This blog series is dedicated to sharing real-world stories of the most serious cases of stolen identities – and just how devastating these crimes can be on organizations, individuals, and families. This week’s recap shows how two men used an elderly woman’s identity to bid millions of dollars on paintings in a New York auction house.
Transforming Art into Identity Theft
A New York art advisor and a Floridian interior designer teamed up and deceived an elderly woman into signing paperwork that authorized them to place auction bids on her behalf. The identity theft victim in this case was a wealthy, 80-year-old retiree living in Bal Harbor, Florida, who thought the paper she signed would simply provide the two men with access to the auction.
With the document in hand, Joakim von Ditmar (the art advisor) and Antonio DiMarco (the interior designer) entered Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine art, jewelry, and other collectibles. Once inside, the duo won bids on two paintings. The first, a work by Mark Rothko, went for $6.4 million. The second, a piece from Ad Reinhard, sold for $1.16 million. This is not the first act of fraud involving a Rothko painting, and it’s reported that art scammers take in $6 billion annually between theft, forgeries, and fakes.
Web of Scams: Fraudsters and Con Artists
Sotheby’s representatives became suspicious of the fraudsters and then called the victim to verify she authorized them to buy on her behalf. Of course, the woman denied any knowledge and Sotheby’s contacted the FBI.
Von Ditmar and DiMarco were taken into custody and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. It was later uncovered that DiMarco was also a con artist who had stolen another $400,000 from that same 80-year-old Florida woman for construction work he never completed on her home.
The Collateral Damage of ID Theft
Often times, there’s collateral damage from identity theft. After auctioning the paintings, Sotheby’s suffered an initial $5 million loss due to a contractual obligation to pay the seller. Although there’s a good chance the auction house won’t be out the full $5 million, chances are it still took a substantial hit.
Vulnerabilities Exist Everywhere: Offline & Online Identity Theft
We often write about how to protect your digital privacy against cybercriminals and hackers who can often go undetected in executing their scams. While these threats will forever remain in our interconnected world, it is important to remember that identity theft began offline – through paper trails, mail theft, and exposure of physical bank statements. And, these schemes still work – especially against more-trusting senior citizens. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that elder fraud scams cost older Americans more than $500 million in 2017.