Beware of online fakes

Published On: Nov 15 2012 09:54:25 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 16 2012 07:45:00 AM EST

It’s no secret that we love to shop online. We’re spending billions of dollars each year doing it, and that includes purchasing what we assume to be one of a kind, unique items. But how can you tell if you are getting what you paid for?  

You don't have to be an expert to enjoy beautiful art, but what may look appealing to the eye, could be junk.

“There are thousands of victims and there are millions and millions of dollars in loss. This investigation has a global impact,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Lee Jones.

Jones is talking about the online sale of counterfeit prints by world-renowned artists including Mark Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

The fake prints have unique numbers and forged signatures--making them look like “limited editions.”  And some victims have paid up to $50,000 for a single one.

“A consumer should look for a certificate of authenticity, from the seller. In addition they should also ask the seller for a history of where the seller obtained the print,” said Jones.

Postal inspectors often go undercover to crack these cases. An inspector poses as a buyer of counterfeit artwork.  The print is then examined in a laboratory. Once there’s confirmation the art is bogus, agents move in for an arrest.

Postal inspectors rely on tips from gallery owners and art aficionados to zero in on scams.

“I would suggest that consumers contact a legitimate art expert or contact the artists’ foundation to legitimize the print. And also, I would strongly suggest the consumer ask the seller a lot of questions,” said Jones.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, including online auctions, mailed sweepstakes or lotteries, you can file a complaint on the government website at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.