Today's art thieves rob via email

London galleries -- and some US dealers -- have been hit by a rash of electronic thefts by crooks who take over the gallery's email accounts and interrupt the transmission of invoices at the close of high-ticket sales, substituting fake invoices with throwaway bank accounts that close up and disappear after the money lands -- then the crooks stay in the email, interrupting "where's my money" emails and sending back fake replies assuring the galleries that the "buyer" is doing all they can to locate the rogue payment.

“I kept checking my account to see if the money had arrived and sending more and more emails to my client to ask where the funds were,” she says. Her client responded to these emails, but “in retrospect, I realise that the tone of his emails had completely changed”, Bartlett says. What she and her client did not know at the time was that the hackers were now controlling all correspondence between them while impersonating them both. The hackers responded to Bartlett’s queries about the payment with reassurances that “everything was fine and that the delay in receiving payment was being looked into”.

It was only when Bartlett called the client a week later that they both realised what had happened. They reported the theft to the Action Fraud team at the Metropolitan Police in London but have no information about the ongoing investigation. (A spokesman for Action Fraud told The Art Newspaper that Bartlett and her client’s “reports have been reviewed and have been disseminated to the Metropolitan Police service for investigation”.)

Bartlett’s client has not recovered his money and is unlikely to do so. “His bank told him that it was not able to recompense him,” Bartlett says. In cases such as these, “the bank has not made an error for which it necessarily has to take responsibility”, says Chris Bentley, the director of underwriting at AXA Art Northern Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific.

Galleries hit by cyber crime wave [Cristina Ruiz, Anna Brady, Sarah P. Hanson and Julia Michalska/The Art Newspaper]

(via Beyond the Beyond)

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