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Rip-Off Alert: Art forgeries cost victims millions

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 4/18/2014 8:51 am
LAS VEGAS (KSNV — The Internet is a great resource for finding unique items, but how can you tell if you are getting what you paid for?

Hundreds of victims found out the hard way after getting caught up in an international art scam, losing millions of dollars.
In this Rip-Off Alert from Chicago, Michael Zabrin, the scammer in question, sold forged art prints to undercover postal inspectors.

“We would attend some of the art shows, and we would engage the dealers selling the counterfeit art,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Brady. “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.

“They bought it from a variety of places,” Brady said. “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,” Brady said. “So for someone who is an art collector, that is a dream for them to buy a signed limited edition print by that artist.”

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 we were,” Brady said.

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,” Brady said. “We seized over 25,000 counterfeit prints in the course of the investigation.”

Postal inspectors say it is important for consumers to do their research. They should ask for a “Certificate of Authenticity.” They also can ask the seller for a history of where he obtained the print.

“Contact people; ask questions,” Brady said. “Don’t feel pressured to make a purchase because it’s here today.”

Zabrin, a twice-convicted felon who was a member of this counterfeit art ring, was sentenced to 9 years in prison for his role in this case. Postal inspectors say 22 others have been arrested or convicted related to this case.


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