They’ll then say that they’re moving from Point A to Point B (which are in the same region that you’re in) and say that the cost for re-routing their truck and having their guys setup the piano in your home is about $1,000. Which is an expensive move, but very cheap for the piano they’re trying to “give away.”
So you pay the $1000 fee to have the trucks re-routed to your home, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear of the movers or the original donor. They have your money and they’re moving on, while you’re out $1,000 and have no piano.
These scams often target people who aren’t familiar with the piano industry, and who won’t be able to recognize fraudulent schemes. Therefore, it’s crucial to spot the red flags to avoid being their next victim.
What Does this Baby Grand Scam Look Like?
Piano scams aren’t new, but even Alice, Family Piano’s founder, was surprised by how convincing they’ve been looking recently.
Drew, another employee, also received at least 6 from a similar email address over the course of a month. They all went straight to spam initially, but upon opening them, they looked exactly like the email Alice had received.
Indeed, it isn’t usual for scammers to attach a face, but it does help convince you it could be legitimate. While people don’t tend to say they’re “infringing on your privacy” simply by sending you an email, the rest of the email isn’t too phishy. And it doesn’t help that we get tons of requests from people who are actually trying to sell/donate their piano!
Do consider that someone might have this email forwarded to them from a trusted friend or family member who believes the email to be legit. They may think it’s an incredible deal but since they don’t have room for it, they’ll forward it to a piano-loving associates. Then, because it’s “coming from” a trusted person, the new recipient is more likely to believe it themselves. So don’t forward anything you think could be a free piano scam! And if someone forwards it to you, send them this article!
We hope this email doesn’t look convincing to you, but unfortunately, there are others who have already fallen victim (or been close). . . .
The latest almost-victim was a favorite music professor retired from ________ with a music doctorate (brilliant man!) who is still very active in the music community – leader of ________ etc – who was already to send the money “for the move” on a Steinway grand someone would donate to the ________ to sell and make their budget – when a friend STOPPED HIM. . . .
This scam has been going on increasingly for 3 years at least. I’ve known a LOT of others – including piano teachers who should know better but are all ready to pay when they call [us] – often to find out how much it’ll cost to refurbish or do “some work [on the scam piano]” . . .
— Alice Alviani, founder of Family Piano
This almost-victim’s Reddit post has one of the more detailed accounts of the scam. The scammers made up a fake website and invoice but had sketchy payment methods!
How to Avoid All Piano Scams
Especially if you’re in the market for a piano, protecting yourself from scammers is crucial.
Here are some tips so you can avoid any potential free piano scam:
1. No one gives away outrageously valuable pianos. Scammers will sometimes claim they’re doctors trying to find a loving home for their 2014 Steinway or a big Yamaha grand. While there are occasionally nicer pianos that are given away, 99% of the time they’re not given away to strangers. It’s overall very rare to find a super valuable instrument for free.
2. A lack of logistics and contact information is sketchy. No specifics of what town the piano is in, a date the piano must be moved by, why it must be given away, nothing? Most of the time when people want to give us a piano that’s worth taking in, they give a ton of info. Moreover, no phone number can be shady too. 99% of the time, real people would prefer to just hash this out over the phone.
3. Using copypasta that’s already been reported on on the Internet. Scammers aren’t creative: they copy and paste their emails, and send them to hundreds of people. If you’re getting the same email multiple times, it’s probably a scam. Moreover, Reddit and Piano Forum will sometimes have posts from users who’ve received the same scam emails. And they also use weird spam phrasing like “so sorry to infringe on your privacy.” Try to Google strange text from the phishy email, and it may very well come up.
4. Avoid pianos out of the local area. Most times scammers won’t state this information up front. So if you’re not sure, you can entertain the scammer and ask. If it’s out of the area, there’s a 99% probability it’s a scam.
5. Do not send any private seller money for a move. If someone wants you to coordinate with their mover to deliver the piano to you, then it’s 1000% definitely a scam. In private sales, you can work with any professional piano mover you want directly, and have the mover call the seller to coordinate pickup. It’s standard practice for dealerships, and any legitimate seller won’t mind you do the same.
6. Don’t send any private seller money unless you’ve seen the piano yourself. Buying a piano online can be scary since you haven’t yet seen it. You should feel the same about any piano, even if it’s free. Ideally when working with private sellers, you’re bringing a technician to the deal so they can evaluate the instrument’s quality. No possibility of an evaluation, no deal. Simple as that.
7. Be wary of giving any personal information. Most scammers do want money. However, you should also be careful about giving them sensitive information. Definitely don’t give them a delivery address!
8. Be wary of the payment methods. We recommend only using PayPal Goods & Services if you’re working with a private seller. That way your purchase is protected, and you can easily get your money back in the case it’s a clever scam. Zelle, Venmo, Cash App and even Apple Pay don’t give you the same luxury.
Consider Working With Piano Dealers
A piano scam usually preys on a person’s desire to own a nice baby grand piano or other valuable piano.
While we covered an email scam going around now, there are similar schemes pulled on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace that you should also be cautious of.
Avoid falling for any of them and please remember to follow the tips we shared above. And don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d ever like a second opinion — we’re always happy to help, and we’ll never try to pressure you into buying from us either!
That said, we do encourage anyone piano shopping to consider working with an established piano dealer. By shopping at a store, you get to make an informed and confident decision, you’re guaranteed a high-quality instrument you’ll love, and you avoid all chances of falling for a free piano scam.
In any case, whenever buying a piano, always take the time to research all your options. You’ll often find a free piano isn’t the best piano for you. And in the worst cases, the free piano may not even be a real piano at all.