WWW. FRAUD!!


Till now, it's been David who's composed the PRB&M Adventures in Bookselling — though I've been there for 'em, and in 'em!   But as the one who's generally the "Business Partner" here, as David is generally the "Book Partner," I recently found myself leapt upon from the shadows by a fierce new book-world predator — the internet auction fraudster.   Ø THIS has been more than "Adventure" enough, for me!
        —— Cynthy


The U.S. was celebrating Memorial Day, 30 May 2000, and the shop was officially closed.   Shopcat Sessa was not prepared to skip his meals, however, and a small business–woman's work is never done, so I came over pretty much as usual that morning. "Tuning in" to my e-mail, hoping for a fine large order or some other cheeriness to open the day, I instead downloaded no fewer than • six • e-mails from people who had, overnight, observed and already followed up on something strange they had seen on eBay.

To: rarebks@prbm.com
Subj: Ebay auction of your Bible...
u   An "alcooking" and a "stonecold1001" were offering, in three separate auctions, two of OUR books, using images and descriptions taken directly from our website!

    8 Our informants told us that the "virtually stolen" items were our 1611, King James "He" Bible and a two-volume, luxuriously produced turn-of-the-century catalogue of the famous jade collection that constitutes the core of the one now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York — both of them at that time still offered on our site and still right here in our shop!   The former is priced at $35,500.00 and the latter was pegged at $35,000.00 even.

Click ME! Click ME!

CLICK ON THE IMAGES
to see the web offerings that were plagiarized


    8 I immediately went to the "auctions" whose URLs had been sent me from Ohio, Texas, Florida, and California and took time-stamped paper copies of their bizarrely fraudulent offers.
    n Bizarre and fraudulent for several reasons. Even leaving aside ownership issues(!), the Bible — memorably headlined in one auction, "1611 BIBLE OLD AND IN GOOD SHAPE" — was offered with full quoting of our paragraph celebrating the importance of the edition. But in one case NO physical description was offered, and in the other the volume was (re)described thus/[sic]: "It has some stains but does not distract from this work of art bible."

OUR description, on the other hand, minutely recounts a series of qualifications to the Bible's perfection — including a general title-leaf probably from a different copy; four leaves lacking from the preliminary matter and six leaves lacking at the end, including the last bit of Revelations; a New Testament title-page torn with considerable loss; and other tears and repairs both to binding and text block. We set our price and tempered our cataloguing to present a "GOOD" copy as these Bibles go — one with, "despite losses noted, no tattering and no general foxing or staining" — one that we were proud to describe accurately as Ø"far from a perfect copy but a pleasing one, priced in accordance with its faults more than its glories."

    Whereas good grief! — had the Bible only "some stains" as per "alcooking," we would have priced it at something closer to $60,000.00.

    Or even — if the binding were very fine (and it may be noted that NEITHER auction spoke a word of the binding or its condition) — as much as $80,000.00!

n The unauthorized auction of the jade books was not "fraudulent" in the same sense. The set displayed at our site and at eBay was in absolutely splendid condition, with nothing about it that would unpleasantly surprise any buyer — not even one who had paid undeniable top dollar.  n But the word "bizarre" is almost stupefyingly applicable because "alcooking" let stand the line in our description — "This edition . . . consists of one hundred copies . . . This copy is Number 100."

HE HIMSELF
identified "his" copy as our copy!!!

8 WOW! I thought.   THIS defines "brazen"!

u    n    u

Ú


With the cat (now returned from breakfast) at my side I quickly wrote thanks to my informants, and heard back from one of them, the Texan, that she would be glad actually to talk with me.   u   She was sure, as were most of my other correspondents, that she knew who the "auctioneer" was — AB, a small-time con-man in the Canadian province of British Columbia — and she had the contact information for the "RCMP" constable who was already attempting to form a case against him based on other scams.

8 WOW! I thought.   THAT'S the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police . . .

. . . I'm gonna meet a  MOUNTIE!!!


So I called my Texas — well, my Texas friend — and I heard a LOT of interesting stuff.   u   AB had used, she thought she had established, over 20 identities to run eBay auctions on other people's rare stamps and coins, not to mention one on a Monet that's hanging in a museum someplace!     n Aha, so there's the "stamp" connection, I realized — I'd observed that one of my other e-mailers had signed himself "eBay stamps ambassador" and that a third's nom de net had struck a stamp theme as well.

8 WOW! I thought.   These people are great —
they've been tracking AB —
they've pursued him from stamps to coins to BOOKS,
and they are not fooling around!

I took a break to do at least a little of what I'd come to the shop to do in the first place. So far, all that had been accomplished of the ordinary agenda was giving the CAT his breakfast.

Then, I called Constable Aristotle in Quesnel, B.C., and learned, having told my tale, a bit more about who AB was and what he seemed to have been up to.
Well known to his local police, he had most recently come to their attention when he tried to cash a US$7,000.00 check with a pawnbroker who'd suspected something wasn't quite right and called the station.

8 Whoever it was who bought whatever it was
AB didn't own that time, was saved.

Others hadn't been so lucky.


"But would anyone really pay US$35,000.00 sight unseen for a book over the internet?" Constable Aristotle asked.

"YES,"  I said, noting that that very week we had
sold one for
  US$45,000.00!

Ú

Click ME!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE
for description

Someone certainly could have offered "alcooking" or "stonecold1001" substantial money for our books, the books he was advertising — even, could have offered our posted prices or something beyond them. The King James, 1611 "He" Bible is an item for which there is a Ø real, discoverable price "track record" that might encourage some to think themselves rather CLEVER to "pick one up" for a mere couple of tens of thousands.   n A too-hopeful buyer fooled by the non-noting of faults in the eBay Bible auctions might have thought s/he was being clever at $50,000!

n And the jade books are so rare as purchasable on the market — because most of the 100 copies still reside exactly where they first went when the set was published, in major museums and old private libraries — that they are the CLASSIC sort of thing on which a $35,000 pricetag is not only a reasonable price for informed booksellers to set, it's an intuitively understandable figure for general public bidding to rise to.

8 It was the Mountie's turn to say WOW.

Over the next few days — all the while thinking, I don't have time for adventures! — I assembled for Constable Aristotle a dossier with "exhibits" marked A to E. I compiled e-mails, descriptions of the books from eBay and from our site, and a chronology of events, and had pictures taken of myself (looking grim) showing the books in our book room 6 June 2000. My favorite image offers a "blow up" of the jade books' limitation line. 8 I think that AB is what one lawyer friend calls " a petunia " is made perfectly clear!



But Constable Aristotle has a number of problems in "making" the cases he has in hand against AB, or in considering what might be done about ours. n First his local con-guy has branched out with the net's help, to working across national borders. Those he defrauds do not necessarily have standing to pursue their matters, or have them pursued on their behalf, in Canadian courts. n And so far AB's "takes" may have been Ø large sums to those who have lost them, but they are Ø small by the standards of international law. The big charges that create impressive
international

cases are not available for application.

Moreover, proving even a known rascal's INTENT to defraud buyers, in a case like the one involving AB's offerings of PRB&M's books, where no money-transference has actually [yet] taken place, is notoriously difficult in any case in any country. "Why," AB might say, "I simply thought I could sell their books for more than they were asking — then I'd have bought them from them, and sent them to my buyers —

    EVERYBODY WOULD HAVE BEEN HAPPY!"

Ú

"Right," I say.           "Whatever."

And I've got a really stunning item to offer the world on our next site update.
It's a delicate, 2- x 3-inch image of
WHAT WAS TO BE
JOHANN GUTENBERG'S
FIRST PRESS
,
drawn by him as a small boy of 9 and "printed" (using a potato) at his mother's kitchen table.

This treasure will be astronomically expensive, of course, and we will accept payment
ONLY
by cashier's check.



THE VERY POTATO ITSELF:
SEPARATE BIDS ACCEPTED


u    n    u 

Ú

Here's some seriousness, and in serious black "ink." Reviewing PRB&M's grievances, my grievances, against AB, some might feel that no damage at all was "really" done to us. We disagree!
  • First, our sales material, which is the basic, hard research-work of our days and our copyrighted intellectual property, was simply stolen.

  • Second, the world wherein books of the level in question are bought and sold is a relatively small one; those living in it notice when major books are offered, and by whom, and they are alert for apparent "partnerships."

  • We believe that there was the potential for real damage to our firm's professional reputation, in the appearance of our having permitted "alcooking" or "stonecold1001" to offer our books at amateur auction — and in ludicrously amateur styles at that.
  • Third, can you even bear to imagine — imagine seriously, on this black-ink level and putting aside the matter's undeniable "jolly anecdote" aspects — how much of our time and energy it's taken to respond responsibly to this incident?

  • Even before counting time spent, preparing this Adventure in Bookselling, in pursuit of the perfect .jpg of the perfect potato?


What did eBay have to say about it all? Well, several of our correspondents wrote to the fraud-watch section of eBay customer service, safeharbor, at the same time they wrote to me. Ø One of those writers got back a note saying, "I have reviewed the information that you have provided and have determined that the member involved has not violated any eBay rules."


    8 But over the course of the next few days the auctions of our books were taken down , we heard by phone from a very sympathetic (although not book-knowledgeable) safeharbor rep, and we were offered participation in something called the VeRo program, which, we gather, allows firms whose highly identifiable goods are vulnerable to unlicensed sale to demand that illegitimate auctions be terminated immediately. n n Thus would the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to be brought to bear for PRB&M as well as Disney, Tommy Hilfiger, and Rolex. . . .

These things were all good.

    8 In the end, eBay's "bottom line" is — it can't actively police the myriad auctions on its enormous, almost measureless site. It can only be responsive REactively — and I think that in truth the company is right about that reality.
    n The very point to eBay is to remove "bars to entry" on the business of "dealing" — to let anybody offer anything, and see what happens.

So the [ fill in your word here ] WILL happen!

u    n    u 

Ú


At this writing, we await developments in the Canadian, Quesnel courts.   u Will the determined, seriously irritated Constable Aristotle succeed in marshalling a case against AB that will persuade prosecutors to act?   u and will they then succeed in presenting a case that will persuade a jury to convict? If so, will a judge at sentencing take into useful, judicious account such data on AB 's approach to commerce as is embodied in my dossier and this account?

IF SO and if AB is taken out of commission and offline for any length of time, we may then largely thank those determined, seriously irritated e-mailers who have been dedicating many a late-night browsing-hour to accomplishing his downfall.

u    n    u

Ú

Eventually I'll supply a footnote to this adventure, noting its outcome. n n In the meantime, in closing, I invite you to remember the words of the streetwise, determined, and often seriously irritated sergeant on the '80s U.S. television series, Hill Street Blues:

When you're buying OR SELLING books
on the internet —
"Be careful out there!"


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