Consumer Alert: Beware of purchasing rare books online

If you're thinking about buying a rare book online, be very careful. The multi-million dollar industry has skyrocketed as a result of internet auction sites, but rare book collecting is also ripe for fraud.

"The suspect worked this scheme by purchasing unsigned first edition antiquarian books on Ebay. He then forged the signatures of famous authors and resold them on Ebay for much higher prices," said U.S. Postal Inspector Al Herzog.

Book prices ranged from $50 to $1,000 each, depending on the author and book.

"(The scammer) took the actual genuine samples of the authors signatures took them to a local stamp company and had actual stampers made so the stampers could be used to mass produce the fraudulent autographs," said Herzog.

Buyers skeptical of the signature began complaining to postal inspectors, who started checking the defendant's background.

"We made some purchases of our own and eventually we were able to obtain a search warrant and that's how we were able to obtain the heat stampers," said Herzog.

If you are buying rare items or memorabilia online, exercise caution. Postal inspectors recommend always using credit cards, not debit cards, for online purchases. Credit cards offer dispute rights, making it easier to reverse a fraudulent charge. Experts say to always research the seller as well.

"In this instance, the defendant was one person operating out of his home, there was no business, no licenses, there was no reputation if you will in the antiquarian book business," said Herzog.

The defendant was sentenced to more than two years in prison and ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution.

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