(Bundesministerium für Inneres, Referat Kulturgutdelikte, Wien, Österreich)
Online auctions in the Internet are a worldwide market-place where the seller has the possibility to offer his goods (almost) anonymously for sale. This fact is abused to offer stolen, forged, illegally excavated or illegally exported works of art.
Especially the problem of fakes has increased recently and will be presented with actual case studies. The fakes, being sold over the Internet, reappear in regular terms in the art trade where they are identified and seized. The prices for the offered objects, mostly drawings and water colours, are moderate, but investigations show examples where the sellers earn easily up to 6.000 Euro per month. In addition many of these cases generate an international dimension. Buyers should develop more awareness for the fact that they might get in trouble after having bought a fake. Experts should be encouraged to make reports to Police when recognizing a fake. Often they resign to call Police because of the quantity of cases and the supposing low prices of the sheets.
Stolen works of art can be easily sold via the Internet because of the difficulty of screening the huge amount of offers in the Internet. One stolen painting offered at an online auction in December 2006 led to the recovery of two dozens of items that had been stolen out of private property in all over Austria. Religious objects (i.e. sculptures) are offered without being obligated to prove their provenance. In times where art theft is a constant factor in crime statistics, the purchase of cultural property in the Internet is a risky pleasure.