"Thousands of art and antiques dealers, fair organisers and auction houses have been targeted in a global extortion scam that involves victims being subjected to months – and even years – of threatening demands for money.
Unsuspecting British and foreign traders have been conned by what appear to be bona fide forms – either sent by email or posted – merely purporting to check whether their business details in a "free" international trade listing guide are correct. Only after sending off the form do victims discover that the small print commits them to paying thousands of pounds for placing an "advertising order" in the guide.
Those who are caught out are pursued relentlessly, enduring intimidating threats by letters or phone calls to pay up or face prosecution and debt collectors…
The fraudsters trade under different company names in different countries and, if the authorities catch up with them, they pop up again somewhere else. Many victims do not realise there is no legal basis for paying or are reluctant to incur legal advice, and are embarrassed into silence. Most recently, the art trade has been targeted by companies apparently based in Spain and Mexico."
Those who have been caught out included Ivan Macquisten, editor of industry newspaper the Antiques Trade Gazette, who said: "It has affected, personally, thousands of lives. It is a huge problem, but one that lots of people have never heard of…. They are banking on enough people being scared into paying."
Another victim, Ian Butchoff, an antique furniture dealer said he received one of the official-looking forms, followed by a letter "confirming" his annual €700(£600) payment, which he ignored. He then continued to receive menacing solicitors' letters from Switzerland. Butchoff's wife, who has a framing business, was also targeted, and ended up paying the sum demanded because, says Butchoff, they were threatening her.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has come across this problem – either an art dealer who has received demands, or a legal adviser who has been asked for advice in respect of such a demand – and how they dealt with it.
Clearly we need to get the word out to watch out for this scam. Perhaps the best advice to avoid the situation is the old adage "Always read the fine print!"
Source: The Guardian, 27 November 2011