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Be careful of J.K. fakes on eBay

In an article dealing with fraud on the auction site eBay in the London Times today, fans were cautioned about signed Harry Potter books:

Forgeries are regularly offered on eBay. Last summer the publication of the fifth Harry Potter book drew much interest and the number of "signed copies" of J. K. Rowling's books offered on eBay soared. The amount of obvious forgeries bought by unsuspecting fans astounded James Allen, owner of Red Snapper Books, a rare book dealer. "Of the fifty or sixty items you expected to see at any one time, perhaps two or three were genuine," he said.

Seeing people spending hundreds of pounds on fakes, Mr Allen wrote to buyers and sellers. "You can imagine the sort of replies I received from the vendors," he said. "But many buyers thought that I was competing to buy a defaced book, they were so eager to own a signed Potter."


 Authentic J.K. Rowling autograph*

Harry Potter fans would do well to be cautious. "There's no magic about this. A signed Harry Potter first edition offered on eBay for Pounds 30 is not likely to be authentic", said Neil Blair, a lawyer at Christopher Little, J.K. Rowling's press agent. So how does eBay police its site and what responsibility does it take for forgeries?

A conventional auction house would soon go out of business if it regularly offered fakes. But eBay operates on the basis that there are so many lots it cannot vet them all. The site says that it employs 800 people tackling fraud. But in practice, it relies on users to spot suspicious activity. "The eBay community effectively monitors the site," it said. Scams are constantly being dreamt up and there is no substitute for common sense. But there are basic rules to remember when surfing eBay.

Be aware that certificates of authenticity are often worthless. It may be wise to go to a reputable dealer to check. Also insist on digital pictures of items and ask questions until you are satisfied.


(* This image is from a photo taken of the front page of a copy of Philospher's Stone that was personalized by J.K. Rowling for her father, who later sold it at auction.)



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Published November 23, 2004

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