Monday, August 01, 2011

Beware of a New Type of Fraud in the Vintage Community

Imagine this scenario.  You've purchased one or two things that you're happy with from a seller of vintage clothing on a well known internet shopping site. Oh, maybe there were one or two issues with the items the seller didn't mention, but she has 100% positive feedback, so it must have just been an oversight.  One day, you receive an email from the seller offering you a sneak peek of some new items that have just arrived that you can purchase before they are listed for sale on the site.  You would feel flattered and special that the seller remembered your taste and that she is allowing you the first chance to purchase those items, right?

If this has happened to you, read on and beware of the latest type of fraud in the vintage market. 

1970s Hermes skirt at Couture Allure.
I listed this 1970s Hermes wool and leather skirt on my website a couple of weeks ago.  Last week, I received an inquiry about this skirt via email.  The potential buyer wanted to know if I had placed this skirt on consignment with another seller (we'll call her Seller X) and why it was so much more expensive with Seller X than on my website?  After some discussion between the buyer and myself, here is what I found out had happened.

Seller X, who has a very popular vintage clothing shop on a major internet selling site, had stolen the photo of the Hermes skirt from my Couture Allure website.  She then cropped my watermark off the bottom of the photo and emailed it to the buyer.  Seller X stated that the skirt had just come in to her "showroom" on consignment and she was offering it to the buyer as a "private" sale.  Seller X made no mention of the moth damage to the Hermes skirt.  In fact she told the buyer it was in "perfect" condition.  Seller X also told the buyer the skirt could be altered to add an additional 2" to the waist so it would fit her (the skirt cannot be altered).  Seller X told the buyer her special price would be $800 (nearly 3 times the price on my website!)  All this while the skirt was in my possession and listed on my site with an accurate description and at a fair price.

You may be thinking that it was possible that Seller X had an identical Hermes skirt in her possession.  Yes, that is possible, but read on.

Luckily, the buyer had been searching extensively on the internet for a specific vintage item during the previous week and had stumbled upon my site.  She was puzzled to find several of the same photos on my site that had been sent to her by Seller X.  In fact, Seller X had stolen images of 6 vintage items from my site and offered them to the buyer as being in her possession.  The photos of the 6 items were identical to mine, except the tops had been cropped to remove my distinctive mannequin topper and the bottoms had been cropped to remove my watermark and copyright.

The chances of two sellers having 1 of the same item are pretty good, but 6?  Impossible.  Seller X had stolen my images and turned around and offered the garments to the buyer at much higher prices.  Supposedly, if the buyer had said yes, Seller X would have then purchased the items from me and sold them to the buyer.  In fact, Seller X  had emailed me earlier the same day that the buyer contacted me asking for a discount if she purchased 4-5 items from my site!

You know what?  I sell to dealers all the time.  If another dealer has the right clientele and can buy an item from me and then sell it at a profit, that's great.  But selling vintage is a lot of work.  It takes time to have an item cleaned, take pictures, inspect for damage, take measurements and to write an accurate description.  If a dealer buys from me, it is expected that she will take her own pictures and write her own description.  But Seller X was attempting to profit by stealing my work, and that is not right.  In fact, I'd call that fraud.

I wrestled with whether or not I should tell you this story, but it is my belief that an educated customer is a happy customer and I wanted to enlighten you about this type of fraud so you don't fall victim to this practice.  What can you do to protect yourself?

-  Be wary of offers of "private" sales.  If a seller is sending you unsolicited photos or suddenly has photos of several different options of a hard-to-find item you are looking for, compare those photos to the ones on her selling site.  Is the mannequin the same?  Is the background the same?  Is the styling consistent?  Or have you received random photos that are of various sizes, with different mannequins or poses, or that seem cropped in an unusual way.

-   Check the seller's feedback.  Quite frankly, it is nearly impossible for even the most honest seller to maintain a 100% positive feedback over several years time.  We all make mistakes and things happen.  Go through several pages of feedback and check for "false positives."  An example would be a positive feedback with mention of issues not disclosed in the listing.  Is is a common practice for unscrupulous sellers to promise a partial refund only after positive feedback as been left.

-   Be wary of a seller who states that every single item she sells is in "perfect" condition.  In the vintage market, perfect is rare.  Honest sellers will disclose even the tiniest of issues so you are well informed before you purchase.  In fact, such disclosure is required by all internet sellers by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

-   Never send a personal check, cash, or a money order for a "private" sale.  Always use PayPal or a credit card for your protection.  That way you can file a claim if something goes wrong.

-   Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Note:  I will not disclose the names of the seller or buyer so please do not ask.  Any comments including speculation or references to the seller in question will NOT be published. My purpose in telling you this story is for your education and protection.  The incidents described here are true and from my personal experience.

23 comments:

Casey said...

Yikes! Thanks so much for the heads up about this sort of problem--I'm so saddened to hear that this is happening. :( (And that it happened with some of your beautiful vintage pieces!) Education and being savvy really are the key when buying vintage--especially on the 'net!

Misfits Vintage said...

Cheeky! I've heard of this happening on book sites - but never on vintage clothing. The hide of people!

Sarah xxx

Erin said...

Makes me think of the anonymous commenter a while back who coplained about your watermarks. Hmmm...

I see France! said...

Do these fraudulent sellers really think that this kind of thing won't be discovered by their prospective buyers? All it takes is a few clicks to figure out what's going on. Thanks for bringing it to everyone's attention.
P.S. That skirt is indeed fabulous!

Miss Rayne said...

Yes, I agree totally with Erin, suspicious.
this happened (nearly ) to my dad when he tried to sell a vintage car numberplate.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thanks Erin, though that commenter was remarking on the photos here on my blog, not the ones on my website.

I see France, this type of thing hurts all vintage sellers in the long run. If an innocent buyer gets duped by a fraudulent seller, she will assume that buying all vintage online is risky.

gi_janearng said...

You might be able to combat this better by making your watermark a true watermark and placing it over the middle of the item. Yes, a good photoshop artist might still be able to take it out but just by placing it in the corner makes you more susceptible to having your images lifted. You might even want to consider a digital watermark that can be read only by a certain program like Digimarc.

I see France! said...

Yes, I was agreeing with everything you said here… sorry if my comment read wrong. I just can't believe someone would stoop so low and assume they wouldn't be discovered.

Audi said...

Whoa, the nerve! Thank you for bringing this to light. You're far too kind though; if someone had done that to me, I'd have outed her and her shop, or at least included enough details for people to figure out who it is. She doesn't deserve to be in business if she's pulling crap like that.

Anita said...

Thank you for sharing this. There is fraud in every business I guess, but I am especially sad to see it happening with vintage. I feel that at least some of my love for all things vintage stems from the desire to live a life that mirrors an earlier time, value wise. Our culture has sacrificed much in the name of progress, and it becomes so evident when I compare our lives now vs the lives of my family members during the mid century.

I agree with Audi, at least in theory! My impulse would be to out her. There are two or three sellers that I regularly buy from, and with one in particular I have bought things advertises as excellent, only to find several (small) flaws upon receipt. I have written that off to the fact that different people have different perceptions of 'perfect' or 'excellent'. Now i am not so sure.

Kay said...

I'm glad you shared this, as I would never have guessed such a dupe could be practiced successfully. Thanks for warning us and I'm sure going to be more careful in the future! I'm only sorry that it has to happen at all.
Warmly, Kay

The Red Velvet Shoe said...

Thank you for taking your negative experience with an unethical business person and turning it into something positive: to educate online vintage shoppers looking for an honest & genuine shopping experience.
If I may add: Do your research. If you are looking for a certain label/era/ a simple Google search will give you a very accurate idea of it's value and what it is selling for and other details to determine if the garment you want to purchase is the real thing.
This post is yet another reflection of your professionalism & lofty business ethics. Well done.
~M.

Jen O said...

One other precaution: Ask the seller to list the item they are offering to you in their online store on that major website. Purchase it there, rather than directly. That way the sale of this item will be documented and saved in their sales file (as well as yours).

Glamoursurf said...

Thank you Jody for writing about your experience and for sharing some excellent advice. It's not only good for buyers to know this but sellers as well, may we all live and learn. Just how low and unscrupulous can one seller get and continue without any moral compass?

carmenandginger said...

I agree with Jen O about listing via Etsy. I have at times made deals "off Etsy" to people who have purchased from me in the past and are looking for something specific that I find before it gets listed. I always at least give them the option of having me set it up as an Etsy listing for them if not simply make that the only way the transaction happens. It makes them feel more comfortable, gives them something in writing and protects both people. In my mind, if Etsy enabled me to make the connection, they deserve the fees on the sale.

And agree with your decision to NOT "out" the person. It is really, REALLY hard to take the high road in this situation and I give you enormous credit for self control and professionalism.

Courtney said...

Wow. I guess as long as the internet exists, there will always be scammers. That is unfortunate. This was an interesting post to read, and you raised another good question about Etsy ethics. When I first started selling vintage on Etsy, someone bought a piece from me and then resold it (also on Etsy) for a LOT more. I was really offended. I don't even know why. Maybe it was irrational. I guess it was because she sold it on the exact same venue. If she'd sold it on eBay I wouldn't have been as annoyed. I always think of the Etsy community as being really helpful and inclusive. I called her out on it via email, and she never responded.

K.Line said...

That is awful - such a violation of you and the potential buyer. I'm really glad this came to light for you, so that you can protect yourself - in addition to helping to educate your readers. Thanks for posting about this.

The Style Crone said...

Thank you for the education. Sorry that you had to deal with this!

Nicole said...

This was very informative. Thanks so much for sharing this, I will definitely be more aware when shopping for vintage clothes online.

Rita Zappitelli said...

Another great article Jody, thanks for sharing. This makes me seethe and you're so right, how many people stop buying online owing to sellers like this? Fraud hurts us all and I just can't see how seller x has gotten away with it for so long.

Pearl Westwood said...

I have heard of this kind of thing, it is far removed from genuinely offering clients things before putting them on general sale. I guess some people just want to make an easy buck. I do hope you managed to report this unscrupulous seller.

Victoria said...

Eloquently written! I am aware of resellers and that is never a problem for me, I'd love to sell my vintage to someone who can sell it for higher or those that buy it for themselves at a much lower price, okay I love to sell. But to do it in such an unethical manner is unacceptable. What I find most disturbing is that she directly lied to a wonderful vintage buyer and that is sad. I am glad the buyer contacted you with this information. Love your website and blog! Thank ever so much for sharing.

Metropolitan Frock said...

Jody, You may find this helpful for your readers and your own protection. You can search images on Google to find it's source by uploading or drop and dragging an image file here http://www.google.com/imghp
Google will locate any site where an image is shown. It's an easy way to spot fraudulent duplicates.
BTW - I absolutely love your blog! Peace SJ

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