Information On An Israeli Art Scam

Information On An Israeli Art Scam
SEATTLE - Since early June, 2000 at least, a group of people have been traveling throughout the Puget Sound area claiming to be Israeli art students, selling paintings door- to- door.

They travel in residential neighborhoods, but primarily seem to hit businesses, such as hair salons, mortgage companies, flower shops, any business where there are a lot of people around who might like art.

They are said to be very believable. One of the key players is a very attractive 20-something young woman who claims to be an artist who has done some of the work. According to KOMO 4 News viewers, they've been in Renton, Redmond, Seattle, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Kirkland, Woodinville, Everett, Tacoma and Olympia.

The "students" have several stories. One is that they are studying at an art school at a university in Jerusalem, and have selected works from their top students to sell in the United States to raise money for art supplies.

Other local consumers have been told they're raising money for art scholarships for Israeli students. Yet another story is that they are art students from a kibbutz in Israel and are part of an exchange program with UC Berkeley.

In this story, they say UC Berkeley provided them with a van to travel up the West Coast and sell their work.

In Seattle, they were seen getting into a van with California license plates.

Buyer Beware made extensive inquiries to UC Berkeley's art and foreign student programs and was told there are no exchanges involving art students from Israel selling art in the United States.

We've also learned that neither the Herbrew University or the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Israel's national school in Jerusalem, have any such program. Bezalel in fact, indicates it engages in no such activities, but has had other inquiries about the co-called Israeli students selling art in America.

Local consumers report very aggressive tactics in some cases, and very well-rehearsed response on the part of the "art representatives." In some cases they say they sell only other students' art so as to not be biased. In others, the sellers themselves claim to have done some of the work they carry in large art folders.

We have learned the prices for the work are basically whatever the sellers can get. Many consumers are told $140. Others are given "discounts" for just $80. Still others have paid $170, $180 and even $200 for basically the same selection of paintings.

The attractive young woman who has been present in many of the situations allows you to post-date checks.

There is no information on the artists. The sellers have no identification, no documentation, and give very evasive responses to pointed questions about themselves.

One KOMO viewer was given a name and address in or near Sea-Tac. Another was given a pager number.

Peddlers fitting the same general description have given different names, and one consumer reports the "students" left in a hurry when they were asked for their business license.

On numerous occasions, consumers have been told by the "students" that they are leaving this state at the end of the week, only to surface in another local community weeks later.

As for the artwork itself, Buyer Beware took one of the paintings to a local, well-established art historian and appraiser. Our appraisers noted that some of the works are merely copies of famous paintings, others seem to be original. But because of the tactics, the pricing, the apparent deception, and the lack of documentation, appraiser Lynn McAllister says these sellers are taking advantage of people who don't know anything about art.

Bottom line: If you like the art and you think it's worth the money regardless of who's work it is, that's up to you. Just know that based on the facts, it is very unlikely that your money is going where the seller's say it is, and there are serious questions as to whether they are really who they say they are.