How Art Forgers Sell Fake Art on eBay
and Make Big Money
Disclaimer: The following article is a satire and is no way intended to promote or encourage crime of any kind. For you folks who think you know something about art, but who don't have years of experience to back that supposition up, let this serve as a cautionary tale about how easy it is for criminals to victimize naive or unsuspecting art buyers, not only on eBay, but elsewhere as well...
Tired of working same old job? Ready to give up that nasty commute and work from home? Want to be your own boss? Need extra income? Well, fret no more because now you can live the criminal lifestyle of your dreams by making big money selling fake art on eBay.
"But that's illegal," you gasp, recoiling in horror. Of course it is, but eBay doesn't care. All you have to do is look. Anyone who knows what they're doing can find any number of questionable, misrepresented and outright bogus artworks for sale on eBay with hardly any effort at all.
"But I don't know anything about art," you say. Not a problem. The morons who'll be bidding on your fakes don't know anything either. But unlike you, they think they do, which makes bilking them out of hundreds, thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per fake, virtually effortless. Yes, committing felonies and misdemeanors has never been easier. Fake Chagall, Picasso, Warhol, Dali, Miro, Haring, Basquiat, Degas, Van Gogh-- take your pick. They say crime doesn't pay? Well, crime is OK on eBay.
"But nobody's that stupid," you insist. Well, guess again. In the old days, experts on stupidity used to believe that a sucker was born every minute. That was before eBay. Now researchers into imbecilic behavior can go onto eBay, watch real bozos get ripped off all day long, count them up, and easily verify that far more than one sucker is born every minute. So are you ready to flaunt the law and ascend to the next tax bracket? Of course you are. Let's see how you can join the ranks of real criminals and victimize naive and innocent bidders...
Step one is to find a piece of art. Paintings are always good, but tend to be more expensive, harder to locate, and more difficult to doctor, so look for drawings, watercolors, prints and other works on paper. Works of art on paper are the easiest to manipulate, particularly prints (especially lithographs found in books about famous artists), and are recommended for crooks who are just starting out. Best procedure is to wait until you've got your water wings before you tackle paintings.
You can find cheap works on paper at places like second hand stores, junk shops, flea markets, garage sales, and rummage sales. Choose pictures that have a little age and look important. Better quality used bookstores and online used book databases are good places to find art books with prints or lithographs by famous artists in them. If you decide to cut your prints out of books, pick images that are printed on heavier paper, and make sure they're blank on the backs with no text from the next or previous page-- you don't want to be too obvious.
If your art already has a famous artist's name on it, you know who it's by, or you know what artist's art it looks like, skip this step and proceed directly to "Fake the Signature." If your art is not signed or you don't know who it's by, or it's by a minor artist and you want to upgrade it to a major one, you'll have to match its style up with that of a famous artist. You'll find loads of examples of famous art by famous artists in art books at your local library or at large bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Noble. You can also look online. Look at art by different artists until you find one whose art looks like yours. Then you'll be ready to move on to the next step and fake the signature. Hint: The more famous the artist you match your art up with and fake, the more money you'll be able to extract from clueless bidders, so stick to household names like Picasso, Warhol, Chagall, Miro, or Dali. (Why commit a misdemeanor when committing a felony is just as easy?)
If you already know something about art or have some art education, you can probably match your art up with little or no help. But remember-- even if you don't know a single thing about art, all it takes is a little practice looking at famous art by famous artists, and before you can say "Warhol ate my homework" you'll be able to match fakes with artists in your sleep. By the way, your art doesn't have to look that much like the artist's art that you say it's by, but the more it does, the more birdbrains will bid on it.
After you match an artist to your art, your next step is to sign that artist's name somewhere on the art. You can sign it on either the front or the back, but signing on the front usually elicits more bids. The easiest signatures to add are ones you write in pencil, pen, crayon or marker on works on paper. If you're new at breaking the law by committing art fraud, use pencil on a work on paper.
Find a good clear example of your artist's signature and then practice writing it on scratch paper until you get good at copying it. This may take several hundred signings, but be patient. You'll soon get the hang of it and be able to sign almost as well as the artist. By the way, you can often find good clear examples of famous artists' signatures on eBay. Don't worry if they're genuine or not. The doinks you'll be swindling won't know the difference either.
Additional signature pointers:
* If your art is already signed, but the signature is part of the picture ("signed in the plate" or printed by the company that made the art), add a signature anyway. A hand-written signature always enhances the value of a phony work of art.
* If you have trouble faking an artist's name, fake only the artist's initials, and then say whose initials they are in the text of your item description (see below). This tact usually works, but don't expect the kind of bidding you'll get when you fake the whole signature.
* If you have hand tremors or other problems copying the signature, date the art with a year close to when the artist died. That way, you'll be able to explain why the signature looks a bit forced, contrived, or shaky.
Your eBay item description is the centerpiece of your flimflam, the hook that reels in the live ones. Well-written descriptions mean more bids on your ersatz art and more money in your pocket. So take some time, be thoughtful, and be creative. All dollars aside, the entertainment value alone of watching fools line up to get fleeced is more than worth the time it takes to skillfully misrepresent your forgeries.
Make up a convoluted story about your art's ownership history. Just about anything will do. Some eBay theorists believe that the more convoluted a story is, the more pinheads will believe it. Whatever tall tale you tell, keep it vague and unverifiable.
For example, say something like "We present this important Vincent Picasso drawing to the open market for the first time ever. According to the current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, a wealthy art collector bought the drawing at a major European art gallery sometime in the early 1960's. Several years later, the collector gave it to his contractor in partial payment for a kitchen remodel. In the mid-1980's the contractor joined an obscure religious order, renounced all of his worldly posessions, and gave the drawing to his son. Several years ago, the son, a cross-dresser, rear-ended the current owner (actually, the current owner's car) while applying lipstick during the morning rush hour. The drawing was given to the current owner as part of an out-of-court settlement for damages resulting from the accident."
Stories like this make the art sound pretty good, but you can make it sound even better. No matter how worthless your art is, exaggerate its importance with a few well-placed art words. For example, describe a mass-edition reproduction print by the process used to print it-- a heliotype, an offset lithograph, a photogravure, or whatever. Cortically challenged bidders will have no idea what you're talking about, but will believe that those words make the art more valuable. Hint: If you're worried that a few bidders might actually know what an offset lithograph is, drop the "offset" and use just the word "lithograph." Point of information: Telling the truth here and there is unlikely to compromise the overall integrity of your fraud.
The art word "provenance" is especially good to use in your descriptions. Provenance in the art business refers to chain of ownership, and is important when it speaks directly to the authenticity of a work of art. Never mind that; use the word any way you want. For instance, at the end of the Vincent Picasso drawing description above, say something like "A copy of this provenance will be provided to the winning bidder along with the art."
Additional ways to trump up your fake's believability:
* Call your art "museum quality" and pepper your description with superlatives. Don't worry; they'll believe it.
* Write an effusive verbose excessive rambling treatise about the artist, his life, and his career (include the artist's birth weight only if you're offering a very early work). You can cut and paste artist biographies and career information right off the Internet and into your description (don't worry about copyright infringement). Note: Long detailed descriptions are excellent for hiding disclaimers (see "Skirting Fraud Laws" below).
* Go on and on about the highest prices that the artist's art has ever sold for at auction. Even though you're only offering a magazine illustration worth a quarter, talk about paintings that have sold for millions.
* If the art's been recently framed, refer to the framing with phrases like "framed to museum standards," "archival materials," and "UV protection." The dundernoggins you'll be duping believe that if the framing is good, that means the art is good too.
* Claim to have names of previous owners, certificates of authenticity, or other forms of proof that authenticate the art, but say in your description that you'll only provide those to the winning loser AFTER the sale is complete. Then send them photocopies of letters or documents that you found in books or library archives. You can also use copies of documents you find on the web. These documents should mention the artist's name and/or discuss art similar to the art you sold, but never specifically mention your art. Note: Your documents should always be photocopied; photocopies are much easier to manipulate than originals. Don't worry-- the infinitesimal intellects who buy your art won't think to question your documents, and won't ask to see the originals.
* Block out or falsify addresses, phone numbers, or other specific contact information on any of your copied documents if you think they can be easily traced. Say that you're doing this to protect previous owners' identities. You can also replace real names or addresses with nonexistent ones.
* Conning cretins with copies works well, but with experience, you'll be able to produce your own falsified documents including appraisals, ownership records, and certificates of authenticity. That will save you the trouble of having to locate and falsify documents belonging to others.
* When you make up names, put initials after them like "Appraised by Dr. Brantley Snerker, S.C.M." We all know that people who have initials after their names are right far more often than people who have no initials after their names.
* When fabricating names of businesses, use non-specific ones like "American Fine Art Appraisal Partners," "Appraisals International," or "Quality Art Investments, Inc." Locate them in big cities like New York, Miami, or Los Angeles, but don't provide any addresses or other contact information.
* Documents should be dated before 1980, preferably in the 1960's or 1970's, because then they're difficult to trace. You can say you tried to contact the experts or the companies that authored them, but couldn't find them.
Extracting a pea-brain's money is one thing; keeping it is another. Judicial use of disclaimers is essential to assure that the pathetic boneheads who will be financing your flamboyant new lifestyle have no recourse to get their money back in the unlikely event that they ever figure out they've been reamed.
* Include a quiet unobtrusive statement in your description like "Sale is finalized upon receipt of payment."
* State somewhere else in your description, preferably hidden in the middle of a really boring part where you're running on and on about nothing that's even remotely related to your art, that though all evidence points to the fact that your art is genuine, you are selling it as "attributed to the artist" rather than by the artist.
* Place the bulk of your disclaimers elsewhere on eBay, on a totally different page from your for-sale listing, and casually suggest that bidders click over to that page and read it before they bid. If they don't, and most won't, they'll have no idea how royally screwed they'll be if they buy your art. "But how the frig can I do that?" you ask in disbelief. Simple. eBay offers an amenity called a "me" page where you can type disclaimers until your hands cramp up. Have a section where you discuss and define terms used in your listings like "attributed to," "in the manner of," "in our opinion," or "in the style of." Then clearly state that no refunds will be given on any art that is described using any of those terms. You can also use your "me" page to blather on about how honest you are, how much you love art, that your second cousin was an Eagle Scout, and how long you've been in business.
* Guarantee that the buyer will be entitled to a full refund if the art has not been properly represented as an original watercolor, drawing, lithograph, print or whatever else it actually is. Say something like "We guarantee that this is a genuine pencil sketch on paper." Only guarantee the medium, though; never guarantee that it's by the artist whose signature you've added.
* Offer a full refund within ten days if the muttonhead who buys it snaps out of his IQ coma and provides a recognized expert's opinion saying the art is not by the artist whose signature it bears. Don't worry-- you'll never have to refund any money. First of all, finding a recognized expert is not easy. Second, paying for that expert's opinion is expensive-- usually costing hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Third, getting an expert's opinion within ten days is almost impossible because they have to see the art in person, meaning that you have to ship it to them. Fourth, if the buyer says he's found an expert, tell him you don't recognize that person as an expert.
Other helpful hints:
* In the old days, you could use "private" auctions to hide bidders' identities. Private auctions prevented people who saw that you're committing crimes from emailing the clever victims who couldn't wait to get rich at your expense. These days, eBay hides the identities of all bidders, so there's no way anyone can notify yours that you're ripping them off.
* Only accept checks, money orders, cashiers checks, wire transfers, certified checks, or other forms of cash. That way, the dorks you nail will have a really tough time trying to get their money back. The good news is that if they're stupid enough to buy your bogus baloney in the first place (and they will be), they're unlikely to ask for refunds later.
* If, by some extraordinary stretch of the imagination you have to refund a bidder's money, go ahead and do it. As soon as you get the art back, put it up for sale on eBay again. It'll sell just as easily as it did the first time.
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