Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow
Counterfeits on the Internet
There are a number of Internet on-line auctions, such as the eBay auction site. These sites are a major avenue for peddling counterfeit antiques. Buyers should exercise extreme caution.
The on-line auction company provides the hardware and software to conduct the auction. The actual items being sold are provided by individuals who also provide the description. Bidders submit their bids through the on-line auction company but deal with the actual seller as to payment, shipping, guarantees, etc. Frequently, the sellers are able to cloak themselves behind nicknames and anonymous e-mail addresses. This is an open invitation to cheats and thieves - the definition of the repro industry.
We should say, right up front, that the auction companies are not at fault. They are providing an honest service and will even attempt to assist cheated customers to retrieve their money. And we should also say that vast majority of sellers and transactions on these services are legitimate and are completed to the satisfaction of both parties. We don't intend by this alert to scare anyone away from these services. (Though they should, of course, buy at Coxsackie Antique Center and from our web site, www.coxsackie.com instead.)
If you are considering buying through an on-line auction, you should take several precautions.
- Read the description of the item very very carefully. Don't make assumptions. If it doesn't mention something important, assume it's because the seller doesn't want you to know about it. We bought a nice set of books described as being in excellent condition. When they arrived, they lacked dust jackets. When we went back and re-read the description, it was apparent that the description had been written in a deliberately deceptive manner. Be warned by descriptions that sound too cute or leave you thinking the seller is simply too naive to realize that he should mention condition, marks, etc. And if the description starts to turn legalistic and get bogged down with weasel words, it's because they're trying to cover themselves against what they expect will be an attempt to return the item. Only buy from sellers who say "Satisfaction guaranteed. Period."
- "Preview" items when they are first listed. Most on-line auctions run 7 days and offer you an opportunity to ask the seller questions. Wait to bid at the end if you want, but ask those questions early. Carefully read the description for omissions or ambiguities. Then fire off a list of questions, especially including this one - "What is your return policy?" If you play the last three hours game, you don't have the opportunity to ask those questions and you greatly increase your risk.
- Pay attention to what's being peddled by the repro wholesalers. Every time they come out with a new product, there is a spate of that item in the auction listings. If you suddenly see a dozen brass sextants, be very suspicious. Last christmas one of the counterfeit houses in Pennsylvania sold fake kugels for $12.95 a dozen. (They even had pre-rusted hangers!) A blizzard of fake kugels appeared on the internet selling for hundreds of dollars each. If the buyers had been paying attention, they'd have seen that they were all the same sizes, colors, shapes, etc.
In conclusion, on-line auctions offer a fun way to buy and sell. The overwhelming majority of transactions work out fine, but it only takes a few crooks and one expensive error to ruin it.
© 1997-2002 Coxsackie Antique Center