Rare books at the center of tricky scam

Published On: Nov 08 2012 10:07:22 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 09 2012 06:20:00 AM EST

If you're thinking of buying a rare book online, be very careful.  It's a multi-million dollar industry that's really grown as a result of internet auction sites.  But rare book collecting is also ripe for fraud.

Truman Capote, James Michener and John Grisham are authors whose works would seem to be perfect additions to a book collection, where at the heart of a scam US Postal Inspectors started investigating.

The suspect worked this scheme by purchasing unsigned first edition antiquarian books on eBay. He then forged the signatures of famous authors and resold them on eBay for much higher prices,” explained Inspector Al Harzog.

Authorities say the suspect had more than 450 stamps that were used to create near perfect signatures.

“Took the actual genuine samples of the authors signatures took them to a local stamp company and had actual stampers made so the stampers could be used to mass produce the fraudulent autographs,” said Herzog.

Book prices ranged from $50 to $1,000, each depending on the author and the book.  Buyers, who became skeptical of the signature, began complaining to Postal Inspectors who started checking the suspects background.

“We made some purchases of our own -- and eventually we were able to obtain a search warrant and that's how we were able to obtain the heat stampers," said Herzog.

If you are buying rare items or memorabilia online, exercise caution.  Postal Inspectors recommend always using credit cards, not debit cards, for online purchases.  Credit cards offer dispute rights, making it easier to reverse a fraudulent charge whereas using a debit card can instantly clean out your checking account.  And before you buy anything, always research the seller.

“In this instance, the defendant was one person operating out of his home, there was no business, no licenses, there was no reputation if you will in the antiquarian book business,” said Herzog.

The suspect in this case was sentenced to more than two years in prison and was ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution.

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