Over the past two years, scams involving African artworks have multiplied throughout the world, particularly via the web. Competing in ingenuity, fraudsters regularly invent new schemes and make many victims. Many of them now use the logo, the stamp and the name of UNESCO to commit their crime. Informed, the international institution quickly stepped up to the plate to warn art lovers.

A well-established operational mode

The first contacts between fraudsters and victims are usually made on social networks. Outlaws usually offer them artwork, such as statuettes from an African village. In order to quickly arouse the interest of their victims, they give them the name of a village chief from Cameroon or Mali.

The potential buyer is then given a few pictures that prove that the item actually exists; a step that is supposed to lower his guard. Then, in order to confirm its “value” and its transportability to the West, the scammers add a certificate of authenticity bearing the name, logo or Unesco stamp. In some cases, the brains behind these African art scams even use the identities of officials working in the institution’s offices in Cameroon. But after the requested sum is sent, nothing more. The buyer never receives the artwork in question.

African art scam: more than a million euros of damage

According to UNESCO, the cost of these scams to African artworks is estimated at more than one million euros. And this is only a very approximate value. In reality, it is surely much higher. Indeed, few victims have the courage to contact the judicial authorities to denounce the fraudsters. It is therefore difficult to identify them. At the same time, the list of fraudsters is getting longer every day, because the scheme works very often.

Unesco raises awareness

A few years ago, numerous scams involving fake scholarship programs or fake recruiting were reported. Today, with the great interest in African art around the world, these African art scams are commonplace. In a press release, Cédric Bourgeois, head of judicial investigations at UNESCO, therefore calls for increased vigilance and the reporting of any suspicious sale proposals to the competent judicial authorities.

The institution also reminds that it “never intervenes in the trade of private collections either as an intermediary or as a guarantor. Its mission is the protection of cultural heritage and cooperation between states in the fields of education, science and culture”. This is exactly the opposite of what is put forward by fraudsters.

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