Every year, consumers lose hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing supposedly valuable commodities that do not live up to their billing. Among the most popular of these bogus items are counterfeit art prints. So before you buy that “Picasso” as a holiday gift, read on.
Among the most frequently counterfeited prints are ones purportedly done by famous artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro. Consumers from all walks of life are targeted in these scams. Recent Federal Trade Commission cases indicate that those buying counterfeit art work include doctors, farmers, stockholders, housewives, and even other artists.
If you are taken in by a false art sales pitch, what you get is considerably much less than promised. After paying anywhere from $500. to $10,000 or more, you may get art work valued at no more than $50, the equivalent of a poster you might buy at a museum.
Many of these bogus pieces are copies of images created by well-known atrtists, produced without the artist’s knowledge or authorization and carrying a forged artist’s signature.
Others are counterfit art pieces produced in the style of well-known artists. In still other instances, the art work is authentic but its value and investment potential are far less than what you are led to believe.
The scenario for trapping consumers into paying inflated prices for counterfeit are works varies. One common tactic is to send you a letter describing a contest or drawing giving away a free original lithography by a famous artist. You are asked to return the postcard with your name, address, and phone number. Your postcard probably will trigger a telephone call from the scam operator, who tries to convince you to buy a valuable work of art. The caller may claim to be offering a “fabulous opportunity” to obtain a limited-edition print that will be “an excellent investment.” You may be told that a famous artist is near death and that you should buy now, since the value of the art work will increase after the artist’s death. You will likely be offered a “certificate of authenticity” attesting to the genuiness of the work. And, often you are promised a trial examination period with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Fake art prints are not just sold over the telephone. They also may be sold at seemingly reputable art gallaries in your own community. You may find authentic works by contemporary artists hanging side by side with fake Dalis and Chagalls. Sometimes the dealer will pitch the print as an investment opportunity. The dealer also may downplay the investment angle and try to sell the print as a valuable collectible.
Although there is no foolproof way to protect yourself if you decide to invest in art, the following suggestions may be helpful.
Get professional advice. Counterfit prints are often so well produced that few lay persons can tell the real thing from a fake. Therefore, it is very important to consult a reputable expert, such as an art appraiser or museum curator, before finalizing the purchase of any art work attributed to a well known artist. Ask the dealer for specific information about the piece, including the edition size, the print medium, the year of publication, and the printer-publisher, all of which will help an expert evaluate the work.
Tell the dealer you want the sale to be conditional, based on an appraisal of the piece by an expert of your choice. Make sure that you have a signed agreement promising your money back if the work is found to be a fake. Be sure to read the fine print.
Be extremely careful about buying art work over the telephone. It is very difficult for consumers to guage the value and authenticity of a work of art or the credentials of an art firm by telephone. You may want to check with Northeast COMBAT or the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether complaints have been lodged against the company contacting you. Be aware, however, that many fraudlent telemarketing companies frequently change their names, so there are may be no complaints lodged against them.
Be skeptical of authenticity claims. Art dealers often provide “certificcates of authenticity” or written appraisals with the prints they sell to support their claims in writing. Keep in mind, however, that such documents are only as reliable as the firms that back them.
Without your credit card number, sales people have minimal access to your money. You risk big losses when you give your credit or charge card numbers or other personal information to unfamiliar salespeople who make unsolicited calls.
Consumer Forum is a collaborative effort of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast COMBAT. Send your questions to Consumer Forum, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. COMBAT is a membership organization with basic dues of $10 a year. For membership information write to the above address. Please enclose a large, stamped, self-addressed envelope.