Company Launches Tool for Weeding Out Fake Artworks Sold on the Dark Web

The Art and Artistic Legacy Protection service has created a software to spot con artists who thrive online.

Colette Loll, Founder and director of Art Fraud Insights. Photograped by Johannes Worsøe Berg © 2016. Courtesy Art Fund Insights.

As online sales grow, so too do the chances of being conned. But fraudsters beware: a new tool launched by the Washington, DC-based consultancy Art Fraud Insights has been developed to spot fake artworks sold on the dark web, as well as identify those behind the spurious transactions.

“I have had many, many calls from artists who have seen fakes of their works offered online, and had no recourse. It’s maddening to a creative person who knows their work is being copied and sold as original,” Colette Loll, founder of Art Fraud Insights, tells artnet News.

“Unfortunately, I also get weekly calls from victims who have made a bad online purchase that they regretted. My largest online victim to date spent over $200,000 on a fake Jackson Pollock he was certain was original.”

In response to this phenomenon, Art Fraud Insights created a faction called the Art and Artistic Legacy Protection (AALP) service. Started this month, and first reported by the Art Newspaper, it aims to work with artists and foundations to search the dark web for forgeries and fictitious sale listings.

In a 2015 study, Loll and Art Fraud Insights found that an average of 30 percent of listings were inaccurately marked as “original” or “authentic.” Moreover, up to 60 percent needed additional clarification, as they provided false information or a lack of facts to support the claim of “original work.”

The AALP was founded in partnership with the Singapore firm Strategic IP Information. Over the past six months, the two created a software that screens the web to pinpoint suspicious listings on e-commerce sites, mobile apps, and social media.

When one inevitably pops up, AALP sends a cease-and-desist letter to the purveyor. If a fraudulent sale has already been made, AALP contacts the buyer, and works with a lawyer to acquire a refund.

In a statement, the AALP explains that bogus sellers can be elusive. When the service identified some, “they often auto re-listed in high volume, or simply changed their Seller IDs. Many jumped between multiple e-commerce sites and marketplaces.”

The service also hopes to help artists’ estates and foundations. In searching the dark web for stolen or forged works, they are potentially preventing a loss in profit made through licensing.

The AALP commented, “Art will continue to be digitized and offered on the Internet, but questions of permission, of payment, of public and private rights are at issue and remain largely unresolved. For artist-endowed foundations, built on the legacies of individual artists, these issues of intellectual property are demanding and immediate.”

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