CHICAGO, IL -- The internet is a great resource for finding one of a kind, unique items. But how can you tell if you are getting what you paid for? Hundreds of victims found out the hard way after getting caught up in an international art scam that cost them millions of dollars.
Postal inspectors say Michael Zabrin sold forged art prints to undercover postal inspectors.
Postal inspector Tom Brady said, "We would attend some of the art shows and we would engage the dealers selling the counterfeit art. So having that one on one conversation with somebody who is committing a crime is great evidence for us."
The sting operation was one phase of an international art fraud ring that cost a thousand victims more than $10million. Brady said, "They bought it from a variety of places, some were from internet auction sites, some were from galleries, some from art shows, and some were even purchased on cruise ships, so there is a wide range of where the art was purchased."
Counterfeit work by world-renowned artists such as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso were allegedly for sale.
Brady said, "They were marketing them as original, signed, limited editions prints. So, for someone who is an art collector that is a dream for them to buy a signed limited edition print by that artist."
Some victims paid up to $50,000 for one painting.
Brady said, "When they went to try to re-sell them they were finding that these were counterfeit and they were not what they thought we were…"
After multiple consumer complaints – gallery and art experts helped postal inspectors track down the bogus art.
Brady said, "This turned out to be one of the largest art fraud investigations we've ever conducted, we seized over 25,000 counterfeit prints in the course of the investigation."
Postal inspectors say it is important to do your research. Consumers should ask for a "certificate of authenticity" they could also ask the seller for a history of where the seller obtained the print. "Contact people, ask questions. Don't feel pressured to make a purchase because it's here today."
Zabrin, a twice convicted felon, was a member of this counterfeit art ring. He was sentenced to 9 years in prison for his role in this case. Postal inspectors say 22 other people have been arrested or convicted with links to this case.