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The new spate of scams came to light after several dealers contacted both the Antiques Trade Gazette and the BADA to say that electronic pictures and descriptions from their websites had been downloaded and the items then listed as for sale on eBay by the fraudsters. Unwary buyers find themselves paying out for objects that the seller doesn’t have.

Other dealers have recognised easily identifiable items sold recently in UK salerooms that have been listed on the site in the hope of catching a ‘buyer’ who will make a payment believing they have purchased a valuable object at a knockdown price.

The scam is not new – several years ago an American auctioneer discovered his entire catalogue downloaded from his site and then listed on eBay.

Until recently, the scam has been operated via newly set up accounts and regular eBay users are wary of bidding for valuable items listed by overseas sellers with no positive feedback rating.

However, now the more sophisticated con gets round this by combining the stolen picture scam with the stolen identity scam. In these cases, hackers take over a genuine eBay account and use the name and positive feedback rating to establish credibility among potential buyers. According to a specialist dealer, this con was recently used to list rare pieces of Moorcroft pottery recently seen in a London sale catalogue.

When alerted to potential fraud, eBay say they will investigate and deactivate accounts used in the listings if necessary.