"The Toronto Forger"
|"Toronto Forger" cast counterfeit of an Alexander III tetradrachm, 17.0g. Copy of M.J. Price 644.|
|This and the next two pieces are forgeries of the notorious eBay "Toronto Forger," who's sometimes known as the "Toronto
Group," a term coined online, though there's no indication that more than one person is behind this scam.
The Toronto Forger has been called the "Big Circle Boys" and has been described as being part of a worldwide
conspiracy of terrorists and murderers, though in reality it's more likely that this is just one guy making medium-quality
lost-wax cast fakes in his basement and coming up with ingeniously deceptive ways to manipulate eBay in foisting
them off, in great quantity, as authentic coins. Though he's from the Toronto, Canada, area, the Toronto Forger
recently created a virtual presence in London, England, as a way of attempting to hide himself from those who know
him and his tactics.
The Toronto Forger has operated on eBay since mid-1991, putting up more than 40 rounds of scam auctions, with several dozen forgeries auctioned in each round. He has cheated perhaps 500 people out of $500,000, estimating conservatively. It's likely that many do not yet know they have been victimized. The victims appear to have mostly been collectors, primarily beginners but also some more advanced collectors, and he has cheated at least one dealer I know of, and probably a number of others as well. This one dealer, from England, bought nine of the Toronto Forger's forgeries before discovering they were forgeries, a lesson that cost him 450 pounds ($860). The photos the Toronto Forger uses are typically slightly blurry, which can make detection from alone them difficult.
One of the first pieces cast by the Toronto Forger was a Slavey replica of an Alexander tetradrachm, during 1991 with the first name Will. At the time he used the eBay I.D. coins583. Early on he also tried to justify his selling fakes as authentic coins by saying in an ancient coin online discussion group that all the top ancient coin dealers knowingly did this as well. Indications are that he has been monitoring the ancient coin online discussion groups since then. One person online has repeatedly said that the Toronto Forger is a person with the first name Charles, but the latter instead appears to be one of the Toronto Forger's victims who, in 2002/2003, publicly admitted to putting back on eBay a Toronto Forger fake he was scammed with, as an authentic coin, in an attempt to recoup his loss. This was roundly criticized, for obvious reasons.
The Toronto Forger has since used more than 40 other eBay I.D.s. after his first one. Each time eBay has canceled the account of his current I.D. (NARUed him, for Not a Registered User), after people knowledgeable about the scam complained. But almost always, because of the difficulty in communicating with eBay personnel in an efficient manner, this has not happened until after the auctions were over and a certain percentage of people already paid.
Every few weeks under a new I.D. the Toronto Forger has put up on eBay several dozen cast fakes at a time, typically the same fakes each time, often but not always the same photos. He has gotten more sophisticated with his trickery over time. He typically creates three-day auctions so as to minimize the time people have to complain to eBay before the auctions close. He also changes the category of his auctions from some other category to ancient coins within 24 hours before the auctions close, which lessens the time even further for knowledgeable people to spot his latest scam and alert eBay.
The Toronto Forger almost always creates private auctions, meaning interested persons can't warn bidders. That eBay allows sellers to do this is the single most effective weapon scammers have and the single biggest reason that eBay has become a haven for them, with ancient coins and other items. The single most defining characteristic of the Internet is interactivity -- communication -- and when eBay allows scammers to prohibit people from communicating, it gives scammers virtual carte blanche to perpetuate their scams. What's more, even when an auction isn't private, eBay has deemed that it's against eBay rules to warn a bidder about a scam in the works, which it calls "auction interference." eBay does everything it can to promote the interest of sellers, who pay eBay its fees, and very little to protect buyers, who pay no fees.
Sometimes, not always, the Toronto Forger hides his feedback, which eBay in all its wisdom also allows sellers to do. Other times, he creates about a dozen positive feedbacks for his newest I.D. by buying very low-cost items through eBay.
When eBay discovers a new round of the Toronto Forger's scam auctions, it sends email to the bidders who "won" the auctions, though its intent is not to help victims but to absolve itself of responsibility. The emails it sends contains the following language: "eBay is only a venue, and we cannot guarantee that sellers will complete transactions nor can we guarantee the delivery or quality of bought items."
One lesson is that you should never bid on a private eBay auction unless you know the seller and know he has a good reason for keeping his auction private (rarely is there a good reason). It's also a good idea to ask around about any eBay seller you don't know. Don't expect eBay to protect you. It typically doesn't even read the emails it receives from people telling it that a seller is breaking eBay's own rules, and it has publicly admitted this. Instead, eBay just sends back an automated response acknowledging the receipt of the complaint.
The Toronto Forger is engaged in the biggest and longest running scam on eBay involving any coins, and this scam and the online publicity it has generated more than any other single factor has eliminated eBay as a viable market for many ancient coin dealers and buyers. As long as The Toronto Forger is able to reach a pool of victims who aren't well-read, savvy, and careful, the scam appears like it will continue. However, if you are careful (if you're reading this right now, you're careful), it's still possible to safely get good deals through buying on eBay from fellow collectors, European direct sellers, and those established ancient coin dealers who've maintained a presence there.
Despite the efforts of many people to alert eBay and the Toronto police, the scam continues. The Toronto Forger appears to be too small to get the authorities interested but big enough to cheat many people out of sometimes considerable money. It appears that Canadian law enforcement has little interest because most victims are foreigners (Americans), with few Canadians victims coming forth, and that American law enforcement has little interest because the perpetrator is Canadian and because cooperating with Canadian law enforcement in such cases is difficult (so I've been told by the U.S. Secret Service). One Canadian victim reported that the Toronto police brushed him off when he reported the crime. eBay, meanwhile, never initiates actions to help victims, apparently so as not to generate negative publicity, only responding when law enforcement gets involved.
Though this no doubt is a disconcerting thought to the typical ancient coin collector who prefers to regard his hobby strictly as a culturally enriching pastime, the forgery business is a dirty one. I and others who have spoken out about forgeries and warned others have been threatened by the Toronto Forger and others. I've shared these threats with the U.S. Secret Service and with my local police department, and I have no doubt that if these threats evolved into more than just talk, this would be all the justification the authorities, in the U.S. and elsewhere, would need to get involved. An electronic trail exists, on servers and backup tapes, for these discussion lists as well as for eBay that could connect the Toronto Forger, and other forgers, with their scams and their threats. If forced by the involvement of law enforcement, eBay would have to reveal the identity of Toronto Forger, and this long-running scam would finally end.
On a positive note, eBay has sometimes, not always, been faster lately in taking down the scam auctions of the Toronto Forger, and the Toronto Forger doesn't appear to have been as active lately as he had been previously, or perhaps he's using different methods. Credit goes to various online coin discussion groups for publicizing the activities of the Toronto Forger from early on, which no doubt prevented a number of people from becoming victims.
The Toronto Forger piece illustrated above is the only one of the three Alexander tetradrachm fakes sold by the Toronto Forger documented on this page that I've had a chance to inspect in person. I acquired it in a trade from a collector who was scammed with it and wanted to contribute to the effort of exposing fakes like this. Though it's the correct weight, this piece shows traces of an edge seam near the obverse rim. There aren't any blatant casting pits, and the toning is well done.
|"Toronto Forger" cast counterfeit No. 2 of an Alexander III tetradrachm 16.9g, Cast Forgeries of Classical Coins from Bulgaria, Ilya Prokopov, No. 102. Copy of M.J. Price 623. In an online authenticity test I conducted, most people were fooled by this piece, feeling it was an authentic ancient coin. Admittedly, the above photo, which is the Toronto Forger's, is a bit blurry. Still, it's the very photo that he used to scam his victims.|
|"Toronto Forger" cast counterfeit No. 3 of an Alexander III tetradrachm, weight unknown. Copy of M.J. Price 1059. This is another Toronto Forger cast fake. I also don't know the weight. You can find a catalog of other Toronto forgeries here.|
"Roman Coin Seller"
|"Roman Coin Seller" cast counterfeit No. 1 of an Alexander III tetradrachm, 12.5g.|
|This and the next two fakes were sold on eBay by a seller of ancient coins and artifacts in the U.S. who specializes
in Roman coins but sells other coins as well. This particular fake is grossly underweight at 12.5g and with its
soft details appears to be cast. Despite selling many ancient coins on eBay (more than 1,000 completed transactions
since Dec. 2000), this seller has said to those who have questioned him that he knows little about ancient coins.
This seller appears to have sold many forgeries as authentic coins but also many authentic ancient coins. At the time of this writing he had a 98.2% positive feedback rating, which sounds high. But eBay's feedback system, as with eBay in general, is skewed toward promoting the interests of sellers, who pay eBay its fees (no buyer's fees). When you leave negative feedback, you open yourself to receiving negative feedback in return, which creates a disincentive to do so. Nearly 2% of deals going so bad that buyers left negative feedback is unusual.
With many of his auctions he states, "No refund available -- IF YOU DON'T LIKE ITEM ON THE PICTURE DO NOT BID." No rational, knowledgeable person would bid on these auctions, and in general it's unwise to bid on the auction of any ancient coin on eBay or anywhere else if the seller doesn't provide return privileges. Even photos taken by well-intentioned sellers can deceive, making a coin look better (or worse) than it is through the effects of lighting or focus, hiding defects or making detail more pronounced than appears on the coin in hand. Some sellers deliberately doctor their photos in an image editing program, smoothing the pixels in the devices and fields or enhancing contrast to make a coin appear more attractive than it is.
In an online authenticity test I conducted, the above piece fooled most people. No doubt if I had included the weight of the piece (it was included in the auction description), many more people would have recognized it as a fake. The blurriness of the picture, which was the picture used by the seller, also doesn't help with authentication. Many sellers of fake coins deliberately use blurry pictures to mask the true nature of the piece being sold, and if questioned indicate they lack photographic skills.
|"Roman Coin Seller" cast counterfeit No 2 of an Alexander III tetradrachm, 12.6g.With its blatant casting pits and soft details, this is an obvious cast counterfeit. It's grossly underweight at 12.6g.|
The "Lebanese School"
|"Lebanese School" forgery No. 1 of an Alexander III tetradrachm. Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 11, No. 1 (1986), p. 8 (that specimen weighed 17.0g), Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 5, No. 1/2 (1980), no's 8 and 9. Two specimens I've examined in person weighs 15.7g and 13.6g.|
|This and the next four pieces are what I'm describing as "Lebanese School" forgeries, sold on eBay by an eBay seller
from Lebanon who has alternately indicated he's from Byblos, Lebanon, and Keserwan, Lebanon. Forgeries of this
type have also been described in the literature as Beirut School forgeries or Beirut Mint forgeries.
It's believed that that Lebanese School originated in Beirut around 1950, but it was thought to have died out in the early 1980s as a result of the sectarian violence in Lebanon. The fakes in this chapter indicate that this forger or forgers or their successors have reemerged.
The above fake, in addition to recently appearing on eBay, was previously documented in the Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 5, No. 1/2 (1980), Specimen No. 9, in an article titled "False Tetradrachms of Alexander the Great." That fake weighed 16.79g and was described as emanating from Beirut.
This seller of the above fake has claimed that he's a licensed antiquities dealer in Lebanon, but Lebanon doesn't license antiquities dealers. His auction descriptions included this language: "Bid with confidence. We are in the antiquity business for more than 30 years. A letter of authenticity is accompanied for the lucky winning bidder. 30 days money back only for authenticity." This seller has been on eBay since February 2003.
Most of the Lebanese School fakes on this page have surfaces with the same scrubbed and artificially toned appearance, which likely resulted from them first being artificially toned, then carelessly wiped at the highpoints and in the fields to impart a duotone effect. Most of these pieces also appear to be die struck or pressed rather than cast.
|"Lebanese School" forgery No. 2 of an Alexander III tetradrachm, weight unknown. Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 5, No. 1/2 (1980), No. 3.|
|"Lebanese School" forgery No. 3 of an Alexander III tetradrachm, weight unknown. The styling of the obverse of this fake is similar to the fake documented in the Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 5, No. 1/2 (1980), Specimen No. 6, and appears to have been cut by the same hand. The reverse is similar to Specimen No. 11.|
|"Lebanese School" forgery No. 4 of an Alexander-style Seleukos tetradrachm, weight unknown.|
|This is a fake of a Seleukos tetradrachm rather than an Alexander tetradrachm, with the reverse inscription translating into "Of Seleukos." Tetradrachms minted in Alexander's style, with an obverse portrait of Herakles and the reverse depicting a seated Zeus, were issued not only by Alexander but also by Philip III, Seleukos I (and his successors Antiochos I, Antiochos II, and Seleukos II, who sometimes used Seleukos' inscription, sometimes their own), Lysimachos, Antigonos II, the Paeonian dynast Audoleon, and the Thracian dynasts Kersibaulos and Kavaros.|
Other glomworthy coins:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins
© 2014 Reid Goldsborough
Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.