Archive for the ‘Theft’ Category

Service of Burying the Lead in a Story About Art Recovery

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

Congrats to the New Paltz, N.Y. curator and librarian who located two Ammi Phillips [1788-1865] oil paintings of Dirck D. Wynkoop and his wife, Annatje Eltinge stolen from the local historical society– Historic Huguenot Street–50 years ago. New York Times reporter Vimal Patel wrote a good piece covering how they unearthed the primitive portraits of descendants of first Dutch settlers in the area so the FBI could close the recapture. The buyer didn’t know that the pictures were stolen and they are back at the historical society.

The amateur detectives found the pictures in a Sotheby’s catalog. They had been sold in 2005 for $13,000. Phillips portraits have sold as much as in the early seven figures.

Phillips worked for 50 years and of 2,000 pictures he was thought to have painted, some 400 have been attributed to him. Many 19th century American itinerant primitive portrait artists didn’t sign their work or for other reasons remain anonymous.

But what got me in this story was the auction house’s passive role 17 years ago. I think if not a headline, it should warrant a subhead.

Sotheby’s didn’t appear to perform due diligence when it accepted the portraits. Patel reported: “The couple’s names were on the backs of the paintings. Ms. Johnson said that should have been enough information for the auction house to know the paintings were stolen.” Carol Johnson, one of the successful sleuths, is a librarian at Elting Memorial Library in town.

Patel wrote: “A lack of transparency among auction houses and a desire to protect the privacy of art buyers and sellers create a culture in which art theft can flourish, said Erin Thompson, an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Dr. Thompson says auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s argue that art is often sold under sensitive circumstances — the ‘three D’s’ of death, divorce and debt. According to Dr. Thompson, these are the circumstances that the auction houses contend beg for privacy.”

Thompson added that this approach sets the stage for laundering stolen work.

Have you heard of other citizens being instrumental in finding long lost art or objects? Do you think that auction houses should be proactive in vetting the work they sell so as to identify stolen works?

Service of the Art of People Thinking They Can Get Away with Things

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

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I feel wonder when I read about a long-time super scammer and all the people bamboozled and harmed. And then there are those who think that they can whitewash dirty deeds with good ones. They’ve all been at work for centuries. How is it that each thinks they’ll be the ones to get away with their dastardly deeds?

Artful Theft
The incidence that triggered half this post involved a Canadian dealer who collected art on consignment or to appraise and instead of returning pictures or giving the original owner the sales proceeds he kept the money or a thousand works to the tune of tens of $millions, according to Jo Lawson-Tancred on artnet.com.

Police haven’t identified the thief, though he has been arrested and released. Lawson-Tancred postulates his name and his gallery based on other news sources.


Image by Kai Pilger from Pixabay

What a Pill
The Sackler family, whose marketing methods to promote painkiller Oxycontin for Purdue Pharma helped addict millions while making bucket loads of money, had for decades burnished the family name by supporting cultural institutions and initiatives here and abroad. Artist Nan Goldin, who once suffered from opioid addiction, founded an advocacy organization, Sackler P.A.I.N., to pressure museums to cut ties with them. As a result a few more have just erased the Sackler name from walls and websites according to Sarah Cascone, also with artnet.com.

She reported that although it took a while, The Guggenheim in NYC has finally removed Sackler from its Center for Arts Education and in London, the National Gallery made a similar move. About its Room 34 she wrote: “The name had been in place since 1993, when Mortimer and Theresa Sackler funded the renovation of the room, rehanging works by British masters in a space once dedicated to 18th-century Italian paintings, according to the London Times.”

Cascone further reported: “The latest draft of the bankruptcy settlement will allow institutions in the U.S. to remove the family name without penalty.” Yet there are a few dragging their feet. The Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics and Sackler Educational Laboratory remain in place at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A in London, “has been outspoken in his continued support of the family,” and its name remains on the Sackler Courtyard.

Artist Goldin told Cascone: “We hope that billionaires who shower institutions with their blood money watch the Sacklers’ cultural reckoning and take note that they can be next.”

Is the art world more vulnerable to scams than other industries? Have you heard about any skillful scammers of major proportions of late? Do you agree that the Sackler name and reminders of the family’s generosity from money made off opioid addiction should be removed from the museums it has supported?

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Service of a Fresh Crop of Spam & Cyber Threats

Thursday, April 28th, 2022

It’s spring and with it comes a fresh crop of SPAM texts and emails–some annuals, others perennials–most of which contain links to potential cyber threats, bank and credit card invasions. We’ve come a long way from the days of “your friend has been robbed during a trip to Europe and has no money so please send some ASAP.”

So to begin: Did you know that my account was closed? What account, you ask? Good question. The email doesn’t say.

Citi wannabes text me frequently telling me that they’d limited my account due to “unusual activity.” That would be troubling except I don’t maintain an account at that bank, the action as described makes little sense and the sender is clearly a hoax [photo above].

I’m regularly asked to review my resume which I’d not sent anyone to edit.

A subject line in a recurring email is in response to my job application. Since I opened my agency 26 years ago I’ve not applied for a job. But so many have so what a nasty trick to get some to open an email.

Friends report getting the same announcement from the Geek Squad thanking for renewing a contract with them and saying they’ve charged my bank account $347. I get this periodically. Even though I count on a miracle-working IT man to sort out my computer woes, the first time I saw it I checked to confirm that my bank account was intact.

A relatively new unsolicited email sends me my payroll review. I’ve never subscribed to such a service so that’s another easy one to skip, [photo below].

Have you noticed an uptick in attempts to trip you up, pry into your private information or seen any new and clever scams?

Service of Crime and Quick Thinking

Thursday, April 14th, 2022


Image by Azmi Talib from Pixabay

New York Police Department statistics showed an almost 59 percent increase in crime overall between this and last February with upticks in categories such as robbery–56 percent–grand larceny 79 percent and grand larceny auto, 104 percent. The good news: shootings decreased by 1.3 percent, although I suspect April, 2022 stats will sadly accelerate upwards.

New Yorkers speak about it among ourselves. I dropped by a family-owned butcher shop this week on 9th Avenue a few blocks from the Port Authority Bus terminal. It’s been in business for 90 years. The butcher told me how he has advised his daughter, an NYU student, to walk around the city. He came out from behind the counter to demonstrate–heads up, standing tall, not hunched over looking at the ground. And as all New Yorkers have always known: Be aware of your surroundings. [Me to everyone who walks and texts: Don’t. And lower the volume on your earbuds.]

Image by LillyCantabile from Pixabay

If a victim we can’t predict how we’ll react. A friend who is a longtime veteran of retail sales just recounted once being held up at gunpoint on the upper west side of Manhattan. This was years ago in the age of “knuckle busters,” early credit card imprinting devices. In those days a business needed to submit the receipts for payment. As she scrambled to hand over what was in the cash register she pleaded with the thief to leave behind the credit card receipts and checks. Imagine: Bargaining with a gun in your face.

My mother was that kind of unflappable person under stress. She was held up and asked the young man how much a fix was and asked him if she gave him that amount would he leave her alone. She said he looked scared and new at this–he was perspiring on a cold winter day and wore a nice coat. He could have easily knocked her over and grabbed her handbag–she used a cane–yet he accepted the money and ran.

Drugs have altered the outlook for victims of holdups. As a child brought up in NYC I was taught to give up whatever a person asked for and I wouldn’t be hurt. It was true then.  I wasn’t harmed the time I handed over to three kids my change from an errand at DiMaggio’s deli–all the money I had on me. They weren’t much older than I was. There was nobody else on the street. They took the money and ran. It was so long ago and I still remember the confrontation.

Have you been held up? Do you take precautions when walking in a city such as noticing if someone is following you for a suspicious number of blocks and if so, changing streets or ducking into a store to let them pass by?


Image by Eric Perlin from Pixabay

Service of Internet Shopping 2021 Style

Monday, September 13th, 2021


Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Because most of my favorite haunts are out of business or their Manhattan branches don’t measure up to the quality I was used to in their upstate stores, much of my shopping has moved online.

Here are a few things that e-commerce vendors might easily change and should consider doing.

Don’t ask stupid questions

I didn’t want to lug home a large package of paper towels so I bought one online. Next I was asked to review my recent purchase. Paper towels? Really?

Know when to stop knocking on my door

A woman’s clothing store sends daily emails about intros or discounts, sometimes multiple times a day. At end-of-season sales time they up their emails. Eventually, the prices were so favorable and thinking ahead to next summer I bit, ordering a few gifts too. The next day they sent an email saying that one of the items is no longer available as there were too many orders for it. Note: They clearly show you which sizes are in stock when you make your selections.

OK, those are the breaks. However, two weeks later I get one of the remaining three items ordered with an invoice that indicates that two were oversold so you won’t get them. I was irritated as I might have found similar on sale elsewhere and wonder why the inventory department can’t communicate more efficiently with the website but worse, I’m still getting notices about that sale.

Get rid of the crooks

And what did I see again on Facebook? The sponsored rip-off promo that I fell for early in summer and I wrote about in “Service of Always Buy from a Website Not a Social Media Advert Link.” The first comment was written by someone who declared it a scam. I may have gotten off easy from the looks of it. But Facebook should remove creeps like this from its site so as not to entrap other suckers.

When a mistake causes customers too much work

I ordered one item from a topnotch vendor but never got a confirmation email for the online purchase. Thinking I had again ordered from a fake site I called. There was no record of my purchase so I bought one from the customer service rep. Next I checked my credit card and there were two entries for the item so I called again and got the same customer service rep who promised to cancel one order. But I received two of the same item in separate packages. I called and was promised not to be charged for returning the duplicate as it was their mistake. I’m sure I’ll eventually be credited for the full amount but I wasted a lot of time turning things right.

I appreciate the convenience of ordering things at any time of day or night but miss walking into a store, choosing just what I want and walking out with it. I suspect under-staffing is the cause of most of the problems I’ve encountered.

Have your internet purchases been seamless? Are there some irritations that could easily be remedied?



Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Service of Always Buy from a Website Not a Social Media Advert Link

Thursday, August 12th, 2021



Image by Julien Tromeur from Pixabay

The kind of experiences I’m about to describe can’t be good for social media platform ad sales because it’s hard to tell the difference between the real ones and the scams. And if the brand is new to you, best check it out before buying so much as a toothpick.

I just found out that an order I’d placed with a reputable brand posting an ad on Facebook went, instead, to a thief as did my money. I was fooled by how the posting, models and clothes resembled the real thing and I didn’t take the step of getting off social media and on the Internet to find the website and order there. Credit card company notified–check–card cancelled–check–and lesson learned. I’ll never again attempt to buy anything from a commercial enterprise from a link on Facebook,  Instagram, Twitter or elsewhere.

At about the same time I checked out a product that interested me but did some research first. I found a Facebook entry from a burned customer which generated similar comments from countless others.

The man ordered fly strips for $21. He got a call from a woman saying the order didn’t go through asking again for his credit card number. She was aggressive in trying to sell him $79 worth of product and tossing all sorts of discounts at him.  He told her to cancel the entire order–he didn’t want anything.  By the next morning his PayPal account was nevertheless charged $101 and she’d put him on a recurring order plan.



Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Others responding to his comment warned that they never received anything from the company after months. One spent $300.

The PayPal rep told the writer to never give your phone number when placing an online order because it is usually linked to your bank account. I don’t know about that but I do know his first mistake was doing what I did: He bought product from a Facebook posting and in his case from an unknown vendor.

I am irritated at myself–as I am usually so careful–and hope that my bank catches the scoundrels. No wonder banks charge so much interest for their credit cards. It must cost a fortune to cover the money returned to their clients in the many instances they don’t catch and receive compensation from the culprits.

As I was about to publish this a young medical tech assistant told me his Apple pay digital wallet account was charged $8,000. He’d not spent a penny. Predators are out to get even the most savvy and wary.

Can you tell if a sponsored posting on a social media platform is real and/or if the company posting is reputable?


Image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay
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E-Commerce | E-tailing | Scams | Social Media | Theft

Service of Canny Recovery Experts

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

The only thing these targets of recent theft–watches and pistachios–have in common: each is relatively small and both caught the interest of The New York Times. It’s the style to steal luxury watches of late. And 21 tons of pistachios went missing the other day.

Felicia Craddock wrote an eye-opening piece in The New York Times in which she reported that according to art recovery expert Christopher A. Marinello, top of the line collectible watches are a hot commodity with thieves. He recovered a Richard Mille RM030 Carbon Argentina worth $145,000 that had been torn off the owner’s wrist in London four years ago. But most watch owners aren’t that lucky Marinello told Craddock. [By the way, his go-to-work watch is a “worn $50 Timex chronometer.”]

These days most watch thefts involve online fraud. Marinello told Craddock: “The ‘latest scam’ is a Miami-based online company that offers to buy your watch, he said. In March Mr. Marinello received a call from a medical student in Minnesota who had contacted the company; he needed cash for a medical procedure. They sent him a mailer and he sent them his Rolex. ‘The money never arrives and the watch disappears,’ Mr. Marinello said.”

And the nuts? Times reporter Eduardo Medina wrote about Touchstone Pistachio’s discovery in a routine audit: “About 42,000 pounds of pistachios — nearly enough to fill a truck trailer — were missing.” Thanks to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office’s agricultural crimes unit within days the perpetrator, who worked for a trucking company hired by the Terra Bella, Calif. nut farmer was found thanks to surveillance footage.

Image by Here and now, from Pixabay

“Nuts are big business in the region, and agricultural thefts are significant enough that the sheriff’s office created its agricultural crimes unit in 1996.

“Sheriff Mike Boudreaux of Tulare County told CNN in 2016 that his deputies traveled ‘as far as New Mexico’ to find stolen products, which are often nuts.

“Mae Culumber, a University of California crop adviser who specializes in nut crops, said nut commodities have a long shelf life, making them ideal for people looking to make a profit over a sustained amount of time,” Medina wrote.

The work of these experts fascinates me. I wrote previously [2015] about the haunting loss of artworks grabbed in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston–still not found–and an exceptional recovery of a Picasso stolen from the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2001. It was rescued in Newark 14 years later even though it had been identified for customs as a $37 art craft toy.

Do you think a job to track down thieves like these would be thrilling? Have you heard of unusual targets of such criminals?

Image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay

Service of Unorthodox Market Research

Monday, June 21st, 2021

I drop in to a few mega drugstores in my peregrinations around Manhattan. In the CVS branch on 42nd Street and Third Avenue more and more seemingly innocuous and arbitrary items are under lock and key giving the floorwalker something else to do in addition to answering questions and watching for shoplifters. I think that the choices of petty thieves might be interpreted as products most coveted in a market research kind of way–something for marketers to brag about if only silently.

Here are just a few of the protected items that we can assume are most popular to steal.

Tide has been behind bars for months if not years, though I wonder how anyone can tiptoe out of a store undetected with a cumbersome, heavy bottle of detergent.

In one aisle fish oil. cinnamon and calcium from Nature’s Bounty appear free for the taking while CoQ-10 is behind locked doors.

Honored by isolation are a range of Mucinex products–DayQuill and NyQuill too–but not all Coricidin varieties are or Delson Cough. So is ice cream, specifically Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s even though you couldn’t get far with an intact frozen container of ice cream under your shirt on a 90 degree day before you have pudding on your hands.

Do you think that manufacturers should interpret the selection of an item for confinement–safe from shoplifters–as proof of successful product marketing? Are any of the items in the stores you visit on similar lock down or is it just a Manhattan kind of thing?

Service of Fingers Crossed: When to Believe Thieves

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

Photo: smithsonianmag.com

When you comply to a ransom demand you’re not in the driver’s seat. You must hope that the thieves are honorable. If you watch “Law and Order” or its offshoots,  you’re familiar with the concept even if you’ve not yourself been plagued by such a horrifying theft.

The cyberthieves Sarah Cascone wrote about on artnet.com hadn’t absconded with a relative. Her article was: “Hackers Have Stolen Private Information From Donor Lists to 200 Institutions, Including the Smithsonian and the UK’s National Trust.” The subhead was: “The Parrish Art Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass were also hit by ransomware.” In addition to museums, data from hospitals, 16 US universities and 33 UK charities was lifted.

Photo: parrishart.org

According to Cascone, the attack on Blackbaud–“a third-party cloud software company”–happened in May. Blackbaud told its clients a month later. They said that “the compromised data was limited to demographic information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and donation summaries, and did not include credit card information, bank account information, or social security numbers.” We hope.

Cascone reported that the Corning Museum said it doesn’t “keep credit cards, bank accounts, or social security numbers in the system hosted by Blackbaud.” One wonders where do they keep it and is it safe?

Photo: credibly.com

Blackbaud said it paid the cybercriminals and confirmed that they had destroyed what they’d stolen, according to Cascone. They paid in Bitcoin. “’What I find unsettling about Blackbaud’s situation is that they just took the hackers at their word that the stolen data was destroyed. In my experience, hackers almost always leave behind hard-to-find malware so that they can still access the system,’ said Wood.” Tyler Cohen Wood is a cyber-security consultant and the former cyber deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Cascone continued: “She advises that museums employing third-party providers familiarize themselves with the company’s procedures for handling ransomware attacks and to have secure data backups, even if that means paying extra.”

If you were notified by an organization that such a breach had occurred, would you get a new credit card or bank account number even if you were told the cybercriminals had no access to–or had destroyed–that information? Have you ever asked an organization to which you donate money how they protect your financial and personal information? Is cash the only secure way to donate?

Photo: passwordboss.com

Service of One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Is Etsy Too Big?

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Photo: Greymount Paper & Press

I was in awe of the Etsy platform when it launched 15 years ago as “a virtual storefront for hipsters’ arts and crafts” as Taylor Majewski wrote in builtinnyc.com. It went public in 2015 and describes itself as “an American e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. These items fall under a wide range of categories, including jewelry, bags, clothing, home décor and furniture, toys, art, as well as craft supplies and tools.”

According to statista.com, last year it reported 2.5 million sellers and 39.4 million buyers around the world.

I’ve loved and bought crafts for decades, promoted one of the big east coast shows for years and was thrilled that talented artisans had another vital way to expand their customer bases and generate sales.

Something happened. Carlene Gleman founder, artist and owner of Greymount Paper & Press, described her predicament in a series of Facebook postings. If her name and company are familiar it’s because I featured her in “Service of Ordering Online During a Pandemic,” last month.

Gleman claims that Etsy’s new off-site advertising program has “directly led to our artwork being repeatedly stolen.”  She found over 20 instances of theft in three months. Before Etsy introduced this new program, it had only happened once in five years.

Photo: Greymount Paper & Press

While the platform appears to be helping promote some of its successful vendors’ products without repercussions, for a business like Greymount based on an artist’s creations, it is at huge cost. She said while the company’s new marketing approach should work for furniture makers, for example, “it creates trouble for shops whose artwork can be stolen with the click of a mouse.”

With a simple fix her work wouldn’t be in jeopardy, but in the last year, the brand has begun to insist on 2,000px high-resolution images for all listings. “A thief can download, copy, and easily remove watermarks from photos with this resolution,” said Gleman. “Lower resolution images, which Etsy allowed in the past, discourage theft by largely preventing enlargement and printing.”

Sellers who generate $10,000 gross profit according to Etsy’s calculations, [they include postage in the sales total!], must participate in Etsy’s new offsite marketing program, and, Gleman reports, are excluded from the platform’s internal search engine. [You know–the toolbar that helps you find “greeting cards” or “art featuring otters.”]

Upon learning about the new program, Gleman immediately turned off all advertising for her shop, to prevent her listing images from appearing on websites thought to be resources for copyright theft.

She checked her seller dashboard after she realized that her images were being stolen from her Etsy listings. She was incurring advertising fees. “Etsy was blasting my artwork across the web without my knowledge.”

She has hired a lawyer to fight the art thieves and has turned off her Etsy shop, permanently. She now sells her greeting cards, art prints, and gifts exclusively through her own website.

“See if an artist has a website and if it’s possible purchase through them directly,” Gleman recommends. She has decided to never again sell on a 3rd party platform that forces her to participate in advertising programs where she can’t control where her artwork appears.

The world of craft is diverse. The marketers at Etsy aren’t taking this into account. Do you know of other businesses that have tripped up when they haven’t recognized the differences in their clients?  Can you share other examples of copyright infringement?

Photo: Greymount Paper & Press

 

 

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