Following a string of fraudulent credit card purchases, auctioneers in the South are having to rethink the protocol for telephone bids on the diamond jewellery tucked among their Victorian dining chairs and antique desks. Lancashire and Cumbria haven’t been targeted so far, but there’s worry the thieves are sneaking northwards.
Regional auction houses in Shropshire, Wiltshire, London, Derbyshire and a number of other counties have fallen victim to a sophisticated fraud involving ‘cardholder not present’ transactions on diamond jewellery and watches. Antiques thefts, it seems, have gone high tech since the days of smuggling antique desks and Victorian dining chairs out of Cumbria mansions.
In all cases, the ruse was the same. A man going by a series of aliases would call the auction house to place bids on high-value jewellery lots by telephone. He appeared trustworthy, even offering to fax copies of his passport and driving licence. Having bid successfully – even purchasing unsold items – he settled the accounts using a part-payment method via a number of different credit cards. A courier then collected the goods, taking them to an address in London (which later turned out to be a derelict house.)
Because the cardholder was not present at the time of the sales, the auctioneers were responsible for the losses. However, the credit card providers said the fault was partly theirs. A buyer using multiple cards for one purchase should have been regarded with suspicion – especially as several cards were declined.
While it’s unlikely there will be a mass exodus of antique desks from Cumbria, antique dealers are warning customers to be vigilant against having their cards stolen or cloned – otherwise, they may end up with more antique purchases than they bargained for.
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