Friday, November 20, 2009

Scam I am

Andy Warhol. The man. The scam.

In 2006 the website Pyramid Scheme Alert gave Utah a special designation as "the scam state." Not exactly something to be proud of, but round these parts you've got to be wary of smooth talking con men using church connections. Many of the frauds start amongst the LDS faithful, although certainly not all con games are played with Mormons. There are plenty of other yokels waiting to be had.

Consider a story from the November 18, 2009 Salt Lake Tribune, which tells the tale of a 65-year-old con man and his 29-year-old female accomplice who were charged with attempting to sell six bogus Andy Warhol artworks to a man for $100,000. He paid $25,000 down for a print of Matthew Baldwin, one of the famous family of actors, and signed 1996. The man, hereinafter referred to as the mark, took it to an art appraiser in Los Angeles who told him that not only was there NOT a Baldwin brother named Matthew, but artist Andy Warhol died in 1987.


Real Warhol.

The man took the artworks back and wanted his $25,000. The couple wanted to exchange the artworks for a painting the con man claimed was worth $70 million. That should have set off a fraud alert right then. An art appraiser said the painting was worth $1000. Back went the mark to the couple who wanted to give him a Warhol lithograph of a pink cat to "pay him back." They claimed the litho was worth $30,000. When the man took it out of the frame he discovered it was cut from a newspaper.

Wow. You'd think the guy would've learned the first time, eh? It took three separate incidents for him to realize that these folks weren't on the level.

Not a real Warhol; this is a photo done in Warhol's style on PhotoShop.

Ironically, the subject of the scam, Andy Warhol, tried to pull a scam in Utah himself. As told in this excellent blog by reporter Peter Rosen, in 1967 Warhol sent a man posing as him to a lecture at the University of Utah. They were caught for that and Warhol offered to come to the University himself, but University officials decided that one Warhol was enough and they rejected the offer.

So what does all of this teach any of us? Don't believe anybody who wants to sell you something. Or if you're a con man and want to find easy pickins, come to Utah, where every day people are buying gold-painted bricks, prime real estate in Florida and the Brooklyn Bridge.

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