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Howard Ain, Troubleshooter: Art Fraud Scam

Updated: Tuesday, June 24 2014, 10:31 PM EDT
CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- Any number of websites can lead you to one-of-a-kind unique items.
   
But, how can you tell if you're really getting what you paid for?  Hundreds of victims got caught up in an international art scam and lost millions of dollars.  Michael Zabrin got caught selling forged art prints to undercover postal inspectors.
 
Tom Brady, a U.S. postal inspector, said, "We would attend some of the art shows and we would engage the dealers selling the counterfeit art.  So having that one-on-one conversation with somebody who is committing a crime is great evidence for us."
 
The sting operation was one phase of an international art fraud ring that cost a thousand victims more than $10 million.
 
Brady said, "They bought it from a variety of places, some were from Internet auction sites, some were from galleries.  Some from art shows and some were even purchased on cruise ships.  So there is a wide range of where the art was purchased."
 
Counterfeit work by world-renowned artists such as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso were allegedly for sale.
 
"They were marketing them as original, signed, limited editions prints.  So, for someone who is an art collector that is a dream for them to buy a signed limited edition print by that artist," said Brady.
 
Some victims paid up to $50,000 for one painting.
 
"When they went to try to re-sell them they were finding that these were counterfeit and they were not what they thought they were," Brady explained.
 
After multiple consumer complaints gallery and art experts helped postal inspectors track down the bogus art.

"This turned out to be one of the largest art fraud investigations we've ever conducted," said Brady.  "We seized over 25,000 counterfeit prints in the course of the investigation."
 
Postal inspectors said it is important to do your research. Consumers should ask for a "Certificate of Authenticity."  They could also ask the seller for a history of where the seller obtained the print.
 
Brady advised, "Contact people, ask questions. Don't feel pressured to make a purchase because it's here today."
                
Michael Zabrin, a twice felon, was sentenced to nine years for his role in the counterfeit art ring.  22 other people have also been arrested or convicted for their links to this case.



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