eBay Headquarters. Photo Sarah Gilbert via Flickr

Several online art sale scams recently uncovered on eBay have underscored the need for buyers to be vigilant when shelling out money for works online. Stories invented whole cloth about the provenance, or ownership history, of a work, right down to questionable forms of authentication documents, have been used to peddle purportedly authentic Jackson Pollocks, Keith Harings, and Andy Warholss alongside other well known artists.

To be sure, even top auction houses, online auctioneers, and respected dealers are not immune to the problems of fakes and forgeries.But eBay is such a vast auction platform, and many of its would-be buyers not as savvy as seasoned collectors who buy frequently from reputable auction houses or galleries and know what to look for. Thus they are potentially much bigger and easier targets for someone with a good story about how a work was “discovered,” and more easily duped into believing they have stumbled onto a hidden treasure.

The FBI recently  arrested John D Re of East Hampton for allegedly selling fake Pollock paintings privately and on eBay–more than 60 pieces for almost $1.9 million–starting in 2005.  A small group of clients all bought Re’s story that a cache of Pollock paintings had been discovered in the cleaning-out of an East Hampton woman’s basement in 1999. Forensic analysis and reviews by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) later concluded all were fake.

The Telegraaf identified Geoffrey Spilman, the son of a vicar in Rugby, Warwickshire, as being behind the sale of a slew of fake paintings on eBay. Spilman, 48, is churning out three pictures a week and selling them online from his modest flat, for several hundreds of pounds each, according to the report. They come with forged signatures, the report states. In recent months, Spilman has told potential buyers that the works belonged to his late father or were found in a house clearance or art fair, and that, due to a lack of paperwork, their provenance could not be guaranteed. In reality, he is suspected of having painted many of the works himself, the report states.

Charles Uzzell Edwards, owner of London’s  Pure Evil Gallery,who happened upon a substantial inventory of little-known 1980s Pop art ephemera on eBay, being sold by a Swedish seller just over two months ago. The online find included subway drawings attributed to Haring as well as Polaroids said to be by Warhol. Edwards bought some pieces online, and then negotiated to buy a larger group of works from the Swede, who sells under the username bobing33 and eventually identified himself to Edwards as Patrick Maske. Maske claims that the works belonged to his late father. Edwards, who originally planned to offer the works for sale through his gallery, now believes the works are not authentic and has withdrawn them for sale.

eBay’s policy: “Ebay has some rules that you must be able to verify the authenticity.” and that’s about it.


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