INTERNET FRAUD

Fraud autopsy.

Suppose a complete stranger knocked on your door and told you he could get you a Renoir or a Ferrari; all you had to do would be to give him 50,000 dollars cash and he would run round the corner, come back and leave it on your doorstep. Would you fall for that? Probably not.

Suppose a stranger told you he could get you a Renoir or a Ferrari; give him 50,000 dollars cash and he'll run round the corner etc. You'd want proof he actually had the Renoir or the Ferrari. So now the stranger produces a picture of a Renoir or a Ferrari. Would you fall for that?

In several cases known to this Editor, vintage bicycles have been offered to prospective buyers, though the sellers did not own or even possess the items. In a nutshell, the fraud works like this: a 'seller' offers a Hetchins (or anything else, for that matter) via Internet. They agree a price and transport conditions. The buyer transfers the money. The 'seller' disappears with the money. No bike is delivered. Indeed, the 'seller' never had it, for it was not his to sell; he had merely downloaded some photos of bikes from the web.

In one instance known to this Editor, the same bike has been offered for sale several times at craigslist. One man 'bought' it (never received it, lost his money), and the same 'seller' offered it again. See below:







The facts in the case are these: a certain Nick B. Kern (aka Hector), 18 Harbour St, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire AB42 1DJ, UK, offers a 1947 SuperSpecial for sale (craigslist/aderdeen, Nov 2014; and again in January 2015); price: 1500 GBP. The bike is genuine and the description fits; the serial number is known from the Hetchins Register. Thing is, this Editor knows where that bike is and it is not in Aberdeenshire. Mr. Kern (or whatever he is calling himself now) does not own or even possess the bike. When asked to supply further photographs, the ones he sent had been downloaded from the flickr web site of one of the previous owners (who is personally known to this Editor). Moreover, the craigslist advert is simply a duplicate of the advert taken from ebay (where the bike was legitimately sold in 2011):



In the summer of 2013, a man contacted this web site saying that he had responded to the previous (upper) craigslist advert, having transferred the money but not having received the bike. The 'seller' disappeared and the buyer never recovered his money. As the modus operandi here is identical, it would seem that the same scam is being perpetrated again.

Make no mistake--this is a crime, not just a prank. Even attempting to sell something one does not own is a crime, whether or not anyone actually falls for it.

The Editor has contacted the UK fraud squad at: actionfraud.police.uk and filed a report. Anyone who believes he may have further information regarding this matter may add to the report by calling 0044 300 123 2040 and quoting reference nr.: NFRC 1411 0083 3383.

The Editor strongly advises that no one transfer any money without verifying that an ostensible seller actually has possession and ownership of a vintage bike. Verification of possession is almost childishly simple: ask to see a photograph we have not seen before on the web, of the bike with a current newspaper draped over the top tube with a headline and date clearly visible.



I append below excerpts from email correspondence between another such fraudster and his potential victim. In this case, the potential victim's suspicions were aroused and the transaction did not go through. However, in two instances known to this Editor, victims transferred money and were unable to recover it.

--- On Fri, 6/7/13, john kaplan : jkaplan011@hotmail.com wrote:
From: john kaplan : jkaplan011@hotmail.com
Subject: http://www.hetchins.org/902.htm
To: [name known to the Editor]
Date: Friday, June 7, 2013, 6:40 AM

Hi mate,
I have Hetchins Pre-War , for sale ,still in good shape, no dents Drop me an email if are still in need
Best Regards


The email correspondence is supplied as is, all spelling and grammatical errors are original. The 'target' replied in good faith, asking for details. Below, the reply:

-- On Sun, 6/9/13, john kaplan : jkaplan011@hotmail.com wrote:
here are the pictures of my Hetchins Pre-War ,I have for sale ,asking 690 GB pounds, This Competition was made in March 1940. It features modified, cut-away Brilliant lugs; these were offered only on top-of-line racing machines. features equipment, including a Strong light crank with TA chain ring, Maillard hubs, Chater Lea pedals, Brooks saddle, and GB handle bar. Mafac brakes and a modern mech have been fitted. The Six-Day model was a racing machine; it featured a fluted seat tube to shorten the wheelbase. This one retains its original equipment, including the hubs and Chater Lea cranks and pedals. Also note the Sturmey Archer hub gear and GB brakes. just let me know if my price is fair enough and i will also need your complete shipping address, so that i can figure out the shipping along with the cost price thanks.
My best Regards.


The photos sent by Mr. 'Kaplan' (assume that is a pseudonym) were copy-pasted from hetchins.org:




Now, look closely at those photos and compare them to the description which Mr. 'Kaplan' provided of the bike he is 'selling': The "Competition" model was indeed made using modified Brilliant lugs, but they don't look like those in the photo above. A Competition looks like this, below:



Second, read the description closely: you'll note that at first Mr. 'Kaplan' claims the bike to be fitted with "a Strong light crank with TA chain ring." But the photo clearly shows a Chater Lea crank. Mr. 'Kaplan' also claims that a modern mech has been fitted, though the photo clearly shows a hub gear with its unmistakable SturmeyArcher gear lever on the right side of the handle bar. Mr. 'Kaplan' claims the bike is fitted with Mafac brakes (plural), though the photo clearly shows a side-pull brake (singular).

Read the description again even more closely: Mr. 'Kaplan' contradicts himself in the next sentence, now claiming that bike is fitted with completely different components: "Also note the Sturmey Archer hub gear and GB brakes."

Click here to see where the text came from: Mr. 'Kaplan' simply copy-pasted the specs from the 1940 Competition featured at this web site and grafted them onto the photos he copy-pasted from here, a 1943 Six-Day.

First clue that the transaction is potentially fraudulent: the item description is confused or incoherent and contains contradictory &/or inaccurate details.

Second clue that the transaction is potentially fraudulent: the asking price (690 GBP) is well below market value for this item in the condition described/depicted.

The prospective buyer then asked for a serial number; the 'seller' provided a fictitious one. The buyer's suspicions were aroused and he contacted Len Ingram, then keeper of the Hetchins Register, and myself. I should point out, both for the benefit of Hetchins owners and to the deterrence of potential fraudsters, that every bike featured in the Gallery section at this web site has been documented, including serial numbers and owner's names (which information is not published on the web, for obvious reasons). The serial numbers and owner's names of both bikes depicted above, the red-blue Brilliant and the sky blue Competition, are known to us; not surprisingly, Mr. Kaplan's name and the fictitious serial number he provided do not figure among them.

The Register contains information pertaining to many more bikes than are featured at this web site. It is, of course, possible, that a bike has changed hands without our having been informed of it, so the Register might in some cases be out-of-date. I therefore suggested to the potential buyer that he ask the 'seller' to provide a photo of the bike with a current newspaper, with the headline and date clearly visible, draped over the top tube. Even a hand-scrawled piece of paper with the current date on it would do. The 'seller' provided the following:



Third clue that the transaction is potentially fraudulent: the 'seller' can provide no further information, or no further accurate information, about the bike; he can provide no photos not already available on the web; he can provide no credible proof of ownership; he cannot even provide credible evidence of possession. The current date plastered over a photo which has been copy-pasted from the web is about as convincing as a plea of Nolo Contendere.

Further attempts by the potential buyer to elicit credible evidence of ownership provoked a torrent of rude, rambling, scarcely coherent, responses, one of which is excerpted below:

-- On Sun, 6/9/13, john kaplan : jkaplan011@hotmail.com wrote:

From: john kaplan : jkaplan011@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: http://www.hetchins.org/902.htm
To: [name known to the Editor]
Date: Sunday, June 9, 2013, 4:20 PM

Hello, there is no way I can offer you what is not mine I am bigger than the names you are just giving to me now, if you are not ready to buy, you just tell me once not to be talking to me any how beside that I am not just a kid that you will be insulting in that way, i owns the bike.


Fourth clue that the transaction is potentially fraudulent: when challenged, the 'seller' gets testy.

Within hours of this exchange, Hilary Stone informed me by email of a similar fraud having been perpetrated upon another potential buyer using photos downloaded, this time, from Hilary's web site. The potential buyer had, like the first one above, placed a "wanted" advert at this web site, hetchins.org. Examination of the email exchange confirmed that Mr. 'Kaplan' was behind both attempts.

This Editor took the following actions: 1) a personal warning was sent via email to everyone who has a "wanted" advert running at this web site, advising of the fraud-in-progress. 2) Details of the attempted fraud, which includes mis-use of this web site for criminal purposes, were provided to the UK Cyber Crime unit.

Reports can be filed online at:
actionfraud.police.uk
or by phone:
0300 123 2040 (UK)
or +44 300 123 2040 (outside the UK)

Anyone who believes he has been approached by this Mr. 'Kaplan' (or another fraudster), may add detail to the report already filed, citing case reference number NFRC 130600270941, or open a new case report. This applies to incidents in which at least one party to the fraud (or attempted fraud) is located in the UK (Mr. 'Kaplan' is). If neither party is located in the UK, then some other authority will have jurisdiction.



Sound criteria have been established for determining the authenticity of a Hetchins frame and for identifying forgeries; click here for Copycats/Magnum Bogus. Determining the credentials of a seller are more difficult. The following advice may seem obviously common sensical to some, but, in the hope that others may be spared some trouble, I offer it anyway.

Buyer beware 1: craigslist terms and conditions explicitly renounces any liability whatsoever for losses due to fraudulent transactions; craigslist offers no reclamation policy, no complaints protocol.

I leave it to the reader whether to trust ebay seller ratings, or ebay at all. Treat ebay as you would a gambling casino: never risk more than you are prepared to lose.

Buyer beware 2: do not assume that ebay or paypal can recover lost funds. Assume the opposite.

Buyer beware 3: do not assume that your bank can recover lost funds, or even trace them to a name and address. Assume the opposite. A bank has no obligation to try recover your lost funds and no interest in doing so either. Legally speaking, a transaction is a private affair between you and someone else; the bank is merely a 'facilitator.' It is dastardly easy these days to open a bank account just long enough to carry out a few transactions, then clean it out and close it down.

Advice for potential buyers 1: Know what you're looking for. Pay attention to details (Mafac brakes won't fit on a 1940 bike frame--not without a drop bolt, anyway). If in doubt, ask an expert--there are plenty of them. If still in doubt, post a query at a vintage bicycling forum--there are plenty of them, both generic and marque-specific. Click here for the links page at this web site for a partial list. Every marque has its boffins; they are usually happy, indeed they will probably be turning handsprings, to be given an opportunity to show off their intimate knowledge of the object of their peculiar passions and help their fellow man in the process. We don't call it Experto Crede--trust the expert--for nothing, you know!

Advice for potential buyers 2: Do not commit in haste. A vintage bike has been around for 40 years at least; it is not going to rust away in one more week while you await answers from marque boffins.

Advice for potential buyers 3: expect a serial number, expect proof of ownership/possession. A sales receipt is not likely to be forthcoming, unless the seller claims to be the original owner (and even then he may not have it anymore). In the absence of a sales receipt, ask for provenance; a paper trail is better than nothing; previous owners may be well-known in the scene and could be contacted to verify details. Photographic evidence is credible only if it is available on demand and current (e.g., a legible newspaper on the bike, not pasted to the same photo of it which was downloaded from the Internet). Consult the marque Register (if available)--for Hetchins, contact this Editor (email link below).

Advice for potential buyers 4: buy from reputable sellers. I will stick my neck out and name two: Hilary Stone (UK) and Stefan Schaefter (Switzerland). Of course, there are others; those two I know personally: you'll get what you pay for. If in doubt about other sellers, ask around at the forums.

A reminder: you can order a new one from David Miller and avoid all the uncertinties. If you are keen on the vintage thing, then order a new one to fit old components. Click here for an example of a new frame built for vintage components. (A new steel frame built for vintage components qualifies for L'Erocia.)

Advice for potential buyers 5: If in doubt about a specific Hetchins bike/frame or an offer of one, contact this web site. Len Ingram amassed considerable resources, including not only the Register (which currently lists over 2,000 extant Hetchins) and copies of the sales ledgers (which list original production), but also an extensive photo archive, which are now in the possession of this Editor. I also have contacts to other well-informed people in the scene. I offer to check the sales ledgers & the Register and attempt to verify serial numbers and current owners (where they are known), free of charge. While I cannot guarantee that the information is exhaustive or vouch for every seller, I can, in many cases, spot a forged frame or a dodgy offer. Hilary Stone (who holds the original Hetchins sales ledgers) is also an excellent source of information.

Advice for owners: Once a deal has been closed and you have the bike in your possession, please keep me (this Editor) informed so the Register can be updated. The Register is a crucial resource for spotting frauds and stolen bikes.

Comments and corrections by conscientious readers are welcome.

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HilaryStone.com

Stefan Schaefter's Speedbicycles


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