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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CREDIT CARD INVESTIGATION SHOWS ART MARKET OPEN TO INTERNATIONAL FRAUD



Credit card investigation shows art market open to international fraud
Criminal charges brought after London and regional UK auction houses are targeted

By Riah Pryor. Market, Issue 235, May 2012
Published online: 17 May 2012

A criminal network is believed to have targeted more than 30 auction houses across the UK, using fake credit cards to steal works of art. While initial reports claimed that the suspects only approached regional auction houses, it is now clear that London-based Bonhams and Christie’s were also affected, and that there are problems with the way the market checks financial transactions.

Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit launched an investigation in October 2010 but the case was handed to Wiltshire Police after it emerged that the force was already looking into a number of similar offences. Simohamed Rahmoun, 30, Barbara Ursula Goossens, 60, Farouk Dougui, 39 and Jabey Alan Bathurst, 23, were arrested last year and charged with conspiracy to defraud a number of auction houses this January. Rahmoun, Dougui and Bathurst were also charged with defrauding car-part suppliers. A trial is expected later this year. At the time of going to press we were unable to contact the defendants’ lawyers and it is unknown whether they deny the charges.

“[The problem is that people] were buying goods over the phone and picking them up before the transaction had cleared,” says the director of one of the defrauded auction houses, who wishes to remain anonymous. “We trusted that banks would be doing checks at their end. Aside from the usual identity checks we can’t tell whether the card that people use over the phone is theirs.”

The amount of money lost has not yet been established. Since the arrests, police have issued further warnings about accepting credit cards from telephone bidders. Many auctioneers are now asking for clearer guidance on how to make cashless transactions less risky.


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