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The warning follows the uncovering of a fraud that targeted UK, USA and Canadian booksellers. Some of the stolen merchandise later appeared for sale on eBay.

The association now fears that the thieves will change identities and use new card numbers and are asking all dealers to exercise particular vigilance.

Throughout August dozens of dealers (mostly clients of the Internet site the Advanced Book Exchange) took orders from previously unknown buyers based in Belgrade and another in Ghana. According to the issuing banks (who have now shut down many of the accounts) the credit card numbers used for payment were stolen from “high-ranking government officials” whose high credit limits had been used to great effect by the thieves.

Ken Sanders of Ken Sanders Rare Books, of Salt Lake City is the chairman of the Antiquarian Book Dealers Association of America’s security committee which is handling all information relating to this case.

As yet he has failed to interest the US security agencies in the magnitude of the case although his personal detective work and quick actions have helped foil some of the most recent attempts to use the stolen cards. When the problem first emerged, Mr Sanders sent a mass email to book dealers in America, Canada and the UK alerting them to the suspect credit card numbers and the various names and addresses used in the scam. He was also instrumental in persuading the two American banks that issued the cards to shut down 30 accounts.

Fraud investigators at the USAA Bank have now closed 24 accounts and MBNA Bank a further six. According to information from USAA and MBNA banks, the fraud being perpetrated is far more extensive than first thought and books are a very tiny part of what is thought to be at least a million-dollar scam.

The eBay fraud department has recently shut down the seller’s account of Milos Ljevaja of Belgrade (sm84) after complaints alleged that he was selling stolen antiquarian books. To date Mr Sanders has been unsuccessful in getting Yahoo to follow suit and close their account with this vendor.

The fraudulent transactions followed a typical pattern. The new client would first test the card by ordering a low value item, following quickly with orders for books in the few hundreds to thousands of dollars apiece category with instructions to airmail the merchandise quickly.

The thieves favoured modern first editions ordering (and unfortunately receiving) two £650 copies of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone signed by the cover artist from London dealer Adrian Harrington and a 1942 copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn priced at $1,250 by US dealer Peter Kraus.

The warnings also came too late for Blackwells, Simon Finch, Red Snapper and Nigel Williams who had already taken ‘payment’ via the credit cards and airmailed items to Belgrade or Ghana.

Ken Hebenstreit, a book dealer from the American Midwest who specialises in contemporary fiction, helped provide the missing link to where the stolen books were being traded. He received a warning from the ABAA while in the middle of an email discussion with one Milos Ljevaja of Belgrade regarding payment of a signed copy of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October he had bought in an eBay auction.

According to eBay sellers’ records secured by Mr Sanders before the offending account was shut down, Ljevaja (who opened an eBay account on March 15 this year) previously sold stereos and other electrical equipment over eBay but in July diversified suddenly into first editions of 20th century literary classics.

Isabelle Whitby of George Bayntun Booksellers of Bath, a victim of the fraud, later found her 1884 full-leather London-printed copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – ‘sold’ to the Belgrade buyer for £795 – offered for
sale on eBay. She reported this
to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary and contacted eBay customer support.

The ABA and the ABAA have issued a number of guidelines to follow, stressing the need for address verification when receiving credit card payments. “A lot of merchants still believe that getting a simple credit card authorisation guarantees a sale. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mr Sanders. “Address verification is what matters. Thieves cannot be successful if you send the item to the cardholder’s address.”

More information is available from Ken Sanders, Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA, 268 South 200 East Salt Lake City UT 84111. Email: ken@dreamgarden.com. Tel: (001) 801 521 3819 Fax: (001) 801 521 2606 or alternatively, contact the ABA Office who will forward your details for you: admin@aba.org.uk.