FRAUD on Craigslist Bottle Collectors Beware
FRAUD on Craigslist Bottle Collectors Beware by Steven Libbey
Watch out for fakes, frauds and felons when buying unique items on line. One seller using Craigslist is listing photo shop edited images of antique bottles, then using them to convince unsuspecting antique bottle collectors to send money. While feedback systems and accountability of a credit card on file keep fraud at many web sales venues somewhat subdued, more ‘open format', slight or no oversight venues like Craigslist are coming on line every day. Social networking and forum sites where people can create whatever persona they choose are becoming more and more the venue of thieves, frauds and miscreants. The fact a Google or yahoo mail account can be set up and abandoned virtually anonymously at a moment's notice makes ferreting out who these people are even tougher.
Bottle fraud returns to Wisconsin. The fake Heck Racine clay beers are almost cartoonish in their unrealistic nature. So much so, the person who made the fakes and sold them as antiques cannot be held accountable for any buyer willing to believe miss-shaped, wrong-glazed, unglazed interior stoneware bottles are even possibly authentic 19th century stoneware. Today, YES right now today on Craigslist, antique bottle collectors are faced with a far more insidious fraud. An antique bottle seller from Minnesota actually has taken photos of real bottles off of a website, altered them with photo editing software and listed them for sale at substantial flat rates It is certain this culprit is not limiting themselves to online sales of fake antique bottles in their fraud.
The person actually used images from the http://www.mrbottles.com/ photo galleries to make his fake bottles. Playing on the impetuous nature of collectors who have missed out on opportunities to get a great bottle by hesitating on making a purchase long enough for another collector to step in and whisk away the target of their adoration. Having received a call from a collector friend only a few hours after a listing for a previously unknown quart sapphire blue Hutchinson soda bottle was put on Craig's list I jumped all over it. Seconds into viewing the listing and then a second listing that looked like it was from the same seller, the listings raised red flags. Undoubtedly, smarter people will try these frauds in the future and criminals like this one will learn from their mistakes. While I may not be the most experienced collector, I deal with a lot of collectors and novices from all over the country through mrbottles.com. This person's listings and method just weren't right.
I decided to accept the seller's price and even offered an extra hundred dollars to lock me in as his purchaser. My contingency was the bottle must be sent to me for inspection. If the bottle was in great condition and truly the color he represented it, I would send one hundred more than the seller was asking. Nearly $1000. If I didn't like the bottle I would send him a check for $50 for the inconvenience. The seller didn't respond to my email for a full day via email or phone. I wanted to get a phone number and as many emails as possible to track the seller. When the seller finally did respond, they indicated via email their phone had recently been disconnected. Very likely a ruse, YET it is interesting to note the listings and emails were generated from an IP address of a library in Minnesota. Having compared the first colored bottle to my gallery image in mrbottles.com it was perfectly clear the seller was using a ‘Photo-Shopped' image of a friend's antique bottle in their listing. With the help of Roger Peters we were able to track down five false auctions that were utilizing photo-shopped images from http://www.mrbottles.com/.
Owning the web company developing and hosting www.mrbottles.com where the images were taken to be photo-shopped allows the unique opportunity to have a network engineer track this person. While not absolutely finished on our part, it is very likely the staff at www.iNET-web.com will be able to provide authorities with evidence pointing directly to the culprit. Whether or not they are prosecuted remains to be seen. It will depend on if they actually succeed in defrauding people and how willing to pursue the culprit those people are and if the authorities take this seriously. Still, it provides a great lesson to people who buy online, especially collectors of unique antique items or art. With image editing software, anyone can "create" anything. With no-accountability listing services like Craigslist, people looking to steal can list images of things that don't exist and/or they don't have and take advantage of people who appreciate the historic or artistic value of those fictitious or ethereal items.
What is an internet surfing collector to do when opportunity (seemingly too good to be true) knocks, enticing with the impossible improvement of an antique bottle collection or stamp collection or coin collection or to buy a rare piece of art? You simply need to have the ‘bottle' in hand before you pay for it, unless there is way to undo the transaction if the antique bottle you are buying turns out to be a fraud. For a venue like Craigslist, if you can't pick the item up in person and pay for it after personally inspecting it, my recommendation is to simply take a pass on the item even if it is THE one you always wanted or right up your alley. With the murders and robberies that have been set up on Craigslist, extreme caution should be used even when you can go to inspect, buy/refuse and pick up the item.
Members of the small, niche interest communities like antique bottle collectors need to step up, educate and protect each other from people like this. Making others aware of this scam is why I took the time to write this article. Earlier in my antique bottle collecting days, yet not so long ago, I was bidding on eBay for an item that if it were real would have been a great find. A fellow collector sent an email letting me know he was certain the bottle was a fake. He was right and I am still grateful. Upon discovering this Craigslist scam, I notified a lot of collectors who might have a desire to chase the fake antique bottles this person was listing. For my part, I will be dedicating the time and resources to find out who this is and report them. If they were successful in sticking it to a collector, iNET Web may just be able to provide the evidence to get this person caught and prosecuted or at least get the victim refunded.
If good standing members of the general public don't stand up and stifle liars, cheats and frauds who use social forums and internet sales venues to victimize others, we stand to lose more than our money to occasional fraud. We stand to lose the freedom and the wide open reach the internet provides in communication and connection for collectors, as government perceives and reacts to a need to protect us from the worst of us.