THE trade are being warned of a new internet scam that risks involving innocent dealers in money laundering – and can leave them with large bills to pay.
ATG became aware of what has been dubbed a "mule recruitment scam" after hearing from a dealer who had been approached by a firm claiming to represent serious buyers and sellers of art.
Antiquitaeten-Schwaighofer GmbH, claiming to be a company from Austria of the same name, told her they wanted art and antiques specialists to act as agents for clients who wished to retain their anonymity.
"Payment process is the main dilemma. Generally people who sell antique items desire to stay anonymous and don't disclose even their bank account numbers," said the company's sales pitch.
This had led them to recruit what they called "financial managers", whose main task is to act as a conduit for payments, that include funds received for sold items and paying fees to the suppliers. These payments are made via a fast money transfer system, which also pays out commissions for overseeing the transactions.
The problem for any dealer signing up to be a 'financial manager' is that they have no idea where the money they are paying out comes from - or where payments they are collecting are going.
The scam can leave the dealer seriously out of pocket. This happens in scams of this type because often the 'buyer' from whom the financial manager collects the payment never receives the goods.
By the time they discover this, payment had already been forwarded to the criminals through the fast money transfer system. Because the transactions were fraudulent, the 'financial manager' would be obliged pay back the full amount to the buyer without any hope of ever being recompensed themselves.
Several online crime monitoring services, such as banksafeonline.org.uk, have identified the fraud and say that it is thought to be operated by organised crime rings from Eastern Europe, although they say that the web domain name was registered in January using a postal address in the USA.
What makes this scam so risky is that the fraudulent web name, antiquitaeten-schwaighofer.com, mimicks that of a genuine antiques dealer from Salzburg, whose web name is www.antiquitaeten-schwaighofer.at. He has has no connection whatsoever with the scam.